On Sunday we headed off to Gidgegannup to enjoy the annual Small Farm Field Day. It was a day of talks and demonstrations on sustainability, an opportunity to try some local produce and to see our friends Tim and Bronwyn in action presenting a Punch & Judy show. With various kinds of goats and poultry, lots of beautiful alpacas, a camel train, llamas, working dogs, ponies in abundance and a petting zoo, it was definitely my critter-fix for the month. I was quite captivated by a baby pig that snuffled around in a very friendly sort of way and considered – however briefly – the merits of getting a tiny little piglet of my own…

Despite that brief lapse, however, the real win in the animal department was the Dexter cattle. They’re a delightfully small and placid breed (averaging about a metre the shoulder), making them a viable option for a small property. If I was in the market for a cow, I think a black Dexter would be at the top of my list. It’d be rather nice to have a reliable known source of fresh milk and a Dexter kept as a ‘house cow’ apparently produces about 5 litres of milk a day, which is a plausibly manageable amount if you like milk and are into making your own yoghurt, cheeses and so forth. The milking might be an issue, but I imagine it’s a skill that can be learned much like any other… or done auto-magically by a cunning milking machine… or, in my case, by simply waiting for daughter-dearest to get one and then enjoying it all from a comfortable distance!

We also chatted to burly men about machinery, ate tasty food, drank bad coffee and went to a number of talks. The first of these was by Eric McCrum, well known naturalist and wildlife expert. He appears regularly on ABC radio, where he generally expounds on some or other wildlife related topic and then answers flora/fauna questions from the public. His segments tend to be both entertaining and informative, and this one was no exception. We heard all about enjoying flora and fauna on small landholder properties, although Eric did tend to get side-tracked onto one of his favourite rants – feral animals and their impact on native fauna.  It was the first time in ages that I’ve attended a talk where the presenter has chosen to be low-tech and the bizzzt-click of the slide projector slotting slides into place added to the general enjoyment of the session.

Another very interesting talk  was one on slow food by Vincenzo Velletri, who  augmented his presentation with tastings of a wide range of delicious preserved foods he’d prepared. The pickled aubergine was particularly good, but then so was the strawberry jam (sweetened with quince instead of sugar), the bacalhau (dried and salted cod fish), tomato relish, olives and pickled zucchini (recipes provided). So much yum in one tasting session!

Vincezo’s very passionate about good, clean and fair food – the slow food mantra – but also about minimising food waste. It was eye opening to be confronted with statistics on just how much food is wasted worldwide and how little is done to address the problem. France has just introduced new legislation to try to combat some of the food waste there, but nothing comparable appears to be on the horizon here in Australia at present. Instead, we were told, about 25% of farmers’ crops are going straight to landfill, either because of oversupply or  because the product isn’t ‘beautiful’ enough for the consumers, supermarkets & restaurants bin ridiculous quantities perfectly useable foodstuff and individual homes throw out about 20% of the food they purchase.

Like me, you’re probably thinking ‘surely that can’t be right, can it?’ It seems implausible that families would waste that much food. To answer that, simply look around your home and think about your personal food use and that of your family and friends. Do you (they) regularly bin food instead of using it? If so, why is that? Is it perhaps that we’ve grown up in a time of relative plenty? Or because so many of us are jumping on the celebrity chef bandwagon and purchasing recipe-specific ingredients, of which only part gets used and the rest gets wasted? Whatever the reason, in a world where increasing numbers of people are going hungry and the price of food continues to climb, this simply can’t be considered a sustainable practise.

My take-home message from the Small Farm Field Day is that we should all try to take up the challenge to actively minimise food wastage. We can start to do this in our own homes by checking the pantry and fridge before doing the grocery shopping and then buying just what we need. Next might be trying to use leftovers instead of binning them. If you’re not sure how, you could always think of them as a starting point to creating Tapas. Yup – tapas, the tasty little morsels we pay top dollar for at trendy restaurants. Try making one night a week ‘tapas night’ and re-purpose your leftovers as small plates of random tasty tidbits. If that doesn’t work for you, try cooking smaller quantities, invest in a compost bin and/or think about getting a couple of chickens to feed your scraps to. Bottom line is that  you’ll save money and will feel good about reducing waste cutting down on pollution.

A number of our overseas friends keep up to date with our adventures via a family website I set up many years ago. I usually put more information up there than I do on any of the social media, but have been a little lax in updating the site of late  –  and complaints have been building up in my inbox. So a few days ago I thought it was probably high time to add some photos and a brief overview of  what we’ve been up to over the past few months, such as acquiring a new puppy.

Then came the moment when I went to log in to the site and started to try to figure out the user name and password combination …

Unfortunately, although the mental archive turned out to be full of assorted user names and positively overflowing with possible passwords, none of them seemed to have any relevance in this instance. I made a cup of tea, thinking that a Eureka! moment was bound to come upon me while I was busy with that.

No such luck.

I drank the tea, made more tea, tried a few of the archived options – same result.

In the process of trying to ensure that the logins I use for various sites are unique, reasonably random and of adequate length – and thus fairly ‘stronloging’ – I’d also managed to create a tiny black hole in my memory in to which some of these had evidently disappeared. Discovering that I’m not alone in creating password overload and that there’s even a term for it (Password Overload Syndrome) was of small comfort.

Some months ago I actually did try to address this issue by starting to use a dedicated password memorisation tool. Instead of using a stand alone password app to encrypt my passwords in a file on my computer, I chose a web-based option. In theory, as long as I have access to the internet, Lastpass  will allow to retrieve my passwords to everything pretty much anywhere and on any of my devices (desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet). Allegedly this simplifies my life, secures my data and speeds up my access to sites (no messing around trying to remember logins, etc).

The theory is sound, but it does require that I either manually enter the login/password combination on Lastpass or allow them to be harvested by it when I login to existing and new sites. In my wisdom, I had of course chosen to limit Lastpass to just a few sites and to manually enter the details for those. Naturally, when I finally figured out my Lastpass login (!), my family website turned out not to be one of those I’d entered.

More brain wracking and tea drinking ensued, followed by more blank slates being drawn. Then, just when all hope appeared lost, an epiphany: I don’t have a login for the site!

Early on in the piece I actually chose to update the html on my desktop, using a very simple edit tool (Programmer’s File Editor), and then  using a free ftp client  to shunt them across to the site, which is 1GB of web space that piggybacks on our broadband account.

So it turns out that the problem – in this instance at any rate – was never a problem at all. That mental black hole, however…

making time for coffee_sept14On the way to work last week I heard a Nickleback song  on the wireless. I hadn’t heard it for a while, but singing along to it in the car (as I do) set me to thinking about life, the universe and everything.
… If today was your last day / And tomorrow was too late / Could you say goodbye to yesterday? / Would you live each moment like your last? / Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have? / If today was your last day…

I wondered what I would do / think / feel if it was my last day? Are there regrets and unfinished business / people I need to see / bridges I should mend / projects I haven’t completed? These thoughts preoccupied me on and off for the rest of the day, until I eventually concluded that the answer each of the questions I was asking myself was a reasonable approximation of No.

Essentially, I have few regrets / my unfinished business such as it is could easily be resolved (by others) if necessary / I try to ensure that the people who are important to me know that they are / bridges untended (if they exist) will fade with time / and life is full of projects at various stages of completion – but that’s okay.

It might be an age thing, but I think that life – however long we are in it – should be about living, about being in the moment and finding joy in it wherever possible. This may seem like a Pollyanna response, but it’s really just pragmatism. I simply don’t see the point in bucket lists or regrets. Things are what they are – so I try say goodbye to yesterday every day, to live each day for what it is and to make the best of what I find in it.  It takes a little determination at times, but seems to work for the most part.

I hunted down the rest of the lyrics later on and read through them while I enjoyed a cup of coffee and listened to the song again, going back to the part that resonated most strongly. Clearly I’m not the only person who thinks this way.

… every second counts ’cause there’s no second try / So live like you’ll never live it twice / Don’t take the free ride in your own life…

I’ve toyed with the idea of heading off on a writing retreat for some time now. They’ve become increasingly popular and are held in locations all around the world, in venues ranging from the exotic and luxurious to the more artistic and quirky. Going off on an organised retreat for a week or so could, I kept thinking, prompt me to get ‘that book’ out of my head and onto paper. Almost everything I’ve read about such events indicates that the no-doubt-amazing authors/editors running the retreats possess elusive gems of information or insight that simply make it all happen. Or so say past participants…

But every time I get to the point of booking I end up backing off. Clearly I’m either not bold enough to take that leap or am, essentially, ambivalent as to whether my hopes and aspirations are likely to be to be realised. So the idea goes back on the to-think-about-it-later pile… until the next time something brings it to mind.

Coming across this great cartoon by Gary Snider yesterday  was that thing. After I’d had a chuckle at things like the procrastination patio and the first draft furnace, I started pondering on why it is that I haven’t committed to a retreat, but keep thinking about doing so.

Over the years I’ve attended numerous professional development sessions, seminars, and writing/editing-related events and have often come away feeling slightly dissatisfied. I head back to work or home trying to lock onto the positives, but generally seem to end up thinking that I must have missed the point. Surely, I think, the meditation exercises and group-interaction and sticky notes and coloured pens really were useful in some way and I’m just not seeing it.  Why would all these facilitators utilise tools like this if they’re not useful? It can’t possibly just be to fill up time… can it?

Those thoughts then get overlaid with others. ‘But if you wanted a meditation workshop, that’s what you’d have signed up for…’ and ‘Really? Coloured pens? Again? What’s the point of that…?!’ As a result it generally doesn’t take long for any potentially positive aspects of these sessions to be eroded or eradicated. Would my reaction to a writing retreat be any different? And what could I plausibly achieve by attending one, whether locally or overseas?

Like many people who think about going on a writing holiday, I theorise that doing so would provide me with some time-out from my day-to-day life. It might make a space for contemplation and for reflection – something that writers all apparently need. This in turn could plausibly push my creativity buttons and, with luck, unleash a veritable flood of amazing prose. If I chose wisely enough, it might also provide me with guidance and advice from people who know the industry and who could help me to move my project along.

But sensible-me looks at this list and immediately starts to consider whether I actually would gain anything that might provide forward momentum for my writing. Do I really need or want to go on a retreat somewhere with a bunch of strangers? Would it turn out to be little more than an excuse to go on sightseeing junket, have pyjama parties and eat meals someone else has prepared? Would this make me write more – or better – or just be yet another (expensive) distraction?

Further down the track I’ve no doubt that a manuscript assessor and an editor will be essential, but sensible-me insists that the writing has to come from me – and that no-one can wave some kind of literary magic wand and make it all happen. So today she (I) came up with a bold alternative to ramp up my productivity. How about just going off somewhere on my own for a few days sometime? I could stay somewhere beautiful, evade chores and work for a week or so, have meals made for me and not have the distraction of other aspiring authors and scheduled retreat events to contend with.

Bringing my inner writer to the fore and giving her some space to get stuck into writing doesn’t depend on someone else or even on being somewhere – it’s about whether I can schedule my life in a way that allows her to come out to play, whether it’s for an hour in a coffee shop scribbling in a journal or for a week in a seaside shack or all-amenities provided resort (tempting!). This probably wouldn’t work for everyone – but since team sports aren’t really my thing, coloured pens and post-it notes drive me crazy and the idea of pyjama parties makes me shudder, sensible-me may have just come up with a cunning plan…

… and I totally have to get a copy of Gary’s poster – I think that it shows what’s inside every writer’s head!

The title of this post is partly plagiarism at work, I’m afraid. So, before going any further, I’d like to offer both my thanks and apologies to Joan Anderson. Although I tried really hard, this particular phrase resonated so strongly that I couldn’t come up with anything else that meant the same things to this particularly ‘unfinished woman.’

At various times over the years I’ve come across writing that’s spurred me to muse on aspects of my personal development. Last week I picked up Joan’s memoir (A year by the sea – thoughts of an unfinished woman) and was swept up in her uncomplicated prose and superbly crafted storytelling. Reading about her year of self-discovery was in many ways like reading parts of my own story and those of many of my female friends – women of a certain age (no longer young, but definitely not yet old) who are finally grasping that our journeys are anything but over.

We’re living longer, we’re working longer, and many of us are fitter and stronger than our mothers were at similar ages.  With all of that is the emerging realisation that we’re ‘unfinished’, that we’re works in progress meandering through life towards new understandings of who we are, what we want and where we’re headed.

Why is it that so many of us only come to realise that we need to look after ourselves and our own development when we’re into our 50’s? Will our daughters fare better, I wonder? Will seeing us making these journeys help them to understand sooner that they don’t need to live their lives through the scripts of others?