Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bookish Gifts

My partner went out for a bike ride with a friend and came home with gifts for me. I had a suspicion he would be passing McLeans Bookstore, a favourite independent book shop, so I put in a request for "Living the Good Life" because I had read the review here. But he also bought home stories from the Victorian Bushfires and a new Murakami novel. Each one of these books is a window into the different aspects of who I am. I like that he found something for the different parts of me.

But now I have a juggling act: I'm currently reading Emergency Sex and other desperate measures, Ruth, and Unaccustomed Earth. I've started Madame Bovary 'en francais' et aussi en anglais and I'm looking forward to the long weekend in June to get through a few of these.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

World as Lover, World as Self

Our planet is in trouble. It is hard to go anywhere without being confronted by the wounding of our world, the tearing of the very fabric of life.. In the face of what is happening, how do we avoid feeling overwhelmed and just giving up, turning to the many diversions and demands of our consumer societies?.... It is essential that we develop our inner resources. We have to learn to look at things as they are, painful and overwhelming as that may be, for no healing can begin until we are fully present to our world, until we learn to sustain the gaze. (From Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self).

Last weekend I participated in a very special experience on retreat with other like minded souls. We were gathered together to focus on our spiritual relationship with our planet, the earth and all that is in the world. The process of the retreat involves facilitated sharing sessions and exercises that encouraged us to work through 4 phases of experience
  1. Gratitude - it is in giving thanks for what we have that we connect with it more personally, and therefore understand the value we place upon it.
  2. Despair Work - when we despair, we feel the pain. We are able to feel what it is that is lost or being lost. These feelings are difficult for us to experience - we will often work hard to avoid this. The facilitated sessions help participants sit with these feelings enough to know them.
  3. The Shift - During this phase we look at what role we are playing or what we could be doing, in making cultural and sustainable shifts. This is based on Deep Ecology principles from Arne Naess, who said Deep Ecology is having a profound respect for the earths interrelated natural systems and a sense of urgency about the need to make profound cultural and social changes in order to restore and sustain the long term health of the planet.
  4. Going Forth - This needs little description, but is a session when participants can discuss with others their intentions, commitments and hopes for the future.
For me, the Earthworks retreat is about refocusing and learning more about my relationship with Mother Earth and my responsibility, privilege, joy and honour to be part of this creation - to be part of her healing, and mine.

As a Christian, I value this work as it is a challenge for me to consider the creation as a whole, and I am part of that, therefore I am to be a steward of it also. The model used in Earthworks supports 3 streams of action, which allows individuals to consider a role in one or any combination of the three streams...
  • Holding Actions - Those which sustain earth supporting and caring practices - recycling, composting, op shopping, organic food production and/or consumption
  • Alternative Structures - those which practice, trial and are innovative options that encourage sustainability
  • Shifting Values - those actions that empower others to look at alternative values, options and systems..

There are many references, and links in relation to this work, and I would love to talk more about it with anyone. If you'd like more info email me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Earthworks Retreat '09

A ritual for 'placing our intentions'

Last weekend I went to a beautifully enriching retreat called 'Earthworks'. I'm posting photo's now, will blog tomorrow..
.The mudbrick, outdoor shower with a view!

The round hall for meditation, craft and story telling.

One participant learning to make fire with a stick.

Valley of Grace

Valley of Grace was, for me, a journey through the streets of Paris with everyday Parisians. I loved the descriptions of buildings, lane ways, markets, hidden gardens and cafes. I enjoyed some of the details of conversations and events occurring in the lives of the characters. The daughters journey with her mother to visit her childhood village and the recollections of the war and the resistance, and the bookshop owners philosophy on books. I liked being let in on lovers secrets and house improvements....

...Roses, he says, we could have roses. Real ones, in the garden. An arched walk, with roses, climbing over it, scented, filling the air with scent. Summer nights, and the odour of roses. Lunch in the garden, under the cherry trees......

But I had to work to get through this book. I didn't feel engaged with the story until very close to the end, and found it easier to read it as though they were short stories from the same neighborhood. I can look back now and see what brings to book together, but its all a bit late. Now I can read the back of the book and make sense of it, but at first I didn't get it.

The author has woven together the lives of individuals and couples who live in the vicinity of the Valley of Grace [named after the health care services that congregated in that area]. They seem to be connected through the central character, Fanny, and the central theme is Love. Now, I'm caught in the same trap as the back cover - do I tell you how I made sense of the book - or leave the mystery up to you? Without disclosing the secrets of the book, I will say this - every character in the book is searching for love or struggling with their love choices. There are different relationships all exploring the same longing. And the very last paragraph says it all:

Don't think of happy endings. Who wants happy endings? A series of happy beginnings, hope for that.

The church of Val-de-Grace

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rainy Sundays

It's a rainy Sunday morning and I'm contemplating my original plans - to weed, plant and mulch one of my garden beds. I'm thinking it's great weather to be pulling weeds and to get some new seeds started.... just do I want to go out there?? In the meantime, it's a cuppa tea and muffin while I show you some of my newbies.

For Mothers Day I've included my Granny's Tea Canister
Loved you Granny!

On 'nos vaccances' in the Blue Mountains recently, we found this great second hand bookshop in Wentworth. I limited my purchase to 'deux livres' - both Madame Bovary - one in English, 'l'autre en Francais'. Mais quelle challenge! What should I do? read the English version first, and then try the French, or start with sections in French followed closely by the English??

These two newbies are my Salwar Chemise' for when I go to teach English in a school in India. I bought the fabric last trip to India, and I've had a local dress maker make these up for me. I have previously bought clothes off the rack in India, but they don't fit, they often fall apart, and aren't in colours I like. I think these will be 'socially appropriate' and comfortable.

And back to today's dilemma - for now I'm going to enjoy reading your blogs while I listen to French radio online.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

This is going to be one of my top 10 for 2009. I choose this as one of my E books, and because it was about one my passions, educating girls and building community. It's a true story based on the work and commitment of Greg Mortensen and the Central Asia Institute. Greg is an American mountain climber, who found his mission as a result of an injury which kept him village bound for months. He dreamed he could help his friends in the remote village by building a school. His dream was eventually realised and more. You can find out more about the work Greg and the Central Asia Institute have been doing at their website.

A couple of quotes that captured me:

'The school was buffed to perfection. Dozens of new wooden desks sat in each classroom, on carpets thick enough to shields students' feet from the cold. Colorful world maps and portraits of Pakistan's leaders decorated the walls. And in the courtyard, on a stage beneath a large hand-lettered banner proclaiming "welcome cherished guests', the speeches went on for hours beneath an untempered sun, while sixty Korphe students (from the town) squatted patiently on their heels'.

'Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen's idea that you can change a culture by giving its girls the tools to grow up educated so they can help themselves. It was amazing to see the idea in action, working so well after only a generation, and it fired me up to fight for the girls' education in Pakistan'.

'From the air, the problems of Pakistan appeared simple. There were the hanging green glaciers of Rakaposhi, splintering under a tropical sun. There, the stream carrying the offspring of the snows. Below were the villages lacking water......The intricate obstinacy's of village mullahs opposed to educating girls were invisible from this altitude... As the webwork of local politics that could ensnare the progress of a women's vocational center or slow the construction of a school...'

This is reported to be the opening of a new school on Sept 11th 2001 in Pakistan.
'It is by fate that Allah the Almighty has brought us together in this hour', Syed Abbas said. 'Today is a day that you children will remember forever and tell your children and grandchildren. Today from the darkness of illiteracy, the light of education shines bright'.

What I loved about this book was that I could travel with the imagery, visit Pakistan through the descriptions, and revisit in my mind the village and school in India that I have worked in. One of my friends said we only read the books that help us relive our experiences or dream to live something different - one this occassion that's probably true for me.

The girls at ODAM's school in Narikudi

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Kafka on the Shore

This is one of my 'Lost in Translation' challenge choices - and it was definitely a challenge. Firstly, to those of my Japanese Literature Challenge friends, this was Murakami surrealism like I've never experienced before. Tres Bizarre! Again Murakami draws me into his web of intertwined relationships with apparently no relationship, and drags me along by the possibilities and potential for the 'apparently unrelated' to become related.

Now - My friends who love their cats, and those who are animal lovers, I cant say this any better that the Sydney Morning Herald - don't read this, or at least skip Chapter 16.

What did I like about the book? I liked Kafka, a 15 yr old boy who is trying to make sense of his life and is trying to break free of his fathers curse on him. He's like any 15 yr old boy whose mother and sister left him in the hands of an obsessed and famous man, his father. I also liked his friend, Oshima, who has had his own personal journal of self discovery as a young person and has made sense of his own story through his choice of gender, cars and books. I was amused by Nakata, the older man who could talk to cats. His simple life suddenly became complicated, and in his own simple way, he tried to make sense of that. I liked the Murakami could find a friend for Nakata, Hoshino - a younger man who was also trying to make sense of his life and loss and made a committment to the older simple man, who couldn't read, to travel with him to read for him. The bizzare appearance of Colonel Sanders and Jonny Walker just add to the twists that Murakami throws in here.

I don't know if there's much lost in translation here, I think it's as bizarre as the author wanted it to be. Again, as with other Murakami novels and essays, I was hanging on each paragraph, and unable to pick the next turn of events. Read it if you're brave - (skip ch 16, as I don't think you'll loose much) - and watch out for Mackerel!

Mountain Holiday

Native flowers in Blue Mountains National Park

I've spent the last week in the Blue Mountains, NSW, having a rest with my partner. We have often returned to Leura or Blackheath when we've needed to rest, rejuvenate and press reset. This time we rented a lovely self contained home, with private rainforest gardens, a fire for the boy to play with, and a spa for unwidning after a full day of unwinding! I think both of us needed this break, which was like a time for reflection and resetting goals, hopes and dreams.

We arrived at the cottage late sunday evening after stopping at the pub for a real mountain dinner, pot pies, and found the cottage was warm & toasty with the fire already alight. There was jazz playing on the CD, lights dimmed for welcoming, and a basket of fresh fruit, organic meusli, 'his' and 'hers' milk in the fridge, real coffee, and a gorgeous selection of tea's in the 'Tea Bar'.

View from the kitchen window at the cottage
We went bush walking or mountain biking most days (although nothing too grand) and enjoyed eating out in cozie cafes with log fires and hearty minestrone soups.

I loved the reading room, with reading chairs I could sit in all day, and I felt like I read for hours. Sadly though, I can only report on completing one of the six I took with me - Murakami's "Kafka on the shore' (see review soon). I also spent a little time on my French homework - revisiting 'le complements d'objet direct et indirect' and 'le subjonctif'.

On our trip home, my partner stopped in to a tea specialty shop and found me a collection of teas for my own little 'Tea Bar' - Blood Orange Tea, Stockholm Blend (Vanilla, Apricot, Rose, Safflowers & Calendula) and a special brew of Chai Masala with rose. I'd be interested if anyone would like to recommend a special tea blend to be added to my 'Tea Bar'..