Waiting and Wonder

I remember waiting for the mail when I was in my late teens. I had a boyfriend in Canada and we wrote to each other for 2 years. Our hand written letters would take about two weeks each way. They would be several pages long and I’d read his over and over while I waited for the next letter to arrive.

These days, the idea of having to wait for anything is most unsavoury. No one likes waiting for a train or in a queue for the check out. Hardly anyone waits at home for dough to rise or for clothes to dry on the line. Advertising is littered with words like ‘instant’, ‘fast track’, ‘express’, ‘tap’, ‘click’ and ’24/7′. Around the clock we have immediate access to movies, books, music, food, messages, news and money.

But is waiting always bad for us?

“…isn’t waiting itself and longing a wonder, being played on by wind, sun, and shade?”

Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

As Annie suggests, perhaps there is something special about anticipation.

The season before Christmas is called Advent and for me Christmas isn’t completely Christmas without it. The word Advent comes from a Latin word which means ‘approaching’. It is a time of looking forward; of preparing for the celebration to come. It is also a time to reflect and remember.

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and we mark it by decorating our home with a Christmas Tree and an Advent Wreath. Each of the four Sundays focuses on a theme starting with Hope, then Peace, then Joy, then Love. Every Sunday a candle in the Advent Wreath is lit for each theme and we take time to reflect on what the words mean to us.

Our Advent Wreath was bought from Ebony and Ivy in Glenbrook a few years ago, but you could easily make your own. You can use any pliable branches or greenery from the garden and place them in a circle on a large round tray or platter. In the middle of the wreath place four red candles (Hope, Peace, Joy and Love) and then a white candle in the centre. The white candle is called the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas day along with the other four. The Advent Wreath makes a beautiful centrepiece for any table.

We also have a homemade Advent calendar of little cardboard boxes that count down the 24 days until Christmas. I write messages for each day and leave treats as well. My children are getting older but they still enjoy it.

We like having a Christmas tree and this year we found the loveliest tree made of woven vines and branches. Local artisan Branching Out Designs makes them here in the Blue Mountains and also runs workshops to show people how to make their own.

Here are some other options for eco-friendly Christmas Trees:

  • A couple of large bare tree branches in a pot can look very chic and minimalist.
  • Stack some of your favourite books in a tree formation.
  • Make a tree shaped wall-hanging with branches and string.
  • You could also buy a real potted tree each year and then find somewhere suitable to plant it. Getting a tree native to your area would be ideal.
  • Also check out #ecochristmastree on Instagram for more ideas.

We had such fun decorating our tree today. Keeping decorations simple, spending less and being eco-friendly is important to me and thankfully my children are catching on.  Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of tinsel, make paper chains or bunting.
  • Make your own wreath or garland from items in your garden.
  • Make origami stars to hang on the tree or string some together.  
  • Felt is also an easy material for making tree ornaments.
  • When buying ornaments or decorations look for those made from wood, ceramic, fabric, metal or paper.
  • Buy local and fair trade!

One of the best decorations at Christmas is music. It sets the mood and reminds us about the Christmas stories and themes. There are many beautiful songs and compositions inspired by the Christmas season. Making a Christmas playlist is a great family activity.

Follow this link to listen to our Christmas compilation for 2019. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4V0PSEpncXPQyUcV7Jj6tB

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the theme is Hope. I have been listening to this beautiful song about Hope sung by Katie Noonan:

https://sonichits.com/video/Katie_Noonan_&_Tim_Freedman/Maybe_This_Christmas

What does Hope mean to you and what do you hope for?

Cherry Picking Christmas

Christmas in Australia is affectionately known as the ‘silly season’. Being a contemplative kind of girl, most years (usually around the end of November) I find myself wanting to time travel away from the scramble at the shops, the string of parties and plastic presents. I wish Christmas could be peaceful and simple.

One of the best things about having Christmas in summer is that cherries are in season! I figure making Christmas simple is like picking cherries: discard all that is irrelevant or unappealing and savour all that is beautiful and meaningful. Naturally this process will be different for everyone, but I started with the origins of Christmas.

Christmas has evolved into a fascinating muddle of traditions that have been adapted and tweaked by various cultures over time. Many Christmas customs hark back to ancient celebrations of Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Yule logs, candles, boughs of holly, roast dinners, sleigh bells, snow and the centrepiece for many homes at Yuletide, the evergreen tree.

Santa Claus is also a popular feature of modern Christmas. He is loosely based on the 4th Century Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas, whose feast day is on 6 December. In some countries, the benevolent Saint Nicholas has had his day rolled ahead to 25 December and has been assigned a red suit, a North Pole address, flying reindeer, elves, a magical sleigh and an omniscience about children’s behaviour. 

As the word ‘Christmas’ denotes, 25 December is also when people of Christian faith celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In reality it was most likely not on that date. No one really knows when it was but a few hundred years after Christ was born, someone with clout declared 25 December as his birthday and we’ve stuck with it. From the Christian tradition of Christmas we have the Nativity, the baby Jesus in the manger, Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and their sheep, the star, the magi with their gifts.

So between Yuletide, Santa and Jesus there’s a lot going on at Christmas. How to simplify it? Here’s me:

To be authentically Australian, I avoid the winter references and embrace the summer-ness of our Christmas. I trade the baked dinner and hot pudding for salads, cherries and ice cream. I swap ‘roasting chestnuts by an open fire’ for icy drinks and and beach getaways. I forgo imitation mistletoe and holly for sprays of fresh eucalyptus, flannel flowers and Christmas bush.

Then there’s this newsflash: Santa isn’t my cup of tea. Sorry kids! However, one thing that the original Saint Nicholas offers at this festive season is the reminder to be kind and charitable, not just to the ones we love but to our wider community and especially to those in need. I’ll take that.  

The date isn’t accurate, but the opportunity to reflect on the birth of Christ fits well with my values. The Nativity story is very moving and honours humility, courage and faith. Stars and angels are my favourite decorations and listening to Christmas carols is one of the things I like most about this time of year. 

Plus cherries. Cherries are everything good.

Over the next few weeks I will write more on keeping Christmas eco and simple when it comes to decorations, food and gifts. In the meantime, if you have Spotify, here is a playlist of my Christmas favourites to check out: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4V0PSEpncXPQyUcV7Jj6tB

Goldilocks at the Paint Store

Colour is our daylong obsession, joy and torment.

– Claude Monet –

I am such a Goldilocks when it comes to colour. Orange makes me feel itchy and uptight. Purple and red can be so overbearing. A small amount of yellow is cheery but too much is depressing. Muted blues and greens are usually my ‘just right’ colours. Ocean colours make me feel relaxed and peaceful.

Our painter dropped over this morning. He is about to paint the exterior of our house except I still can’t pin down the colour I want for the walls. My Goldilocks syndrome is in full swing. He encouraged me to look for houses I like in the area and go door knocking.

So later I knocked on a neighbour’s door and asked what colour they had painted their weather boards. It was Shuttle Bus (Taubmans). I bought a sample pot. I quite like it. At least I think I do.

So far I have tried: Tranquil Retreat (Dulux), Milton Moon (Dulux), Endless Dusk (Dulux), Silver Night (Haymes) and Miller Mood (Dulux). None have been quite right.

When I found the Shuttle Bus chip at the paint store my eye was also drawn to another one: Mountain Stream (Taubmans). I tried full strength and half strength. Sooooo pretty. But will it work on my weather boards?

Or is it just the name that I like?

Sometimes I daydream that my perfect job would be assigning names to colours. A bit like naming babies. When I was naming my babies I had enough reserve names for a whole army. In the end I only needed two (four if you count middle names). Naming paint colours seems like a good use for all those extra names.

I wonder why paint colour names grab me more than the colours themselves? Here are some I totally dig:

  • Washington Cherry (Porter’s)
  • Library Red (Porter’s)
  • Twig Basket (Behr)
  • Blessing (Behr)
  • Poet (Berger)
  • Skin Deep (Berger)
  • Tiptoes (Dulux)
  • Sea Drifter (Dulux)
  • Water Music (Dulux)
  • Seachange (Dulux)
  • Equanimity (Dulux)
  • Flooded Gum (Dulux)
  • Sealock (Haymes)
  • Bali Garden (Haymes)
  • Wavelet (Haymes)
  • Cool Jazz (Haymes)
  • Sea Salt (Benjamin Moore)
  • Wild Blue Yonder (Benjamin Moore)
  • Picnic (Sherwin Williams)
  • Julep (Sherwin Williams)
  • Raindrop (Sherwin Williams)
  • Indigo Batik (Sherwin Williams)

About seven years ago we had the interior walls of our house painted. We still laugh over the name of the colour in our lounge room. It is a lovely neutral called Self Destruct (Dulux). We went for half strength. We like the colour but what a funny name!

Here are some other amusing names for paint colours:

  • Roman Holiday (Porter’s)
  • Possum Breath (Porter’s)
  • Thousand Drums (Porter’s)
  • Dear John (Behr)
  • On Vacation (Behr)
  • Soul Search (Behr)
  • Stuck on You (Berger)
  • Almost Time (Berger)
  • Press Release (Berger)
  • Mexican Standoff (Dulux)
  • Scallywag (Dulux)
  • Wiggle (Dulux)
  • Cheesey Grin (Dulux)
  • Sneezy (Dulux)
  • Cuddle (Dulux)
  • Snoop (Dulux)
  • Foxy Lady (Haymes)
  • Pitty Pat (Haymes)
  • Emotional (Sherwin Williams)
  • At Ease Soldier (Sherwin Williams)
  • Proposal (Benjamin Moore)
  • Fancy Pants (Benjamin Moore)

If you are on a paint colour quest for your home and you feel a bit queasy about it, here are a few tips I have learned so far:

Looking at paint colours online is almost a futile exercise. They don’t look anything like they do in the light of day plus if you have a blue light filter on your glasses or phone, then everything will look more yellow than it is.

Having said that, there was a silver lining to my hunt for paint colour. I discovered a fabulous website called Encycolorpedia. They have the low down on every paint colour you can imagine. https://encycolorpedia.com/

Better yet, go to the local paint store and peruse the paint chips. Get a feel for the colours that you like. Narrow it down to two or three colours and buy some sample pots. Find pieces of cardboard A3 size or bigger to paint. Start with a white primer and then two coats of each colour. Allow 2 hours to dry. Look at these over a few days and in different lights.

Do consider how a colour makes you feel. And try not to get too distracted (like I do) by its name.

If you are still bamboozled (as I was!) talk to a colour consultant. They are amazing people who can help you work out what to do with your colour dilemmas. The consultants at Thornton & Blake are wonderful! You can find them here: https://thorntonandblake.com.au/ and here: https://www.instagram.com/thorntonandblake/

The staff at Paint Right in Springwood are awesome too: https://paintrightspringwood.com.au/

Or go door knocking.

That is all I have for now.

Thank goodness for patient painters. I recommend ours: https://www.bluemountainspainting.com.au/ https://www.instagram.com/bluemountainspainting/

What are your favourite paint colours?

My Old Friend, Haiku

Haiku is one of those gifts that keeps giving. 

I first encountered haiku as a child, under the sensitive and wise tutelage of my primary school teacher. It totally captured my heart and has never let me go.

Haiku floats my boat for so many reasons. 

I could write a book about it but that would take too long, so let me try and condense my enthusiasm into a few lines:

What is haiku?

Haiku is an ancient form of Japanese poetry. It is distinctive because its poems are short, only 17 syllables long, distributed between 3 lines in a 5-7-5 syllable arrangement. One haiku is meant to be no more than the length of a single breath. 

Authentic Japanese haiku adheres to very specific guidelines. For example, each haiku must describe an image from nature and make a reference to season. It must also contain some kind of interesting contrast or an element of surprise.

For the most part I stick to the rules of haiku but as a non-Japanese, contemporary poet, sometimes I stray a little, which apparently is allowed.

Why do I love it?

For starters: Simplicity. Clarity. Focus.

Reading and writing haiku declutters the mind! Haiku is deliberately spare and considerate. It does not crowd the reader with too many words or ideas at once. Each haiku contains just one image to see and one thought to consider. In many ways haiku is like a snapshot; it frames a single moment and then slips it into a telegram.

Also: Therapy – Mental. Spiritual. Emotional.

Haiku knows that beauty and nature will console and heal. Haiku slows down time and fosters an awareness of the environment but also senses and feelings. It is an exercise in being completely present. It is an invitation to be still, contemplative and open to fresh perspectives. One could argue that reading and writing haiku is an exercise in mindfulness or meditation.

In addition: A Good Workout

American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-) advises: 

‘Think long thoughts in short sentences.’

The discipline of writing haiku is a boot camp for my development as a writer. It forces me to choose the best words and to convey my message in the most concise way. It is the height of minimalist yet poignant writing.

A famous haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), said that to write good haiku one needs to have the eyes and heart of a child.

In other words, haiku needs to be highly inaginative, instinctive and uncomplicated. These are challenging goals but they produce compelling writing.

Not to forget: Surprise!

I love fresh insights. Haiku is all about ‘aha’ moments. It celebrates delight, wonder and unexpected revelation. Sometimes these surprises come from contrast, irony or paradox.

Finally: Connection. Wholeness. Circle of Life.

Haiku draws connections between truth and beauty, experience and thought, imagery and emotion, spirituality and nature, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the minute and the vast. Haiku explores the relationship between order and transcience through its focus on seasons. Haiku offers serenity and hope in the face of a complex and sometimes terrifying world.  

My latest haiku:

as blue as the bay

my heart in the morning light

a whale migrating

©2019BellePerry

Manifesto

A manifesto is a public declaration that spells out a set of ideals and intentions. Have you ever thought of writing one?

Manifestos are often produced by groups, such as political parties, religious associations and art movements to make obvious their views and plans. But individuals can write them too.

A while ago I started to think about the value of writing a personal manifesto. I wanted to sit myself down and get some things clear and straight. I needed to regroup and reset.

At the time I felt that my life was messy, gridlocked and overwhelming. I thought it might help to pin down what I value and how I want to move forward. I figured if I ever felt lost again I could read my manifesto to get back on track.

It took a few days to draft and refine what I wanted to say to myself and finally my manifesto took the shape of this poem:

Manifesto

like haiku

live in a hut swept clean

in a garden with a fence 

on a hill with a view

like a hand written letter

unfold the past with care

wrap goodness in ribbons 

burn the rest

shake the ashes off your shoes

trust yourself

to remember

to decide

to bear up

to heal

to learn

like a lighthouse

pummelled

sweep the darkness

beam through 

be true

like water

finding its course

be sure

and deep too

like dirt

holding seeds

of hope 

wait long for rain

be tender

gaze on each day 

with its newborn face

wonder at the Earth

who tends to you

look now in the eye

hear its pulse 

let it smell your fear

ruffle its mane

be leisurely

over cups of tea 

sit with silence

let mystery linger

count your breath 

and all your bones

balance all

that pulls

and pushes 

tango with possibility

dine with diversity

fly daydreams like kites 

grasp adventure

like the hand of a beloved

listen to the broken parts

they will tell you

what is needed

you will have the courage

to live forgiveness

to believe in pearls

to expect beauty 

in the wild

to give love away

to let it run 

through your fingers

like honey 

and not call it back

to be all

you were imagined

to be

©2019Belle Perry

Lewers Gallery

At the foot of the Blue Mountains, Lewers Gallery also known as Penrith Regional Gallery is one of my favourite places to visit. There is so much to love. First of all, the regular exhibitions are FREE. There are three main exhibition spaces and a small gift shop.

Secondly, there is a gorgeous garden to explore: a variety of trees, exotic plants, all kinds of flowers, a mini bamboo forest, a veggie patch and an old water tower. Also throughout the garden are a number of sculptures. Look out for birds too. They love the garden!

Thirdly: the heritage house! I love historic architecture and this little house is dreamy. Everything has been beautifully restored and maintained: stunning floor to ceiling windows, original fireplaces and floorboards, plenty of vintage details, ornate chimney stacks and a wrap around verandah.

Fourthly, Lewers Café is a winner. Art and food are a magic combination and Lewers Café offers a delicious menu and friendly service. The café overlooks the garden and there are outdoor as well as under cover options for seating.

To top everything off, Lewers Gallery takes art education seriously and offers a range of engaging workshops for students of all ages as well as professional development opportunities for art educators. Check these out on the website: https://www.penrithregionalgallery.com.au/whats-on/

The house and studio spaces at 86 River Road, Emu Plains were bought by artists Gerald and Margo Lewers in the 1940s and a number of their art works can still be seen around the property. The Lewers were leaders in the Australian modernist art movement and their home became a hub for other artists during that time.

In 1979 the historic house, garden and art works were generously donated by the Lewers family to become a regional gallery. From 7 September to 17 November 2019 there will be a special exhibition at the Lewers Gallery to celebrate 40 years since that generous donation was made. The exhibition is aptly named ‘Gifting’.

Can’t wait to see it!

Glow Worms and Waterfalls

A few weeks ago a friend in Hazelbrook invited me to see some glow worms near her house. I had never seen glow worms so I was very keen for the new experience. We met at the end of Alexander Avenue where the walk to Horseshoe Falls begins. It was just getting dark and it was winter cold so we had on our thick jackets as well as torches to light the way. Within a few minutes we could hear water cascading and not long after that we saw a path off to the left with a sign to Horseshoe Falls. We didn’t follow that. We kept to the right and headed further down the track until we reached a large rock overhang and a waterfall which I believe is Horseshoe Falls (the signs are a bit confusing!). At first we couldn’t see many glow worms but as darkness set in and our eyes adjusted, our bioluminescent friends started to light up the cave like little stars. It was mesmerising!

Glow worms are unique to Australia and New Zealand and prefer the dark, perpetually damp walls of caves, tunnels and rock overhangs. Glow worms are technically not worms but they are the larvae of predatory fungus gnats. At night they emit a glowing blue-green light from their abdomens attracting other insects for them to eat.

Apart from this cave in Hazelbrook there are other places in the Blue Mountains to observe glow worms including a canyon near Mount Tomah and a tunnel near Lithgow. In order to preserve these magical glowing larvae and their habitats, it is important to follow a few guidelines when visiting them:

  • Avoid shining any light directly on them, this includes torches and flash photography.
  • Keep as quiet as possible.
  • Don’t pollute the air, ground or water of their habitat.

After visiting the glow worms with my friend, I was keen to go back in the daylight and see more of the walk. I am glad I did because it is so beautiful, especially in the morning sunshine. I started down the track and turned left at the Horseshoe Falls sign this time and discovered some falls which I think are called Fairy Falls. Then I found my way back to Horseshoe Falls and the glow worm cave. I stayed there for a while to relax and daydream in the peaceful surroundings.

Just beyond Horseshoe Falls is a sizeable shelter crafted from sticks and bark. Very creative! I wonder who the builder is and if they ever come back to admire their handiwork.

I also discovered there were many more paths to follow and another two waterfalls (Oaklands and Burgess) to find but I had to get home. If only I had all day to go exploring! Ah, next time. Soon.