I think I know what heaven must be like

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“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.”  Thomas More

“When you increase the number of gardens, you increase the number of heavens too!”  Mehmet Murat Ildan

I wandered a heavenly space last week, only for an hour or so, at the end of a busy day. It was refreshing to body, mind and soul. I wandered, entranced by the beauty and the magnitude of the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Cairns is a city in far north Queensland. It is part of Australia’s wet tropics and is framed by stunning rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Cairns is a very popular tourist destination.

I fortuitously came across the gardens on my predawn walk and determined to return that afternoon to explore. What better way to spend an afternoon when travelling for work? I did not expect to be so enthralled by the magnificence of the space and of the beauty I discovered there.

I came to learn that the Cairns Botanic Gardens has one of the best tropical plant exhibitions in Australia. The gardens developed, according to early records, in the late 1800’s when a significant quantity of land was set aside for a recreational reserve. Today it has blossomed into several botanic spaces with a diverse plant life that provides visitors with a taste of the wet tropics.

Cairns Botanic Gardens exhibits over 4000 tropical plant species from around the world. Most of the plants throughout the gardens are labelled with both their botanical and commonly used name, which provides interest. There are bromeliads (which I recognised), cycads, epiphytes, ginger plants, lots of flowers and various ferns, along with many native plants, trees and palms. I collected a brochure, one of many, on the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden and took a self-guided walk. It was a truly informative walk; I had no idea plants could be used for so many purposes other than food.

Sharing the space is an arts hub, several neat cafes, an education centre, places for picnics and open space for sprawling on the grass and relaxing. I could have stayed for hours drinking in the uniqueness of the orchids, water lilies, and the carnivorous plants (which are always fascinating) in the conservatory. On my next visit I am keen to explore the Centenary Lakes and the Gondwana Heritage Garden.

Give me a book, a garden to read it in and a cup of tea and I’m as content as can be. I enjoy the beauty of gardens and the functionality of plants. My garden at home isn’t beautiful but it does contain plants that can be cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes. Herb and plant lore fascinate me. Doing a little research one quickly learns that gardens and the cultivation of plants have been around for thousands of years dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Romans, also keen gardeners, were aware of the medicinal properties of plants. Monastic gardens were created around the 8th century and Monks used the beauty of plants and flowers as a celebration of god. Later, what are referred to as psychic gardens, appeared. Basically these were herb gardens designed for academic purposes. The herbs were studied to determine their medicinal properties. The first psychic gardens began to arise in Italy around the 16th and 17th centuries and were often found mostly in the grounds of universities. These were, in essence botanic gardens, though not as we know them today.

Botanic gardens, as we know them today, did not appear until much later. A precursor saw the establishment of gardens, not for the joy or pleasure to be had in the plant itself, but for the nurturing of crops and the commercial advantages to be gained. When international trade became commonplace gardens were established in many countries to try to cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to far off and exotic locations.

In the 19th and 20th centuries gardens for pleasure were created throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth. The scientific programs, previously established in “botanic” gardens, were phased out, though plants continue to be scientifically labelled for our education and enjoyment.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International claims there are currently close to 2000 botanic gardens and arboreta in 148 countries around the world with many more under construction or being planned. I’ve visited only a handful of these in several countries. Which ones have you visited? Did you have a favourite?

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Stories of yesteryear

Joe McSweeney

What a mug a man be
to go fighting in the war over the sea
Half starved, the pay was low
a man was mad to even go.  

Joseph McSweeny

There is an exhibition coming to town – The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience. It sounds like a big event. It is a free exhibition that showcases the story of Australia’s involvement in the First World War. From what I’ve read, there will be a good many stories  as well as photos of Australians who served our country during the war. It’s timely and synchronistic, for me, that this event should be coming to my city.

I have been pouring over some writings and photographs of my great-grandfather, Joe’s recently.  He was a character.  I wish I had known him better, though I am getting a sense of him through his musings. I met him several times when he was old and sick and in no mood for silly noisy little girls. My grandmother and my father have both shared stories of him that have intrigued and me. I knew he was an artist and sign writer. I knew too that he had fought in the first world war. My great-grandfather captured some of his life in poetry. Some of it is long and prose like, some short and snappy, some of it is good, a lot is not.  However, I have learnt much about his life through these handwritten notes.  I have discovered he was a swagman and wandered out west looking for work on various stations, orchards and farms when times were tough. He worked in shearing sheds and in a butcher shop; anything to make a quid.

His writing paints a picture of what it was like to be a soldier in the first world war. He doesn’t go into depth or detail. In fact, he seems to skirt around the edges of the atrocities of war. Often I find the greatest messages lay in the gaps and silences. There are many postcards he collected while abroad and a few he sent home to his wife, my great-grandmother and his daughter, my Nana.  These were short notes but very touching. Among his effects are a pile of vintage postcards with beautifully painted images of women clad in their undergarments. Oh, they are very tame by today’s standards but I imagine they were outrageously risqué in some circles way back when. They are exquisite reminders of a time long ago. A time not forgotten. A time of heroes and ordinary men and women who left these shores not knowing what horrors awaited them. A time when these same ordinary men and women, the lucky ones, returned home to carve out lives for themselves when their whole view of the world and life had been irrevocably changed.

I would dearly love to share some of Joe’s writing about the war with you though I realise now, so many years after it was written, that much of it is politically incorrect and may offend some readers. His poems were written in a different time, when feelings about the enemy were raw. Some things, I guess, are best kept private. Below I have included a short ode he wrote, it gives you an idea of the larrikin he was.

Have you heard the story about sign writer Joe?
He fell on the floor with a heavy sound
It took some time to bring him round.

The butcher rubbed his ribs with greasy hand
and sat him in a chair, he could not stand.
The butcher grinned and laughed outright
Poor old Joe, looked an awful fright.

Back to the job he went once more
His ribs was aching and arm was sore.
Down he got and gave a grunt
Through the door and out the front.

Now dear readers, this is no lie
The poor old bugger
Went home to die.

The Spirit of ANZAC Centenary Experience will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from the 17th until the 30th June. You can book tickets online at http://www.spiritofanzac.gov.au

Cradled by a posy of blessings

Train tracks in rural area.

If you take a deep breath, calm down and listen, all things can be dealt with in some way. Just breathe.
                                                                    Katrina Vella

Do you ever feel like you are derailing? That life is so hectic you don’t know whether you are coming or going? I’ve had a few weeks like that. I’ve been working on a wide range of projects at work (all terribly exciting and totally divergent) all with short timelines. I’ve traveled so much for work recently that one morning I woke up and didn’t know where I was. Feeling the pressure of deadlines and being in constant transit took a physical and mental toll. I felt like I was trapped in a fast-moving train heading for a cliff.  Several dear friends and family members have suffer personal tragedies, and while it’s not me experiencing that terrible grief,  it’s heartbreaking not to be able to ease their pain.

Of course I realised something had to give before I crashed or plunged into the depths of some great abyss. As I took action in that direction, the universe conspired to deliver a posy of blessings.

I took a day to find some calm. I always have a sense of unease taking a day off work, even when it is sanctioned, and this day was no different. However,  as the day unfolded I realised that I’d made the right decision and settled.

On the eve of this magical day I went to the cinema, something I don’t do often. I’d won tickets to the pre-release of a film. It wasn’t a great film but I appreciated the night out, it was fun, especially because it was out of routine. Arriving home I didn’t set my alarm for my usual 4.30 am rise and I snuggled down under a warm comforter, as the temperature had dropped significantly.

Arousing from my slumber I was surprised to note I’d slept an hour later than usual.  Feeling slightly dazed but energised I hit the pavement for my walk. It was brisk out.  I went out in my usual gear of shorts and t-shirt but others were rugged up in long pants and jumpers.  Walking later, after the sun had risen, I met a lot of people I don’t normally encounter and so had many warm interactions, smiles and good mornings from people I haven’t met before. Of course my attire was the focus of many comments. While it was brisk I was warm from the movement. These random interactions were buoying.

What was especially warming about my walk was being transported back to my childhood, and into my grandparents’ kitchens, when the distinct aroma from the Weet-Bix factory enveloped the air around me. Weet-Bix are a wheat based biscuit breakfast cereal here in Australia. I don’t eat them now and I never really enjoyed them in the warmer weather but in winter time, my grandmothers would pour warm water over them to soften them, then heat milk on the stove to drown them in, after swirling lashings of honey over the top. It wasn’t exactly food for the gods but the smell of warm Weet-Bix is divine. Being  reminded of the many winter mornings I had spent being loved and cared for by my Grandmothers was a beautiful omen for the day.

Arriving home I sent my friend a message and received a thoughtful blessing from her. She wished me an enjoyable day and “some peaceful space” with a little emoji flower attached🌸. Simple words but their beauty and the heartfelt care and concern behind them struck me.

Flicking briefly onto a social media site the first post I came across was from another friend, whose flower photo seemed to fill the room with its vibrant colour.  It was a simple flower, nothing flashy about it, but it had a stunning effect, and lifted my mood.

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I baked cookies and soon had my house smelling like a warm and buttery. I love the smell of cookies baking at the best of times but on a cold day, there’s something extra special about it.

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I felt as though someone had picked a posy of wild flowers and delivered them to me this morning. I was caught in a net, suspended and cradled from a fall. I was reminded that amid all the sadness, the hustle and bustle and the struggles of life, there is joy and beauty and a multitude of blessings. The key is to take the time to see them and appreciate them. I was reminded too by the words of a wise woman who counsels that; if you take a deep breath, calm down and listen, all things can be dealt with in some way. Just breathe.

Wishing you a posy of blessings today too.

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A bundle of little things I’m loving right now

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Life is a great bundle of little things.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to accomplish something big, that we fail to notice the little things that give life its magic.    Author unknown

There are times I find myself consumed by certain things in life. I look forward to them passionately, I think about them often and I enjoy indulging in them regularly.  Currently I’m having a love affair with logic puzzles, matcha tea, podcasts, commuting by bus and riceless nori rolls, oh, and House of Cards (but everyone loves that TV series, right?).  It’s a pretty eclectic and quirky mix, I admit, but I’m enthralled all the same.

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I had to go on a road trip, solo, recently. I don’t enjoy listening to music as I often can’t settle on one style or artist for long.  I prefer to listen to audio books; the ‘voice’ feels like company. Realising my departure date was upon me and I was sans audio book I sent a desperate message to a friend and asked if she had anything. Disappointment set in when she replied with a no. She did however have a CD of radio conversations that she listens to on long trips.  I hadn’t heard of them before but I was open to giving it a go.

Oh. My. Goodness!!!! I was hooked from the first interview. Richard Fidler, a presenter for the ABC radio, hosts hour-long conversations with a wide range of local and international guests. His guests speak on a range of topics such as, but not limited to; science, art, history, crime, business, entertainment, politics and health. While some celebrities are interviewed often guests are ordinary people with exceptional stories. Richard is a remarkable host. He is compassionate and passionate, he is inquisitive and knowledgable, he is warm, and funny and very generous.

My friend’s CD of 27 interviews lasted me my trip and back and then several weeks more. Having played my last interview the car fell into silence and zipping about the city wasn’t as interesting as it has been the previous few weeks.  I had laughed, I’d cried, I was outraged, sobered and elated by the stories. I immersed myself into the life of another, an hour at a time. I felt an emptiness without this ‘contact’ to the world outside my little sphere. I am now subscribing to the podcast and I’ll create my own playlist of conversations to entertain, inform and intrigue me.

Matcha tea                                                                 My Christmas morning Matcha

Several years ago I saw an advertisement for this bright green, powdered tea and became curious. It was difficult to source but eventually I found an online company and had some delivered.  I can’t recall if my love affair began at first sight or if it was a slow burning passion that eventually ignited. Now, of course I’m head over heels with matcha. It’s my go to early morning pick me up – if I need it – and it’s a nice mid morning alternative to my regular green tea or chai. It’s extraordinarily versatile. I’ve created rocket fuel matcha, I drink it plain or with added almond or coconut milk, I’ve added it to my brain boosting keto balls and various other baked delights. I am smitten by the flavour, taste and the lovely gentle energy enhancing properties of matcha.

I have purchased matcha at a couple of coffee shops (not everyone stocks it) but they are waaaayyyy too sweet. I drink mine unsweetened. I’ve spotted matcha shakes, full of ice-cream which is no good for my lactose free belly but I did discover a nice matcha frappe – just ice, almond milk and tea. It was divine in our hot and humid Australian summer. I imagine matcha is an acquired taste (it’s kind of earthy which is why so many people add sweeteners, I guess)  but I encourage you to be adventurous and try it.

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I love a good puzzle. I am a jigsaw puzzle and crossword fan from way back. The problem with jigsaws is they are not easily portable.  Crosswords and jigsaws were usually left for holiday indulgences until I discovered mini puzzle books. Being introduced to Sudoku a while back I have worked my way through several books – carrying them and code cracker mini books with me when I fly for work. I also have several in my draw at work for lunch breaks. A few seasons ago I branched out and purchased a book of logic puzzles to take on a beach holiday.  My brain hurt horribly. Initially, I couldn’t work out how to do them. The simple ones were a breeze but I got stuck on the more complex puzzles. Not one to easily give up when faced with a puzzle challenge, I grappled for days trying to ‘crack the code’ so to speak. Just as my beloved was shaking his head and encouraging me to ‘give it away’, to ‘relax’, the penny dropped and I finally ‘got it’.

Now I try to complete a logic puzzle every day before leaving for work. I’ve recently purchased a  different publication, it’s much harder than those I’m used to, and I don’t always crack it before leaving the house. So weekends are a joy for me. Over a matcha tea, or two, I smash out two or three logic puzzles before I get moving. They say it’s good to work your brain to ward off Alzheimer’s and other brain degenerative diseases. I hope they’re right. I worry at times I’m doing more damage than good because I can literally feel my brain working. Some days the puzzle is so tricky my head hurts, I feel a fog descend and I get dizzy. (Doesn’t sound like much fun does it?) Understandably, the harder they are to solve the more satisfaction I feel. I’m a cheap date, I know!

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Okay. I don’t LOVE commuting. It’s not as convenient as having a car to zip around in BUT it does have massive advantages apart from being kinder on the environment and saving a packet on car parking. Since I began commuting to work this year I have read, so many books I’ve lost count. I look forward to jumping on that bus, settling down and diving into my book.

I’ve been an avid reader since childhood, it’s like magic to me. My favourite shops are bookshops and the hardware store. I remember traveling some years ago and finishing my fifth book. We were in non-english speaking countries and I was weeks without a book and began to crave language and words I could understand. I felt a physical need to clutch a book in my hands and drink in the story within.  As luck would have it we stumbled across a secondhand store in Nimes, France. There was a single box of English novels on a trolley out the front. I poured over and revelled in the luxury of those books before making my selection. So, to have free time to read, in a busy schedule, is a pure indulgence. Hence my current love of commuting.

Riceless nori rolls

I have been craving nori. Yep, weird stuff I know (nori and matcha, what a combination). Nori contains vitamins C and A, magnesium and potassium. Clearly my body is looking to fill a gap in the minerals department. Sushi rolls leave me feeling dissatisfied on a whole range of levels. I prefer to eat my nori rolls without rice. It’s fun to make your own fillings: smashed avocado, tahini, mashed roast pumpkin, smoked salmon, cucumber, carrot, salad greens, roasted eggplant and egg are a few of my favourites. The choices and combinations are endless. Cut into bite sized pieces these make an easy snack or a hearty lunch. So simple, so versatile, so yummy and healthy too!

Do you find there are times when you are all or nothing with certain things? What’s caught your fancy lately?