One + Four = Life: stretchy days, stretchy dough

Hello lovelies! How has your week been? It has been pretty cruisy here. The days have stretched out, school holidays an’all, and, of course, they are getting that little bit longer now that we have passed the equinox. Here are four snapshots from my week.imageMy girl has a performance exam coming up in about a month so we’ve been doing the costume search. Delighted to find this one at the wonderful Rose Chong. The lovely Steve (you can just see him at the counter) was an amazing help, rummaging through boxes and pulling out all sorts of little accessories. ‘Try this!’, ‘How about this?’ , ‘Which wig, the white, the brown, the pink?’ Lots of fun! And relief to have it sorted. She said she feels ‘buoyant’ in her hooped skirt!
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I spotted this amazing flower on my morning walk this week. I wrote about how I encountered it here.
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Do you like gnocchi? I like gnocchi. A few years ago, my girl asked if we could make our own. I said ‘yes’ through slightly gritted teeth, not relishing the prospect of mashing all that potato and trying to make it all extra smooth. But having overcome my initial reluctance, I have to say I now quite enjoy it and, okay, it is a tad messy, but it is reasonably quick. I can make it earlier in the day and just keep it covered with a damp tea towel in the fridge. And, of course, it cooks in a jiff. So this week in cucina Iris and Edie gnocchi all’Amatriciana was on the menu. Enjoyed by all! Yay! Gnocchi recipe below in case you feel inspired!

imageThe last couple of weeks I’ve been joining along with this online art journaling course. I was always a crafty kid but I was never ‘good’ at art. After having my bubs, and inspired by Betty Edwards and Julia Cameron, I decided I wanted to try and crack this drawing thing! So over the past decade or so I’ve taken a few drawing and painting courses, and in the last couple of years, online ones too. I really enjoy it. I love the way drawing makes you actually LOOK at your subject matter and shake your preconceptions about how you THINK something is. I’m trying to commit to a daily practice so that I can keep improving both my drawing skills and to explore my creativity. Are you an arty person? Or more crafty? I’m assuming if you’re a bloggy person you must be a wordy person!

So that was my week! The sun is shining today and the air has warmed. I’ve flung open the windows and doors and am welcoming the gentle breeze into our home. Might complete a few chores and then take my book and a cuppa outside to add some laziness to my Sunday.

Enjoy the coming week. See you next Sunday!

Iris and Edie’s not-quite-authentic gnocchi!

1.2kg potatoes

2 egg yolks

2/3 cup plain flour

good pinch of salt

Pop the unpeeled whole potatoes in a 200 degree Celsius oven for 1 1/2 hours. (You can boil them in the traditional way (it’s quicker) but this way you don’t use up a saucepan and the potatoes stay drier. Completely up to you!). Let potatoes cool for 10 mins and then scoop out the flesh and mash. I use a potato ricer but you could just use an old fashioned hand masher and maybe a balloon whisk to get them nice and smooth. Add egg yolks, salt and flour and use your hands to bring it all together. Knead gently on a lightly floured board/bench top until the dough is smooth. Divide into four portions and roll each into a long sausage about 2cm in diameter. If you’re not cooking them straight away, pop them onto a tray, cover with a damp tea towel and put them in the fridge. Bring a saucepan of water to a rapid boil, drop them in and scoop them out when they bob up to the top. Mama mia! You have beautiful fluffy gnocchi! Enjoy with your favourite sauce.

Serves 4 (the 2 males and 2 females in our house!)

I’ve never noticed that before!

Life can be pretty routine at times, can’t it? Not that I’m saying routine is bad – we need routine to give our lives some structure. But sometimes routine means we simply tread the same path, eyes fixed ahead and we don’t really see what is going on around us. It can make our day-to-day experience of the world a pretty narrow one, yes? So this week I decided to be radical! To look up, down, left, right. To tread the neighbourhood footpaths I rarely walk. And this is what I found.

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I have been parking in the car park behind our little shopping village several times a week for as long as we’ve lived in our current home – a good 17 years – but this week I actually looked UP at the rear of these shops and I was quite taken by everything in this scene.  I love the urn with the foliage, the large ginger jar in the window, the three blue pots sitting on the window ledge. I love the lines of the window panes, the bricks, chimneys and antennae. I love the signs of age on the buildings. I’m going to make a point of checking out these buildings every time I pop down to the shops from now on. Perhaps the pots will change? Maybe curtains will appear?

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Taking the doggie for her morning walk, I decided to be really radical and I TURNED LEFT rather than walking straight ahead.  Crazy, right? You must be dying to have someone so zany at your next party! I regularly drive down this street but I rarely walk it. It dips down a little from my usual route and just this small difference gave it a different feeling.  I felt enclosed by the foliage and with the bell tower from the nearby church standing majestically in the background, it was like I was in a little English village. I can see these spires from my kitchen window but I only noticed that this year! Really have to improve on my looking skills!
imageAnd how gorgeous is this protea? I have never seen one like this before.  It was in one of the gardens I passed on my walk.  The bush was laden with these beautiful peachy blooms.  This one was atop the bush, its petals opened out, as if it were reaching to the heavens.  The soft blue of the sky was the perfect backdrop to the soft colours in the leaves and the flowers.

Have you ever had any “huh, who knew that was there?’ moments? Do you stick to the same routes and looking straight ahead? Or do you try to look more widely?

And, thinking about widening the way we see the world and the people around us, this week’s podcast from This American Life is well worth a listen.  Three stories where our perceptions are challenged. It accompanied me on my walk yesterday and I think I’m going to go back and listen to it again.

Happy looking, lovelies!

Have you read…? The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

In 1970, my husband’s parents arrived in Australia as ’10 pound poms’, with him, as a toddler, in tow. My father-in-law was the driving force, having been desperate to leave his birthplace from when he was quite young; my mother-in-law accompanied him but her heart has always remained in the UK. There is barely a conversation had with her that does not refer to England. I can see how the lure to be ‘home’ is coloured by her nostalgia; I doubt the present day reality of her birthplace and her now mature siblings can match the image that is in her mind. So for me, this story was quite close to home.

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The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is a beautifully written, heart wrenching novel.  It tells the story of Henry and Charlotte Blackwood and their emigration, with their young daughters, from England to Australia in the mid 1960s. Henry, born in India and sent to England by his British and Indian parents on the eve of India’s independence, is eager to move from the damp, grey English climate and his claustrophobic home environment to the warmer weather and wide open spaces of Australia. Charlotte is resistant, but worn down by new motherhood, she eventually relents. Their story explores our sense of belonging, memory and nostalgia and the strains on a marriage faced with such diametrically opposed needs.

Bishop’s prose is both evocative and insightful. She creates a strong sense of place. Of their cottage in England, everything is ‘too close’.

‘The ceilings are too close. The walls are too close The doors and windows are too close. The very air is thick and stuffy and too close.’

and of their neighbours in their new home in Perth

They are eating a late dinner in the garden, the lilt of their conversation coming from the deep green. There is the sound of knives and forks on china…A light goes on. She hears plates knocked against the edge of the bin and scraped.’

Charlotte’s daughters, Lucie and May, are beautifully drawn, in descriptions of their conversations and behaviour,  and the ‘push and pull’ nature of motherhood sensitively described as Bishop writes of Charlotte needing her children but also feeling ‘smothered’ by them. Have to admit to a few tears stinging my eyes as I read the concluding pages of the book!

There is the sentiment that runs through the novel that when we migrate from our birthplace, that place becomes lost to us. It is a

‘secret world that closes in your absence and never lets you find it again.’

It can leave us feeling isolated and constantly adrift. How does this affect our sense of who we are and how does this impact upon our relationships?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel both for the themes it explores and its beautiful prose. A highly recommended read, in my opinion!

Does this sound like a story that may interest you? Or perhaps you have  already read it? Have you lived in different places?

One + Four = Life: routine begone!

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Aah, school holidays! No school lunches, a little bit of extra time in bed, a hiatus in the regular weekly commitments. The markers in the day disappear and I can easily fall into reading ‘just one more chapter’, ‘I’ll just check out this article’ and then before I know it, I’m running around in a bit of a flap that the washing hasn’t been taken out of the machine, oops, I do need to get something ready for dinner, bugger, I haven’t baked anything as a sweet treat and oh yep, the boy isn’t on holidays but still has uni and needs a lift to the station five minutes ago! Does that happen to you too? Because holidays at home are a bit different to holidays away.  Can’t be completely ‘pfff, who cares, we’ll just get takeaway’. Nevertheless, I’m very happy to have a break in the routine!

And so it was that I found myself opening the pantry late, late in the afternoon, preparing to get dinner ready only to be confronted by the empty biscuit container. Never fear, the ingredients for jumbles sat there waiting to be combined and when we sat down to cups of tea after dinner, no one could accuse me of being anything other than a domestic goddess! Jumbles are a bit of a family fave. I wrote about them here.

Perhaps  my attention had been diverted from the sugary needs of my family because I had spent too long reading The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop. I am really enjoying it. It’s the sort of book that if I was AWAY on holiday, I could see myself reading in one sitting, cup of tea, after cup of tea by my side, or a glass of wine once happy hour arrives! Don’t you just love it when you come across a bit of book-y gold like that? But I’m at home so whilst I was waiting for my girl who was at an appointment, I ducked into the cafe across the road, seizing the chance to have a few quiet moments with my book. Yes, I could have been doing the grocery shopping but coffee and literature is much more appealing. Surely you agree?

Or maybe it was the goings on in politics this week that distracted me? There have been so many articles and analyses to read, both in hard copy and online.  It has been absorbing! It’s not my intention to be political but I have to say that whilst I admire Tony’s commitment to fitness and volunteering with surf lifesaving and the CFA, gee, I did not admire his PMship. My man and I aren’t quite sure what we’ll talk about on our weekend morning walks now, our chats having been dominated the past two years by ‘Can you believe…?, ‘How can he…?’ , ‘Why would you…?’. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll find something else. Maybe some Bill Shorten ‘zingers’. We’re a balanced couple! And is anyone else out there a Waleed fan? My heart skipped a beat when I THOUGHT I saw him hop on my train at Richmond station one day but alas, ’twas not him…

This week I’ve also been listening podcasts whilst I’ve been crocheting and busying about with the domestic chores.  My lovely friend Karen put me on to this podcast by Liz Gilbert. I listened to the episode with Brené Brown discussing creativity, vulnerability, fear and shame. It was excellent! I also listened to this podcast from Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb after reading about it on Isabel’s blog. I really enjoyed that one too because amongst other things they talked about Anne of Green Gables, Leigh chucking her signed copy of Battlelines by Tony Abbott ‘because he’ll never be Prime Minister’, and Matilda and Tim Minchin. Love Tim Minchin! He is the perfect person to write the music for Matilda.  His lyrics capture the sweetness and innocence of childhood and the contempt of Dahl’s grown ups for the children. My girl and I went to see it when we were in London in January and loved it. Do you like Roald Dahl too? Are you a musical theatre kind of person? Or maybe a Tim Minchin fan?

Was your week a good one? Do tell!

I made these and they had me remembering

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I always like to have a homemade sweet treat in the pantry to have with a cup of tea after dinner. Today I made jumbles.  How many times have my hands been coated in this sticky mix of crushed biscuits, cocoa, condensed milk and coconut? How many times have my mother’s?

As I stood forming my little spheres, rolling them in coconut,  I could see my ten year old self watching my mum, on Saturday afternoons, laying out a towel on our white laminex bench (‘easier for cleaning up’) and setting out the ingredients for the coming week’s sweet goodness. After we’d eaten our cooked lunch (‘Dad eats sandwiches all week. It’s important he has something different on the weekend’), and Dad had changed into his gardening clothes (are you getting a picture of my family?!), the Sunbeam mixmaster would whir away, whilst the  football would be on the wireless in the background, and the ‘shoosh’  of Dad’s hand mower cutting the lawn would drift from outside into the kitchen. There was always a cake and either a slice or batch of biscuits. Jumbles were a favourite, as were cherry ripe slice, mars bar slice and chocolate cheesecake slice, which in our now, more sophisticated times, has been renamed ‘cheesecake brownie’! The Women’s Weekly cookbooks were well used in our home! If Mum worked quickly, there might be something ready to have warm from the oven for afternoon tea (quarter past three, all four of us around the table!) But, regardless, each day in my lunch box, there would be a little waxed paper parcel encasing her homemade love to savour with the lime cordial in my drink bottle.

After our dinner tonight, my girl was left exclaiming ‘where’s my jumble?’, my man having gobbled down both his and hers from the plate on the coffee table. It’s a family favourite that endures.  I hope she will make them for her family and my boy will make them for his. I love that what we make for our families feeds not only their bellies but also their memories and nourishes them with our love.

Do you have baking memories from your childhood? Do you still bake the daggy old family favourites? Was your family as traditional as mine?!

One + Four = Life: Birthdays and Spring Days

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Hello! How are things with you? You might remember that last week started off cheery for me then went downhill.  At the start of this week we were still in a dip but we’ve pedalled hard and made it back up the hill now! Yay!

My boy had a birthday during the week. Number 19. How can he be that big?! It was a pretty simple affair. His choice of birthday dinner at home (spaghetti and meatballs!) and a chocolate mud cake.  I always like to bake a cake for birthdays rather than buying one. Just feel it shows my maternal love a bit more. Must say it’s a bit easier now the kids are older and I don’t have to do the novelty cakes anymore!  The Women’s Weekly kid’s birthday cake book has been well used in our house! Are you a birthday cake baker too?

I was pretty proud of myself that I managed time for TWO blog posts this week. Because we’d been a bit down in the dumps, I thought a Taking Stock post was in order just to get things in perspective and to make me think of the good bits that were happening. And then I managed to finish reading The Opposite of Loneliness so I wrote a book review post.  Very happy with myself!

As the week drew to a close, the sun started to shine. I snapped these buds on the ornamental pear in our front garden.  I love the pretty blossoms on this tree.  And I love how they are bathing in the sunlight in this photo. Aren’t they beautiful?

On Saturday afternoon, I took myself off to see Iris. When I sat down in the cinema, sitting next to me was a girl I went to secondary school with! I think the last time I was her was at our one year reunion. We both recognised each other immediately so that was heartening on the ageing front! I super enjoyed Iris (my old schoolmate did too!). I found myself smiling almost all the way through. My smile only dropped when witnessing the increasing fraility of Iris’s husband, Carl, and Iris’s realisation that their time together in this life is coming to an end. You could see the sadness and worry in her eyes. Such a devoted couple. I loved Iris’s spirit and her wit, especially her comments on plastic surgery, not being dead, and not being pretty!

Four highlights from my week set amongst the the usual weekly happenings. What were the happy things about your week?

Have you read…? The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

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I am sure many of you are aware of the story of Marina Keegan, the precocious writing talent who was tragically killed, aged 22, in a car accident five days after her graduation from Yale. Her essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, was the final essay she wrote for the Yale Daily News.  It became a worldwide sensation and was read by 1.4 million people. This book is a collection of some of her writings, both fiction and non-fiction, compiled by her family, her friends and her teachers.  My girl asked for this book for her birthday after reading the eponymous essay online.  It’s been sitting on the pile next to her bed, unread, as she wades through her own school reading.  So, I figured she wouldn’t be too cross if I picked it up to read myself!

There was nothing in this collection that I didn’t enjoy.  In the introduction to the anthology, Keegan’s former teacher, Anne Fadiman, explains that many of her students wrote in a voice older than their own experience whereas Keegan wrote in the voice of her own age. This does not, however, prevent her from writing of those beyond her own age.  “Reading Aloud’, ‘Hail, Full of Grace’ and ‘Sclerotherapy’ all centre on mature age women coming to terms with the passage of time, past mistakes and their current state of being.  ‘Reading Aloud’, which tells the story of a woman who has lost meaning in her home life, I found desperately sad. And yet whilst Keegan writes of these characters who are beyond her own years and experience, there is an authenticity to them that indicates she must have had enormous empathy and insight into the lives of others.

For me, reading her essays felt like I was reading pages of her diary, as her thoughts were revealed to me. To read of her hopes for the future, the management of her coeliac disease, her views on the paths taken by Yale students upon graduation, her summation of herself as not special, yet perhaps special…well, it’s just sad. There was so much vision, so much to look forward, so much for the world to experience of her but, tragically, for her, not ‘so much time.’  She brings to her essays youthful enthusiasm, but also maturity, so that they cannot simply be discarded as belonging to the idealism of youth. Thank goodness she produced so much in her short life for she has gifted us with a body of work – stories, plays and perspectives – that could be considered complete in the life of another writer. Definitely worth reading.