In my absence…

I’ve been absent from this website for over two years now… so very slack of me, however, I have been busy elsewhere.

I have still been writing for The Warrandyte Diary, and my column and articles can be found online at http://warrandytediary.com.au/

In 2019 I was busy working on a few other projects…

As an editor of Verandah Literary and Art Journal – Volume 34 – it is an annual publication and you can check out what is happening at http://verandahjournal.com.au/

And, I was able to both write for and work as an editorial assistant on the homeless writing project, We Are Here, with the fabulous Dr Meg Mundell.

We Are Here: Stories of Home, Place and Belonging is a world-first collection of stories and poems by people who have experienced homelessness. Published by Melbourne’s Affirm Press,  it will be in bookshops mid-November 2019. The book launched with a sold-out event for 250 guests at the Wheeler Centre.

The anthology showcases the talents of 37 writers and 4 visual artists. Themed around “PLACE”, and featuring full-colour images and artworks, it’s a powerful collection of true stories that illuminate, challenge, and re-imagine our place in the world.

So that was 2019… let’s see what 2020 brings. Promise I will be a little more present than I have been.

Trash to treasure – a Fossickers Way

CONCENTRATING while driving is difficult at this time of year.

All too often my foot seems to lift, just ever so slightly, off the accelerator, slowing me down just enough to give me time to examine my surroundings in detail.

My attention is grabbed by the appearance of something new in my neighbourhood, and these past few weeks, there have been quite a few distractions catching my eye.

Take the house on the corner for example. I drive past it several times a day, from three different directions, and yet, this week, I have had to fight the urge to stop the car.

It’s their nature strip, and it’s thick with faded plastic toys and broken chairs, upturned buckets and a roll of carpet ready for a hard waste collection.

I can’t help but wonder if there is something hiding in the pile that could be useful.

But I drive on, and within a few seconds it happens again.

This time it’s a pile of old, dusty picture frames and a rusty bike.

I scan the pile as my car slows — I will never get to work on time if I keep this up.

But as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and many of us have found treasure on a nature strip.

In 2007, a Melbourne suburban survey found that two in five households had gleaned something from hard rubbish in the previous two years.

Another more recent study, from Monash University, recruited householders to track the things they put on their nature strips — they reported that more than a third of the items were taken before the scheduled council collection.

Seems many of us like the idea of “footpath fossicking” and finding items we can re-use.

Our dining table was one of those finds.

It was a huge, solid and heavy pine table, with someone’s initials scratched deeply into the edge, and a blackened corner from weather damage.

Other items were piled on top of it, but I could see it had history and was determined it was not going to landfill.

Luckily, I had my mum in the car with me, and she was on-board the moment we looked at it.

I left her standing on the side of the road, keeping watch over our find, while I went back for the trailer and a stronger pair of arms.

It was a major effort to get it home, followed by hours of sanding and painting, but five years later it’s still fabulous — the story is often brought up at dinner and the bit about me leaving my mum standing on the side of the road usually gets a giggle.

There is pride in a good salvage.

Pride and a good story — well, post salvage that is.

For when we are in the thick of it, it seems many of us want to don sunnies and a cap, and hope nobody recognises our car.

We look nervously over our shoulder as we lift the boot, and drag our find from the pile as quick as we can.

For many years it was thought to be illegal to scavenge from the nature strip, however according to The Age, March 22, 2011, the Shire of Yarra Ranges set the record straight, letting us know that “Any items placed out for hard waste collection remain the property of the resident until collected by the contractor.”

What a relief.

So next time, do as the 8,162 members of the Melbourne Hard Rubbish Facebook Group do and fossick with confidence, (my membership is pending so those numbers may change).

All it takes is a knock on the door, a polite request with an understanding that you won’t leave the pile in a mess and it’s all yours.

Putting out our unwanted goods is just one more step towards responsible consumption and community spirit, and you just never know where something might end up.

Recently I put out a coffee table that had been in the garage for months, waiting for me to restore it.

Several hours later, a couple new to our neighbourhood were out walking and asked if they could have it.

That driveway conversation led to a cup of tea, which led to them staying for dinner.

The following weekend, we helped them pick up a couch from two streets down — and that led to an offer of a free guitar lesson.

That little coffee table has made its way around our neighbourhood, found its home, and we have made new friends.

So if you are tempted to answer the call to rummage, fossick, salvage or even mine a nature strip, I urge you to do it with confidence and join this not-so-quiet revolution.

August – a season of it’s own

AUGUST — it’s when many of us head north and if we can’t do it, we dream about it.

We’ve had enough of the chills and ills of winter and the cold weather seems to have taken over our lives.

It’s in all our conversations and seems all consuming.

Recently, I heard someone mention that August was a season of its own and it struck a chord.

August is often a difficult month for me, and for many of those in my inner circle.

Sickness seems to just hang around and motivation flies out the window at its earliest convenience.

I was an immediate convert to this idea of a new season, so I did a little investigating.

Seems it’s not a new thing after all.

Allow me to explain.

Across Australia there are many Indigenous calendars.

Most have six or seven seasons, including that of the Kulin nation – the five Aboriginal language groups that make up what we know as Greater Melbourne and Central Victoria, including the Wurundjeri People.

According to Museums Victoria: “The Kulin have a detailed local understanding of the seasons and the environment. Each season is marked by the movement of the stars in the night sky and changes in the weather, coinciding with the life cycles of plants and animals.”

Their calendar has seven seasons and, not surprising, August is a season of its own: It’s called Guling Orchid Season, and it is marked by orchids flowering, the silver wattle bursting into colour and male koalas bellowing at night.

Poorneet Tadpole Season, (September and October) is when temperatures rise, rain continues and the pied currawongs call loudly. The days and nights are of equal length.

Buath Gurru Grass Flowering Season, (November) is warm and it often rains. (A good thing to remember as we start planning picnics.)

Kangaroo-Apple Season, (December) is marked by its changeable, thundery weather, longer days and shorter nights.

Biderap Dry Season, (January and February) has high temperatures and low rainfall.

Iuk (Eel) Season, (March) is when the hot winds stop and the temperatures cool, while the manna gums flower and the days and nights are again equal in length.

Waring Wombat Season, (April-July) has cool, rainy days and misty mornings, with our highest rainfall and lowest temperatures.

Seven seasons seem to make a lot of sense.

In my research, I stumbled across some notes from a workshop that was held in Warrandyte, in March 1994.

The workshop was initiated by Alan Reid, now a renowned naturalist and environmental writer.

He was interested in including Aboriginal knowledge of seasonal change together with local knowledge from regions of Australia, and had suggested the workshop to pool observations within the region to look for seasonal patterns.

This seemed to be the catalyst for ongoing work by other naturalists into the seasonal calendars of the Melbourne area.

Monitoring was undertaken by many birdwatchers, plant surveyors and others with an interest in documenting changes in local flora and fauna, and, later that year, an interim local calendar of six seasons for the middle Yarra region was launched.

Some years later, more observations were added, and the calendar was adjusted.

In brief, it seems they have done away with autumn for this six-season calendar, but here are some key points from their findings:

• high summer, from early December to early February, when beetles and xenica butterflies appear and young fish come up from the estuaries

• late summer, from early February to early April, when the Yarra River becomes muddier, young platypuses emerge and eels move downstream

• early winter, from early April to early June, when morning mists are in the valleys, migrating birds arrive from Tasmania and casuarinas flower

• deep winter, from early June to late July, when the weather becomes colder, heavy rains fall, orchid rosettes appear and silver wattles flower

• early spring, from late July to late September, when more wattles begin blooming, many species of birds begin nesting and joeys emerge from the pouch

• true spring, from late September to early December, when seed-eating birds, such as finches and parrots, begin nesting, platypuses lay eggs, the Yarra rises and tadpoles are in the ponds

Personally, I don’t want to do without the word autumn as it conjures up so much colour and meaning, but having a local calendar that incorporates indigenous knowledge seems to fill in the gaps and paint a more complete picture of the world immediately around us.

So, with a greater understanding from those that lived dependent on the rhythm of the seasons combined with the findings from the workshop in Warrandyte, perhaps we can all approach this next season a little wiser, be a little more prepared, and just maybe next winter won’t seem so long if we acknowledge Guling.

References: museumsvictoria.com.au/forest/climate/kulin.html emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM01345b.htm Calendar source: Museum Victoria

SSSH!!! I’m listening

MY thoughts are jumping and pushing for escape and I just cut you off mid-sentence to take the floor.

It’s not that my thoughts are more important than yours, it’s just that, well, I have so much to say, and, yes, I am a little bit rude.

You see, I don’t listen.

I don’t quite remember what you were saying because while you were talking, I was already working out what I wanted to say in response.

The words are forming and before I know it, they are tumbling out and I am cutting you off.

I have to speak a little louder to speak over you and make you realise I now have something to add to the story.

Lucky for me, we are good friends — we must be, because I’ve been doing this for years and you still talk to me. I’m sorry.

However, I caught myself in the act the other day and made a conscious decision to hold my tongue. You will never guess what happened.

I actually heard the whole story. And it was good! Actually, it was so good, I thought I would try it again sometime.

The next night at dinner, while the table was bubbling with conversation, I focused on one person at a time and I listened.

I let them finish their stories while I maintained eye-contact and encouraged them with the occasional nod.

The act of listening without thinking is not an easy one, especially if it’s not something you have done a lot of before.

It took concentration and determination, but it was well rewarded.

I got to hear the end of Master 7’s story of who found his school jacket.

This led on to more stories about who is playing with whom in the school yard and some of the complex issues of being seven.

That was my bonus gift for not rushing to fill a space. I also got to hear some specific details about the overseas holiday that Ms 23 has just returned from.

Words associated with feelings and thoughts were added, rather than the basics of ‘I went’ and ‘I did’.

The dinner table hummed rather than shouted and I was thankful for the awareness that had dawned on me at last.

It’s not an easy road to walk; I have years of interrupting to undo.

I sat back and watched a friend recently who is a very good conversationalist and listener.

I admire her greatly and we all benefit when she is in the room.

With good posture and a calm voice, she is able to ask each one of us questions and allow the responses to come out in all sorts of rhythms.

She gently pulls us back to the original question if it was railroaded by someone, like myself perhaps, and makes sure the quiet ones get heard.

When it is her turn to answer a question, I watch her take a breath before she responds.

A micro-moment that makes all the difference. That’s next on my list.

To think and breathe before I speak.

To take a moment before I jump in.

I’m quite enjoying observing others, paying attention to their body language, listening with an open mind rather than forming my response prematurely.

Listening is not just hearing.

It requires putting your attention, your interest, and your heart in to understanding what is being said.

It’s not about staying quiet, but it is about giving others the space to speak.

It’s asking questions of others and allowing them the time to answer, seeking clarification, encouraging them to dig a little deeper.

These are worthwhile habits that we need to adopt into our lives.

Some wise words from an ancient time may encourage us on this journey.

Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers and many of his quotes are to be found scrawled in fancy fonts around town.

But one in particular stands out today: “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.”

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that this problem goes way back, and I mean way back.

This gentleman is from 3rd Century AD, so I can take solace in knowing I am not alone in the battle of whose words win.

The art of conversation must surely be listed as one of the finer accomplishments of this life.

Those that do it well stand out in the crowd; they make space for the quiet ones to speak up and allow those that come to conversation with agendas to stand in line and wait their turn.

Learning to listen may take me awhile; extroverts are especially known for this little hiccup, but I’m on to it now, so what was it you were saying?

The mounting cost of ritual in modern life

‘A habit I seem to have formed (and can’t afford):

Each morning at eleven, a latte at the same place,

At the same table, my own inviolable spot

Downwind of the non-smokers.

Coffee.

What a racket.

I must be nuts.

But I’m making an attempt to live, you see;

I’m conducting an experiment in living.’

An excerpt from the poem Equinoctial written by New Zealand poet and author, Geoff Cochrane.

When the credit card statement arrives in the mail it takes a while before I am brave enough to slide my thumb under the envelope seal.

I have come to expect that the numbers in the little box will be higher than they used to be.

With a sigh I scan the details, hoping that someone somewhere made a mistake and it’s not really what it seems.

Ritual — small actions repeated regularly.

This ritual uncovers another ritual — coffee. It’s not just mine, people the world over partake in this one every day and have done so for hundreds of years.

As I scan the list on the tri-folded pages, I see the pattern, the rhythm; this rhythm that links me to something ancient yet is most certainly alive and strong today.

Social media is evidence enough that coffee is a vital part of life.

Scroll through Instagram or Facebook mid-morning and someone, somewhere will have posted a photo of their morning latte — here they are, once again, at their favourite cafe.

Have you ever stopped and listened to people ordering their coffee?

I work in one of our local cafes, so I have the opportunity to be part of these conversations regularly.

I wonder if there is any other food item ordered that requires so much detail, has so many variables, and has its consumers so particular.

When we order food from a menu, we don’t usually tell the chef how to cook it, but when ordering a coffee, it seems we enter new ground, dictating strength, size and temperature as well as particular ingredients.

Almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, lactose free milk, skim milk, full cream milk, (catch your breath here) sweetener, honey, sugar, coconut sugar, raw sugar, half strength, double strength, yes I know it’s two shots but can I have an extra one? did I mention temperature? 64 degrees please, and my friend would like hers extra hot, but not boiling.

And we wonder why the queue takes so long to move through.

Maybe they should put more staff on, don’t they know it’s going to be busy at this time of day?

As the customer we can be a picky bunch.

Will we ever trust the barista? and, more importantly, will we give him a second chance?

Surely he has one of the most difficult jobs.

We want to chat with him while he works, and still expect perfection and service with a smile.

I was a barista once, but everything has its season.

Driving into Warrandyte, I quickly count 10 cafes before I hit half way.

I wonder how many I’d find if I took my time and wandered the full length of Yarra Street.

Maths isn’t really my thing, but all those cafes and all those coffees — that’s a lot of micro conversations about espresso shots in a cup.

Melbournians are known for taking their coffee very seriously, research has us leading the country in coffee culture, with the highest cafe visitation rate than any other capital city. (Roy Morgan Research, 2015).

According to the contents of the envelope I just opened, I’m a contributor to those stats.

I’m not quite a Cochrane, for it’s not the same table for me every day, but it is the same time.

The call is loud and the pull is strong and we find ourselves adding the coffee run to our to-do list.

Part caffeine hit, part comfort call, the barista and his skill are part of the rhythm of our days.

Some of us are our own baristas, with our in-house coffee machines taking pride of place on the kitchen bench, all silver and shiny.

It’s easier to get the same seat at the same table that way.

Rituals, they connect us to the ebb and flow of life.

They can anchor us in between busyness, causing us to pause — even for just a moment.

There is comfort in ritual, and often it is with the most ordinary of moments that we create something extraordinary that, if lost, would be sorely missed.

Next month the same mail will come, I will take my time opening it and I will scan the folded pages in hope, as I have done countless times before, but to no avail.

“Coffee. What a racket. I must be nuts.”

Quills at the ready…

LOCAL AUTHOR, Nieta Manser, has been shortlisted for The Wilderness Society’s 2017 Environment Award for Children’s Literature, in the picture fiction category, for her book Echidna’s Can’t Cuddle.

The Environment Award for Children’s Literature is an annual award run by The Wilderness Society that celebrates books that promote a love of nature in young people. Wilderness Society National Campaigns Director Lyndon Schneiders said “this year’s shortlist is filled with nature-themed books that children will request to be read over and over again.

“These are top notch books by some of Australia’s best children’s authors and are both engaging and have a strong environmental message. “The 2017 Environment Award for Children’s Literature shortlist has beautifully illustrated picture fiction, conservation hijinks and non-fiction books that will feed children’s curiosity,”he said. Since 1994, the Environment Award for Children’s Literature has been awarding outstanding children’s books that promote a love of nature and a sense of caring and responsibility for the environment. Previous winners of the Award include Tim Winton, Jackie French, Colin Thiele and Graeme Base.

The Diary caught up with Ms Manser recently to discuss her book and her nomination.

“It’s a real honour to be shortlisted and to have my name in amongst that circle of authors,” said Ms Manser.

The Wilderness Society believes promoting a love of nature in children is one of the fundamental elements to building a society that respects and protects our unique landscape.

Ms Manser currently works as a teacher at Andersons Creek Primary School, is a mother of four children and passionately believes that children learn best through literature.

When asked about her writing, Ms Manser said, “It had always niggled at me that I needed to write — that was my thing — I just started plotting down ideas and they became manuscripts.”

Echidna’s Can’t Cuddle was published in May 2016 by Little Steps Publishing.

The illustrator, Lauren Merrick lives in the Blue Mountains, NSW and although they have never met, the partnership has led to a very positive response.

“It was just flying out the door from the distributor, and also to schools and libraries,” said Ms Manser.

“It’s very exciting.” Last year, Echidna’s Can’t Cuddle was picked up by a Chinese distributor and earlier this year was translated into Korean.

“The Korean script really suits the illustrations,” said Ms Manser, “they look beautiful together — it’s been a really exciting journey.”

“The Environment Award for Children’s Literature plays a critical role in celebrating books that promote a connection to our awe-inspiring natural environment,” said Mr Schneiders.

“What a fabulous award it is and I am very proud to have the The Wilderness Society choose my book,” said Ms Manser.

The winners will be announced at 3pm, August 12 2017 at The Little Bookroom, Carlton North.

All are welcome to attend the event with drinks and nibbles provided and a lucky door prize that includes Echidnas Can’t Cuddle.

The Diary wishes Nieta all the best of luck with the judging next month.

Reaching six thousand

“SOME 130 million books have been published in history; a big reader will get through 6,000 in a lifetime. Choose carefully…” tweeted the author, Alain de Botton, on January 7 2017.

And so the chatter started — some were working out the maths while others asked “When did the counting start?”

For me to be anywhere near that number I would have to start counting with the first reader that I brought home from school.

It was the last two words that caught the attention of many of us — myself included.

“Choose carefully…”

It has haunted me since and found its way into a few conversations.

So how do we choose?

I’ve done some research and it seems to boil down to a few options.

“Recommendations from reliable sources” was the leader of the pack, followed closely by the controversial “attraction to the book cover”.

Next came “following authors that we know and love” in equal third place with “whatever is on the list for book club”.

My research was random and unqualified so please don’t quote me, it typically involved coffee or wine and friends — and Google was never invited to the party.

I will admit that I am a cover girl; beautiful covers are a trap for me, although the books themselves have been known to sit unread beside my bed, gathering dust — one day, I promise.

Have you seen The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley?

The hardcover edition has a duck egg blue dustjacket with Elizabeth Gould’s illustrations of a superb fairy wren.

If you take off the dust jacket you will see these little wrens returning to feed their young in an intricately drawn nest, a little hidden treasure.

The book was a Christmas gift, and, I’m afraid to say, it’s in “that” pile.

Or perhaps, the cover of The Witches of New York by Ami McKay, how could you not want to discover what is waiting inside those ornate gates protected by ravens?

I hear you scoff at my shallowness, yet I hold my head high.

The cover often comes up in conversation at the start of book group as we are pouring the first glass of wine.

I’m not the only one affected by it and it seems the e-bookers amongst us miss seeing the covers on the coffee table or beside their bed.

The cover of a kindle doesn’t quite open as many conversations as a pretty book sitting on the table.

But as I continue to muse over the idea of choosing carefully, I realise I don’t actually choose my own reading very often anymore.

At Christmas, I put one or two titles on my Santa list that is pegged to the fridge for all to see and in February — when book group reconvenes — we all offer up a couple of titles and put them to the vote.

Each of us gets a title on the list.

There is a pile beside my bed of “wanna-reads” and a long line across the back of my desk of “one days” and “shoulds” held up at each end by heavy, fake antique books.

In the lounge room there is a large shelf full of “done alreadys”, you are very welcome to borrow any of them, well almost any, and maybe there are a few I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t come back.

So, what of those books you just don’t like, or give up on after 15 or 50 pages? I’ve heard it said that once you start a book you owe it to the author to read to the end.

Really?

Life’s too short — how many pages do you give a book?

And when you are done do you keep it?

A friend of mine tells me that when she doesn’t like a book, she just “pops it in the slot!”

Of course I was a little confused and asked “What slot?”

She puts it in the after-hours return slot at her local library.

However, I can report that the Warrandyte Library does not accept donations so don’t take her up on this idea.

Occasionally, I’m brave enough to box up a few for the school bookstall and each month when I walk by the bookseller at the market I’m tempted to ask if she wants a few boxes.

Instead, I glance at the covers, fight an internal battle and often walk away with another “one day”.

With de Botton’s words echoing and bookshelves bulging, I’m a little more conscious of the titles I choose to delve into.

But the idea of six thousand?

I’m happy to discard such a notion, and return to book-reading to escape, to learn and to enjoy.

Smoked trout and marshmallows

EASTER and camping — seems the two words are inexplicably linked in the psyche of thousands of Melbournians, and our family is part of the mass exodus that heads out of town.

This year we decided to go for 10 days — in a tent.

But it sure beats being at home trying to work out how to keep everyone sane over the school holidays.

The tasks are split — my husband takes the garage, I take the house — and we both wish we could find the list we made last year.

The essentials usually make it and what gets forgotten is a great excuse to go into town.

It’s a four-hour drive, so we aim to leave early, and then mutter to ourselves as we finally pull out of the driveway around 11am.

Arriving at the caravan park the back seaters suddenly sit up, reminding me of meerkats, and as soon as the bikes are off their racks they disappear as we yell something about finding helmets.

Maybe it’s best they are not around to hear all the special words that come with putting up tents.

But after a couple of hours of effort, keeping our eyes on the grey clouds moving our way, it’s done.

Our sites are clumped together and in the centre is our fire pit made from an old washing machine tub.

The chairs are in a circle, the sausages are cooking and the wine is open.

This ancient tradition of the campfire is good medicine for us city folk and our friends staying in their cosy cabins are drawn out to join us.

Most nights there are a few that stay up late, falling under its spell, storytelling. Some nights, there are marshmallows.

Morning comes with panda-eyes, pyjamas, and beanies covering bed hair, and the kids disappear on their bikes to find one another.

They won’t be back until they are hungry, or hurt.

There are patches of sunlight coming through as the fog rises.

We follow those patches with a brewed coffee in one hand, chair in the other, and lay claim for an hour or more while we discuss who did and did not sleep well.

Someone’s air mattress always goes down, while someone else lays snug but can’t sleep because there is a growling wombat in a nearby tent.

We might discuss some options for what to do later in the day, but often, that’s short lived and we go back to our happy place of coffee and early morning sunshine.

A book may find its way to a lap, but more often than not, it sits unread.

Someone will eventually make pancakes, thankful for the flyscreen walls of the food tent that keep the wasps away from the maple syrup.

“More coffee?”

“Yes please.”

At camp, the bikes become an extension of ourselves and are very useful for hunting for the kids at dinner time.

Prior to camping it had been about 30 years since I last rode a bike, but the bike tracks around Bright are smooth and flat and I love the 3km ride to the nearest cafe for a latte.

The local trout farm, brimming with both fish and visitors, is always on our itinerary.

The kids enjoy the easy catch — I don’t enjoy watching the poor things flapping on the grass — next time, I might not go with them.

We smoke the trout in a small tin box, no bigger than a shoebox. It’s a delicate operation to remove the skin and bones, but it’s a fine, fine meal.

That’s the dinner that stops everyone in their tracks.

We make a dip with cream cheese also, so the night of awesome flavour continues well after the dishes are done.

I particularly enjoy a late night walk, even if it is just to the loo.

The park is quiet except for the crunch of my footsteps and the symphony of snorers scattered along the way.

The air is so fresh and clear; the campfires have all died down to a deep glow, and the world seems good and right.

It takes a lot of effort to get here, to set up, to plan meals, to coordinate outings and to mediate conflict.

I’m not sure you can put that many people together anywhere and not have a few “exchanges”.

We all get a bit tired and someone will lose their cool, probably me. But beyond all that something older and stronger happens at camp.

We come home a bit grubby and tired, looking forward to a shower and our own beds, but all wishing we were still there.

Whether seven or 47, the pull to the open and free space, to the days without structure and timekeeping and to the companionship of friends seems deep in each of us.

Ponderance

As published in Warrandyte Diary, March 2017

The first Saturday of the month is always marked on the calendar, **MARKET**

I don’t want to miss it, but often do and I’ve been known to harbour that disappointment for several hours upon realising the day or time has passed.

All other plans for the day are made around this all-important trip to the market.

I phoned a couple of friends, set up the rendezvous point and we met, with kids in tow, to wander along the river.

I’m sure most readers have enjoyed the market walk so I will not go into details of stalls and stallholders, sights and sounds.

You know it well.

But this particular market trip stands out amongst others.

We set off with the idea that the children, 4 of them, aged between 6 and 9, would be happy souls, wandering under gum trees with money in pockets and the promise of frozen yoghurt to spur them on if they grew weary.

We had visions of children skipping through the dust under a canopy of gum trees, happy to be beyond walls.

It didn’t take long before this vision of ‘free range’ had turned into the dusty reality of hot and grumpy children, and the coffee van seemed to be an ever moving mirage, just out of reach.

Our dreams of being earth mothers, wandering by the river, were fading with each utterance from the mouths of our babes.

We didn’t walk the full stretch of the market last month, although we did make it to coffee, run into friends and join the queue at the frozen yoghurt van.

As we headed to our cars we laughed at ourselves, we are just not the earth mother type.

Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves for we shall never cease to be amused.  Proverb

 In the weeks since this market trip I have been pondering the idea of ‘the absence of annoyance’, a phrase often linked to the Danish concept of ‘Hygge’, pronounced ‘hue-gah’, that is described as the philosophy of enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

The ‘absence of annoyance’ is a place in which we can reside between ease and effort.

Where gritted teeth are replaced by a calm breath.

An eternal yoga session

Grace seems to be the key to this place of residence, grace in movement, in thought and in response.

Effort is required, but, as in all things worthwhile, the more I practice this mindset, the easier it is becoming.

I observed our household one afternoon, I sat back deliberately and listened to everyone interacting.

I heard in them what I hear so often in myself.

Annoyance.

I listed the things that annoy each of us all regularly.

The dog that is underfoot as we work in the kitchen, is also the dog that greets us when we walk in the door and sleeps at the feet of the one that is burning the midnight oil.

The child that causes me to grit my teeth is also the one that hangs on for a longer cuddle at the end of the day.

The dishes left on the dining table are evidence that someone has stopped awhile and been at home rather than rushing out the door.

We don’t want to take away the things that are annoying us, for life would be lonely, that I am certain of, instead I choose the absence of annoyance.

Next, I decided to tackle rush.

The idea is not new, I know, but it’s new to me.

Deciding not to rush to the next task but instead to stay focussed on what is at hand, is, I can honestly report, keeping my heart rate down a little.

This insight came after spending time with my 23-year-old daughter recently.

We had gone supermarket shopping together and I heard myself say in so many different ways, hurry up.

I used ‘come on’, ‘let’s go’, ‘you go get this, I will get that’, ‘let’s get this over and done with,’ and other phrases that maybe you have used too.

We rushed, we sighed impatiently at the queue at the checkout, (how dare everyone else be shopping at the same time we are), we loaded and unloaded, then moved on to the next thing in our day.

Later, I reflected on the shopping trip and realised that it was more about spending a few hours with her than getting the job done.

We don’t shop together very often, actually we don’t do a lot together these days.

I was thinking over how that time could have been different had I switched off ‘rush’, all that was needed was a little tweak.

So it’s market day again soon and my friends and I will meet up again to grab a coffee and wander.

With kids in tow.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Nudge

As published in Warrandyte Diary,  6 February 2017

As the new school year starts, each parent or caregiver that walks onto the school grounds or waits for children at the gate has an opportunity to be part of something very special that requires just a little effort.

For many, the start of school will bring the reunion of friends with stories to tell of summer holidays and the invitations for coffee and a catch-up will fly all around the school perimeter like seagulls at the beach.

Except for some – some will not receive those call outs and greetings, and this is our call to action.

This is where we need to be on alert for the new Prep parents, the new families to the school and the new arrivals to our country.

I was disturbed last year when, after many years of not being in the school yard environment how very quickly I saw the groups form.

My youngest was starting Prep and I was back into the thick of things, still a little stunned as I saw the next 13 years and about 2500 school lunches ahead of me.

Many parents knew each other from kinder or other year levels at school, and I could hear the ease in their greetings.

I too knew a handful of the mums around me. But I noticed that a few stood a little way off, closer to the gate.

The space between each of them was a little wider than it was in the fast growing inner circle.

I saw the same pattern every day and it weighed heavily on my heart that the picture of our prep playground parents was a segmented picture.

Each one of the parents outside the inner circle were new arrivals from other countries.

I introduced myself to each one of them including the father of a boy in my son’s class, Youssef.

New arrivals from Egypt. It was a short conversation due to language but we had connected and it was the start.

Over time language and understanding grew.

I checked in regularly with Youssef, as he found the school weekly newsletter quite difficult to understand and the important dates and reminders were slipping by unnoticed.

Then I got busy with my own friends and tasks.

It was the last week of school, a free dress day, and his son turned up in uniform and saw a school yard filled with kids in coloured t-shirts.

I happened to be near the gate and saw his little face as he registered what was happening and what he had missed.

As his heart broke so did mine.

Of course we had all reminded one another in everyday conversations because that’s how it works – we all need reminding, but in my busyness I had forgotten to step outside my own circle and check in with someone on the edge.

That afternoon I asked Youssef what he missed most about Egypt. His reply stopped me dead in my tracks.

He looked me in the eye and said quite sadly, “I miss when one person sits over there with a beer and someone else sits over here and tells a joke and everybody laughs.”

They missed community, they missed friendships, parties and social gatherings – something most of us take for granted.

I will never forget that moment – the raw honesty of it.

We invited his family to our home for Christmas and they accepted.

Food was plenty and the drinks were cold, there were gifts and stories and jokes – we laughed, we ate and I quietly gave thanks to the little voice that had prompted me to make this happen.

Later that evening we received a text message that read, ‘This is the best day spending since we arrived in Australia. God bless you and your family.’

The school may be our common place, where we easily take for granted the surety it brings to our routines, but each one of us can be part of turning it into an inclusive community.

For many families it is the only place they have to form friendships.

I encourage you to tune in, step outside your comfort zone, to offer friendship and see worlds change.

You just may find your Christmas table is a little different this year.