The drive appears unexpectedly on the right. You might pass it if you weren’t keeping an eye out. Four Five Five. There, the address has been spray painted on the blue recycling bin that’s taken up permanent residence by the roadside, playing both roles, marker and bin, in one solitary measure.
Right you go. A third of the way up two trees hover on either side offering little shade but waving a welcome as you rattle onward to the house. Apricot-coloured and slightly run down, one level lifted three feet off the ground. This must be for the sake of a perched view as floodwaters won’t climb up this hill. (Will they?)
The grass is bristly underfoot, aged and dried by summer, thickened by years of give and take with the local bovine residents.
Cows low conversationally. Sometimes the fields look empty but you can still hear their voices when they hold regular choir practice. They sing this place into existence. At night we think they’re playing Marco Polo.
Three stairs imprint your feet, one room leads into the next. The corners are strange, the bathroom is central, the sunroom is long and locked, only two of the bedrooms have doors. Maybe there are only two bedrooms, but there’s another off the hallway where the kids sleep. A three-bed room.
The corner leading to the kitchen is haunted. I’m sure of it. It may be because it’s the darkest spot in the house.
The washing machine stands across from the kitchen sink in such close companionship that turning from dishes to clothing takes just one step and a sideways shuffle. Sometimes I have to polka between the two because the washing machine has low water pressure and it needs constant reassurance to know it’s still doing the right thing. Beebidlybeep! It sings when the slow trickle stops. I press the START button once more and the water whispers on. Eliza says she’ll send me a sound recording of it once I’m gone, but I won’t miss it.
What I will miss is the sighing creak of the windmill grating out a constant melody, even on the windless days. The kettle always hot or ready to boil, the scratch of pencil crayons filling in shapes, an eye over a page, the waft of curry (pronounced COUrry), checking for minty breath at bedtime and swell reports as morning breaks, the long-winded stories that say little and the daily anecdotes that bring waves or add punctuation, the voices of a family that shriek and billow and gather in the air.
Farmhouse with a creek and a creak, we’re captured.
Happiest of January and New Years and New Moons to you and you and you.
This is my first day off in over a week and the first in 2014.
Phew, I say with heavy shoulders.
I’m exhausted in a bad way, not the healthy kind, but the overworked “what-am-I-doing?” cranky sense (but not allowing cranky to take over). I said I’d never go back to this kind of hospitality work, the one where the tourist season overruns normal working hours and therefore normal lives (people in Tofino, you know what I’m talking about), it’s a dramatic shift that is extremely tiring and not very satisfying. Not steady-goes, but slow-slow in the off season and then !!-hectic in the on. Topped off with this fuming heat, I’m not sure I’ve ever worked this chaotically. But here I am … trying to make the best of it. And generally still alive and smiling, but only because I know there is an end to this pace of life.
It’s hot and muggy today and I’m so glad to be away from the coffee machine.
Oh, right, maybe that’s news: p.s. I got a job as a barista.
There was a bushfire here in the past week, it was actually quite worrisome. It started from a lightening bolt, and a combination of wind and dry conditions helped it spread very quickly, at one point moving 40k/h. They did a bunch of back burning and helicopters were flying and water-bombing it from above. The air was smoke-hazed for days and the smell of charred wood still lingers, I think some places are still smouldering.
Twenty-thirteen, what a year. I feel as though many people have talked about it as a “big one.” Changes and shifts that had people jumping or jolted, for better or worse. (I think it’s important to remember that the “worse” can often turn into “better”). Whatever happened, whatever the moon phases rendered, 2013 made an impact on people.
On me too. I hadn’t really thought about it until its end, which is surprising because I tend to be an over-reflect-er.
For one thing, I travelled a lot in 2013: I crossed North America three times, gosh, really, three times.
Twenty-thirteen, the year I graduated from J-School and started to call myself a writer, putting hopes in that title to give direction, whatever that may bring.
Twenty-thirteen: The year I ate strawberries in California and frog legs in Arkansas, jumped over snowdrifts in Halifax and into taxis in Brooklyn, crafted Valentines with glitter and a routine of spontaneity, took a river tour in Chicago and a quick-decision flight to Australia, played in the sea and on land and sometimes in houses, and found one hundred more people to fall in love with spread out across the world.
Sigh. I often wish I could gather you all in one physical place as you are all intertwined in my heart.
How was Christmas? How was the holiday season?
I’ll tell you, it wasn’t really either for me. Well, not in the sense of fireplaces, tea and Christmas cookies. People would wish me a merry one and I’d internally roll my eyes, “riiight, Christmas” and a whisper in my mind would say .. this isn’t Christmas.
But it WAS, I know. And I did have a joyful few days with a lovely family in Lennox. And we had Christmas lunch with prawns and ham and there was a tree (branch) and there were gifts and smiles and a feeling of together-ness and I did get to have a few conversations with people who are far away. This special family that I celebrated with, Nathan and Eliza and their crew of three, Noa, Blossom and River, have ballooned me with their company and soooon, we’ll all be living together here in a farmhouse in Lennox Head. (Excite!)
But a recap:
My last month has been a readjustment of working (and over-working) again, and finding multiple homes and places to sleep. Mid-December I moved out of my place in Suffolk Park and into my van for a week; a friend let me park in his driveway while I was in town and working. We had a full-moon pizza picnic in one of my new favourite places of this region. Come visit, I’ll take you there.
And then I had a couple days off and went down the coast to Urunga to visit friends-of-friends, the family of Raes who I’d heard much about, and they blasted any previous expectations with their feeling of go-with-it comfort. I absolutely l-o-v-e meeting people that allow you to join the groove of their lives so easily. Come visit, you’ll love them too.
Over Christmas my friend Leana went to visit family in Melbourne and gave me her nest to dwell in. There I rested after I got food poisoning from a Thai restaurant. I also read this amazing book called “The Bone People” by Keri Hulme. I also built dripping sandcastles with N, B and R and earthed myself in sandy grit which I’ll never get out of the van now…
And then back to van-life (a sandier one). And work (a busier and sweatier one).
And New Years. And I opened twenty-fourteen with a polar bear swim and watched a slow pilgrimage of people waking and pattering down the sand to the water. “Polar bears” clad in bikinis and board shorts.
Many mornings I start work at 5:45 in the AM, so recently I’ve been waking up at 430 before the sun rises and getting to the water in the dark around five. I like to jump in and watch the day break slowly, quietly.
Work is hectic but it has opened up the community of Byron to me a bit more. And with the daily patterns there are day-to-day hiccups. Yesterday, after my seventh day in a row of spinning dairy on the wand and slinging caffeine into cups, I tried to leave town only to find I’d run out of gas. Oops. I could blame it on being brain-dead from the past week but I do believe my gas gauge is a little optimistic.
After I announced I was heading this ways, south and overseas, people told me “Oh, you’re going to love it there, you’re not going to want to come back.” And now I’m here with a one-year permit to stay, and since my first week people have been asking me “Are you going to apply for a second year visa?” I don’t have answers to these yet. But here I continue on in Australia with sandy toes and a positive tank of fuel.
Sorry if I’ve been bad in contact recently, there are many replies waiting in my head that haven’t touched down in type yet. Van and work-life brings abundant surprises but a lack of wi-fi connection.
Hey, I love you.
My friend, Meagan, asked me to write her an “Australian Grocery Store Memoir.” Here’s my confession:
I prowl the aisles of a new supermarket, slightly overwhelmed.
I’ve been here before, these same aisles of this same Woolworths, but every time something else seems to jump out—I’m new to you!
And what are you? I respond by picking it up.
Feta and beet puree? And this, a pumpkin and cashew dip?
I hold one in each hand marveling.
I love beets. Vibrant. Robbins claimed them as Rasputin’s favourite. Why are beets so uncommon in my grocery store back home, treated like the awkward stepsister of root veg? And pumpkin (!), usually a sign of autumn, a seasonal treat, now so commonplace. How did it make it here, next to your average hummus or tzatziki? Does it not deserve special attention?
I give it the moment of significance it deserves, and then a minute more. I scan the ingredients, the nutrient content, scrutinize the advertising on the container and the tree logo. Mmm, looks delicious. This beet one would be especially good on a veggie sandwich. Where are they made? Here, well, Victoria. Made in Australia.
I turn them over, idly soaking them in. I should try making this at home sometime.
Then slide them back into the cooler.
You know, just looking things over. Perusing. Window shopping for condiments and cereal the way some people try on shoes.
Next aisle, artichoke hearts.
Try this one on for size, it says.
I stack it back on the shelf.
Maybe next time, if I’m feeling sassy. That’s a game-changer. Like the shoes that make an outfit, that ingredient makes a whole meal.
I pick a tin. Herring, product of Canada. For a moment I’m proud to be.
People don’t often browse in grocery stores. You’re supposed to go in with a purpose, breakfast, lunch, dinner or a weekly list, get the goods—bread, eggs, milk, chicken thighs, pasta sauce—scan which checkout line is the shortest, wonder WHY you ended up behind the lady with 20 different tins of cat food and if the guy behind you is having a party, making his girlfriend dinner or if he always eats such a fancy selection of cheese and olives (if so, we should be friends). You pass an eye over the tabloids, pay by credit, realize you forgot your bags but refuse both paper and plastic disposable ones, and so, armed with celery in one hand and an onion in each pocket, you juggle the rest of your food while walking to the car, remembering your keys are under the cans of chick peas which are under the loose apples all in a mess weighing down your purse. After spilling the armload onto the backseat—you’re homeward bound! to throw something together, or make a mess, either or both.
Well, that’s how I shop.
But I also browse.
I go up each aisle with at least one item in my basket to avoid suspicion, but not heavy things because I might be in here for a while and I want my hands free. I leave canned goods for the end. Lettuce and a box of crackers fit nicely.
I wander, reaching for items I have no intention of buying, cornering myself against the shelf so that buggies can roll by, and peer down at the treasure in hand. Pickled pork spread? What’s in here?! Is it actually pork? What do you eat this with? Where is this from? Why is it so expensive? The label gives me half the information I want, but I dream up answers to the rest of my questions. Ah, it’s probably a delicacy from France made from only the finest slice of pork. I roll the jar over. Oh, wait. First ingredient: Pork product. No organic back bacon here, it’s probably just the inner scrapings of pigs’ ears.
A shadow blocks the light as someone reaches for the peanut butter above me. (Because where else would pickled pork be but in the spread section?)
Oops, I apologize and shelve the item. Finished with this aisle, I turn to the next.
Browsing while traveling is especially satisfying. I travel the world through super markets. There I discover what makes the place run, literally, what these people fuel themselves on.
In Greece, the selection of olives and the enormous jugs of olive oil or blocks of feta you could buy in bulk; in Germany, the butcher and juice with spruedel—“schorle” and the fresh bread and bakeries; in SoCal, hot sauce and corn tortillas and the plethora of frozen yogurt cafes; in Costa Rica, the tropical fruit, the pre-packaged cookies and squeaky cheese; in Belgium, the waffles with chocolate and fries with mayo; in Nicaragua, the street food of plantain chips and fried chicken, or sugar-drinks, all of these served in plastic bags.
The food in Australia is not a far-stretch from Canadian mainstream but there is still a variety of new products for me to ogle.
And sometimes it’s not a new product but the amount of a particular product they keep in stock, whether in abundance or not at all.
Sour cream, for example. I like sour cream with perogies and sometimes nachos, but if I purchase sour cream more than twice a year, it’s an occasion. Here the sour cream shelf rivals the milk selection. But a sighting of squash, acorn or spaghetti, has yet to be recorded. Lemons are more than a dollar each and a single avocado will run you three times that.
Passionfruit and pavlova are prevalent but I have yet to see a pie that isn’t made with meat.
In addition to new foods, I’m learning to rename the food I already know.
Capsicum, coriander, bikkies, bangers, chook, tomato sauce, sultanas and lollies are replacing my association with red peppers, ketchup and raisins.
Yams, I say.
What? They question. Oh! Sweet potatoes.
Oh, come now. Po-tay-to. Po-tah-to.
One name I like in particular is Cos Lettuce. For North Americans, Romaine, here, Cos.
And I like it just ‘cos.
‘Cos so many people feel the need to justify eating healthy: to lose weight, my mom said so, it looks pretty, it makes me feel better about myself, kale is the new carb and e’erybody’s doin’ it.
Why do you eat greens? Just ‘cos. ‘Cos I do. Nothing pretentious.
I don’t often eat Cos lettuce, even though it has more iron in it than regular red or green-leaf varieties, but today I put it in my basket, alongside my lemon and a bag of carrots, basil, spring onions, trail mix, muesli, almond milk, a six pack of free-range eggs (the regular ones have CAGED HENS printed in bold on them which seems to be a brilliant deterrent), … and maybe I’ll grab a chocolate bar.
Now my basket requires both hands. Combined with what I have at home, this will make a meal or two. If not, I can come back and browse for more. It’s best done in smaller stints anyways. Like shoe shopping, so many outfits and endless possibilities, but when are you really ever going to eat that?
I look at the checkout lines.
Self checkout. I like the Aussie-lady voice that talks to me from the machine. I’m starting to get used to the accent.
I pay in cash, the money here is so pretty.
No bag. I shove everything into the cloth sack hanging from my right shoulder. Food mixed with my wet beach towel and my book, which is now looking a little sad and soggy. Oops.
Out the door, crossing the parking lot, breathing fresh air and sun. One thing that’s always the same: supermarkets have terrible florescent lighting.
Today is the first Advent, the first of four Sundays before Christmas, and this year it’s also the first day of the month—December! Which is strange to think about as I’m going into summer down here in the Southern hemisphere.
But at home my parents will be lighting the first out of four candles on the Advent wreath. They’ll be enjoying tea and cookies and warming their feet by the fire, surrounded by the smells of wet and fog and kindling crackle and cinnamon and cloves and days ending early. Philo will sniffle around, happy that everyone is inside and in one place, wondering if anyone has a free hand to stroke his nose or, better yet, his belly. And Dad will choose some beautiful music, maybe a classical piano concerto by Mozart or Beethoven. And after his cup has been filled and emptied a few times he might be inspired to pick up his guitar and sing a tune that speaks to him (Ma Solitude by Georges Moustaki?) or pick away at a song of his own. Sometimes he does that when he’s in a relaxed after-noon-state-of-mind. At this time, Mom will have taken up something to read. She has this wonderous knack of finding really obscure stories and she shares them aloud to the audience in front of her. ”Oh!” She says. She exclaims this often, but pay attention as each of her “Oh!”s is different. It could be drawn out if she’s entertained or shortly gasped if her mind jumps, turning to make some connection to another one of her collected intrigues. After you’ve heard it many times, you’ll be able to hear her eyes roll or her brain click by the sound of that one syllable. More cookies, always more tea. Cradled in these sounds and smells, the candle wax drips while the fire burns lower.
I know this because that’s how we celebrated Advent, each one leading up to Christmas, while growing up.
And then my Mom wrote me this note the other day:
"The first Lebkuchen parcel arrived and we are enjoying teatime whenever possible! yumyum… the Christmas sales are on and I will find the time to make our Adventkranz. Here is something I found recently:
The Advent, meaning ‘coming’, traditionally speaks to the time before the holidays and end of year passing—however you might celebrate it. The lighting of four Advent candles, one on each of the four Sundays preceding the end of the year, is sometimes attributed to the following symbolism:
“The first light of Advent is the light of stone–
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants–
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.
The third light of Advent is the light of beasts–
All await the new beginning, from the greatest and in least.
The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind–
The light of hope that we may learn to love and understand.”
Thought you might like that…”
Isn’t that lovely?
I can almost hear her voice vibrate, see my Dad nod in acknowledgement—listening but still playing, taste the spiced chocolate, and feel that warm hearth.
Thanks Mom, I do like it. A whole lot.
Happy December everyone, happy erster (first) Advent.
I had a meeting with the sea this morning.
“You’re late,” I scolded.
“Have patience,” she said.
“You’re too impulsive,” I lamented.
“Life is full of surprises,” she laughed.
“You’re unreliable,” I protested.
“Not everything will go your way,” she put forth.
“You’re selfish,” I whined.
“You have to find joy in yourself to see it in others,” she waylaid.
“You’re so particular,” I argued.
“You have to know what you want,” she acknowledged.
Then she held my gaze for a moment and smiled.
“Thank you,” I sighed.
And she was gone.
I visited the Crystal Castle outside of Bangalow yesterday, and read this, it was posted on a plaque outside the main building. As I read, two people, a man and a woman, were discussing it behind me—
"Same-old, there’s nothing new here..," said the woman, wondering why they would post this in such prominent display. "Ugh, it’s hard to always listen to the same thing all the time.”
"But, it’s true," replied the man.
I turned and suggested this, “It’s well-written.”
But I should have questioned her further.
Her response bothered me, because what’s written there is true, why isn’t that enough? I wanted to ask her how else are we going to make people listen, how can we instil action for change? Do we have to say things in a fancy, new way, to find the tipping point? Must we dress up an apple in caramel just to make sure people will get their dose of vitamin C? Doesn’t that somehow defeat the purpose? We’re talking truths here—how many ways does one have to say hello before getting a greeting in return? How many times do you knock on the door before it opens?
Or are we all out of town?