Looking Back at Me

Looking Back Through Time by Lady Victoire Deviantart.com

Looking Back Through Time by Lady Victoire Deviantart.com

“We look back on our life as a thing of broken pieces, because our mistakes and failures are always the first to strike us, and outweigh in our imagination what we have accomplished and attained.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections

 

It’s odd, this process of writing about yourself. Seldom do we truly take the time to look back on our lives without being caught in the emotion of the moment, or the memories.

I need to be objective now, to get my facts right as I finish the job of editing this memoir. I’m sifting through old diaries, notebooks, photographs and scraps of paper.

I held some photos in my lap today. I can’t share them with you. To do so would be to trespass the privacy of others, long gone from my life.

I have few photographs of myself. I’d always thought myself so ugly. I’ve been entirely self-conscious, and as this strange unnamed illness (that turned out to be Lyme) progressed through my late teens and early twenties I hid more and more from the lens.

But here they are, these frozen moments in time. What strikes me is that the me I see is so different to the way I’d remembered myself. There was grace there. Elegance even. My own fresh young beauty. And so much hope, still. So much hope in those eyes of mine. So much life and love and emotion.

It made me fall in love with myself. It broke me open with tenderness.

How I wish all of us could reach back through time and whisper in our own ears that we are beautiful, and precious, so that we might live more fully and be more emboldened in our choices.

Too late for the past, but not for today. As I lay down to sleep tonight I will whisper that truth. I am beautiful. I am precious. My dreams are important. It’s never too late…

Join Me For A Letter Writing Challenge?

Image from imgkid.com

Image from imgkid.com

“More than kisses, letters mingle souls.”
~John Donne

“Only write to me, write to me, I love to see the hop and skip and sudden starts of your ink.”
~ A.S. Byatt, Possession

“Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives ~  he didn’t belong to the library, so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:

Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
Little Whinging
Surrey

~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 

Hello, Lovelies!

Today I’m asking you if you’d like to join me for a letter writing challenge.

In the top drawer of my desk I have some very precious letters that have been sent to me over the years. One of them was penned by my mum, when she went into hospital to give birth to my little sister. That’s my earliest letter. I  have cards and notes from old school friends, love letters, and precious letters from my grandparents – all of whom are now deceased.

I treasure a box full of letters and cards from clients and students.

At my lowest or loneliest moments I have found solace in those scraps of paper and card. They have made me laugh, they have made me cry, and they have waltzed me down memory lane in a way no text message or email ever could.

There is also a special timber box at my farm full of letters for my Secret Dream Project – a project where I invited people to write me letters, so that I could support the space for their most secret dreams to come to fruition. I read the letters, and then programmed a crystal for each one.

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Letters can be transformative for both the writer and the reader.

Over the next six weeks, every Monday, I shall post a theme and ideas, and ask you to pen a short (or long!) letter to someone, and then pop it in the post to them.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Your favourite pen or writing implement
  • Writing paper, cards or postcards
  • A small crystal or stone
  • Between five and thirty minutes each week to sit down and write your letter.

Will you join me in sending some love and positive energy into the world?

If the answer is yes, write your name below or pop over to my facebook page and say hi. (Of course you can always just join in the challenge and be anonymous, but it’s so much fun to connect and join the party! – Either which way, I honour you.)

Lots of love, Nicole xx

I’m-just-a-little-pencil-in-the-hand-of-a-writing-God-sending-a-love-letter-to-the-world.―-Mother-Teresa-Quotes

Remembering Tropical Pie

Image from Etsy

Image from Etsy

“Sometimes you have to travel back in time, skirting the obstacles, in order to love someone.”
~ Frances Mayes, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

 

When I was a kid, growing up in the seventies, there was this pie Mum used to make.

‘Tropical Pie’ it was called, if memory serves me correctly.

I loved that pie.

Mum only ever made it in summer, if we had friends coming over for a party or a barbeque, or if we were invited somewhere and she offered to bring a dessert.

Mum was a great cook, and we looked forward to birthdays, events and parties when she would always make something that was a little bit special.

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Family, neighbours and my mum, clustered around my little brother’s birthday cake in the backyard of my childhood home. That’s me with the blonde hair standing beside Mum, my sister Simone is sitting on the left with her hair in two pigtails, and Matthew is cutting his cake!

 

By the eighties my parents had split up, and we didn’t go to parties or barbeques anymore. Mum stopped making that pie.

By the time I was brave enough to remind her about it, Mum had lost the recipe.

I spent years searching for it amid the kitchen drawers, the old exercise books with the hand-written recipes and pages torn from women’s magazines. But it was no good. I never found that recipe again.

That recipe came to represent the essence of my childhood – a time when I still felt happy, loved and safe. I found myself yearning for Tropical Pie, and the ability to make it for myself. Last year in a pique of nostalgia I trawled the internet looking for it.

Nothing.

And then, yesterday, as I was sorting through a bag stuffed with recipe clippings and old cookbooks that once belonged to my grandmother I found it!

It was so unexpected that I burst into tears. Silly, I know, but at that precise moment I felt Marga looking down on me, wisely and kindly guiding me as she had always done in life.

I’ve gone and bought the few ingredients I did not have in the house, and I shall share the recipe with you tomorrow.

Who knows how it shall really taste? How can anything ever live up to those rose-tinted memories of old?

Still, I shall bake my Tropical Pie, and eat it with my husband, and feel with every bite that my world has come full circle.

My maternal grandmother, Marga, and me - back in the   late eighties.

My maternal grandmother, Marga, and me – back in the late eighties. Marga taught me almost everything I know about cooking, being gracious and being kind.

Is there any food that takes you right back to happy memories of your childhood? Do you ever make or buy it for yourself or your family now that you’ve grown? Or is there a food your children or grandchildren have come to request and think of as special?  I’d love to hear your stories either here in the comments, or over on my facebook page.

Waiting for Matooluff

Image from apps4kids

Image from apps4kids

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

It’s about this time of year that I start waiting for Matooluff.

When I was just a tiny little girl, maybe three or four, my baby sister and I stayed overnight at my grandparents’ house while Mum and Dad went out to a Christmas Party. Pa promised that while they were gone we would have a party of our own.

NicoleFluffyJacket

Before dinner Pa invited Nana, my sister and I into the TV room, a modest room at the front of their house. It was Pa’s lair – set up with his desk, a television and two chairs, and a wooden cabinet built into the wall that housed a radio, a record player and Pa’s bar where he made the Happy Hour drinks for he and Nana each night.

Pa made my sister and I pink lemonades in stylish glasses with little paper umbrellas poked into glace cherries on the rim. It was incredibly glamorous. There were also snacks – cheezels in a little crystal dish, and some cheese and biscuits in a wooden bowl. Nana and Pa drank scotch and ice with soda water from Pa’s special soda-making bottle.

Image from Kate Beavis

Image from Kate Beavis

Then Pa placed a record on the turntable for us, and I was mesmerised by a song about Matooluff bringing twelve days worth of incredible gifts for Christmas. Lords leaping, maids milking, swans swimming and partridges in pear trees.

The whole tune played out in my head in fantastical images.

When the song finished I asked Pa, “Who’s Matooluff?”

Pa thought for a minute, and then he said, “Santa’s most magical elf, of course.”

I heard the same song on the radio yesterday, and I was transported back to that time in my life where I’d wait in bed each night, hoping for Matooluff to turn up.

I’m still waiting, and I’m sure he’s out there somewhere. 🙂

Here’s the song, from the very album…

 

Using All The Best Things!

“Start living now. Stop saving the good china for that special occasion. Stop withholding your love until that special person materializes. Every day you are alive is a special occasion. Every minute, every breath, is a gift from God.”Mary Manin Morrissey

While I was at university I went to a babysitting job. The family owned and ran the canteen at my college, and worked long hours. They were incredibly proud of their new brick home, and invited me in as if I had arrived at Buckingham Palace.

Over the white shag-pile carpet lay thick plastic runners. Plastic slipcovers encased every piece of furniture in the lounge. It was the height of summer so I was offered a seat on a towel, placed on top of the plastic-covered and uncomfortable sofa. I drank my cold drink from a plastic cup and ate my cake off a chipped old plate, while admiring the china cabinet full of beautiful glassware and a pretty dinner service. It felt like a home no-one lived in. Or a home that they were care-taking for someone else.

All the ‘good’ things – the china, the furniture, the carpet – were being saved for a special occasion.

I wonder if they ever got used at all?

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One thing I learned a long time ago is that life is short, and often unpredictable. Beautiful things are meant to be used, rather than languishing at the back of a cupboard or covered over.

If you have an expensive bottle of perfume, give yourself the pleasure of using it while it is still fresh.

Drink your tea from that beautiful cup.

Wear that gorgeous necklace of your Nan’s.

Be careful with precious things, but use them anyway. It is a natural law that some things will break or be damaged over time. That’s okay too. Don’t let fear stop you enjoying these things.

vintage-bronze-dragonfly-necklace

Serve dinner on the good plates, or create a reason to bring the special things out more often than just at Christmas or Thanksgiving. My grandmother used to bring out all the good china, silverware and glassware when we went there for dinner on a Saturday night. She’d decorate the dinner table with a lace tablecloth and blooms from the garden, light candles, and make the table look like the Queen herself was coming to dinner. Even though it was only us. And sometimes, because we were little, we were in our pyjamas…

Buy yourself flowers for no reason other than the glorious experience of being alive and able to appreciate beauty.

Let yourself live, surrounded by the things that give you pleasure and that make you happy.

Conversely, if it stresses you out to use the good china for fear you might break it – maybe sell it or give it away, and find yourself something you feel comfortable to use every day. Go find the perfect coffee mug, the pretty plates and bowls that can go straight in the dishwasher, the couch you can sink into at the end of the day.

Choose quality over quantity.

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One of my favourite forms of recycling is buying from second-hand and thrift shops, garage sales and antique centres. It’s amazing what kinds of treasures you might find and give a new lease of life. Clothes, books, furniture, homewares, trinkets and jewels…

This week, ask yourself if you are truly using and appreciating what you have. If not now, when?

You deserve to live in your life now. Don’t save things for that mystical unnamed time in the future. Memories are made in the moment, and that’s where life is lived too. That mystical future moment might never come.

Make life a beautiful journey. Don’t keep your dreams and cherished possessions locked away in the cupboard. Live, and surround yourself with what soothes and uplifts you. The everyday deserves beauty and magic as much as a special occasion.

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Remembering Hot Chocolate

Image from Elite Decorative Arts

Image of Vintage Porcelain Cups from Elite Decorative Arts

“There’s something liberating about not pretending. Dare to embarrass yourself. Risk.”
~ Drew Barrymore

 

My early childhood was spent in a far-flung suburban estate in Brisbane, a place not noted for its cultural diversity let alone culinary delights.

And yet, one of my strongest food memories comes from this time.

One street over from our house was a block of low-set flats, a very unusual thing in a housing estate full of brick boxes with big back yards that served as family homes. It was an oddity, and few people spoke favourably about it. Because it was in the next street, it was out of bounds. My mother was very strict about safety. No talking to strangers. No wandering out of the cul-de-sac.

As I walked home from school with my small brother and sister one afternoon, we took the long way home, past the flats. My father worked in the city, and my mother had started a new job a few suburbs away. Mum wasn’t home before five at the earliest, and Dad walked home from the bus, arriving just before the six o’clock news.

It was my job to collect my siblings from the waiting area at our primary school, bring them home, lock ourselves into the house, supervise homework, and take the washing off the line. I was ten. Virtually a grown up!

To my surprise, Julie, a shy blonde girl from my class and new at our school that year, was standing inside the door of one of the much-frowned-on flats when we walked past, an old stout woman dressed in black by her side. She waved frantically, and out of politeness I made my brother and sister wait on the sidewalk while I went to the front door to say hello. Julie was staying with her grandmother, who stood behind the little girl, not uttering a word. This was Nonna, she said, indicating her grandmother.

Weirdly, I curtsied. Nerves I guess. “Good afternoon, Nonna,” I said politely.

Did I want to come for afternoon tea? Julie’s request had a pleading quality to it. Yes, I said. Thank you. I would love to. I will come back soon, I assured them. After which I felt ill. I had said yes because I was too shy to be rude and say no, and now I had broken one of Mum’s cardinal rules.

What a dilemma. This was rule-breaking at its most serious. I hurried my siblings home,  rushed them to change out of their uniforms and have an early bath, made afternoon tea for them, brought in the clean clothes, and then, as a bribe, let my brother and sister watch cartoons on television. Something else strictly forbidden. As soon as they were settled, I raced back to Julie’s grandmother’s hoping that none of the neighbours would see me. It was only a distance of about eight houses, but for me it felt like a mile.

As soon as I arrived, I explained that I could only stay until four-thirty. One hour. I said it very clearly, hoping that they would understand the seriousness of needing to be home on time. Julie relayed this to her grandmother in strange-sounding words, and I was fascinated to learn that my school-friend could speak another language! Yes, yes, Julie and the old lady agreed, home at four-thirty.

While I was gone, Julie’s grandmother had set the table in her tiny flat with a fine lace tablecloth. There were tiny cups and saucers, and plates of the most unusual biscuits I had ever seen, as well as slices of some dark spicy cake.

My eyes feasted on the old cuckoo clock, the pretty wooden dolls, the religious icons and the vases of silk flowers. It was the most exotic place I had ever been, and it was just a few doors down from my own home!

“Do you like hot chocolate?” Julie asked me.

“Oh yes,” I assured her. My own Nana made me cocoa all the time.

But what Nonna made for us bore no resemblance to any hot chocolate I had ever tried. In a saucepan on the stove she heated milk, and then broke real chocolate, milk and dark into the pot, stirring carefully. To this she added a tiny pinch of salt, and a pinch of ground cinnamon. The thick mixture was poured into a pretty china pot decorated all over with painted flowers.

“A coffee pot!” I said, trying to sound worldly.

“Caffé? No, no, shock-oh-lat!” Nonna said, shaking her head as if I was the silliest girl in Australia, and perhaps I was.

Nonna seated us at the table, and poured the thick, fragrant chocolate for us. She then spooned a little whipped cream into the top of the tiny cups.

I was disappointed that the cups were so small, until I tasted my hot chocolate. Julie showed me how to use the special little spoon to scoop the thick liquid up and drink it like soup. A cup any bigger would have been way too much. I almost swooned from the taste. It was, perhaps, my first truly sensual experience. So rich, so velvety smooth, not super sweet, but oh! Even now I find myself without adequate words to describe the experience.

We sat and ate our spicy gingerbread cake, and our almond biscuits and jam drops, and slowly, slowly savoured the hot chocolate until it was all gone. I had one eye on the clock the whole time, sick with guilt but unable to tear myself away. Nonna didn’t say much. She just smiled and urged more food on us, and when it was time to go home, she insisted on giving me a little parcel of left-overs to take to my mother.

My sister and brother were still in front of the cartoons. They didn’t even look up when I walked into the room.

I cut up an orange for them, and then tidied things away.

When Mum came home from work she was cranky, and I knew that I would cop the wooden spoon or the end of Dad’s belt from her if I even breathed a word. I gave her the little parcel, and told her just that Julie’s grandmother had made them.

“That’s nice,” Mum said looking vaguely taken aback.

“Can Julie come round to play on Saturday, Mum?” I asked, hopeful that she’d look favourably upon my request.

“No, you know I don’t allow friends home from school.”

And that was that. I never went to Nonna’s flat again, and Julie was so slighted that I never asked her to my own home that she would no longer be my friend.

I forgot all about that afternoon until 2010, when I went to Italy for the first time. In a little hilltop town called Gubbio I stopped to write in my journal and gaze out over the view. There I was served a hot chocolate that took me straight back to my childhood, and Julie’s Nonna.

All those years later I still felt the sting of being unable to reciprocate their kindness, even as I felt the magic of being transported through time by something as simple as a hot beverage.

hot-choc-gubbio

On that cold morning in Gubbio, the chocolate was thick and rich, not too sweet, with a delicious dollop of whipped cream on top. It was heavenly.

The staff at the little cafe were kind enough to share the recipe with me, and I’ve made it often since then. I’ll post it for you tomorrow!

Much love, and a really big hug, Nicole xx

Fairy Bread Recipe – An easy party treat!

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“You take away all the other luxuries in life, and if you can make someone smile and laugh, you have given the most special gift: happiness.”~ Brad Garrett

I try to blog a recipe each week, but being a one-eyed pirate in the remote Outback has certainly proved a challenge on that front. However, I feel quite triumphant! I have managed to make Fairy Bread for a birthday afternoon tea while visiting at a friend’s cattle station, after being faced with limited ingredients at the local store.

Fairy Bread was always one of my childhood favourites. Children love it, and I hasten to add that most adults do too! It combines the soft chewy texture of white bread with creamy butter and a good sprinkling of crunchy sweet hundreds and thousands (coloured nonpareils). I also made some with chocolate hail – a kind of sweet chocolate sprinkle that is equally delicious.

It’s definitely not a health food, but as an occasional treat I highly recommend Fairy Bread – why, even the name is cute!

Ingredients:

Sliced soft white bread, soft spreadable butter, hundreds and thousands, chocolate hail or similar if desired. Some cookie or bread cutters if you have them.

Method:

If you have cookie cutters, leave the crusts on your bread, and stamp some shapes from the middle of each piece of bread, trying not to get any of the crust.

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If you don’t have cookie cutters simply cut the crusts off each slice of bread, and then cut your bread into squares or triangles.

Tip your hundreds and thousands or any other toppings into shallow wide bowls.

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Butter the bread thickly. Then turn it butter side down and press into a bowl of topping.

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Thank you to my friend, Carly-Jay Metcalfe, for this artful demonstration of technique!

Arrange decoratively on a large plate. Feel free to ask children to assist. Older kids love stamping the bread shapes and even littlies can dip the buttered slices to feel like they are helping. Just make sure SOME of the fairy bread makes it to the plate.

Serve with lemonade or a glass of milk for the kids. Adults might like to pair this with a good cup of tea or a glass of pink champagne!

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