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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

I wrote this before today’s walk and it felt timely to put it up right after yesterday’s post, as they’re related. Together, they’re a pretty complete wrap of where I’m currently at. Please don’t worry, it’s all good. ♥

. . . . .

I’m in my fifties now, and I have to say, it’s a weird time of life.

It’s a bit like going through puberty again – only in reverse, I guess – my body shape is changing (not in a good way), I’m emotional (wept through a Disney movie recently) and my sleep is unsettled.

Somewhat ironically, in August last year, I noticed a significant spike in my anxiety levels. It was ironic because, as those of you who’ve been reading along for a while will know, 2016 was actually the easiest year we’ve had in a long time.

To try to combat the niggliness, I started walking (as mentioned in the previous post). It’s been glorious – I spend an hour outdoors each day, more often than not with Big Boy.

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. . . . .

At the start of this year, I noticed that the walks weren’t quite enough to take the edge off the creeping, hormone-driven anxiety. I decided to add daily meditation to my schedule as well.

Let me begin by saying that I’m pretty content with my life. For years, I’ve worked hard to be mindful – to really enjoy the moment, to be present, and to be grateful for how truly wondrous life is, both in general and in my particular circumstances. To that end, I’ve always viewed meditation as curative rather than preventative medicine. I’ve attempted it on an ad hoc basis during times of stress, and found it emotionally soothing.

Then I watched this TED talk by Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, and realised that I was going about it the wrong way. Andy sees meditation as daily exercise for the brain – one designed to bring order and strength to it in the same way that physical exercise does for the body…

. . . . .

My Pete has been saying this for years, but I guess I wasn’t ready to take it in any earlier. He’s been meditating daily since he was 17 years old. And he has the most disciplined brain of anyone I know – it has quite literally protected him (and in countless ways, our whole family) through the many trials he’s faced over the years. So I have a lifetime of hard evidence that the process truly works.

I downloaded the Headspace App three weeks ago, and started the daily ten minute meditations…

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. . . . .

I’d love to tell you that I experienced a sudden and immediate sense of Kung Fu Panda inner peace…but I didn’t.

What I did notice though, was that after the first few days, I seemed to get some of my short-term memory back.

I stopped going back to the car to check if it was locked, because I could clearly remember locking it. I remembered that I’d put washing in the machine that needed to be hung up, rather than leaving it there for days. I remembered what I’d walked into the pantry to get instead of staring blankly at the shelves.

It turns out I don’t have OCD after all, but rather that my anxious brain had simply been laying down poor memories. I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was doing at the time, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to – I just couldn’t do it. My mind was always racing ahead – planning, imagining scenarios, and often catastrophising. The author Mark Twain once said “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” It’s so true, isn’t it?

. . . . .

After the second week of daily ten minute sessions, I noticed that I seemed to have more time. Life stopped feeling as rushed. Last Saturday, I started at 6am and was still going at 10pm, having walked for two hours, baked six loaves of sourdough and a batch of brioche rolls, shopped for an hour, washed and dried a week’s worth of laundry, and gone out for dinner with Kevin and Carol. As we ended the evening with a game of 500, it occurred to me that I’d had a rich and fulfilling day, but at no point had it felt hectic. It was as if I had more energy.

My old friend Kevin understood exactly what I was talking about – he practises his own form of meditation by running mindfully for 20km at a time (no headphones, he tells me, because he needs to concentrate on every step).

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. . . . .

I’m now up to day 22 on the Headspace Foundation Series. I’ve paid for an annual subscription (there’s a January promo here if anyone is interested) and have worked up to 20 minutes of daily practice. I still have spikes of anxiety, but they seem to be fewer and easier to manage. I’ll write again about this a bit further down the track and let you know how I’m going.

If you’re interested in trying it out, download the Headspace app and give it a go for ten days. The initial sessions are free and you never have to pay if you don’t want to – you can just keep using those guided meditations. Having said that, I’m finding the paid content very useful!

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Happy New Year

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It’s taken me a long time to understand…that happiness is not an entitlement, nor is it a state of being that magically descends upon us when the stars are aligned.

Rather, it’s the product of continued hard work and effort.

It’s closely linked to contentment, and the adjustment of our eyes and brains and expectations to find gratitude in our many blessings rather than misery in what we lack.

Life is always going to be challenging and unpredictable. We’re constantly dodging hurdles and occasionally, we’re going to trip. But if we work on changing how we view the world – if we learn to celebrate every sunrise and every smile and every taste and every glimpse of beauty and colour, no matter how small…then we can find tiny pockets of bliss in even the most difficult of times.

Learning to be happy takes practice and application, and whilst I’m getting better, I’m still not brilliant at it. Sometimes, life can feel overwhelming. When that happens, I try to eke out an hour  – to go for a walk, or have coffee with a friend, or study my fossils, or sew a useful bag – something to calm the jitters and soothe the soul. These small things keep me present and grounded, and they help me to reconnect with what is real in my life. Rather than being mere distractions, it’s only in those moments, when my heart is full of love and gratitude and contentment, that I feel like I’m truly living well.

I hope you all find moments of sheer, unadulterated joy in both the spectacular and the everyday in 2017. I wish you gentle times and peaceful hearts.

Happy New Year, my lovely friends. ♥

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Positive Words

When I first started writing this blog in 2009, I set myself just one simple rule.

My words were not allowed to weigh anyone down.

Not myself, not my friends and family, not my readers.

And whilst over the years, I’ve angsted a bit about it (as you can read in this post from 2013 and this one which I wrote last year), I’m pretty sure that it was a good decision. My life was and is complicated enough without adding weight to it by writing in a negative way. I don’t rage about world events, I try not to whinge about difficult life circumstances, and I don’t force words to come out when my head and heart aren’t up to it.

It’s been a very good exercise in mindfulness – constantly seeking the good and joyous things in life, and then recording them in as much detail as possible. The process shores up my own psyche, and hopefully brings a smile to others along the way. I’ve basically created my own meditation list – when I’m feeling tired or blue, I’ll open up the Musings or the Family & Friends pages and read my old posts. I always come away feeling better for it.

So…let me share with yout some random happy moments from my week. It’s been a crazy busy one, but here are the highlights…

. . . . .

Remember my stripey sock story? Well, it now has a happy ending.

All the large charities I rang weren’t able to take used socks (fair enough too), but the Mustard Seed Op Shop, an offshoot of the Ultimo Uniting Church, was delighted to have them. They support a small homeless community in the inner city and socks are always needed, particularly clean, almost-new ones.

I’ll collect them from our lovely podiatrist Richard every couple of months, wash and dry them, then drop them off to Shelley, who will ensure that they’re given away to those in need.

. . . . .

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I bought Pete’s birthday present from Time Flies Designs last year, and since then, we’ve become good friends with Juan and Olivia. I think their pieces are brilliant, and I’ve asked them to make me some new earrings for Christmas.

As well as their Paddington Market stall, they currently have a kiosk on the ground floor of The Galeries (close to the Town Hall underground exit). We popped in to visit them at the Christmas at Pyrmont Markets last weekend.

The markets were small, but great fun, especially when the Lion Dance started. Pete and I had to laugh at the screaming, excitedly terrified kids…

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I ended up buying this art deco fork bracelet from Steve the Bush Jeweller – I find his stuff so appealing (and very affordable)! He’s at the Rocks Markets every week if you missed him at Pyrmont…

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. . . . .

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Pete’s extended family came for lunch on Saturday – his brother Steve, his cousin Fiona, plus cousin Richard and his family. They’re wonderful company and we don’t get to catch up with them often enough.

It’s at times like these that I’m so grateful for sourdough baking – we were able to put lunch on the table in an hour flat and everyone ate heartily. I love serving shared, simple food like this – it always puts people at ease.

. . . . .

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Tatsuo Miyajima is at the MCA!

If you’re a fan of lights and shiny things (as I am), then you’ll love this retrospective exhibition of Miyajima’s works. His pieces are covered in LED counters, cycling from 9 to 1 and back up again. It’s an unsubtle contemplation about life cycles (“time and its passage”), but I found it impressive, fun and thought-provoking…

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Arrow of Time was my favourite installation…

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As it hung from the ceiling, it was best viewed lying down…

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. . . . .

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Finally…somewhere in the UK (Yorkshire…thanks Helen and Kaz!), it’s customary to eat fruit cake with cheddar cheese. Whoever came up with the idea is a genius, because this is an inspired combination. I believe I’m supposed to wash it down with whisky…

. . . . .

Wishing you all lightness of spirit and the happiest of weekends! ♥

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Plastic Bread Bags

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When I first started baking bread, I went on a quest to find thick plastic bags to store my loaves in.

They’re remarkably difficult to source. Thin supermarket freezer bags tear too easily. Ikea stocks a range of sturdy zip-lock bags, but they’re limited in size, and I was keen to find something with an open top which could double as gift wrapping if needed.

About nine years ago, my search led me to CLC Plastic Bags in Marrickville. This small factory is a hive of polyethylene activity. As they don’t have a shopfront, it took a bit of waving to attract someone’s attention over the click-clack of machinery. This was followed by rummaging through packets of bags in all shapes and sizes until they found something which I thought might work. I took a sample home and tried it out.

The next day I returned with cash and bought the minimum quantity of 500 bags. From memory, they cost me $30 back then.

Now, you’d think 500 would have been enough for a lifetime, but given the speed at which I bake and give away, this quantity only lasted me five years. The bags are an extremely versatile size, and we use them for everything from loaves to flour to large chunks of meat. They hold up well in the freezer, protecting the contents far better than the thin supermarket versions.

A few years ago, I drove back to Marrickville to restock. I was delighted to find CLC still there, and came home with another pile of large, food-safe plastic bags. In the intervening few years, the price had gone up by $5, which I thought more than reasonable, given that the bags were sturdy enough to be reused several times before discarding.

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Last week, I thought I should pick up some more before the Christmas rush. It had been several years since I’d last been in, and even though I still had a hundred or so bags left, I was in the area and, on a whim, thought I’d stock up.

The machines were still going click-clack click-clack when I walked in.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“Yes please. I’d like more plastic bags like the ones I bought from you last time.”

“Do you have a sample?”

“Err…no. But I want the ones I bought from you four years ago. They’re a thick plastic and about this big..”  (I held my hands apart like a fisherman describing his catch…)

He looked at me with a sheepish smile. Perhaps he remembered us having the exact same conversation four years before.

“We have a lot of bags here…if you don’t have a sample, I don’t know what to give you..”

“Sure you do! I bought them here, they came in a pack of 500, and they’re about this big..” (I tried again with the hands…)

He was being very patient and I was trying hard not to laugh. I really must put a sample in the car for my next visit in 2020.

Finally, his sister (I’m guessing it was his sister) called out from the office. She knew which ones I wanted, and since I was last in, they’d started keeping these bags as a regular item, specifically for bread. I bought another bundle of 500, turning down her offer of a cheaper price if I bought an entire packet of 2,500. After all, I didn’t want to wait twenty years before coming back to do this again.

. . . . .

As I drove home, it occurred to me that there is so much joy in these small, incidental exchanges with kind people. The smiles, the laughter and the dialogue. Our lives are defined by our interactions with others, and opportunities to engage in pleasant conversation punctuate our days with little blips of cheer and goodwill.

Of course, it helps to be a raging extrovert. I’m more than happy to stand on a table at a party. But interestingly enough, I’ve never found large social gatherings appealing. I don’t go to school trivia nights, or blog-meets, or (shudder) girls’ weekends away. I think it’s because I don’t do well in any setting where I’m expected to behave in a particular way. I’m spectacularly rubbish at putting on a polite face.

But let me chat to the lovely guys at the car service centre, or grab a cup of coffee with a close friend, or discuss nesting herons with friendly joggers on the Greenway, and I’m as happy as a pig in mud.

So…let me end this ramble with a plug – if you’re a baker in Sydney and you’d like to buy good plastic bags for your loaves or cakes (and you’re happy to buy 500 at a time for $40), pop into CLC Plastic Bags in Marrickville. Please do mention that I’ve written about them – they won’t know who I am, but it’s always nice to let folks know that their friendly service has been appreciated.

Oh, and tell them that the bags you’re after are the 300mm x 450mm ones, or they might ask you if you’ve brought a sample…

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Weekend Story: Spice Alley

My father was the most wonderful man.

When I was born, he was already a successful architect in Malaysia, living in a big house with four servants. My mother was ten years younger, and she took care of my sister and I while Dad worked long hours as the managing partner of a large architectural firm.

It was an idyllic, relaxed lifestyle, surrounded by friends, family and comfort. But racial tensions in Malaysia in the late 1960s had Dad worried.

One morning he woke Mum up and announced that he didn’t want to raise his daughters in a country where he felt they wouldn’t have opportunities for schooling, so they were moving to Australia. At the time, I was almost four years old, and Cynthia was still a toddler.

And that was that.

Within a few short months, Mum and Dad had packed up their lives and, with no job and nowhere to live, boarded a plane to Sydney with two small children in tow. They went from a big house with maids to a small rental on a busy main road with an outhouse toilet. Mum spoke very little English. Dad, who’d bought a new car to bring me home from the hospital when I was born, caught trains and buses to job interviews. My mother didn’t know how to cook (remember the four servants) so for the first few months, we lived on rice porridge.

Every important thing about life that I needed to know was taught to me by my parents through this single, monumental act of love. I learnt that family is massively more important than wealth and comfort. I learnt that you support your partner no matter how difficult the journey. I learnt how to be brave even when it’s hard. My parents taught me, in a way that words never could, what love and sacrifice and commitment and family really means.

It was brutally hard on my mum. She was only young – in her late twenties – and whilst Dad quickly found a job, she was stuck at home with two small children. It was terribly lonely without the support of her family and friends, at a time before email or Skype or free international phone calls. Mum and Dad would only ring home a couple of times a year – through an operator – at a cost of $12 for three minutes (which was a fortune in the 60s and 70s).

We went back to Malaysia for holidays a few times in the early years. Certainly not often, as it was very expensive, but my memories of those visits are still vividly clear. They were always happy times, especially for Mum, who would visibly relax as soon as we got off the plane. It was years before she felt the same degree of comfort here.

. . . . .

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As an adult, I have a great passion for Malaysian food.

I could never figure out where it came from. We always ate Chinese dishes at home, so it wasn’t a cuisine I grew up eating, nor do I cook a lot of it now. But when it’s my turn to choose a dinner venue, I’ll almost always suggest Malaysian.

Earlier this week, I dragged Pete and Big Boy into Broadway for lunch at Spice Alley…

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This little inner-city laneway mimics the hawker stalls of Asia, but in a very upmarket way – the cutlery is made of disposable wood, the stalls are cashless, and the vibe is funky. We bought lunch from the Alex Lee Kitchen, paying with a tap of my debit card…

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Then I wandered over to Kopi Tiam (“Coffee Shop”) and came back with one of my favourite desserts of all time, an ice kachang. It’s made by adding jelly and flavourings and condensed milk to a mountain of shaved ice (and usually creamed corn as well, although I always ask for it to be left out).

A friend of mine saw the picture below and said…”maybe it doesn’t photograph well..” That surprised me, as I thought it was the most beautiful dish I’d seen in weeks…

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For me, it was a joyous dining experience.

My ever insightful husband figured it out – eating at hawker stalls was a huge treat for our family when we went to Malaysia for visits in those early years. It was a time when my parents (Mum in particular) were relaxed and happy. I’ve been seeking to recreate those childhood memories – the smells and the tastes and the shared laughter with extended family – for my entire life.

And indeed, Spice Alley has a lovely, familiar feel to it…

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It’s cosy without being claustrophobic, although it’s probably packed on the weekends…

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. . . . .

It was a wonderful meal for so many reasons – spending time with Pete and Big Boy, eating food which evoked such powerful childhood remembrances, but most of all, because it made me think really hard about what my parents went through nearly fifty years ago. As a teenager, I was often resentful of the academic demands they placed on me. But as an adult I can look back and understand completely – they had walked away from a life of comfort and ease to give us greater opportunities. Surely it wasn’t too much to ask that we make the most of them?

In the last few years of his life, Dad and I spoke every single day.

“Darling”, he would say, “I’m so proud of you. You’re doing a wonderful job raising my two beautiful grandsons.”

I can’t tell you how much I miss hearing that.

It didn’t matter to him that I hadn’t gone on to be a corporate lawyer or a doctor or an academic. All he cared about, because he truly loved me, was that I was happy. He made me believe that the way I had chosen to live my life was not only good enough, it was the best of choices. He super-boosted my self-esteem every single day and I’ll cherish those conversations forever.

I’d like to think that Dad would look back on his life…on all the hardships and sacrifices he and Mum made in those early years…and think it was worthwhile.

I try to live the best life I can to make it so.

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