About jml297

Reader, writer, lover of words and music.

Grains of Gratitude

One of the tiny changes that I’ve made in the past year has been scratching down three things I’m grateful for each day. This concise capturing of moments or things helps to redeem even an otherwise terrible day. And as the habit has become ingrained, I sometimes find myself sifting through a day to find glimpses of things I’m grateful for, as well as noting moments with merit as they happen.

Here are some of the things I’ve been grateful for recently.

  • Open spaces
  • Echidna (spotted scuttling off the road near Lithgow)
  • Laughing with Mum
  • Singing
  • Different experiences
  • Valley views
  • Clouds. Just because.
  • Magpie morning chorus
  • Sunshine
  • Reading in my chair
  • Full moon rising
  • Chores: routines rock
  • Books, my reliable escape
  • Home
  • Scribbling
  • Naps
  • Storm rolling in
  • Local radio
  • Dancing
  • Word joys
  • Being

What are you grateful for in your life?

[Photo: clouds atop Mt Wellington, Hobart]

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Writing Prompt: Write About Someone Doing An Everyday Task

The prompt: write about someone doing an everyday task that reveals something fundamental about who they are.

She had started before first light, making her way to the laundry in the yard and getting the boiler started as the household slept. The clothes had been sorted the day before and she’d made sure that there was enough kindling and firewood to get the laundry done. The first load was ready to hang out by the time the dawn chorus began to swell around her.

She tucked the basket on her hip, the canes creaking a little. Mary made her way to the clothes lines, long strands of wire held in place by wooden poles which seemed too feeble to hold the heavy sheets and household clothes but they were up to the task.

Just before starting to hang the linen she paused, listening for movement, sniffing in the cold dark morning for other wood smoke. A small smile tugged at her lips. She would be the first to have her washing out again. Last week she’d noticed that Maggie from next door had hung her washing out the night before. It didn’t count, doing it late in the day. With the dust and muck from the mines it wasn’t worth it anyway; the clothes would need washing twice if you tried that trick.

With wooden pegs tucked into her mouth, Mary flicked and pulled and straightened the cotton sheets until they flapped neatly in the light breeze. A quick glance upwards at the lightening sky as the stars retreated then she was heading back towards the laundry, stepping carefully on a well-worn track, her mind slipping forward to what the day ahead would require of her. The weekly rhythm was ingrained and she liked to get a head start on washing day to set herself up for the week ahead.

[Photo: display of laundry at Cascades Female Factory in Hobart]

A Meander Around Molong

Molong is a small country town about 300 km west of Sydney on the Mitchell Highway, and about 45 km north-west of Orange. The highway skirts around the town itself, but it is worth stopping for a while and having a look around the commercial centre of Molong.

Old Bank and Post Office in Bank Street, Molong

Old Bank and Post Office in Bank Street, Molong

The township of Molong began as a government stockyard in 1845, and copper mining also began in the area at this time. This was the first metalliferous working in New South Wales. The first land grant was at Larras Lee, still marked by a stone monument along the highway into town. Travelling from Orange to Molong, the turn off to Yuranigh’s gravesite is signposted, and the remnants of the Fairbridge Farm School can be seen before the rows of poplar trees mark the entrance into the town. Molong is derived from a Wiradjuri word, believed to mean a place of many rocks, and there are many limestone outcrops through this part of the countryside.

Cobb & Co Coach House, Molong

Cobb & Co Coach House, Molong

The main street of Molong, Bank Street, is classified by the National Trust. Heritage buildings line the street from the old railway station past old banks and the post office, beyond the town hall and towards the residential areas of the town. They evoke a different time, and many of them were built during the 1870s and 1880s when the town expanded as the extension of the railway line provided confidence in Molong’s future. Insight into town life in 1871 can be found here.

Old shop fronts in Molong

Old shop fronts in Molong

With a small population of about 1500, the town is remarkably vibrant. On the Friday afternoon when I passed through, most of the shops were open offering everything from antiques and second-hand books to gelato and pies. There were galleries and gift shops along with a small group of locals running a fundraiser. It is still one of those places where locals take the time to smile and say hello to people as they pass by.

Molong Railway Station, now a library

Molong Railway Station, now a library

The railway station is now a library. It was built in 1885 in preparation for the arrival of the railway in 1886. From 1886 to 1893, Molong was the terminus of the Sydney line.

Telegraph Hotel, Molong

Telegraph Hotel, Molong

The Telegraph Hotel dates from around 1880, and was extensively renovated in 1910.

The Western Stores, Molong

The Western Stores, Molong

Many central west towns still have the old Western Stores shop fronts in their main streets, and Molong is no exception. The Western Stores and Edgleys Ltd was a group of department stores operating in western and central western New South Wales. In the 1960s the group was purchased by Farmers & Co of Sydney, and subsequently purchased by Grace Bros (now Myer). Part of this building is now a supermarket.

When was the last time you took a detour from the highway to discover a hidden gem?

[Photo: streetscape of Molong, looking down Bank Street from the Town Hall]

 

 

Poem: Suburban Song by Elizabeth Riddell

Now all the dogs with folded paws

Stare at the lowering sky

This is the hour when women hear

Their lives go ticking by.

 

The baker’s horse with rattling hooves

Upon the windy hill

Mocks the thunder in the heart

Of women sitting still.

 

The poppies in the garden turn

Their faces to the sand

And tears upon the sewing fall

And on the stranger’s hand.

 

Flap flap the washing flies

To meet the starting hail

Close the door on love and hang

The key upon the nail.

 

[Photo: display of ranunculars at Napier, North Island, New Zealand]

One Quiet Moment

Recently, I had a quiet moment. That might not sound extraordinary but it genuinely made a difference to my mindset.

It had been a busy week with the usual challenges and seemingly overwhelming amount of work to be done in a too short period of time. Best laid plans came undone at various points, requiring regular revision of priorities. Occasionally I would remind myself that I can only do what I can do – perhaps a bit trite but true. Sometimes you just can’t get it all done, and sometimes ‘it’ isn’t as important as you think.

Then I had a moment, poised between work and personal demands. A rare moment when no-one needed anything and my attention wasn’t required elsewhere. It took a while to realise the potential power of such a moment. What to do? The endless loop of to-dos in my head rolled around, but there wasn’t really time to launch into something. What if I just stopped? For a moment?

So I did. I sat in my favourite chair and just looked out the window. The sun was out and the odd cloud moved overhead. I could see blossoms appearing on trees that had until recently been bare after losing their leaves through autumn. There were bees buzzing around the blossoms, something elemental but also something that I rarely have the time to notice, to really see.

This moment of mindfulness, where my breathing slowed and I could really just appreciate what was going on around me, beyond the noise and bustle in my mind, set me up for what came next. And over the last couple of days I have thought back to this moment several times, a smile curving my lips. I need to be mindful more often.

Do you make the most of mindful moments?

[Photo: spring blossoms]

Writing Prompt: Something Adorable

There are times when my writing seems to dwell upon serious themes. At a writing group session a couple of months back, we worked through several prompts together. There is the option to share your work if you are comfortable to do so, and I did although I was aware that the pieces were darker than usual. At the end of my second piece I’d scrawled “One of these days I’ll write something cheerful”.

The very next prompt was a short challenge to write about something adorable, something as cute as a button. This is what I came up with.

Little girls in fairy costumes,

waving magic wands

Dark green leaves of maiden ferns

delicate, curling fronds

Laughter swirling on the breeze

the wonderful sound of joy

Bright brown eyes of my Buster boy

as he spots a favourite toy.

Do you find your writing tends to find an emotional rut, and if so how do you get out of it?

[Photo: pottery dog amidst ferns at the Driving Creek Railway, Coromandel, North Island, New Zealand]

A Day at the Faire

It isn’t every day that you have the opportunity to wander around a medieval themed fair in Sydney, and the fourth annual St Ives Medieval Faire was too good to resist.

A chance to wander into the 14th century

A chance to wander into the 14th century

Located at the St Ives Showground, the entry to the faire was through mock castle gates with a drawbridge providing access to the grounds. There were market stalls selling all sorts of wares from serious looking swords to plastic shields for the kids. There were lots of activities for kids to enjoy, from puppet shows to combat training and tips on being a jester. There was even a collection of medieval pets.

One of the many groups gathered around the faire grounds

One of the many groups gathered around the faire grounds

There were various demonstrations including archery, a trebuchet catapult and birds of prey. The birds included falcons and an Australian barking owl.

Birds of Prey featuring the Barking Owl

Birds of Prey featuring the Barking Owl

There were medieval villages set up with fires burning under cooking pots and tents set up with all the relative comforts of home, in another time.

Medieval village area

Medieval village area

One of the highlights was the number of people dressed up to represent various roles in a medieval village, from servants to knights, lords and ladies. There was a sense of acceptance, a good-natured vibe that permeated throughout the crowd. For the serious enthusiasts and the interested observers, there was something for everyone at the faire.

Have you ever wandered around a medieval faire?

[Photo: glimpse inside one of the many tents]

The Reading Hour

Whilst catching up on some podcasts recently I discovered that I had missed the inaugural annual reading hour. This event, promoted by the Australian Library and Information Association, called for Australians to spend one hour reading. One of the activities was to encourage parents to read to their children for at least 10 minutes a day over a week. There was also encouragement for anyone to make a date with a book. It  made me reflect on my reading habits and what reading means to me.

It is hard to think back to a time when I didn’t read, when the words were merely scribbles on a page, yet to be deciphered. I remember some early reading books such as Dick and Jane (anything that had my name in it assumed greater importance) and books of fairy tales. There were illustrated versions of the childhood classics, including Black Beauty and a book of Aboriginal legends. I delighted in odd compendiums of facts, like The Big Book of How and Why or something similar.

A lesson learnt early on was the incredible power of books to transport me to another time or place, to parts of the world both familiar and strange, to characters that seemed as real and complex as any that were in my daily life. The pleasure of being so caught up in a story that it slips into your mind whilst you’re doing other things, as you ponder on what might happen to this character, or how this seemingly impossible situation will resolve itself – these are some of the many joys that reading provides.

In the podcast, a few writers were interviewed to see what reading meant to them. For Chris Womersley reading takes place anywhere and it is difficult to imagine life without it. Sometimes life is understood more through literature than real life, and books play an important part in his internal narrative about what was going on in his life at a particular time. Kevin Kwan spoke of the pleasure that reading gives him – more pleasure than just about anything else, opening up a world of possibilities. For Kamila Shamsie, happiness is being in a hammock, reading. Reading means you never have to be alone, or that your life is limited to your own experiences. According to Shamsie, it enables you to develop empathy and imagination.

It is often claimed by many writers that to write, one must read. Reading widely is encouraged, not just in the genre that you write in or your particular field of expertise. Reading widely offers insights and approaches that can complement various styles, and I’ve heard interviews where some authors deliberately read non-fiction whilst writing fiction, for example.

I like to read a couple of books at any given time, and over the years this has evolved into a mixture of books, ebooks and audiobooks. I’ve just finished reading The Dunbar Case by Peter Corris as an ebook from the library after listening to The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman for my book group. Next on the book group list is The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, an author I haven’t read in decades since I toted War and Peace around at the end of my teens. Recently I finished reading The Museum of Words by Georgia Blain, which was beautiful and devastating. I’m also reading Where Song Began by Tim Low. A friend has given me a couple of books on meditation and I’m also keen to read a couple of Australian crime thrillers that have been in my reading pile after reading some enthusiastic reviews lately.

What does your reading life look like?

[Photo: detail from my favourite reading chair]

A Little Bit About Leichhardt

Leichhardt is an inner west suburb of Sydney, surrounded by Lilyfield, Annandale and Petersham. On a spring afternoon I was enticed for an outing, motivated by the prospect of visiting an excellent new and second-hand bookshop – Berkelouw Books. The second-hand books are well organised in sections, kept in alphabetical order and located on an airy first floor. When we arrived, there was an animated book group in attendance, and there is also a learning and educational play space for children.

IMG_5716

Norton Street, Leichhardt with school, town hall and post office in view

I was vaguely aware that Leichhardt was named for the lost explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt, but it was originally known as Piperston as large land grants had been given to Captain Piper and Ensign Hugh Piper in 1811. Land was later sold to Walter Beames, who named it Leichhardt in honour of his friend, Ludwig.

IMG_5720

Leichhardt Town Hall

Leichhardt’s achievements included an expedition from Brisbane to Port Essington (4800 kilometres). During his second expedition, an attempt to cross the continent from east to west, all members of the expedition were lost with search parties failing to find any trace.

IMG_5722

Leichhardt Post and Telegraphic Office

Originally the area consisted of large estates with extensive gardens and paddocks. In the 1850s and 1860s, a trip to Leichhardt was like a day in the country, even though it is less than 10 kilometres from Sydney.

IMG_5732

Leichhardt Public School, Norton Street entrance

The arrival of the railway at Petersham provided easy access to Leichhardt and subdivisions of property quickly followed. The area evolved into a working class suburb, and it continues to evolve. There are many cafes and restaurants along with boutique shops and a steady stream of cars of pedestrians on the move.

Have you had a wander around an inner city suburb lately?

[Photo: detail on Leichhardt Post Office]

Writing By Hand

I was rather bemused to see a large stationery chain advocating the benefits of writing by hand. With actual pens and paper. There was a mention of an Australian survey which confirmed that people who wrote in this way for 15-20 minutes a day reported various benefits including a greater sense of well-being and life satisfaction. My inner cynic wondered if this was just another way to sell more stationery.

But perhaps that is because I already do what is advocated by the survey. For years I have kept a brief diary with a line or two about each day. Looking back, I’m not sure what started it. I think it may have been a way to record subtle changes and events, and it has come in handy when I’ve wanted to see how I reacted to something months or years after the event. These record of the passing of days have been on Filofax diaries, and I have years of these scored with pens of varying colour, the pages heavy with the moments of a life. In recent months I have added three things I’m grateful for to the end of each day.

The twenty minutes of handwriting happens in my A5 journals. These are usually hard backed books with enough pages to capture three months or so worth of daily morning pages. These pages capture in more detail what is going on in my life and the world in general, along with snippets of news and updates on people I care about. Frustrations and victories are afforded equal billing, and I always feel better for having spent the time to write, even on days when I think there is absolutely nothing in my mind worth recording.

Occasionally I flick back through these pages, and I am usually rewarded with something to smile or laugh about, or reminded of something that seemed to dominate my life at a particular point. Until the next obsession came along. And there are snatches of dreams and story ideas which can be teased into something more substantial.  It has become a habit, and it is rare for me to miss a morning session. Occasionally I write at the end of the day, but I prefer to start the day with the rhythm and routine of the words on the page.

And I still write some creative work by hand. My notebooks are full of scratchings and thoughts, and as I write much slower than I type there is a different level of focus or energy about these writing sessions.

Do you write by hand?

[Photo: writing notebook scratchings]