nothing lasts forever…

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I knew if I left writing about our travels until I got home again the writing would not be the same, if it even happened at all. There is always so much catching up to do, even when you are away for only three weeks, as we were. And then there is this thing I have noticed…I am never the same when I return from a trip to another country. I can never quite fit back into the same groove as when I left. Truth be told, I kind of like that. Travel changes me in ways it is difficult to describe. At least I have photos, and a few notes I managed to make along the way.

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Debris along Bruce Bay

About a week into the trip, on a grey, overcast and lightly raining day between Franz Josef Glacier and Haast in the northwest of the South Island of New Zealand, we came upon Bruce Bay. We had not heard of it but it came at a time when a break in the driving was welcome and we were curious. When we first got out of the car I noticed an odd pile of smooth, white stones. It was obvious they had been intentionally placed there, but to what purpose? Looking up and down the beach we could see that there must have been some serious weather in recent times. The beach was eroded and large pieces of trees and giant seaweed had been washed up. Don walked off a little way, while I studied the stones. I was curious about the source of the stones and looked over the edge of the small precipice created by the erosion. Down below, maybe 10 feet, I could see smooth stones scattered all over the wet sand. It appeared people had been walking down to the beach and choosing a stone to bring back up to the top. And then, being human, they did a very curious thing. Each stone had been written on with texta (markers). There was either a message or a person’s name. I wondered if the name on the stone was the person who was writing the message, or someone they were missing. While we were there we noticed a couple of other people who arrived just after us, contributing to the pile. We did not. I recently heard, it says more about us, the things that we don’t do, than the things that we do. I wonder. Don said he was amazed how many people were carrying permanent markers! We laughed…and later I realised I had one too, in my drawing kit!

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Stones of humanity

The day was monochromatic, ranging from mid-grey to almost, but not quite, black. As I looked up I saw Don standing on the beach, debris strewn on the sand as far as one could see. At my feet were the stones, a kind of monument to the human race, I supposed. Individual, but gathered together as a whole. Most were inscribed in a very considered way, and so neatly done, some faded, some vibrant. I took the photo of Don. And then I took a couple of photos of the stones. I wish now I’d taken more, why, I have no idea.

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Some faded markings on beach stones

Later that evening we settled into the least luxurious accommodation of our trip, and logged into the Wifi to check email. The room was cramped and smelled of dampness, which was the prevailing condition in this part of the island. The wifi was good but there was no telephone signal! Haast is in a 244km blackout zone, and was just about to get mobile phone reception for the first time at the end of May 2018. This small, remote  community had a nice information centre and several motels large enough to hold a few busloads of tourists. The town also housed the people who serviced it all.  Don looked up from his iPad and said, “I’ve just gotten a message from Steve…Dad has died.”

I thought of that solitary silhouette I captured on the beach, and the pile of humanity represented at my feet earlier that day. I wonder how many people have a photo of themselves on the day their last parent has died? Alone, but not yet knowing you are alone. It was all okay, but still. Don had returned from seeing his Father, for what he knew would be the last time, only two weeks before departing for New Zealand.

Such is life. And death. They find us no matter where we are.

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Alone.

land of milk, honey and Wapiti…

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There’s a saying in Australia “Wouldn’t be dead for quids.” Quids are pounds in the English money they used before the Australian dollar…and dead…is dead. So we have had nothing but days you wouldn’t want to miss for anything, in other words, since we arrived in New Zealand. Even the two very wet days. After the last post we traveled from Haast  having had a cold and wet 24 hours… By the time we had traveled up over the pass, the temperatures had dropped to 3C, that is pretty cold in anyone’s book. While it was raining at our level, only a short distance up the mountains we could see snow accumulating. This was a minor worry because we did not have snow tyres on the car we hired.

The rain was incredible, sending ribbons of water flowing from every opportunistic crevice, creating road side waterfalls. Water flowed over mossy rocks, glistened from tiny streams up high, gathering in white torrents as they pounded into the creeks and rivers along the roads. The thing we had become keenly aware of was how tenuous the traveling here can be…humming along minding your own business one minute, and a slippage impeding your progress the next. When you start noticing, all along the roads are just loose rocks that have come tumbling down during inclement weather, earthquakes, or just because… We continually encountered road works, some are still reconstructions from the earthquakes in 2010-11, some just ongoing and never ending maintenance. This is a small country in land mass and also by population with only about 4.7 million people. And when the roads are impassable life is very, very difficult here. The reality of what a huge job this must be for the government really hits you when you drive all around the island as we are doing. The ‘roadings’ crews, as the workers are called are a very dedicated and skilled bunch.

Rain

It rained and rained and rained

The average fall was well maintained;

And when the tracks were simply bogs

It started raining cats and dogs.

After a drought of half an hour

We had a most refreshing shower;

And then; most curious thing of all

A gentle rain began to fall

Next day but one was fairly dry

Save for one deluge from the sky,

Which wetted the party to the skin

And then at last—the rain set in.

—Anonymous  (From the information center in Haast)

As we made our way up over the pass, the ‘divide’ as it is known, we noticed the river was flowing the opposite direction. Further down toward Queenstown the temperature started to rise again—a balmy 7C! Though veiled in fog and cloud we could see the spectacular setting of Queenstown, which only got more spectacular as the clouds lifted over the coming days. The thing about rainy days, is it makes the sunny ones even more stunning.

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View from our hotel room in Queenstown

We’d been traveling long enough by Queenstown that we had begun to gather some knowledge about some of the specialities of New Zealand. They are famous for their dairy products, well, at least in this part of the world. The cheeses and milks are delicious. We ate cheese made in Oamaru that was some of the best we have eaten. Their Sauvignon Blanc is second to none here, the grapes loving the volcanic soils and climate of the central Otago region. Another specialty that we were already aware of are the bee products. The humble honey bee uses the nectar from the Manuka trees (Ti Tree) to make a honey that is highly prized for it’s antibacterial properties, and contribution to health gut microbiome. New Zealand actively protects this industry and it is doing well for them after many years of development. Be careful if you buy Manuka honey that it is authentic, some attempts have been made to counterfeit the products. It can be very expensive for the authentic products so research it and know what you are getting.

Another very interesting industry, we have been told, started here in New Zealand back in the 1970’s, and that is farming deer. Mostly the Red deer are farmed, for venison and milk, and apparently for the velvet from the antlers, which is used for various medical products. The milk is highly prized in China, being used in cosmetic products. Early white settlers brought deer and rabbits and possums to New Zealand to hunt as well as eat. The animals adapted so well here they are now a nuisance in huge proportions in some areas. So the government allows hunting of these animals, sometimes for bounty, all year around…with one exception. Wapiti. What is a Wapiti you ask? It is an American Indian name for Elk. The Wapiti elk were gifted to New Zealand from America originally, but have since become feral. However, the government does require hunters to have a license and they are only allowed to hunt them during a specific season. We have also learned that some farmers raise Wapiti as well as deer and we have seen them grazing in the same paddocks, especially in the south western region of the South Island.

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One of many waterfalls in Milford Sound

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Cruising on Milford Sound, a natural fiord, and the wettest place in New Zealand

I will most likely have to post the remainder of things after we return home as I have hardly any time to write while we are traveling. This tiny country has held many surprises and is still revealing itself to us daily.

 

land of the long white cloud…

The weather is straight out of Antarctica today. The rain has pelted down all night and the wind whistles every now and then, just to let you know it is there too! We are in Haast on the southwestern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. If we were at home on a day like this I would make soup and we would hunker down in the warm house. But we need to get some breakfast at the nearby restaurant and be on our way in a while. We had hoped to visit several waterfalls along the road to Queenstown today but that is looking less likely in the pouring rain. Apparently this is normal weather for here. You don’t get all this beautiful temperate rain forest without a lot of rain. In fact this area’s annual rainfall ranges between 1500mm (5 feet) and 8000mm (26 feet). We are supposedly here during the more ‘stable’ time of the year, too!

I’m not much of a travel blogger, so I thought I’d just share with you a few of the highlights during the first third of our trip. Sadly, New Zealand is another good example of how humans have screwed up a perfectly wonderful environment and ecosystem. New Zealand was the last major land mass to be settled by humans, the Maori people, about a thousand years ago. The Maoris brought with them cats and dogs. As white inhabitants settled, thanks to Captain Cook’s multiple visits in the mid to late 1700’s, further devastation happened to the old growth forest covering the islands. The sea animals, especially eels, were fished to near completion and many birds are now extinct. The national bird, the Kiwi is almost extinct but there are a number of programs including reestablishing the habitats, that are ongoing.

We took a cruise up north in the Marlborough Sound that was named ‘the mail run’ in Queen Charlotte Sound. It was so named because it is the run that delivers the mail to the inhabitants living in remote parts of the bay, only accessible by boat. At each stop the resident came to meet the boat, usually with a dog in tow and often a few children who waved at us. The Captain had special dog biscuits with him and don’t you think the dogs didn’t know it! They waited, tails wagging, for their treats. Fun for the dogs and good entertainment for the punters!

An important stop on the 4.5 hour cruise, was a place called Ship Cove. This was the exact place where Captain Cook stopped a documented five times on his explorations of this part of the world. Whatever else he was, Cook was a great navigator. To have found this idyllic, protected cove once would have been a good thing, but to be able to find it again, four more times, is nothing more than genius. This area is blessed with ‘old growth’ vegetation and is so dense you can hardly imagine it being much different in Cook’s time. The sound of birds was quite pronounced, and a few Weka came to see if anyone would feed them, and a very cute, wren-like Fantail flitted around me at one stage until I thought it might even land on me! Both birds are natives. But it was on our return trip back to the port of Picton, when we encountered a large pod of bottle nose Dolphins. In this part of New Zealand the dolphins commonly reach a size of four metres, about 13 feet. They were not at all perturbed by our presence and the captain hovered in the area for probably 10 minutes until the pod had passed and swam into the distance. It was truly a memorable experience…all of it.

Much of the original native vegetation has been encouraged to regenerate and one can now drive along for kilometres on roads lined with gorgeous ferns and native trees. One stretch of road on the drive between our overnight destination of Haast, and Jackson Bay, the southernmost settlement on the Southwest Coast of the South Island, was certainly one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop at the section of the drive that was the best, but just near it we stopped and I took a photo so you can have an idea.

At Jackson Bay, there looked to be about six houses. Some enterprising person had brought in a little diner style demountable, painted bright pink and named it the Cray Pot. The rain was teaming down and no place to pull over so I couldn’t get a photo, but imagine the most crisply new and brightly coloured little rectangle overlooking the turbulent sea, and surrounded by the accoutrement of a tiny fishing village, and several very modest homes. The lights were on and it looked quite cheerful and I’m sure it is a favourite place for the locals and also a welcome sight to those who have ventured all the way to that remote point and want a place to stop. Here are a couple of photos taken from the car, looking at the tiny village an its jetty, and also looking out to sea from about where the ‘main street’ of the village would be.

This blog writing from an iPad is less than satisfying and more into cumbersome, possibly due to user ignorance, so I will not try your patience further on this post. I’ll see if I can refine some technique for future mobile postings. The bottom line is, New Zealand is amazing!

on poetry and ordinary things…

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Still dark, I lay in bed, door open to the cool early dawn air. Musical tones, almost conversational, and a little eerie, drift in from not far away. The dingoes are back.

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pied butcher bird

Pied Butcher Bird practices her beautiful song for quite a long while. I stretch and bend my body toward functionality, which is my morning practice. The piercing song sinks deep into my psyche. I wonder what the unfortunately named bird was singing about? A nice insect it had just consumed? A good place to perch? Come here…this garden has no cats or dogs and they keep a nice bowl of water too.

Or maybe, “beware, the dingoes are near.”

I set off on my morning walk…listening to a favourite podcast. The episode was from Krista Tippett (On Being) interviewing beloved Irish poet, Michael Longley. More and more, I find myself being drawn to poets and their concise artistry.

The interview started with Michael Longley quoting his own favourite poet:

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morning light

“There’s a line by John Clare that I adore. I love John Clare. I revere him. “Poets love nature, and themselves are love.” And I believe that with all my heart. And part of writing is adoration. For me, celebrating the wildflowers or the birds is like a kind of worship.”

Those words pulled me in and for the remainder of the walk I was absorbed in a sort of reverie of someone else’s experiences, uniquely expressed, yet similar to my own. That is what art hopes to achieve, something previously unidentified, but immediately recognisable.

The Wedge Tail Kites (large birds of prey) circled above me, occasionally landing near enough to see how large they were. Some are big enough that my neighbour carries a golf club to chase them away, lest their carnivorous tendencies see her young puppy as breakfast!

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ordinary minutia

In my ears, unfolded ‘The Vitality of Ordinary Things’.* Even thinking about it now reminds me of my own strong connection with tiny and ordinary pieces of life. It has only been in the last decade or so that I have recognised my own fascination with this side of life. I think it has always been there. I just hadn’t realised it was a theme—perhaps not had the mental space to see it.

Once you see a thing, it cannot be unseen.

Home again. My daily habit is to water the rosemary plants, growing in pots along the patio. I lifted the metal watering bowl we keep in the outside sink. A sizeable, and  nearly expired, lizard had curled up underneath and was still–eyes closed, but not yet dead. Poor thing, what is there to do? I picked it up gently and placed it in the shade of the vines, surrounding the rosemary pots, hoping it wasn’t too late for it to revive. Its response was not encouraging. As you know, I’m sympathetic to the lizards around here and this was one I didn’t often see–about three times the length of a gecko and with lovely patterned skin. After laying his limp body in the shade, I dribbled a little water over him. Eyes still shut, he looked dehydrated, hovering near death. I suspect he had crawled into the sink for water and then couldn’t get out again. It happens sometimes, and with our hot weather, anything that small can dehydrate quickly.

I felt sad, and more than a little worried for him, having lost Bernie so recently.

Wanting to know…and yet fearing how the lizard fared, I waited a few hours to check on him. I carefully picked through the vines to peek and see if by some miracle he had revived. ‘My stars and garters!’, as my Aunt used to say! There he was blinking back at me. He looked almost normal and not in a huge rush to scurry away. And me with no camera.

But I have a pen.

And paper.

How much more of an ordinary thing can one do, but to interact with nature? Then again, how much more of an extra-ordinary thing can one do but to save a life?

Anything, however small, may make a poem; nothing, however great, is certain to. –Edward Thomas

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likeness of rescued lizard

 

*for the uninitiated, Michael Longley has the most gentle and calm Irish voice and explains so well the creative life of a poet as well as some of the complexities of life in Northern Ireland. He is an agnostic, so if this bothers you, try to put it to one side. You will see that he is deeply reverent and impishly delightful. The link I have given is so that you can listen to the interview on the computer or read the transcript, or see the title and find it in your podcast app. I have to say, though, it is his lovely, lilting voice that enhances his thoughts and humour, so if you can listen. It is worthwhile.

a voice from the ages…

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Evening stroll to the concert. View of the Yarra River.

We have just returned from a little ‘warm up’ trip to Melbourne. Even though I arrived home beyond tired, I’m calling this a warm up trip because it is a small prelude to a longer trip in a week’s time, to New Zealand.  Here is how the Melbourne trip came about…

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Satu Vänskä, Principal Violin, Australian Chamber Orchestra

A little over two weeks ago I saw a television interview with Satu Vänskä, Principal Violin, of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The ACO has on loan a 300 year old Stradivarius Violin and Satu is the talented musician who plays it for their performances. Her interview captivated me as she described the violin as an extension of herself, as her ‘voice’, were she a singer. She explained the ACO has a fundraising program that enables them to purchase vintage instruments which become part of their orchestra. They are not just for show, they are participants in their art. She played a couple of short examples of the music they would be performing. It went straight to my heart, the way things do when we are open to experiences.

It so happens my husband was already booked to travel to Melbourne about a week hence, for a series of meetings. He encouraged me to check the ACO performances and see if they happened to coincide. They did. And there were seats available.

I believe in synchronistic adventure.

We enjoy listening to classical music but are not cognoscenti, especially me. I just listen and enjoy. Neither of us had ever attended an ACO performance. But there was something about the sound of that Stradivarius, even heard over the inferior quality of television speakers, that filtered to my innermost being. I suppose that is what great art does. But there is more…

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Dad and Mom in Rome

About forty years ago, when my Italian speaking skills were fresh enough from studies to be of some use, I organised a trip to Italy for myself and my parents. In those days I could only get two weeks off from work so it was an ambitious plan. We flew into Rome, enjoyed the delights, picked up a rental car and headed to an area about 70 miles outside of Rome to meet my father’s extended family, then south to the Amalfi Coast, then back up through Tuscany and through Cremona on our way to the Lake Como area. Like I said, ambitious. Dad and I took turns driving —oh the things a fearless father and a confident young daughter can achieve! I wonder if my Mother spent the entire trip with white knuckles?

When we neared the Cremona area, Dad sprung on me that he wanted to stop, to see if we could find anything about the Stradivarius violins that were made there in the 18th century. Himself, a musician, Dad was from a very musical family. His father played the violin and his Uncle made violins, one of which is in the possession of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Musical talent certainly skipped my generation, though perhaps there is a lingering gene or two in my other creative endeavours.

Keep in mind, this was well before GPS systems, the internet or smart phones! We had only an ‘old school’ road map and my Dad’s sketchy knowledge of the Stradivarius. I could scarcely believe we actually found a museum or school or some such place, where there was said to be a Stradivarius. But when we arrived it was ‘chiuso’—closed. The hours were posted on the door so we decided to try and return when it would be open again. As we turned to leave, an Italian gentleman came into the piazza. Dad, never one to hold back, but knowing not a word of Italian, stopped the man, then realised I would have to do the asking… thanks Dad. If you’ve ever learned a second language, you will know that often it is not the difficulty of asking the question that is the problem, it is understanding the reply that is tricky. Eventually, what I understood was that this gentleman, a ‘professore di musica’ was also the person who came once a week to play the Stradivarius that was kept on display here–to keep it in good working order. He told us when he would be playing if we wanted to wait.

We waited.

Eventually the door was opened, probably after siesta, I can’t quite remember, I just know it was a warm day and we were waiting on hard stone benches in the piazza for a while… We were told where to go and il Professore, true to his word, was preparing the famed violin. He, and we, were the only people present. He played. Dad was riveted. Me? I was young and not as appreciative as I might have been. The uniqueness of the moment didn’t fully sink it at the time, but somewhere deep in the folds of my grey matter it has been waiting to come forward and be gratefully acknowledged.

Hearing that Stradivarius on television restored that memory as if it was only a few years ago. Perhaps the spirit of my Dad was urging me to go to Melbourne. It was the sort of adventure he would appreciate. The actual star of the performance was the up and coming Australian Soprano, Nicole Car, who has performed in London and Paris to acclaim and who is performing later this year at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She was superb.

But for me, the star was the Stradivarius.

What a voice Satu has…a three hundred year old Belgiorno Stradivarius that lives on through her artistry.

 

 

If you live in Australia, the ACO tour continues for the month of April. Also, there is a performance from this series that will be played live on April 22 with Nicole Car singing. I will be out of the country and can’t imagine that I will get to hear it, but who can say, with these synchronistic things? Link: http://www.abc.net.au/classic/live-music/classic-live/

this morning, this moon, these atoms…

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(note: it is annoying that WordPress needs to put a different date on this, than when I am actually posting it here in Australia, but that seems to be the way it works. It is April 1, 2018 here)

I admit to being rather uninspired to take photos lately. Possibly because I have other creative things on my mind…possibly…just because. But the moon was so super bright, and apparently ‘blue’, this morning… I shot out of the house and up and down rocky outcrops following its journey’s end across the sky as it lightly touched the sharp, molten edge of the ranges and then disappeared.

Nature, the universe and all its inhabitants inspire artists of all kinds, I’m certain. The golf course where we live is highly regarded both for golf and for its surrounding beauty. And I am among its most appreciative observers. However, a person needs to watch carefully where they are walking, while keeping an eye on the bright spherical prize, or else you will go ass over appetite pretty quickly, not to mention twist something vital to mobility.  I am a Light Chaser, so I risk it. The price of being able to indulge this scramble is staying fit enough to pick carefully, but quickly up the lightly worn paths the kangaroos use (judging from the droppings…) and along the ridge. It is an art.

Eventually, when the sun had nearly erased the contrast between sky and moon, I came down from the ridge and walked toward home. The tiniest of wildflowers were in blossom, from timely rains a few weeks ago. They would nearly fit on the head of a pin. Across the way the funny ole Galahs were doing their civic duty on a small knoll, crunching a favourite of theirs, the ‘three corner jacks’. They are horrible, large prickles and in this instance, no one begrudges the Galahs their preferences!

On the home stretch I spied a crested pigeon feather in the red dirt, with tiny tufts of green grass, again results of the recent rain. Around it, tiny dried purple flowers, blown along the way from a ‘Geisha’ bush several metres away.IMG_1278

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What a marvellous and memorable walk, while in my ears played an interview * with literary thinker Maria Popova and astrophysicist Natalie Batalha.

It took 13.7 billion years for the atoms to come together to create the portal to the universe which is my physical self. –Natalie Batalha

And there I was, my ‘physical self’, perhaps only accidental atoms, but able to experience perfection.

 

*This link is for the WEB page interview that you can either read or listen to, if you are so inclined. Podcast is ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett, episode titled ‘Cosmic Imagining, Civic Pondering’

If you wish to see the photos larger you can just click on them. I used no filters or editing, these photos are as they came from my iPhone 6 camera.

find your powerful…

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There is something happening. Now. It is sad and it is uplifting at the same time. Probably all of you know about the tragic shooting of students in Parkland, Florida on February 14th. Maybe you are even sick of hearing about it. I have been following what has happened afterward fairly closely. A few days after the event I was explaining to my husband an interview I had seen where a father spoke of the loss of his son. Among other things, the father said he was ‘pissed’. I’m sure. My voice cracked and I began to cry, having to pause to be able to finish the story. Imagine losing your child to such senseless violence.

In their abject grief and shock, the students of Margory Stoneman Douglas High School, wasted no time. While grieving their best friends and classmates, their anger cut through the BS that has surrounded this issue for decades. Because they are young, a large portion of their journey has played out on social media. It is one of the times when I have been glad to have some connections on Twitter and Instagram. It has been so impressive to see how these young people handle themselves. There has been very little ego, hubris, double talk or any of the things adults are given to using. They just tell it like they have experienced it. This has happened to THEM. To their friends. They are the targets.

It is humbling. It is powerful. And totally frightening.

Things do not ever stay the same. Change happens whether or not we are ready for it or invite it. The United States is the country of my birth. It is where I lived the first 30 years of my life. I still carry an American passport as well as an Australian one. But most importantly, I am still a member of the human race. I’m a human who values life. I’m a human who doesn’t want to see senseless tragedy.

We should all care about violent death from terrorism, war and oppression in every country. But it is nearly overwhelming, and hard to know what to do. In this instance I have seen enough to recognise a genuine movement and one to which I can contribute a small amount. My small amount has been to follow the students, trying to understand and support their journey with comments and sharing. And this blog post. This week I also downloaded a song from iTunes, part of the proceeds from which will go to support the students who have organised Marches in all 50 states of the United States. The song is a ‘mashup’ (combination) of two songs from two major Musicals, ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. The songs are titled ‘The Story of Tonight’ and ‘You Will Be Found’. The creative genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote ‘Hamilton’, has penned this anthem called ‘Found Tonight’. Miranda and Ben Platt, winner of a Golden Globe for ‘Dear Even Hansen’, sing it and I have included it here for you to… contemplate.

Saturday, 24 March is the March for Our Lives day. I hope it is a peaceful but powerful day. In his Golden Globe acceptance speech Ben Platt said:

‘Don’t try to be anyone but yourself, the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful’.

Let’s all find our strange and powerful selves, and strive to make a difference. Lots of little tiny powerful moments together can cause a big thing to happen. The students are showing us the way.

the long hot summer…

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Years from now, those of us who are still living in Central Australia will be sagely commenting ‘Remember that horrible heat in the summer of 2018?’

And..

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My view of the rain relief approaching.

‘Remember how it finished with a huge weather system from the northeast, slowly turning the skies grey and blanketing the earth with reviving rains and cooler breezes?’ ‘Why, I remember the mountain, cloaked in clouds and heavy mist, disappearing for nearly two days.’

And so it happened.

I know friends and family tired of me writing ‘it’s been another stinking hot day’ and ‘I am so tired, the heat just drains me’. But damn it, I was right!! It turns out during the three months of summer (Dec 1 to Feb 28) we had record breaking heat. Instead of the usual average of 13 days of 40+ (104+F) temps, we had 39. Thirty-nine. And for those keeping records we learned the average daily temps for those three months was 38.2 (100F)…the hottest summer in 76 years of keeping records.

And this morning, 12 March, it was a crisp, cool 16c (60F). The air is clean, the colours intense and the arid lands at their best, refreshed by rain. Nearly…probably…almost worth the journey to get here.

Somewhere in the middle of the heat waves shimmering up from the ground, our bearded dragon departed. I wonder now if it was even too hot for her and she flung herself into the path of a four wheeled dragon slayer, flying around the bend near our place. Near the spot where our lovely dog met his doom seven years ago.

I was returning from my morning walk and there, in the middle of the road lay an unnaturally flat bearded dragon, the size and colour of Bernie. There is a funny Australian colloquialism ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’, which alludes to being very busy. I’ve never seen a lizard drinking, but presumably one must go very flat to reach the water and it is very busy thereafter getting some water into it. This was no drinking lizard, in reality, or metaphorically. Just flat.

I waited a few weeks to see if perhaps it was another local bearded dragon that had succumbed to the urban beast. We’ve had a few in the area. But there has been not the slightest sign of Bernie. I decided to posthumously give her a unisex name in deference to the possibility that I am wrong about her sex. The naming makes her memory more specific. To me. (Bernie is short for Bernadette…or Bernard should he/she reappear wearing boxers or something…)

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a change of scenery from the rosemary bush

I missed Bernie a surprising amount and was quite sad at this turn of events. Her silhouette no longer quietly adorned the Callistemon tree, nor did her head peek out of the rosemary bush. She no longer scampered around the patio to seek cover under the Singapore Daisy vines. So…with my still developing skills, I decided to honour Bernie. After a bit of sketching, and with some artistic license, I had a sort of caricature that I was happy with. But I couldn’t quite figure out how to create a texture for the skin that I liked. After a frustrating session at the drawing board one day, I decided to get completely away from the project and turned on the television. The Antiques Road Show was on and within a minute or two there appeared an antique lamp, in the shape of a dragon, that made me sit up in stunned acknowledgement. There was the texture I needed for Bernie. Back to the drawing board I went. Literally.

It made me realise that I enjoy the mental gymnastics of solving drawing problems, as much as the actual drawing. Often I will leave a piece for days, even weeks, as I turn over in my mind various objectives and options. It is so much more interesting to contemplate than what I’m making for dinner. It is not unlike writing this blog in that way. Even though I have written few in recent weeks, I’m constantly turning over ideas and writing bits and pieces, taking photos and auditioning scenarios about which to write. Bernie is worthy.

Vale Bernie, Bearded Dragon of the Fairway. It has a certain ring to it.IMG_1180

 

A favourite podcast from recent weeks: On Being with Krista Tippet interviews poet Mary Oliver. Also, here is Mary reading her exquisite poem, Wild Geese.

fullsizeoutput_3e7aRecipe for grain-free French-style Apple Cake

Recent discovery as told to me by my Optometrist: When eyes feel tired and dry, wet a face washer (washcloth) with very warm water and gently rub the eyelids, upper and lower, for about a minute. It is surprisingly restorative. Apparently it unclogs oil glands on the edges of the lids and thus enables more moisture to be kept on the eye, making it less dry and uncomfortable.

the comfort of food…

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IMG_5799Some of us eat to live. Others live to eat. I probably fall somewhere in the middle of that continuum. Influencing personal preferences are things like cultural and family rituals, environment and health. For most adults, it is one of the few things we can do in life that is totally up to us as to when, how and what we consume. But I have found, that my body and mind often disagree about what I should be eating, and that can be a problem.

In July of 2017 I quit eating grains. All of them. Not a fad or weight-loss diet, it was an informed choice—or as informed as is possible with food intolerances, which are quite mysterious. Having a psoriatic rash extending from my upper back to my legs, and periodic eczema, I was desperate to fix the problem, if possible. It had worsened over the year I was eating gluten free so that didn’t seem to be the answer…what to do? Quit grains…and then what?

After only 3 days the itching stopped. After 3 weeks the rash started to fade a bit and I was losing weight that had slowly crept on over a period of five years. It wasn’t a lot of weight, but it was stubborn and seemingly immoveable. And then it left. Not sorry to see you go! Now, some 8 months later, I am still noticing changes for the better. Not wanting to get into the very contested issues around medical versus alternative treatments of things, I will say that tests show that my blood sugar level has decreased from high to normal, cholesterol has adjusted to normal and there is a marked difference in inflammatory symptoms, such as arthritis. And more…

I still have a list of food intolerances, but have noticed that a few things seem to be digesting much better and eczema is no longer a problem. It reminds me of that movie about Benjamin Button, the one where he ages in reverse. It kind of feels like my body is returning to normal, whatever that was. It has been a long time.

I’m not on a bandwagon to tell you to eat any certain way, we are all different. I do what seems right for myself and leave others to make their own choices. My choices are informed. I read and update my knowledge continually. Be your own advocate, I say.

Perhaps the most valuable food and life lesson was told to me over 25 years ago when I began to try and heal myself. A naturopath told me ‘Make a list of all the things you CAN eat and post it on the fridge. That way, when you are hungry you will see all the available options, rather than all the things you need to avoid’. It was a lesson in perspective–food for thought, in every sense.

In recent years I’ve become very dedicated to my morning cup of coffee. Some days it seemed it was the only bright spot in the day, not that my life is horrible, it isn’t. But food and drink consumption has been a lifelong challenge and the bright spots are not always easy to come by. The siren call of morning coffee, however, seemed to take on an elevated need to satisfy. Why? I only have the one cup, and it is half-caf, that is half decaf beans and half normal beans, ground and steeped together for my morning joie-de-vivre. I even enjoy the ritual of making my pour-over coffee. In cold weather I sometimes have a second cup but it is all decaf. Yes, caffein has become something I am also sensitive to. More’s the pity. For me, coffee is a comfort. I have been drinking it since childhood, when Grandma would ask me if I wanted her to make me some of her ‘rat poison’ (instant coffee) and we would both giggle with devilish delight. She would make me a milky cup, sweet with sugar. My parents always had coffee in the mornings and so have I. Morning just doesn’t feel right without it.*

I try to understand these things but sometimes the full picture eludes me, until one day while I’m reading or listening or watching, another piece of the puzzle snaps into place. One such day happened this month, listening to the BBC Food Program about ‘comfort food’. Most people understand what that term means, but few of us would identify the same food(s) to describe it. Usually, comfort food is something that reminds you of childhood, of home, or of a special meal, person or place. Often, all of the above! For me, comfort food was Mom’s homemade stewed chicken and dumplings, pecan pie, pancakes, mashed potatoes with gravy and fried chicken…and also, milky coffee.

As I began listening to the podcast I wondered, ‘…am I going to be able to get through this?’…such was the intensity with which people recalled their comfort foods and why. Eating can be a personal pleasure for one, or hold even deeper meaning, going to the heart of family culture and tradition. Nearly all of the foods described are things I can no longer eat. But I persevered. Not one to accept a joyless diet gracefully, I am used to researching cooking methods, foods and recipes that can restore my joie while also feeding my family and friends. Recent efforts have, of course, been focused on foods without grains.

Continuing to listen, I realised my search was not only for nutritional reasons, I had also been searching for a new set of comfort foods. 

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Slow cooked chicken and vegetable soup

Many of the old comfort foods were just not possible to recreate satisfactorily with alternative ingredients that did not include grains, or flour, as we know it. Fried chicken made with almond meal just didn’t make the grade. However, stewed chicken like Mom used to make for eating with dumplings or noodles, made into ‘Zoodle Soup’ is pretty good. It is a slow cooked chicken and vegetable soup made with zucchini ‘noodles’ (‘zoodles’) or in my case, stick shapes cut on the mandolin slicer, because I didn’t want to have another gadget in my kitchen. The zoodles remind me of the way Mom would sometimes break spaghetti into shorter pieces for soups. The soup is savoury and wholesome and what you would want if you had a cold or flu. That’s the comfort test, isn’t it? When you are sad, or sick, what do you want to eat that makes you feel better?

Russian ‘Syrniki’ or ricotta pancakes were soon to be added to my repertoire.

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Russian-style Syrniki, ricotta pancakes with yogurt and berries

And an ersatz English-style Muffin fills the void, when I want a crispy vehicle for butter and jam.

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grain free English-style Muffin with cashew butter and plum jam

My greatest triumph so far has been French-style Apple Cake. It looks and tastes like my distant memory of the real deal, and everyone who has eaten it thinks it is delicious and special, as is its namesake.

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French-style Apple Cake

I realise I will never replicate the exact feeling of those old comfort foods because they are flavours that were established in the beginning of my life. But there is great pleasure, and comfort, in creating new dishes for this phase of my life.

So what do you want to eat that gives you comfort? Go on, I’m tough, hit me with it….

 

*(I have eliminated coffee several times over the years, once for three years, replacing with green, herbal or black tea and not found any health benefits.)

remotely challenged…

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IMG_0836If you have ever been in over your head with technology…

Among other things, my husband has a degree in Information Technology. After many years, I have figured out they taught him never to intervene if there is someone else foolish enough to try and do the job. So. I am the ‘tech guru’ of our household. I have just finished setting up the latest addition to our family of technology, an Apple TV. Silly me, I believed everything Google said, ‘you just plug it in and follow the instructions on the screen to set it up’. Oh, yes, that ole’ fairy tale.

I’ve had Apple products almost since their inception, so I’m kind of used to them. I stay with them because they integrate so well with each other. I was a freelance artist and an early adopter of desk top publishing and eventually I used the computer for most of my design work as well, so I am not without skills.

IMG_0850Less accomplished are my skills of using a remote. Or three in this case. The Apple TV is a toy, a luxury. I enjoy watching YouTube videos, TED talks and the like, but I don’t like sitting at the computer to watch them. I can also view my 30,000+ digital photo collection on the bigger screen, as well as use other apps from my computer. Also I like movies, and for a modest fee, this will let me subscribe to Netflix. (Shhh, don’t tell the satellite provider) Our TV is seven years old. It is not a totally smart TV. It isn’t stupid but it is no longer the valedictorian of its class.

Our daughter had encouraged me to buy the Apple TV in the first place, assuring me it would augment the smartness factor, and convincing me that I had the tech skills to set it up. Ego being what it is, I believed her too.

First attempt: Early in the morning, fail. I send her a text message. 

Me: “No success so far, but I think it is operator error”

Second attempt: A couple of hours later…I sat sympathetically in front of the not so smart TV, three remotes lined up in front of me. I did not feel so smart either. The design of the Apple remote is such that you need to be able to access ‘settings’ on the TV to see if the remote is fully charged and connected. Therein lay the conundrum. I could not advance from the screen after selecting ‘English’ as my language of choice. Nothing would happen.  But it didn’t happen in English. At least I’d gotten that far, though how, I wasn’t sure. If I have learned anything over the years it is that going back to basics often fixes a tech problem. Perhaps it would help, I thought, if I tried charging the new remote, just in case it was flat and not working.  Apple usually sends things already fully charged, but it was worth a shot.

…charging for a little while.

Text reply to my earlier message, from our daughter, who has owned an Apple TV for 7 years and who lives 1000 miles away:

Daughter: “I would help if I wasn’t so far away”

Me: …contemplating why I let her leave home.

I retrieved the charged (presumably) remote and returned to the task at hand. Wot??? Suddenly appearing on the TV screen, the remote shared with me, it was ‘connected’! Well, thank God for small mercies. Upon a second third look, I realised I had not noticed the track pad on top of the teeny tiny remote. Oh for Pete’s sake, how did I miss that? Yeah, the same way I missed the most important item on my grocery shopping list, yesterday. (Will give myself a personal flogging later.) Finally, I could advance the screens and set things up. Setup finished, and connected to Wi-Fi, I suddenly had a new problem.

How do I return to the regularly scheduled programming on the satellite service? This was dicey. I had screwed this up in the past and it took ages to sort out. Stakes were high. 

Daughter: “Once it is connected you need to select the correct HDMI port”

My reply: “Yes, I know that, but I have no idea how to get that screen up on the TV”

Silence.

I’ve been in this space before. Being technically challenged is surprisingly stressful, probably up there with childbirth–without the Oxytocin or drugs. Stomach gnaws, angst grows. Which button do I push now? Truthfully, I have no idea what a quarter of the buttons do. And I’m the guru.

Sweaty palms.

(Does not even know which remote she should be using at this point…staring, sweating, considering her options, which bears mentioning, the actual ‘options’ button does nothing discernible. More contemplating… )

Incoming text message from my friend, the Bricklayer, who wants to know if he can come THIS very morning to patch something I spoke to him about two months ago. Really? You want to come in an hour? Trying to complete my task at hand before needing to be at the airport to pick up my husband, whose plane was to arrive early, after which a friend was coming for coffee, was closing in on me. Something in my response must have signalled ‘danger Will Robinson’*.  He later replied he would come another day.

Fine. Better. I will apologise later, in case I made him feel unloved. I don’t think I did. He is very intuitive and probably just picked up on a vibe.

Honestly, who needs extreme sports to get the heart rate up?

Basically I was just pressing the same button over and over, hoping for a different outcome. Insanity, I know. BUT, then I noticed on the TV screen, a teeny, tiny icon I had previously overlooked. (more flogging later) OMG, that looks like another icon, where did I see that….desperately scans all three remotes at once. Could it be…THIS other teeny, tiny little button that almost looks like that?

Deep breath.

Push button.

Presto. I have just graduated summa cum laude in ‘remote education’. I am wildly happy. Ridiculously happy. But at 8.30 am, I’m also wondering if it is too early to open the bottle of vodka.

I message our daughter about the victory and the vodka, who replies:

“Call it a Mimosa”**

I text back to her: “How did you get so smart?”

Her reply: “Good genes”

I may be technologically challenged, but I raised a smart and funny young woman.

Things always look easier in hindsight, but keep a bottle of vodka just in case. –ardysez

 

*”Danger Will Robinson” is an often quoted line from a 1960’s TV series called “Lost in Space”. Will Robinson was the son of a family who was supposedly lost in space on an alien planet. His ‘minder’ was a protective, humourless robot. If Will, who was a bit cheeky, would test the limits of their alien situation, the robot would sound the danger warning. Here is a five second clip 🙂

**A ‘Mimosa’ is a drink often served at fancy brunches, that is half champagne or other fizzy wine, plus orange juice