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

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

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!

Shibui Bowls

The power of literature is evident in that a Japanese novelist who I never met instilled in me a love of pottery bowls. In high school I read Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata and was introduced to the Japanese concept of shibui in which a functional, ordinary, even old-fashioned household object is valued and admired for its simple beauty and subtle detail. In hindsight, I think this way of thinking was one of the precursors to my interest in simple living.

About ten years ago when pottery wasn’t considered to be that hip, I spotted a gorgeous blue bowl in an op shop. It was beautifully crafted and signed with the potter’s mark. It was only $5. It was a turning point. I became a restrained, discerning but enthusiastic bowl hunter. Over the next few months and years I developed a small but lovely collection.

To this day my shibui bowls bring me a great deal of quiet joy not only because I think they are beautiful but also because they are so functional. They are handcrafted and earthy. They are my partners in hospitality. They make my home feel warm and cosy.

What’s your shibui thing?

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!