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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…]

June Taking Stock

Whoa! It is June already. Most definitely time for a Taking Stock post. These posts are lovely to write and lovely to read, courtesy of the lovely Pip Lincoln from Meet Me at Mikes.

Taking stock is a great thing to do. This year has taken some interesting and unexpected turns, some good, some not so good. And in light of the awful events in Manchester and London over these past couple of weeks, checking in with yourself is a really good thing to do.

Obviously June is the start of Winter, and I would suggest it is the most unpopular season, but dare I say it, I totally loved Autumn this year and perhaps all that bad press that Winter gets is not totally justified. Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT like being cold; but there is something so lovely about being toasty and warm – winter food, open fires, hot chocolates, red wine… so many things.

Perhaps I’m engaging with the seasons more because my #100dayproject theme is #100daysofseasons – so I’m looking outwards to the seasons – not just the seasons of the climate, but other seasons. May/June are my season of sadness because my Mum died in early June, but the last time I saw her at home and was able to have a conversation with her, was on Mothers’ Day – so, it is a season of contemplation and reflection as well.

When I’m feeling a bit wobbly I look for comforting things, so the cooler months of late Autumn and early Winter are the perfect time to seek comfort. Staring in to a beautiful fire, cradling a glass of red wine and wearing some wooly booties will always life my spirits.

So on that, I’ll just launch straight in to another Taking Stock and make mention of a few other things that have been happening around here.

Making : Art! Lots of it, for #the100dayproject. This one is last night’s sketch, and you can see what else I’ve been up to here.

Cooking : Home baked bread. Thanks to Annette at I Give You the Verbs I got inspired to make a no-knead loaf of bread. It’s the best, the recipe is here if you’re keen to try.

Drinking: Tea. And red wine – but not together (obvs!)

Reading: “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” by Meik Wiking.

Looking: At lots of travel websites – an adventure is afoot!

Playing: Scrabble. For the first time in ages my husband and I had a game. I got rid of all my letters in one word, and even with the bonus 50 points he still beat me! I need to pick up my game!

Deciding: when to put the kettle on. My husband has just baked the most incredible sour dough with apricots, fennel seeds, walnuts and saltanas so I want a piece toasted, with lashings of butter. The tea is just an excuse for a slice of the fruit loaf!

Wishing: this lurgy would clear off – I’ve felt unwell for eight days now.

Enjoying: the change in seasons.

Waiting: for our Vietnam adventure to begin!

Liking: the anticipation of another family adventure.

Wondering: what the rest of the year holds – it’s already been one out of the box!

Loving: my book club. We have met twice now and have read two fabulous books (Nina is Not Ok by Shappi Khorsandi and The Cows by Dawn O’Porter – both fabulous and highly recommended by moi!) Next is a memoir, and I cant wait to get into this – I have ear marked this as my holiday read.

Pondering: a few things on ‘imposter syndrome’ – I plan to blog about this, but have a little more pondering to do.

Considering: what direction to take once back from holidays.

Buying: (maybe) a new pair of bathers for our holiday.

Watching: The Voice. Yes, we are The Voice tragics in our house. (Go George!!!)

Hoping: that the Netball team I coach has success in their Grand Final.

Marvelling: at how far they’ve come in such a short period of time – this time two years ago (their maiden season) we had scored just six goals for the entire season.

Cringing: at being a Voice tragic (but also owning it!).

Needing: my headache to lift – please – the long weekend is coming and I’ve got plans.

Questioning: what else I need to do to slow our lives down a little.

Smelling: not much – too blocked up.

Wearing: a winter puffer jacket inside – I know! It’s this damned lurgy.

Following: I try not to be a follower, I hate that term, but I am enjoying the Slow Your Home blog and podcast, and looking at lots of beautiful art on Instagram.

Noticing: little things in nature – like this butterfly trying to be born.

Knowing: that it will be a huge struggle for that little mite, but it will be worth it for those 24 hours of life.

Thinking: about lots of things… too much in my head actually, so really thinking I need to be more disciplined about getting a regular meditation practice happening.

Admiring: my husband, he’s got this meditation thing down pat and is the most zen guy I know.

Sorting: out finances for our trip.

Getting: excited! Only 24 days till we leave.

Bookmarking: the no-knead bread recipe – it’s such a keeper.

Coveting: everything, but nothing really. So actually, nothing really.

Disliking: how sore my nose is from blowing it and how scratchy my throat is.

Opening: more tissues.

Giggling: at my daughter’s face when she realised the parcel that arrived from England was for her.

Feeling: lethargic.

Snacking: on home made fruit sour dough (soon, very soon).

Helping: myself to a cuppa (and see above).

Hearing: my husband put the kettle on – phew, that was good timing.

The Importance of Finding Purpose

The idea of ‘finding your purpose’ can be all sorts of scary. Call me a cynic, but the idea has been appropriated by all manner of gurus, counsellors, and coaches who don’t have entirely noble intentions. It is not uncommon to see ads proclaiming to help you find your purpose (at a cost) and achieve a lifetime of happiness.

It sounds cliched, I know this, but I have found that a sense of purpose can only come from within. While I acknowledge that it is not as black and white as this, as different people have different struggles, ultimately, it is as black and white as this.

It just requires honesty, and perhaps a little bravery.

I want to be clear also that purpose and passion are two entirely different things. Again, the idea of ‘finding your passion’ has been appropriated for marketing value and has come to be a meaningless statement. We’ve been sold this idea, but at best it may be something temporary, at worst it is a flakey premise with little or no substance. But purpose is something else entirely.

As soon as I let go of the anxiety around  ‘finding my life purpose’ (as if it was a singular golden ticket to a happy life) and sat with the idea of peaks and troughs, my life became much more purposeful and deeply satiating on many different levels.

For some, their purpose maybe getting up each day to tend to their children – creating and nurturing family life, for others it may be to create art, or for others, go to their place of work and do a day of honest graft. Different things appeal to different people. But finding your purpose, to me, is about feeling like you are home when you are doing what ever it is.

I’ve accepted that purpose is fluid; just like people. It seems crazy to me that you discover something and expect that one thing to fulfil you forever more. Growth comes through continuing to explore multiple purposes in life.

I’m grateful that I’ve never got caught up in the idea of status. I don’t care what car I drive, as long as it’s safe, I don’t care that I don’t live in a castle; I only want my home to be a haven. I’m not fussed about fancy clothes – I want to feel good and comfortable. I don’t care that I am not changing the world or saving the world from itself.

I’ve found purpose in doing enough paid work to help pay the bills, but not so much that my children never see me. I’ve found purpose in temporary projects, like the #100dayproject (which I’ve written about here), I’ve found purpose in planning our next family adventure to Vietnam, I’ve found purpose in baking a simple treat for my family.

I guess what I’m getting at is that purpose is fluid, and it can be whatever brings you joy, motivation, contentedness. Yearning is natural, that cliche “the grass is always greener”, it’s a cliche for a reason – because of the truth in it. I yearn for many things – sometimes those yearnings are in conflict and soon dissipate, other yearnings are more consistent, and longer lasting. When I follow these up it helps bring me my sense of purpose.

In paying attention to what brings me this sense of purpose, I’ve also established what I don’t want from life. I don’t want to be harried and rushed and hassled, because it leaves me irritable and grumpy. I don’t want to be anyone’s slave or a slave to any one thing. There’s no satisfaction in being a martyr. I don’t want to accumulate much of anything – not money, not clothes, not modern gadgets.

Filtering in both directions – looking at what you don’t want, and then seeing what nourishes you, is a great exercise. Essentially it is about being mindful (that ole buzzword!), and tuning in to yourself – often we have found our purpose already, but just haven’t taken the time to notice.

I’m interested in this idea of purpose and what it means to others.

I’d love to hear what brings you to your sense of purpose? 

2017 Spinning The Plates

Well, I know it’s like… half way through January, but dang, how did that happen??? 2017, I mean, it’s like I looked up and the year was over, and the new one had begun. That isn’t meant to happen when you are trying to live a ‘slow’ life.

I’m about to head off camping for a week so thought I’d jot down a few musings for 2017. I’ve done the whole ‘choose a word’ thing for each new year for the past couple of years, but like past resolutions, the word was quickly forgotten. I can’t even remember my last year’s word, and given 2016 finished only two weeks ago, I’m thinking that the ‘word’ thing doesn’t work for me.

I know that that particular exercise is inspired by that lovely feeling of possibility that comes with the start of a new year, and I completely embrace those possibilities. There is something so wonderful and energising about possibilities.

But I want to start as I mean to go on.

And I want to mean it. 

I’ve found what most inspires me is hope. Which can include ambition, and professional goals. But I think there is so much more to life than this limited framework. For me, hope includes plans for travel; working towards more meaningful interactions: with my family, with my friends, with my clients and work peers, and within the community that I live in.

Those connections are so important. Call me a cynic, or perhaps a little bit jaded, but there seems to be a lot of grabbing going on, in insidious ways. People ‘reaching out’ with the sole intention of trying to sell you something, sign you up to something, to get you follow them to increase their stats or numbers…

This year, 2017, is about looking for hope, enjoying what I’ve created, hoping it continues, investing myself in projects, and people and family so all the beauty does continue.

Finding joy in the small things and continuing my slow journey is a central focus. I feel lucky to be able to say that mostly I’ve got the ‘work/life balance’ right in my life. That’s partly due to committing to a slower lifestyle; you actually need less when you live slowly and intentionally. I know. A revelation.

 I’m looking for things that are bigger than me. The world is shrinking into the tiny social media connections of Facebook and Instagram and I don’t want to shrink with it.

Last year, I was in a client meeting and a team member was introduced and one of her ‘achievements’ was growing her Instagram followers to over 50,000. This was one of the reasons for having her on board. I left that meeting feeling a little disillusioned.

I’d gone back to uni to do my Masters’ in Editing & Communications. During the time that I was studying I gave birth to two of my three children. Visited the Mother & Baby Sleep Unit with both of them, sold our house, bought another and moved across the other side of the city, and in my final semester of uni I joined the Marketing and Communications department of a top tier law firm. It was a struggle to say the least. To hear that someone was on board the project because they grew their Instagram followers to 50,000 left me wondering if I’d wasted my time, energy and money on study.

When I say that the world is shrinking into our social media connections, I fear for struggle and the pain and the energy that people put in to doing work that has depth and real meaning. When someone can appear with a large Instagram following and be hired on the strength of that… Social media is the way of the world, I get that, but I live in hope that there is movement beyond this flakey imaginary world. I know now that my MA could never be wasted, because it was so personally enriching. That’s what I’m coming back to. Enriching my life, my family’s life, my friends’ lives.

This is why I took the month of December off Facebook and I rediscovered life before social media. Time to read, watch great TV (although there was no Netflix back then!). Don’t get me wrong I’ve actually made some lovely friends online, through blogging, who I’ve never met in person but definitely have a connection with. So YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, they all have a place, but rightfully, they should only take up a small space in our lives.

On my month off I discovered an embroidery in a box that my mother-in-law gave me so many years ago, when we still lived in England – before we were married. I had done one corner and started the second, put it away and forgot it ever existed. I’ve come back to that, I’ve done a little bit more on it. I’m rusty, that’s for sure.

When I started I had my mother-in-law to defer to, but now we live on opposite sides of the planet. I had forgotten how to do a french knot. When I realised I couldn’t remember how to do this, she would have been asleep so I couldn’t even Skype to ask. Thank goodness for YouTube (see, not all bad!). I’m still rusty, but at least I know how to do it now.

These are the little things that I speak of. Having projects, making plans, investing in my lovely community and friends and family. Rumi offers advice for those who have lost hope in life:

“Look as long as you can at the friend that you love.”

Friendships can nourish us. Strong relationships can nourish us.

Retreat in equal measure is just as important, which I experienced with my Facebook break. But it is also part of a living a slow and intentional life. Retreat provides sustenance. I’m still learning how to spin all the plates and keep things ticking over, but setting out with the intention to go gently means I look forward to the new year, whatever it may hold, with a simple recipe up my sleeve.

Retreat, hope, love, kindness and repeat. Practise one at a time, or all together.

Do you have a plan for your 2017?