Adventure

Looking back over the last few posts here, I’ve realised that I seem to spend an awful lot of time writing here about not doing things. Or at least about needing to do nothing because I manage to keep myself busy and occasionally need a rest. But I rarely write about the things that I actually am doing.

So I thought today I would write about something that I’ve actually done. Today I went adventuring with a friend — a kind of research project for both of us. We caught the bus from Newtown to Coogee with no real plans, except to look around and maybe find somewhere we could eat pancakes. We wandered along the beach, in the rain, and took pictures of sand, boats, trees. We found a cafe in which to eat pancakes (yum!), and we wandered around a local green grocer without shopping baskets, trying to resist the temptation to buy any food. We walked up hills into the residential streets, gazing at all the interesting houses and interesting gardens.

We talked a lot, and I got damp toes. And we took pictures. Here are some of mine.

Your Words Can Change the World

As part of my research into urban agriculture, I’ve just stumbled across The Lexicon of Sustainability. Lots of fascinating people doing a huge variety of different and interesting things to find and produce food.

This is their ‘About’ video. And the last sentence really struck me: “Your words can change the world.”

Introducing … The Lexicon of Sustainability from the lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

The idea is to try and explain some of the terms we see bandied around — ‘sustainbility’, ‘organic’, ‘locavore’ — in a way that’s accessible, and lovely to look at. I have to say that I’ve often found that this kind of information is not presented in a way that makes you want to keep looking at it. Which I’ve always thought is counter-productive. The Lexicon, however, manage to be informative and beautiful at the same time.

Take a better look here.

I have a feeling I might end up playing around here for hours…

~

PS. I found this through Milkwood‘s blog. They’re a small organic farm just near Mudgee, who also run a permaculture education, design and consultancy firm. I’d love to visit them sometime soon.

Busy

Lately I’ve been busy. It’s easy to forget that I’m busy sometimes, when I’ve got whole days at home, spent in my house clothes, drinking multiple cups of tea. I forget that I’m working on those days too — planning and writing.

Other days I leave and re-enter the house three, four, sometimes five times a day. I spend lots of time outdoors, and my shoes are well-worn.

I have a whole list of things that have fallen by the wayside, waiting (sometimes not so) patiently for a quiet week.

I’m tired. I don’t sleep well because I dream all night about the things I have to do in the coming days: banking, catching buses, doing laundry. Process dreams, I call them. My hips, my knees and my shoulders buzz, reminding me to stop every now and then. I find myself sighing when my work day is over.

But I like being busy. Especially because I’m doing things I love. My days are filled with yoga and reading and writing. I just need to remember that it’s okay for me to sleep in occasionally.

Gardening

I never thought I’d be a gardener.

The house I grew up in had an enormous front and back yard, and my brothers and I spent many hours playing in the garden, making cubby-houses out of bushes and soup out of mud and berries. A trip to the local nursery on a weekend with Mum and Dad was a fairly regular occurrence. But I never really understood the appeal of being on hands and knees, with dirty hands, at risk of attack from any number of nasty creepy crawlies.

And yet, as an adult, most weekends I find myself looking forward to spending some time in the garden. I get distracted by nurseries. I notice when my neighbours have planted something new, or pulled something out. These days, gardening for me is very much like yoga: it requires a regular commitment, is full of frustration and disappointment, but made entirely worth the effort by the joy that comes with any achievement, no matter how small. Gardening, like yoga, gives me a chance to really appreciate small things.

The switch from non-gardener to gardener has been a gradual one, and I can’t say exactly where it started. My Mum, a certain former housemate and a few other people have helped me along the way. Hey, maybe I was never really a non-gardener in the first place.

My love of gardening can be directly attributed to my love of food — most of my garden is edible. (Except the jonquils. They’re just purdy.)

In some of my research for a writing project on food and culture, I came across this article on The Conversation (an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the Australian university and research sector, launched earlier this year):

“Food. It is the great unifier of place and race, the common ground sustaining our very existence. Why then, does food production feature so minimally in public space and urban design?

Under the weight of looming threats to energy, population and economy, the time is ripe to rethink our design focus.

Traditionally, urban design has been dominated by the use of ornamental exotic and indigenous plants while edible species have been minimally utilised.

Now, as we move towards a potential crisis in food production it is more important than ever to rethink our design practices.”

(Read the rest over at The Conversation.)

I firmly support the idea of bringing some food production into cities. It’s unlikely that cities will ever support themselves entirely, but I don’t think that’s the point. My garden does not produce enough to be my sole source of food, but it does contribute to what ends up on my plate. Perhaps more importantly, it gives me a much better idea of where the food I do buy has come from, and the kind of work that’s gone into producing it. That increased awareness, I think, can only lead to good things.

So much of any yoga practice is about noticing what’s there — often below the surface. Food gardening, for me, is another way of practicing yoga without a mat.

~

This is cross-posted over at my yoga blog, om gam yoga.

Nostalgia

I’ve been writing this post for weeks, on an off. It seems appropriate to finish it now — a death in the family always lends itself to remembering and nostalgia.

For a couple of months now I’ve been carrying around a little vial of nostalgia, everywhere I go. Sometimes I really do feel as though it’s rattling around in the bottom of my handbag, and when I go searching for something else I come across it.

The thing about nostalgia (at least for me) is that it’s so unspecific. I can’t really say where it’s come from, or even what it’s about. Or maybe it’s that I can say where it started, but then I’m unable to contain it to that. Nostalgia breeds nostalgia.

Sometime last week I found myself sitting on the couch, home by myself for the night, with a huge pile of recipe books, flicking through pages, making mental lists of things I’d like to cook next time I find half a day to spend in the kitchen. As I turned the pages I came across recipes I’d marked months ago, and finally worked out the root of this bout of nostalgia: I love my new house, but I’m also missing my old one. I miss my old housemates, I miss the house itself, I miss Astro the cat, I miss living down the south end of Newtown. I’m not despairing in the missing, it’s just a lingering sense of… sadness at the finality, I guess.

We cooked a lot in my old house. I cooked a lot. It wasn’t a great kitchen — it had a huge oven, but we also spent the last six months in the house cooking by lamp light — but it’s where I really feel like I cemented my love of cooking. I spent hours and hours cooking in that kitchen, sometimes many dishes at once, often on my own. Cooking became a kind of meditation; thoughts about other things popped into my head during big cook ups, but the focus always came back to whatever was on the stove top.

I also spent many hours in that kitchen, sitting on the step between the lounge and the kitchen or perched gingerly on the barely-held-together stool we’d borrowed for a party and somehow never returned, chatting to one of my housemates about life — work, boys, politics, religion, music, books, writing, cats, dogs, babies, family. We cooked, we talked.

The kitchen in that house will always be somehow special to me.

Thinking about that kitchen inevitably leads to thinking about the garden at that house, my little room and the neighbours whose backyards my windows overlooked, the creaky floorboards in the upstairs hallway, the sunny lounge room, the cracked walls, the ballroom-sized bathroom… the list goes on and on. And then spills over into other parts of my life, occasionally going as far back as childhood.

That my trip to Melbourne happened in the middle of all this nostalgia really hasn’t helped things. I miss Melbourne with such a visceral ferocity that it’s sometimes overwhelming. Going back there, I wander around the streets, amazed that I still feel so at home there, even though I’ve now lived in Sydney nearly as long as I lived in Melbourne.

Strangely, I also feel nostalgic about writing (this is far harder for me to explain). Spending time at writers’ festivals, like I have this last month — especially ones like EWF where I spent a lot of time in the company of other writers — exacerbates this kind of nostalgia. I think maybe what I’m trying to do when I write (fiction, at least) is capture that feeling of nostalgia, that little twinge of melancholy. So somehow thinking about or talking about writing brings about those feelings I’m trying to capture. Does that even make sense? I don’t know.

Perhaps this nostalgia, and its settling in for a lengthy stay, is why I’ve found myself wanting to write more fiction. For the last six months I’ve been working steadily on a big non-fiction project. I love it, and I don’t want to put it away, but I think maybe I need to let myself venture a little more into whimsy from time to time.

Where to start?

The fire in my belly from my last post has me frustrated. I’ve got all this energy, all this desire to do something, but no idea where to start.

My appetite has gone nuts. For a few days there it was almost at hyperactive thyroid level — the kind of eating not uncommon to me before I had my thyroid zapped. Just like back then, it’s a need to do something (eat) rather than an actual hunger. I mean, if I don’t eat, I get hungry, but the feeling itself is not like normal hunger. And, again, it’s a hunger that doesn’t know where to start. When I get like this I’ll eat just about anything. I’ll open the pantry and the fridge and just eat things as I come across them: yoghurt followed by sultanas, followed by dry crackers, followed by a spoonful of onion jam, followed by a handful of nuts, followed by whatever chocolate I can get my hands on, followed by an intense desire to cook porridge, and while that’s cooking I’ll eat some more nuts and some more jam and maybe some more crackers and definitely some more chocolate. Of course, when the porridge is cooked I feel like I’m going to explode. But I still want to eat. And so I eat the porridge.

I should clarify. One of the ‘benefits’ of having an overactive thyroid is the crazy-fast metabolism. Constant eating, no weight gain. Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? Read back over that last paragraph, will you? It’s terrifying and exhausting. And kinda expensive.

Now that I don’t have a thyroid, and my thyroid levels come from a little white pill every morning, my metabolism, while still fast, is much more normal. Except when my brain goes into overdrive like it seems to have in the last few weeks. (The list above, while an accurate description of the appetite of someone experiencing thyrotoxicosis, is a little hyperbolic when used to describe my appetite now. Take a few things off the list. That’s about right.) It’s like my brain needs extra fuel.

Also fuelling my brain are the many, many journal articles, newspaper articles and books I’m reading, and the videos I’m watching and the radio programmes I’m listening to. I’m jamming (ha) them all in there, hoping that my brain is like my metabolism and can process them quickly.

The other thing I’ve found myself doing is taking up lots of new projects. House projects, mainly. Today a friend of mine came around for lunch and I convinced him that it’d be a great idea for him to drive me to Bunnings (I don’t have a car) so I could spend a voucher I had. I bought a lot. Almost the second his car was out of sight I had my (new) gardening gloves on and manically planted just about everything I’d bought, even though my plan had been to leave the planting until the weekend. Then scrubbed the dirt off my hands (I’d ditched the gloves to plant the smaller stuff) and rushed off to teach a yoga class.

Now that I think about it, I’m probably achieving more than I realise with this energy. But it sure doesn’t feel that way. And therein lies the problem, I think. A while ago, I wrote over at the Monday Project about how I’ve got lots of start-up energy, but struggle with follow-through. As well as just running out of steam, not getting the time to appreciate what I’m managing to get done means that I feel like I haven’t done anything, become disheartened and, often, give up.

Kinda like how your stomach takes about twenty minutes to process what you’ve just eaten, feel full, and tell you to stop eating. If you eat quickly you end up with that discreetly-undo-the-top-button-of-your-pants-full. Not good for you in the long run, and not overly pleasant at the time.

So, in the same way that you might, say, actually finish chewing and swallowing one mouthful before moving on to the next, I’m going to try to take a bit of time with some of the writing I’m working on and some of the ideas that are floating about in my head. It doesn’t need to be finished tomorrow. It does have a deadline, of course, but that deadline is a little way away yet.

Right now though, I’m going to go downstairs to see if there’s some chocolate in the cupboard.

~

In case you’re not familiar with the Monday Project, or missed the newest project theme because I’m a bit of a dill and accidentally scheduled it a week early, you can have a look at it here.

Settling in

These last two Saturdays I’ve wandered around the corner to the local farmers’ markets (I act cool about it, but really I’m ridiculously excited that I live so close and can do my shopping there each week… But more on that in a later post) and come back with a few little things to put in the bare garden. Last week I got baby spinach and chives, this week curly parsley.

I brought my worm farm with me from my last house, and the worms — collectively referred to as The Barries — are settling in nicely. I’m a wee bit fascinated with the worm farm. You put food scraps in, basically do nothing, and out comes this amazing fertiliser. From that fertiliser you grow more food, from which there are scraps, which you put in the worm farm… Etc etc. It creates a neat little ecosystem in your own house/garden.

I’m a bit obsessed with The Barries, if I’m honest. I’ve been known to pick apple cores up off the street and bring my food scraps home from a weekend away to give to them. When I used to work in an office, the other women on my team used to give me their food scraps to take home. I love The Barries. Maybe a little too much.

Anyway, they’re helping me out in the new house, with my new responsibilities as resident gardener. In my last house I helped with the garden occasionally, but I was by no means the decision maker. Now I’m kinda in charge. And I’m sure I’m going to make mistakes, kill things and hopefully imprint into my brain some of the plant names that come so easily to my Mum and my old housemate Erin. Gardening regularly is a new adventure for me (any tips are welcome).

In the last few days the rocket seeds I planted last weekend sprouted, and this morning some tiny, tiny shoots from the carrot seeds are tentatively peering out of the soil. I’ve spent a whole lot of time this morning crouched down next to them marveling at their tiny green-ness. I might just be eating them in a month or so.

Here are the little rocket sprouts. Hello little friends… Keep growing strong, won’t you?

Walking it out

Yesterday I had one of those frustrating days. I woke up tired, with a furrowed brow, and I don’t think either affliction left me all day. My housemate turned the hot water on (twice) just as I put my face under the shower, then he beat me to the washing machine. Neither of these things would normally bother me, but he obviously sensed my irrational annoyance because apologised to me and I found myself feeling irritated that I’d been such a cranky pants*. Then I walked all the way to the train station and realised I’d forgotten my wallet as I went to pay for my train ticket. I had to walk all the way home and then back again, only just making the next train, and only just making it to the class I was teaching at midday.

And it went on like this all day. Practicing yoga myself at home frustrated me because my body was tired and reluctant to hold itself in a headstand or twist too deeply. A cup of tea and a cupcake melted the frustration just a little but not enough that I could concentrate on doing anything useful.

Finally at about 5pm, after a full day of wearing my cranky pants, I decided to go for a walk. Walking to the park I was aware of how heavy my legs felt, annoyed that I still wasn’t better after last week’s sickness. But already the walking-for-the-sake-of-walking was eating away at my irritability. My tired legs managed to carry me past the play equipment and cafe at Sydney Park, and up the hill to my favourite spot. (From the top of this hill you can look one way and see planes flying over the airport, and the other to see the cityscape of Sydney. I’ve spent many hours sitting here by myself, writing or mulling over things. And also some time being photographed doing yoga — this photo is an outtake from that shoot. You can see the tiny white speck of a plane just to the left of my head.)

Off came the shoes. I moved off the path and continued my walk in the grass. Within about three steps my frustration was all but gone.

I often do this barefoot walking in the park. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realise this was what I needed yesterday. Ambling along on the grass has helped me work out countless life/boy/money/writing problems.

I wandered along until I reached a part of the hill that had a view of the man-made lake and I plonked myself down. I sat there and thought about all the things that were frustrating me and was finally able to use that irritable energy to achieve something.

For me, frustration is usually the precursor to a period of action — something that pulls me out of whatever situation is frustrating me in the first place. Of course, I’m only just working this out now — and I’m not always quick on the uptake. Sometimes I have to collapse into a sobbing mess or go flying over the handle bars of my bike before I realise that I need to stop and take a look at the irritability rather than just trying to bury it.

I don’t know what it is about walking that manages to let me both acknowledge the frustration and work through it. And the barefoot thing makes the walking even more powerful. For a while there I was getting an hour’s walk in twice a week, because I was teaching in Marrickville and it took half an hour to wander there and back. I rode my bike each way for a while (until I took a spill), but I realised that I preferred the walk. The walk gave me time to think. And after a while I seemed to save up my most convoluted problems for those walks.

Now that I don’t teach in M’ville anymore, I think I need to make sure I’m still getting my thinking walks. Regularly. Yes, for my mental health, but also for my work. As I wandered yesterday I thought about things in my personal life that are frustrating me, but I also thought through a number of professional issues and some writing problems.

I’ve heard of companies who have their meetings walking around a park. I think they’re onto something.

* Luckily, my housemate is due to go off to Byron for a few days today and so was in a “nothing’s botherin’ me” mood yesterday. I’m not always a grumpy housemate. Promise.

Jasmine

One day while walking home, the smell of jasmine crept into Polly’s nose, eyes, ears and mouth. She stopped to breathe it in, and to see where it had come from.

On a low stone wall surrounding someone’s house the vine grew wild. She was fascinated: she had never before seen or smelled the plant here. Nor could she remember ever having seen the house engulfed by the jasmine’s scent. She wanted to take a cutting and surround her own house with this perfume.

There was a tall, severe-looking old woman sitting on the verandah outside the house. The woman waved. Her wave was short, curt, efficient. Polly waved back. She couldn’t help but feel clumsy as her hand flopped around on the end of her wrist.

Polly glanced at the jasmine. The woman sat back in her high-backed chair and watched her, daring her. Suddenly the woman’s wave felt like a slap and Polly was embarrassed.

She decided she would come back to the wall tonight, under cover of darkness, to get her cutting.