A Visit To Montsalvat

The Great Hall of Montsalvat

I’ve been pondering this blog post and almost putting it off because if I’m going to write a blog post about Montsalvat, I’ll need to include some history of the place, right? So that means I’ll need to do a bit of research, some fact checking. And then I started dreading writing the post because suddenly it loomed like a chore.

So I decided that I’m not going to let it be a chore. I’ll just show you some photos, and you’ll see for yourself. And may be those photos will pique your interest, and you’ll want to do a little bit of research on this gorgeous place yourself. Or even better, go and experience it for yourself.

Montsalvat is a beautiful artists colony located in the picturesque outer suburb of Eltham, which is 20km north-east of Melbourne’s CBD. Established in 1934 by Justus Jorgensen, it a collection of historical buildings inspired by a French provincial village – and indeed it feels like stepping into just that.

Last Sunday was the annual Montsalvat Arts Festival. Knowing what was already there, I was keen to go back. My sister got married at Montsalvat, and it is the location of one of my first dates with my husband 💞. It’s such a romantic place and has a beautiful history; you feel like you should be waltzing around in a flowing white dress with a flower crown on your head (or something…).

Just one of the sculptures dotted around the grounds

It’s hard to be in the space and not be inspired. It is a place where art is made, taught and exhibited. It is teeming with art, both modern and traditional. Painters, sculptors, glass blowers, guitar makers, jewellery makers and many more creatives have enjoyed the creative inspiration afforded by Montsalvat.

The sun shone, the flamenco band played, the champagne was sipped as we whiled away the afternoon in a bubble of Sunday joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Therapy of Baking and Why It Can Be Helpful to Not Be a Minimalist

 

Sometimes bad things happen. Things that you think only happen to other people. When you hear the stories you gasp and say ‘how awful, how terrible for them’. And then you move on. Until one day it is you being told the terrible news that something bad has happened.

Your brain goes in to a dream like trance – I think the official term is shock. I remember when I got the call from my sister to say that my Mum may not survive and if I wanted to see her one last time I would need to come to the hospital immediately. In the time between leaving for the hospital and trying to contact my husband I took to sweeping the floor.

There is comfort to be found in the domestic, in the mundane, when big bad things happen that your brain can’t quite process.  Busying one’s hands while one’s mind tries to swim through the reality of shock is oddly soothing.

Today I made one of my favourite cakes – the Bill Granger vanilla buttermilk cake. I made it to take away for the weekend to share with our extended family. I mixed up the ingredients in my Mum’s metal mixing bowl – it would be called vintage now. I sifted the flour using my Gran’s sifter. I remember using it as a child at her place in the country. There was always a cake at Gran’s house.

As my mind was reeling over the bad news we received the night before, I found solace in holding the bowl that my Mum had held and mixed, just as I was. And holding the strong metal handle on the sifter I thought of my Gran, and I thought of all the bad news they would have heard over the years; the deaths, the sicknesses, the losses… the sorrow, the sadness.

 

And now it was me. Holding their things. Being propped up by both of them. The scrape of the sifting handle being turned to sprinkle flour into the creamed butter and sugar. The clink of of the wooden spoon on the metal bowl as I stirred the in eggs, and I thought about both of them and their strength of character and their will to keep going, their mettle. To keep going, to not drown in the shock of bad news or from the sorrow of loss, or the fear of what will come next.

Often I curse myself for holding on to things, to stuff; for being so sentimental. Cursing the clutter and often wishing I could be as clinical as Marie Kondo. If it doesn’t spark joy – it goes.

But today I was thinking ‘thank goodness for my sentimentality’. Whatever those mundane domestic objects were imbued with over the years served as a crutch for me today. Their stoic utilitarianism brought the strength of my Mum and my Gran to life. The act of beating, stirring, and mixing was a salve to my troubled thoughts. To the chaos of shock, to that feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

Who knew baking a cake could be so therapeutic?

Baby It’s Cold Outside: How To Hygge With Kids in the House


While some say hygge, the Danish obsession with getting cosy, is passé, I say it is still very current and for the Danes, it’s not a trend, it’s a way of life. It is well and truly embedded in Danish culture. While there is no direct translation in English for hygge, it can be described as a feeling of unfussy cosiness, wellbeing and safety. It is loosely related to the English term ‘hug’, so in a way hygge is like a warm hug, but it’s not quite as straight forward as that.

Having just returned from three weeks in a hot (very very hot) climate, the winter is wreaking havoc in our house. I’m trying embrace the cosy, warm, snuggly things about life. Which, to me, says one thing. I need to get my hygge on. While hygge is not dependent on cold weather, the climate in Denmark means that warmth and cosiness are a big part of it.

As the parent of three small children I have looked longingly at interior magazines where the home has captured the essence of hygge. Simple Danish design, earthy tones, candles placed atmospherically around the room; simple, stylish and no clutter to be seen. Attaining hygge in my home seemed as likely as a family trip to the top of Mt Everest. Why would I even try?

Yet, having done a little bit more research into hygge, I now believe that hygge is an every-man’s concept and no matter what your circumstances, you can achieve elements of hygge in your life, even when you feel like you’re drowning in Tonka trucks and Barbie dolls.

Meik Wiking, Director of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and author of “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” explains in his book that hygge is about “atmosphere, and experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling we are safe…” On reading this I realised that not only was hygge possible with a busy and rowdy family life, it was necessary as an antidote to the busy chaotic lives we all lead.

Here are some of the key elements to hygge that Wiking outlines in his book and how, as busy parents, we can incorporate them into our everyday.

Togetherness

An essential element of hygge is human connection. Hygge is not about battening down the hatches once winter arrives and going in to hibernation. Inviting over a family, who have kids the same age as yours, for an afternoon or evening of sharing food and chatting is a way to create connection.

Part of hygge is the sharing of food so no need to take on cooking for the whole tribe, ask your guests to bring something to share. The kids play together and eat together, reinforcing their connection and the adults enjoy some conversation, wine and sharing of food while the kids play. Wiking notes in his chapter on togetherness that “the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.” So making the effort to create a connection will benefit your children, your guests and yourselves.

Food & Drink

Food and drink is another essential element to hygge, but it is simple low cost fare that wins the day. Slow cooked stews with meat and potatoes, cake, sweets with coffee or hot chocolate. The key that makes this hyggelige (meaning hygge-like, or hygge in nature) is the element of ritual attached to the food.

Spending a cold Sunday on a hike with your kids and coming back to a house smelling of a warming, slow cooked casserole. Getting your children to help bake a cake, it is the sitting down together for an afternoon tea of hot drinks and home made cake, that makes it hygge. A sense of smell is a wonderful trigger for nostalgia, and the smell of home made cakes or slow cooked stew can trigger wonderful memories for the gown ups, while making wonderful memories for their children.

Home

Wiking describes homes as the ‘hygge headquarters’, which makes sense given the element of warmth, cosiness and safety that contributes to hygge. The hyggekrog, which translates roughly as a nook, is a space in your home where you can snuggle down with a blanket, a hot drink and a book.

Our little nook

Australian houses are less likely to have a nook like this, partly due to the modern trend of open-plan living, but it can be as simple as a favourite chair or corner of the sofa that you can retreat to. Cuddle up to your kids in this space, read a book together under a blanket or share a treat (such as a piece of that cake you baked earlier).

Candles are also considered a not-negotiable for achieving hygge. Having small children doesn’t exclude you from burning candles in the home – just make sure you place them out of reach of little hands, and don’t forget to blow them out. All things wood are another essential ingredient; wooden toys, timber floors, a piece (or several pieces) of timber furniture. Wood is hardwearing and durable so is the perfect material for a family home. And of course, wood to burn, but many modern homes are no longer built with open fires. An outdoor fire pit or chiminea is a great alternative to to an indoor open fire place – and  no child would argue about toasting marshmallows outside.

Including elements of nature inside your home is another way to achieve hygge at home. Indoor plants, tree branches and leaves, twigs, pine cones and animal skins. Going on a nature walk with your kids is a great way to collect some of these elements, and spending an afternoon collating a nature display is a lovely way to do hygge (although probably leave the animals skins to the professionals!). Books and ceramics also make for a hyggelige feeling, and can be picked up cheaply in your local op shop.

Hygge isn’t expensive, in fact most hygge activities are frugal – encompassing connection, slow living and a feeling of wellbeing. Hygge is “humble and slow” according to Meik Wiking, which makes it a perfect lifestyle to incorporate into family life – after all, we know that our kids are happiest when life is simple, calm and full of love.

Do Something Ordinary, But Out of the Ordinary: A Could Do List

My front door – so happy and welcoming

Most of you know that my family and I have been away on holidays. One of the lovely things about going away for a while is the anticipation of coming home, and all the things you will do once back in your own space. After three weeks in Asia we were all ready for home, in a ‘home is where the heart is’ type way. Not in a ‘get me out of here’ type scenario. On the flight back I was dreaming of all the things I could do when I got home, framed by the knowledge that winter had well and truly arrived in Melbourne.

I basked in the loveliness of thoughts of home; my own bed, my electric blanket on three, a perfectly made cup of tea out of my own mug, with just the right amount of milk (real milk – not UHT which is all you can get in Vietnam). A bad case of food poisoning that hit hours after getting home meant that enjoying all those anticipated things would have to wait. [Read more…]

Holidays, Anticipation and The Joy of Making Plans

In four days my family and I are heading away to Vietnam. We are all so excited, it is a big trip for us as a family. It has been brewing for several years, and has been many months in the planning. Some families go overseas regularly, like it’s no big deal. Not us. Nope. Air travel (even to Queensland) is a big deal. I’m happy with this. I consider this a gift that I am giving my children.

I didn’t go on a plane for the first time till I was 19. Yep, you read it right. I was 19 and I flew to the Gold Coast. So the novelty of getting in to aeroplane and heading off someone so completely out of reach is so thrilling for me, even now. I want that for my kids too. So, while travel is a huge gift, so is a life time of it not being ordinary.

In a way, something like this puts me a in a state of flux, simply because it’s so big and it crowds out everything else. So now that it is only days away, of course I am wild with excitement, not just for the heat, the food, the smell of the unfamiliar, but also for the delight of anticipation for after. For home coming, and settling.

I think that cycle of planing, anticipation, arrival, experience then beginning again is renewing, and energising. It’s just so good to make plans. Even when they unfold differently to how you imagine, it’s always a growth experience.

But as I check and recheck my to-do list for Vietnam my mind is already moving in to future plans, for when we are home. So I thought I’d share a few things I’d like to do when we get home:

Make a Commitment to Meditation – I’ve downloaded ‘Insight Timer’ and am ready to go. I was interviewing a beautifully inspiring woman on mindfulness recently and she quoted Rumi to me:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing

and rightdoing there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.”

She said the field that Rumi speaks of, for her, is meditation. This had such an incredible impact on me. I’ve written about meditation for work many times, so I’ve read all the research on the benefits of meditation. My husband meditates every day and is a walking advertisement for the benefits of it – he is peaceful, calm, and generous of spirit. My father is a life-long meditator, who knows me well and continuously tells me that my personality needs meditation.

But it was the poetry and the metaphor for meditation that truly spoke to me. It moved something in me; so much more than any compelling scientific research on meditation ever did. That field sounds like a worthy place to visit, and this lady showed me how to get there. It’s up to me to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snail Mail – I am going to write more letters and post them. To strangers, and to people I know. I follow a gorgeous blog call Naomi Loves, which has it’s focus on what Naomi describes as the Snail Mail Revolution. If I am going to be involved in a revolution, it must a gentle revolution; so I think snail mail fits the bill. She paints beautiful pictures on envelopes and writing paper and posts them out to people she doesn’t know. I just adore the whimsy that this embodies and I’d love to be a part of it.

Naomi also subscribes to slow living, which is a permanent work in progress for me. But having been involved with The 100 Day Project, I’ve learnt that daily art is the perfect antidote to our manic modern lives. Regular creativity, combined with a sharing mindset, seeking community and connection can only be a happy positive way to spend one’s time.

Getting a Grip on Our Finances – Of late I am moving from a mindset of scarcity, to one of abundance. When I say scarcity I mean that I always feel like we need to earn more cash, but in truth, we have have what we need, we don’t need more.

Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely a work in progress. But I am recognising that the mad scramble for dollars that punctuates our every day, almost our every moment, is a ruse. We don’t need to do this. In fact we need very little, and most of us live with such abundance we don’t even realise how much we are wasting.

So I am going to re-do our budget, get a grip on the actual expenses of living our life, scrap what we don’t need and focus on less waste. Shifting the focus to less waste rather than getting more money makes so much sense to me. Because that spiral of more money really just means more waste. There is only so much we humans need.

The Garden – Just on that, part of aiming for less waste means getting back to basics. My husband grows food every season, I can’t claim any of it. But I want to be part of it – I want all of our family to be part of it. When children understand the cycle of growth, where their food comes from, the energy and resources that go into growing it, it is a knowledge base that will inform all aspects of their lives.

So while all of these plans and the associated anticipation of carrying them out, is quite delicious, I’ve got a holiday to go on first! I’ll be back at the end of July.

I’d love to hear of your plans for the second half of the year.