Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Ghosts

Last weekend I traveled interstate to celebrate my best friends wedding and to have early Christmas with my family. It was just lovely, although a very busy weekend, to be with friends and family and celebrating. The wedding was wonderfully simply and elegant and the ceremony just perfect for the bride and groom. I had the pleasure of reading a short poem as part of the ceremony, although I had the challenge of finding one for myself.

Love at first sight
by Wislawa Szymborska

They're both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they'd never met before, they're sure
that there'd been nothing between them.
But what's the word from the streets,
staircases, hallways -
perhaps they've passed by each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don't remember -
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a "sorry" muttered in a crowd?
a curt "wrong number" caught in the receiver? -
but I know the answer.
No, they don't remember.

They'd be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it parred their path, stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn't read them yet.
Perhaps, three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood's thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
were one touch had covered another
Suitcases, checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream, grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

While passing through the airport, this book caught my eye - "Winter Ghosts" - by Kate Mosse. I had previously read "Labyrinth" and really enjoyed it, and this one looked much shorted. So I started reading this on the plane and have been engrossed until finishing the book today. It was a much simpler read, and fairly engaging. I enjoy the historical aspects, involving the war of the Cathars in 13th C France. I also enjoy the mysterious storytelling of Mosse who cleverly presents the history intertwined with deep emotions.

Chance? The story I chose to read, and the poem I found for the wedding, were both about the chance encounters of strangers??? and that those encounters changed the characters lives. I am a believer of mysterious/serendipitous meetings that lead to life changing moments. I appreciate the forces (divine, chance, destiny???) that lead us through our daily lives.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Reflections on Volunteering - first installment

The girls we taught in 2007, now at High School

In September and October this year my friend and I went to Tamil Nadu to volunteer as english teachers and to work with a small NGO, ODAM. The Organisation of Development, Action and Maintenance envisions "Establishing equality among human society" irrespective of caste, creed, gender, region, religion, language or politics. To translate this vision into action, ODAM works on issues such as: rural poverty, women's empowerment, child welfare and environment.
Why did we go? This was our second trip becuase after our first one we felt committed to returning to demonstrate a human connection and to see our girls growing up. But the first time we went was a matter of opportunity. After more that 15 years working for the Government I had long service leave and my plans then included traveling. I had 6 weeks in my program to fill in and volunteering somewhere in India made sense - it would be a cheap 6 weeks, and give me an opportunity to try something different. I don't have children, and my husband doesn't get as many holidays as I do - so it makes sense for me to give my time through volunteering. Volunteering allows me to share my skills and knowledge with an organisation that may be poor on human resources. It also provides me an excellent opportunity for personal and professional learning. At the moment, I am committed to volunteering as a learning experience instead of enrolling in my PhD which would demand me to compromise some of my values.

How did I choose ODAM? There are many hundreds of agencies that happily take volunteers. There are also many who charge you for the experience. Many others work towards their own set of values and beliefs. Finding an agency or opportunity that was affordable, and fitted well with my own beliefs were two of my main selection criteria. I wanted to work towards the empowerment of women and against violence, I didn't want to be involved in 'pushing' organisation values or religious beliefs on anyone I would be working with, and I wanted to learn about a new culture. Finding ODAM (on Idealist) was the answer. In early correspondence with the volunteer coordinator at ODAM I asked lots of questions about what work they do and how they could use me. I appreciated the way they responded, and my friend and I eventually agreed we could go as English teachers.

Would I do it again?
I'd definitely volunteer again. And I'll promote ODAM to anyone who will listen.

This is just the first of my reflections on volunteering. I will post more soon about my experiences in India, the challenges and lessons I learnt and how it changed me.

Girls playing the senses game.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Catching Up on Book Reviews

As promised, I've returned to review (briefly) a few of the books I've read over the past few months. Some of these have been light and easy going reads, while others where a little more challenging. I'm reviewing from most recently read to those read a while ago. So I just finished these 2 yesterday while recouping from a medical procedure.

The Distance Between Us, by Bart Yates. This was reviewed at ebooks as a 'gem' and attracted me because I like to see how authors can write about the real experiences of life. I'm also a lover of classical music.

The story is about the family of Hester Parker, a classical concert pianist, whose career was cut short due to an accident, closely followed by the children. Two of the children have inherited the gift of music, while the 3rd child struggles with her inability to match her brothers or mothers standards.

It's a powerful story of a family that unravels after the suicide of the middle child. The author captures the readers, with his ability to express the emotions - especially of the mother - of their grief, turmoil and pains.

While a main character in the story, the young gay tenant in Hesters home, Alex is the gentle presence that carries Hester through one of her most difficult times, as she faces the loss of her husband, eldest son and her home.

I enjoyed this read - although it reminded me, sadly, of my own family dynamics.

Very Valentine, by Adriana Trigiani, was a fun light read (just what the doctor ordered yesterday). The story, a 33 yr old woman, finally deciding on her lifes' vocation - shoe making - is faced with the challenges of a failing family business and failing love life. Somehow she brings both her lifes desires into perspective and the story has a happy ending.

My favourite parts included the tomato garden on the roof top of their Manhattan factory/home, the walks along the Hudson River with her man, her grandmothers love affair, and the ultimate - her trip to Italy, with all it's highlights of shoes, fashion, fancy hotels, discoveries, boat rides to secret bays, and the kiss.

This book engaged me, and kept me captured until the end.

How to Paint a Dead Man, by Sarah Hall. I like what the back cover says: 'Sarah Halls' writing is powerful as well as delicate, and How to Paint a Dead Man affords the deepest pleasures fiction has to offer, She weaves together the four stands of the story with supreme conviction, beauty and emotional intelligence.'

There are four stories - the famous artist of the 1960's, Signor Giorgio, who tells his story from journal entries - the Scottish landscape artist, Peter Caldicutt, whose story unfolds with crazy antics demonstrating the egocentric flaws of a passionate man - the blind but fragile & young flower seller, Annette Tambroni, whose story is one of her mothers eternal protection and catholic paranoia, and her discoveries of the world around her - and finally, the daughter of Peter Cadlicutt, Suzi, who is struggling with the her own extreme grief of having lost her twin brother.

I loved all four story lines, although it took me a while to join the dots. Once I did join the dots, and the time line, I was able to see that Sarah Hall had indeed weaved the story. My favourite aspects of the story included the reflections of Giorgio, as told through his journals, his wisdom and his age and also the confusion of Suzi's grief and her drug of choice, a sexual affair. I found Peter Caldicutts story a little too close to home - as his antics reflected those of my father - also a creative force that survived the 70's...Those chapters were aptly titled 'the fool on the hill'.

Brida, by Paulo Coelho, was my first Coelho novel, and I doubt it will be my last. I picked it up while volunteering in India, out of the common room library, and once I started I couldn't put it down. I read this as part of my Lost in Translation Challenge 2009.

Now it's a while ago - so, from memory, the story's about a young woman who's searching for her calling in life and finds her path through a collection of individuals who teach her and mentor her. (like other bloggers I've looked up) doesn't reveal much, but says 'The conflict within all of us to be with someone whom we have known since long [before], or to be with someone whom we have known for a lesser time but who touches our heart more, or to just leave everything and submit ourselves to a lone path with no partner, forms the crux of this story. There are not too many sub-plots but the ones which are there (hint - voices, previous life) are short and will bring back you to the story very quickly.'

I was definitely captivated by the story line, and found many connections between Brida's challenges and my own - especially as I was in the midst of a alternative experience, living in India, surrounded by alternative spiritual paths and far from my family.

Considering this as a part of my Lost in Translation challenge, I loved Coelho's writing, which obviously translated well into English (and apparently 65 other languages). In reading other reviews about this work in translation, I am obviously no alone in my position.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thyme for Tea

Today has been probably the first day since returning from India, that I've been about to get out to the garden and enjoy being covered in dirt. It's been gorgeous. Today's been pretty rainy, but that was great weather for my job - weeding and turning. While I was away, my partner efficiently kept the broccoli and spinach going by eating it regularly. But didn't effectively manage the over growth of the older and spreading plants. So today I had the fun of pulling huge old celery bushes, and pruning the wandering native spinach, and tossing the old broccoli bushes to the compost. The compost is now HUGE.

While in the garden I found self sown lettuces, radishes, fruiting strawberries, hidden bok choy, and forgotten onions. It's such fun bringing in the produce - today's pickings include
  • Fresh spinach - both English and Australian (Warragul greens)
  • Rhubarb
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Leeks
  • Radishes
Since pulling up the old stuff, I can now see what space I have to work with, and can start planning my next round of planting. Maybe next weekend will be a good time to start on that!

While out in the garden my ponderings wandered - but here's a snippet:
  • I must blog my reflections on life as a volunteer with ODAM in India. My 6 weeks as a volunteer is now quickly fading into the past, but I feel like there were some really important lessons for me there. I'd like to blog about these soon.
  • I must also blog about - my friends who are now working in the village I went to. I'm following their blog with interest, and learning more about the philosophy of designing for the 90% of the population, rather that the top 10%. I also recently read about 'reverse innovation' - an aligned philosophy, but with a twist... more to blog about there.
  • This morning I read Riana's blog about 'lists' - so I was thinking in the garden about my need or use of lists. I also loved her review of a typical day, and wondered what my dream typical day would be??
  • I'm growing an experimental Yacon - so I was watching how it grows, checking out any signs for pests and wondering when I would get to dig for the fruit?
Finally, I had a quick reflection of my blog and noticed it's been quite a while since I shared with you a tea cup. This little one joined my collection from Limoges in France. I love fine china, but when I was in Limoges I was riding my bike. So collecting some nice everyday pieces wasn't going to be easy. I found this little one and just love it.

Tiny Tea Cup & Saucer from Limoges
(Sitting next to my favourite fine china cup - Memory Lane)

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Again, Murakami has intrigued me and challenged me in new ways. Once I got into this book, I did find it difficult to put down. I was intrigued from the first time I saw the cover - it's just so beautiful and elegant - which are words I'd use to describe some of Murakami's short stories included in this work.

I started collecting Murakami novels during the Japanese Literature Challenge 2, hosted by Della Belleza. It's since waited on the shelf for this years JLC3, but didn't have to wait long before I picked it up.

The back cover says 'Here are animated crows, a criminal monkey, an ice man, as well as the dreams that shape us and the things we might wish for.....Murakami's characters confront loss, or sexuality, or the glow of a firefly, or the impossible distance between those who ought to be closest of all.' For me, this collection of short stories were a powerful reminder of the things (real or imagined or hoped) that I've lost, and the meaning these experience are given (or not) in my life.

Just a couple of reflections:
  • Imagine losing your identity to a monkey with an infatuation with names? Shanghai Monkey (the last story) powerfully and poignantly questions "what's in a name?" "What is your identity?" "What defines who you are and how you behave?" For me, does my name, or my profession, or my religion or my suburb define me? - or can I exist with out any of these identifying features?
  • Man Eating Cats got it's name from a short piece in the newspaper about a woman who lost her life, dying in her apartment, and then she lost her flesh from the cats she kept in her apartment. It's really a story of men and women, relationships, marriage and loss. The author and his girlfriend lost their marriages, and moved away from Japan - perhaps essentially losing their real identities as Japanese people? In the end when the author looses the girlfriend, in true Murakami style, in what seems like a surreal dream. After searching for her, he realises he may as well be dead and eaten by man eating cats, because he had lost the 'real me' and now also the 'provisional me'. More questions are raised for the reader..
I cant tell you which short story was my favourite, they were all pretty deep and challenging. I did limit myself to one short story a day, to allow myself time to process the significance and also the stupidity of some of the stories. Imagine vomiting for 40 days, every day trying to locate the reason and considering the conspiracy theories, only for it the end suddenly, and not to ask 'what did I learn from this?' When Murakami asked his friend (who had suffered all this) this question all he got in response what 'how should I know?'.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Home Again

Sunrise on Australia
I returned home this week, after 8 weeks away. It will take me some time to process the experiences I have had, if I can at all. However highlights from my trip include
  • spending 6 weeks with the NGO in Tamil Nadu, teaching English and assisting with a human rights funding submission (it's fingers crossed now)
  • living in a rural and remote Indian village with no running water and relying on public transport
  • engaging in the lives of women and girls in their culture
  • discovering new places in South India that I love including Kovalam (Kerela) and Kodaikanal
  • 10 days in Nepal was simply amazing including
  • Kathmandu's Durbar Square, Swayambath and Bodnath
  • Chitwan National Park - Elephant washing and the Elephant Safari to see tigers
  • Pokhara and whitewater rafting, sunrise from the Peace Pagoda, Sunrise from Sarangkot Mountain, Downhill mountain treks and visits with local families on the way, and sublimely peaceful boating watching sunsets on the lake.
While traveling I was able to finish 3 books - soon to be reviewed, including
  • Brida by Paulo Coelho - this was part of my reading challenge for Lost in Translation
  • The last song of dusk by Siddharth Dahnvant Shanghvi - an Indian lovestory
  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami - this was part of my reading for the Japanese Literature Challenge 3
I'll leave you now with this image of the Himalayan Mountains on Pokhara lake, Nepal.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Indian joy!

Class under the tree, Narikudi School
(my school)

Wedding Guests

Indian Bride

Sunset from my balcony, Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu

My lane in Tiruchuli.
I'm having a fantastic time here. I teach english to girls at the Narikudi school in the mornings, I catch the bus to and from school (which is a truly Indian experience), and Im working on a Human Rights Grant application for my boss here ( in the afternoons. Life in the village is a daily experience. Yesterday my room mate lost a small item of clothing down the loo 'cos thats the only drain we have in our room so we do our laundry there... very funny experience. We love our sunsets, our quiet lane (although the quiet usually ends about 5 am when the sweeping starts), and we are loving the food. Since being here, we've had the joy of being invited (spontaneously) to two different Hindu Weddings (same same but different).. which were definetly new experiences... very colourful.
Until another time... Vanakum!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reading suggestions

I'm currently volunteering as an english teacher in Narikudi, Tamil Nadu. While I'm here I have some reading challenges, I'm currently reading Murakami's Blind Willow Weeping Woman, which is a collection of short stories... I find it difficult to read these consequetively, so I read one and put the book up for a while. One the book on the bookshelf in the volunteers room is the Good Earth by Pearl S Buck. It looks interesting, but wondered if anyone had any thoughts about it. Will it be easy enough to read while Im dealing with a lot of other stuff around me???? I'd appreciate your comments.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Indian Summer

Hi - Vanakum!
I'm in Tamil Nadu (southern India) for a 5 week stint of volunteering as an english teacher. This is my second trip to the school and yesterday it was a huge delight to visit the girls again and see how much they've grown, and just to talk with them again.

The school rescues young girls from factory work or house keeping - some of the girls have worked since they were 4 or 5 yrs old and have never been to school. Their families were forced to sell them due to the extreme poverty here in the rural regions. When they come to this school to live, between ages 8 -12yrs, they start an intesive program to bring them up to a mainstream standard in yr 9 (2nd yr highschool).

My friend and I arrived on Sunday, and since then, we've met with the regional district education officer, and had another meeting with a educational advsor who supports the local teachers. Their english has been quite good, but some of the local school teachers have a basic english level. Our job is tofacilitate the students learning through conversational english. They also have english lessons (provided in Tamil) from a local teacher.

We will start our classes tomorrow, taking the 7th standard 5 days a week for english tuition and conversation. We will then also do story time and games with 6th standard class once a week and have 'girl time' conversations with the older girls one night a week. It's all fun, and a great joy to be involved in this project.

While we're here, we also hope to do a little travel. Maybe this weekend visiting the Madurai Temple - world famous and of high regard among the Hindus in India.

On books - Im currently reading the "Marriage Bureau" and a Murukami novel. I was reading Forbidden Colours at home before leaving, but felt it was inappropriate to bring it to India given the topic and content...I'll have to pick it up later.

For now, it's time for an afternoon nap. It's currently about 35 degrees C and very dry.... the country desperately needs rain.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Japanese Literature Challenge 3

Well, here it is again. Dolce Bellezza is hosting the third Japanese Reading Challenge. This will be my second journey on the challenge, and I'm joining this one because the first one I did was so enjoyable, eye opening, challenging and inspirational. In the Japanese Reading Challenge 2 I read
  1. Sputnik Sweatheart - Haruki Murakami
  2. After Dark - Haruki Murakami
  3. Underground - Haruki Murakami
  4. Bells of Nagasaki
  5. The Devils Whisper
This year DB says 'all you have to do is read one work of Japanese origin.' However I cant see that happening. I've already got three on my list.... and I want to expand my horizon with at least one other author - hopefully female. So my pledge for now is
  1. Forbidden Colours - Yukio Mishima
  2. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami
  3. Blind Willow, Sleeping Widow - Haruki Murakami
I'm also really looking forward to my fellow challengers reviews, because even if I cant read all the books, I get to vicariously travel with others on their journey.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

For the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of sharing the lives of Madame Michel, Paloma, Kakuro Ozu, Leo, Manuela and others who reside at 7, Rue de Grenelle. I have really enjoyed this book, and I think it is one I will return to. It's got alot of philosophy, art, love of music, and lessons of life filling its pages.

This has been one of the books for my 'Lost in Translation' Challenge, as it was originally written in French. I first read about it on the Challenge website when Julie reviewed it. Then RubyReb reviewed it and reminded me I wanted to read it soon. For a work that has been translated, it flowed well, described places, people and events in enough detail for me, and expressed much about french life in an apartment building.

You see below that I found a reference to the joy of sharing a tea ceremony with special friends, but there was so much more. I encourage others to pick this one out of the pile.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Something I liked

A quote from the Concierge at 7 Rue de Grenelle.

I pour the tea and we sip in silence. We have never had our tea together in the morning, and this break with our usual protocol imbues the ritual with a strange flavour.

Yes, this sudden transmutation in the order of things seems to enhance our pleasure, as if consecrating the unchanging nature of a ritual established over our afternoons together, a ritual that has ripened into a solid and meaningful reality. Today, because our ritual has been transgressed, it suddenly acquires all its power; we are tasting the splendid gift of this unexpected morning as if it were some precious nectar, ordinary gestures have an extraordinary resonance, as we breathe in the fragrance of the tea, savour it, lower our cups, serve more and sip again: every gesture has the bright aura of rebirth. At moments like this the web of life is revealed by the power of ritual, and each time we renew our ceremony, the pleasure will be all the greater for our having violated one of its principles. Moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be bustling or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, with others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn - and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames and tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.

So, let us drink a cup of tea.

page 86-87, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Murial Barbery

Hope and Fears

The Iris is one of my favourite flowers. It's so fragile yet so vividly strong and purposeful. It's calming, peaceful, elegant and, at the same time, it's temporary and short lived. My partner bought some home for me on Friday night, and I have been enjoying their company.

I've had a break from blogging since I got the flu, and then went away for a bush walking weekend and hurt my back when I fell on a rock. I've pretty much now recovered, but I then had a couple of busy weekends. All the while I was feeling pretty much emotionally distracted by my up and coming trip to India in September/October (so much planning to do), and preparing for a fairly routine operation this week. Preparing for surgery (regardless of how routine it is for the Dr) is emotionally draining for me. So I haven't really been focused on anything of late.

So, the Iris is my symbol of hope and fear, of strength and fragility. It shows me, I too can be elegant, clam and peaceful in the moment.

Brief updates:
  • Finished reading 'The Dragon of Trelian' (Thanks Della Bellezza)
  • Currently reading 'The elegance of the Hedgehog' (encouraged by RubyRed Books and 'The Good Life'
  • Looking forward to the Japanese Literature Challenge 3

  • Garden pickings (this week) included spinach, bok choy, celery, grapefruits, lemons, carrots, lettuce, cherry tomatoes and leeks
  • Garden plantings included a Yacon (check this out for more info), comfrey, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, silverbeet, snow peas and carrots.
Until soon.....

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Town like Paris

Having just finished a fairly intense read (highly recommend previous blog) when I saw this on a friends shelf I just had to read it. Bryce Corbett is an Australian author and journalist, an fellow blogger, who has documented his entry into Parisian life over a 6 year period of highs and lows. He has a way with words that could grant him the honorable title of one the great Aussie story teller's, only he's telling stories about Paris (mostly). As one review has sumarised:
Fleeing London, in search of adventure and determined to sample some of the famed delights of the City of Light, our hero arrives in Paris with only a suitcase and a determination to have the time of his life. He launches himself into la vie parisienne, throws himself at the local female population and quickly discovers his down-home Aussie charm has no currency in France. Like the monotonous series of rejections he receives from Parisian women, our hero’s attempts at assimilation are similarly rebuffed. Undeterred, he teams up with a bunch of like-minded ex-pats and the ensuing years pass in a blur of bachelor-inspired hedonism. Paris is their playground—and they discover, to their delight—it is a city with a seedy underbelly. As a detached observer who is nevertheless thrust into the daily business of getting by in France, the author is exposed to some of the more unfathomable idiosyncracies of the French. And just when he thinks Paris has offered him all she has to give, he meets a Paris showgirl—an Australian beauty whose sequin-clad high-kicks are the toast of the Champs Elysees. Before he knows it, he is in love …
For me, I was easily taken to the streets of a Paris I only know as a tourist, and was encouraged to dream of them as my own. He had to find an apartment, then win it with his way with words, then he took us on the journey of finding a local GP and familiarising himself with his quartier. each step along the way was an experience. I enjoyed being inside the head of a 30 year old male trying to find his way - celebrating his 30th with a tomatoe throwing event in Spain, taking opportunities to mingle with the rich and famous at embassy parties, and trying to make sense of the opposite sex. I was happy with the ending - fairy tale stuff.

I have spent more time in the country of France than I have in the city, and I think most of his analysis should be considered an analysis of the Parisian, not the French way of life. All in all though a good easy read, entertaining, transporting and one for a good chuckle when sitting in a train!

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures

I'm ashamed of what I don't know about what's happening in the world around me. I have worked and lived in my own little world, really only paying attention to the one off big events like tsunami's, earthquakes, and elections. But I have not taken time out of my own comfort zone to learn or pay attention to what's happening for countries under ongoing conflict and terror. I picked up this book for two reasons, it's title is pretty catchy, and then, I should see what I can learn.

Heidi & colleagues in a UN Pakistani Battalion Communications transport vehicle
Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures is a catchy title, but not one that truly describes it's contents. It's much more about the lives and experiences of three young Americans who throw themselves into a world of trauma, violence and horror for the sake of making peace. They went in naive and came out battered, bruised and cynical. Their lives changed forever and somewhere along the way their faith in their country, their god, fellow human beings and themselves was also shaken to its core. They were involved in managing communications, thereby being fully informed of all horrific news and events, they were sent into prisons to advocate for those who were literally left for dead, they walked through check points not knowing if they'd be walking out again, and were sent out to search for evidence in mass graves that would haunt them forever.

There were went to Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda and Liberia. It was the 1990's. I was old enough to know better, but I am ashamed to say I hardly knew where these countries were. I even had a colleague go to Rwanda for 12 months to work with orphans in the late 90's - and I don't recall understanding then what the significance was. Now I do.

A few quotes that stand out for me:
"My life here is coming undone quickly, I'm in the middle of someone else's nightmare and even my boyfriend is a spy and there are tapes and bugs and radios everywhere and every clean-shaven white man in Mogadishu knows my name and my room is a fucking secure intelligence hangout and I can't trust anyone" Heidi p 152.

"We went to Haiti and walked unarmed into the offices of the men with guns and dark glasses and told them to their faces that they couldn't go on doing what they were doing, that it was unacceptable and had to stop. I played a high-stakes game with an empty hand and felt clear-headed and alive. We all assumed that sooner or later the assassins would be forced from power - by America, the only country that could do it. But after Mogadishu, the macoutes paid to see President Clintons hand., called his bluff. Just a gang of thugs on a dock and he folded. I still cant quite believe it." Andrew p 186.

"And then one morning, after a very long time, you hear a rose bloom and the sun no longer makes you sad and you feel clear and privileged to have shared a life. You take each moment and hold it on your tongue and taste the bitter and the sweet and the sour and know that life is beautiful and you're grateful for the gift" Heidi, p289.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weekend Reading

Besides being a little busy bee in the garden, I've given myself some time for reading pleasures. Firstly I have enjoyed catching up on blogs and book reviews. Then I have progressed some of my current books.

I'm currently reading 3 different books, all of different materials. I'm reading a little bit each day of the Good Life (previously blogged about), simultaneously I'm plodding through the months in the UN Peacekeepers book "Emergency Sex". I've also started Keri Hulmes "Stonefish" which is a little weird, but no weirder than the Murakami novels. I've previously read her novel "the Bone People" and really enjoyed it (as part of bookclub) - Stonefish won the Booker Prize, so I'm pretty keen to continue with it.

In my blogging though, I've been tempted by the following books.

Recycle, Re-use, Reduce and more

Broccoli...................... Bok Choy


Possibly a lemon?............. Ruby Grapefruit ............ The old Lemons

Dill ................Esky Potatoes & Mint................. Timber Clothes-horse

I was spurred on this week to think about the idea of re-using things to avoid purchasing un-neccessarily, especially purchasing plastic or un-natural items. So this weekend I have successfully
  • given rogue dill plants a second life and saved them from their self sown location which put them at risk of the lawn mower... and I've potted them into old yoghurt tubs. I already have one beautiful dill plant which is ample sufficient for this household, so maybe I'll find these good homes.
  • continued on my renovation project of rescuing the wooded clothes horse. We procured it from a church auction about 17 yrs ago - then it was wobbly. Recently the (probably lead based) paint started leaving marks on our wet clothes. Instead of replacing it with a plastic coated wire rack, I'm patiently hand sanding and will give it a natural coat of wax.
  • prolonged the life of 4 pairs of shoes by cleaning and polishing the leather. I'm usually very bad at this, but (for at least one pair) it was either look good or go out. I'll get another year out of those boots.
  • I've also re-used esky's in the garden - seen here I have potatoes in a red esky, and mint enjoying the old metal esky.
Further to my re-use activities, I've been having conversations about the use of plastic shopping bags. There are moves to make it illegal for grocery stores to use these anymore - and people are worrying about what they will use in the kitchen rubbish bins now. So here are some of my thoughts so far:
  • put your kitchen food wastes into the compost bin - this reduces the amount of wet stuff that needs to go in the rubbish
  • put all possible recycling in the recycling bin - we have a large wicker basket at the backdoor to collect the weekly recycling in and then we empty that into the recycling bin on weekends
  • I think there are possibly 2 forms of rubbish then left for the bin - one is what I would call dry - ie the plastic bags off food products that aren't usually recyclable, and the other is smelly stuff - like the plastic wrap off some food items and meat trays.
  • Dry stuff - either just throw it in loose - but if you dont like to do this, wrap it up in newspaper or ....
  • For stuff that needs to go in a bag - look at what bags you do already buy - like the potatoes, the tomatoes, the toilet paper sometimes comes in a big plastic wrap, nappies, dog/cat food, cereal, rice, pasta etc....
I challenge you to try it - I'm trying the cereal plastic bag in the bathroom bin, and a dog food bag in the kitchen this week. And, if you need to know how to close it off when done - recycle the rubber bands on the junk mail!

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Earthy Blogs to Visitt

I feel simply organic and earthy! I've recently been involved in a couple of community gardening and other earth-care activities, where I've met some lovely people and been directed to some really encouraging websites. I'm going to add these to my blog roll soon, but until I do, here's the list.

Long Weekends

It's difficult to believe but we're now half way through 2009. I often find myself reflecting on this during our June long weekend, wondering what I've been doing with my life this year, and if I continue doing what I'm doing - will I be proud of myself at the end of the year? Well, if this weekend is a reflection of what I've been doing, I'm OK. I went away with some girlfriends to their bush property for a few nights. We're going to be entering a bushwalking/orienteering event in July and we decided we'd go away to practice. We had a great time, enjoyed beautiful clear crisp days and colder, "red wine by the fire" nights. We feel alot more confident in our walking and our teamwork, and have worked on a few competition strategies.

While I was away I finished "Unaccustomed Earth", and started 'how to live the Good Life". The Unaccustomed Earth was an enjoyable read, although I'm not sure I'm OK with the ending - but I guess the author wanted us to see how unpredictable and undirected life can be. Throughout the collection of short stories - about Indian families who have immigrated to US and UK - I felt like I was having coffee with the lead character, listening to their life story. The last few chapters bought together some of the characters in earlier short stories, and shared how their lives crossed paths again. Another good book starring Indians and especially expressing the experience of Indian Women.

How to live the Good Life is a diary telling us about the experiment of the family who wanted to change the impact of their life on the planet. They also have this blogsite which continues their story. I've started, and discovered the author is very engaging and funny. Each day she provides insight into her struggles, her mans adventures in recycling, and her sons experience surviving without lollies. I'm going to take my time through this book becuase I want to learn from her experiences. I want to try some of her suggestions. Just a couple of quotes so far:

This book is unremittingly positive in nature, and gives practical information on how we adopted a sustainable lifestyle without huge cost and without great sacrifice.... its an indepth look at how we live and how we could be living. ..Domestically sustainable.

The rainbow lorikeets are eating the sunflowers, and as [we've] discovered, the king parrots are enjoying the blue lake climbing beans. For the last few days I've been doing the haka around the block scaring the .... things off.... but I am feeble, and cannot compete with the numbers, their stealth and their quiet skill in denuding plants of their protein.... Trev is seen in the garden with a Bart Simpson grin and a homemade shanghai....

Once returning home from my trip, I had a full day to spend on my own garden - and wow did I achieve. I simply cant recall everything I did today but it involved feeding and watering my citrus tree's and all my pot plants and roses, composting and mulching a renewed garden bed ready for planting, weeding.... and weeding, pruning hydrangea's and other things hanging in the wrong spots, and harvesting. This weekends pickings include
  • lettuce
  • bok choy
  • spinach
  • beans
  • rubharb
  • celery
  • carrots
  • and the seasons last guava's

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bookish Gifts

My partner went out for a bike ride with a friend and came home with gifts for me. I had a suspicion he would be passing McLeans Bookstore, a favourite independent book shop, so I put in a request for "Living the Good Life" because I had read the review here. But he also bought home stories from the Victorian Bushfires and a new Murakami novel. Each one of these books is a window into the different aspects of who I am. I like that he found something for the different parts of me.

But now I have a juggling act: I'm currently reading Emergency Sex and other desperate measures, Ruth, and Unaccustomed Earth. I've started Madame Bovary 'en francais' et aussi en anglais and I'm looking forward to the long weekend in June to get through a few of these.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

World as Lover, World as Self

Our planet is in trouble. It is hard to go anywhere without being confronted by the wounding of our world, the tearing of the very fabric of life.. In the face of what is happening, how do we avoid feeling overwhelmed and just giving up, turning to the many diversions and demands of our consumer societies?.... It is essential that we develop our inner resources. We have to learn to look at things as they are, painful and overwhelming as that may be, for no healing can begin until we are fully present to our world, until we learn to sustain the gaze. (From Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self).

Last weekend I participated in a very special experience on retreat with other like minded souls. We were gathered together to focus on our spiritual relationship with our planet, the earth and all that is in the world. The process of the retreat involves facilitated sharing sessions and exercises that encouraged us to work through 4 phases of experience
  1. Gratitude - it is in giving thanks for what we have that we connect with it more personally, and therefore understand the value we place upon it.
  2. Despair Work - when we despair, we feel the pain. We are able to feel what it is that is lost or being lost. These feelings are difficult for us to experience - we will often work hard to avoid this. The facilitated sessions help participants sit with these feelings enough to know them.
  3. The Shift - During this phase we look at what role we are playing or what we could be doing, in making cultural and sustainable shifts. This is based on Deep Ecology principles from Arne Naess, who said Deep Ecology is having a profound respect for the earths interrelated natural systems and a sense of urgency about the need to make profound cultural and social changes in order to restore and sustain the long term health of the planet.
  4. Going Forth - This needs little description, but is a session when participants can discuss with others their intentions, commitments and hopes for the future.
For me, the Earthworks retreat is about refocusing and learning more about my relationship with Mother Earth and my responsibility, privilege, joy and honour to be part of this creation - to be part of her healing, and mine.

As a Christian, I value this work as it is a challenge for me to consider the creation as a whole, and I am part of that, therefore I am to be a steward of it also. The model used in Earthworks supports 3 streams of action, which allows individuals to consider a role in one or any combination of the three streams...
  • Holding Actions - Those which sustain earth supporting and caring practices - recycling, composting, op shopping, organic food production and/or consumption
  • Alternative Structures - those which practice, trial and are innovative options that encourage sustainability
  • Shifting Values - those actions that empower others to look at alternative values, options and systems..

There are many references, and links in relation to this work, and I would love to talk more about it with anyone. If you'd like more info email me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Earthworks Retreat '09

A ritual for 'placing our intentions'

Last weekend I went to a beautifully enriching retreat called 'Earthworks'. I'm posting photo's now, will blog tomorrow..
.The mudbrick, outdoor shower with a view!

The round hall for meditation, craft and story telling.

One participant learning to make fire with a stick.

Valley of Grace

Valley of Grace was, for me, a journey through the streets of Paris with everyday Parisians. I loved the descriptions of buildings, lane ways, markets, hidden gardens and cafes. I enjoyed some of the details of conversations and events occurring in the lives of the characters. The daughters journey with her mother to visit her childhood village and the recollections of the war and the resistance, and the bookshop owners philosophy on books. I liked being let in on lovers secrets and house improvements....

...Roses, he says, we could have roses. Real ones, in the garden. An arched walk, with roses, climbing over it, scented, filling the air with scent. Summer nights, and the odour of roses. Lunch in the garden, under the cherry trees......

But I had to work to get through this book. I didn't feel engaged with the story until very close to the end, and found it easier to read it as though they were short stories from the same neighborhood. I can look back now and see what brings to book together, but its all a bit late. Now I can read the back of the book and make sense of it, but at first I didn't get it.

The author has woven together the lives of individuals and couples who live in the vicinity of the Valley of Grace [named after the health care services that congregated in that area]. They seem to be connected through the central character, Fanny, and the central theme is Love. Now, I'm caught in the same trap as the back cover - do I tell you how I made sense of the book - or leave the mystery up to you? Without disclosing the secrets of the book, I will say this - every character in the book is searching for love or struggling with their love choices. There are different relationships all exploring the same longing. And the very last paragraph says it all:

Don't think of happy endings. Who wants happy endings? A series of happy beginnings, hope for that.

The church of Val-de-Grace

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rainy Sundays

It's a rainy Sunday morning and I'm contemplating my original plans - to weed, plant and mulch one of my garden beds. I'm thinking it's great weather to be pulling weeds and to get some new seeds started.... just do I want to go out there?? In the meantime, it's a cuppa tea and muffin while I show you some of my newbies.

For Mothers Day I've included my Granny's Tea Canister
Loved you Granny!

On 'nos vaccances' in the Blue Mountains recently, we found this great second hand bookshop in Wentworth. I limited my purchase to 'deux livres' - both Madame Bovary - one in English, 'l'autre en Francais'. Mais quelle challenge! What should I do? read the English version first, and then try the French, or start with sections in French followed closely by the English??

These two newbies are my Salwar Chemise' for when I go to teach English in a school in India. I bought the fabric last trip to India, and I've had a local dress maker make these up for me. I have previously bought clothes off the rack in India, but they don't fit, they often fall apart, and aren't in colours I like. I think these will be 'socially appropriate' and comfortable.

And back to today's dilemma - for now I'm going to enjoy reading your blogs while I listen to French radio online.