Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Guest post by Nicola Chatham: finding Flow in your veggie patch

"So, what do you do?"

Don't you love that ques­tion?!! I never know how to answer. I've been prac­tis­ing being more con­cise and inter­est­ing, but what I usu­ally say is…

"Well, I do two things. I'm an artist and I exhibit my work in Mel­bourne and Bris­bane. And I help peo­ple grow organic food with a blog and online train­ing course."

What I really do though, is chase 'Flow'.

When I was 18, I began prepar­ing my port­fo­lio for art school. The trou­ble was, I was ter­ri­fied of mak­ing marks on a page. I'd pretty much lost my cre­ativ­ity when my par­ents divorced three years ear­lier. It just fell away, prob­a­bly some­where with my joy and sense of safety. Return­ing to art was like court­ing a lover who'd rejected me. Painful. Full of doubt. Fear I'd be rejected again. "You're not good enough, you can't do this," I heard whis­pered over and over in my mind.

So I found a men­tor. He was an older artist. Worldly. Way­ward. Mys­te­ri­ous. Fun. Temperamental. He showed me how to put my ego aside and just dive in. Exper­i­ment. See what hap­pened. Don't take it per­son­ally. But do show up. Make marks. Put the time in. Don't run in fear of fail­ure. And don't take it so seri­ously – like my life depended on it. Because it felt like it did.

Sur­pris­ingly, I found an amaz­ing thing. When I did as he said (had a glass of wine and sat down to draw), I touched on an expe­ri­ence that has woven its way through my life ever since.

Flow :: Pres­ence :: Bliss :: Groove

"When­ever there is enthu­si­asm, there is a cre­ative empow­er­ment that goes far beyond what a mere per­son is capa­ble of." – Eck­hart Tolle, A New Earth

Pro­fes­sor Mihaly Csík­szent­mi­há­lyi calls it Flow. Bud­dhists call it Mind­ful­ness. Eck­hart Tolle calls it Awak­ened Doing. Joseph Camp­bell calls it Bliss.

Twyla Tharp calls it Groove. In her book The Cre­ative Habit (which I love, and highly rec­om­mend, by the way), she says:
"A groove is the best place in the world. It's where I strive to be, because when you're in it you have the free­dom to explore, where every­thing you ques­tion leads you to new avenues and new routes, every­thing you touch mirac­u­lously touches some­thing else and trans­forms it for the better."

Ever since those days prepar­ing my port­fo­lio, I've wanted more flow in my life. For me, flow is when time takes on another qual­ity. You're so absorbed in the task at hand, it feels like time doesn't exist.
But flow doesn't just hap­pen in the fine arts. Flow exists in prepar­ing a gar­den bed. Trans­form­ing lawn into abun­dance. It can be found in a well-stocked gar­den shed. And a box of your favourite seeds.

Flow vis­ited me this week­end in the veg­gie patch.

Time flew. The world didn't exist out­side of my imme­di­ate environment. I didn’t have a plan. Instead, one action led to the next. I pulled down the old Mada­gas­car bean, like shed­ding an old self image. The abrupt naked­ness of the bam­boo teepee shocked and excited me. I pre­pared the ring of soil around the base with nitrogen-rich green leaves and weeds, then lay­ered com­post, and finally hay soaked in molasses and water. Then I parted the hay like a skirt and planted snow peas.

It was all good. I went out­side to check my hand­i­work at 9pm and the naked teepee, with her new upside-down skirt, glowed in the full moon.


It can catch you unawares. But only if you are pre­pared and show up.
  • Put on your gloves.
  • Get into the habit of com­post­ing (so it’s ready, when you are).
  • Find your­self some seeds to play with.
  • Go out­side.

Nicola Chatham is an organic gardening teacher, permaculture designer and contemporary artist. Her Grow Organic Food in Pots course starts next week and enrolment closes in just over three days. I'm happy to promote and recommend Nicola's online courses because her first course, the Abundant Veggie Patch System, which I paid for, has transformed my garden and my way of thinking. I love her approach. I've enrolled on Grow Organic Food in Pots (especially as Nicola is covering worm farming this time) and would love for more people to join me! If you want to read more about Nicola's online course, pop your email address here and Nicola will send you all the details.

Joining in with Rachael's Garden Journal.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Finding home

We're bringing up our children the way we want to. We're growing, catching, making and trying to do it all slowly and calmly away from all the madness.

It's not always easy. But it feels right.

I can't imagine living anywhere else now. And to think that over a year ago it was a stormy mess. It hasn't all fitted into place yet, but those clicks are happening all the time. We're living purposefully.

We're in the right place now.

And if it wasn't for Graeme suggesting we move here, I probably wouldn't be writing these words. So I'm very grateful to my husband for moving us here at a time when I'd almost given up.

I'm happy. 

(I wonder if this has anything to do with Graeme and I going away for three nights next week. On. Our. Own! What do you think? Or maybe it's because mum's coming for Christmas and spending all of January with us.)

Linking up with one of my favourite bloggers Maxabella loves...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Growing up

I knew he wouldn't nap forever, but after over four and a half years I couldn't imagine how he'd ever get through the day without a sleep. My days for as long as I can remember have been split into a morning and an afternoon with a nap in the middle. Kian (eventually) slotted nicely into how Luca had carved our days. Whatever we do in the morning, he'd start showing those signs around lunchtime and he'd say he's tired and take himself off to bed. On preschool days when he doesn't nap, he comes home and does very little. He's snoring by 6.30pm.

My life as a mother would have looked very different had I not had those two hours to myself every day. To be able to split the day in two and know there is a break in the middle has saved me on countless days. It's when I eat in peace, read in peace, and write here in my little space. In peace.

It's when I also nap myself, stealing twenty minutes or so to rest on the sofa with my feet up and stare at the sky and trees all around the house. Oh, I love it when quiet reins after lunch.

But quiet reins no longer. He doesn't desperately head for his bedroom as soon as his tummy's full. I still insist on quiet time (for both our sakes), so he reads on his bed until he can't keep away from his craft table any more.

He draws and writes, paints and cuts. And with Kian asleep and not at his elbow knocking over his tools and screwing up his paper, he realises that this is his golden hour.

It will be our golden hour too (eventually), because once I've reorganised my time and kicked my four-year habit I will spend one-on-one time with him and enjoy it.

But right now, I'm trying to kick the habit. Of being on my own, falling asleep without being prodded, and relishing two hours without questions and demands.

It's the end of an era.

Except I'm not really lamenting the end of my quiet time – I've had it good, I know. What makes me a touch sad is it's the end of Luca being little. He's growing up.

I know every parent sees more in their children's art than anybody else, but will you look at that kookaburra? We had to frame it. Every morning while everyone still sleeps, Luca creeps out and draws from books. Plants, wildlife, anything. Lately, he's started painting with watercolours. I wonder how much all this will shape the school decision...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Happiness is...

Making ricotta again and stuffing it up again. I've now realised I'm overheating it. Instead of fluffy and light, my ricotta was a rubbery clump. Still, that didn't stop me from making it into a zucchini and mushroom lasagne. When Graeme and I sat down for dinner that evening, I said rather smugly do you know I made the ricotta for this? I know it'll be third time lucky and next time, it won't be going into a lasagne. I'm going to eat it straight from the cheesecloth (ahem one of the boys' muslins) and pair it with some honey and fruit.

Several days later and I'm still so excited about making my first batch of compost. Full of worms (and goodness knows what other creepy crawly grubs), it was thick and fudgy and reminded me of good chocolate mud cake. I really do love earthworms. It's magic what they do.

Giving hope. It's too early in my book to be thinking about Christmas, but October is the collection month for Samaritan's Purse's Operation Christmas Child. We filled one shoe box last year and this year we put together two sets of presents and clothes for two children in need somewhere in south-east Asia. There are drop-off points throughout Australia and New Zealand. Our local shoe shop was more than happy to give away some shoe boxes.

How about you? Do you make your own ricotta? Have you given much thought to Christmas yet?

Another Happiness is...

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Three children

It was winter last week (with thick snow only two hours away!) and it's full-on summer this week. The weather's confused and so are we. I've been back and forth digging out winter clothes that I thought wouldn't have to come out again until next year. Now it looks like I can definitely put them back.

I stay in when it gets to the thirties, otherwise it starts to fry my brain and whatever smidgen of patience and capacity I have for listening to my children just dissipates in the hot sun. I start madly scrambling around looking for a way out and I start to panic.

Panic is what I almost did two weeks ago when it reached 35 degrees. I had promised the boys a trip to the Reptile Park if they sat quietly while I took pictures of the sourdough bakers for my deadline later that day. A promise is a promise. Even if I didn't know how hot it would be. Thick sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats did nothing to stop the panic from creeping in. But something else did.... Sprinklers. I scooped Kian out of the buggy, took my shoes off and told Luca we were going to get wet together. We ran in and out till we dripped. After a quick cuddle with a koala and a pat of the Galapagos tortoise, we were dry again. So we did it again. Kids joined us and parents thought I was a little crazy.

Water saved the day yesterday too, when my long-haired pair were starting to drive me loopy inside the house. I found some shade on the decking, filled their wading pool and gave them empty laundry bottles and straws. They played together for almost two hours, only coming in to ask for chalk to draw on the outside of the house. We kept Sydney wet and she took shelter in the shade of the trampoline. She was too hot and bothered to ask for a walk.

It was blissful for once, listening to running water and the sound of my children giggling without anyone tormenting Sydney and without Sydney nagging me to go out.

That is, until I discovered Kian bent one of my hydrangea flowers and Sydney lopped it off with her tail. Until Luca had a pee in the pool and Kian started to drink it by the bottle. Until Kian decided to feed all his chalk to Sydney. And until they decided to dig up the garden and pour mud all over Sydney's kennel and themselves... When it wasn't bath night.

It's like having three children out there sometimes. Except it's nothing like having three children.

I've found myself wondering lately what that would be like.  Would it tip us over the edge or would it complete the picture?*

* I can wonder all I like. It's still very much a 'no, thank you' from my spearfisherman.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Fleeting moments

There are moments that I just want to freeze. Or maybe what I mean is I'd love them to last a little longer than a few moments.

When they play on the trampoline as they do every morning and afternoon and all I can hear as I'm pegging washing is Kian's giggle and Luca making him laugh.

Or when Kian falls over and Luca takes on the role of carer and passes him a muslin and tells him it's OK.

Luca has taught him how to play hide and seek and I don't know if Kian understands 'it's my turn to hide', but they work it out somehow.

They chase each other down the hallway (what would we do without a hallway???) and then fall in a heap on each other.

But they're all just fleeting moments, before it all comes crashing down.

I don't like conflict – that's my trouble, so when I get moments like this, I stop what I'm doing and watch. That's usually when it all goes to pot.

I know parenting isn't a stroll in the park, and I imagine, like any other journey, it probably has something to teach us.

But, really, does it have to teach us every. single. hour. of. every. single. bloody. day? Can we not just schedule the lessons say once a fortnight or so? Once a week? Then you see, I can deal with my conflict issues in an appropriate manner and have time to think about what I might do to prepare for the next lesson?

Gosh, wouldn't that be nice. Don't you think?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Fish stew from a potted garden

Four gardens beds around the house aren't quite enough, so I grow a lot in pots. And wheelbarrows. And the occasional baby bath. Herbs, flowers, greens, beetroot and carrots are in pots chez moi.

Some of it works – my hydrangea is happy as is the sage and flowering thyme. And some of it doesn't – if the strawberries, mint and rocket were people, they'd be a sour-faced dour bunch of grumps.*

My tarragon, which shares its garage-sale pot with oregano, is probably more like a 1960s Julie Andrews. Chirpy and oh so sprightly.

Which is just as well, because it's my favourite herb. Have I ever mentioned I could eat béarnaise with a spoon?

This afternoon, after I'd worked at the computer all day and with under half an hour to spare before I had to pick the boys up, I realised I'd cut it too fine to make fish pie with Graeme's leatherjacket. Time for something quick, so I wandered into the garden and picked sprigs of tarragon and thyme and a couple of bay leaves.

A summery fish stew is what I made. I sautéed 1 chopped onion and 2 garlic cloves in some coconut oil for a few mins, then added 3 chopped anchovies, 2 chopped tomatoes (from my FIG box this week!) plus the thyme and tarragon and let it all soften a little longer. Next, I added a good splash of white wine and let it bubble away for a few mins before adding roughly 350ml of stock and the bay leaves. I brought it to the boil then added enough couscous to soak up most of the stock. I let it simmer gently, then stirred through around 500g of white fish – cut into chunky pieces. Another 5 mins and the fish was cooked. I took it off the hob, checked for seasoning, put a lid on it and rushed out the door to fetch my little rascals.

A one-pot dinner in under half an hour and both boys loved it. (OK, so one really enjoyed it and one just ate to fill the tiniest bit of his tummy. But I can live with that.)

* These grumps in the garden are the reason why I'm doing Nicola Chatham's next online course: Grow Organic Food in Pots. Wherever you are in the world, if you want to learn more about Nicola and her lovely way, you can get her free (yes, free) video on 'The 5 Secrets to Growing Organic Food in Pots'. Maybe I'll see you in the 'classroom'?

Slow bread

I pitch lots of ideas all the time. Some get commissioned, some don't. Of the ones that get the go-ahead, there are stories I would happily write for nothing. La Tartine, an organic sourdough bakery here on the Central Coast, was one such piece.

It was the school holidays, or in our case, preschool holidays, so Luca came with me. He sat on the floury floor and drew. He drew the mixers and he drew their fruit loaf.

His Mummy talked to the bakers. The bakers that make the best kind of bread. The same bread that was made thousands of years ago. The oldest kind of bread.

His Daddy took pictures (although I hasten to add that I took this one!)

I could have talked to them all day, but they had hundreds of loaves to roll, shape and prove. They had been there since early morning and wouldn't leave till just before midnight. Their days are long and very physical. But they do it because they're passionate about sourdough. They believe in bread made this way.

In what was really only a few hours, they managed to inspire, teach and even scare me.

The inspiring part is why I started my food artisan series. They're definitely next in line. I'll be writing another post very soon to celebrate the people at La Tartine. (I'll explain why they scared me – and I don't mean Halloween scary.)

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Fritters, peas and glorious orange

I love the seasons dictating what we eat. We haven't had any tomatoes since last summer, so we're eagerly awaiting our next crop. The seedlings are coming along nicely. I think I may have added too many in the one patch, but there's plenty of basil in there too – a favourite companion in the garden and on the plate.

I can't wait for fresh basil again and warm tomatoes grown in my own soil. I thought I ate seasonally before, but not compared to now. Tending a garden and growing your own, even if it's only some herbs and a few vegetables, connects you in so many ways to nature and shows you a much simpler way to eat. What it also does is disconnect you from the trappings of supermarkets. Once you get used to all that year-round choice, it sucks you in, making you believe that choice is a good thing, when in fact choice is a whole lot of stress and it makes me dizzy.

I've always known this, but I still did buy the occasional tomato in winter. I still bought those over-priced over-sprayed wrapped bunches of herbs. Now I wait. If I haven't got the herb in the garden, I haven't got it.

We've waited all winter to plant our tomatoes, to sow our borlotti bean seeds and to see our peas get fat. We've watched our coriander show its first feathery leaves only to bolt and do that annoying thing that coriander does.

I've had a lot of coriander to use up – I'm cutting it in a bid to stop it going to seed. I won't stop it, of course, but I might delay it a bit this way.

So there it was sitting on my kitchen bench top narrowing the choice for dinner. Not only was this satisfying in itself, but having to wait for something to grow and then use it to make a meal is even more satisfying. It may not be everybody's idea of simple (not when you think about how easy it is to just go out and buy it versus building the beds, sourcing the materials to make soil, sowing the seeds and waiting... waiting... waiting...). But it's certainly mine. And it's satisfying beyond words.

I made corn, coriander and coconut fritters* with some spring onions I picked up at the co-op that morning. I think they might just be the tastiest corn fritters I've ever made. They certainly beat these ones.

After Luca feasted on all the fat peas hanging six feet above the garden beds, I had to pull the whole lot out. Powdery mildew got the better of them.

But sitting right there by the cabbages was one single nasturtium flower. That wild cutting worked.

So while my coriander plants just want to run away and flower, and while my peas have turned white and furry, it seems I know how to take a roadside nasturtium and make it flower in my own garden.

* Those tastiest corn fritters I've ever made: Mix 150g plain flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground coriander and 1 tsp ground cumin. Add 1 egg, 125ml coconut cream and 100ml water and mix well. Add 350g corn, 2 chopped spring onions and as much chopped coriander as you like (I like a lot) and stir through. Heat 2 tbsp coconut oil in a pan and cook dollops of the mixture until golden brown. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Round the countryside

Sarah Humphreys was one of the first people to follow my blog. I discovered her little space and, in turn, realised I lived around the corner from a lovely singer-songwriter. But I had no idea just how lovely.

I've been meaning to see her play for a while, and when Sarah posted a link on her Facebook page to the video of her latest single Like a House Needs a Door, I booked tickets to one of her first album tour gigs on Sunday night.

I played the song over and over before the show. The boys were drawn to her voice and would sit on my lap. We watched the video together and tried to remember which came first out of the shore, the lion and the child.

Can you play that song again, Mummy was all I heard for a few days.

I couldn't tell Luca where I was going on Sunday evening because I knew he'd insist on coming. I pictured a smoky boozy music venue (I haven't been out in a while...), but instead it was like a private house party in somebody's oversized garage. Children ran around and people sipped chai.

I so wish he came with me.

As she sang and played her ukelele and her dulcet tones filled the room, I kicked myself for not buying tickets before. She was utterly amazing and her music is just beautiful. I'm not a music journalist so I don't have the right words to tell you what she sounds like. Watch the video.

I looked forward all night to her playing Like a House Needs a Door, but I fell in love with so many others that I bought her album. She signed it and wrote lovely words on the back, and I haven't stopped playing it since.

As the boys and I drove round the countryside yesterday, wind blowing through, to pick up our weekly box, she sang my favourite line take me round the countryside in a van, we'll make a life together holding hands.

Luca kept asking for more, Kian clapped at the end of each song and I'd turn it up a little more.

It was beautiful. I feel blessed to have discovered Sarah and her music and even more blessed that she lives and plays nearby.

I can't wait to take Luca to her next gig. We'll know all the words by then.