ding, ding, ding…


, ,

Life is strange at times…maybe you can explain it to me.

Recently I visited my Podiatrist. She has helped me enormously with my problematic feet. Since I was a little girl my feet have caused me problems off and on. I have narrow feet and they are scrawny (inherited) and I have fallen arches. Not a good foundation on which to base the life of a biped. Fortunately I gravitated toward sturdy shoes most of the time, though I had my share of ankle breakers and platforms. Anyway, my recent visit was a follow up from treatment she gave me nearly four years ago, all of which was very helpful and sound. But a new thing has popped up, quite literally—-bone spurs. Bone deposits on the tops of my big toe joints now need addressing before they become a serious problem. Chelsea ordered x-rays so that she could then refer me to an orthopaedic surgeon in Adelaide. But that is another story.

The very next day I fronted up to the hospital imaging department, expecting a long wait to have the x-rays done. I was in and out in less than half an hour. Given how stretched our medical system is at the moment, I was shocked. (Though I suspect moving some of the drunks out of town and reducing sales hours for alcohol has eased the problem somewhat—fewer faces and bones being broken with the imposed sobriety) Feeling I should make the most of the ‘bonus’ time with the car before turning it over to Don for his weekly errands, I detoured to the appliance store where I had bought my two and a half year old computer printer. It had stopped working the previous week. After chasing around a couple of repair places and getting nowhere I hoped the store could give me an idea of what to do. The salesman was very nice but he had a heavy Indian accent so I had to ask him to repeat things a couple of times. After giving him all the purchase information he looked up at me and said ‘All you need to do is bring the old printer in, along with the power cord, and we will give you a new printer’. Thinking I had misheard him I asked him to repeat what he had said. He then informed me I had purchased an extra ‘Product Care’ service when I bought the printer. It was the beginning of the Pandemic, and rightly so as it turns out, I was feeling a bit bleak about the future. This entitled me to a replacement if there was something wrong with the printer within two years after the initial one year warranty elapsed.

Never in my life have I benefitted from one of these extended warranties. I went straight home and loaded the deceased printer into the car and drove straight back, expecting him to sheepishly tell me he had made a mistake and they would repair the unit, not replace it. Either way I was happy, I just wanted something that worked since I rely heavily on photographic references for painting. But when I got there with the unit and he finished filling out the return request, he said ‘it will be a day or two but they will send you a credit and you can come in and get your new printer’!!! I said I just want something equivalent to the one I was returning and he said ‘we have those in stock’! I told him he had made my day and he laughed.

The rest of the story…

At this stage I needed to go pick up Don so he could drop me at home and have the car until that afternoon when he played golf. He slipped into the driver’s seat and on the way home I was explaining what had happened with the x-ray going so quickly and then the printer being replaced. Because you can’t stop the hands of person with Italian heritage from gesticulating when they talk–I explained with my extended index fingers like magic wands along the dashboard and radio in the car, and laughingly said ‘Maybe I should just put out my fingers when I get home and tap ‘ding’ ‘ding’ ‘ding’ on everything that needs fixing and it will be done!’ Literally within seconds, the radio came on without either of us touching it! The station had been off the air from when I got into the car early in the morning, and I hadn’t bothered to turn it off. We both had a huge laugh but side-eyed each other at the serendipity of it. Was singing the tune from Twilight Zone too much? Probably. But it did cross my mind.

Now he calls me ‘magic fingers’. Everyone knows you only get ‘three’ of things, so the magic was gone…until next time.


The printer was indeed replaced with the latest model of the one that had stopped working and I even have it operational again.


what we have to lose…



I don’t often write about the actual town in which we live. It is not indicative of what I value, just that I find smaller, everyday events more interesting to write about. But today I want to share a few things with you. For those of you who follow national news, you will be aware of the social troubles we’ve had here in Alice Springs for the last six months or so. They have always been here but escalated particularly badly last year with domestic violence and crime rates reaching untenable heights. I am writing to explain what this has been like to live with while going through a Pandemic and all of its far reaching effects in a regional town.

Just as we were emerging from Covid restrictions, previously established alcohol ban regulations finished. Not wanting to be accused of racist actions, because the alcohol bans were mostly in place to deal with indigenous abuse, the government held back from reinstating them and within months things spun out of control. It wasn’t until there was a town meeting of over two thousand locals that the government realised they had to actually do something more than send extra police to clean things up as a temporary measure.

The issues lie at the feet of the past and present governments, both local and federal, who have failed to do the required consultation and work to establish helpful systems for the growing population of indigenous people in the country. But here, where the Indigenous population is 30%, with a high itinerate number sleeping rough, camping in the river bed, and gathering opportunistically in air conditioned spaces in town, the cracks in the system are seriously widening. And given Alice is a small, isolated town of 28,000, there is no avoiding the effects. It is in our faces. It is a thousand miles (1500 kilometres) in any direction to the next biggest town.

At its worst near the end of 2022, most of us stayed away from town after about 5pm. Even then, my girlfriend was driving through town at 4.30pm and had her car pelted with fist sized rocks, a favourite activity of young hoodlums. Most of these kids are ages 10-17 (some even younger) and the truth is, they have nothing to lose and all the time in the world to create whatever havoc they can. Many of the youth turn to self-abuse in various forms, sniffing things like aerosols and drinking things like mouthwash, vanilla extract and even hand sanitiser. These are cheaper than alcohol, but that is there too. It will kill them, but meanwhile it destroys their brains and inhibitions so they become more and more violent and aggressive and lacking in judgement. To try and keep it from their hands the groceries lock it in cabinets, so that when the rest of us want to buy it for legitimate and proper uses, we have to get a staff member to unlock the cabinet for us. (See photo)

The locked cabinet with deodorant, mouthwash, vanilla extract and flavour essences, sanitiser, rubbing alcohol etc.

For the immediate future, the government has put into action new rules for the purchase of alcohol. These apply to everyone, not just indigenous people. A person can buy alcohol from Wednesday to Friday, 3pm to 7pm, on Saturday and public holidays, except Christmas Day and Good Friday, 11am to 8pm, on Sunday from pubs with drive-through bottle shops and clubs for members only from 12 noon to 9pm. Alcohol is one of WHO’s social determinants of health. It is a complex, intergenerational problem than I am not equiped to fully explain and it won’t be sorted out in a year or two or even a decade or two. It’s also important to point out, this is not a race issue for most of us, it is a behavioural issue.

As recently as mid January a group of threatening youth were gathered in the shopping centre with machetes and aggressive behaviours, which had to be diffused. We were away at the time. Nearly every night there were break-ins and thefts. The joy riders steal vehicles and drive recklessly around town until they crash or until they are caught, or they abandon the vehicles…sometimes 20 in a single night. One morning I had an optician’s appointment in the shopping centre where I do most of my grocery shopping. At 8.30am while waiting for the shop to open, a very loud drunk was bouncing all about the centre, fortunately with someone more sensible who kept him on task to get him out the door. At times the centre was so filled with filthy, badly behaved people I would not go near the place. The parking lot smelled like a toilet and everywhere I stepped that day had a large splat of spit because many people think spitting is not an invasive act, but some kind of human right. Spitting is also one of the regular, aggressive behaviours perpetrated against the general public as well as police.

The police rounded up many of the itinerants and put them on buses back to their communities where their elders have the option of declaring their communities ‘dry’ or voting to allow alcohol if 60% of inhabitants want it so. At the moment they all seem to have chosen to remain dry. But here in town, the warning was out, as soon as the trouble makers could figure out ways around the new regulations, the recent, quieter conditions would end. And they have. There are sirens and the sound of squealing tyres again. The situation is very fluid, perhaps a very apt description given some of the behaviours.

You can layer all of the above with the uncertainty of food supplies due to availability of food, or persons to stock the shelves, or washed out roads and flooded areas in the southern states, even as recently as last week. The last year has not been easy. No, we did not have earthquakes and flooded homes here in Alice, nor did we have huge numbers of Covid cases, but we had uncertainty, damage and anxiety that has threatened to tear the town apart. I also hasten to add, we are not the only town facing these problems. It is a national and global trend. We have heard many stories while traveling that attest to this.

I tell you all of this so that you can understand, when we had the big storm in November, then our personal health problems throughout the year and especially at the end, it was challenging in its way. We are committed to staying here because we know what a special place this is and have loved living here for over 30 years, but people are leaving, and many businesses are closed. It remains a beautiful place with many lovely people, including many indigenous and other nationalities. There are only a couple thousand who would have sought to destroy it. I hope I am here to see the beginning at least, of genuine change.

There is no perfect place. I still enjoy my morning walks, visits from the locals (see photos above), exchanges with neighbours in a nice neighbourhood. That is not nothing. In fact, I talk mostly about the positives in my posts, because if we don’t celebrate the beauty and joy in our lives, how will we know what we have to lose?

Why do you live there?

Is often the question.

On this crisp cerulean sky morning

I look up and gliding along a thermal

the wedge tail eagle surfs alone.

Then suddenly brings in wings

closer to its body and dives

steeply, purposely, over and over,

joyously exploiting this perfect morning.

I stand there, hanging out washing,

wondering, which is the superior being?

This is my new answer.

–Ardys Zoellner

The recent full moon on my morning walk.

scraping away the webs…


, ,

There you are…wondering ‘is she ever going to publish anything again?’ Here is your answer, for better or worse. Yes. I am.

After the storm in November, Don and I both had health episodes that led us into Christmas and then our first major trip away in three years. We returned in late January and by the time I’d scraped away all the spider webs (not a metaphor), vacuumed and wiped up the gecko poop, washed a ton of dirty clothes, mourned a very damaged courtyard garden and finally gotten back my good humour, it was February.

No art work was done in all that time. However, I’m happy to say I’ve made a small return to the studio in the last week. I’ve changed genre from landscape to still life and so far, so good… but so small. This little baby is only 4 inches square, but I was happy with it and will continue soon. Meanwhile, urgent matters of a technical nature and home/garden repairs from the November storm are threatening to actually happen, all which distract my attention. This morning as I approached the clothesline with a load of towels to hang out and saw the silks of two days’ spider reconstruction work (still not a metaphor) I was grateful. I grabbed the old rag I keep in the laundry, dampened it slightly and set about wiping away the shimmering silks for the umpteenth time. As I did I recalled my mother and grandmother using a rag to wipe their clothes lines when I was a little girl. I was so lucky to have such wise role models to learn from. I wonder how many times a day I do things that became part of the fabric of my being all those decades ago. More than I am aware, I’m sure.

Having had what for us is considerable rain this summer, the golden orb weaving spiders and many other varieties have taken over the gardens and are willing to move inside if given half a chance. Two days ago I walked to the front door to go out and check the mail, having only come home from the grocery through the same door a couple of hours earlier, and there were spider silks that clung to my arms and face. They even blow through the air as I found when standing in a walking path talking to someone last week. I suddenly was enveloped in tiny silks across arms and neck. It’s not that I think spiders are horrible creatures. My problem with them is they are silent. They silently move around without our knowledge and it disquiets me. Though as many as there are at the moment if they made any noise at all it would be even more disturbing. Unless… wouldn’t it be lovely if they had tiny soft choral voices and could hum classical music? They are marvellous creatures if you read the facts. After all, I can’t throw a silk thread out of my bum to catch my dinner, can you? But let’s not let facts get in the way of a good blog post.

Our trip away to New Zealand saw us home only 8 days before the devastating floods and more floods they have had since. The worst of it has been in some of the areas we visited and of course we are terribly grateful for our good fortune in getting home to our nice, dry, albeit arachnid, environment before the disastrous floods and earthquake hit. It is a fabulously beautiful country with absolutely lovely people. We are so sorry to see them struggle and wish them well. If you wish to make a donation, this link is a reputable one: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/cyclone-gabrielle-community-support

The trip was challenging as Don and I were both not quite recovered from health issues, his more serious than mine with a diagnosis of wet macular degeneration for which he now gets a monthly injection in his eye (yes, in his actual eye ball). However, I realised once home and emerged from wildlife and laundry issues, that trip certainly cleared some cobwebs out for me (yes a metaphor). It was perhaps not what I thought I wanted at the time, but it was certainly what I needed. Like all those lessons from my wise mother and grandmothers it was the mechanism to propel me forward through the next little while of challenges. And it was a reason to be very, very grateful. See you again soon.

after the blow…


, ,

On the evening of November 12 Alice Springs experienced a sudden and violent storm. It has helped me process it, to document the following 10 days or so and it seemed to me it might be of interest to others. It is not heavily edited, it is just a series of entries like a diary with accompanying photos. This is not a ‘pity party’ it is just what happens when we have these unexpected events. Ours was small compared to the many who have lost their homes and loved ones across the country and the world these last ten days…

24 Hrs after…

We have worked very hard today and with the help of several neighbours and friends are making some headway in the cleanup task. We were able to cut away enough of the large tree that fell into the courtyard and landed on my herb garden for me to uncover the herbs. I can’t believe they might even survive! Also my six week old Grevillea that was doing beautifully was smashed down flat, but when I uncovered it and stood it up this morning it looked pretty happy. We staked it and tied it to give it some extra stability and hopefully whoever comes to finish removing the tree will avoid crushing it again. There are about four suburbs that have been smashed by what really looks like a series of small tornadoes. The tops of trees are ripped off or ripped out of the ground by the roots, both typical of tornado damage, though our storm was classified as a ‘micro-burst’. Also we have a layer of red dust that was driven through the cracks of our rammed earth house and onto every surface inside. I have been dusting and wiping and vacuuming while Don has been repairing the watering system and removing branches until we are so weary we had to stop. Many people have it worse than us, which is always the case. We are grateful we are both fine and the house is intact. I did have a cry over the trees and consequently the birdsong that was absent this morning. But there has also been the kindness of neighbours to be happy about. 

36 hrs after…

Unaided by sleep, but with a need to see what the storm had brought to the scenery on my morning walk, I was up early and out the door by 5.45am. As I walked out the door I was still shocked by the 20 metre tree on its side, protruding through the courtyard fence. And yet, once again I was truly grateful it had fallen exactly between our house and the neighbours. No one injured and neither house damaged. Just the fence and spa pump/filter. The large tree at the top of our sloping block had also fallen graciously, aligned with the driveway and straight across the road, hurting no one. Had it fallen back it would have smashed our house. Had the tree out the front fallen to either side it would have smashed a house. So lucky. There will be no more big trees planted on this site. Message received. After the incessant clatter of chainsaws and leaf blowers on the weekend, the silence this morning was almost disturbing…a kind of grieving, exhausted quiet.

My favourite tree on the eighth, standing but battered.

I walked the circuit I had done a few days before. The broken trees and damaged houses were evidence I had not dreamed it. Walking down the 8th fairway I looked ahead and saw my favourite tree. Still standing. But as I neared it I realised about a third of it lay on the ground at my feet. I studied the sight and out of my mouth came words ‘I’m so sorry baby. I’m so sorry.’ I photographed it to compare to the photo I printed that was taken on my walk three days before the ‘Blow’. It would be my next painting. It was especially poignant now seeing its diminished state. I couldn’t force my feet to move, they rooted me in place while I began grieving for the tree. When I finally moved along I saw other familiar shapes that I had photographed over the years, now sadly misshapen, which is saying a lot given some of my particular favourites are bent and have rather extreme shapes to begin with. To me they were beautiful. Wabi-sabi. (Perfectly imperfect) They will be again.

When I finally reached the home stretch I was devastated to see the damage to the grove of large old gum trees, again that I had photographed only days before as the morning light shone through the trees and grasses. It hit me like a blow to the gut as I walked home into the morning sun and cool breeze. When I arrived home Don was pulling his suitcase out to load into the car for our trip to the airport. He looked at me and asked ‘how was your walk?’. I pointed toward the west, from where the storm had come, and as my mouth opened my voice cracked into tears and I said ‘Oh the trees, the trees are so devastated. My favourite tree will recover but it will not be the same.’ He encouraged me by saying ‘You can document its recovery.’ Yes, I will.

Four Days after the storm…

The birds are trying to reorganise themselves, having lost the trees in which they had nests, and the perches from which they sang and watched the neighbourhood. The Galahs have taken to sitting in a tree that will be removed in due course and they will have to move on again. They seem strangely displaced but amenable to the new circumstances at the same time.

On Wednesday after the Saturday storm I am still trying to get someone to come and take away a huge broken branch that is sitting up in the tree near the road and the top of our driveway. Have rung Emergency Services twice and consulted with the Town Council who says they can’t help because it is on private property (though I note they CAN take lots of taxes from that same private property to pay for things other than public safety). I have also called multiple tree trimmers, yet I still have this problem of a dangerous branch hanging precariously over the road and the footpath! One fellow who is still cutting trees off of houses says he will come have a look when he gets a chance and that is the closest I’ve come to getting anything done. The worry and distraction of it has me unable to do anything creative so I’m washing windows (as it rains, but only windows that are under cover, out of the rain) and vacuuming and mopping up red dirt from the floors that came in during the storm. It is some of the least fun I’ve had in a while and today it occurred to me this entire year has been given over to renovations and renewal of the house, garden, and my physical person. I’m over it but do realise we have no say in these matters, we just have to go with the flow.

The herbs that were flattened have indeed declared their will to carry on and look perky and none the worse for their ordeal. The same is true for the grevillea bush.

Day 5

This morning I walked yet another route, skirting by the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. The tree damage there is substantial too, ranging from large branches to whole trees being torn out. I have also noticed the local birds are busy trying to rearrange themselves now that their favourite roosting trees are gone. The gardener who came here to advise me about the dangling branch on the verge, was telling me after the storm on Saturday she sat out in her garden and was sure the birds sounded quite upset and disturbed by what had happened. No doubt.

Day 7

The big guns have been throwing around the debris from the storm like it is chip packets, onto backs of trucks to become green waste at the tip. The sound of chainsaws and backhoes, leaf blowers and trucks on our small urban street are almost welcome now. I know it means progress in cleaning up what we cannot deny and what is done. Part of my brain goes into denial when I look out the kitchen window at the remnants of a beautiful tree that will no longer wear bird nests nor provide perches for the dawn chorus. We all grieve in different ways and for different relationships. Life is full of grief, as the Queen reminded us ‘grief is the price we pay for loving’. So I love trees, animals and art as well as humans and good health and a dozen other things, and likewise I grieve for them, each in my own way for what they have meant.

The wind is quite strong again just now and I wonder if I will ever get over the anxiety of it after last Saturday. Wind has never been my favourite of Mother Nature’s creations, and yet of course I know it is necessary, or at least unavoidable. We are the interlopers here, trying to live with nature in our unskilled human way. Hopefully when the tall trees left are trimmed and the loose debris carried away and the repairs are done I will lose this excess anxiety…and resume my normal anxiety.

The recovery is also down to Nature. I noticed this morning the little herb garden is flourishing, almost as if that smack on the head was a wake up call! Though I suspect it was more likely to be the 15ml or so rain and overcast skies we’ve had that have aided their recovery. There has been noticeable change every day since the storm. Gardens love warmth and rain and a little sun but not our usual very hot temps this time of year.

Today is a full week after the day after.

The insurance company is sending someone in a couple of days and there are no storms predicted this week. I’m feeling calmer and still mindful of those who have suffered so much worse in the terrible floods in New South Wales. Yesterday I was actually able to get into the studio again and do some creating. I began painting my favourite tree. It felt so good to be able to do something positive and especially something with a tree in it.

This morning I woke knowing the cooler, dryer change had come in over night. I walked before 6am and felt the cool breeze on my skin. The sun was already up and I needed sunglasses. Every day I see more tree damage that I hadn’t noticed previously. The estimate of 10,000 is probably right. The tree above and to the side of my clothesline rubs damaged branches together reminding me it will need a major trim as soon as someone is available to do it. The day is dry and breezy and a pleasure to hang sheets and clothes on the line. Most of the time I’m happy to not have a clothes dryer. I would miss the crystal sky, the sketchy clouds and the day the Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermals above me.

Day 11 Final entry

The cleanup has begun in earnest at our place. The beaver patrol arrived before 9am yesterday and dispatched the once gorgeous Eucalyptus Sideroxylon into pieces. The skilled Kubota operator picking up each section operating delicate steel fingers and lifting it on the truck to be taken away. More grief. But relief. The grevillea was spared as was the small rosemary bush that struggled to live three times now, with serious disruptions but a will to grow.

Last evening a family of Pied Butcher Birds visited. They occasionally come to inspect the area where I feed the crested pigeons, but there is only ever seed, and they are meat/insect eaters. Seeing the largest one come up to inspect the feeding area, I quickly remembered the fresh ground beef mince I had in the fridge and grabbed a teaspoon or so of it and went outside. I slowly approached the feeding plate and the curious Butcher Bird surprisingly took a couple of steps toward me. I placed the meat on the plate in three small dabs all the while its large eyes following me. As soon as I backed away it grabbed all three dabs quickly and turned to a smaller bird to its side and fed it! Mum feeding her adolescent child. Magic.

Everything will be ok. Different. But ok.

Wet crested pigeon this morning.

the gift of the little frog…


, , ,

After the good rain we had in February…rain that washed out the roads and the railway line and disrupted our lives even more than Covid…the rain that caused the river to flow and replenish the basin, the trees to be washed clean of red dust, and the grasses to grow lush and green and then turn golden…the rain that cooled the earth and peppered the sky with glorious clouds at sunrise and sunset. After that rain was when the little frog appeared.

The little frog was the size of my thumb on my small hands. At first we only heard him. Chirrrrrup. Chirrrrup. He would announce his presence for a minute or two, only once or twice in a day, or sometimes at night. He was considerate enough not to carry on for hours. A week or so after we first heard him I switched the light on in the bathroom one evening and sensed a presence nearby. I glanced over and there he was looking at me. I must have looked like the biggest giant in the world to him but he didn’t try to escape, he just looked. When I came out of the bathroom and told my husband he said ‘Did you catch him so we can return him outside?’ ‘Well, no, I didn’t want to risk hurting him.’

You can see by the comparison of the tile grout to the little frog how small he was.

We had a ‘spider jar’ and now we needed a ‘frog jar’. These jars formerly held my husband’s favourite sweet treat, chocolate covered almonds. I have a slight jar fetish, mostly for glass, but for any useful shaped jar. The almond jars are plastic with screw top lids and so if you are trying to catch and release something they are not likely to break and they are light weight too. I had a spare almond jar and I retrieved it so it would be handy for the next time we spotted the frog. He was gone by the time I had returned this time.

His colour would change depending on where I found him. Don insisted there was more than one. I was certain there was not. It was in his wide dark eyes.

The next time came in the middle of the night and how or why I saw him in the dark I have no idea, but I ran for the frog jar and came back to him still waiting for me, this time in the toilet bowl! I carried him outside and released him into the very large bowl of water I keep for the kangaroos and birds. The moon was bright that night and I saw him swim quickly to the bottom of the bowl and then straight up again to perch on the edge of the bowl. And stare. At me. He looked at me like he either didn’t understand or was very disappointed at his new situation. I was moved to explain to him my reasoning but I didn’t. I couldn’t speak amphibious syllables and he wouldn’t have understood.

Thank goodness my toilet was relatively clean when I took this!

On subsequent occasions we spotted him in the toilet bowl again but were unable to capture him for relocation. And then he relocated himself. He disappeared for the coldest part of winter and then suddenly in August at the end of Winter when it was still quite cold, he reappeared singing happily from the hand basin drain in the ensuite bathroom. Attempts to relocate him were mostly unsuccessful this time, though we did mange to catch him a couple of times. Since we couldn’t figure out how he kept getting back in again each time, we kind of gave up and learned to live with each other. He was no bother, except for the occasional ‘chirrrrup’, and even that I began to listen for each morning, a kind of checking in that everything was ok with our houseguest.

And then the sightings and chirrrrupings stopped. Oh, but there it was once more and I realised I was relieved to hear it. And then it was no more. At all.

A few weeks later I was vacuuming, doing a rare clean into corners I usually didn’t bother with. What was that small dark oval shape? I leaned down and even without my glasses on I could see the desiccated silhouette of our houseguest. Even in death he had not been a bother, just crawled neatly into a corner and dried. Writing about this a couple of weeks later I have tears welling and a lump in my throat. Why should that be? There are unanswered questions. Aren’t there always? Among them I wonder, did the little frog enjoy his serenade to me each day from the echos of the basin drain? Or was it just me who enjoyed him?

A few days after finding him I read the writing below and commend it to you now. I think it might apply to tiny frogs who find an amiable house to live in, too.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” —Richard Dawkins

a year of small things…


, , ,

I’ve written on this topic a few times in the past, but I hope you can stand a little more. I’ve written half a dozen draft posts over recent months, and haven’t published a single one. It’s very hard to write with perspective about things that are ongoing. This has been a challenging year for many of us, not least of which is the frog that has taken up residence in our plumbing. He/she is only the size of my thumb and when I can catch him I put him outside again, but as I write he is ‘chirruping’ loudly from the bathroom sink drain. We had a shower together yesterday, he singing to me from the protection of the drain, and me wondering if he/she is raising a noisy family!

What is equally true is the world is very very beautiful–in many ways we fail to see or allow to touch us.

We’ve had extraordinary skies this year–beautiful light, colour and clouds.

In my life the little things that have saved me almost as much as the love…small moments, tiny events, simple actions. It’s one of the reasons my day feels lacking if I can’t start it with a walk at sunrise. Yes, it helps that I’m a morning person, but this year with serious sleep deprivation even though I am awake early…sometimes very, VERY early, it has been challenging. I’ve been doing it for so long, decades now, that my body almost goes through the preparations without me having to think about it. It knows that those bird sightings and the melodious carol of the Pied Butcherbird, the beautiful skies, and the movement that relaxes my muscles and bones set me up for the day. But sleep deprivation has intervened and some recalibrations (and naps) have been required.

You can’t tell from this photo, but he really is only the size of my thumb and I have small hands.

This year has been a series of physical/medical challenges for me. Nothing life threatening, but requiring attention, time and energy to respond to. Some years are like that, have you noticed? One of the tactics I used, but didn’t realise until afterward is something the experts call ‘attention deployment’. This is when you engage in something that takes your mind away from whatever it is you want to momentarily forget. They say it is different than ignoring a thing, it is only a breather from it. It gives a little break, though it isn’t clear to me if tiny frogs are meant to be included. Earlier in the year I was cleaning out and renovating the house, while also renovating my body. Lately I’ve turned to reading, painting and experimenting with flavours in the kitchen as well as brewing my own cleaning fluid.

Nothing is too lame. What does it matter if something sounds strange? If it interests you and diverts one’s attention enough to be helpful, relaxing even–do it.

Citrus season has just finished here in Central Australia but continues for a little longer in the southern regions. Our lemon tree has been bountiful. My neighbours had to be away for five weeks or so and left the fate of the fruit on their six orange trees to ME! I water their plants and check on the house regularly and pick the fruit up off the ground so it doesn’t draw pests. With the oranges, I make orange and almond cake, that deliciously sweet and moist gluten free cake that I normally save for special outings to cafes. When I’m just eating the oranges for breakfast or snacks, I save the peels and add them to a jar that has white vinegar in it. Once the jar is filled I put a note on top of it that has the date two weeks hence when the brew will be done. The vinegar draws out the orange oil (also works with lemons) and at maturity you strain out the fruit peelings and put them in your compost, and bottle the liquid for cleaning. I have read you dilute it with water, which I have done with the lemon brew, 1/4C lemon vinegar to 1C hot water for cleaning windows. Use it with a lint free microfibre cloth and it does a brilliant job. The orange one I use 1C diluted with 1/2C water as a kitchen and sink cleaner. It works with whatever cloth you use, and the smell is delicious and it is nontoxic. Today I cleaned out our smelly letter box in which a poor little gekko had died and begun to decompose. All smells lovely again now.

Distractions? Let’s not forget a good craft or art practice. Recently our daughter attended a Cowboys-and-Cowgirls-Christmas-in-July party for her office. She sent me a photo of bedazzling her costume and told me it is ‘surprisingly relaxing’. I’m slightly trepidatious that she may be covered head to toe in sequins and rhinestones the next time I see her!

Life has always been hard. During the last Pandemic it was so much worse than now. If you want to read a novel that starts there and comes into the present, Isabel Allende’s new novel ‘Violeta’ is an interesting distraction, not a difficult read and describes lives in other times and places over a period of 100 years.

My little garden is another distraction that produces things which I can harvest from time to time. This is the third year since I built it and I now have surprise seeds that sprout like gifts from the earth and present me with chilies, lettuces and basil. The early spring/late winter dandelion leaves also add some zip to the occasional salad at the moment. I’ve left the broccoli and some of the lettuce and rocket (arugula) go to seed so the poor bees have something to eat until other things start to flower again. We’ve had the coldest Winter we can remember here in Alice, so things will take a little while to recover from frost bite. But a couple of weeks ago we had a glorious 16mm of rain which have helped bring on Spring. Meanwhile the bees enjoy the yellow flowers as well as the blue flowers of the four rosemary bushes in our garden. And little by little I’m potting up starts from winter cuttings and freshening soil and planting more natives for the bees and birds and us to enjoy.

And then there are the tiny pleasures, so easy to miss. The way the light illuminates my kitchen in the evening at the end of Winter. The little wallaby that peers at me as I eat my breakfast. The ever changing skies morning and evening.

I’m inclined to agree with Rilke.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer

A recent painting inspired by the mists at sunrise as they moved from the MacDonnell Ranges after recent rain.

the luck of it…


, ,

It was unusually cold here in Alice this July, the coldest on record. Having mentioned the low temps and heavy frost to a few people and received their surprised reactions, I thought I’d give you a little look into the cool side of life in Alice.

For several mornings the temps have been below 0 Celsius (32F). It had gotten gradually colder each morning until a few weeks ago when it hit -4C (24F). Undaunted, and unaware of immediate future events, I headed out to feed my little local group of Crested Pigeons. Don calls them my ‘adoring fans’ as they await their morning seed. Why wouldn’t they adore me, there’s not much food around on these freezing cold mornings! I love to watch them jostle and rearrange themselves to get their little share. Most mornings there are around 20 of them. After they have eaten they often ‘floof’ and perch on the steps or the brick wall and preen themselves or each other in a very satisfied way. They make soft cooing sounds and when they take off, their wings make a whistling sound due to the shape of the feathers. The little bit of orange/red around their eye and the nicely coiffed crests make them look like permanently startled little aliens. They make me smile.

I feel very sorry for them braving these cold temps this week. Can you see in the photo how cold everything looks? Or is it just me?

As I ventured onto my usual route around the golf course I began to notice more and more frost settling. The grass was crunchy and crisp under foot. I stopped to take a few photos but honestly, the tips of my fingers felt like they might get frostbite so I hustled on home within half an hour.

After breakfast and a shower I made a cup of tea to sip while checking emails. Once finished I walked the empty cup to the kitchen. And there out the window was water where it shouldn’t be…pouring down the pavement in the courtyard. My gaze scanned the area back toward the source of the flow and sure enough, a pipe had burst. Having no idea what to do first I contacted Don who had the car and came straight home from his desk at Uni. Meanwhile I called my usual plumber. They weren’t answering their mobile number or their office, which is usually a bad sign. Once someone called me back, he gave me the bad news…22 others were ahead of me in the queue.

They know me and I took their advice to sit tight because probably no other plumber would be able to get to me either, such was the case load across town. Even the golf course fairway in front of our house had a burst pipe. The plumber asked me to send him a photo of the damage situation, which I did immediately. Aren’t phones a convenient thing at times??

I quickly realised, though, if this had happened a week later, we would be in Adelaide for me to have the dental surgery, and it might have been days before anyone had seen the situation, let alone thought to turn off the water. Lucky us, I thought.

Don arrived home and turned off the water at the meter. So no water for me that day, which completely changed my plans for cooking and cleaning. Don left and I began to think. I hadn’t saved a jug of drinking water. I went next door to see our neighbour, and ask if I could get a jug of water, which would keep me from having to turn the water back on in case the worst happened and we had no service until the following day, which was what the plumber had said would probably happen. I hadn’t yet projected into the future the issue that would arise around using the toilets! A failure to plan is a plan for failure??

Once at the neighbour’s house I explained to him what happened and he looked at the photo and said ‘I can help you’. Oh, no, no, I don’t want to impose on you. He insisted it was no imposition and he would follow me home and have a look. He decided he could cut off the offending blow out and cap the pipe, which would mean I could turn the water back on until the plumber could get to us. Within about 40 minutes he had returned and made the repair. We turned the water on and not a drop leaked. What luck, not to mention a good neighbour. He’s helped me out of a few difficult situations, and I return the favours–like the time they were away and their little dog escaped its care givers several kilometres away, and was wandering around outside home in the heat. We spent a snuggly afternoon together in the air conditioning.

Meanwhile I busied myself in the kitchen, packing up a couple of my special brownies for he and his wife, and a jar of special ‘brew’ that I have started making with the orange peels from the same neighbour’s orange trees. They have about six trees and enough oranges to feed the entire street, but lucky me is allowed to harvest whenever I want to. And they have an open invitation to harvest our limes and lemons when they are in season. They are frugal and lovers of fresh food so I knew they would be interested in the orange cleaner I’d been making. Within a few weeks of each other I’d seen articles about making cleaner from orange peels and white vinegar on both Gardening Australia TV show, and on Instagram. I had started a jar of it in early June and already strained and was using it with great success. So I filled a small jar full for the neighbour to try as well.

About half an hour after our neighbour left, the plumber called and said he had a break in the action and he could come immediately if I was home. I was. He did. Within another 40 minutes the repair had been fully completed and I had water again! The plumber who showed up to do the work was not the one I’d spoken to on the phone, but he had been here a few times. For a long while when he would come to do work, he had a tale of deep sadness after his wife left him and was not letting him see his son. He had welled up with tears one day when he was here, and I had listened and tried to give him some hope. When he arrived that day, he had his son with him, since it was still mid-year school holidays here. He seemed very happy and glad to be doing the job for me. It made me wonder if he had stuck his hand up to come and help me…because perhaps I had helped him. We never know these things.

How lucky was I that day?

It seems to me there are a number of different kinds of luck. The serendipity of good luck are those times of near misses, the car almost hit you, the branch nearly fell on you, your newborn is a good sleeper etc. Then there is the not good looking luck, to which we are more challenged to respond. Then there is the luck we make for ourselves. We make a decision and there are outcomes. Sometimes we even don’t make decisions, and this has outcomes as well. If we live with intention and try to open our eyes to what is happening in the moment, we can choose to throw the peels in the bin, or to make orange and vinegar cleaner…and share it. We can be thoughtful and respectful to neighbours and workers, or not. If that is luck too, then count me in.

I’m not even kidding you a tiny bit, I finished this post and looked at my email inbox and the first thing that came up was an ad for an Apple original film called “Luck”. Do you think the muse is playing with me?

No. You can’t have that.


, , ,

Last night was hellish. It was preceded by a few difficult weeks and a few more are yet ahead. Keeping the lid on one’s life at the moment is more challenging than usual, even for an optimist like myself.

We were only a week out of renovations, most of which I handled on my own. This is not easy during a Pandemic when labour is in short supply and most of the skilled workers have been soaked up by the booming housing market. After six months it is done…except that one sticking door that I’ve worked on twice but still needs further attention.

The crescent moon in June.

Just as my anxiety was recovering, a dental issue hit. And then worsened. And now needs surgery, and I don’t mean the normal kind, I mean the anaesthesia kind that a Maxillofacial specialist performs but you have to fly interstate to have done. But first pain, then a root canal, and all the while trying to dodge the winter flu and continuing rise in cases of the latest BA4 and BA5 strains of Covid.

But returning to the hell that was Territory Day. ‘Cracker Night’ is an excuse to be wild and inconsiderate with noise, the way New Year’s Eve is an excuse to get drunk and behave badly. Over the 22 years since we have lived here the neighbourhood has deteriorated as builders have bought and transformed houses without understanding the peaceful character of the neighbourhood. The quiet, considered life we knew has been bought, but feels stolen. It is now filled with loud motorbikes, fast drivers, construction noises and late, sometimes all night parties, not to mention one very aggressive dog that lives next to us. It has been disappointing. Anyone who knows us would understand none of those things are part of our lifestyle.

Firecrackers are illegal in most of the rest of Australia except by special permit, and with good reason. But we live in the Frontier, and for 12 hours on Territory Day, July 1, fireworks are available to anyone who fronts up with the money. And worse, there are almost no restrictions for where they are allowed to be set off. From 6-11pm last night the neighbourhood hooligans did their worst. The neighbourhood pets were given anti-anxiety meds to help get through, the rest of us suffered. It was more than my nerves could endure. During the sleepless hours I was doubtful I could continue to live in a place where so little regard is given to the elderly and peaceable inhabitants.

After tossing and turning and shedding a few tears I finally propped myself up on pillows and reached for my phone as distraction. I mostly use Instagram for creative inspiration and so I opened it and there, the first thing I saw were words by the poet, Mary Oliver.

She left this earth three years ago. She would have loved that her words have lived on and have the power to help. At 4.30am, with little sleep and sad heart, I realised as soon as I read this what I must do. I must let no one steal my love for this place, these skies, trees and rocky outcrops. I must let no one steal my early morning walks with the sound of wind in the trees and the Budgies chattering overhead, or the Butcherbirds carolling across the valley.

And a little while later I bundled myself up and out into the cold winter morning and reclaimed my love.

June Full moon through trees and rocky outcrop.

what can go wrong…


, ,

NOTE: I was putting finishing touches on this piece when Russia invaded Ukraine. It is not my intention to ignore the state of world affairs. I do, however, feel that whatever light and kindness we can contribute to a sometimes brutal world, is a worthy pursuit, so in that spirit I have decided to publish it, with a few changes. I hope it serves useful purpose.

Change is a funny thing. It wants to be done, but in its own way. A couple of months ago, our current series of changes started because we need new carpet. But to replace carpet you must move everything that sits on the carpet. (I guess this also applies to invading a country. To bring in the new, or return an old regime, the current occupants must be displaced or at least severely disrupted.)And since we are not as young as we used to be, I could see this was a big task. It occurred to me one day that if I reduced the amount of belongings in the cupboards, I could move much which was on open shelves into cupboards, thus making the movement of furniture easier. And of course I reduced the amount on the shelves before moving what remained, into the freshly cleared cupboards. Once we decided to do a declutter and new carpet, we also realised our walk-through wardrobe needing updating. The lighting has always been inadequate and the shelves and rails are an inefficient use of space. Thus grew a side project, having new shelves built and tiles to replace carpet on the cupboard floor. Isn’t this what we have all heard about? You paint a wall, and suddenly the adjacent wall looks dingy? And off you go into a domino effect of updating and refreshing…or invading another country, evidently.

In the beginning, back in early January when our events started, daily changes to life threatened anxiety levels, appetite, sleep. The pastel painting had nearly ground to a halt. Counterintuitively, I became obsessed with needing to clear out our living space, even though at first, it didn’t appear to need it. It was something I had control over, which is nothing to be disregarded in our current world. And even more true every passing day. So every day for weeks I have minimised, decluttered and tossed what no longer seems useful. I hasten to add, if you had walked into my house you would not have thought it cluttered. There was even space in most of the cupboards. But what was here, was excess to needs. It clogged the energy highways…just as the rain clogged the literal highways into Alice Springs. Just as delusions of grandeur or testosterone clogged the brain cells of Russian leaders.

I’m a maker. I always have been, even as a child. I need materials with which to make things, whether it is sewing, mosaic, art, jewellery or any number of other bygone interests. However, once I have learned whatever it is I’ve needed to know from a passion, I’m often done with it. The trouble is–realising when that end has come, because very occasionally I do return to something for another burst of making. However, never have I felt the need to invade another’s space to assume control of their interests. But for a time, creative energies had slowed to a trickle. (One of the good things about learning from life as you age is that you can sometimes feel when the time is right for something, invasions being the exception, which seem to always be a wilful act of Ego.) I had a deep feeling reassuring me ‘once you have cleared the way, creative energies will return’. In fact when I was only about halfway there, I began to feel tiny bubbles of energy fizzing through my insides. I wonder, do tiny bubbles of energy surge through a certain Russian leader’s insides at the moment?

I had another large clean out five years ago. How could there still be this much that needs to go? It is interesting when you start down this road how much you see once the process has been initiated. I shudder to think what other applications this practice might have… Back then, it was too soon to let go of some things, so I made the decision to hold on to them for a while. (And perhaps this has been true of Putin and his strong love of Russian culture, he just wasn’t ready to let go of control over it.) But most of the clutter, I just couldn’t see back then. Truthfully, hardly any of it has been acquired in the subsequent years after the first declutter. Most of it has been with me for years and years. And I now wonder if it has somehow been a comfort to me—a reassurance of a former life in another country, raising a child, being a different person—sort of? What would Putin do?? People from my parents’ generation had this idea that their children would value and want what they had to leave them. And certainly that is true in some cases, but mostly we have noticed that children seldom value the same material possessions as their parents. It certainly doesn’t seem as if many of the younger generation in Russia want whatever is to be gained by invading Ukraine.

Just as I began the declutter, this phrase came into my awareness…

‘Clutter is the result of not making decisions…and procrastination.’

It clarified my mental processes like a bolt, and slotted me squarely into the process. I had become weary, as are many millions of people living through the last couple of years. I realised I didn’t care about holding on to ‘stuff’ any more, except what I’m using or what truly enhances my life. It was pointed out to me, it takes energy to ‘hold on’. And so it does. Holding on to things takes a lot more effort than letting it go. Apparently in extreme cases, it also requires killing people and destroying their lives to recover what was no longer yours to hold on to.

In a couple of months when the weather has cooled my friend and I will have one giant lawn sale. I’m lucky she is in the same place as me, both mentally and physically, and so together we have enough to supply the local lawn sale attendees with many bargains, a couple of times over! This is not about making money, it is about freeing energy which is at a very low ebb, and more valuable to me than a few dollars.

It was an interesting observation…as my purge and energy renewal continued, the rains and flooding subsided. After a few weeks the flow of groceries and goods, back to the Centre of the country and our town, began to return to normal. The macro and the micro happening simultaneously, as it sometimes does right in front of us…and has continued to do with recent eastern European invasions.

With the decluttering came a new mantra…

‘Get out of your head, and get into the moment…’

This is the typical process we introverts try to balance all the time. The culling decisions are all in my head but the results enable me to rearrange things, make them work better in the physical space. Things I hold on to are right there in sight so that I will readily see them next time I’m looking. I found that so helpful when I decluttered my wardrobe contents five years ago. I can pack a bag in about fifteen minutes now, though I laugh as I write this sentence since the world I desire to travel in is getting smaller by the week. I’m certainly glad our visit to Russia is in the Past.

Here are a few brief observations from the process that might help you:

  • Know your ‘why’ (do you want your domicile more orderly, easier to clean, or maybe you want more energy, or to take over a whole other country?)
  • Set an end date but give yourself plenty of timeas you uncover, you will find more places to conquer.
  • Do a little bit every day, whether cleaning one shelf or drawer, or gradually moving troops into place. In my case I set a time goal of an hour a day. Some days I did more and toward the end there was less to do, but I hardly missed a day.
  • Phone a friend. I have found it easier to have a friend to do these things with, or at least someone to consult, especially when the going gets tough and you feel a bit overwhelmed. It is always easier for someone else to think clearly and see your stuff without the accompanying emotional baggage. Friends in a bubble of delusion are perhaps not the best to consult, however.

Getting out of my head and transitioning to the practical moment is great, but I also appreciate that I now have more space in my head (so to speak) for creative thoughts, that are now threatening to be overwhelmed with more suffering in the world. To date, the new cupboard drawings (done by me) have been sent to the cabinet builder who has committed to installation in May. The carpet has been ordered and is committed to being installed in April. My purge is nearly finished, save the lawn sale…but I am truly shaken inside that other purges are not. I’ve located an electrician to install new lighting, and a tiler to replace the cupboard carpet with tiles. What could possibly go wrong from here?

fresh off the easel…MacDonnell Ranges

my summer of wintering…


, , ,

For many years I have tried to reframe my feelings of the months that I grew up experiencing as winter. I’ve heard other people who grew up in the northern hemisphere, but now live here in Australia, express similar feelings. We always feel out of step with Northern traditions that are seasonally based and from which we see iconic images based in the Northern seasons. After all, I spent 30 years having a cold Christmas, plus a few more reinfections on visits since then. After 38 years in some of the hottest places in Australia, my body and psyche still can’t quite connect the months with the weather and traditions. Or is that what is really going on?

I remember that first Christmas in sub-tropical Darwin, standing around a pool in 33C (91F) heat and 70% humidity, searching for a bit of shade and talking to people who were still strangers to me. And there was alcohol, lots and lots of it! We never even had a glass of wine for Christmas when I was growing up, so the whole thing just seemed wrong…sunburn, strangers and beer!

But Christmas and the idiosyncratic northern traditional decorations placed in the sunny, southern environment have been the least of my concerns over the decades since that first year. What I have repeatedly noticed is a desire to hibernate during these months. I get my chores done in the cooler part of the day and during the 100+F heated afternoons, I darken the shades and try to stay cool inside the house. Even better if I can nap…and read…and not do anything very energetic. And lately I find I don’t even want to eat very much, and certainly not cook!!

My most recent discovery as I nap and read, has been the book ‘Wintering: the power of rest and retreat in difficult times’ by Katherine May. It has been enlightening about what constitutes Winter and the traditions of wintering which are also restorative measures, some even suggestions you might get from a good friend. The author is not judgemental, and in fact is quite self deprecating, but generous in sharing what she has learned. 

The one thing she did not exactly address is for someone transplanted, in a completely different climate and place who cannot seem to transition to the local seasonal differences. Sometimes exotic plants can survive seemingly hostile environments, so why not me? At times I’ve wondered if I might have to surrender and leave this hot arid place. But each time we have a break and I come back to the place we have lived for 29 years, I’m so glad to be here that I put all thoughts of leaving to the back of my mind. Most recently as we flew back into Alice after Christmas in Adelaide, I looked out the airplane window at the heat haze and the half moon and recognised the beauty I now know as home.

Heat haze and half moon–flying into Alice

Just as I began writing about Wintering, another theory dovetailed into the mix of thoughts–this one from a podcast. Charlie Gilkey (The Good Life Project podcast) is an expert at coaching people. He says we all have ‘seasons’ of varying productivity levels. For him summer is his ‘stupefication season’.—meaning, low productivity, low focus, depressive even. It was a true revelation because it is the same for me, but I thought I was the only one. For years I’ve noticed all I want to do in summer is hibernate. I have been thinking it was something about longing for the winter I grew up with, but I now realise, it is more about where I am now. The intense heat depletes me. I have recognised that the decluttering project in which I’m currently engrossed, seems to fit perfectly into the energy level and mental attention I have for things right now. And that is what Charlie recommends too, fit your activities to your seasonal levels, however they work for you. It kind of makes sense on a very practical level–while I’m inside so much in the summer (perhaps you in the winter) to have an activity that requires me to be inside and that is imminently flexible. I can do a lot or a little and organise things any way I want them in any given day! Yay!

Gilkey further talked about people having circadian rhythms throughout the day, which I already knew about for the physical body, but they apply to the mental processes as well. We can benefit from recognising and planning around these on a daily practice. People like me who are ‘larks’ and have the most energy in the morning are best to do things that require focus between the hours of 7am and 1pm. I’ll have to work on that one. I should be doing my art work then, but I do all my other jobs then, which means the art I produce in the afternoons is probably wanting for better attention. Of course this isn’t always possible because Life gets in the way, but he also says you can account for that in whatever schedule you try to set up. I’m not so much into ‘schedules’ at this stage of life, but I am mindful of energy levels and patterns and try to work with them. You can allow for some mornings to be taken with other things, but in those afternoons when you may not be as sharp, you could ready your materials for the next morning session. He also suggests whenever your ‘stupefaction season’ is, to try and do less. In the six weeks or so since piecing May’s Wintering ideas together with Gilkey’s rhythms in life, I’ve felt more at ease and, strangely, been happier and more productive with the very selective goals I’ve identified.

Doing less and relaxing about it is my new approach for this time of year. If that isn’t ‘Wintering’ and practicing rest and retreat in troubling times, I don’t know what is. This is my new way of summering.

(Apologies to both May and Gilkey for overlaying their ideas, if this is offensive. It has been so helpful to me and I wanted to share…)