How to do nothing
Do something, do and do and do,
whispers a voice I always assumed was my own.
But what if not doing is a better choice?
An act of kindness not only to myself, but to my children,
to the spaces I inhabit and the values I hold within.
Something is awry if the act of stopping hurts the most,
when rest is a force of illness and not of freedom,
and every moment is beholden to productivity or guilt
I have kept a blog for many years
almost half my life, it's evidence of my doing:
words and photographs for show and tell
and belonging (adoration and validation),
but they will always be a poor imitation
a carefully framed illusion,
never quite delivering, deep contentment
to me, or you.
What if there's another way to document our lives
that doesn't reduce our stories and feelings and places
and things into a shadowy reflection?
And it's as simple as doing nothing:
just being present in our own flesh and bones,
hearing each other speak, pausing.
We have a bush of Hebe in the front garden
that is gloriously awash with pink flowers -
it is pretty to behold but it's the sound
that stops me in my steps
of many hundreds of bees, gathering
I walk every day on the farm
it is my summer prayer:
to feel the dry earth under my feet
and hear the birds and smell the dry grass
and let myself be seen, moving
without hope to take away or consume
I am knitting a top from unravelled yarn
there is no need to rush,
and so it emerges with kinks and crinkles
at the pace that is life right now:
up and down, and all over the place.
Summer is a contrast
blue sky and grey earth,
golden grass and flame flowers,
cloudy and sunny and dry and crisp
slow and steady and changeable:
it is nothing and everything.
January heralds in the long days of summer - pasture aglow with tall grasses, walks in the shade, wearing skirts and sandals, spending time with old friends, picking feverfew and lavender which are flowering all over the garden, spying wilted leaves, butterflies and moths and wasps, tiny huntsmen spiders, cloud formations and rumbling thunder, laundry dried stiff by the hot air, picking up our anniversary quilt after a year of idleness and making lines of stitches, sipping cold ginger tea and scooping homemade ice-cream, playing board games with the boys, swinging in the hammock, dam swims before dinner, beginning a new diary, opening the house at dusk to let the night breeze in...
a summer blessing
a blessing from the bare feet
dandelion heads and golden grass
cool breeze about your legs
a blessing from the fruit bowl
cherries for your ears
ripe mango in your hands
a blessing from the hot sun
tomatoes ripening on the vine
trees to shade your face
a blessing from the long day
ample room to ponder and dream
books open on your lap
a blessing from the rain
enough where it's needed most
gentle pattering on the roof
a blessing from the moon
creatures lit by silver beams
deep sleep to enfold you
a blessing from the birds
warbling, twittering, squawking songs
look up and out and all around
a blessing from the bright light
doors opening and closing
unfurling of your heart
December is finally here and the countdown to Christmas begun. I love the season of Advent and the invitation to reorient our hearts towards the things of faith. Alex and I have been reading to each other from the "Celtic Advent" devotional and it's a beautiful collection of stories, scriptures and reflections around this season of waiting. I don't know about you but I get to this time of year and my body begins to unravel in tiredness and over-stimulation and the accumulation of another wonderful, messy, curious twelve months of life. I feel slow and limited and achey even though I'm not sick with anything in particular. Recently I've begun to simplify my festive plans and pack away (figuratively and physically) projects for the new year. I crave solitude and silence and stillness, however fleeting. I lean towards the simple goodness around me: listening to the beautiful birds singing in the trees around our house, reading familiar (and loved) Christmas stories to my children, eating a ripe mango for dessert and stretching my legs in the early summer sunshine. My prayer is to notice and cherish the gifts so abundantly given to me //
Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more–a grateful heart:
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose Pulse may be
Summer is a season of such abundance and bright colour when it comes to food. The garden is giving us fresh tomatoes, zucchinis and herbs each day. I have also been picking wild elderberries, mulberries and blackberries from the farm for the freezer and drying cornflower and calendula petals for soap, tea and decorating cakes. I eagerly await the raspberries, green beans and quinces and delight in the variety and deliciousness of stone fruit available at our local green grocer and farmers markets. Here are some recipes in high rotation at the moment:
Tomato + Watermelon Salad
This has become a favourite salad of mine lately. It is the most beautiful combination of sweet and tart, fragrant and salty. A perfect accompaniment to baked fish or lamb or simply on its own.
1/4 wedge of a whole large watermelon (approx 2kg)
3 large, ripe tomatoes
100g fresh goats cheese or soft feta cheese
handful fresh mint
generous pinch of sea salt + cracked black pepper
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons EV olive oil
Cut watermelon and tomatoes into similar sized cubes. Crumble goats cheese + roughly chopped fresh mint leaves on top. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the salt with generous pinches of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Gently toss salad to combine and eat straight away...
Mango + Coconut Jellies (Gummies)
I have been making these jellies (gummies) and marshmallows a lot this summer in an attempt to use up seasonal fruit, but also boost our daily intake of grass-fed bovine gelatine - they make a delicious quick, refreshing, nutrient dense snack. The best gelatine powder I have tried is by Australian company Saturee or Nutra Organics.
pulp of 1 ripe mango
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grassfed bovine gelatine powder
1/2 cup water
1 cup coconut milk (no additives)
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoons grassfed bovine gelatine powder
1/2 cup water
To make the mango layer: sprinkle gelatine into a small bowl over 1/2 cup of water. The gelatine witll swell or "bloom" after a few minutes. Meanwhile blend fresh mango + orange juice in a small saucepan using a stick blender or similar. Bring fruit puree to a gentle simmer and stir in gelatine until dissolved. Remove from heat and pour into a glass or ceramic dish. Chill in the freezer while you make the coconut layer.
To make the coconut layer: sprinkle gelatine into a small bowl over 1/2 cup of water. The gelatine will swell or "bloom" after a few minutes. Meanwhile gently heat coconut milk together with maple syrup. Whisk in gelatine until dissolved, should take a minute or two. Remove from heat and let it cool down for a few minutes.
Take mango layer out of the freezer and test that the top is "set". If so, pour the coconut milk layer over it and put the dish in the fridge (not the freezer this time!) until completely set. It usually takes an hour or so. Once completely set you can score the jellies into cubes or rectangles or any shape of your liking. Keep in the fridge in a sealed container for up to two weeks.
** my boys LOVE these jellies; they hold their shape at room temperature so you can put them in a lunch box too **
Baked Ricotta Tarts with Nectarines and Honey
These are so simple and good. They make a lovely quick breakfast or mid morning snack - ricotta is full of protein and calcium, plus you get the goodness of eggs, honey and fresh fruit.
500g fresh firm ricotta
1/2 cup runny honey
zest from 1 orange
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2-3 ripe nectarines (apricots, plums, peaches or berries work well too)
Preheat oven to 180'c. In a bowl whisk together ricotta, eggs, honey, zest and cinnamon. Grease (with melted butter) or line with paper some muffin tins; alternatively you can make one large tart in a 20cm cake tin. Spoon ricotta mixture into tins. Slice nectarines into thin wedges - I usually get about eight segments from each fruit. Place 1-2 segments into each tin over the ricotta. Top fruit with a little raw sugar if you like. Bake tarts for 20-30 minutes in the oven until the tops are golden. Cool completely - they will shrink a little and lift out more easily from the tins. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge and consume within a week.
Everyone has their preferences when it comes to topping a pavlova and mine changes with the seasons. In summertime I really don't think there is a better combination than silky, ripe mango and juicy tart raspberries. I also love that in the rare case there are any leftovers, the flavour and texture of the fruit changes pleasantly after a day or two in the fridge - something that can't be said about brown bananas and rubbery grapes!
6 free-range egg whites at room temperature
pinch sea salt
1 cup or 180g white caster sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons arrowroot/tapioca flour or GF cornflower
2 cups pure cream (for whipping)
fruit of your choosing (I went for 1 large ripe mango + punnet of fresh raspberries)
** A scatter of dried cornflowers brings a delightful pop of edible colour **
Preheat oven to 180'c. In a clean bowl beat egg whites with a pinch of salt using a handheld or electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar one tablespoon at a time and continue to beat until sugar is dissolved and stiff peaks form. Gently fold in vinegar, tapioca flour and vanilla.
Carefully spoon out mixture onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. I like to heap my mixture into a circle about 22cm in diameter. Immediately turn the oven down to 150'c and bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the pavlova cool with the door slightly open (I wedge a wooden spoon between the door and the oven).
Whip cream and spread over the top of the cool pavlova. Adorn with summer fruit and devour with friends!
Mr 10-year-old wanted to have his two best mates over and camp under the oak trees, so with the loan of his kind auntie's tent it came to pass. There was much chatter and reading by torch light, movie watching and trampoline jumping and a rather unstable Minecraft inspired birthday cake complete with marshmallow "snow blocks", blue jelly "water blocks", chocolate cake "earth blocks" and marzipan creeper and pigs. We made it together and it was fun to create and deconstruct!
For as long as I have known and loved this child of mine he has been most himself, most relaxed outside. Surrounded by grasses and wide open sky and beetles and creatures of all sizes. I pray he will always return to the nature that brings him fresh perspective and peace, and know the love of the Creator behind it all.
January is hot and humid. The pasture is tall and golden, seed heads flying. The cows have been ailing with eye infections and my farmer man is out working long hours in the heat. We've watched rainclouds build and roll over us without giving a drop. We've savoured dips in the dam and ripe summer fruit. I've put ice cubes in my coffee and begun a special quilt project using only linen scraps. Twice I've gone for a walk and watched the same wedged-tail eagle perched, perfectly still on the branch of a tall gum tree. We've stretched our hands into the soft fur of our new maremma pup, Pippin. He is the first puppy we've owned, and although a working dog, he is full of delight and fluffiness. I cannot help but smile when I see him. It's summertime - when the days stretch on and on, and we sigh audibly with relief when the evening breezes come in. We have nowhere to go and not much to do, which is to say, we're content to lay low in this beautiful and exhausting season //
December is a blur of endings and illness and sunshine and the garden bursting with colour and growth, the flap of birds and the buzz of bees. We pick spent poppy heads for the door wreath and eat the last of the snow peas and shell the first of the broad beans (which the boys call "exploding rocket beans!"). Our dwelling, Fiddler's Cottage, undergoes much needed repairs to the wood cladding and is also given a lick of fresh paint which is glorious to behold.. We observe the four weeks of advent with our calendar of boxes filled with love notes and sweets, we read storybooks and Christmas fables and scriptures and poems, on Sundays we light the candles on our wreath and reflect on the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love Jesus brings...
Summer tends to be the season with the most reading for me - something perhaps about those long, light-filled days and the prickle of heat that makes me want to put my knitting away and stare at pages with the fan gently humming. Maybe there's a part of me, a learnt pattern in my body, that associates summer with reading - as mum would always gift us books for Christmas. Reading never feels like a chore in summer, a bit like walking at night: the very air of summer ushers permission to be consumed with words and breeze.
There, there by Tommy Orange (2018)
Christmas book from my sister, the first novel by Tommy Orange. It read almost like a play, dramatic and atmospheric. I found it a refreshing read and haunting in some scenes and dialogue that have stayed with me long after finishing. Highly recommend.
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper (2008)
I wanted to read this as soon as I finished Chloe Hooper's other brilliant book The Arsonist. Hooper writes masterfully, poetically, with such clarity, sensitivity and humanity around issues that are so difficult - like this: the death of a young Aboriginal man in custody on an island I'd vaguely heard of. She paints the landscape and the characters of Palm Island with nuance and freshness that help you feel it all deeply, and not easily forget. The Tall Man is investigative writing on crime, racism, policing, history and mythology in Australia of the highest calibre. I didn't want it to end, and I longed for an ending that never came. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
10 Reasons to quit your social media right now by Jaron Lanier (2018)
I had to read this even though I could think of thirty of my own reasons to quit. Jaron Lanier is a computer engineer, philosopher and musician. His "reasons" for quitting are sensible and intelligent and is definitely worth reading and pondering on.
You are not a gadget by Jaron Lanier (2010)
I enjoyed this longer manifesto of Lanier's even more than the one above. He wrote it almost a decade ago and is uncanny in his accurate predictions and concerns for what social media platforms and technologies were becoming - and have become - forces for immense social, cultural, political and economic upheaval. Highly recommend.
The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall (2020)
A speedy and enjoyable read. The plot is quite thrilling and fascinating, and while I didn't feel totally convinced by the main characters and the ending felt a bit clunky - there was something very poignant and timely about the near-future reality in which we are all micro-chipped and answerable to a global governmental system, as well as the over-reliance on digital devices, threats of constant surveillance. Critics mentioned a likeness to Atwood and I felt that too. Definitely worth a go.
The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer (1997)
Have you ever begun a book only to fall in love with it on the first few pages, only to struggle to finish it half way and then fall out with it completely by the ending? I guess my reactions with this one was as capricious and changing as the clouds. Yes, there are some really clever, beautiful sentences, and the descriptions of the Blue Mountains at the turn of the 20th century is quite mesmerising, but something fell flat and unsatisfying half-way through. If you love Ondaatje you will probably enjoy this one...
The Twilight of Democracy by Applebaum (2020)
Oh this was a fascinating read. Insightful and frightening. I asked my local library to purchase a copy of Applebaum's book after I heard her interviewed on the New Yorker politics and more podcast. I'm glad they were able to get it in. Applebaum has been watching and writing about (and living) politics in Central Europe for decades, but has much to say about her place of origin USA too. Highly recommend.
Water my Soul by Luci Shaw (2003)
A re-read. Shaw explores the rich, interior life of faith through the seasons of the garden. Beautiful, wise, timeless. Highly recommend.
Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird (2006)
Read for my course in contemplative faith. I'd never heard of it before. I love the way Laird weaves in personal stories, poetry, literature and wisdom by the great Christian mystics along with more practical tips and exercises for cultivating a prayer-filled awareness of God's loving presence in everyday life. I would definitely recommend this one for anyone starting out on the contemplative journey //
What have you been reading lately?
in summer I can walk in the evening light
when little people have gone to bed
when dishes have been washed and dried
each step a kind of devotion
a prayer for being alive
in summer I can walk in sandals
and feel the breeze under my skirt
coolness and dust and grass seeds
anoint my summer skin:
tanned hands and dry feet.
in summer I can walk at a slower pace,
follow tracks of who came before me:
rabbit, horseshoe, tractor tred
I wait for kangaroos hopping down the hill
and lean in to hear the frogs croak,
and crane my neck for the goshawks,
I can never tell if they are hunting or playing.
in summer I can walk and gather
dried grasses in my hands,
elderberries off a twisted old tree,
blackberries from a thorny vine,
I reach for dancing thistle fibres
and hear my son's voice:
"Mum! Look at all the fairies"
in summer I can walk in the moonlight
when the stars begin to shine,
and I let my feet do the praying:
each step breaking bread
each breath thanksgiving
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...