Monday, February 12, 2018

Quietly Heroic


Dahlias and sedum at twilight


It takes a good deal of bravery and skill to keep even a very ordinary life going. To persevere through the challenges of love, work and children is quietly heroic.
Alain de Botton, School of Life, Good Enough is Good Enough


I am surrounded by so much quiet heroism, in so many permutations and combinations. Love, work and children are significant, but by no means the sum of possible categories of life's heroic challenges. Here are some of the blessings and challenges faced by a bunch of lovely people close to me: Children, love and ill health. Uncertain work, love and giant projects. Being young, love, looking for work. Being young, uncertain health and love. Work, unrequited love and what is life all about? Getting older, uncertain health, work, love. Children, work, looking for love. Creative endeavours, uncertain work, love. Getting older, creative endeavours, uncertain health, being alone.

Every one of these splendid people gets up every day, steps out into the world and makes quietly heroic waves. Care for family, friends, colleagues, community, strangers, peace, justice. Hilarious stories, good cooking, being nice to cats. It all adds up.

Me: creative endeavours, uncertain work (they go together, somehow!), children, love. All the challenges and all the blessings.

To all of my quietly heroic friends and lovely readers - congratulations. And keep going :)

Talk to me about the combination of blessings and challenges you persevere through.. does it help to consider yourself quietly heroic? I feel very kindly towards any effort to elevate the significance of the minutiae of daily life to epic proportions. Because after all, it is what we do when we get up every day that creates a whole life, in the end..

Monday, January 29, 2018

Big Days Out


Jeanneret Beach, Bay of Fires

Ah, summer holidays. The first question everyone asks is, "Where are you going over summer?" And my answer mostly is, "Well, nowhere actually." The subject of my sermon today is, 'Why you don't have to get on a plane to experience the good life.' Choosing experiences over stuff is all very well but experiences don't have to involve exotic, far away places. One of my recent resolutions is to learn to live deep in the place where I already am. I could spend a lifetime walking the forests and towns of Tasmania and discovering the birds, the fungi, the plants and the extraordinary human history just on this little island where I live. To be honest, I hardly even do that. I like my house, my garden, my neighbours, the little patch on the mountain I find myself visiting on a regular basis.

Liffey Falls

But certain family members get restless, and other family members come to visit, with their partners, best friends, cousins, great aunts etc, in tow, and sometimes I find myself under pressure to actually leave the house. Sometimes I find myself entangled in schemes to go away for a few days, camping or staying at a house at the beach, or other variations on that theme. And let's face it, while that always seems worthwhile in retrospect, it is completely exhausting before, during and after the event, with all the packing, cooking, washing, cleaning and organising that goes with leaving the house for a few days. Like Armageddon, with suitcases. Clearly, event organisation is not my thing. So this summer, I have been encouraging Big Days Out instead.

Honeycomb Caves, underground river

Most places in Tasmania are within two hours' drive of most other places, so in high summer, if you leave earlyish you can have a good six to eight hours of being in a whole different place, and then get home in time to sleep in your own bed. Oh, my goodness, I appreciate my own bed. I think I must be getting old. There are so many benefits to this scheme. Food for one day is relatively easy to prepare and stash in an esky in the back of the car. Sleeping bags, tents, toothbrushes, camping permits etc are not required, nor is it necessary to sell one of the children to finance overnight accommodation. It is easier to persuade friends and family to join you for one day, thus spreading the joy and the food preparation and sharing the children around.

Honeycomb Caves - quick, count the children, have we lost any?

This summer we have been to the beach, been caving in unguided caves in the hills, clambered up and down waterfalls, discovered two new river swimming holes, been blueberry picking and picnicking, and well, now would be a good time to stay home, I think.

On top of the world - The Sidling Lookout

Being Tasmania, most of our adventures have been in the great outdoors, but city Big Days Out could be very creative and fun and cheap as well. For me, art galleries and botanic gardens would always top the list, but it is possible there are other entertaining free things to do in a city as well.. anyone?

Tell me about the Big Days Out you enjoy in your part of the world..


Monday, January 8, 2018

Three New Things


Margaret's garden - tea tree and bird houses

A week or so ago my mother asked plaintively if she had been dropped off the blog. My dad then explained that isn't how blogs work. Sorry mum, it isn't you, it’s me. Kind people have been emailing me to see if I'm ok. That is so lovely, and thank you. As you can see, I am still here, and my new year began at the end of last year with a string of good things.




Thing One: Yes, the article in the summer edition of Earth Garden with my name at the top. So very excited and happy to see this. The beginning, and gods willing, not the end, of the rest of a lifetime of writing things to send out into the world. And certainly not the end of sending words out into the world via All the Blue Day. Still so much to say :)




Thing Two: My first gardening job! This is me in my mushroom hat, which I have since mislaid, much to the relief of my children. I am in the beautiful garden of my friend Katherine, where I spent some pleasant and productive hours. Today I spent more hours in Margaret’s garden, which is one of my favourite gardens ever. I feel so lucky to have be working in such lovely surroundings with such good people.

Thing Three: There is.. a man. This was not part of my plan. I have so many plans, and none of them involved a man. All of them involved me being a woman alone. I was so content and happy to live my life on my own terms, make my own plans, think my own thoughts. But what happened? The universe brought me a man. I had no sooner set eyes on him, than I knew. Here he was. That one I hadn't been looking for. He lives in a wee cabin on a mountain where he thinks his thoughts and makes his things and hand-feeds bananas to skinks. And now I have two lives. My normal daily life in a cottage in the city with all the children (so many children right now. All of mine, and then some). And a second, secret life in a cabin on the mountain with the birds, the echidnas, the banana-loving skinks, and that man I accidentally fell in love with..







Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas Came




There are so many things about Christmas that I love. Making the Christmas cake. Twinkly lights. Christmas carols. The Kinder kids in their Nativity Play at school. I followed a small child in a three kings outfit through town this afternoon. He loved that purple cape so much. He kept swishing around in it like a superhero. The Christmas tree. Every year I throw everything we have at the tree - all the decorations made by the children since they were old enough to wield a glue stick and the glitter jar. It generally looks like a particularly cheerful explosion. This year, however, Posy put herself in charge of decorating. She chose a colour scheme of silver, red, white and blue. She took control of the Christmas decorations tub and edited. Rosy and I were only allowed to hang the ornaments that she selected. The tree does look extremely elegant this year, but I am kind of missing the yellow and red cardboard and cellophane star that The Boy made at the playgroup at the Baptist Church hall when he was two, and the Christmas seagull Posy made at Steiner playgroup when she was four (at least, I think it is a seagull).

More things I love about Christmas: home made shortbread from the neighbours. Our Christmas lunch with old friends, family, and lots of local food, including great big salads from the backyard. Having all the children come home and sleeping squeezed into corners of the house. Christmas camping with friends.



The one great big enormous thing I detest about Christmas: the buying of stuff. The part where poor people in far away places spend long hours in mines and factories making stuff that we feel obligated to buy and give to each other. Because it is Christmas. The season of good will towards all men.

As you know, I have spent a number of Christmases now reducing the gift-receiving burden. I realise that this sounds quite Grinch-ish but  I think I am in quite a good place with this. My brother and I have resolved to not give gifts at any celebration because we already have enough stuff. The exception to this is when we find excellent old vintage books in op-shops that we each know the other would love, then we buy and post them at any time of the year. I mostly give my parents food and garden-based gifts. I like gardening and my mum doesn't, so that works well :) I always ask for things like goats from my parents. Because who doesn't need another goat?

Everyone else gets jam, dried herbs or other comestibles. Except the children. I buy them one big thing that they 'need'. Concert tickets, plane tickets for the older ones, magazine subscriptions. This year Rosy got her Christmas present in June - a new down jacket to see her through winter. Then there are the Christmas stockings, filled with wee things from op shops and the Oxfam fair-trade shop. And food. What is Christmas morning without chocolate? Locally made, fair trade chocolate. Wicked expensive, but that is why Christmas has always traditionally been exciting. Because you get treats that you wait for all year. If you have cheap chocolate available all the time, you don't get to be excited about it at Easter and Christmas.

I was very proud of Posy. She wanted to go out and buy lots of new tree decorations to realise her grand decorating scheme. But instead she edited what we already had. She has made small tableaus with her own (quite extensive) collection of girl clutter. We bought candy canes and two candles. And glitter. Lots of glitter. Because no matter how much you simplify, glitter still means Christmas..

I would love to hear the practical details of how you are downsizing Christmas 'stuff'.. do you still do gifts, and how do you do them? I know this is not always an easy thing to negotiate..

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Stoicism for Beginners




There is tomato sauce on my dining room ceiling due to the incident with the exploding sauce bottle. There is brown poster paint on the floor due to the Grade 7 history project.




The weeds that were ankle high last week are knee high this week and will be waist high next week. There is mould in the refrigerator vegie drawer. I accidentally left the sauerkraut in the sun, and it too developed an exciting mould. The builder stepped on a tray of germinating seeds, and every time he turns up he discovers another problem with the roof or drains which will involve tearing up half the garden and maybe selling one of the children to pay for it. In other words, it is situation completely normal.

I am sitting by the open window with a gentle breeze blowing in, watching the evening sunlight glow golden on the garden, ignoring the paint, the sauce, the mould, the weeds, the dirt, the things I haven't done, the things I have done and maybe shouldn't have, and enjoying the bees and the flowers, and the golden light on the spiders' webs that festoon the dining room windows.

This week I am reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from AD161 until his death in AD180. For many of those years he fought on the borders of the Empire, commanding his legions and living in camp with them. He was the most important man in the Empire, and yet he believed that fame and power were worthless. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic. His writings were really notes to self, reminding himself to live a good life and accept what comes. The Stoics taught themselves to live cheerfully whatever their circumstances, to live the simplest life they could, and they believed that much unhappiness stems from restlessly desiring what is out of reach. Their motto might have been: be thankful for what you have, and find the good in it.

Marcus Aurelius began his Meditations with a list of the people who had taught him how to live a good life. Is this maybe the first example of an author acknowledgement page in literature? I am going to use this post to acknowledge my mum, who will soon be celebrating her 70th birthday. It was she who taught me how to appreciate tiny beautiful things. Throughout my childhood she would point out patterns on bugs, flowers made up of other, tiny flowers, dew drops on spiders' webs. She also modelled the importance of appreciating trees, sunsets and good books before worrying about doing the cleaning. Thanks, Mum :)

I like the Stoic philosophy. I would like to be more focussed on inward calm than outward stressors. I don't actually have a life full of big worrying problems, for which I am very thankful. I will practice being thankful for what I have, and being calm about the daily annoyances. Bees and the sunset are easy to be thankful for, and there is possibly even some good in the drainage situation, although I have to admit, I am still looking for it..

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Convict Cemetery



Convict Cemetery in Launceston. A quiet field under the blue sky.


For twenty years or so I have been winding my way up or down a particular hill in Launceston on a semi-regular basis. However, it wasn't until about eighteen months ago that I noticed the sign on a small side road that reads 'Convict Cemetery'. This intrigued me, but it wasn't until last week that I finally found myself with sufficient free time in front of me as I drove down the hill, that I turned off to find out more.

As it happens, I still know little more. The only information provided by the council is a board that reads, you guessed it, Convict Cemetery. Well, yes, but you know, who, what how, when.. I guess the where has been covered. A double row of bricks has been set into the path with the names and details of the convicts who are presumably buried here. I imagine that, at a guess, they have been inscribed by the pupils at the local primary school. This is a charming idea, but not much help if you happen to be doing genealogical research, as many of them are completely illegible. Here is one of the clearest:




Dennis Bien
Age: 23
Ship: Starts with a B
Date of something or other:1848
Sentence: 14 years

Dennis, whose name was maybe actually spelt Denis? To go with his French surname?
I just did some internet research, and the only convict with a similar name who arrived in Van Diemen's Land around 1848 is a Denis Brien. See? This is why you don't get eight year olds to preserve historical data. But it might not be Denis Brien at all. His ship, Boddingtons, as it turns out, arrived in New South Wales in 1793, which is rather early for a death in Launceston in 1848. If that is indeed a death date. And when Denis Brien's age is mentioned, is it the age he was when he died, or when he was transported? So many questions. This is why I am going to be a gardener, not a genealogist.

So let us turn from the cemetery to the woods. There is actually a perfect small forest next to the cemetery.



There is a pine grove, some beautiful oaks,



a thicket of elms.



It's like the Hundred Acre Wood, but it is a one or maybe two acre wood. A perfect pocket of verdant treeness in the middle of the city, and I never knew it was there.

The moral of this story is, always explore down the road that is signposted 'Convict Cemetery'.

In a similar adventure I got lost at a TAFE campus this morning, but in the unregarded tiny parking bay where I ended up, I found a plum and an apple tree. Always a silver lining. Maybe I will remember to head back there in the autumn and pick some well-educated fruit..

Also at the Convict Cemetery - olive trees. Worth a visit in the winter..

Monday, October 30, 2017

What Next?


Every time I look at my last post I have a little chuckle. Sometimes, when I am very stressed about one area in my life, I seize on something else about which I know absolutely nothing and care less (sport, for instance..) and get very impassioned on the subject, in a cunning attempt at misdirection. Not misdirecting you, my lovely readers, but me. It makes me feel better to have an opinion about a thing than to be sitting under the bedclothes gibbering about the unknowns in my life. Mind you, I stand by everything I said in the last post. I may not know anything about sport, but I can see when Big Money is screwing a thing up and spitting out its vulnerable victims after it has chewed them well..

Anyway, here I am, and here is the angst I have been avoiding - some of it is child related angst, so I won't go into it, other than to say, oh, my dears, being a parent, who would have thought that the baby years actually weren't the hardest? People did tell me that, back in the day, and I just wouldn't believe them. What could be harder than NEVER HAVING ANY SLEEP? Well, I am here to tell you, parents of tiny babes, sending your kids out into the world is far more terrifying than any toddler tantrum, and trying to make good decisions for them and with them when they are teenagers - aargh. Who can be that wise? Not me. I have the most fabulous young people in the actual world. They are all crazy and brave and brilliant and kind. I wish I could make the world all soft and bouncy for them so it would never hurt them. Remind me why I can't do that? When The Girl was about six or seven she wrote a (short) novel about what the future would be like. When her characters finally got there, they discovered that the future was...PILLOWS! Pillows are everywhere and bouncing is the thing you do in the future. I want all the children, everywhere, to have that future. I can't stand it that we have conspired to make a pretty crap world for our kids to inherit, and that we are steadily making it worse, day by day.

However, some child related angst has been worked through by everyone, and some child related angst is on-going, and honestly, probably will continue for years, that being the nature of us all being human.. and that's ok. Angst that doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

In other news, I walked into work on Thursday and told them I wouldn't be coming back next year. Yes, I quit! I have been second-guessing this decision for weeks and months, and then finally, just did it. I feel a bit lightheaded now. I am going to do two things next year (who knows, maybe more!) - writing, and starting a very small gardening business. I will be offering organic vegie gardening services, and any ornamental garden services that don't require a truck or a chainsaw. I have one tentative client, and the rest is completely in the lap of the gods. When Rosy finishes her exams she is going to design a business card for me, and I will do administrative things to do with tax, and then I can begin.

Jumping off the cliff has the advantage that once it is done, you can't change your mind. You are committed, and the only way is down. To certain death. Hmmm. I don't like where this analogy is going.

There is a Maori proverb, quoted in Ruth Park's autobiography, Fence Around the Cuckoo:

If you climb a cliff, you may die on the cliff. So what?

So what, indeed..

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