Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Art of Chocolate and Wool

The most delish chocolates EVER!  
a sweet little boat in the harbor

The parents  with the Opera House in the background

Mira on the Manly Promenade

Last week Mira went back to Uni, David came back from a week in Belgium, and his parents arrived a few days later.   David loves to bring us gifts after he travels and this time he brought us more chocolate than I have ever seen.  I guess he really loves us, or he figured "when in Belgium…"  The truth is, it was all artisan chocolate so the pieces were small and packed a flavor punch.

We saw his parents on Friday, but they had actually been in Australia for a while.  They decided that since they were coming all this way, it would make sense to do a tour, then see us at the end of it.  They took two weeks to go to Uluru, The Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, and Sydney.  I think they had a good time, but both of them were pretty much exhausted by the time they got to us.  We tried to keep the touristy things to a minimum while still having fun and showing them a slice of our lives here.

Last Sunday we went down to Circular Quay (pronounced key) and took the ferry over to Manly.  We got delicious fish and chips, and some macarons from Adriano Zumbo - yum on both accounts!  There are tables and benches all along the beach promenade where his parents were able to sit comfortably.  After looking at the sand and waves for a while, we strolled over to the outdoor, pedestrian mall and looked at the shops, people, and a little art fair that was on.  There was someone playing guitar and singing beautifully. When we got closer we saw that it was a little boy (about 11 years old).  There was a sign in his guitar case that said he was giving all the money he made that day to the local women's shelter.  I got very verklempt over that, as anyone who knows me could guess.

When I was at work last week, a woman was talking to me about visiting her daughter in Abu Dhabi.  She was saying that it is hard to have family spread out so far away, but at least we can get on a plane and visit; at least we can use facebook and skype to stay connected.  She was commenting that when our ancestors ventured out to Australia (or in my case, America), they were cutting ties with their families and there was a good chance they would never see them again.  

The trip for David's parents was, I am sure, a once in a lifetime thing, and it was nice that they had the strength to do it.  I realize that most of my friends and family will never come here to visit due to cost, health, or other reasons. I know that I will need to go back to the states to see people.  I can do that.  I do feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of trying to see everyone, and I do hope that some people will visit.  Either way, I try to stay in touch with this blog and with email, and even snail mail.  In this day and age, there is no reason not to.

a beautifully weathered old home

this view reminded me of the riverfront in Bath, England

The Harbour Bridge and if you click to enlarge you can see Luna Park

David and I are still very focused on the idea of living in the moment, making the most of what we have, and letting our loved ones know that we are grateful for the time we have with them.  With that in mind, we had a nice "date" week-end after his parents left.

We took the train (not so far) out for a Saturday night dinner invitation to our friends in Burwood.  It was our first time to this suburb and we were pleasantly surprised at how nice, lively, and charming the high-street and neighborhoods were.  It was a lot of fun chatting, laughing and eating delicious food.  Nicole and I realized we both have a knack for coming up with clever t-shirt phrases, and Aaron and I admitted our mutual respect for Freudian psychology.  

Sunday morning, David and I did a big grocery shop, cleaned the house, and headed out to see a wool exhibit and explore another neighborhood.  We walked through The Rocks and down to an area called Walsh Bay.  We had been there once before at night to see a play, but I had never seen the neighborhood during the day.  It is one of the original port/shipping areas of Sydney.  The piers are still in tact, and all of the old warehouses have been converted to apartments, shops, or art spaces.  The houses and the streets just back from the piers are charming and very historic.  Many of them are being restored and there are plaques all around telling the stories of the original settlers.  Surprisingly, there were very few people around and it felt like another time and place all together.  

yes, I made my scarf out of wool

a very cool venue

the actress Tilda Swinton modeling the sweater

just fun to look at, not to wear thank you.

The exhibit is called Wool Modern, and is part of The Campaign for Wool which seeks to promote the use of wool in current fashion and design.  Of course, I love anything to do with fibers, especially natural fibers, so I was very excited to go see this.  Some of it was gorgeous and glamorous, some was quirky and outrageous, but all of it was stimulating and exciting.  It is comforting to me to see the link between the past (traditional fibers) and the future (avant guard design).

On our way back to catch the bus, we stumbled upon a crowd of stylish people outside a big white tent that said "Australia Fashion Week".  I didn't even realize it was going on!  I am going to have to figure out a better way to stay up to date on the art/style/design/fashion happenings in this buzzing town.  I saw one of the girls from Australia's Next Top Model.  She looked so sweet.  I had no idea what was happening in the tent, or who all the people were, so we just went on.  Anyway, David had already been generous enough to do whatever I wanted that day and I was already saturated with inspiration. We were hungry for dinner though, and I had brussel sprouts at home waiting to be roasted and more chocolate for dessert.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April Showers Bring May Knitting Projects

my darling daughters

Artwork at the Gallery of New South Wales

honey lavender is the best!
working the curve on the lining, with cute ironing board cover from IKEA

Lauren Child Liberty fabric

I have been spending some lovely time with my daughters lately.  They were home on Easter break and the weather was rainy, so we did cozy indoor things.  We sat around talking, laughing, watching bad french videos, and eating meals. Mira made lots of cupcakes and other yummy foods which caused me to gain about 5 pounds.

I did do some zumba, but I am starting to feel a little bit pitiful doing it by myself with the laptop in my dining room.  Still, it is the best abdominal workout, and fun if you don't mind humiliating yourself.  I haven't been getting out riding, swimming or even walking as much, so indoor workouts are essential.  I should join a class or a gym, but I am trying to save on the budget.

I have been on a roll with various needle arts projects.  I knit two scarves with a pompom ruffling yarn from work - one for me and one for a gift for my mother in law.  I have been designing, drawing, and stitching on my next picture for Embroidery Guild which is due May 5th.  I am struggling with the colors, as usual, but it is a good exercise for me to make something work.  I made a dress for Mira out of some delicious Liberty of London fabric that she bought on line.  It is a super fine cotton Lawn with a printed design by Lauren Child, one of her favorite childhood authors.  It was difficult to get the fit just right on her curvy body, but, after multiple adjustments, I think it turned out nicely.  I also finished crocheting another cotton necklace for myself.

I definitely have the stitching bug right now.  I joined two on-line sites:, and I just wanted to find some knitting and crochet patterns, but I ended up signing up for a (digital) class to learn how to make a knit lace shawl.  I am really excited about it.  I can watch it as many times as I want, whenever I want, start and stop if I need to, and I can send in pictures and questions if I have a problem.  It seems like a great idea.  I will let you know how it goes.

I also got the idea that I want to tailor a pattern for myself for a blouse (based on the kind my mom wore in the 60s) and then make about 10 of them in different fabrics.  How easy and fun would that be to have a pile of cute, perfect fitting, original design shirts that could be worn with slacks or skirts?  I just have to do it.  I am in the mood to work on projects in most of my free time.  I just hope the phase lasts because it does take time, and I have to remember to finish things before I start ten more.  If I start my shawl in May, and work steadily, it should be done just in time for winter (i.e. June).

Friday, April 13, 2012

I am a SLUT!, a F*%#ing SLUT

This week was a great week. David's been gone to Belgium, and I miss him, and I have been grieving the loss of a dear friend, but in spite of this (or maybe partly because of this), it has been a good week. It started with Easter - the celebration of rebirth and renewal, and ended with Friday the 13th - a magical date that in ancient, pagan times was considered a powerful, good luck day.

Mira and Valerie were on break from school so were both home, hanging around (like not so old times). It was sweet to have my girls around me and to just get used to another phase of what our lives are like now. They are a little older. I am a little older. Life is moving along, unfolding, with the plot building on past elements. The girls and I did some city things together. We went to the vintage markets in Surry Hills (where I left them alone to dig through the groovy, old clothes), and to an exhibit of botanical drawings (that I enjoyed more than them) at the gardens. We also stayed in and cooked, sewed, and watched movies.

I have been feeling more productive and focused, maybe because I have just been plugging along at several projects, or maybe it is my hormones finally leveling out. Maybe I am just getting over the exhaustion and adjustment of moving halfway around the world. Whatever the reason, I feel like a fog has been lifted.

Time seems to be going by quite quickly, and I feel like my work/life/art routine is skipping along in a pretty good balance. I've got sewing, embroidery, drawing, knitting and house decorating projects going on. I am managing to keep housework, family obligations and fitness regime in a tidy box. I am still working on friends/social life, but I am feeling open and positive about that.

My job at the craft store has fallen into a comfortable pattern. I don't know if I am feeling happier, which makes the customers easier to get along with or if it is vice versa. Either way, I find myself looking forward to work, getting through the day with a sense of satisfaction, and really liking the people I work with and many of the people that pass through. I have always been interested in people and their stories, and there is a constant flow of "material" at the store. I also really like having human interaction. I guess I am a sociable person. I just have to stay focused on doing my job as well, and not turning out like the Target character in the Saturday Night Live skit. I laugh to myself when I say "oh, that is so cool. I'm going to have to get one before they are all gone."

Wednesday and Thursday were good days at work, and I was feeling pretty good heading in this morning. I left the girls asleep at home and took the bus as usual. It came on time and I got a seat, so good start. Then I walked the 10 minute walk through the Alexandria neighborhood, and ran to catch the green light at the crosswalk. A line of cars was waiting to turn left (like the American right) on the red. I let one car cut in front of me but then, making sure the next car saw me, I went into the crosswalk. The driver honked at me and started screaming through his closed windows. I stopped and waved my arms at him to say "hey, this is my right of way."

I crossed the street, he drove on, and two or three cars later, a guy in a big truck screamed out his window at me "F%$#ing SLUT!" I was confused, stunned, appalled, annoyed, mostly confused. Was he talking to me? There was no one else around. Besides feeling the slight defensiveness of a pedestrian in morning rush hour traffic, I had to laugh. Who was that person? What made him feel compelled to chime into a minor altercation? Where were his manners? And why did he think that the best insult he could come up with was SLUT?

He obviously didn't know me. If he did, he would know that I'm way too old to be a slut. I don't think I ever was a slut (no one has ever called me that before). But, most importantly, if he knew me, he would know that I laugh at such an empty insult. Am I meant to feel crushed by an allusion to sexual habits? Does he not know that I am a big girl and I don't need him or anyone else telling me how to conduct my private life? Does he not know that I am a feminist, and even if I weren't, this is the 21st century? Does he not know that I have recently seen THIS video, and I laugh at the weakness of the insult?

I tried to think of a proper retort. Obviously, I wouldn't stoop so low as to make a sexual jab, although that would be easy. Obviously, I wouldn't insult his mother, except to say that she didn't teach him very good manners. No, the best insult that I wish I could say to this anonymous fool, is that he was and is a coward. Bullies usually are.

Every other person was kind to me all day. I met several adorable children, a few lovely old women, and friendly, polite men and women of all ages in between. On the way home, when I walked back past the scene of the crime, I half expected a replay, but it was just dusk, more traffic with their lights on now, no horns honking. I walked my little route noticing the magpies swooping on last minute missions before dark, singing out their mournful calls. The sky turning pink along the part of the horizon that I could see over the tops of the buildings.

I felt happy, and grateful for the beauty of life, every bit of it, just having it. When I am in a good mood, I love it all. I guess, if that makes me a slut, then I am a big, fat, sentimental, slut.

Monday, April 2, 2012

From Veg to Vegging

Once again, the week-end came around. It is a trick to do just the right amount on the week-end. If we do too much, it seems like work and we don't get the satisfaction of kicking back and wasting time. On the other hand, if Monday pops up with us having done nothing, it feels like we never had a week-end and all the work days blur together. With everything in day to day life still seeming pretty new, it is tempting to take some down time on Saturday or Sunday, but we have made a pact to do at least one fun/new thing every week-end.

I had my stitching class on Saturday so I was up at 7, on the bus by 8:30, and off the train by 9:15. We sat stitching and chatting from 9:30 till 3 with a half hour for lunch. It was good to sit quietly, with a group of friendly women, keeping my hands busy after a couple of days before having learned of the sudden death of our friend. I did have a bad headache and was pretty spaced out, but I had made up my mind to try to make a little bit more of a connection with this group, so I suggested that we start a facebook page so we could communicate and share our projects and information about needlework. Most of the women were uncertain and a little skeptical about this, but agreed to give it a try. So I am given the challenge of figuring out how to do it, and making it worthwhile.

We shared our work since the last meeting, and several people had done amazing things. It is a very talented and creative group. We learned 19 new stitches that we are supposed to incorporate into a work to be turned in May 5th. I should be working on it right now. Little by little, I feel that I am getting a long list of creative projects that I want to do.

When I got home, Mira was there. She had gone to a Bombay Bicycle Club concert with Valerie the night before and spent the night. She was making cupcakes to take back to her college to share with the girls at their movie night. They were going to have a chick flick marathon. The cupcakes (she spared one for me) were divine! I don't know how she does it, but if she needs to make money while she is waiting to become a famous novelist, she can start a baking business. These were honey, vanilla chai. We made a carrier out of an old cereal box and sent her off in a cab.

Sunday morning I was determined to sleep in, but it was the end of daylight savings time and I got up an hour earlier than I had thought. David and I did some skyping with family and friends then went around the corner to Dank Street where there are lots of cafes and galleries. We had lunch in a charming cafe above (and run by) the gourmet grocery and produce market called Fratelli Fresh. David had grilled fish with shredded belgian endive on top, and I had fresh linguini with pureed pea, mint, and mascarpone. Yum!

Afterward, we hopped on the bus and went to Coogee, our local beach. We love the scene at Coogee. There are families with little toddlers, teenagers flirting with one another, tourists, old people, and us. People are having a good time but not being too loud or obnoxious, and there doesn't seem to be any of the pretentiousness you might see at Bondi, for example.
The weather was perfect, the water temperature was fresh but not cold, and the waves were not as rough as the last time I went in. They were still big and crashing right on shore, so I didn't stay in too long. I was a little "gun shy" from my previous wipe out experience.

David and I just vegged out in the sand relaxing and agreeing, once again, that the beach was one of the assets of our life here, and that we needed to keep taking advantage of that. For the price of bus fare we can enjoy, whenever we want, the luxury and bliss of sun, sand, and sea.

We strolled home through the neighborhood yawning, post-swim yawns, and saw beautiful gardens, and leaves just starting to change color. ( -Voice in my head: "Focus on the beach, and not on the fact that these cute, little, homes that we would love to move into, cost well over a million dollars.")

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Roots and Wings

I always think of the metaphor of roots and wings when I think about life. Now that I am trying to visualize it, it doesn't completely make sense. Is it a bird with roots, or a tree with wings? Either way, I think of a balanced life as having the right amount of both. I hope that I have given my children a good amount of each - a sense of security and home to back up a sense of independence and exploration.

I tend to feel that for my own life, I have sacrificed roots sometimes in favor of wings. Maybe I have faith that my friends, family, and home will always be there, so I uproot myself and fly off somewhere new. I think that I am basically a wanderer with a strange yearning to always head out just one more time, just one more different direction. I do know that this comes at a price.

There is a very real, material cost. Every time we move, it costs money, we loose some of the things we have acquired, we loose seniority in jobs and organizations, we loose clout in the community. More importantly though, we loose our networks, our support systems, and our friends. Of course, my true friends will always be my friends, and with email, facebook, and skype, I can stay in touch and share life even face to face. I have even been known to hug and kiss the computer screen. However, the truth is that I am thousands of miles and even a day away from most of the people that I love and care about. This becomes painful and tormentingly conflicting when something bad happens.

We lost a friend last week, unexpectedly. It was a shocking tragedy. It was also the 13 year anniversary of the death of my sister. I want to figure out a way to offer love and support from a distance. Yes, there are things I can and will do. Maybe the element of feeling far away is just my particular version of the pain and sadness that is inevitable.

I think firstly of the family, and how bad it is for them, how their lives will never be the same. Then I think of what it can mean in my life. It represents the presence of sadness, loss, uncertainty, but it also serves as a bitter reminder that I need to tell my friends and family who are still alive how much they mean to me, how much I love them, how grateful I am for this life that I have with them in it.

Even though I wish for some things to improve and evolve; even though I am sad to be far away from some people; even though I get moody and grumpy sometimes; I am happy for all the good. I feel that making the best of what I have is one thing that I need to do out of respect for the people that have died and for the ones that will need as much positivity as possible to start to eventually tip the balance of their lives little by little by little. I hope that my flying around will not take away from, but instead give strength to their roots and wings.

(The painting is from Encore Editions. )