family

Ritual

Maamoul (date-filled)

Cast your mind back to your developing years, and I daresay it will result in a generous haul of recollections firmly imprinted by the repetition of simple customs and rituals performed by your family as they went about their daily business.

For me, grocery shopping on a Saturday morning, followed by a trip to the local newsagent for swap cards (carefully selected to make up sets and pairs with those painstakingly mounted in albums at home) was a weekly event that easily springs to mind. Now, as an adult, this has evolved into a regular excursion to an open air market for produce, followed by lunch at a middle-eastern bakery.

A custom of the Lebanese community at Christmastime is to bake maamoul  (pictured above). These delectable crumbly semolina biscuits filled with walnuts or dates, are such a treat, with the intricate pattern achieved by pressing the dough into a beautifully tooled wooden mold. Tis nigh on impossible to leave this bakery without a white paper bag filled with a small selection.

maamoul (walnut filled)

After perusing the wide selection of exotic grocery items and delicacies the bakery stocks and the purchases are made, it is time to sit on the well-worn timber chairs at rickety tables, enjoy good coffee and

spinach and feta

feta and spinach pies.

This constitutes a satisfying week-end ritual for us, and I am sure in many middle-eastern kitchens, families are currently taking pleasure in their seasonal ritual of baking maamoul.

watching passers by

Postscript: and what better way to lay the foundations for fond recollections, than enjoying an oregano pizza in the bakery window?

family

Marshmallow

toasting marshmallows

All puffy and golden on the outside, runny gooey and intoxicatingly sweet on the inside, who could pass up a marshmallow plucked straight from the toasting fork?

After adequate consumption of vegetables and accompanying protein, a marshmallow dessert was promised. This involved lighting a scout-laid fire (the responsibility of the resident 14-year-old) in our bespoke outdoor fireplace.

fireplace

Should you have an oversupply of paving stones, house bricks and a sliced up fallen gum tree, you too have the makings of cookout facility such as ours. The only purchase required was for two grill plates and a packet of marshmallows. Money well spent.

As the night wore on, flames became radiant coals, and family conversation became – just that. Far nicer than a bowl of ice-cream in front of a screen.

enjoying the marshmallows

 

family

Pitch

The prospect of a night spent under canvas (in this case nylon) in the backyard with just your older sibling and the crickets for company, yields excitement so heavily charged, it could power a suburb.

Backyard camping is a fabulous adventure when you are 6 (or 14). There’s nothing like experiencing the great outdoors, knowing the backdoor is only metres away, should a possum hiss break the night silence. Lying on the foreign surface of an inflatable mattress, with some familiar bedclothes on top for security, a new range of sounds is audible, and extending from this, a new range of thoughts and ideas develop.

Spending a night in the natural world sparks an awareness of self – one that is mutually exclusive to the rest of existence, even crystallising for us, our place within this larger picture. All the while, the sanctuary of indoors provides the safety net required to promote the confidence required to make these developmental leaps. Under a crescent moon with the occasional twitter of ringtails, what better way can there be for emerging independence to take its first steps?

Small tents are very inexpensive and simple to pitch. The hours of pleasure they provide coupled with the level of self-reliance they facilitate, make them an extremely practical investment for christmas and birthday gifts alike.

Postscript: and should any danger have been lurking, we could rest easily knowing the camp was being safely watched over…

family · health and wellbeing

Focus

It’s easy, with all of the distractions that life deals us, to lose sight of those things we know to be important. It’s not impossible though, to shrug off these diversions and regain focus.

It can be at the most inopportune moments that inspiration will strike suddenly you are charged with enthusiasm to embark on a project. Often, life’s circumstances prevent this ie you are at the office and the urge to paint the spare room duck egg blue must be quelled. Towards the end of the week, this brilliance of thought is misplaced amongst supermarkets, washing machines, petrol stations and lawns. Possibly lost forever.

If this is a dilemma you share, then notes really are the answer. I use the Notes app on my iphone and jot in gems as they surface. If your computer supports Windows 7 use Sticky Notes or simply add notes to Notepad and save your file to your Desktop for quick retrieval. Otherwise, have a small notebook in your handbag or pocket – all fulfil the same role, to capture your ingenuity to be acted on at a more convenient time.

If this seems like old news, try it and experience the enjoyment of reacquainting yourself with long-lost friends when you open your notes at the close of the day or the end of the week.

And it’s not only moments of creative brilliance that you need to record, but maybe a list of things you place value upon. In the ballyhoo of the day, sometimes it’s nice to swipe the screen and focus on what it’s really all about.

Postscript: for those wondering, the pigeon lives on – with thanks to distraction of the human kind.

family · health and wellbeing

Punting

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”  A claim made by Ratty to Mole, in Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale, The Wind in the Willows, that would be firmly backed up by every minor in our household.

To be the captain of your craft, or as an extension of that, the master of your own destiny, is something so foreign to a child who by necessity, must live on a daily basis by the rules and commands of senior figures. To navigate one’s own way without obligation to seek authorisation, is something the young can only dream of. Unless of course, there is access to a paddle and a boat.

Immediately, without warning,  decisions concerning enemy, invasion or location of buried treasure fall on young shoulders – and throughout, they must ensure the craft is on course and their stability within it is maintained. Strategic thought develops. To ensure the success of the mission, the relationship between captain and crew must be one of consultation, negotiation and inclusion. Team players emerge. And finally, if by chance, unforseen circumstances such as a capsize or leak should arise, reflection upon events with recommendations for future quests will be identified. Appraisal and evaluation in its infancy.

As the significant adult, your role is to remain by water’s edge, as silent sentinel, witness to the life skills that are maturing in the best way children know how – with play.

Postscript: whilst writing this post, I recalled, as a 7 year old, being passenger on a ‘tinny’ (like the one above) with my 8 year old friend and her brother on the Murray River at Wentworth Caravan Park. A regatta had been held on the water the previous day and the surface was littered with rubbish. As the brother (maybe 11 years of  age) hurtled us along (without life jackets), we leant over and scooped up cans and assorted debris, emitting shrill squeals at each successful swipe. Could not understand why my friends’ father summoned us furiously from the riverbank and forbade us from returning to the boat for the rest of the holiday ……

family

Remember

How ironic that a childhood card game called Memory could be responsible for supplying me with a collection of wonderful memories in adulthood.

What you are seeing here are the cards from a game that entertained me over many a wet, wintry afternoon or were unpacked and dealt when friends came over to play. Basic in its concept, this game of taking turns to flip over cards, recall and locate pairs, did not lose its appeal as quickly as some of the more sophisticated electronic games do now.

Apart from the happy times I associate with the social interaction of the game, the pictures on the cards themselves also hold sentimental significance. Often I would gaze at the images allocating personal favorites (the fox), other times admiring the golden plaits (wishing I had them) or being simply smitten with the white bucket of poppies (which I’m sure preempted my penchant for cut flowers today). Like happening by chance on a beloved illustrated book from your early years, when I dusted off and examined the contents of this old game, it filled me with a pleasant sense of nostalgia, quite difficult to convey.

This old set remains in service to the current generation of our family, but I have seen similar vintage sets arranged within frames creating striking family room accents. Not sure if I have the heart to preserve my lot this way, as I do enjoy watching future memories seed themselves at our kitchen table.

Memory is still in current production, so a set is not difficult to obtain. Keep one on hand, and whether you have children as family members or occasional visitors, it can be just the tonic to pep up a drab afternoon.

family · health and wellbeing

Swing

Whoever coined the phrase ‘what you lose on the swings, you make up on the roundabouts’, could only have been referring to the loss of troubles and cares, because really there is nothing more to be lost and so much to be gained from a whizz through the air on a backyard swing.

Did you have a childhood swing? Mine was a modest affair – a small plank of pine board with holes drilled either side for the fastening rope to be threaded through and secured. Attached to a cherry plum tree, this swing took me many places and waited patiently in all weathers for my return.

Our present day swing sports great technological advancement since those days – now resplendent with its yellow synthetic seat. Other than that, the rope is similar, as far as I know trees are still trees, and from what I observe through my kitchen window, the youthful passengers are transported on similar journeys.

With christmas on the horizon and if you don’t already have one, a backyard swing is a wonderful family gift. While seasonal toys may break, lose pieces, run out of battery power or simply fall out of favor, your loyal swing, transcending ‘ages and stages’, will be only too happy to be part of another childhood experience.

family · health and wellbeing

Contemplation

Have you seen the inside of a dead spider?  Ever tasted sausages with chocolate topping? Do you know what color the neighbour’s letterbox is?  Thought not, but there are masses of children who have and do.

The reason for this is they have the time and the inclination to find out. Lying on the grass gazing skyward for an hour or squatting over the heating vent fishing out long deceased insects are things they have space in their day for or simply bother to do. Maybe the contents of your ducting or an arachnid’s innards are not objects of fascination for you, but there are a range of lovely things around us that, as adults consumed by ‘task-driven’ existences, fail to notice or enjoy.

Life presents us with an abundance of complications that can consume our headspace, but it’s difficult not to smile when presented with a be-candled cake or discovering that the new shoots of the bean seeds have finally come through. And therein lies the fundamental motivation behind the creation of this blog – to highlight those everyday, plain and simple things that surround our lives, as a reminder of what we have, can do or can be.

Post script: There has been a lot of talk about ‘mindfulness’ these days and countless books and articles written about living in the moment. While this is certainly a healthy approach to living our days, it is really not a new phenomenon – just ask any child.

family

Tabby

A cat’s presence adds to our home, the same sense of completeness that the parsley garnish does for a steaming bowl of pasta!

The backdrop of my childhood was dotted with cats of many guises and personalities – tortoiseshell, siamese, black and white. Wherever I have lived since, they have adorned the furniture or perched on fences waiting for my return.

These days, sharing our home with a tabby named Stella, still brings with it those same rewards. Stella provides:

  • my daughter with masses of photo opportunites, by looking artful wherever she sits
  • daily amusement with her cat-specific antics
  • quiet companionship when you are alone in the garden.

Have you ever really looked at a Tabby? The stripes, spots and colourscheme are remarkable. The symmetry of the markings facinates me – nature is a mystical creature.

As I watch her quietly grooming herself on a stool in the kitchen or nestled in a bed of leaves under a tree, I notice that she is not concerned about what might happen next week, whether she will she get home from work in time for a tennis drop off or if the kitchen is looking a bit dated. She simply takes life for what it is – and what a lovely living reminder of this to have with you each day.

Post-script: Stella came from our local animal shelter Peninsula Animal Aid at six years of age. If you are planning a similar addition to your home, a rescue cat is sensible choice.