Monday, January 30, 2012

Year of the Dragon

As I said in a previous post, 2012 is the year of the dragon. In Sydney there have been loads of festivities to welcome it in. I see that I haven't written in 10 days, and I guess it is an indicator of how full my life is now, that 10 days is too long to try to cover in one post. So I will just focus on the Chinese New Year (CNY), and I will try to do another, extra, post later this week.

Last Sunday, the 22nd, David and I went out in the morning with an American couple that we met through our old friends back home. I had heard that the Chinese Friendship Gardens were open and having some dancers. We went there with the girls when we visited Sydney in 2004. It was really beautiful and interesting, and at that time we were practically the only people there. This time, because of the celebration, there was a queue, and they were limiting the number of people in at one time. We waited about half an hour, and even with all those people, it was still really beautiful and peaceful. The plants are all perfectly maintained, the rocks are chosen for their character and balance, the architecture transports you to a different time and place, and there is signage all around that explains the significance of each element. I will definitely go back again just to hang around. They have also put in a tea room/cafe since the last time we were there, so all the more reason to sit and stare out at the fish swimming around under the trees.

At a park near by, there were food booths, decorations, and a stage with entertainment. We saw the dragon dancers and watched a noodle eating contest. I had some yummy veggie dumplings and Neva had a Chinese burrito. We also saw them making fresh mung bean noodles from a big block of clear goo that they dug out with a special holed spoon. Because there is such a large Chinese population here, there are lots of Chinese youth and community organizations. I don't know what the politics are around who gets to be in charge or participate, but it seemed that there was a range of groups involved and attendance was good.

The hugest turnout, however, was for the closing parade on the 29th. I was really excited to get a note on facebook from a friend who just moved here from Arizona asking me to meet her down at the parade. (I know, you are wondering what is another person from Arizona doing moving to Sydney at almost the same time? It is partly coincidence, partly the flow of opportunity and the state of the world. Maybe I'll tell that story some other time.) Anyway, no one else wanted to go with me, so I was happy to have a new friend to go with. I felt a little like we were a couple of white girl, escapees out on the town for a wild night.

It was so crowded when I got there, an hour before the parade, that I was worried we might not find each other, even with our cell phones (what did people do before this convenience?). We staked out a spot about three layers of people back from the street where we could still see well enough. People were packed in and not afraid to squeeze in front of us, so we had to get pretty close even though it was really warm and muggy out. Once the parade started though, everyone was focused on the sparkles, and drums, and ribbons, and costumes. One of the coolest things was a dragon, lit from within, made of restaurant dishes. That is it at the top of this post. I think it was done by some people at The Carriage Works as a tribute to all the great Chinese restaurants in Sydney. There were couples dressed like 1950s movie stars, doing ballroom dancing, and teen-agers doing kung fu. Everyone seemed to have a good time, babies and old people alike, and when it ended at 9:30, the streets emptied miraculously quickly. Nicole and I stood in the middle of what is usually one of the busiest streets in Sydney, empty at that point and still blocked from cars. We could look up and down the street and see confetti and remnants of the parade. We were also finally able to glimpse the projected movies and animated artwork on the sides of buildings that were part of the festivities.

There were other things planned that I wanted to get to, but didn't make. I wanted to see the emerging Chinese artist exhibit at the town hall, and I wanted to see the lion dancers and the fireworks. Next week-end there will be Dragon boat races in Darling Harbour, and I hope to make it to those.

It just started to rain as I was leaving and the wind was kicking up and cooling things down nicely. I spoke to an old Chinese woman on the bus who told me that this new year dragon was a water dragon. I didn't know what the significance of that was, but I liked the idea that the dragons could be individualized and have different personalities and characteristics. I also think a water dragon is perfect for Sydney with all the swimming, surfing, and boating that goes on here. I definitely feel a design idea coming on for embroidery, screen printing, maybe even tattoo?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Peaches, Plums, My David, and David Sedaris

We've been eating a lot more fruit since it is summer. Actually, we ate fruit in the winter too. It was just more apples and pears - less variety, and more expensive. When we came here in June (winter), it cost $2.48 for one lime. Bananas were $12 per kilo (about $5 per pound). I am not lying! Now, limes are 50 cents each and bananas are about $1.50 per pound. I splurged on the limes, but we didn't eat bananas for about four months. Anyway, food costs are seasonal, which is a good thing because they are realistically tied to the supply/availability. Now we have summer fruits aplenty and we are loving the peaches, plums, mangos, pineapples, and 50 cent limes.

When it rains and the temperature goes down a little, we even turn on the oven and Mira bakes fruity desserts! She made a peach crumble with vanilla ice cream. Yum! She also made a plum kuchen (one of my favorites). Double yum!! They make plum kuchen at the Russian bakeries in St. Kilda in Melbourne. My mom used to make them too. I don't know where she got her recipe, but we use the one for Lightening Cake from the classic and wonderful Fanny Farmer Cookbook. If you can get a copy of this, do it. I use it mostly for the baking recipes because I don't eat meat, but it is a great stand-by for all basic cooking and food prep recipes. My copy is an old, torn up, paperback that I got from a used bookstore when I was in college, but the publishers price on it was $1.60.

David was gone to India for a week at the beginning of the month, and although he had heaps of delicious, vegetarian food, he didn't have any of the fruit. He managed to avoid any stomach problems, but did come home with a cold. He had a wonderful experience there, enjoying the conference, the culture, and most of all, the people that he met. Two of the nice women from the conference even took him shopping on the last day so he could get us lovely textile gifts. He brought us shawls, scarves, and tunics/tops. The places were connected to local artisans and co-ops so they have a beautiful handmade look to them, and they support the small businesses. The colors, the fabric textures, the block prints, and embroidery all have an artistic flair to them. Luckily, they all fit as well!

The other David in our news was David Sedaris. We all went to see him at the concert hall at the Opera House. I love his books and have laughed till I cried listening to him read on his audio books. If you don't know his work, go get any of his books or look for his short readings on NPR. He writes honestly about everyday life, family, travel, etc. We loved seeing him live. He had the whole place roaring with laughter. I wouldn't say it was rated R, but probably PG13.

Mira got her official notice of acceptance to the University of Sydney, and Valerie goes back to school in two weeks, so I am glad we have had this time as a family. It sounds like a cliche, but I watch time sweep by as they change and grow and become more separate from us. I am proud, happy, a little scared, and most of all, grateful. Life isn't always peaches and cream, but sometimes it is.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sleeping Dragon

With all the energy and enthusiasm it took me to move here and get settled, I found this last month, that I didn't have anything left over for creativity, achievement, or even basic striving. I came to Sydney with a big idea to start a new life, to reinvent myself, and to jump into the stream of possibilities and potential. I was at a good point in my life where I felt I had accomplished a lot. I had the confidence that comes with loads of experience, good solid friendships, and clear goals for my future.

The move here went pretty smoothly and I got off to a good start with being active and out-going. I contacted people whose names I had been given, and had a few social outings. I put together a resume and got a job. I figured out the city and went to lots of cultural events. I wanted to foster an image (for myself and for observers) of a confident, creative, capable woman. I do believe that I am that kind of person. I just don't feel it all the time.

For whatever reasons, I have gotten to a point where I just feel empty and completely unmotivated. I can't think of making a plan for the day, let alone inventing my future. It is like I am having a creative blackout. Intellectually, there is a part of my brain that says "get up, go to the beach, go to a museum, research design ideas on the internet, etc." I try to hang on this thread, but it is not the same as a fully centered, creative drive.

Being a moody person, I am familiar with this internal scenario and maybe other people recognize it too. Sometimes I despair when I get into these states. I cry and am hard on myself. I have a hard time believing anything good about myself. At best, I seem to be just wasting time. Lately, though, I am pretty good at stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. Being in a new place with the stress of a major life transition makes it easy to excuse myself and allow for a little regression. I have decided to give myself one year of permission to be less than fabulous - a training or probationary period if you will - where I will not judge myself or my surroundings too harshly.

Anyway, I listened to the superego, grownup part of my brain that told me to do something creative at least once a week, even if I didn't feel inspired, and even if I didn't like the results. I worked on what seemed to be small projects in random categories, and in the end (or at least up till now, not really the end) I have a small pile of things that I am more than mildly pleased with. I made the girls shortie pajamas that turned out quite cute. I made Valerie a black maxi-skirt with a sheered stretch waist band. I crocheted two necklaces for myself, and I made myself a really cute dress inspired by one of my favorite design stores here called Gorman.

I also drew some sketches of dragons. Back in August I went to Art Gallery of New South Wales and saw some cool dragons in the Asian art. I got the idea that I wanted to try to make a screen print of a dragon. I want it to be fierce and magical but cute and minimalist. I am still trying to get a nice energetic curve in the body, but I am pretty pleased with the way they are developing.

As I was drawing I realized that the dragon would be a great motif for some of the stitching projects that I am going to have to do for my Embroidery Guild course that I am starting next month. Then I found out that this coming year in the Chinese calendar is the Year of the Dragon! Quelle coincidence! I found out that the year of the dragon is characterized by courage, energy, enthusiasm, and unpredictability. It sounds like it should be good for me.

There are going to be loads of Chinese New Year activities coming up in about a week. I am excited to see the parades, fireworks, dragon boat races and Chinese art. I will take lots of photos and post about it afterwards.

The photo of the ferret is just too cool not to post. I found it on google images from anfractuousity.
Sorry about the quality on the photos of my dress. They are from a skype shot my sister Sharon took of me. Sorry about the mess in my bedroom too.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Mossies, Music, and Mayonnaise

This last week has been a mixed bag, so I thought I would just write about bits and pieces.

David is gone on a trip to India - Bhopal of all places. He had a ridiculously long travel schedule and was not looking forward to the trip, but he's there now and everything is fine.

I was dreading going back to work after the weeks of crazed holiday shoppers. I was exhausted even after four days off. Luckily, the store is pretty much back to normal with a reasonable pace and workload. It isn't going to lead me to fame, fortune, or enlightenment, but it is acceptable for now. The people are nice, it is good to interact with a huge cross-section of the population, and I do find myself thinking of creative projects all the time. It is also good for me to remember to have a zen like objectiveness, and to let myself appreciate the flow of the routine.

I was tired at the end of this week, not because it was so busy, but because I was staying up late and not getting enough sleep. Tuesday night we watched movies. We finally got a Blockbuster membership. Yuck, I know, but it is the only way to watch videos here. We watched The Elegance of the Hedgehog (really good, but not as great as the book) and All About My Mother. Last night we watched Annie Hall. It was about the fifth time I had seen it but the girls wanted to see some classics so I thought they would like AH, and they did.

I also decided to clean up the front of the house a little since we live on a somewhat busy street and people walk by all the time. The plants and bushes were growing over the sidewalk so I cut them all back and made it look tidy. I was only out there for about 10 minutes but I got 4 mosquito bites on one leg. I think it was one greedy bastard playing dot to dot with my blood. I didn't scratch them because I tend to get bad bruising but even with leaving it alone, I was going insane from the itch. It even woke me up in the middle of the night. I tried various remedies but was actually in pain from it. Long story short, I have a cure that I could get rich off of if I wanted to. I mixed 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 5 drops of water and 1 teaspoon of anti-itch goo. It made like a glue which I spread over the bites. It stopped the itching, stayed on until I washed it off, and basically sucked the poison out of the bites, shrunk them and stopped the itch. Hooray!!

Thursday night, I came home from work, jumped in the shower, got dressed trying not to sweat in the muggy weather, put cover up on my leg to hide the bites, and went down to the Opera House with Mira to see the band from Santa Fe, New Mexico, called Beirut. I don't know why they are called that, but they were delightful. We had 4th row center seats so it felt like a private concert with hundreds of cheering people around us. The energy was positive and lively and the accordion, trumpets and tuba made it feel like a circus. They also have a ukelele which always makes everything sweet.
I felt like my face was going to crack from the smile.

Saturday, Mira and I went to the beach early in the morning. It was warm with a cool breeze and we almost chickened out but once we jumped in the water at the Women's Pool, it felt perfectly nice and refreshing. We swam around and looked at the crabs on the rocks. We dried off in the sun then went to a little cafe and had a yummy, late brekkie. Mira had goat cheese and grilled mushroom with rocket on toast, and I had porridge with grilled apples and pecans. Just as we were heading back to the bus home we saw more and more people crowding to the beach. It is always good to be going in the opposite direction to the crowd.

The last thing that I want to write about is Mayonnaise. It is totally random, but I have been wanting to write about it and haven't been able to find a place for it. When we moved here I found that part of the adjusting was figuring out what groceries to buy. Just as the language is English and, yet, I can't always understand what the words mean, the food may look the same but the taste does not translate. Things are just slightly different for whatever reason. This is not a big deal except when trying to combine things in a recipe that you are expecting to taste a certain way. Mayonnaise is a critical ingredient. Some love it, some hate it, but it is not a simple food. The taste and texture are very important, and there is a huge variety in both characteristics. I tried various brands from various countries even, but was almost prepared to take the advice of chefs and make my own. Luckily, I found (should have guessed in the first place) the Japanese Kewpie Mayonaise! LOVE IT!! It is thick and salty and fresh tasting. If you can find it, try it. Not surprisingly, it even looks cute and squirts out of a star-shaped opening so it looks decorative as a garnish. Just another reason to be in awe of the Japanese.

I have been sewing a little bit so I feel inspired and am going to start on a dress for myself. I will post pictures of it when it is done.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Chair

This has been such a novel, tumultuous year that the end of in on the calendar didn't really seem like an end. I have been in Sydney for 7 months and I still feel like a newbie. I think that I will have a celebration next June 10th when I hit the one year mark. Hopefully, by then, I will be able to reflect back on the past year's accomplishments, and make some resolutions for year 2. Right now I feel like I am setting goals and making to do lists every other day, so New Year's resolutions would be absurd.

One of the projects that I had set out to do, with the goal of making our new, rented house more of a home, was to get our old chair reupholstered and refinished. I had to pick out fabric that was beautiful, stylish, and symbolic of the kind of new lifestyle we want to foster here. Then, I had to find a person to do the work. I am normally so hesitant to make calls and move ahead on things like this. I always make a bigger deal out of it than is necessary. So, in the end, I chose fabric and work from people that were close by, easy going, and friendly. I was nervous that it would look bad or that the work would be less than satisfactory, but we are all very pleased with the look of it. We got it back before new year's eve which I though was a good indicator of how we would go on in the year. It is bright, artistic, romantic, beautiful, and well made.

The sight of it makes me happy and it motivates us all to keep the room tidy and to get other projects underway. I washed and re-stuffed the cushions on the couch and David and Valerie finally hung the pictures in the dining room. We just need to get a storage bench for the shoes, fix the leg on the coffee table, make new pillows for the couch, and paint the bookshelves. Right now, though, I am enjoying the things that are done, trying to be happy in the moment.

The weather is finally warming up so I think I will be going to the beach more. Swimming in the ocean is so therapeutic. The beach is really crowded but I hope it quiets down once the holidays are over. We were there on New Year's day and there was confetti and remnants of partying all over the place.

Next up is Australia Day and Chinese New Year. The festivities never seem to end.

The photos are of the chair, some of the fruit, sweets, and flowers that we have from the holidays.