They’re part of the holy trinity of things that make me whole: words, music, food.
These three things anchor my life, colour my world and fuel my existence. They allow me to express myself more meaningfully, feel more deeply, and to live more completely.
But, as The Bloke will tell you (and as he has even more frequently told me), sometimes I use words too much.
Especially with our children.
And, truth be told, I don’t always use my words in a pleasant way…but in more of a drawn out, repetitive nag.
Sometimes they even come out as a rant.
Or a tirade.
Or a garbled stream of complaints and admonishments.
My children are reaching the age when they either don’t need me so much any more, or when they firmly believe they don’t need me at all (and could I please leave them alone and perhaps also shut the door on my way out while I’m at it).
As you can well imagine, once you’ve thrown a bunch of elevated hormone levels into the mix, a politely phrased and modulated request to perform the most perfunctory of household tasks (the musical eqivalent of which would be Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending) can produce such unexpectedly snarling, snarky response (think Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Heads Will Roll turned up to at least 11) that I frequently and ever-so-immaturely find myself retaliating in kind.
Things came to a head for me last week (though, fortunately, heads did not actually roll) after an especially super-charged exchange with my elder child, and I did what any self-respecting woman in her mid-forties does, if she still can: I called my mother for advice.
And a bit of a cry.
OK — it was a lot of a cry.
Who says we ever finish growing up?
Except we generally do grow up, and sometimes our mums aren’t always there to listen or helps us find the answers, or to guide us gently to the truth at the heart of the matter — which probably has something to do with the fact that you’ve managed to nurture your child to this point, and now they have reached the stage of their existence where they have to complete that same process you guided them through all over again, for themselves. And that you’ve given them a safe place in which to express themselves and to try out all the wildly different versions of their new, expanding sense of self.
The real question, I suspect, is not about growing up or finishing anything at all.
Because — naturally, serendipitously — once I’d processed the truth bombs dropped by my teenager and the truth pearls bestowed by my mother, I happened to open a book and there was a quote from Rumi which stopped my breath:
And you, when will you begin that long journey into yourself?
And so, that’s what I’m doing.
I’ve chosen to be quiet, and to witness my reactions from within. I’m not asking my children to do things any more — they’ve heard my requests thousands upon thousands of times, and they know what my expectations are.
And when my expectations are not met, I am applying what I call Silent Theory. Not a frosty, passive agressive silence, but a moment of taking a breath and stilling the response which would have so quickly come to my lips and spilled out as sound the split second after my children didn’t do exactly what I wanted them to.
Who, I now wonder, was the child?
It’s extraordinary what you discover in the space between, if you choose to begin that long journey into yourself.
Well, folks, it seems we Sydneysiders are in it for the long haul.
In addition to being subject to stay at home orders for over six weeks, many of us have also been home schooling our children for the past four. It’s challenging, frustrating and (around 11am each day) occasionally frightening: ain’t gonna lie about that part.
But it’s also incredible, really, how when you start focusing on things for which you’re grateful, you start to notice them more.
Since I wrote my last piece, the Thrifty Fictionista has remembered or noticed a bunch of other things that have made her genuinely happy lately. I’m sharing them in the hopes that if you’re locked down like me, you might discover there are things, however small, that make this strange existence of ours that little bit more bearable.
Here are a few more things that have brought me joy since this current state of affairs landed us at home for the foreseeable future:
I am still pinching myself that when I booked tickets to a performance Hamilton for Marvel Girl’s birthday I chose a date at the beginning of June 2021. Had I selected a date a month later — closer to her actual birthday — we would not have been able to go.
BUT WE DID GO! And we had the best time, and bought ALL the merch, and enjoyed every single minute of the show. Seeing live theatre for the first time in aaaaaages was a blast, and sharing it with my completely Hamilton obsessed elder daughter was completely and utterly brilliant.
Something I really appreciated and did not expect also happened: hearing some of Lin-Maunel Miranda’s lines being delivered by indigenous voices, particularly by Innawonga and Yindjibarndi man Shaka Cook (who played Hercules Mulligan and James Madison), brought the words a whole new resonance. It was great.
It’s winter in Sydney, so we’ve stopped wearing thongs for now and switched to ugg boots instead.
And they rock.
No further explanation required, methinks.
(Picture added for the benefit of those who are slow on the uptake).
Jason, Jason, Jason…what are you, stupid?! Don’t you know who Jimmy Rees is?
Between his “Meanwhile in Australia…” updates, hysterically funny interactions between Jason and “the Guy Who Decides”, and his takeoffs of Botox obsessed ladies from Brighton desperately seeking Pfiiiiiiiizer shots between their yogalaaaaaates classes, Jimmy Rees has brought belly laughs and some much needed hilarity to our household during Lockdown. He’s also known around our place as the artist formerly known as Jimmy Giggle…with apologies to Prince.
You know what to do, folks: pop him in your favourite search engine, sit back and be entertained.
Five stars out of five, Jimmy.
Christmas in July
Supporting local restaurants and businesses has become a priority for many of us during Lockdown. When we finally get out of this mess, we want to be able to rock up to the places we know and love, get a good feed and enjoy the company of people we haven’t seen except via Zoom for the past…forever long?!
So when we figured out that not only were we spending both the kids’ birthdays plus our wedding anniversary in Lockdown, we splashed out on a Christmas in July feast from the fancy restaruant where The Bloke and I got married fifteen years ago. Three courses, all insanely delicious, picked up from the restaurant and finished off in our oven at home…it was glorious.
The unexpected upside of the entire experience was that our children got to eat top notch nosh in the comfort of our home, knowing they could try a whole pile of new things and still get a snack from the fridge if what we had ordered was not to their taste. Needless to say, they loved every mouthful and are now clamouring to be allowed to come with us next time we actually get to do a spot of fine dining.
Best of the Rest
There are other things that have made me unexpectedly happy or grateful during the past couple of weeks, and here they are in random order:
Finishing Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy.
Watching Patty Mills captaining the bronze medal-winning Boomers.
Devouring everything Olympic, generally.
Getting a huge box of fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to my doorstep.
Walking in the sunshine.
A truly heartwarming text exchange with my niece on her birthday.
Hugs from the people I’m sharing these crazy days and same four walls with.
Anyway, whoever and wherever you are, in Lockdown or roaming freely, I do hope that you’re able to find something to enjoy or feel grateful for today. Not in a Pollyanna-ish way, but in a genuine, YEAH — THAT’S GOOD, kind of way.
Feel free to share it in the comments if you want: who knows, maybe it will brighten someone else’s day.
I’m writing this not so long after summarising my December Delights, the posting of which was delayed by the desolation I felt when the beautiful place in which I live went back into lockdown. As time has passed I am learning, yet again, to sit tight without a fight, and to remind myself – as some insightful wag commented – that people from the Northern Beaches have been practicing their whole livesnot to leave the Northern Beaches. I am prompted, yet again, to recall how boundlessly fortunate we are to live here: residents of vibrant yet peaceful neighbourhoods, surrounded by abundant natural beauty, and bordered by the mighty Pacific Ocean in all its majesty.
And as I’ve willed myself to turn my attention to delight, I’ve found – as I have consistently observed throughout this yearlong process of observing the delightful – that actively choosing to look for things which inspire wonder and bring me joy, however fleeting, brings me greater contentment and inner peace.
It’s not an unexpected discovery.
But it’s still an insight I will carry with me into the new year, along with a (sometimes ironic) appreciation that even before I had any inkling how 2020 would unfold, I chose to follow and notice delight in all its forms during this year, the most unusual in which I’ve ever had the privilege to live.
I’m also not surprised to see that the majority of the delights I have selected as my Top Five for the year relate back to my First Principles, which I articulated many years ago now in a post I called The Wellspring: words, music and food. To these, I would now add the recognition of delight, in all its forms.
And so, without further ado, here are my most precious delights of 2020…
Looking back over my year of delights, I notice that there are not many things that have made my list…unless of course they are foodstuffs, such as Chocolate Croissants and Oysters (and yes, those capitals are entirely necessary). But I have to admit there is one thing, one object of considerable bulk and immense importance, that has made its way into my life this year and which did, upon arrival, and has in all the intervening time since, brought me enormous joy and satisfaction.
It’s my new refrigerator.
His name is Fillipé, and he is our brand new sleek stainless steel fridge. I had been wanting him for a very long time, and now that he is here I love everything about him: that the fridge compartment is on top and the freezer drawers are at the bottom, that on the inside he is well lit and glass shelved and spacious, that he is oh so quiet…the list goes on. Opening Fillipé’s door is always a pleasure…it’s like opening a chocolate box, except my fridge is usually full of fruit and vegetables, and glass bottles standing in gleaming rows, and – well, it’s easy to wax lyrical over something so ordinary when you have a friend like Fillipé Fridge, the most delightful appliance I have ever owned.
Being Alcohol Free
At the time of writing this post, I will have gone without alcohol for almost an entire year. I kicked off 2020 with a desire to do things differently, and one of the items highest on my list was to reset my relationship with alcohol. You see, I’m a finisher: if a wine bottle is open, I’m highly likely to see it as my civic duty to ensure it’s finished by the end of the evening. This was true even if I was at home alone, enjoying a quiet glass of vino by myself once the kids had gone to bed. Or even before they’d gone to bed. And so, on 1 January 2020, I resolved not to touch a drop of the demon drink and to see how long I lasted.
Well folks, I’ve lasted far, far longer than I thought I would – ALL YEAR! And along the way I discovered, much more swiftly than I ever thought possible, that I really didn’t need alcohol in my life at all. I’m perfectly happy without it, and feel very comfortable with my decision to eliminate it from my life in 2020. I am also learning to accept other people’s reactions when I say I’d prefer not to have a drink – many and varied as these have been.
I’ve stuck to my decision, feel ever so much better for it (mentally and physically), and that in itself has been a true delight.
Receiving a Negative COVID Test Result
Speaking of being free of things, I would have to say that in 2020 one of the greatest delights you can ever receive is the SMS alerting you to the fact that your most recent COVID test is negative. Given that I am writing this post during a lockdown and waited four hours the other day to get tested (along with eleventy-million other people on the Northern Beaches), I can tell you that receiving the negative result which allows you to venture back out of doors – the wonder, the delight! – is a truly magical thing. You could probably have seen my frenzied fist pump from space.
I should also add that I am also beyond grateful to live in a part of the world where we have excellent access to free of charge testing (Sydneysiders have done over 300,000 tests in the past week – go us!), and that New South Wales also has amazing health workers and contact tracers who go above and beyond to stop the spread of the insidious virus that has turned the world upside down this year.
Cillian Murphy’s Limited Edition
It’s no secret that I am a Cillian Murphy fan – the man is pure class. But in this instance it’s not his brilliant acting that has brought me delight, or his many and varied reading recommendations, but his love of music. Every so often, BBC Radio 6 asks Cillian to guest DJ – whether it’s filling in for Guy Garvey when Elbow goes on tour or, more recently, when they’ve asked him do a Midnight-2am shift that he prerecords from his basement in Dublin and shares with the rest of the world — and when he does, the results are impressive.
The music Murphy includes in his playlists is a truly eclectic mix, but that suits me down to the ground. In addition to bringing spoken word pieces and music new and old to my ears, I’ve been surprised to hear him throw in bits and pieces I listen to often and had (possibly mistakenly?!) thought were obscure – from Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space to instrumental tracks like Sophie Hutchings’ Tail Lights and so very many more. Murphy’s musical knowledge is encyclopaedic and I’m always utterly delighted when his playlists pop up on the airwaves.
Sunshine Over Sea
I love living close to the ocean. We are saltwater people around here, folks who revel in the many splendours of the sea. Some of us need to immerse ourselves in it, others are content to sit and look at it, but many of us need to at least catch a glimpse of it as we go about our daily whirl.
One of the delights I have savoured most this year has been driving around a particular bend near where I live, following the road as it curves upward until – at the crest of the hill, not less – the ocean appears and stretches before me in all its glory, all the way to the horizon. Often, at the time of day when I make this journey, the road I’m travelling appears to merge with a vibrant path of sunshine lighting up the surface of the sea. Would that I could keep driving onto that golden road instead of sticking to the tarmac beneath my wheels!
On one particularly memorable drive during this unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) year, I happened to be listening to Gang of Youths’ song The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows as I made my morning drive. The music begins quietly enough, but it built to a crescendo just as I drove that curving road and crested the hill, exploding into its chorus as the sunlit ocean overwhelmed my view:
‘Cause not everything means something, honey So say the unsayable Say the most human of things And if everything is temporary I will bear the unbearable Terrible triteness of being…
It’s a memory I will cherish, and one that reminds me – almost every time I turn up that hill – that if everything is temporary (and I genuinely suspect it is), then welcoming and noticing delights may well be our best way of anchoring ourselves in the present, of bearing the unbearable, of making sense of this strange thing we call life.
We all have different ways of making sense of our place and time on this planet, and I thought it fitting to end this post by including a photo capturing the same view I just described that was taken by a friend of mine, whose photography has also brought me delight this year. I asked to share this particular picture because it depicts the glimmering beginnings of the road the sun paints across the sea each day, the one I would love to keep driving onto…but if you check out his Instagram page @frank_see_fotos you can lose yourself in a wealth of images, each one more beautiful than the last. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend Boxing Day.
Here in Sydneytown we are experiencing a gloriously golden run of autumn weather: blue-skied and sun-filled by day, crisp and starlit by night.
This morning I was fortunate enough to spend time with a dear friend, to enjoy quiet conversation, a couple of coffees and good company.
And now, back at home, I am taking time to dive deep into silence that surrounds me, knowing that when I resurface it will be with a sense of renewal.
I have written before about the importance of solitude in my life, of taking time out to make sense of all that is in my head and of separating my self from my mad mental chatter. But lately, I have come to realise (yet again) just how essential it is for me to spend time in quiet contemplation. I have learned that if I don’t permit myself the time and space to be silent and still, I end up feeling a little like the poet Emily Dickinson — “out with Lanterns, looking for myself”.
For me, contemplation is linked, as ever, to my First Principles: words, music and food. There is something akin to healing for me in the act of writing, of making sense of my thoughts by creating something with words on a page. Similarly, I find solace in listening to music and to the timeless rituals of preparing food for my family — in both of these things I rediscover the rhythms that make my life more manageable, more meaningful.
Anne Lamott, telling it how it is.
Our lives these days are lived at such a frenetic pace, are filled with so many activities and events that it is easy to forget to unwind. To unplug.
We know that just about any electronic device we possess that suddenly stops working effectively will probably start working again if we reboot it, or let it recharge. But do we allow our selves this simple measure? Are we so focused on the future and driven by fear of missing out that we are forgetting to hit the refresh button on our lives? Do we remember to allocate time in our busy schedules for renewal? For revival?
The philosopher Alain de Botton suggests that “anxiety grows from thoughts we haven’t given ourselves time to have”, and I suspect he is right. He also speaks of “our disrespect for thinking: someone sitting in a chair, gazing out of a window, always described as ‘doing nothing’.”
Ahhh yes…the shiny things…
When did we all become human doings instead of human beings, to the point that appearing to be doing nothing is frowned upon or even scorned? And when will we come to treat quiet contemplation as being essential to our wellbeing?
When will we make space for silence?
Because it is on the other side of silence that I find my place in this world, my moral compass, and — more often than not — I manage to catch a glimpse of whatever shiny thing I might otherwise have missed.
This month marks the first anniversary of the day I sat down, summoned my courage and started blogging. From the outset, I have said that this is where I come to make sense of it all, and after twelve months of showing up on the page I firmly believe that doing so has benefited me, and probably my family, too.
I believe it’s important to thank all the people who have joined me since I set sail on this voyage, and to make special mention of the mums who sought me in the school playground to chat about everything from Holiday Bonus Points to the meaning of saudade, or to jokingly re-introduce themselves after I blogged about The Name Game. I want to thank the friends who provided early encouragement (and who, to my eternal gratitude and partial disbelief, continue to do so), as well as the hundreds of complete strangers who stumbled across my little site and stayed to read a post or two. Discovering that my words have been read by people all over the world, from Argentina to Germany, Turkey to Taiwan, as well as here in Australia has been an astonishing and humbling experience.
Find your wellspring…
I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on. Writing this blog has enabled me to dive into that wellspring and to clarify what is important to me, what I am passionate about, and also what I am challenged by. It has provided me with a platform to speak my truth, whether I was struggling to make sense of the Sydney Siege, or speaking out against the death penalty, or fangirling over my two favourite Toms (Wlaschiha and Hiddleston), or reveling in the beauty of street art. And writing about all these things has enabled me to connect with people in ways I never have before.
I believe that I am truer to my First Principles – my Holy Trinity of words, music and food – when I visit my wellspring regularly. When I align myself to these three things, my most important sources of nourishment, I live a better and far more authentic life. I may not always progress smoothly; life simply isn’t like that. But honouring the things that make me who I am and finding the time and space to share them with others certainly makes it easier to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that characterise every person’s existence. Blogging reminds me that we are all riding this rollercoaster together, and that it can be terrifying and thrilling and every other kind of emotion I can name (and probably a few I don’t know yet know precisely the right word for) along the way. It also prompts me to remember that the same is true for each of us, the world over.
Connect to your own greatness…
I believe I am blessed in my life to be supported by my family, the crazy trio you may laughed with – or perhaps just laughed at – and cried with over the past year. You’ve shared our adventures and misadventures, and witnessed some of the tests and trials my husband and I have encountered while parenting two strong-willed and independently-minded girls. The Bloke, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop all inspire me, challenge me, delight me, frustrate me, and fill me with more joy than I ever thought possible. They also willingly put up with a wife and mother who is happiest when tapping away at the keyboard, and who considers herself incredibly fortunate to be able to do so on a personal and a professional basis – even if it means my life is regulated by the alarms I set to remind me to pick the kids up from school.
I believe, looking back, that it probably wasn’t a coincidence that I began blogging in spring, the season of rebirth and renewal. Spring is a great time to start new things, and to watch them grow. One of the themes I have returned to again and again over the past twelve months has been seasonal change, as I’ve connected with the world as it transforms itself around me and noticed details I may not have otherwise. In the process, I have become far more aware of how I respond to the seasons and the unique ways they express themselves in this Great Southern Land. (As a side note, I would also argue that spring is probably a much better time to set resolutions than those first remorse-filled weeks of January when we lament our Christmas and New Year’s excesses and wish for the umpteenth year in a row that the festive season and the bikini season did not coincide.)
But having said that, I also believe that it doesn’t matter when you start something new: the important thing is to begin. To have a go. Or to have another go. Or even to resume doing something you love, because you know it serves you and brings you closer to who you truly are. For me, it’s writing, reading, listening to and playing music, cooking well and eating better. It’s also exercising: running, weight training, and practicing yoga.
Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a yoga workshop welcoming the coming of spring. It was a chance to find stillness within, to connect with my breath, to meditate on new beginnings and to draw strength and inspiration from the wellspring within. Emerging into the twilight two hours later, I was greeted by the sight of the moon, luminous and full, lighting up the evening sky. Seeing that shining orb reminded me that I, too, have come full circle, and I remembered what I wrote in my very first blog post: that what I write here may never be great, or even particularly good, but it will be mine. The most important thing was that I began.
So rise up. Follow your breath. Find the wellspring within. Connect. And begin.
These are my three main sources of nourishment, and without their sustaining, inspiring and stabilising presence in my life I would probably end up in jail or in what used to be called (in the good old days of political incorrectness) a lunatic asylum.
But those of you who know me personally will know that there’s another thing that I am slightly obsessed by — planning. Yes, I’ll admit it, I’m one of those people who loves lists. Particularly of the old-fashioned hand-written variety, the kind that can be crossed off with flourish and flair.
I am also, I’ll confess, a bandit for spreadsheets, tables, and — more recently — menu plans. And when the menu planning mood strikes me, I find there is nothing more pleasurable than sitting down with a couple of old friends and working out what my family and I will eat for dinner for the next month.
Nigella…the original domestic goddess.
Technically speaking, they’re not ‘friends’ at all, they’re cookbooks: the tried and trusted tomes I turn to when when my soul’s kitchen needs re-stocking. But when I’m happily ensconced at the dining room table with a pile of cookbooks beside me, it begins to feel like Nigella and Jamie are my friends (obviously…after all, we’re on a first name basis here). Similarly, the likes of Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer feel like neighbours who pop their heads over the back fence to chat about what’s growing in their veggie patches, while Yotam Ottolenghi — whose latest volume I have only recently acquired — feels like an exciting new acquaintance who I want to get to know a whole lot better.
Seriously — what’s not to love about cookbooks? They’re where words and food collide, with delectable results.
Cookbooks are also packed with beautiful photographs, enticing recipes and, more frequently in this age of the celebrity chef, introductory pieces that allow the author’s passion for creating delicious food with locally sourced, seasonal produce to shine through. I suspect I find Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver particularly accessible because their cookbooks read like the television scripts they no doubt once were, and I can hear their voices in my head as I read the (sometimes pithy, occasionally rambling) comments that preface each of the recipes in their books. They don’t just make me feel hungry, they make me want to cook.
Jamie: what’s not to love about this guy?
I am equally inspired by food memoirs, especially Ruth Reichl’s widely-acclaimed trilogy of her lifelong journey with food. In my opinion, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table, and Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise are all well worth a read.Novels that include recipes for dishes cooked by the characters also fill me with joy — but I suspect that may be the topic of another blogpost altogether.
To be honest, I think I’m a better cook when I’ve sat down with my culinary ‘friends’, or even when I’ve simply been side-tracked by a recipe when I’m looking for something else entirely. I know I’m definitely more willing to try new things in the kitchen afterwards, despite the fact that I have been known to tune out the kids clamouring for their evening meal over the top of the television blaring the Octonauts theme just because my attention has been entirely captured by a new way of cooking with chorizos…or artichokes…or tangellos…or any number of other ingredients.
It’s pretty simple, really…
And, notwithstanding such lapses of maternal attention, my kids are developing a great relationship with food, not doubt partly because I am interested in what I am cooking for them and because I willingly express my love for fresh, local produce. They are eager to try new dishes and to have a crack at cooking too, and are particular fans of purple carrots, pomegranates and many other fruits and vegetables I had never heard of when I was a child.
Needless to say, I’m running out of space in my kitchen for all my cookbooks, much to my chagrin. Even so, I find it hard resist the siren song of a new volume culinary inspiration, despite my lack of cupboard space and my husband’s (probably well-founded) dismay.
But I do know this: sticking to my First Principles is good for my health — mentally, physically, and spiritually — and, by extension, it is good for my family’s health too. So my argument (and believe me, I’m sticking to it) is this: if I splurge ever now and then on a cookbook, everybody benefits.
And besides, if my habit of making friends with cookbooks continues, I’m sure we could renovate the kitchen…