Sunday, April 24, 2011

He is Risen - Easter Ikebana in Sydney

History of this Tableaux:
It started after lunch.
She had chick-topped Nougat Easter eggs.
I was transplanting violets to our newly-created shady courtyard garden.
Everybody bought eggs at the same time - where will we put them all?

The blender came about as I rummaged about in my brothers cupboards for a better, quieter bowl for my new goldfish. I mentioned to him the famous 'goldfish in the blender' artwork, which I saw (a replica of) in Denmark.

So this arrangement is my creative exploration for Easter week.
Yes, life is precious. Yes, you would never hurt a chick. Or would you?

Questions arize. Am I the chick, the blender, the blender operator or the eggs?
And more importantly, how to the chicks really feel about all this?
Imminent doom and irrepressibility both look equally valid.

This artwork shows how I'm living my life.

I think I will continue to choose irrepressible. Its much better than the alternative.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

De - trap your house

Yesterday I got mauled. It was 'poor me' all day long.  But I saved the day with a happy ending. Here is the story.

Bedside flowers. Beautiful, and soon to be useful.

I awoke to the crashing of the recycling truck, and realized I'd forgotten to put my trash out. Too late, I stood on the street forlornly,  as a the truck drove away, and the disk of a beautiful Easter Moon disappeared down the top of the street.

Not my street, my moon, but close. Photo by Dan Heller

In my hurry to catch the recycling guys, I had not been careful when jumping out of bed. Its a terrible design, with shark-like corners jutting out. So now I was limping, as well as having to live with my own rubbish for another two weeks.

It was my first day of a writing project, so I bravely to work. But at  7 am, the construction guys next door started up.
The whine of metal cutting metal is a dentist drill to the soul. Especially when your body chemistry is already primed to be in 'attack the attacker' mode.
For hours I pretended to ignore it, as my focus scattered at every blow, and body hardened up like an aardvark.

Does the noise bother my peaceful, salad-bowl goldfish?

Why didn't I pack my bags and leave? Balmain has a nice library, lovely harbor side parks I could have sat at with laptop and picnic rugs. But like a battered wife I got all helpless, chose to stay home. There is a word for staying on the path you are already on, no matter how unhealthy. Its from the Latin 'con' (with) + 'via' (road) = Convenient.*

Plate as displayed in the living room. Interesting angle.

By afternoon I was dehydrated, had no work done,  and utterly miserable. The dehydration is just collateral damage - you can't selectively silence one cry from help from your body, and stay sensitive to other requests.

I took a nap. Then I woke up at 3.30, construction guys gone home, the air sweet with silence. The designer in me re-emerged, went into creative micro-action, and I de-angrified my house.
No matter what, tomorrow I would not be victim of anything.

1. I forced myself to drink lots of water, like it or not.
Mm, much better.

Vicious corner outed, padded, and embarrassed

2. I muzzled the bed. Tying on bandage-like cloths made vicious corners glaringly visible, and less harmful if hit. My final revenge, they are humiliated with a girly bow.

A few hours later, vengance had subsided, and I realized that visibility and distance was all I needed. The extra pillows underneath are create elegant contrast,  and are perfectly effective in protecting me from myself and my 'corner cutting' . My design was a first draft, improved to a final draft, just like my illustrations. Inventions can always do with improvements.  Its humiliating to me to live with a humiliated foe. After winning a battle, do what it takes to make sure everyone continues on with dignity. Nice thought.

3. More ribbon, to alert me that the head-banging light is near.  Making the bed always ends in tears. Till now.

Scary Light

4. I remembered something else that annoyed me - disobedient towels. They kept falling out, I kept shoving them back in.
I decided on a bit of graceful 'in-conveniance'.
I sat myself down, and asked the towels 'Whats going on?'
They told me they hadn't been folded properly, there wasn't room for the little towels to sit down flat and balanced, and they were unhappy too.
My usual way of folding in quarters does not work for this space.  I had to learn folding into thirds. A Perfect fit.
Now they can do their job well, for months. We won't fight anymore.

I prepared rugs,  warm clothes, and listed an 'out of office' work schedule for tomorrow. At the first sound of drilling I will happily choose the 'off the path' option and fly out of the house.

 I had heard a guest swear as he stubbed his toe here. Flowers now draw our eye to this danger.

What an interesting day.
For the first half I chose they misery of impotent anger and victimhood. For the second half I chose the freedom of 'inconvenience' and being a designer, not a whiner.
The second half was so much more fun.

*I made up that 'Convenient' etymology. But its a liberating way to look at things.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Almost Heaven - Personal Harborside Artist-chef comes to cook

I love people who are chasing their dreams. I try to live with them, hang out with them, and chase them down when I overhear them talking in the street.  They always need help, and always have some help to offer. Dreamy people are like jigsaw puzzle pieces, with surpluses here, and with lack there, giving us a reason and a way to click together, to make something bigger than what we can do alone.

There is a high concentration of dreamy people at the Apple Store, a 10 minute ferry ride from my house, and my spiritual home in Sydney.
Today a food-artist brought in one of the cakes that featured on the website he is creating, to share with his supporters at Apple - a charcoal-infused, Gothic Wedding cake, seeped in red wine.

I looked over at the cake-sharing with round eyes, and got offered a bit.
This is an essential life-skill I learned from the cat in 'Shrek'

Hearing the cook was from Korea, I uttered 'jai mokke sumi da' before popping cake in my mouth, and that sent me straight to the good books.
"I've never heard a Westerner say that".
It must have been the magic words, because a few minutes later it was decided he would jump on the ferry and become my personal chef for the night. 

Hungson is a Chef from Aria, the 'Master Chef' restaurant opposite the Opera house, with food that will astonish you.

Melt-in-the-mouth Salmon at Aria, from last year's visit

In his spare time (from 20 hour work-days) he sells his off-the-planet imaginative cakes at the Paddinton market, and works as a personal chef.

His website spun me out with the unthought-of beauty he puts into his work. Work that gets eaten almost as soon as it comes into existence.

Anyone who makes things more ephemeral than gardens is someone doing an impressive job of living life for life's sake.

After whipping up a fantasy personal menu (in pink and green, my colors), and a dash to the supermarket for missing ingredients, and a 10 minute ferry ride home,  three-course meal was on its way.

The first course used the herbs I had picked visiting 'Tending', a permacutlure Art Project in the gracious grounds of the Sydney College of the Arts.

For mains he used the sweet potato that I always have sitting in the fridge to make gnocci. A sweet lemon a gorgeous Italian family had given me went into a lemon butter sauce.

Desert ran into a technical hitch. I didn't know how to turn the oven on, so the uncooked chocolate souffle mixture is still in the tuppaware. If you live near Balmain and have a working oven, we will bring it over for a delayed desert party.

If you are near the city center, and grow unusual edible flowers, please keep some aside for Hansung and his creations. I'm still looking for my next harvesting garden, so no edible flowers yet.
We need to help each other in this big scary world.

Salad Violas from my Canning street garden, one year ago.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

LifeSurfing - Hiromi Matsubara rides a wave to my balcony

As I get to know Hiromi better, this idea takes hold that the cure for most problems of the world is Surfing.
Balcony lunch with Hiromi Matsubara, Japanese Surfer & Community Designer

As a former multi-national corporate, then co-founder of Greenz, and now a yoga-teaching, PDC holding Permaculturist, Hiromi stands out as a positive and powerful culture-changer of Japan. 

Hiromi managed to spend her last day of a 3-month travel/study extravaganza at my Sydney harbour side house, riding the the monster wave of my awkwardly-shaped day with glory.
I skidded into Sydney airport from my own Melbourne trip at Midnight. She arranged to be in the car picking me up, helped me overcome being dumped by lost bags and forgotten alarm codes, and helped get us both safely to bed. 

The next morning some exciting phone call popped up, requiring my presence at the laptop till lunchtime, or a lovely work chance would evaporate.
No time for shopping, and there was guest on her way.  Hiromi put on her 'I can make something of this' mindset, reached into my Mother Hubbard Cupboard, and soon all these savory fragrances were wafting from the Kitchen. 
Cool! Surfer vision for unseen opportunities. Flexibility and strength in pulling us through to lunchtime.

Nadine immersed in kitchen sink yoga

And perfect timing, because as soon as it was ready, Hiromi's guest Nadine arrived. The house-surfing, life-surfing trio was complete (two surfers, one floater)

What a gift Hiromi has home-delivered to me. 
Nadine is also a yoga-teaching, linguistically-blessed, witty gardening girl,  with the look of a 
Mills-and-Boon heroine, tumbling dark hair and deep green eyes.

I forgot to restrain my socializing excitement that I burnt up all my energy. After Nadine went home, I needed a nap.
Hiromi, with surfer balance and endurance, continued working away at her tasks, packing her luggage, sening emails for her upcoming new job. Starting this week, she leads a Surfing NGO, monitoring the radioactivity of beaches.

That evening we went out - there was still no food, and the garden here is not edible, not yet.  Unfamiliar with Sydney's capricious roads, I get lost and flustered.   'I'm not good at navigating' I whine.

"Don't worry. I'm good at navigating" says Hiromi.
Those words struck me as so lovely compared to my helpless, hapless ones.

Hiromi departed for Tokyo, way before dusk. Visiting her now-empty, perfectly tidy room, I feel loss.

I go upstairs and get out my study materials. Road map, pens, Google Maps.
"I'm good at navigating", I say. 
Then do what it takes to make that true.

I'm going to surf these roads from now, not let them toss me around.
It just takes preparing beforehand, reviewing where you have been afterwards, deciding to pay attention as a passenger. As a final back-up, like an ankle-strap for a surfboard, always having internet access.

Hiromi's one day stay has changed my world.

Can you see why I love Japan, and the Japanese?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Highlights of NSAA National Speaker's Convention 2011, Melbourne

I left Sydney to spend the weekend at Melbourne's Crown Casino.  It was very much more profitable than it sounds.  
National Speaker's Association were having their annual conference. 200 people who's job it is to inspire Australia with their words, all in one room - I wasn't going to miss out. 

This conference had something of the quality of a diamond mine - with some people you have to look hard, get at the right angle to see their treasures, but the general effect is dazzling.  

Here I have chosen three people and ideas that set little fires alight in me:

Ngahi the Maori,  Stephen who wrote Bestseller Fish!, and Peter the forensic Investigator who builds Orphanages for Tsunami Victims.

Sharing Ancestral Power 

Nahi was one of the most soft-spoken of all the speakers, with the usual 'Be All You Can Be' topic, with the expected wit and warmth and touching stories. But he brought some special guests along with him - his ancestors.
This was a big shock to me, because you know what they did - they wandered right up to me, said ' Hi,' and proceeded to hang out with My Ancestors. My Irish poet-warrior, potato farming, jumpy, famished, drunk,  vainglorious, circumnavigating Ancestors.
Who I pretend aren't there.
Millenia, Mountains worth of Ancestors, looming behind me. There they are,  vying to control me, protect me, and hoping to live out their various contrary missions in my little body.

He began his presentation by teaching us to greet each other with a Hongi. I liked this very much. If you and I meet and do something useful together one day, I hope we can have a Hongi greeting.

Along with a handshake, you touch noses, intermingling breath, twice. Once for the both of you meeting, once for the meeting and mingling of your ancestors. I later found that this means that we are no longer in a visitor/host relationships. We are intermingled, and I will now take up the duties alongside you, growing sweet potatoes, going to war. 

Nahi' did for us a traditional Maori War Haka, the 'posture -dance' the New Zealand Rugby team perform to intimidate their opponents.
The rage and power in the Haka is not something you can just DO. Conjure up yourself. Its kind of obvious that whats going on there is that you invite your warrior ancestors, the people who delivered you though the terrors of centuries, safe and sound, to take you over for a few minutes.  
Its a new and powerful idea to me, that if we 'hung out' with our ancestors more often, had a better relationship with them, problems of road rage and family violence would become transformed.  When tempted with a tantrum, we could just say to our mates, the ancestors 'Thanks for the advice and weapons grandpa, but I've got this one under control. You're old, you go take a nap now.'  Then do something USEFUL.

 Gala Dinner was a costume party this year - Cecilia and Taruni

Fish! Energy

Stephen Lunden, Author of Fish!
Stephen wrote 'Fish', which sold millions of copies. His book turns normal people into beautiful people, gives them permission to be playful and enthusiastic, and to be choosing their life, each minute.
Well done Stephen!
He didn't invent the Fish! Philosophy. 
He just observed it in action at  The world famous Pike Place Fish Market
Then he wrote it up in usable form - his book, a video, corporate education, on and on.

I was impressed that he recited a poem. Something about stars reflected in a well, blue lights on a runway.  I can't catch a poem unless its told twice, so it floated by me in patches. But he was enchanted enough by these words that he put in the effort to learn them.  
That's who he is. Someone who gets enchanted into effort.
And that impresses me.
He wanted us to experience that enchantment,  in an unfamiliar language, that of a poem. He 'played', took a risk. He lost me with he poem, but won me with the trying. 

A life full of  love is a life full of effort - willing, enthusiastic effort. That is on my mind these days.
This old bloke, with his titanium knee from too many marathons, has been running after (and a bit of running from) all kinds of adventures. 
I might too.

Detective Peter Baines - The Reverse Tsunami

If I was writing a thriller,  Bains would be a suitable name for the detective.  Curt, decisive, with an overbite jaw like Mutley. He would be seen in crumpled coats with the regulation 'scalding coffee in plastic cups'.  Give him a history of sad and horrifying things, and let him live out his fate of accomplishing something of beauty or of love.
Well, this Peter is not like that.
No, he drinks Chamomile tea.

Peter Bains from Hands Across the Water

Peter Baines is a forensic expert, who flies into tsunami and earthquake disasters, to leads teams in identifying bodies to be given back to relatives.
He also now builds colorful lively homes for orphaned children, simply because he decided that's something he wants to do, so he does it. 
He shares his message of 'Results, not Excuses' to corporate audiences around the world. 
When he speaks he doesn't try to be charming or inspirational.
He just is.

If you want to see an example of how to be a kind of 'Reverse Tsunami', quietly constructive, massively effective, see the website of his charity 'Hands Across the Water'.   
This project is an example of Perfect Permaculture - its completely positive, elicits action and effectiveness, and its beautiful.
To raise money, about 30 go-getters, mostly Aussies, join his 8-day bike rides. To qualify for the ride, they must raise $10,000 each. 
Hands Across the Water shows them how to do this. 
How to be utterly amazing for a few months of your life. 

As Peter goes speaking to groups around the country, the 'Eco-system' of  support that nourish his orphanages grows stronger. The pool of competent, skilled volunteers (who pay their own way), grows richer.  He didn't just build a house, he build rubber and palm plantations nearby, so the houses can sustain themselves with income of their own.

Now he is in Japan, away from his own wife and children yet again. 
I gave him my card, in case he needs translation help. I hope he doesn't call on me, because I'm in danger of doing whatever this extra-ordinary, ordinary man requests of me.

Peter Baines showing the beautiful home for beautiful orphaned children

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Low-tech tricks for drawing your edible garden ideas into reality

The only reason people let me make gardens on their land is that I show them a picture of how it will look. They get captivated, they find the resources, and it all becomes real. 

I drew this self-watering useful swamp for a Tokyo Rail platform garden.  I imagined irises, purple asparagus, lotus, thyme, taro and some lovely bullrushes, for thatch.

Someone then got inspired to actually have a go at making it. Its not at a train station, and not the plants I chose, but its a really good start.

Learning to draw better is not hard.
Its just like a language nobody has taught you.  Its more fun than meditating, and you have something to show for it afterwards.
You will freak out at how you have never looked at ANYTHING until you have tried drawing it. Even the face of your most loved person - you will see it for the first time.

If you can draw on paper a garden you imagined, you have done most of the work.  The garden already exists, in your mind and you desire. Maybe it starts existing in the desire of the viewer as well.
This newly-conceived garden of yours is just waiting for a day in the diary, a shopping trip, a planting party, and these events are jumping up and down to happen.
Its a bit like those first kisses that are so good, making children is semi-inevitable.

I used to run workshops on drawing up balcony gardens, and I will again. My students improved so quickly, we all got a surprise. There are all these tricks, someone just has to show them to you.

Easy way to draw a garden

1. Take a photo of a place you wish to make lovely.

Asaba Art Square garden, before.

2. Get it up on your computer screen. Or if its a hard-copy picture, tape it under a glass table, and put a lamp underneath.

3. Put paper over the top, turn out the lights, trace over the structural things - trees, walls. Use your brain so you don't hurt your computer screen, or make anything catch fire. If you can't work out how to do this safely, its not a good idea for you to become a designer.

In my fantasy, I opened up the drains as rivers of stepping stones.  I had wall-mounted tanks and sun-catching wall-garden. The heavy bridge, I ignored. Compass on the right shows where sun will shine.

4. Erase what you don't want.

5. Now, do a Google image search of plants you think would suit. Trace them, separately.

6. Practice drawing them freehand, by looking at the simplicity of your  tracings, and the subtlety of the original photo. Do this three times, and watch yourself improve as you 'get intimate' with how this plant is shaped. (added bonus: You will have a deeper love for this plant for the rest of your life. Seeing it will give you a pang of friendship)

7. Freehand draw or trace your plants in. If tracing, copy and shrink them first in a program that gives you control over size, like Word or i-web.

Asaba Permaculture Garden color version with dachshund digging area

8. Your pencil sketch is finished!

Tips to make your tracing and 'pasting' look good

Now make it look good, in pencil or in color.
Pencil is usually enough to get a garden started, if you finish it nicely.
To add color, I put my pencil drawing back on the light box, fresh blank paper on top. I trace its outlines in Copic fine liner pen, then color in with marker pens, blending colors as I go.

Marker pen is not erasable, so I work slowly, deciding easy colors (green) first, commit to important colors last, kind of holding my breath till the end.
Just like my life.

Add contrast
Light things on dark, dark things on light, or else they all blend into shapelessness.

Make it friendly:
Can you see elements that look like they might be family, or at least friends? The orb of the passion fruit echos the sphere of the pink snail. The possum winds up the spring of his curly tail to fit in with the the passionfruit tendril. Emphasize these similarities. This brings connection and love to your picture, and keeps you entertained.

Use minimum image to achieve maximum communication. Don't draw ten leaves when three will do the job.

Get Appreciative
Adjust things so that negative space looks good too, so that there is no rejected, leftover, useless thing in your picture. Value the marginal. Its better to use up 'unemployed' space by exaggerating the size of plants and objects, so they can express themselves to the viewer.  You make background space smaller, like a halo. Other space can be made bigger - not unemployed, but a place for the eye to rest.
Again, get decisive.

Design for my business card. Not very business-like, is it? Me neither.

Check Perspective
You don't have to use perspective, you can draw things flat, like a medieval tapestry, or a kindergarten painting.
But be decisive, don't half-use perspective, it makes the viewer uneasy. In Perspecive, all horizontal lines, like the edges of these square tins eventually converge to a point in the distance. Find that point. Check that ALL the lines converge. Check that as distance increases, objects get smaller in the right proportions.

Vanilla, Rose, and  Blueberry Tea window box garden

I didn't trace this one, so had to work the perspective out myself. Its not too bad, but not good. 
The hand-drawn lines allow me to be forgiven - everything is wonky.
Except the idea. Nothing wrong with that.
Growing your own Vanilla, Rose and Blueberry tea window-box garden: its completely possible.

Somebody please have a go and bring this picture to life for me.  

Cecilia and Kohei working, July 2010
Permaculture workshop July, with concrete wall making

Asabas garden November 2010

Asaba's garden after declutter but before construction June 2010

With a vision, the energy to create just appears.