Write honestly… It sounds like a no-brainer, really, doesn’t it? After all, why would anyone write any other way? And yet many people do. I wonder if the experience, for them as writers, is as unsatisfying as it is for me as a reader?

When I read, I immerse myself in the stories as they unfold. The richer and more beautiful the language, the more it compels me. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean that I’m necessarily drawn to great literature. But I am drawn to well told stories – ones that have depth and character, language that means something to me and images that stay with me after I put the book down.

When I started to write for fun rather than work, that’s what I hoped to achieve. I joined a writing group and the thing I remember most clearly from the first session is being told to ‘write from the heart’. I wasn’t too clear on what that meant at the time, but I’ve since figured out that it means to write authentically, to use words and language that resonate with me as a writer – and as a reader. In essence, to write honestly.

dr seuss quote 1990

So when I write I use language  – and vernacular – I’m comfortable with. As a result, my writing sounds like me. It’s a risky thing to do and I often feel vulnerable because of it – but that’s what writing honestly means for me – and it’s taught me a lot about myself.

I tend not to write reviews, but I wrote this in my journal in response to a couple of books I read:

These books became my constant companions, in my head when not in my hands, the characters wandering through my days with me. I felt so rich and full and satisfied when I turned the last page – and yet lonely and sad as well, which was unexpected… Sometimes words are so beautiful, so rich and plump with meaning and shape that I want to scoop them up with both hands and devour them. At the same time I want to enfold myself in them, savor the taste of individual vowels and consonants that make up each word, each sentence. I yearn to be able to write like that – to create collections of words as stories that capture and enrapture a reader so completely.

Since that’s the sort of response I’d like to get from a reader, it was  both a delight and a surprise to receive feedback last night from someone who’s just read my memoir. She rang up to tell me that she’d spent the whole day reading Girdle of Bones, hadn’t been able to put it down (other than for obligatory pitstops), and had read it from cover to cover in one sitting.  “It was amazing, thank you,” she said.

To say this feedback made me feel warm all over (and very writerly) is an understatement 🙂

Mosaic bountyA creative nudge was delivered last week in the shape of a box of glass tesserae for my mosaic/craft shed.  A friend bought them on auction a few years ago, stored them away, forgot about them – and then unearthed them again in a flurry of tidying during some house renovations. Then she rang me to ask if I’d like them. Score! Particularly happy-making are the red and yellow tiles, both of which can be a little hard to come by.

My first mosaic adventure was a community project in 1998 when, under the guidance of local mosaic artist Evi Ferrrier, I added a rather haphazard gecko to the front of a building in Fremantle. It was great fun and got me hooked enough to go on a TAFE course to learn some of the things Evi hadn’t shown us. Since then I’ve completed a number of projects, including a couple of garden pavers, planter pots, a side table, a series of fruit/vegetable trivets for my veggie-group buddies, house numbers for a couple of people and a decorative frieze for our pool area.

Sample of 1998 - 2015 mosaic projects sample selectionIt’s been a year since I last ventured into the realm of mosaic – and that was to run a one day mosaic workshop for a few people, all of whom completed attractive trivets for their homes. So it’s definitely time to think about getting back to it – particularly since I now have some shiny new tesserae to play with 🙂

Mosaic workshop 2015

Plans are afoot for another decorative house number, drawings underway and decisions to be made on colours.  This stage takes a while though, so I’ll potter on with knitting my blanket and creating a bedside rug inbetween times.

I have a weakness for garden centres. I can lose hours to browsing, reading plant information and discussing the pros and cons of various shrubs with staff members. It’s a rare occassion that I come away empty-handed, which is something of a hazard in that our suburban block is already knee-deep in plant life!

Looking around our garden on any given day, it certainly looks like we’ve reached capacity. There’s a very comprehensive array of trees/shrubs and we simply don’t have room for any more. Really.

Starting from the back corner, excluding the non-productive trees/shrubs (camelias, roses, dragon tree, vines, nasturtiums, dombeya, geraniums, hibuscus etc) and working round the house, our urban orchard includes: a semi-dwarf blood orange, calamondin, sunrise lime, three passionfruit vines, two grapevines (sultana and flame seedless), a ruby ruby blood plum, lime, pink grapefruit, olive, d’Agen prune, fig, trixzie miniature pear, hawaiian guava (still very small), bay tree, cherry, lillypilly, persimmon, another olive, cumquat, dragon fruit, strawberry guava and loquat.

We also have many (!) rosemary bushes, goji berries and boysenberries growing, and three raised garden beds for vegies/herbs. That’s a lot of shrubbery by anybody’s reckoning – and potentially an awful lot of produce! And yet here I am potentially on the hunt for another fruit tree…

My excuse is that our small back lawn (3×7 metres) simply isn’t draining very well. We dug it up 18 months ago to try to solve the same problem. The soil had compacted and become waterlogged, unable to withstand the combined pressure of poor drainage, inadequate sunlight across late winter and a dog with gastric problems. To quote a friend, it had turned into the eternal bog-of-stench. Delightful.
replacing the lawn_november2014

So we recruited some help to dig up with existing lawn, turn and aerate the soil, added new soil and replaced the struggling soft leafed buffalo turf (Sir Wallter) with another hardy, low maintenance grass that allegedly tolerates shade and is self-repairing and drought tolerant (Matilda). As an exercise it was jolly hard work and not a great deal of fun, but it had to be done. Yet here we are 18 months later and sections of our back lawn are boggy and muddy all the time. Again.

The grass isn’t coping with the part-sun it gets in the winter months and the self-repair aspect seems to have fallen by the wayside. The limited soil depth  in those areas isn’t helping with drainage either.

Himself has once again tried aerating the soil and adding soil wetter and we’ll see how that works out. It’s also been suggested that we put in one or two semi-shade tolerant trees that don’t mind having ‘damp feet’, as this will help probably. Tricky thing is to find the right tree. It needs to be deciduous, I’d prefer it to be productive, we don’t want anything that’s going to grow too big, and need it to be dog-safe (i.e. not poisonous). It’s a big ask and the front runners so fair are a moringa  (perhaps a bit big) or a white mulberry.

Drainage research continues. The grass remains soggy. The dogs remain muddy. And I’m definitely starting to hear the siren song of the garden centre…

Limes drying

This morning I woke to the smell of limes – a spicy, sweet, pungent aroma that filled the house, leaving me feeling relaxed and content. 36 limes in 1cm pieces had spent the night in the dehydrator, the steady hum of the machine lulling me back to sleep when I woke in the wee-smalls.

It’s often the little things that make the difference to how the day pans out. As often as not they remain unremarked, so today I thought I’d try to notice some of the things that made me smile.

  • a house that smells like a combination of spiced tea and mulled wine (drying limes)
  • puppies that snuggle up and make little wuffling noises on my shoulder
  • a friend explaining a crochet pattern and making it all seem super simple and much less scary
  • knitting in public in the library with like-minded people, all of whom thought my vanilla cake with carrot cake marmalade was super-delicious
  • shopping for our mid-winter feast (next weekend) and planning all the things
  • coffee in the winter sunshine with Himself and the dogs
  • the decorative plum tree all pruned and the prunings tidied away > success
  • a hot toddy to sooth my (suddenly) sore throat – thank you Sandy. (I confess to altering the recipe slightly to accommodate what’s in my pantry, but it definitely works anyway. Turns out lemongrass is tasty with ginger and apricot liqueur can substitute for scotch)
  • the thought of a bubble bath and an early night

Writing this up, I found that the more things I listed, the more smiley-things I thought of. I guess that’s the whole mindfulness thing, right?

The first cake I ever baked was a plain vanilla cake. I was about ten years old and had only the vaguest idea of how to make it, but I did know that my mum never – ever – used a recipe book when she made it. So I rang her at work to ask her how to to make one.

This was the first, but by no means the last, time we had this conversation under these circumstances…

Me: Hi Mum. How do you make a cake? I want to make one now…
Mum: Hello, dear. Okay, have you got a pen and some paper?
Me: Yesss…
Mum: Good. Write this down. Take 4oz of butter…
Me: How much butter is that?

And that’s how it went for a while. I always had to ask the butter question and never seemed to hang onto the recipe, until my mum eventually got me to write it down in the back of one of her recipe books. That way I could find it whenever I needed it – and I rang her less and less frequently as I became more confident.

Thanks, Mum – I still use your never-fail vanilla cake recipe whenever I make cupcakes. I’m pretty sure that DaughterDearest and Boychilde do as well, since it was the first cake they made too. We also use it as the base for a number of tasty winter desserts 🙂

My Mum’s Vanilla Cake Recipe
Oven to 350F/180C
Take 4oz softened butter – that’s about 125g; you can use margarine instead if you like – it actually works better.
Add 3/4 cup of sugar – just regular sugar, whatever you have to hand. I use raw sugar since that’s what I usually have in stock.
Cream the butter/margarine, then beat in the sugar until it’s smooth.
Add 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and mix well.
Add 2 cups of flour (sieved) and 2 teaspoons baking powder – mix this in gently whilst slowly adding 2/3 cup of milk.
Don’t over beat the mix
Bake in two pans for a layer cake (about 20 minutes) or in 12 cupcake cases (about 15 minutes).
Cakes should be well risen and starting to colour up by then.
Check the they’re done – use a skewer – then allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan/s before turning out onto a wire rack
Ice the cake/s however you like – or just a sprinkle of sifted icing sugar does the trick if you’re lazy (or ten years old!).

Today I chose to bake it in a rectangular pan, cut it in half, fill it with carrot cake jam and then sprinkle it with icing sugar. Hopefully the recipients will enjoy eating it 🙂

friday cake_17jun16