Monday, November 29, 2010

Angels in the garden

Advent begins today, a couple of days after Thanksgiving is celebrated by Americans. We may celebrate with solstice with a circle chant, remember distant relatives with a card, spend far too much money or simply look towards the beginning of a new year. Regardless of our religion and beliefs, this time of year is a pause for reflection and for thankfulness for the richness of life.

I always feel strangely out of kilter over this holiday period. My Celtic born being craves short cold days and the longest night to signal the ending of the year and detest Christmas carols that feature kangaroos. We greet the December solstice here with some relief as it heralds the end of long days, signalling some respite from the summer sun.

As part of my Christmas preparations, I am processing angelica, the herb associated with St Michael and petit fours at the Savoy Hotel, so you can see that I am tuned in on a holy and a secular level! At the start of the warmer weather I had noticed it was getting ready to bolt. It has been years since I last candied angelica stem and thought it would make a nice Christmas treat. Easy to follow instructions for candied angelica, historical, medicinal and gardening with angelica in Down the garden path and a recipe for Angelica aftershave are all on my website.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Easy as falling off a bike?

Isn’t it amazing that we can remember how to do things? I hadn’t done any large scale catering for over ten years. I hadn’t been on a push bike for at least twelve months. In the last couple of weeks I have tackled both.
My Rottnest Island bike adventure deteriorated into a farcical comedy on the first day with me falling off within a few meters of the bike hire. Feeling like a fool, I looked down to see the handlebars sat at a 45 degree angle to the wheel. A minute and a man with a spanner fixed that.  The second day saw me trying to ride with the handlebars rotated 180 degrees. I hadn’t the heart to tell the others why I was so far behind in case they laughed their way into an accident. I huffed and puffed my way up hills, feeling very unfit until...I noticed the brakes were locking on. Heaved them off the wheel and managed to make my way back to the bike shop on day three. I explained to the very nice man what was happening. His eyes scanned the bike, then me, then the bike again. “You do know why this is happening, don’t you?’ he asked. ‘Der,’ I thought, ‘well, no, that’s why I am here.’ He smirked at me ‘The front wheel has been rotated 360 degrees and is pulling the cable on, especially when you go around bends.’ Thanking him, I scuttled out quickly, wondering if I could get away with leaving the bike at the accommodation rather than having to return to the bike shop for further humiliation. Obviously, my remembered skills were directed towards the actual bike riding, nothing of mechanics remained in my middle aged brain.
The catering went very smoothly, a little panic driven over ordering and some extreme tiredness, but basically all the skills I needed were there, lying dormant in some deep recess of my brain and I flicked into automatic even having a flash of inspiration that lead to a new sugar free dessert recipe.
I guess we all learn in different ways. Certainly, my capacity for retention is greatest when I have been physically active in a task. Swimming, bike riding, knitting, Tai Chi, all need just a little prod to awaken the body memory. Names, computer programs, telephone and all other numbers, need constant use and repetition for them to be imprinted.
The newest grandee will soon be one, watching him, I can see learning in action. This new person is stretching mind and limbs, awake with curiosity and wonder. His learning is experiential, using all of his senses. He isn’t trying to remember anything. I wonder if this is where we return to as we get older, that the sensual memories are the last to leave?  I hope that the appreciation of nature, music, food, comfort, touch and companionship will stay with me long after I forget how to figure out many lettuce 26 people can eat in a week.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Witches of Rottnest

The ‘coven,’ as one of the men describes us, has just returned from playtime on Rottnest Island.  We  managed to do very little for five days, saving our energy for a shopping frenzy in the big smoke on the way home.
Without shifting from our balcony we could watch other peoples‘ children at play, girls struggling to put up sun shelters, stingrays cruising by and the comings and goings of birds and walkers. Any boats pulling in to the moorings were scrutinised, commented on and categorised as to their desirability factor and the appearance of their crew and passengers  as we sat feet up, sipping tea or enjoying a tipple or a block of chocolate or two as we glanced up from trashy novels or knitting.
Great thumping noises heralded the whales that appeared many times each day to put on noisy displays of breaching and slapping while frolicking with their new babies. The Leeuwin training ship passed by carrying full sail and we were shocked the same day by a huge a navy submarine surfacing...all day free entertainment!
It was only when heading into the settlement the trouble started. On the road it was quokkas under foot (and almost under wheels) and hills to burn the fittest of thigh muscles. The shop was a minefield of gourmet nibbles, Connoisseur ice cream, imported cheeses and an array of alcohol, potato chips and every sugar confection known to woman.  Luckily the cakes and coffee at the bakery weren’t up to much and the food and drinks at the hotel outrageously expensive so we weren’t tempted back there after the first visit to each.
Rotto is no longer the rough and tumble make do sort of holiday I remember from my first visits I was thrilled to see the solar hot water systems , the wind generator and the revegetation work everywhere. The villas have been modernised and updated. It was sad to see the old Quokka Arms looking posh and exclusive and that the generic fast food outlets continue to multiply
What it does have is that wonderful aahhhh feeling when you step of the boat; the wild windswept west end and tiny bays so blue you would swear you were in the tropics.  It has the wonderful wildlife and a poignant sense of history radiates from the old buildings, the ruins and the graveyards. The lighthouses continue to mark the passage for ships heading for the busy mainland port as they have since early settlement. An easy going camaraderie exists between the visitors here; the lack of motor vehicles engages people with the environment and each other, instilling respect and fond memories.
For the coven, there was no need to weave any magic here; the island did it for us.

More Rotto adventures soon.