thoughts of an artist…

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I regularly see or hear things that give me shivers. It was about 20 years ago now that I first became aware of this quirk in myself. Perhaps you have experienced it too. I’ve heard people explain a feeling akin to which I refer, as something that makes your ‘hairs stand on end’; though mine is a shiver down the spine. Many years ago, I asked a trusted friend who was a massage and colour therapist what she thought of this phenomena and she said ‘it is your way of recognising something to pay attention to.’ I had surmised as much but confirmation is often helpful as we blunder through life, having left our roadmap at home.

Dried native lilies in milk jug. Waterlogue

Dried native lilies in milk jug. Waterlogue

Dried wild flowers. Waterlogue

Dried wild flowers. Waterlogue

Recently, I read a blog post and within minutes found myself purchasing the book to which it referred with great anticipation and still experiencing shivers. It’s unlikely it would be the same experience for most of you, because we all respond viscerally to different things. If you have been sharing much of my creative journey, you know without even reading to the end of this post, it will change my perspective. Everything visceral does this, whether or not we recognise it.

The blog to which I refer, and have included links a number of times previously, is Brainpickings by Maria Popova. The book with which I connected on this occasion is ‘Daybook – The Diary of an Artist’ by Anne Truitt. Brainpickings’ posts are based on books, sharing the views and comparative analysis of other books, essays and life observations. I hope Maria gets a commission from Amazon or Dymocks because she has often moved me to purchase books about which she has written. Maria’s blog post, and the now deceased, Anne Truitt’s thoughtful journal, reinforce the power of the written word to change ideas–even lives. 

Grasses

Grasses

Last year I wrote about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book ‘Big Magic’. I relished this book so much I did not want it to end. It wrestled with the age old question of ‘what is the difference between being an artist and leading a creative life?’ Truitt, herself an artist, with background education and experience as a psychologist, left that profession to follow the creative life. Her psychoanalytical mind and her artistic soul, have given her a unique voice. She takes this question a step farther, asking whether or not one who practices art can, or should, call themselves an artist.

Devouring this book in near record time, has taken me a step closer to understanding who is an artist?

In the grand scheme of things this is an unnecessary question to answer. Of course. That we exist is all we really need to acknowledge. But my human ego wrestles with it. Truthfully, no one except us probably cares what we call ourselves, though others often want to put us into one crab basket or the other by asking ‘what do you do?’, thus labelling us according to their understanding of whatever you answer. Truitt points out there is baggage that goes with calling oneself an artist, indeed, with any label, but, specifically, there is often (not always) an arrogance and competitiveness in the echelon of calling oneself an artist, with which she and I don’t care at all to be associated.

Grevillea and Rosella Pears

Grevillea and Rosella Pears

Perhaps the most compelling reason in the affirmative to label oneself, is so that we are not allowing others to define us. Early in the book, Truitt writes “I refused, and still refuse, the inflated definition of artists as special people with special prerogatives and special excuses. If artists embrace this view of themselves, they necessarily have to attend to its perpetuation. They have to live it out.” And isn’t that the dilemma of any label we put on ourself or others? The need to live out the expectation can be heavy baggage. I know personally, I stick to one suitcase with rollers when I travel and attempt the same when accumulating baggage in life!

I see now that one must separate the expectations of the artist, and the process of being an artist; leading the creative life, as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it. To set oneself aside as something special, either because one calls oneself an artist, or chooses not to, is an egotistical rationale that may or may not correlate respective skill, message or intent.

Later, after a period of residence in a community of artists, Truitt is reflective of her former attitude and admits:

So to think myself an artist was self-idolatry. In a clear wind of the company of artists this summer, I am gently disarmed. We are artists because we are ourselves.

This was the nugget of truth that lay in my shivers. My deeper self had recognised this immediately, and felt much more at peace. The process of being oneself doesn’t require a label, it just requires unfolding.

Treasures.

Treasures.

the strain of it all…

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Our weather has fluctuated wildly from beastly hot to unseasonably cool and humid, and today, very hot and humid. It leaves me feeling as if I wish we didn’t need to eat so I wouldn’t have to shop and cook! There’s been a lot of straining going on in my kitchen lately…of the consumable kind. I have two simple recipes that have sparked my days a bit, and the only thing they have in common is both require straining. The preparations are much simpler than my explanations below will indicate, I just want to give you some background on things.

Cold Brew Coffee

Have you heard of ‘cold brew’ coffee? I have been hearing about it, and even drinking it, when in Adelaide, for about a year. I hadn’t taken the trouble of finding out the process but loving coffee as I do, and almost never being able to get a decaffeinated iced coffee, I thought I would investigate.

Iced, decaffeinated coffee (and gluten free pumpkin cake)

Iced, decaffeinated coffee (and gluten free pumpkin cake/bar)

Descriptions of the process were simple and almost identical except for the equipment they wanted to sell to make it. I just don’t want anything else to have to store in my kitchen. So, I experimented with the coffee grinder that I already have, a recycled jar and my beloved coffee cone. Presto! I have really delicious decaffeinated iced coffee whenever I want it (minus the whipped cream used to style the coffee for the photo!). For the most part, I use good quality, water processed, decaffeinated beans, but I have made the cold brew with both regular and decaf beans and it works the same. I’m sure you could also brew it with already ground coffee, but as with hot brewed coffee, freshly ground tastes better.

I only make enough to last me a few days at a time because it is easy to make, but because it is low acid, apparently it keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator if you want to make a larger batch. Most of the instructions I read called for keeping the ratio of coffee to water at about 1:8. The strength I am happiest with is slightly stronger than that, allowing for the milk which dilutes the strength, so you can adjust it to suit your own tastes. You may not like milk in your iced coffee at all OR you can also have nut milk in it. I also have cashew milk sometimes and that is delicious too.

after 24 hours, strain into jar and store in fridge up to 2 weeks

after 24 hours, strain into jar and store in fridge up to 2 weeks

pour ground coffee and water into a jar

pour ground coffee and water into a jar

1/4 C coffee beans on a course grind setting

1/4 C coffee beans on a course grind setting

1/4 C coffee beans (decaffeinated or otherwise), ground on course grind, as for French Press

2 C bottled or other preferable water. I use bottled because Alice Springs water has a lot of minerals in it and doesn’t make coffee or tea taste as nicely as bottled water.

Method:

• Grind 1/4C coffee beans (which amounts to more than 1/4C of grounds if you decide to use pre-ground coffee)

• Put into jar

• Add 2 C water of choice (not heated, just room temp is fine)

• Stir grounds so that everything is wet

• Screw lid onto jar

• Soak for 24 hours, either at room temperature or in the fridge

• Pour brewed coffee into coffee filter placed in a cone or strainer or other receptacle placed over a bowl or jug or jar

• Pour strained coffee into jar and store in fridge for up to two weeks.

How easy is that? Grind, soak, strain, drink.

Ricotta Cheese – homemade

As promised, here is the ricotta recipe I have recently made. I need to preface this with a cautionary note about the varieties of cream and milk one uses for this and the accordingly varying results. Recently I couldn’t find my normal cream so I used a Tasmanian double cream and the ricotta came out very dry. This wasn’t a problem for me, I just added some good organic plain yogurt to it to use it, but it may not be your preference. I think the cream is the reason this doesn’t go ‘rubbery’ like other ricotta recipes I’ve tried, but I could be wrong. I’m no expert so let me know how you go with it.

8 C (4 C) whole milk (the best you can find, I like bio-dynamic or organic)

1 C (1/2 C) heavy cream (the best you can find, but NOT thickened)

1 1/2 tsp (3/4 tsp) sea salt

3 T (1.5 T) lemon juice

two layers of cheesecloth

large bowl

colander

premeasured ingredients (milk is on the stove) and straining setup

pre-measured ingredients (milk is on the stove) and straining setup

Pour milk and heavy cream into a 5- to 6-quart pot, along with 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt.

Squeeze 3 tablespoons of lemon juice into a small bowl and set aside.

Line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth, and set over a large bowl.

1) With the burner on medium high, heat the mixture, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching, until it foams and just comes to a boil. Watch the pan like a hawk because milk will froth, boil and then heave itself up over the sides of the pan so fast it will make your head spin. Just stand there and watch it and as soon as it foams and starts to heave, turn the heat down to low, sooner if you are cooking with electric.

2) As soon as the heat is on low, add the lemon juice. The citric acid in the lemon juice will help the milk solids curdle.

Ricotta after draining for 5 minutes.

Ricotta after draining for 5 minutes.

3) Let the mixture simmer, stirring gently, until it forms small bits of cheese (the curds). It will take about 2 minutes for small curds to form. If you’d like your ricotta to be drier with larger curds, let it simmer for 2 minutes more. I simmer for 2 minutes only, because I like a moist, small curd that can be spread on toast or mixed with yogurt on fruit or cereal.

4) Carefully pour the mixture into your prepared colander that you have set over the large bowl to strain the curds.

Ricotta and whey.

Ricotta and whey.

5) The original recipe said to let the mixture drain for 7-10 minutes or until the ricotta is how you like it—whether that’s tender and spreadable or firm and dry. The longer you let it drain, the thicker the ricotta will be. For the same reasons as above, I only let mine drain for 5 minutes.

homemade ricotta with raspberries and hone on gluten free pumpkin bread

homemade ricotta with raspberries and honey on gluten free pumpkin bread

ricotta with avo, sunflower seeds and broccoli

ricotta with avo, sunflower seeds and broccoli

The ricotta will keep in the fridge for 1 week, though you’ll probably finish it long before then, if you have help eating it. I am the only one in my house who eats it so I make half a recipe (in parenthesis above) and it works beautifully. I think it is the cream and the short cooking/draining times that make this the consistency I like, but experiment with it for your own tastes. I’ve tried making regular, whole milk ricotta without the cream and I didn’t like it as much as this one, but each to our own tastes. You can also reserve a jar of the whey milk to use in other recipes. It is a little salty, however, so keep that in mind. Lately, I have been soaking chia seeds in a small amount of whey liquid and then adding yogurt and berries and seeds to it for breakfast. I have also read that the whey is good to add to creamy style soups, and to use as liquid in bread baking and in smoothies.

(for quick reference I have included recipes for the coffee, ricotta, cashew milk and pumpkin bars under the ‘Food’ menu on the head of this blog)

where to from here?

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The new year has brought a few things to my life that I’ve needed to grapple with, medical as well as new directions for my creative energy. The medical issue with my foot seems improved and I’m taking active steps (pardon pun) to see that it stays that way. The other medical issue was with my Mum. We have gotten through the acute phase of that and she is now recovering but we are planning a trip to see her in March, as well as the one already in place for July, and a couple of other smaller trips in between. Busy year.

Native lillies and vintage Chinese basket

Native lilies and vintage Chinese basket

As for the creative energies, did you wonder where I would go after completing the photo challenge? Me too. Would I be tired of photographing and if not, where would it take me? Within days I got an invitation to try a new program by ‘my man’, Emil. It was as if he knew what I needed. During the last months of the photo challenge, I realised I was seriously attracted to taking still life photos, mostly of natural objects. Emil was offering a set of tutorials on still life photography with the iPhone as part of a year long program filled with many other courses. Done deal.

At about the same time I was inspired by the still life course, my need for cake made itself known. I had done no Christmas baking at all this year, and we all know our cake gene just can’t be ignored forever. So when my friend, Francesca of Almost Italian, published this blog post about making a Cherry Frangipane Tart, I found myself making it the same day I read the post! And what better way to practice still life photography than with nice food– you get to eat the props!

Cherry and Almond Frangipane

Cherry and Almond Frangipane

Meanwhile, the ideas for still life were pulling me hither and yon, grabbing things from drawers and cupboards and cuttings from the garden. Another thing I learned last year while looking for photography subjects, was that I love photographing dried grasses, flowers, seed pods, twigs and on and on. So, I not only photographed my flowers while they were lovely and fresh but also I let them dry so that I could apply a different interpretation. I’m hooked.

Dried lillies

Dried lilies

Sometimes after the Christmas/New Year break, supplies can be slow to return to our shelves here in Alice. My favourite quark cheese has been notably absent. At about the same time I was seriously missing it, a recipe appeared on the internet for making ricotta cheese at home. I made it many years ago a few times, but this recipe sounded better than the one I used previously, while still remaining very simple. It is delicious. And, it provided me with more edible photographic subject matter! Win. Win. (Recipe to be published in a few days on a separate post.)

At about the same time I was cooking and photographing, I needed five photographs for my assignment in the still life course, and two photos showing macro photos for a small competition I wanted to enter. Yesterday, I submitted both. Life is good.

In the words of my favourite architect, Frank Gehry—

If I knew where I was going, I wouldn’t do it.

all’s well that ends…well…

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I realise now the name of my 365 Photo Challenge really should have been 365 days of Mindfulness. That has probably been the biggest single thing, other than improving my photography, I have taken away from shooting a new photo every day for a year.

The mindfulness came in varying forms.

  1. First there was the obvious, being mindful to take a photo every single day. At first that was pretty easy because I was highly motivated and the project was new. And we had a major rain event in January, which helped with great subject matter. Oddly enough, as I write today the weather is exactly the same! I even helped a burrowing frog out of the spa this morning!
  2. Then I realised the time spent in the task of taking the photo was a kind of meditative experience for me. I relaxed into the process and time passed without my knowing it. It felt very odd on the few days that I did not have the opportunity to take my time with the process, as when we were traveling. You would think that seeing new things and different environments might make the photography easier, but the opposite was true. The light and environments were very different and it takes time to adjust; time which I often did not have. I realised how important that process was, allowing my mind to flow along its own path, to see and to associate freely.

    bird-moon

    early bird and sliver of moon

  3. early morning light in courtyard

    early morning light in courtyard

    Also I noticed that ‘seeing’ became more of a habit for me throughout the days. This was truly something I had not anticipated. It became more and more of a habit for me to find the light in a situation and if not take a photo, to take note of the moment. A Light Chaser was born.

  4. I began to see that the tiniest moments that I would have previously walked passed were numerous and each one a true gift in my day. The largest percentage of photos was taken within a kilometre of my home. And I was never without a tiny miracle when I needed it most. There were days when I felt very flat, or sick, or pushed for time, but something always caught my eye. It caught my eye because I was looking.

    vera-wang-jug

    less colour, more appreciation of the lovely shape and light falling on this little jug

  5. dragonfly-alice-springs

    photo #56 dragon fly in my courtyard

    Finally, a humbling and humorous moment came when on about day 280 I discovered I had misnumbered, not by just one number, but by THREE numbers AT DAY 56!!! Those of you who know how little mathematic ability I have will see the humour in this situation, that I did not see at the time. For quite a few days I contemplated what to do. Finally, at day 330 I decided to correct all the numbers in sequence, from day 56. Each change required at least 8 ‘taps’ to make! It took hours. Adding salt to my wounded ego, I discovered along the way I had made two additional errors in numbering, returning the number of days out, to only ONE. But one, is one, so I continued making the changes. And therein shows that my mindfulness was less on the mechanics of the project and more on the creative aspects. I can live with that.

Don pointed out the pink epaulettes on the Pilot's Uniform, supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In very rapid response I opened the iPhone and captured this photo

Don pointed out the pink ribbon epaulettes on the Pilot’s Uniform, supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In very rapid response I opened the iPhone and captured this photo, seconds before deplaning.

To say that I was ‘supported’ through this endeavour is an understatement. My friends and family encouraged me, and my dear husband was so supportive in the last few, sometimes difficult, months that he began pointing things out to me, or bringing me ‘lovely dead things’ (no animals) to photograph. I hope you all have someone in your life who is that supportive.

Wonderful as my husband is, there is another man without whom I would not have done this year long journey. His name is Emil Pakarklis and I have never even met him. About 20 months ago I enrolled in his iPhone Photography School to learn how to take better photos with my iPhone. His course expanded to include an editing course, which I also took, and now it has expanded to iPhone Photomasters subscription courses. Emil’s courses provided me with all the technical knowledge I needed, and much inspiration. It was on a post at his website that I got the idea to attempt the 365 challenge to improve my photography. Goodness, who knows where this will end? Here is an example of a photo I would not have been able to create without Emil’s courses. I used four different apps to achieve this ‘simple’ photo. (Cortex cam, Touch Retouch, Snapseed, iColourama)

Simple image, five apps!

Simple image–four apps!

Thank you so much to my inspiring Instagram and blog friends, who have ‘liked’ and commented about many of the photos along the way. The entire collection of photos is available to view on Instagram @amosthemagicdog. I doubt you have seen the last of this year’s photos. There were many extras that were not part of the 365 challenge for various reasons, not because they lacked merit. Some days choosing only one left me torn. Other days it was a struggle to find one. That is photography, and pursuit of the creative life.

Evening at Honeymoon Gap, Christmas Day (not a photo of the day)

Evening at Honeymoon Gap, Christmas Day (not a photo of the day)

Secret Weapon, Cockatiel feather

Secret Weapon, Cockatiel feather

Possibly the most important photo of all is the penultimate photo. This was my ‘secret weapon’. Last summer, before I started the challenge, I found this Cockatiel feather. We seldom see Cockatiels at our place and I loved the pattern of this feather. When I started the challenge I decided I would need a fall back photo to take, in case things got very bad one day. The feather was the fall back subject. Things did get bad a couple of times, but somehow this feather was never needed. It was my insurance, and put my mind at ease. But I wanted to share it anyway, because it was part of the story, and also, you know I love feathers.

Matrix of photos of the day done from components of the natural treasures collection

Matrix of photos of the day done from components of the natural treasures collection

Lastly, here is a photo matrix of some of the individual daily photos made using the natural collection accumulated from my daily walks throughout the year. This treasure trove began in a small drawer and then found a home on our kitchen work space these last few months, for the simple reason, that is where the light falls. In the morning the light flows in through the kitchen window, and in the evening the light streams through the dining room windows. A Light Chaser’s dream come true! This is the first time I have revealed the collection in its entirety. After today, most of the items will be returned to nature. Small little miracles, each and every one. As it turned out this collection saved me. Four days before the challenge ended, I developed a problem with my left foot and could hardly walk. So, no daily walks to show you the early light or sunrise. And the final day of the challenge there was hardly a scrap of light due to all the rain, so these last two photos were done in less than desirable conditions. Still, isn’t it just amazing how everything works out in the end if you persevere? xx Ardys

Selfie with treasures :)

Selfie with treasures :)

my sparkling collection of natural treasures

Photo #365 my sparkling collection of natural treasures

what I read in 2015

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I’m poking my head up out of my summer hibernation to give you some holiday reading suggestions. About this time last year I posted ‘what I read in 2014’. It seems like a number of you are interested in what others read, as am I, so here is this year’s instalment. I continue to love that I can carry around an entire library in my iPad mini. Also, the ready accessibility of books for someone who lives in a place which no longer has a book store, and is far away from any place that does, is much appreciated. (Also, our town library is limited.) An ebook does not feel as satisfying as holding an actual book and turning the pages, and I find my eyes tire more quickly, but all in all, it allows me to read more and that makes me happy.

All of my reading this year has been non-fiction. That is my favourite broad category, but my tastes within it are diverse. Life is too short to read books you don’t like, so I started a couple of books and then put them aside as I was just not connecting with the material or writing style. That’s okay. Here are the ones I did finish, in the order I read them, and a comment or two about each one:

Small Victories by Anne Lamott – To start the year I had been saving this new book (hardcover) as a treat. It was enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as other books of hers, in my opinion. Bird by Bird and Stitches were more my cup of tea.

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. – Listening to Elaine’s talks on YouTube and reading her book (paperback) helped me understand something I had previously only heard in passing. Some of us are highly sensitive beings, both in physical body and spirit. We are often made to feel abnormal with comments like ‘Toughen up’ or ‘Don’t be so sensitive’. The fact is we are sensitive to everything and it is not something we can help. Like most things it has its positive side, and we can manage the challenges very well.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo – It isn’t an exaggeration for me to say this book changed my life. It inspired me to have a huge cleanup and what’s more to look at ‘things’ and tidying in a whole different light. I highly recommend this book in its genre.

The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander – A simply gorgeously written, and evocative account, of her husband’s life and the trauma she and their sons faced upon his untimely death. Elizabeth is a poet and her writing has a poetic density to it. At one stage I felt as if I was grieving for my own husband, when he was away on a trip, and I had to stop reading the book until he was safely home again. I highly recommend this book.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin – I have written in a little more detail about how this book helped me look at the decisions and habits revolved around my 365 Photo Challenge. I did not read it with particular thoughts of changing my habits, but more about understanding why certain things work for me and certain things don’t. Once one understands these things better, it is likely to change a person, and possibly it has, but I enjoyed the book nevertheless.

The Perfect Day Plan: Unlock the secrets of your body clock by Jost Sauer – Ok. This was kind of ‘assigned reading’…from my trainer. Ahem. I will elaborate on this adventure in a future blog post, but about four months ago I embarked on an exercise program with a trainer. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be. This book talks through the Chinese philosophy of chi and the body clock and how we can better work with our body clocks to achieve wellness. It was interesting, but I am not dedicating myself to this way of doing things, just keeping it in mind. I actually found that much of what it recommends, I had already gravitated to over the years, and the other ideas were not necessarily ones I found particularly useful.

Big Magic: Creative Living beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – This book was one that I enjoyed so much, I didn’t want it to end! I loved reading about Elizabeth’s journey through creative endeavours, and recognised many of my own experiences as well. Possibly my favourite book of the year. Loved it. I especially recommend this one for people who pursue the creative life.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown – I kept seeing the author’s name popping up in the media and thought I would investigate her ideas. I first watched a Ted Talk that she gave and enjoyed it. Then I bought the book and started reading. I got a little bogged down about halfway through so I went back and watched her second Ted Talk and that reinvigorated my interest to finish it. I can see why her ideas are hitting a note with people and I liked them, though I did find it hard to maintain interest in the detail. Glad I read it, and Her Ted Talks are very good and funny.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – This was a book I had been meaning to read for years. It is the memoir of her husband’s death and her subsequent grief and mourning the year that followed. It’s hard to say one ‘enjoys’ reading about another person’s pain but it certainly gives context to a lot of behaviours and thoughts we have around the subject of death, grief and mourning. I’m very glad I read it, and if you aren’t bothered too much by this sort of thing, I recommend it. Again, as with Light of the World, I had to put it down for a few days and regain my composure before finishing.

Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust by Victor E. Frankl – This would have been a bit much to read immediately following Didion’s book, however, I did start another book in between the two, which I stopped reading and have now gone back to finish—a book called, The Wife Drought, which will probably be first on my list to finish for 2016, so I’ll tell you about it next year! Meanwhile, Dr. Frankl’s book is a harrowing account of his own and others’ survival of the Holocaust during the first 60% of the book. The last part of the book is his summary of a type of Psychotherapy which he pioneered, called ‘logotherapy’. It is based on helping people find the purpose of their life, which he asserts gives them hope and meaning enough to carry them through the most difficult of times. He died in 1997. I’m very glad I have read this, though, again, not an easy emotional journey at times.

my friend's family book

my friend’s family book

A Gentle and Hard Working Family Man – My final book to finish in 2015, is not one that is commercially available. It was written by a friend of mine. It is the story of her Grandfather who came from Italy to Australia, through his life and eyes. She had foresight enough to interview him over 20 years ago and record many details of life as it was, early last century in both Italy and Australia. The detail in the account made for very interesting reading. My own Grandfather migrated from Italy to the USA in about the same era, so it was particularly interesting to me. She also included lovely old photos. She and her husband put the book together and had it printed and bound as a gift to her family. Isn’t that a nice thing to do?

And speaking of gifts…

I will close with a photo of one of my favourite new things, a gift from a good friend. I mean, how can you not start the morning well when drinking coffee or tea and seeing this? Sending you love for the New Year.

give love, live simply, dream big be grateful, laugh lots. Yes.

give love, live simply, dream big, be grateful, laugh lots. Yes.

the gift of a lifetime…

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I’ve just read that a blog I follow is on ‘life support’. In my case it is the author of my blog who is nearly on life support. I have been struck by a chronic case of ennui. It’s a great word, unless, of course you are in that state of being…

The only bright spot was two weeks ago when our daughter contacted me that she had managed to get two tickets to the sold out Taylor Swift concert in Adelaide. Did I want to come see it with her? I had to get my upcoming flight moved forward two days to make it in time, but our brilliant travel agent got it done.

me taking a photo of Allison taking a photo, wrist bands in sync

me taking a photo of Allison taking a photo, wrist bands in sync

 

Neither our daughter or I are in Tay-Tay’s normal target audience, but for some reason we both wanted to see her. I think because she is a class act. The average age of most attendees was about 15, though there were some parents in their 40’s, perhaps, accompanying their daughters. But nowhere did we see another silver haired 62 year old, I can assure you! Never mind, age is just a number, and silver hair is just lacking pigmentation. The very dedicated fans were decked out in all kinds of angel wings and fairy lights which was delightful. I was, however, not taking photos, lest I be mistaken for a child pornographer in training.

lighted wrist bands in sync

lighted wrist bands in sync

Attached to each seat when we arrived was a bracelet. In the age of chip-and-digital-everything, you will not be surprised to learn that the bracelets were programmed to accompany Taylor’s performance and so would change colours in unison, without notice! We had a seat with optimum views of the audience, if not the stage, which, in this case was brilliant. We could look out into the sea of lights and colour while watching the performances. It was very, very fun. At the end I told our daughter, “you might have invited a friend whose company you would have enjoyed more, but you could not have invited anyone who would have enjoyed the concert and being with you more.”

Finale with Taylor and dancers on bridge that lifted up and turned 360 degrees

Finale with Taylor and dancers on bridge that lifted up and turned 360 degrees

How often does a 27 year old daughter invite you to a concert?

Well…twice, it would seem.

Friday night of the same week, and the original reason we were flying to Adelaide, was to enjoy our Christmas present tickets from our daughter—to see Hugh Jackman’s show. It could not have been more different than Taylor Swift, hers being a concert of music and spectacle, Hugh’s being more like a broadway show.

Nor could our seats have been more different.

We were four rows from the front. And our daughter’s seat was next to the stage extension used by the cast and, of course, Wolverine himself, and his very fine glutes! At the end of the show he moved the length of the runway and ‘high fived’ everyone who held out their hand. Allison can never wash her hand again, now.

And just to remind us who is still in charge of Life, the Powers that Be arranged a soccer match on the same night so that the Entertainment Centre parking was full. As was every side street and neighbourhood for over a kilometre away. Our darling daughter dropped us off and then went on her own to park the car. In high heels, she hoofed it back to the show, only temporarily missing her sense of humour, which Hugh reinstated rather quickly. After the show we all hoofed it for nearly half an hour through dimly lighted streets, using our phones to light the footpath so Allison didn’t fall.

It was worth it.

For a few days the ennui lifted, and forever I will remember those very special experiences, as well as two days puppy sitting the grand puppy and visiting with our darling girl who I miss very much. It was the gift of a lifetime.

Afternoon nap, Nanna and grandpuppy

Afternoon nap, Nanna and grandpuppy

cast iron Christmas, In My Kitchen-December

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Here I am, half a world away from the woman who finally helped me ‘crack it’ using my cast iron frying pan! Let’s hear three cheers for the internet and blogs!!

I heard about the pan on Twitter, from Bizzy Lizzy who lives across the country in Canberra. What a world! Last Christmas it was the only thing on my ‘list’ and our dear daughter had wrestled it into the airport and onto the luggage belt from her home in Adelaide. It is heavy. I wanted to love it, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t use it without having an awful mess. Surely there was something I was missing. I didn’t grow up using a cast iron pan so I had no history from which to draw, but I did have a friend locally who uses cast iron cookware all the time. She offered to take it for a little while and see if she could figure out what I might be missing. After a few weeks she said they absolutely loved the pan and had no problems. Back to me.

No matter how I tried, the outcome was failure. Finally after complete frustration, I put it away. Sometimes the energies just aren’t working.

Then, in early November a blog post appeared on The Kitchens Garden, which many of you know. Celi, the ebullient and wise, published a description of how she uses her cast iron pans. Most of it my friend, Betty, had already told me, she is very experienced too. But the one small thing that made all the difference was that I needed to get the pan hotter! Simple, and yet, crucial. Celi recommended the pan be ‘smoking hot’—unlike myself :)

Betty had told me I also needed a metal egg slice (spatula, pancake turner), small if possible, but they are hard to find. It turned out I had one from my pre-married days, about 35 or 40 years ago! It had languished in the drawer for years, with only very occasional use, but I hadn’t thrown it away because I knew how rare they are to find. The head of it is about the size of my palm, and I have small hands.

Small spatula used with Solidteknics cast iron pan

Small spatula used with Solidteknics cast iron pan

So these two things, heat and utensil, were the magic keys to unlocking cast iron cooking ease. I now love my cast iron pan, made at the Solidteknics foundry here in Australia. It is very heavy, too heavy when full, for my arms to lift easily, but I use the two handed tennis shot and I’m home. I can also use the small egg slice, and a nice silicon spoon to lift things out and into the serving dish if necessary.

A couple of personal tips; I usually cook with ghee, but occasionally bacon fat or olive oil mixed with butter. After I’ve finished cooking, I put a bit of water in the pan, slosh it around, pour it out and then wipe the pan with a paper towel. The washing up is done! Using the clean side of the same towel, I wipe the pan with a bit of the ghee just to have it seasoned and ready for the next use. I never wash it with soap, just as everyone else will tell you.

Thanks Lizzy, thanks Betty, and thanks Celi!! Honestly, you have to be astounded that through social media, blogging and local friends a person can learn a whole new skill.

This is not an easy time of the year for many people. So make some time for yourself and your creative endeavours or your friends and family instead of worrying about the prefect gift or feast or decorations. Take a leaf out of this bloke’s book, decorate your Ute and call it ‘job done’. Happy Christmas to all.

Chrissy decos, Outback style.

Chrissy deccos, Outback style.

Special thanks to Celia for hosting our monthly kitchen get together, this being her last to host. Visit her through the link and find other interesting kitchens around the world, and in future visit Maureen’s kitchen to continue the journey at the Orgasmic Chef.

after the Madmen

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The advertising and promotion for the soon to be released film, Suffragette, got me to thinking…how much of the world still views women in traditional roles. Was I surprised? Unfortunately not. Only this morning I was washing clothes and windows! I understand, stereotypes have their uses, even if some have certainly outlived their original purpose. Did you know that 30% of the farmers in the USA are women? I didn’t, but neither do I doubt for a second a woman’s ability to do that job. Nor do I picture her as a dowdy, bedraggled, sad-sack. After all, I know Celi of the Kitchens Garden blog.

When I was an Art Director, many moons ago, at the age of about 25, I worked in the Creative Services department at a TV station in Cincinnati, Ohio. That, in and of itself, was not a common role yet for women. One day, I received a phone call. On the other end of the ‘line’ (that was how we referred to it in those days) was a man, the art director from another TV station, also in Cincinnati. He had been on TV at the beginning of his career hosting a kiddies show called ‘Uncle Bill’ (name changed to preserve privacy). All the local kiddies watched it and some of us were lucky enough to get to be on the show. Uncle Bill (now deceased) was rather abrupt and not the ‘nice guy’ most thought him to be. I was very young, but these things leave certain impressions. That was mine.

Fast forward from kiddie show 22 years to this 1978 telephone conversation:

Me: Hello, Creative Services, Ardys speaking.

Him: Hello, this is Uncle Bill. I’d like to speak to the Art Director.

Me: Speaking.

Him: A girl!

Me: Yes, my name is Ardys and I am the art director.

Him: Let me speak to a man.

So I did. My boss.

This very brief conversation said a lot about Bill, his personality, and the times. First of all, who refers to themselves by a fictitious former title? Wow. Lol. It turned out, that my boss was who ‘Uncle’ really wanted to talk to anyway, but he hadn’t bothered to get his facts straight, and it still doesn’t excuse his rude reaction. It was not the only time someone used dismissive language targeted because I was a woman, or harassed me as a bullying tactic. I was not a self-aware, assertive woman in those days. I made a lot of mistakes. But I learned. I admire women who are able to speak out about inadequate, and antiquated, policies and attitudes. I sometimes even join their ranks now.

Gaddy Kemarre and Josie Kunoth Petyarre, Art Gallery, South Australia

Gaddy Kemarre and Josie Kunoth Petyarre, Art Gallery, South Australia

Fortunately, I had enough positive and supportive people as mentors and friends that these experiences informed me rather than embittered me. It seemed important to not give it more energy than was its due. These incidences said more about the perpetrators than about me. Even a naive country girl, like me, realised that. I’m sorry to say, our daughter has already encountered a couple of dinosaurs in her career and I wish it hadn’t been necessary to share my observations with her. But hopefully it helped her through. Sometimes I think we need to experience these misguided individuals and unpleasant situations first hand, to be able to know what is right and what is wrong, and which we want for ourselves.

When people ask me if I watch the TV program Madmen, I tell them; “I lived it, I don’t need to watch it. It wasn’t that glamorous.” Even the lunches at the Playboy Club (I am really cringing as I write this) seem sleazy and unenlightened when I think back. It is not something I celebrate, or about which I mourn the loss. There are memories, both good and bad. When we know better, we do better. I had more amazing male bosses and colleagues in my career, than the bothersome type, and for them I am most thankful. There was an advertising campaign back in the 70’s for Virginia Slims cigarettes; ‘You’ve come a long way baby’. Long enough to be able to kill yourself with cigarettes just like the men, apparently.

We have come a long way, but there is still a way to go. Live, learn and move on, passed the days when men were mad and women didn’t understand their rules.

Mosaic table, Art Gallery of South Australia

Mosaic table, Art Gallery of South Australia

supporting my habits

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I’m getting to the pointy end of the 365 Photo Challenge. I have passed day 330. Wow. And yet…and yet…success does not seem guaranteed, but probable. I am feeling the pressure of constraints I have put on myself to try and keep improving my photography, and learn, and to maintain a relatively high quality in the photos I use. No lazy snapshots. This is the University of Life.

Most of my photos have been taken around my immediate environment of Alice Springs but also, of course on our travels. Most, I take on my morning walks. Until a couple of weeks ago when it rained, the extreme dry conditions made everything look tired and dusty, and my inspiration languished a little too. The rain was a relief, but things are already dry again, causing me to have to look carefully to find the moments to capture. But this time, the end is in sight.

Landscape on Alice Springs Golf course edited in Waterlogue

Landscape on Alice Springs Golf course edited in Waterlogue

For the first months of this project, I wondered ‘Why is it I have been able to step into this challenge and get so far into it?’ As often happens, a book came into my field of awareness that addresses that very question. A couple of months ago I gave into Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin. Even though I had told myself I was not going to buy any more self improvement books, this one especially piqued my interest. I ‘caved’ and bought it to read on our recent trip. At first I was just curious to discover why it is that at various times in life I have made a decision to do something and then just done it. Other times, not so much. Gretchen is a meticulous researcher and an entertaining, non-fiction writer. She analysed a lot of data about the nature of habits and habit building and presented it in such a way that it could be useful for either building new habits or getting rid of undesirable ones.

I need to add a caveat here. The reason I had decided not to delve into any more self improvement books was that I began to feel ‘flawed’ and needing to be fixed, rather than feeling perfectly imperfect–which was closer to how I wanted to feel about myself. My current mantra is ‘I am enough’. We are exactly as we are supposed to be. And so I read, with curiosity to understand, rather than a purpose filled thirst for changing myself.

Found objects still life

Found objects still life

Rubin introduces the ‘Four Tendencies’, her name for categories most of us fall into with regard to our approach to life in general. The Four Tendencies are: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel. I will not go into explaining each, but I did find that I am a Questioner. A Questioner evaluates situations and internalises them to decide if they are something of value to them, and if so, they do it. That pretty much summed up my approach to the Photo Challenge, so I already had the answer to one of my questions soon after I started the book. But there was so much more.

The book further elaborates on other qualities and combinations thereof. Are you a ‘Lark’ or an ‘Owl’ with regard to the time of day you work best? Do you like to immerse yourself in a project and work like crazy for a short period of time, or do you like to take baby steps and achieve over a longer period of time? There are other qualities to think about as well; are you an ‘opener’ or a ‘finisher’, an ‘over-buyer’ or an ‘under-buyer’, and so on. Understanding these things about oneself assists in establishing good habits, or breaking bad ones. But I have found the simple awareness of one’s tendencies to be valuable, even if I do nothing to change them.

So in addition to moving through the 365 Photo Challenge, I have now learned how it is I managed to select something which was intuitively based on my natural predilection toward habit creation. I thought about it, and internalised the reasons I would benefit from doing it. And that was true to my character, so, while difficult at times, it has been, on the whole, achievable. When I started the challenge I said I was looking forward to the ‘adventure’. Perhaps you thought I was intending to jump off a cliff or sail the Pacific so that I could document it with photos. But the adventure to which I refer is the inner one a person experiences when trying something new, and a little out of their comfort zone. I have always thought inner adventure was equally interesting to physical adventures, and often, the two combine.

Here are a few photos from the journey that are among my favourites–I have lots of favourites. You’ll notice quite a few photos that I have edited using an app called Waterlogue. As a former watercolour painter, and because I am a Light Chaser and watercolour painting is mostly about the light, I just can’t resist using it. The key to using these apps that modify the photographic image is to be selective. I try to only use them when it actually improves the image, not to cover up mistakes. No amount of editing will make a bad photograph into a good one. And by the by I have learned, no amount of well-intended decisions will become habits if they are not right for you.

are you Here, or are you Lost?

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acacia-desmondii-leaves

Acacia Desmondii leaves in early morning light

LOST

Stand Still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

-David Wagoner

In my 365 Photographic Challenge, I have renewed my love of Alice Springs, Australia and nature– especially for trees. Reading David Wagoner’s poem, I think I know why. It has helped me know where I am.

Not lost.

Here.

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