You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Friday, 30 March 2012

Literary Review - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith

It was with great joy that I collected my copy of  The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith from the library and with great satisfaction that I devoured it, over two days, like a delicious block of chocolate.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection is the thirteenth installment in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I absolutely adore these books. They are right up there in my shortlist of best books ever.

When The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was published in 1998, it was a huge success. Everyone adored it, and no wonder, it was just gorgeous. I have been delighted with the steady stream of subsequent installments, though I noticed, as the years went on and more episodes were published, many of the people I knew who were captivated by the story in the beginning were starting to complain that they were 'getting a bit same-y.' But I am just thrilled to discover, with the release of each new episode, that it takes me right back to that same place that I love so much. It's true that the world inhabited by these characters changes little over time. I love that I come back to the same familiar places and landscapes, where traditions that stretch back further than the memory of a people are honoured and cherished. It's reassuring to be reminded that such a world exists. I don't think that I could ever get tired of these books. These are books I can sink myself into like a warm bath. The style of narrative is simple, so the reading is easy, but the experience it provides is profound and inspiring. These books are excellent reading during times that feel tough. They really give me a perspective on what is important in life.

Precious Ramotswe is the traditionally built proprietor of the eponymous detective agency, located in Gaborone, Botswana. She is a strong, independent, very kind and thoughtful woman. Through her loving, understanding eyes, we see every part of her world, from the vivid landscape and unbroken heat of the climate to the intricacies of human nature and the paradox of the beauty and the terror of nature. It is a world of endless skies over vast, rugged landscapes, of sun and rain and the sweet earth, of the scent of cattle, of the memories of ancestors, of complex history and simple morals, of the magic of food that grows from the earth and nourishes our bodies, of the stunning, awesome awareness of the fullness of life that comes of a mindful existence. This is not a fantastical, utopian world, by any means, there is tragedy in this world as well as joy, there are people who commit terrible deeds as well as those of great humanity. There is lament and regret and outrage and grief in this deeply human world.

She stopped. It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.

- The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, p. 84.

Although issues such as religion, spirituality or deities are very rarely referred to directly in the text, I find the experience of reading these books to have a deeply spiritual quality. It's the sense of connection to, no, more than that, of immersion into and belonging with the natural world and the realities of the cycles of the seasons, and of life, and the celebration of the most fundamental human experiences that resonate so closely with my religious philosophies.

Amongst this stunning scene, Mma Ramotswe and her secretary/associate Mma Makutsi apply their canny instincts to helping their clientele, a diverse variety of characters, deal with the questions in their lives that are troubling them, from private matters of the heart to audacious acts of corporate or public fraud.

Last year, a televised version of the series appeared on our screens. Well, it was bound to happen, wasn't it. It seems that any book that gains even moderate success is made into a film or television series these days. Being a book-loving sort of a person, of course, I deplore this state of affairs. I almost always find a filmed version of a book I'd enjoyed to be disappointing, with few exceptions. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency television series was not one of those exceptions. It just had too many pieces from the books missing, and I feel their absence. There was one reason, however, that I had to be very glad that I got the opportunity to see this show - and that is, specifically, to hear the very particular manner of speech portrayed in the books spoken by local native speakers. 

I had always been quite taken by the distinctive manner of speech used by the Motswana characters. There is a simplistic manner in vocabulary choices that belies an honest, direct nature, and a melodic, earthy structure in the way sentences are put together. In particular I love the way that people who have died are referred to as 'being late,' as if they are still real people, and being late is just a natural state of being in the cycle of life. I very much appreciate the sensitivity that McCall Smith has, to be able to capture the nuances of the regional dialect and bring it to life in the words of fictional characters. I love to consider the flavour of these nuances as I read, but I had always been aware that I was missing out on a big part of the overall picture - I couldn't imagine just how these people sounded when they spoke. I wasn't sure of the accent, and of the styles of timing, pace and rhythm that turn coded words back into the living music of the speech of the people. So I got to hear how the people speak on the television show, and now, as I read the books, I can really imagine how their speech sounds. It's an enrichment that I am grateful for.

One thing I especially love about these ladies is that they really understand the importance of tea. Really. The teapot is a very important fixture at the offices of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. As it should be.

'You're right, Mma Ramotswe. It is a miracle. The miracle of the tea.'
'A good miracle, Mma Makutsi.'
'A very good miracle, Mma Ramotswe.'

- The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, p. 178.

Monday, 26 March 2012

of Beauty, Death and Autumn

If I ever have cut flowers in a vase, I don't throw them out when they start to droop. I leave them out on display and watch in fascination as the flowers change every day on their way from vibrant life to rotting death. I find every stage of the process exquisitely beautiful, equally beautiful.

How are these images of the flowers from my birthday tea not just as beautiful as when the flowers were fresh and hydrated?

I find it worrying that our society has such an aversion to and distaste for death and all that reminds us of our mortality. I believe that death is every bit as much an honourable and essential force in the web of life as every other stage of life.

I was thrilled to discover a kindred soul in the author of Morbid Anatomy, a blog that celebrates the role of death in our culture and history. I find the images, artworks and themes here stunning, enthralling, mystical and profound.

The Autumn Equinox passed recently, so it was an appropriate time to ponder such mysteries. The weather co-operated with the most delightful mathematical precision. The day of the Equinox was very warm and sunny, the last flush of summer I had been counting on seeing before March was out. So warm that I didn't really want to go out into the sun to walk into town at first, until I considered that it would probably be the last time until the next season. It was perfect and bright and lightly muggy. That night, the night of equal length, balanced between the seasons, the weather changed and we woke up in the morning to cold grey skies and gusty rain.

I took these pictures, and was about to take some more of some dried rosebuds from the last summer, when my camera decided to get in on the spirit of things. The batteries died. Even a machine needs a time of rest.

Autumn is my favourite of the seasons. I thrill to the chill that creeps through the earth, I adore the colours and the light and the sense of relaxation as the earth lets go of its growing burden and settles in for the winter slumber. I feel more at ease, more in tune with the season's cycles, my common state of melancholy feels at home as the year winds down gracefully. The perfect day, for me, is cool and grey and raining. That is when I feel most strongly the urge to go out and walk in nature.

I spoke with my nana on the phone, and we talked about our favourite places for autumn leaves. I love the Parliament Gardens in Hobart. At just the right time of year, there are the most glorious piles of crunchy golden softness to stomp or possibly roll about in. The colours on Mount Wellington as the afternoons stretch into long evenings are a revelation.

Blessings on the turning of the Earth, and the Goddess as she turns toward slumber.

Monday, 19 March 2012

of Experimental Dishwashing Sauce

Today I noticed I was low on dishwashing liquid. As per my intentions when I had such a successful experience last time I dabbled in DIY cleaning products, I had a little look around via google at some recipes, and had a go at making my own dishwashing liquid.

I really want to try some castile soap but no luck yet in finding where to buy it, so I went with a recipe based on soap flakes. I grated a bar of pure soap, and dissolved it in a saucepan with a little water. A lot of the comments I read on various sites seemed to be concerned that their liquid wasn't very thick, and subsequent advice to use less water, so I went with using a minimal amount of water, just enough to cover and dissolve the soap. As I heated the mixture with a good slosh of vinegar, it first separated into some pretty disgusting-looking curdle-y components, but with lots of stirring and then cooling, it ended up as an amazing creamy substance. It looked like custard but with the slightest greenish tinge. I figured I had been a bit too stingy on the water after all. I added a bit more water and vinegar slowly, but still, it seemed to curdle into little lumps again. Just to be on the safe side, I heated the mixture back up again. This time around it looked a lot like clarifying butter to make ghee, but again, a suspicious greenish hue.

More stirring and cooling, and it ended up looking like a creamy bechamel sauce. I wish my bechamel sauce looked that good. Mine does smell better, however. I stirred in about 3 teaspoons of borax and about 4 teaspoons of glycerin, and then about 10 drops each of lavender, eucalyptus and lemon essential oils.

At this point I was wondering how I was going to get this gloopy stuff into my dishwashing-liquid bottle with the convenient nozzle dispenser. Maybe I could have thinned it out a bit more - but I didn't want to go through all that heating and cooling again. I still haven't solved this problem, and I'm thinking I might have to invest in a small funnel. For the time being I stored it in an ice cream container.

The next step, of course, was to test it out in the sink on some real live dirty dishes. (I'm happy to report that none were harmed during this experiment.) It actually made the thought of doing the dishes a little bit exciting. Well, there's a miracle already, right there.

I started off with 2 teaspoons of what I was by now thinking of as my Dishwashing Sauce. 'Liquid' didn't quite make the grade as a descriptor. It did seem to be taking a little longer to get through the dishes, so I added another teaspoon, and then it seemed about right. So, it works, in that it does get the dishes clean. It feels like washing up with pure soap, which I'd done a bit of before, only it didn't leave my hands feeling dry (I'll attribute that to the glycerin) and it didn't leave the greasy ring around the sink (I credit that to the borax).

Next time I will use more water and a bigger pot to cook it up in. But all in all, I'm pretty happy with my homemade Dishwashing Sauce.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

of a Work in Progress - Braided Doorway Curtain

Yesterday, I got cracking on the next stage of a certain ongoing work-in-progress that I refer to as the door-hanger-thingy. Once I decided that I was going to blog about this project, I thought I'd better come up with a better name for it, preferably one that actually described what it was. I thought about it for a bit and decided that my creation was a Braided Doorway Curtain. Only it didn't really stick. I'm still calling it the door-hanger-thingy.

It's an odd fact about my main living area that is technically has no windows. It does, however, have three external doors that can be opened and closed. Each one was once a wall of a telephone box. Oh yes, how cool is that. Add to this the consideration that our backyard is a communal space and really, anybody could be wandering about out there, and the issue of curtains comes to the fore. I've tried many variations since I've been living here - but over time it occurred to me that what I really wanted was a bead curtain. Only, I've never happened to notice many bead curtains for sale in op shops. Perhaps I could make my own... I don't have many beads but I do have big piles of fabric... eventually I came up with this concept.

So, what I've got here so far is one queen size flat sheet and one Balinese sarong, split into strips that are braided, and then all sewn together, folded first to be the right width for the doorway. It's my intention to keep adding to it until the spaces are mostly filled in, like the bead curtain I had imagined. I added buttons to the ends of the longer braids. These are genuine Nana buttons, from the collection of odd buttons that my nana had ended up with after all these years of sewing and making things.

I'd decided that the next step would be to give this treatment to a lovely queen sized doona cover that has had a lot of love and is starting to pill unpleasantly, due, I believe, to the polyester content. Yesterday was just the day for such a project.

I've been a bit flat for a few days, tired and sleepy. Not unhappy as such, but not much motivation and a niggling, low-level background of depression and negativity. I had to find something to focus on that wasn't too taxing but had the meditative immersion qualities I needed to keep myself from wandering into negative thoughts. The doona cover / hangy-thingy-in-waiting saw its window of opportunity.

So, here's what I do. I hang the fabric up because I find it a lot easier to work on it like that. I tear the fabric in to strips, stopping a couple of inches before the top end, so I end up with a strong, intact border to hang it from. Like so.

I discovered that the damask side of the doona cover wouldn't tear, because of the weaving technique. So I just cut those strips all the way with scissors.

Then I plait three strips together and secure the tail with a few stitches.

I cut and tore and plaited and stitched. When I felt tired I stopped and had a rest. And then if I found myself wandering aimlessly around the house, or around my mind, without a positive focus, then I would go back to the hanging fabric and continue. And so I got through the day.

And eventually, I'll get a fabulous door-hanger-thingy. Bonus!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

of a Scandal at the Op Shop

Today, my best favourite op shop is having its semi-regular big sale. In addition to the regular op shop being open, there is furniture for sale in the car park, books in the foyer, and another room of trestle tables heaped with piles, through which you can rummage and pay $5 per garbage bag full.

Yep, pretty exciting stuff. So I couldn't stay away even though I was pretty tired this morning.

I was browsing through the children's books when I got such a shock I think I actually made an audible choking sound. A children's book called Bromley Climbs Uluru by Alan and Patrician Campbell. The cover showed a photograph of a stuffed teddy bear among a landscape of red rocks.

If I were telling this story to a local friend, I would just continue on and expect that said friend would immediately understand why I felt so scandalised. However, I'm aware that this blog is read by people from other countries, people who have never been to Australia, and would not be expected to know anything about Australian Aboriginal laws and customs, so I am detouring here with a bit of back story.

Uluru is the very big rock in the middle of Australia. When I was a little kid, we learnt at school that this rock was called Ayer's Rock. In 1985, I was in Grade 2, and we were all told that it was now called Uluru, as it had been handed back to traditional owners. It has great cultural and spiritual significance to the Anangu people, and it is a huge tourist drawcard, attracting many thousands of visitors each year. Many of these visitors climb Uluru, in spite of well-publicised requests not to climb the rock, out of respect for native traditional law. Many people respect these requests and don't climb. One of my favourite bumper stickers, often seen on hippy vans, proudly proclaims - I DIDN'T CLIMB ULURU. As you can imagine, it's Quite an Issue.

By the way, over 35 people have died while climbing Uluru, mostly of heart attacks. I'm not sure how the mortality rate compares to other rock-climbing treks, but it doesn't sound good to me.

So, a children's book, designed to be read to under-5s, that is promoting and condoning climbing Uluru. Aaaargh!

I mentioned it to the lady at the book desk - I can't believe they would publish a book like this! She nodded, yes I know, and didn't say much, but she knew what I was talking about.

I went in to the trestle table room and wrestled with the heaps for my bag of goodies. But it was niggling away in the back of my mind the whole time I was in there, the idea that it was somehow fundamentally wrong to expose innnocent children to that kind of disrespectful attitude. I wondered whether I should say something in protest. I wondered and uumed and ahhed to myself. I considered the 'freedom of expression' argument. I happened to cross paths with the manager on my way out past the books. I've got a pretty good op-shop-liaison relationship with this gentleman, so I took this as a synchronous occasion and went with saying something. I attempted a humourous approach, though there are those that question my interpretation of humour. 'So, Mr. B, I see you're selling books here that are promoting illegal activities!'

Of course, a conversation ensued. I was surprised to discover that Mr. B seemed to be completely unaware that there was anything inappropriate about climbing 'Ayer's Rock,' as he called it. He put the book away, which I was happy about.  But the encounter had opened up a path to one of my bugbear issues. Of course, I went home and googled this book. I discovered that -
- this book seems to be easily available through all the regular online booksellers, including an online retail site devoted to an 'outback products' theme.
- there was an attempt to stop the publication of the book by Anangu elders in 2003, but it turned out that the photographs in the book had been taken in 1986. Whitefella laws restricting photography in sacred sites at Uluru were not introduced until 1987. So there was nothing much they could do about it.
- my local library does not hold a copy of this book, though it does have another book from the same series, which does not feature Uluru.
- lots of people are very upset about not being allowed to take photographs in this particular spot.
- there are lots of Australians, living far from Uluru, who are unaware of the issue at all.

For example, the extremely melodramatic title of this article here - Why Australians are Unwelcome in their Own Country - might bring to mind some kind of deeply repressed fear that one day the Aborigines could rise up and take over the country and send us all packing back to Europe on convict ships. After all, something like that did happen in Haiti once. Actually, the author is describing his experience of not being allowed to take photographs at a specific location at Uluru. He seems to feel that as an Australian, he is entitled to take photographs anywhere in Australia that he wishes. Hmm, now I wonder if he would use that same argument if he had a desire to take photographs in other specific locations reserved by law, say, my backyard, or your backyard, or the Prime Minister's backyard, or on a military base, or in a scientific research facility? Somehow, I don't think it would fly if he did.

The author, drumming up some sympathy for his anguish, quotes nature photographer Ken Duncan as saying that Australia 'must be the only country in the world where you could get a criminal record for taking a picture of a rock.' Well, that is just not so. There are many countries in the world where one could be arrested for taking photographs of or at specific locations. What if the rock you were taking a photo of happened to be in front of a government building in China? You could well be arrested.

The statement also gives me cause to question the ambivalence of the photographer toward the landscape. It seems that he is saying - the rock is special, so I want to photograph it, but because it is not special, I should be allowed to photograph it. Well, no, I don't think you can have it both ways.

Co-author of the book Alan Campbell says here - 'I don't see why continuing occupation gives Aborigines the right to dictate to people what they can and and can't do.' I would like to point out to Mr. Campbell that there are numerous people out there who are, for various reasons, dictating what I can and can't do, and the vast majority of them are not Aborigines.

The point that seems to me to be obvious is this - white people make various divisions of public and private land, and restrictions on activities in certain locations. So, why shouldn't the indigenous people have the right to make similar divisions in their land?

*The author of this blog post has never climbed Uluru.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Happy Birthday Lady Demelza

Those of you who read my previous post may have noticed that today is my birthday. 34 today. In celebration, my tribute to Einstein's famous birthday photo.

So often I've read or heard stories of people getting older, and feeling it badly on their birthday, suddenly realising their life is not what they expected. I thought I would not be so susceptible to such an experience, as I'm not so attached to age numbers, or expectations, or regrets, generally. But today, it's my turn for 'one of those' birthdays.

In my plan for my life, I was going to be living in Europe by now. I'm sad that I'm not, and that I'm still living in a town I do not like at all. It snowballed from there.

When I was young, everyone was so sure that I was going to have a special life, a big life. I was sure that great things were in my destiny. Usually I do think of my life as pretty special and great. But today, suddenly the days when the world was my oyster and my whole life was ahead of me have dissolved - and what do I have to show for it? I have no security. I have more debt than assets. I depend on other people more than I'd like. It's not looking likely that I am ever going to have a house of my own. I never found a man to have a baby with. I never had a 'career,' a 'real job.' I'm so afraid of being alone, I'm afraid of my health getting worse or my back going again. I feel so badly done by by people who have made me promises and then let me down. I'm wishing that I'd never given my heart away to that man who shattered it. I wish I had those years back that I devoted to him.

This is not really 'me.' Usually I live in the moment, have no time for regrets, and count my blessings with awe and gratitude. Surely, it's the most normal thing in the world to have your life turn out not like you planned or imagined it. Well, maybe it's just part of life to have a birthday like this at some stage.

Many things have changed the course of my life over time. Some of it was not by choice, such as all the limitations imposed by my disabilities. Sometimes I'm pretty philosophical about that. Sometimes I'm glad that my life opened up in different directions. Occasionally I'm just angry about the things I missed out on. Some things were my own choices - I've made some pretty unorthodox ones along the way. Here, I'm proud to say that my regrets are few.

What it all comes down to, all the what ifs and choices and consequences, is that at some point, I'm not sure I could pinpoint exactly when, I decided to devote my life to the Goddess. I've lived my life doing everything She had asked of me. I have never shirked and rarely hesitated. I know that She is happy with me, and what I have done with my life. I see myself through Her eyes and I am so proud.

This is the burning heart of my faith, the light to follow when all this dark stuff is going on in my head. This is how I know that the regrets I am feeling now is not Truth. This is how I will keep going ahead into the next year, never knowing what the next day or moment will command of me.

There has been a lot of crying this past day. My eyes are swollen and the tender spots where I have rubbed away too many tears burn. There was also a tea party, thanks to my lovely Nana, who seems to get more excited about my birthdays than I do. There was real tea made in a teapot and drunk from antique cups and saucers. There was smoked salmon, there was a cake and there were flowers. Most thrilling of all, this wonderful tablecloth that Nana embroidered herself before she was married, and gave me as a gift today. She keeps apologising that her doilies and such are not made from real linen, because there was a war on then, and you couldn't get linen. And she doesn't mind that I'm going to dye it maroon and possibly one day cut it up to make something else.

I'm also ashamed of myself for all this whinging and carrying on. How can I complain when I have been so blessed? I don't know, but it seems that this is part of it, that it's just normal to have days like this sometimes.

As Majik Faerie tells me, it is okay, and it's okay to feel that it's not okay. Sometimes.

Happy Birthday Albert Einstein!

Albert Einstein was born 133 years ago today. This picture was taken on his 72nd birthday, March 14, 1951. He was pretty over the paparazzi at this point, the poor bloke.

Einstein was a complex character and much about him is misunderstood or misrepresented in the commonly accepted version of history, but the fact that he changed the way we saw the world remains undisputed.

When he was a young child, his family were concerned that he seemed slow to develop. He grew out of that, and into a cultural definition of the word 'genius.'

He loved women passionately and romantically, and was quite popular with the ladies, but wasn't a very good husband to his two wives, who stayed home and checked his math while he was out changing the world.

In his youth he engaged in political protests against World War 1, when he was firmly dedicated to absolute pacifism and supported conscientious objection. Later in life, the rise of the Nazis rattled him so much that he changed his stance and supported 'military preparedness.' In this spirit, he wrote to President Roosevelt to encourage the funding of a nuclear research program in 1939. This program went ahead, and became The Manhattan Project. Einstein was not included - he didn't get security clearance, thanks to his radical views. When the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Einstein's heart broke along with everything else that was broken that day. He lived in bitter regret for the letter he had written to Roosevelt for the rest of his life.

He rejected all forms of nationalism in his philosophy, but he highly valued his Jewish identity, which was integral to his experience and interpretation of world politics. He was a Zionist but believed in a manifestation of this that would see the Jews and Arabs living happily together as brothers. In 1952 he was offered the position of President of Israel, an offer he politely declined. I think that was for the best. I don't think politics was really his forte.

He showed the world that time and space is not the immutable reality that people believed in. He opened up previously impossible worlds, taking us through the Looking Glass and into the mysteries and magic of quantum mechanics. He was a dreamer, a poet, and a scientific mystic who saw maths as the language of God - a conclusion I came to myself by the end of high school, though I didn't realise then how much of my education at that point was indebted directly to Einstein's work.

I was born on Einstein's 99th birthday in 1978. By a peculiar quirk that I don't really understand, as I have never seriously studied numerology, if you write out the numerological chart for Einstein, it's identical to mine. We have all the same numbers in our birthdates. And our numerology number is 33, and we were born 99 years apart. I thought this was a little exciting when I discovered this fact when I was in high school. Up until that point, one of the more common nicknames I received in the schoolyard was 'Miss Einstein,' though it was never intended kindly. The other kids didn't like me because I was smarter than them. I think I can relate a little to the isolation and loneliness that Einstein experienced, and which he believed was necessary for him to devote himself to science.

God knows what could have happened if I had devoted myself to science. I think I would have been completely mad, however.

Monday, 12 March 2012

of a Visit to my Mother's House

We went on a long drive through the country, to visit my mother's house. Hours of wide open spaces, the landscape so typical of the Western Districts of Victoria. Endless rolling fields, the wide brown land that Miss Mackellar loved so much, and a big blue sky that just goes on forever. I'm not sure what it is about this spot that it qualifies as a 'Significant Roadside Area.' It looks pretty standard to me. And this is what it looks like when we're NOT having a drought.

Just in case you're thinking that maybe there's something else outside the frame of this picture, I turned around a took a shot of the other side.

I admit to experiencing an urge to commit an act of public vandalism, specifically, to efface the last letter of the village named on the lower of these signposts. I can't imagine why. I did manage to restrain myself.

The surreal geometry of European trees planted in straight lines.

I found this crop of box-cut gum trees, in early stages of regeneration, quite a striking sight. They seem to me like little dwarves popping up out of the earth, but in tree form rather than homonid.

A young gum tree would have a completely different shape to these, and different leaves. These trees have adult leaves and the growth force of a mature tree but they are so close to the ground!

Box-cutting is a technique by which a mature tree is lopped off close to the ground, but leaving enough room for suckers to grow up around the sides of the trunk, which then grow into several auxiliary trunks. This is handy if you want to harvest firewood - you'll get a greater quantity of firewood in a given growing time from box-cut trees, and they come in narrower pieces that might not require a blocksplitter. However, this comes at a cost to the strength of the parts of the tree - box-cut trees are vulnerable to being brought down by strong winds, storms, or even just the forces of gravity, if damp and rot set in at the junction of the auxiliary trunk from main trunk. Tip for campers and backpackers in Australia - think twice when camping amongst box-cut trees - look for signs of weak limbs. This is what grown-up box-cut trees look like. See the multiple thin trunks coming up from one set of roots.

Lots of wonderful things live at my mum's house. Like the chickens and the ducks.

Rampant tomato bushes.

This is for dinner - tomatoes and silverbeet fresh from the garden, and eggs 'fresh from the chook's bum,' as Mum would say. The two larger, whiter eggs are from the ducks.

Little animals guard the doorways, and kindly sit very still for me to take their pictures.

Knick-knacks and pretty plates.

And, most special and wonderful of all, Sappho the cat.

I found Sappho when she was a kitten and gave her her name for the ancient Greek poet, Sappho. Now she lives with my mum in the country. She is absolutely a princess and the whole world revolves around her.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

my Favourite Things - Peppermint magazine

Today is a very special day on the Lady Demelza calendar. It comes but four times a year and each is awaited with great anticipation and welcomed with delight. No, it's not a holiday, or a religious festival, or any such thing so profound. It's the day I get my copy of the new issue of Peppermint magazine.

I couldn't rave enough about Peppermint magazine. With a totally green focus, this publication is devoted to living fashionably and sustainably. Recycling, thrifting, handcrafting, fair trade industry practises, the environmental impact of fabric and clothing production, organics and health - this magazine will leave you thinking twice about that made-in-China t-shirt on sale for $2.99, and inspired anew, as the articles don't just bitch about the state of things, but also offer realistic and positive alternatives and suggestions.

As a recovering magazine-aholic, I used to spend some time poring over high fashion magazines. It was wonderfully inspiring and I learned so much about fashion, design and clothing production - but the emaciated models, the garish make-up, the exploitation inherent in the industry, the insidious indoctrination of consumerist ideals - ugh.

I started my Peppermint collection with the third issue. It remains my favourite issue to this day, around three years later. I was going through some really difficult stuff at that time, and Peppermint reminded me of the positive things I had in my life, and in some ways helped me to get a new focus on my life, a framework for a way of life.

Two of my favourite fashion-crafting friends, who blog at Naughty Shorts! and the textured leaf, have had their creations featured in Peppermint. Just goes to show what good taste those folk have.

The perfect setting for a session of minty delights... comfy bed, check, lots of pillows, check, vintage linen, check, natural light, check, and cup of tea (not pictured).

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Op Shop Manifesto

Op-shopping is more than just a past-time or a way to get cheap stuff for me. I am absolutely obsessed and addicted to op-shopping, beyond all reason. If I'm travelling along in a car, and I see an op shop, or even if I know we're close to one, my heart thumps and my pulse rises. On Thursdays and Fridays from 10am - 2pm, when the very best op shop is open, I just can't sit still. No matter how fiercely I had resolved not to go op shopping that week, it's hopeless. I have to be otherwise occupied or I will end up at the op shop. And I will come home with a garbage bag full. I just can't help myself.

Fortunately, this is an addiction that has very few unpleasant side effects - the only one that I can think of being the clutter, and the growing likelihood that I will end up as a case study on that Hoarders show - but a great number of wonderfully positive side effects. Charities are supported, and in turn, the needy are cared for. Landfill is diverted and consumerism is thwarted. I get to live surrounded by beautiful things, and a number of my friends are dressed in style without ever having to bother going shopping themselves. I get so much wonderful feedback that I just keep going back for more, and an enjoyable hobby has become a standard for a way of life, even a spiritual practise.

If that sounds a bit far-fetched to you, please have a look at my favourite thrifting blog, Thrift Shopper for Peace. She has a wonderful thrifting manifesto on her 'about' page. I love how she equates the phrase 'peace on earth' with being at peace with the earth, i.e. living in an environmentally conscious manner.

Today I was feeling a bit wretched. Restless and unsettled with niggling anxiety. The day wore on, and I wasn't snapping out of it through the usual means of relaxation, napping and reading a good book. I had to do something to shift my state of mind. Suddenly I knew just what I needed. I asked Mr CJ to take me for a drive to an op shop, a big warehouse one. I knew I would come good in there, surrounded by all the stories and potentials nestled cheek-by-jowl along aisles and on shelves. I was right. I started feeling much better as soon as we pulled into the car park. After 30 seconds in there, I had reached the bookshelves and I was myself again. Well, a calm and preferable aspect of myself.

I had no real intention of buying anything, really. These big Salvo's Stores are just too high-priced. I have to want an item really bad to pay those kind of prices. But of course, I managed to discover a couple of pieces that really wanted to come home with me. I remember this stunning treasury of Australian artists and writers from when I was a little one.

At $15, it's possibly the most I've paid for an item in an op shop, other than furniture. But this is a really special one. Even I couldn't quibble over the $15 for this. A quick flick through, and I was suddenly so sad for anyone who didn't grow up in Australia or otherwise have access to the magic of the art of May Gibbs.

There was whole stack of this gorgeous maroon-floral patterned crockery, but the $2-per-item price tag let me be happy enough just to take one bowl and one plate.

There are all sorts of things wrong with this cup. It's not maroon, or even pink, it's too modern and un-vintage-y, and, $3 for a cup in an op shop! - you've got to be kidding. But, I just love the oversized French style cups which are so hard to find in Australia. And it has one of my favourite words printed on it.

I'm still a bit shocked with myself for paying $8 for this dress. But it fits me without need of alteration, and it's pure linen, which is just such a wonderful fibre for a heat-sensitive little water-flower like me. I just need some more maroon dye, and this one will be going for a swim in the hot-tub.

Other op-shop jaunts over the past week have yielded some more economical treasures. At one shop, I selected six books. And I mean good quality books, not old reader's digests or what have you. I paid a total of $2.45.

An extra-special find - a copy of  The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. I've often come across references to this extraordinary work before, but never actually seen a copy of the book. Oh my beating heart. And yep, this gem was one of those six books for $2.45.

As if I didn't have enough gorgeous floral vintage sheets - but how could anyone pass this up for $1?

So-cute little nightwear singlet top, $1

This lovely luca & marc top fits me, but I'm not yet sure if the style really suits. I probably won't be able to tell until it's been maroonified. At $1, it's worth the risk.

Now, after all that, I'm feeling fabulous again, and I didn't even use any p.r.n. medications.

Poor Mr CJ, however, who was having a crap day too, isn't so profoundly influenced by the presence of pre-loved goods. I'm about to spend some time applying a heat pack, massaging the knots in his neck and rubbing his head 'til he gets sleepy. That's my job, while it's his job to drive the car. (Epilepsy = no driver's license for Lady Demelza.) I reckon it's a pretty good deal.

*Linked in with Flea Market Finds at Her Library Adventures.