Monday, May 31, 2010

Eating Seasonally

Because I am a madwoman suffering from delusions of free time, I have started another blog. This one's about food. Why food?, I hear you ask. What about the life of the spirit?

Well, it may be about food but I reckon food is about spirit, too. Eating well is important on lots of levels. For one, it's hard in our society to live within limits. We are constantly bombarded by advertising for cheap goods – food, clothes, and a thousand gadgets we'll never need – and it's hard to resist this. Yet it's so destructive. Our cheap stuff is the result of cheap petroleum, cheap labour and the total devastation of soil, air and water, and in the long run it's no good for anyone.

On a more personal level, I don't believe it's healthy for us to have whatever we want whenever we want it. We become like spoiled children, always wanting more, never satisfied with what we have, and blinded to the needs of others. We substitute shopping for creative acts, consumption for self-building, and are reduced to people who define themselves by what they buy and the shows they watch. But I want more from life: I want to grow into myself, become mature; and I want life in abundance. Even more, I want my children to have life in abundance too – and that means teaching them to live within limits, and leaving them clean air, pure water, and rich fertile soil.

So I place limits on our consumption, and value on the health of workers and waterways, soil and livestock, in an attempt to live in a way which benefits commonweal. We try to consume only what is good: fair trade, nontoxic, and only what we need.

This approach affects many areas: how we shop, how we entertain ourselves, what we wear. And it also affects our food. We try to buy food which is healthy: healthy for us, healthy for the workers who grow and harvest and deliver it, and healthy for the earth. We get a weekly veggie box filled with locally grown organic produce, which provides the bulk of our food for lunch and dinner, and supplement it with other foods from local suppliers wherever possible.

We're not fanatics. When we run out of home bottled tomatoes, we buy canned tomatoes from Italy; and we flavour our food with Japanese soy sauce and Italian parmesan. The recipes will reflect this. But we're slowly trying to shift the bulk of our food back to our own backyard, or at least to farms within driving distance of our house.

Because this is a learning experience – I'm learning what's available when, and how to cook it up – I thought I'd write about it from time to time.

If you live in Melbourne and are interested in eating seasonally, the blog might be a starting point: recent posts will tell you what is in season and give you ideas of what to cook. Those of you who already eat seasonally might enjoy reading about our family's efforts. You can follow along, get ideas, contribute recipes and so on and so forth.

So if you're interested, click here!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beauty in a Windsor knot

A woman folds a cloth; I am transfixed.

At our church, a long strip of coloured fabric – a stole – hangs over the lectern so that the tails face the congregation. The tails are sewn with images evoking the church season. On Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, so the stole was red and decorated with dancing flames.

And on Sunday, we had a guest preacher. As happens every week, the preacher placed the stole over his shoulders before speaking. As happens every week, when he finished he placed the stole back on the lectern before returning to his seat in the congregation. And although he didn't just flop the stole back onto the lectern and although it wasn't left in a crumpled heap, it was crooked and awkwardly short, and the hand sewn flames were no longer visible.

After the sermon, we have a time to pray at different stations around the room. While people slowly moved about the space, I saw a woman, the gifted seamstress who made the stole, walk quietly to the lectern, pick up the cloth, re-fold it with her skilful hands and, in a single flowing graceful movement, drape it perfectly over the lectern again.

Because our worship space is flat and we worship in the round, her act was unobtrusive. Yet it was utterly beautiful, prayer lived out, and I was transfixed.

It took me back to stories of the women who tended the body of Jesus, or who found the tomb empty with the graveclothes neatly folded. I thought of Joseph and his coat of many colours and the gifted hands who sewed it for him. I was reminded of the time each week when we set the table for communion, and the cloth is floated over the table, then smoothed down ready for bread and wine.

And then I found myself thinking about how I toss sheets in the air and let them drift down onto a laughing baby as I make my children's beds each week. I thought of hanging out the washing, how I snap my husband's shirts to shake out the creases before hanging them up to dry. I recalled flipping a jacket around my daughter's shoulders and easing her arms into the sleeves, and the way I used to swaddle my babies, folding cloth around their bodies to hold them tight. I saw my husband putting on a tie, and knotting it with a flourish.

And why not?, I thought. Why not see the beauty in a Windsor knot and the expert hands that form it? Why not see the sacred in a square of cloth, in the snap of wet washing, in the dance of tea towels upon the line? Why not see it in the act of dressing a child? These things must be done, so why not pay attention to the way life crackles in the interplay of fabric and hands, bodies and cloth?

It's cold and winter comes. Thoughtfully, I pull on my sleevies and concertina them just so, then spin a long scarf around my neck and leave the ends dangling; my children like to play with them. And then I say quietly, Amen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The voices in my head

We spent the weekend with friends who have a place in the goldfields. On Saturday afternoon, my husband and two children were asleep, and our other child was chatting with our friends and doing jigsaw puzzles. I realized with a start that there was nothing I had to do, so I picked up the Saturday newspaper and wandered out into the garden.

As I slowly nutted out the cryptic crossword, that little undertone, my constant friend, reminded me that I had brought my laptop and I really should write something – or if not, there was that book about American politics in my bag that I haven't managed to finish – and of course, I must go for a walk and get some exercise and explore this little hamlet – and my friends were probably going nuts with my daughter's incessant chatter so I should rescue them from her and take her out – and by the way, now that I'm 35 I'm not getting any younger so when am I actually going to achieve anything?

But the sun was warm on my face and I was enjoying the crossword, so I told my little undertone to shut up, reminding it that without rest I become the psycho mother from hell – rather like that little undertone itself. The undertone gave a surly mutter, sprayed me with a final sense of guilt, and slunk away.

So I sat there dozing, only stirring from time to time to put an answer in the grid – my unconscious is far better at cryptic crosswords than my waking mind – and I suddenly heard myself think, 'You trust me' and then, 'I trust me, and I trust You, and that is enough'.

And the world, already green and sunny, suddenly felt deliciously expansive and I saw the oceans of time ahead of me when I might wonder and write and dream, and it was such a joyful feeling, such a relief bubbling up from the centre, that I felt my face crack open in a large loony smile

and grinning like the Cheshire cat, I finished the cryptic. Oh happy day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The party animals

Last weekend we had a party. It wasn't a birthday party per se, although a birthday was the catalyst; it was just a chance to invite a heap of people over and play some music and make drinks with bubbles and have a few conversations out of the usual contexts and feel the house bursting at the seams.

Because so many of our friends have children, it began at 5. By 6 o'clock, the house was pumping with energy as a tribe of kids ran around, bounced on the trampoline, and spilled fruit juice on the floor. They were like liquid mercury, splitting into bubbles and joining together again as they moved through the house. We turned up the stereo and peeked through the glass doors of the lounge room as a group of four to seven year olds practised their groovy dance moves. People talked loudly and waved their glasses around as plate after plate of food was demolished and a good dent was made in some serious pots of soup.

Soon after 8, kids were getting ratty and most of them were taken home. Friends without children began drifting in, but we were totally exhausted and the house was a bombsite. Three hours of partying with kids is quite enough for us these days. We ended up slouching around, listening to old jazz and chatting quietly. So much for partying.

It was weird. I felt like the party should start once the kids went to bed – after all, now it was adult time – yet clearly it had ended. With the kids gone I was curled in an armchair telling old stories and trying not to yawn too obviously. I felt tired and a little boring, and worried that I don't know how to party properly.

But for the first half of the night I had had a ball. I cuddled a baby and chased some toddlers and chatted with an eight year old and put on music that made the kinder kids really shake their hips. I realised that I really like parties with kids. I don't invite them because I'm a kind and thoughtful person who knows how hard it is to get a babysitter; I invite them because I like it loud and chaotic and lively. I like to see the barriers between adult and child melt as we all demolish cheesy pastries and wiggle to the music; I like watching children of all ages form a tribe and vanish upstairs; I like talking with people who are too young to be self-consciously clever or fashionable or funny, or be anything but themselves.

Wherever did I get the idea that a party is an adult affair? Why did I feel like the 'real' party should start once the kids are in bed? Because that's not true for me anymore – in fact, I'm not sure it ever was. I never felt comfortable standing around nursing a drink and trying to be witty or interesting. At a 'real' party, I feel lumpish and can't wait to get home. But lace a party with a bunch of young kids, and I loosen up and have a ball.

Yet again, my assumptions have been shattered by the laughter of young children, and I've learned something important about myself. Just as important, I've learned that the real guests at a party are not always the handpicked ones, the interesting and intelligent adults; the real guests, the ones that make the house rock and the party bubble and everyone laugh with joy, are the people forced to tag along with their parents, and who go to bed at 8.

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