The streets of your town….

Whenever we return to my home town in the sub-tropics, I am reminded of the lyrics of the 1980’s pop band the Go-Betweens
round and round, up and down,
through the streets of your town
Every day I make my way
through the streets of your town

As a child I walked these streets for sixteen years, literally zig-zagging my way up the hilly, heated asphalt in the humidity and the obligatory summer rains.

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The street where I lived… It really was!
We often return to visit my mother, who, in her eighties, still lives in the old Post War cottage. Our little home was one of the newer residences in the street. The area of Red Hill was established in the 1860’s where some of the first streets, Confederate and Federal, no doubt paid homage to that Civil War raging on the other side of the world.

I was always fascinated by the architecture of the region. The grand one hundred year old Queenslander with its sprawling verandas and high gable is still a much sought after residence.

Today, the little homes are delightful in their aspects. Their facades immaculately maintained and their modest porticos framed by verdant fronds.

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I am by no means an expert in architecture, however, these homes are lovingly maintained and understated. There are always exceptions to the rule…

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but no less captivating.

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Others have been enclosed by white steel, cooling lattice or tropical shutters….

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Even though I now live in another State, whenever I walk these streets I am filled with memories of family and the people who once lived in these homes, a life time ago. Just like some of these houses it was a simple time, lovingly spent in the sun and winding roads of life. Or was it a mirage? Do you ever go back to your home town?

Tea Cups and Kisses

There are times when distance certainly makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. For the women in our family, we are separated by many kilometres up and down the eastern coast. Daughter Number One in regional South East Queensland and Daughter Number Two in Sydney. As for my own mum, she is in Brisbane and still living in the house in which I grew up.

We are all busy living our lives. However, I know that we often miss being able to just come together and chat over a cup of tea or go for a shop or simply take a quiet walk in the garden.

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The month of May is traditionally the month when we commemorate our mothers or significant women in our lives. The month of May for me has become a reflective month. On Mothers’ Day it will not be possible for me to spend the day with any of them. I am grateful, however, that I will spend it with other mothers.

The month of May is also the month of my own grandmother’s birth. We had a very close relationship and she was a great source of home grown advice. Her cooking and baking accomplishments are still vivid in my mind. I recall her poppy seed cakes, the traditional palacinke and the plum gnocchi – north east Italian specialties – a legacy of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. The kitchen utensils she brought with her from Fiume hang in my kitchen as a constant reminder of our connectedness.

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One of her favourite pots was the aluminium jug she lined with brown paper to fill with squid and chips! Cleaning squid in the kitchen sink became a much talked about event usually eliciting shrieks of horror as we watched her poke out the eyes of the squid with her sewing scissors! The old, yellow sink would turn a deep purple from the accidentally punctured ink sac. After much rinsing, the tentacles and the translucent tubes would be coated in white flour and shallow fried – only a few at a time! I can still hear her cautionary words! I was delighted when Daughter Number One completed the same nifty feat in my kitchen sink last Christmas! This time, adding salt and pepper instead and, thankfully, no squid ink in sight!

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My own mother, now in her eighties, would always be counted on to assist when one of us were ill or in need of a last minute baby sitter. She and daughter number one were particularly close those many years ago.

The month of May is also my little granddaughter’s birthday. There is much to miss. In our technological world where we can Skye and talk and use fantastic APPs on our I-Pads we cannot touch, we cannot bake together, we cannot share a cup of tea or feel the gentle kiss of a child.

The month of May is also dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Whether or not you believe it adds depth to a month which is set aside to commemorate the mother.

Therefore, for the month of May, may I wish for

Many memories of good times together
United by those invisible bonds only mothers and their children have
May my daughters love as profoundly as they have been loved

Whether you can be together or not – Happy Mothers Day !

Thanks for all your gifts, love and kisses – from a distance. How do you commemorate your mother?

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Sign of the Times

I have always been a little concerned that we in Australia don’t really make a big deal of Easter. Aside from buying copious amounts of cheap chocolate we don’t afford the time leading up to Easter Sunday and indeed the Sunday itself the ritualistic treatment that we give Christmas. In European traditions and Christian traditions, Easter is in fact the most important time in the liturgical calendar. It is a time to review and renew; a time to tend to community obligations and a time to prepare that special gathering meal or give up meat products as a sign of respect for the Cross.

When my grandparents were alive they insisted that their Central European traditions were kept. Having arrived in Australia in 1949 at a time when “ethnic” was a word much maligned, they only had their memories and food traditions to keep them united. So, just before Good Friday, Nonno would pack his fishing basket and rods or crab pots and spend the night out fishing. He would often wake us in the middle of the night and cook the still live crabs. We would feast on them and make a huge mess in the little kitchen. That evening we would eat fried fish. On Easter Sunday they insisted on another special meal. More on this at a later post. The symbol of the Cross was always centre-most even in the food they prepared.

This week, one of my Year 10 classes made simple wooden crosses. They were very creative each adding their own special touch using wire or wool and painting each to reflect their own ideas.

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Later, they were asked to give this cross to someone they knew who needed some support or a kind word. Some kept them for themselves or took them home to their families. It led me to think of what we do as a community to support one another. Do we simply buy a a chocolate egg or bunny and give it over? Inspired by my neighbours – Alex and Naomi’s – endless generosity toward us – and wanting to prepare food to share which had a symbolic meaning, I set out this morning to make Hot Cross Buns.

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I’ve never made them but was willing to give them a go. (Sorry daughters for never giving them a go when you were little!) The Recipe I found was in my trusty Margaret Fulton cook book, circa 1978.

20130329-145742.jpg Mixing the flours, I used one cup spelt flour to three cups plain white flour, crumbling 50g butter into it and the adding warm milk and water with some dried yeast. Colin provided some of the kneading power – a good way to de-stress from a busy Term.

20130329-150025.jpg Then letting the dough to rise followed by the exciting shaping into balls and letting rise again.

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The recipe then require this dough to be rolled out into a half inch rectangle, cut into sixteen and then shaped into balls.

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It was at this point when it suddenly occurred to me that I would need to pipe a cross on each as the recipe required. A cross. “
Make a slight indentation in the shape of a cross on the top of each bun with a sharp knife”
instructed the recipe. A sharp knife.

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Is this what it felt like, the nails, the sword?

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All those mass produced buns that we consume without ever thinking of their symbolic meaning. Good Friday is the right day to reflect on what we do, the abundance we consume – a sign of the times, as they say.

Fifteen minutes in a hot oven and they were done. Glazed with some sugar syrup, they looked the part and tasted even better!

The process of preparing these had no short cuts. There are never any short cuts when it comes to tradition or to life itself. It is the giving to others which resonates at this time. While we were baking this morning both my neighbours popped in to say hello. Naomi with a very special fish pie – I need to get that recipe and Alex with an invitation to share baklava this afternoon. It is in the simple sharing of food that we honour each other; it is in the recognition of each other and the individual and often hidden “crosses” which we all have to bear which makes us truly alive.

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How is your Easter long week end going to be and what are your traditions at this time?

So Envious!

You all know my passion for gardens – any gardens, any where. So when a friend and in-law Margaret invited me to see her Community Garden project I was intrigued. The first time I saw the garden was last November in the pouring rain. More recently, it was brilliant sunshine and a respectable 30 degrees C.

A Community Garden is indeed a suitable launching place for many great ideas. Each resident gardener pays a nominal fee to tend their plot. The restrictions are simple: no large trees, no weeds, and no pilfering! Otherwise, the horticultural creativity is set free to produce wondrous vegetables, fruits and herbs. In addition, community interaction is guaranteed.

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Why am I envious? It is envy of the admirable kind – for plants that we cannot grow here in the Mount. Giant golden vegetables, black, shiny grapes, fragrant basil and sun trapped red tomatoes.

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Check out this man’s giant climbing zucchini!

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Tall sunflowers and harvested corn.

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Therefore, last weekend when we visited again, it was for the launch of Margaret’s historical book which tracks the history of the garden suburb where she lives. The estate was designed by Walter Burley Griffin, Canberra’s famous town planner. The book also chronicles the history of the indigenous people of the area; the discovery of gold in the 1850’s; the first families who purchased land in the estate complete with general specifications of a typical 1950’s home; through to the time when “the frontier spirit [had] dissipated as we moved into the seventies” (p85).

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The Community Garden stands on “an internal reserve … designed in the late 1920’s” (which for a long stretch of time was a forgotten and derelict triangle of land). It now provides a sustainable and renewable facility. It is though, much more than a commodity, it is a safe, productive haven for the Tuppal Reserve gardeners and their families. Indeed it is a most enviable achievement – full of delight, determination and distinction.

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Historical Sydney

As we continued our stay with Daughter Number Two in Sydney, we spent the day walking around the city. Our intention was to visit the State Library as I had heard of an interesting photographic exhibition.

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Our walk led us past old Parliament House and the historic Sydney Hospital.

20130225-210522.jpg As well as other places of architectural significance such as the Commonwealth Bank Building.

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One must appreciate that Sydney was the first settlement in Australia with the First Fleet landing in Circular Quay in 1788. Sixty odd years later gold was discovered in “them there hills”. This
led to a building boom in what was to become the leading city of the vast area known as New South Wales. Similar events in Victoria led to Melbourne also being “build on gold”. So when I heard of an historically rich photographic exhibition featuring gold miners, their families and their lodgings I was intrigued.

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These photographs are reproductions of the original glass plates featuring images of life in the goldfields of New South Wales and Victoria. These plates were found in a garden shed fifty years ago and only after much time and money, resurrected to their original forms. They are quite extraordinary.

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For me the images are reminiscent of the Civil War images featuring the sombre visages of the prospectors. The clarity, however, is superb.

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Also, what really intrigued me were the images of women and their children posing silently out in front of their rustic lodgings.

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It would have been a harsh and unforgiving existence. The women bore numerous children who often did not survive disease nor the poor sanitation of the time. I love their long dark gowns, their stern expressions and their children’s wondrous looks.

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My favourite image follows and it incorporates beautifully laid out garden of vegetables and flowers. I even think the owners of this little miner’s cottage look very pleased with themselves!

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It was a wonderful end to a great weekend. I think how fortunate we are to live in our technology rich times but still do marvel at the ingenuity, the resourcefulness of that time. Incidentally, the Holtermann nugget, pictured below was not the great legacy left by this prospector. Instead, it was the commissioning of photographers Merlin and Baylis from the American and Australian Photographic Company which is our greatest treasure. These photographs chronicle an important time in our history – the discovery of gold and the harsh life this entailed. We are richer for these photographs.

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In addition, I was very lucky to share these with my daughter and her husband – a photographic essayist in his own right.

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Thanks for a great weekend you two!

Liebster Award Nominations

Although I have only been blogging since September, I have found it one of the most rewarding outlets for my writing and thoughts on gardening, travel, pets and the every day happenings of life. So it was with much amazement that our blog has been nominated for the Liebster Award. As a newcomer, I have been buoyed by the feedback and kind words of my regular followers and visitors. My nominator was Nitty Gritty Dirt Man, whose blog I follow from the other side of the world, and one which never ceases to inspire with its heartfelt, entertaining and socially aware commentary – danke schoen to you Kevin!

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To The Lighthouse

Our little soirée on the border of Queensland and New South Wales has seen us celebrate our anniversary by walking to Fingal Point lighthouse. Colin’s dear friend, who passed away a couple of years ago, has a memorial at the site. It is breathtaking.

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Fingal Lighthouse is only a short walk from the road but the colour of the ocean and the coolness of the air are a welcome reprieve in this hot weather.

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The area is an aboriginal sacred ground as well as being home to many native plants and wildflowers.

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Pandanus palms line the foreground to the lighthouse and the boardwalk.

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I must admit that Colin and I both have a fascination for lighthouses. This particular one is a small example with its big brother Byron Bay Lighthouse a mere fifty kilometres away and designated as the most easterly lighthouse in Australia.

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Secluded beaches are a must see and a must swim in this part of the coastline. Though not part of what is known as The Gold Coast, Fingal is much more inviting and private and only a few kilometres from the township of Kingscliff. Be mindful of the rips though and check for a patrolled beach if you are unsure.

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In some ways we are thankful to be temporarily away from the heat wave and bush fires which are gripping many parts of the country. Our thoughts go out to those who are fighting bush fires all along the eastern seaboard and to those who have lost loved ones and properties in Tasmania.

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Pecker’s Christmas Present

With Christmas well and truly out of the way, it’s back to the garden and the chicken house. Our Christmas was wonderful with family and friends gathered together. Daughter Number One came down from the sub- tropics to join us and brought with her a delightful bronze rooster. We consumed too much lunch and lots of sweets.

20121226-155139.jpg I tried my hand at gingerbread stars!

20121226-155238.jpg A selection of sweets – I have such a “sweet tooth” – Mango and Passionfruit Pavlova, Summer Pudding, Chocolate Pear Tart, fresh fruit and a delicious Plum Pudding with Brandy Custard were served. The chickens didn’t have too many of these leftovers!
One of my early gifts this Christmas was from Daughter Number Two (I am not much into gifts really) but this was a garden rooster in memory of Pecker who died six weeks ago – a Sad Day post. He is made of tin and shows off fancy tail feathers. He came wrapped in a hessian blanket – just like the one we placed over Pecker to keep him warm.

20121226-160216.jpg He now sits on my winter wood heater.

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I guess the most enjoyable part of Christmas is in the giving. I loved giving goodies from my kitchen to my neighbours…

20121226-161459.jpg I made these to celebrate each of our little houses in the bush.
I hope you had a peaceful Christmas. It can bring out the best and the worst in people but it really is a time to stop and take stock of those who are with us and those who have gone before us. This year many of us have been touched in one way or another by loss – for us it was our beloved rooster Pecker. But we cannot be untouched by the unspeakable losses in Connecticut just before Christmas. We must mourn for these poor souls and for their families. Additionally, we must also care for our animals, our elderly, our earth and our selves. Above all else let us try to reflect on what is most important to us as humans, as stewards of our earth.

20121226-164126.jpg May we use the tools of our hands to benefit others and bring joy and warmth. Pecker’s Christmas Present is for all those who commemorate the simple life and for those who have left our lives but whom we remember with much joy.

A Special Christmas Wish

Recently I began reading Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” again. You might remember the film vision directed by Martin Scorcese starring Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. The novel gives an insight into the social mores of Old New York at the turn of the century – how wealthy socialites should behave and conduct themselves. This is of course punctuated by the main character Newland Archer’s infatuation with his bride’s divorced cousin, Madam Olenska. But it really is much more than this – it is about our wishes, our decisions, and the losses we have to endure.

“Archer did not accompany his son to Versailles. He preferred to spend the afternoon in solitary roamings through Paris. He had to deal all at once with the packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime.”Excerpt From: Wharton, Edith. “The Age of Innocence.”

Sometimes the decisions we make can have far-reaching consequences. We can treat ourselves quite harshly over these decisions and our judgements of others. So, for anyone who has ever experienced difficult decisions or experienced heartbreak and sorrow

This Christmas

I wish for you greater tolerance of opinion
I wish for you greater acceptance of reason
I wish for you greater recognition of loss
I wish for you less consumerism
I wish for you less anxiety
I wish for you less anger
I wish for you less animosity
I wish for you more tolerance
I wish for you more understanding
I wish for you more connectedness
I wish for you more love

And in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut sorrow, I wish for us all to expand our hearts to the entire community and reach out in a collective embrace and in sympathy over this tragic event. May all the innocent angels, their teachers and their families find Peace.

And may your God’s gentle hand guide you on your path. May you live a life which can be expressed not through introspection but through understanding and giving to others.

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Mango Trees and Monkees

It is always with mixed feelings that I return to my hometown in the sub-tropics. Queensland is a vast and varied State. The length of its coastline is nearly 7000 km and it is a place of great contrasts. From the densely populated South East corner to the Outback and the Tropical North, it can be both beautiful and treacherous. Growing up in the decade which spanned the end of 1960’s and start of the 1970’s was like this too – filled with exciting new music coupled with the treachery of so many lives sacrificed to a war in another tropical place. For me, the twelve year old, it was indeed time spent swinging from the mango tree listening to The Monkees (pardon the pun) – not for any deep and meaningful reason but simply to be swept up in the mass hysteria that new wave American music was to produce.

Now, forty years later the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel “My Little Town” resonate with me when I come back here. I really did grow up “believing God kept his eye on us all” or was it simply “daydream believing”. The mango tree is gone and so too is Davey Jones but the heat, humidity, bougainvilleas, frangipanis and the little house on the hilly road are still going strong.

20121122-220017.jpg Imagine walking up this hill to school! It’s not called Red Hill for nothing. Check out the handrail!

20121124-171204.jpg My week here has been very pleasant indeed catching up with family and friends and experiencing some cathartic moments – which will be best kept for another time and place. But you know what – there really is “no place like home”. For me that place is now – a mountain home – I can feel a John Denver song coming on! I hope you will forgive me the clichés.

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20121124-171756.jpg An unexpected heliconia.

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Today’s front yard view comes to you from deep suburbia. See you back home.

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