When Emus Have a Blue Christmas

Meet my buddy, Seven. He is super cute. Recently I was helping him in art class and he painted a very blue Christmas emu and then wrote the words ‘Merry Sad Christmas’ next to it. When I asked him why the emu was sad, Seven broke into song:

‘Hello darkness my old friend…’

I helpfully joined in and sang the next line with him. Seven stamped his foot and said,

‘Hey! How do you know THAT song?’. I said (very cool like),

‘Because I heard it. Back in the 70s.’ Then I asked Seven what made his emu so sad and he stuck out his bottom lip and replied,

‘Because last Christmas his present was clothes’.

Poor emu.

Not all of us feel overly joyful at Christmas.

This is the third Sunday of Advent when we light the Joy candle. Hmmm….

The Christmas vibes in my neighbourhood have been strange this year. We have all been trying to get on with being Christmassy against an ominous backdrop of smoke and a steady stream of bushfire updates. Much of our state has gone up in flames. Homes and lives have been lost. It is an eerie, deeply unsettling feeling. Not so joyous.

Also, this year, I am hundreds and thousands of kilometres away from people who are dear to me. I am missing them terribly badly. So that adds another layer of not feeling so joyous.

What I have been thinking though, is maybe joy doesn’t always come to us consistently and comprehensively. Maybe a few snippets of joy, here and there, are enough to keep us going. Kind words, a meal, a hug, a flower, a song, a poem, an invitation, a smile, can all help. These have been the snippets of joy for me recently. And Seven. He makes me laugh so hard.

I have also been thinking that to keep joy alive, we have to keep bringing joy to others, in spite of how we feel. There’s nothing to lose, is there? As Anne Frank said,

‘No one has ever become poor by giving.’

Speaking of Australian fauna, one of my favourite Christmas books is called Wombat Divine. It’s written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent. My heart swells with joy every time I read it. At the very same time tears spring to my eyes. It really is something special. If you have any little ones in your life, make sure you find a copy and read it to them soon. Or just read it to yourself.

I hope you don’t have a Merry Sad Christmas but if you are feeling a little blue, think of Seven and his emu and let’s pray their presents aren’t clothes this time.

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?

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?

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.

Pilgrim Inn

peregrine – Medieval Latin ‘peregrinus’ – traveller, pilgrim

Perhaps I should have been an archaeologist; I have a fascination with the ruins of old buildings. I like to imagine who constructed the buildings and who lived in them. I love the mystery!

The other day was I reading up on some Blue Mountains’ history and found out about the ruins of Pilgrim Inn at Blaxland. I was keen to see the ruins and I was surprised to learn that they were in a car park behind a fast food outlet in Blaxland (corner of Layton Avenue and Great Western Highway).

Next time I was driving past I pulled in to the car park to have a look. Sure enough, there was what remained of Pilgrim Inn; three crumbling stone walls propped up with metal brackets and the site surrounded by a fence.

The building seemed quite small but apparently it was originally part of a bigger complex. Seeing the ruins only intensified my curiosity so I went looking for more information and discovered quite a story.

This is what I found:

Pilgrim Inn was constructed on one of the first land grants in the Blue Mountains. In 1825 a 320 hectare site at Blaxland followed by an additional 640 hectare site at Glenbrook was granted to a man named Barnett Levey (1798-1837) who was New South Wales’ first Jewish free immigrant. He named his land Mount Sion Estate.

The dwelling and out buildings that later became Pilgrim Inn were built on Barnett Levey’s estate some time between 1825 and 1828 but it was not long before he became bankrupt. The site was sold to the sheriff, John Wood who subsequently leased it to James Evans. Pilgrim Inn was issued its first licence in 1830. It was the first inn west of Penrith in the Blue Mountains.

Pilgrim Inn was later bought by John Wascoe in 1857 and in 1869 it closed as an inn. The William Deane family bought the site in 1873 living there until a bushfire destroyed the buildings in 1968.

Even though Barnett Levey lived in the Blue Mountains for only a few years, he made a lasting mark on the Glenbrook area where his Mount Sion Estate was located. After he had bought the estate, John Wood made the following comments in a letter,

“The proposed new road cuts the waters of the Brook Kedron from the main body of the land. The road destroys or occupies the principal part of the good land in the Valley of Jehosophat through which it runs. The names seem ridiculous, but they were the names given by Mr. Barnett Levey before I purchased same.”

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/100972025

Although I can’t find any trace of the Valley of Jehosophat on current maps, many street names in the Glenbrook area such as Levy, Barnet, David, Tabor, Kedron, Carmel, Benjamin, Olivet, as well as Mount Sion Park are testament to Barnett Levey’s Jewish heritage and his brief time in the Blue Mountains.

Barnett Levey was an interesting man with a varied career and big dreams. He was a merchant, an auctioneer and later a jeweller, watchmaker and realtor. He is credited with opening the first lending library in New South Wales and he has been referred to as the ‘Father of Australian Theatre’. He bought a warehouse on the site of the current Dymocks Building in George Street, Sydney and lobbied Governor Darling to build a commercial theatre. In those days, the Governor’s consent was required for such ventures. Governor Darling was not keen. In the meantime Barnett Levey turned part of the warehouse into The Royal Hotel, a business to fund his theatre which he began building behind the hotel.

In 1832 Barnett Levey was granted the first theatre licence in the colony by Governor Darling’s replacement, Governor Bourke. In early October 1833, Barnett Levey finally opened his Theatre Royal and on Boxing Day that year, he organised the first professional performance of Shakespeare in Australia – a production of Richard III.

Unfortunately, Barnett Levey was not a great businessman and faced many challenges with his theatre.

Sick, tired and worn out by his efforts to make the theatre pay, Barnett Levey died on 2 October 1837, leaving a widow and four small children in poverty. Acknowledging his bold idealism, The Sydney Times, 21 October 1837, stated that:
‘to his spirit and perseverance are the public indebted for the introduction of theatricals into New South Wales’.

https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/australian-jewish-community-and-culture/arts-culture-barnett-levey

Unlike Pilgrim Inn, no ruins remain of Barnett Levey’s Theatre Royal. It was destroyed in a fire in 1840 and subsequently other buildings were constructed on the site.

Next time you are enjoying a stage play, spare a thought for our performing arts enthusiast, Barnett Levey, who fought so hard to bring theatre to the new colony. When you are driving around Glenbrook look for those street names harking back to his brief time in The Blue Mountains. If you feel a hankering for fast food at Blaxland, take a moment in the carpark to see the remains of Pilgrim Inn. Perhaps you will wonder like I did about all the stories those stones could tell.

Photographs of Pilgrim Inn before and after the 1968 bushfires can be found in the Blue Mountains City Library: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blue_mountains_library_-_local_studies/27091383856/in/photostream/

You can also see another photo here: http://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/object/129969

I found all my information about Pilgrim Inn and Barnett Levey from these websites:

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/100972025

https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/barnett_leveys_theatre_royal

https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/australian-jewish-community-and-culture/arts-culture-barnett-levey

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/levey-barnett-2352

https://www.bluemts.com.au/info/about/history/historic-blaxland/

https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/blaxland-20070815-gdkpyk.html

Madoline Glen

Madoline Glen (also called Birdwood Gully Round Walk) is one of my favourite bush walks. It is 2.6 km and takes about 45 minutes if you don’t stop along the way but there is plenty to explore so it usually takes us longer. It is a great walk for children because it has such variety. There are shallow creeks, bridges, stepping stones, caves, fallen trees, boardwalks rock overhangs, waterfalls, ferns, angophoras and a lovely grotto. It does get a bit soggy after a lot of rain but otherwise, it is an easy walk.

We usually start at the barely visible entrance to the walk on Bednal Road that leads down into the ferny gully. Before long we are surrounded by bird song, the gurgle of the water and towering trees. We often take a picnic because there are so many places to stop and relax.

I have many memories of my children complaining loudly at first about having to go for a walk but then having a wonderful time exploring the caves, spotting yabbies in the creeks and imagining along the way that they are having adventures in various fantasy worlds from books they had read. They don’t always enjoy the climb out that ends up on Lucinda Road but they always survive! Of course the walk can be done in reverse as well, starting on Lucinda Road, but either way there will be a bit of a climb out.

I like this walk because it is easy to fit into a morning or an afternoon and it is reasonably accessible. You can easily walk to it from Springwood Station or if you are driving, it is a simple turn off the Great Western Highway at Moorecourt Avenue, Springwood (and then left onto Bednal Road). If the walk has worked up an appetite there are plenty of cafés to check out afterwards in nearby Springwood.

As with any bush walk it is important to take drinking water, wear sturdy, covered shoes and take some first aid supplies. It is also a good idea to let someone know where you’ll be.

I hope you get to try this walk one day!

Confessions of a Rhubarb Queen

I have had a long love affair with rhubarb.

Legend has it that when I was a very little girl I went to an afternoon tea party and when asked what I would like to eat I replied, “Rhubarb please!”

That amusing incident earned me the title ‘Rhubarb Queen’ in my family.

Last summer I was walking along the street with my friend and I noticed a bucket of free rhubarb. It was outside a house with a well-tended garden. I had often stopped there to admire the dahlias. Delighted, I took a bunch of rhubarb home and stewed it later that day.

My tastebuds were dancing the cha cha, the jitterbug and everything in between! It was unbelievably good. Just enough tartness and just enough sweetness. Paired with vanilla ice cream, it was a simple but completely satisfying dessert.

Following this I had a New Year epiphany. I decided that my only resolution this year would be to plant some rhubarb in my garden. I did some research and was a little disappointed to find out that I couldn’t plant it straight away. I had to wait.

A couple of weeks ago I decided it was time! No more waiting. I scoped out Springwood Growers Market and found a healthy looking rhubarb plant at the awesome Patio Plants stall. You can find Patio Plants Pty Ltd on Facebook. They are regulars at both the Blackheath Growers Market (2nd Sunday of the month) and Springwood Growers Market (4th Sunday of the month).

I chose a sunny well-drained spot in the garden and planted it with lots of love and care. Hopefully there will be something delicious to harvest in the next year or so. Looks like the ‘Rhubarb Queen’ will have to be patient some more. It will be worth it though.

Thankfully, unlike growing rhubarb, stewing rhubarb is quick (and easy)!

Stewed Rhubarb

  • 6 – 8 stalks of rhubarb
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (adjust to taste)
  • 1/ 4 cup water
  • Remove and discard the leaves (they are rather toxic, so don’t feed them to your chickens!)
  • Wash the stalks and chop them into 2 cm chunks.
  • Place them in a saucepan with water and sugar.
  • Stew gently for 5-10 minutes or until the stalks are tender.
  • Serve hot over vanilla ice cream.
  • Cold with muesli and yogurt works too.
  • You could also stew the rhubarb with 4 or 5 apples (peeled and sliced). A great combo for a crumble dessert!