Gardening; it’s a tough gig!

The monstrosity

The monstrosity

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself…   May Sarton

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.  May Sarton

It was the silence that woke me. An unusual hush had fallen across the air outside my bedroom window that, at dawn, is otherwise a cacophony of bird song. Lately, the non-lyrical cawing of crows has drowned out the melodic songs of other birds and served as a crude alarm clock for the weary. Even the lush, throaty warble of the magpie has been dampened by the crows cawing.

I’ve had some issue with crows of late.  A month or so ago, while out walking, I came across a ( what’s the name for a group of crows? Not a gaggle, that’s geese, not a flock surely? Perhaps it’s a shroud?) group of crows and I kid you not, I was followed by one of them. It was very unnerving at the time hearing the strong beating of those black wings just above my head, flying so far, stopping to perch, looking away as if it were not tailing me, then taking off in pursuit again as I powered up the street. This crow continued to follow me for a good ten minutes. If I stopped to look at it, he would turn away, stay put a little then continue in his pursuit. I thought it unusual at the time but soon dismissed it until it occurred again, when I was walking a completely different route, several weeks later.

Anyway, what’s this to do with my garden? Well, the crows have descended on the perimeters of my garden like a swarm (actually, it’s ‘a murder of crows’. I just looked it up). Several crows have been making regular visits to my garden. At first they came to drink from the bird bath. No big deal, it’s been sweltering hot. Then I noticed they would sit high in the neighbour’s silky oak tree, scanning the yard. Over the course of a week they became emboldened and sat closer, upon the fence. I noticed it was not just morning visits they would make. Before too long each afternoon they were to be found scrounging around, picking at hard seeds that had fallen from a neighbour’s tree into the yard.  This behaviour puzzled me. Why were they here? What has driven them to my yard, apart from the water and the seeds?

Low and behold, I was sitting at breakfast on the back deck one morning when I heard a rustling. A strange, ‘wrong’ kind of rustling. Upon investigation I discovered a very crafty crow had slipped beneath the netting I had thrown over my fig tree in an effort to discourage possums, turkeys, grasshoppers and the like from devouring my sweet precious bounty. The sheer cunning and audacity of this crow, to find the one small rise of netting to slip under and feast upon the fruit of kings, incensed me.  Not only had this crow foiled my protective borders but it had the bad manners to sample several fruits and leave half uneaten spoils behind. Really? My mother always told me to eat everything on my plate. To add insult to injury they leave calling cards scattered across the lawn, discarded feathers dotted here and there.

The insult added to injury - crow calling cards

The insult added to injury – crow calling cards

Into battle mode I went, redesigning and repositioning the netting to ensure no gaps existed. After several attempts, with armfuls of white nylon and a few laundry pegs, stakes and the like, I managed to construct a monstrosity in my garden. I’m concerned the weight of it is too much for my dear fig tree but I felt confident I could safely leave the premises without concern, assured my fruits would ripen for my table and not the tummies of my black cloaked visitors.

Several years ago, when I first began gardening, I had issues with nocturnal visits from possums that would partake of the herbs, fruit and vegetables in my harvest garden. So up went the walls. One very ‘close to nature’ friend suggested sharing with them but at the time I was determined that the fruits of my labour would not be shared with uninvited guests that I constructed perimeters to protect my burgeoning  yield. My yard now looks quite a shambles. It isn’t pretty by any means and perhaps not too functional either. I realised the possums were the least of my concerns when the grasshoppers descended en mass and began reproducing at an alarming rate and promptly shredding the leaves of the fig, lemon and orange trees, not to mention all the smaller crops as well. You name it, they ate it. Then the pretty little fluttery white moths came and lay eggs that turned into nice little green grubs that munched heartily on my Asian greens, cauliflower, kale and more. How to  overcome these invaders? Does one have to wage a constant battle against these formidable opponents? I know not the answer.

The fortified perimeters in place.

The fortified perimeters in place.

This latest feathered foe has me running from my bedroom in the early hours of the morning giving chase to save my crops. This morning in the hushed silence two plump, glossy crows were feasting upon my blueberries – a little bush I was delighted to see producing a flux of fruit this year compared to the meagre dividend of three round berries of last year. Groggy from sleep and barely able to coordinate my limbs I ran from the house wielding a pink rubber thong and hurled it at the intruders before, pyjama clad, constructing a temporary screen around what is left of the blueberries.
I find myself between indignant fury and a reluctant respect for the craftiness of these feathered ‘friends’. I can’t help but wonder what change has occurred to drive the crows to behave in this manner. I am familiar with crows as scavengers; lifting scraps from bins and picking through rubbish. I had not known them to be connoisseurs  of modern superfoods. So I find myself asking the same questions, year after year, as I puddle about in my hobby garden, trying to raise a few crops for my table, enjoying the time outdoors, hands in dirt, sun on skin, “How does one overcome these invaders? Is it worth the constant battle or should I give in?  Is there a middle ground? Can I wave a white flag and call a truce somehow with the crawling, hopping, flying, skulking opponents who love my garden as much as I do?”

I suspect it’s up to me to find the balance, to make the concessions, as nature is surely stronger than my resolve and far more enduring. I suspect it is nonsensical to pitch a human will against the force of Mother Nature but can anyone tell me, before I go rabid, how I might work with her in this case?

 

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Spellbound by Mr Blackman

Image from QAGOMA

The Family by Charles Blackman                                                        Image from QAGOMA

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

The best word to describe the rising emotion, the tearing of my eyes, the heightened senses, as I walked into the room, is ‘spellbound’.  I was simply spellbound, surrounded by paintings and drawings of one of my favourite Australian artists, Charles Blackman.

My weekly ‘date with myself’ was to the Queensland Art Gallery to see ‘Lure of the Sun: Charles Blackman in Queensland’. The room was appropriately intimate, sectioned off from other exhibits, thus giving the feeling of isolation from the world, allowing the viewer to explore, engage with and delve into each work unimpeded, at leisure and with a sense of timelessness.

The exhibition features paintings, drawings and other works of this noted Australian artist, some I had not studied in art class and found to be hugely satisfying.  The exhibit is beautifully curated and tells a story, some of which, I, who prided myself on art history as a student, had not known.  It’s the story of the many connections and friendships Charles Blackman and his wife Barbara made here in Queensland. It’s a story of a man and his craft and his thoughtful portrayal of human emotion and relationships. We get a glimpse of the man behind the art. The works feature landmarks I am familiar with as they exist in my city.  The shared stories of friendships and life events as well as many quotes, from family and friends and the artist himself, add to the connection with each work.

A lovely inclusion was a poem written by the artist’s son, Auguste Blackman, which beautifully tied the whole exhibition together.

Lure of the Sun


Whispering shadowed dawn arise
See the world through Alice eyes
Kettle sings to brush in hand
Descending dappled Wonderland
Beneath the faithful Queensland house
Blue Alice, rabbit and dormouse
Gilded by a Gertrude flower
Amidst the splendid perfumed hour
Gerbera Roses Daisy Lily
Earthen breezeway Indooroopilly
Expounding wild magenta dream
Away to Barjai Tamborine
Pandanus palms Maroochydore
Blackman paints our fatal shore
A tea pot tips inspiring brew
Alice grows a foot or two
‘Drink Me’ now and you can be
A golden girl kissed by the sea
Through The Looking Glass we leap
Falling down in jumbled heap
And here at last we’re joined as one
Spellbound by a Lure of Sun

I was transfixed and fulfilled by this visit that I could not bear to erode the precious moments by visiting other collections.  I walked away in solitary contemplation with the sense of reverence one feels when brought face to face with works of greatness, with a champion from one’s childhood. It was a pretty special moment. 

Have you been spellbound by something lately?

 

 

 

 

Living a beautiful life

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“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”  Jim Rohn

How many versions of the ideal day exist?

As we begin a new year I’ve seen and heard quite a bit about resolutions to make this the best year yet and starting as you intend to finish. But how do you do that?  How do you manage the routine, day-to-day, and still feel like you are living? How do you stop waiting for life to begin and start living it?  One brilliant idea I’ve come across several times, this week alone, is to plan your ideal day and then live it.

My friend Nicole from Cauldrons and Cupcakes recently shared a post about her weekly planning session – the Sunday session. In this time, as well as planning and preparing for the week ahead, ensuring she keeps her long-term goal in focus, identifying a to do list and nominating time for the completion of said list, she also plans a Lucky Dip activity. A lucky dip is something to make her soul sing; a reward for the week, time out for a busy mind and body.  Martin Seligman, a leader in the positive psychology movement, supports the idea of planning a beautiful day and then living it; it makes people happier.

Some of you might know this habit as self-care. That’s a term that, while I understand what it means, grates on me a little.  (I’m not sure why but I’m sure it reveals much about my nature 😁.)  Anyway, this habit it is not about waiting until a crisis hits to look after yourself. This habit occurs on a regular basis, it’s planned for and completed weekly.

It differs to a practice I have engaged in over the past few years where I created a list of exciting and adventurous activities, a love list, to keep the enjoyment factor of life at a high. Usually there are 10 to 12 things I’d like to do, places I’d like to visit, experiences I am keen to try out in the year.  I embrace this practice and the sense of achievement from meeting each target. The ensuing flood of endorphins, from each activity, is a huge boost. While I’m not quite ready to give this away totally, I have to admit, there have been years when several items have stayed on the list, unachieved, simply because they were not planned for.  I think Nicole is onto something when she plans one small action, activity or indulgence per week.

A time out for mind, body and soul each week, no matter how small, is a brilliant way to stay focused, recharge, and keep the positivity factor high. Julia Cameron calls these artist dates. Oh, I can hear the protests already. I’m too busy, there is no time, I’ll do it next week. STOP! If you don’t value yourself enough to plan your ideal day, your lucky dip, a date with yourself then where will you find the fun in life, the joy, the real meaning? Who will look after you and your needs, if not you?  It need not be a whole day – keep Seligman’s idea for a once a month practice perhaps – a weekly lucky dip could include going to a new cafe to sit and write for an hour, having that massage you long for, taking your bike out for a ride, going for a short hike up the local lookout or a walk on the beach, redesigning your garden, seeing a stage show, visiting the gallery, eating ice cream while reading a magazine on your back deck. When the brain is happy it is more productive and (while this is not backed by any research I have read) I reckon it makes us more compassionate, considerate and patient too.

How many versions of the ideal day exist? I could let my imagination run wild and create multiple ‘ideal’, beautiful days. I certainly have a nice list of weekly lucky dips in mind too. The options are endless and limited only by the effort and time it takes to plan. The key though is living them. You need to think it. Write it. Plan it and DO it.

Isn’t it time we stopped waiting for life to begin and start living it? Isn’t it time to bring back the joy and inject some happiness into the routine of life? If you’ve committed to making this the best year yet, stop wishing and start living.

365 days of gratitude changed my brain

This is what 365 days of gratitude looks like.

This is what 365 days of gratitude looks like.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” Eckhart Tolle

Did you know you can rewire your brain to become more positive?

In 2015 my son gifted me an ordinary, relatively inexpensive, empty glass jar for Christmas. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts he could have chosen for me and the timing was perfect. You see, while it was an ordinary jar it had a significant purpose.  It was to be the receptacle for positivity, gratefulness and happiness.

Each day, for a year, I wrote one thing (sometimes more) I was grateful for on a slip of paper and popped it into my gratitude jar.  If I travelled I took my little slips of paper with me. I loved this practice. It was nice to end each day in reflection and thanks. It helped me to focus on the good and what I wanted more in my life rather than the negative.

Now that the new year has begun, I feel at a loss, searching for some new ‘project’.  In 2014 I took a photo a day of something that caught my eye, stirred my emotions, interested me in some way.  2015 was my gratitude challenge. What small routine, I’ve been wondering, can I focus on this year to build positivity and happiness?  I’ve had a few ideas and then I heard a TED talk by psychologist Shawn Achor that gave me a few more.

What, you ask, does all this have to do with rewiring your brain?  Well, what I learnt from Achor’s illuminating talk, “The happy secret to better work”, was that in modern society we link happiness to success. Sadly, this paring ensures we never get there.  Why? Because we constantly shift the goal posts of success. Once we reach a goal, we move it, we are compulsively reaching to be more successful because we believe we will be happier.

Interestingly, our brains work the other way around. If we are happy we’ll be more successful.  When we raise our level of positivity in the present, our brain experiences a happiness advantage. In this state intelligence, creativity, productivity and energy levels rise thanks to a neat chemical called dopamine. Dopamine floods into your system when you’re positive, making you happier.  It also turns on the learning centers in your brain.

Can you imagine the advantages of utilising this theory in the classroom, at work, and in your personal life?

According to Achor’s research you can rewire your brain simply and easily.  Below are a some ideas, like my gratitude jar exercise, that can, if done for 21 days in a row, allow your brain to work more positively and henceforth successfully.

Try one of these:

1. Write down three new things that you are grateful for for 21 days in a row.  At the end of this time your brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world for the positive first.

2. Journal about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours. This practice allows your brain to relive it. Multiple exposures to positive events and emotions helps to create new patterns of behaviour and thought.  Your brain can’t tell the difference between an actual event or a relived/ remembered event.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens

3. Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. Do a two minute workout – try squats or push ups while the kettle boils or take a 20 minute walk at lunch time.

4. Meditate.  It doesn’t have to be long. Start with 5 -10 minutes a day. Meditation allows your brain a break from the frenetic, fast paced, multitasking we engage in daily and allows your brain to focus.

5. Practice conscious acts of kindness. One idea is to write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in your support network/ work team each day for 21 days.

Research has found that by doing these, or similar, activities and by training the brain we can create ripples of positivity.  It takes only 21 days to create habit, and only about two minutes a day for most of the actions above. Simple.  Easy.  Fun too.  Is it worth giving it a shot?

Each new and unexperienced day is a celebration, the key is to see the specialness of each day so you can tap into the science of happiness.