To find out more about this workshop and other business writing workshops offered by Writers Victoria, visit their website.
To find out more about this workshop and other business writing workshops offered by Writers Victoria, visit their website.
For years, I have been trying to get my kids to eat fakes. They titter at the rudely-named dish (it’s pronounced ‘farkhes’), and then promptly reject it. Fakes (brown lentil soup) was a staple dish of my childhood – along with other traditional Greek legume dishes including gigantes (‘giant’ beans) baked in tomato sauce, mavromatika (black eyed peas) with spinach, and fasolatha (white bean soup). If Mum cooked a pot of any of the above, we would be eating it for days on end – and farting for several days after that.
Legumes or pulses such as the ones above have never been a very sexy food – they often give you gas, they can taste a bit bland, and they take a while to cook. On the other hand, they’re cheap, they’re filling, and when teamed with cereals, they are a great source of protein; thus often referred to as the ‘poor man’s meat’.
But now, legumes are making a comeback – the U.N. has made 2016 the International Year of Pulses. The health benefits, not to mention the impact on food sustainability, means that eating more pulses is good on lots of different levels.
For a start, there is evidence that eating more legumes such as beans, nuts, peas and lentils is one of the few things that long-lived people across the world have in common – from eating soya beans in Okinawa, Japan, fava beans in Sardinia, Italy, to black-eyed peas in Ikaria, Greece. Even eating as little as 20 grams a day can help you live longer.
I’m constantly thinking about ways to get our family to eat more legumes. I’ve had some successes in integrating more legumes into our diet over the last year or so. Here’s what’s worked:
The process of eating more legumes has been gradual and sustained; while there was some initial resistance, our kids don’t even bat an eyelid when I place a chick pea stew on the table these days.
And for the first time ever, they even ate a bowl of yiayia’s fakes last week. Admittedly, it was a small bowl. And I told them they couldn’t have any other dinner unless they tried them. But down went the rude food. And while they tittered, I quietly celebrated my little coup.
Pictured: Lamb and chick pea tagine with couscous and baked pumpkin.
You need to be discipled. You need a hefty dose of faith. And you need to ditch the voice that says it's not good enough.
What about talent I hear you ask?
A bit of that doesn't go astray, but it's not top of my list.
I spend a bit of time helping other writers get their words down. This work makes me feel good. And I like feeling good.
So in the interests of keeping up my happy endorphins, I'm now offering tailored mentoring sessions via Skype to those who want to write creatively, or who want to get unstuck as writers. A bit like literary therapy as writer Charlotte writes below:
"I had become really stuck and was lacking inspiration. A bit like a literary therapist, Spiri helped me to tease out why I wanted to write my book and what I wanted to convey to the reader, encouraging me to get out of my head and feel my way back into the emotions I was writing about. I’ve started to write again. Spiri is intuitive, gentle, supportive and really helps you get to the essence of whatever it is you want to achieve."
Charlotte F, Melbourne
If you want to find out more, or to book a mentoring session, go to my 'Talks & workshops' page.
Our son turned 13 recently – and all he wanted for his birthday was a new room. It’s seems a big ask, but given the circumstances, it’s a reasonable request. Ten years ago, he was allocated the smallest room in the house simply because he was the youngest, least assertive member of our family.
Over the years, we had come up with many innovative solutions to make more room in his Harry Potteresk-like broom cupboard: a bunk bed with desk below, stacked storage boxes atop the wardrobe and lots of shelving. But for a boy with many interests (think stamp, coin and vinyl record collecting; metal detecting of which all the proceeds sit in a bucket under his desk, model building etc.) and a resistance to throwing stuff out, his room looked like a well organised garage sale.
He was happy enough, but a recent massive growth spurt that’s seen his feet touching the end of his bed and his head hitting the ceiling meant that it was time to move him into the only other available room in the house -- the living room.
And so began the slow transition. Paint the walls of the new room. Buy a bigger bed, a new desk and a 'racing' office chair. For every piece of furniture that went in, another would go out - even the desk my husband grew up with and that had been passed down to our son. I was quietly determined that not every piece of miscellany that our son owned would simply move into the new room.
But my husband and son were equally determined to part with as few things as possible. It soon became apparent that this was to be a highly charged, passive aggressive battle of the cullers (the women/girls in the house) versus the collectors (the men/boys); the battle of those who feel stressed by stuff, versus those who find it comforting; by those who do the bulk of the cleaning and tidying up after everyone, versus those who blissfully ignore corners that collect dust and various other miscellany. Don’t get me started.
Despite some stiff opposition, I was determined to win the culling battle. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I envisaged a clutter free, easy-to-clean and peaceful space, something I knew that my son would love. Below are some of the more subversive and, at times, sad and desperate strategies* I employed to rid our home of stuff.
Strategy #1 Sit it out
I prepared to sit it out. Literally. I promised I would park myself in our son’s room and help him make the hard decisions about what to keep or what to throw away. Emmanuel was delighted – my full attention for hours on end. Let the show and tell begin.
‘Now mum, let me tell you a story about this transistor radio. It doesn’t work. Probably because I pulled it apart. Three times. Once just to see what was inside. The next time because it was stuck on an Indian station, the third time because it only got AM stations…’
‘It’s broken. So you should throw it out.’ I hold the big yellow garbage bag closer.
‘But nanou gave it to me. What if it’s the only thing I have when, you know, he…’
‘You have lots of things to remember nanou by. And he is still alive. Just take a photo of it if you like, and let’s keep going…’ Impatience has crept into my voice and we're only five minutes into it. I scan the room – there are several boxes of Lego, two boxes of soft toys, a train set, several boxes of cars, books tucked in every nook and cranny, old newspapers …and that's what I can see without looking in his wardrobe. This could take weeks. Finally, he photographs the radio and we put it in the rubbish bag.
We go along like this for the better part of two hours – slowly, painfully, excruciating-bit-by-excruciating bit. We fill one bag for the rubbish bin, and half for the op shop. By the time we hit the coin and stamp collection, I have had it. We’ve hardly made a dint.
Later, I tell my husband about the radio, fishing for sympathy. Instead, he insists on taking the radio from the rubbish bag and taking another photo, just to make sure that it is safely immortalised. One point for the collector's camp.
Culling strategy #II: Bribery
The next day, I suggest we start with the books. I have this fantasy of lining these up in the hallway and getting the measuring tape out to measure how long his collection is. We don't actually get to that point because to lay them out would take up more space than we have. We place then in the study in neat piles until he can decide which will stay and which will go.
‘I’ll give you $1 for every book you cull,’ I urge, knowing full well how pathetic I sound. Still, I'd gladly part with $50 in order to free up space. Later, I hear my husband begrudgingly suggest our son should attempt to give away at least five books. Strategy #II successfully undermined. In the end, I lay out two boxes marked 'op shop' and hope for the best. I'm still waiting. Somehow I think this point will also go to the collector’s camp.
Culling strategy #III: Guerilla tactics
What if I just went in and slowly 'disappeared' a few things? It’s tempting, but I value the relationship with the menfolk in the house too much. Strategy ditched. One point for me for not stooping so low?
Culling strategy # IV: Stepping back (but not giving up)
In coming days, I leave some small filing boxes in the room and our son slowly makes his way through his things. Every time he walks out with a garbage bag, we exchange high fives. I encourage him to give his train set to some other child that will enjoy it as much as he did. I don't even attempt to get him to do something about his precious Lego. Everything stuck on his walls gets binned, apart from a few choice coin posters. And in this way, he makes what feels like slow but steady progress.
As the big day approaches, we help him put everything into the study until the new room is ready. Points go to both camps for good cooperative behaviour.
The new oh-so-much- cleaner and bigger room is finally ready. Over a whole day, I discretely move select special things in while my son tries to sort through miscellaneous desk drawers (a few old textas get binned, homemade ice-cream stick frisbees stay...), while deviating to the x-box for long rest breaks.
I put the new transistor radio that my husband bought to replace the old one on our son's bedside table. Our son is ecstatic. The new room is the best birthday present ever. The battle is over but the war has not yet been won -- what to do with all the stuff from our son's old room that's taking up half our study?
*The irony of worrying about too much stuff, when so many people don't have enough, is not lost on me.
You know it’s a comfortable friendship when you don’t panic even though your friend of 30 years (give or take a few months) is coming over to brunch and there's not much in the pantry and fridge. Herein lies the dilemma: Do you rush out to the supermarket and buy a bunch of stuff, or do you use what you have and try and make something from not much at all?
Of course, I chose the latter. I decide that it will be more fun to wing it with what I have to hand - and I know my long-time friend Lina would approve. I'm able to cobble together:
It might be enough for a meal, though the paucity of the ingredients has even me doubting. But the colours of the vegetables and the aroma of herbs work their magic as I chop. I start to relax and have faith as I put the vegetables and herbs into an oven dish. I can’t help but sample the salami as I chop. I have to resist a strong urge to eat it all up - no one is watching. But I know it will infuse the vegetables with flavour, and so I resist. I mix the vegetable, herb and salami mixture with my hands, add a drizzle of oil, a dash of salt and a twist of pepper. Into the oven it goes.
I roll out the pizza dough and I bless it with the beautiful green oil and a sprinkling of herbs. It too goes into the oven. And the eggs – well, fried in (yet more) olive oil and sprinkled with feta should do it. Along with a side of avocado, it’s a feast fit for a king - or at least two food-obsessed friends who aren't counting calories.
It’s hot and on a whim, I decide to make a drink that I saw on one of Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows a few weeks back – simply water, ice, a handful of frozen mango pieces, and a few sprigs of mint, blended together.
By the time Lina arrives, hot and weary, the icy drink is at the ready in martini glasses, the vegetables are tender and aromatic and the eggs are ready to go on. I serve it all up – but before we can sit down, Lina tells me we have to wipe the oven dish down with the crusty pizza bread so as not to waste any of the precious flavours.
All I can say is thank goodness for long-time friends.
There's another clever photographer in the family - our son Emmanuel is a finalist in the Moran Prize 2015 Secondary Years 7-8 category - with a portrait of our neighbour Stefano taken at last year's pizza party at ours.
If Emmanuel wins, there will be extra pizza and bubbles going around at this year's party. I hear that Joe, Stefano's dad, is already dusting off the ice cream machine. Let the countdown to the silly season begin!
Check out the Moran Prize young finalists.
‘The first person to see snow gets $5,’ says my husband. It’s a cheap shot to raise the energy levels in the car, but it works. The kids perk up, start paying attention.
It’s grey and misty up on the mountain; even the denuded trees look cold. Our 14-year-old would prefer to be in her bed, still fast asleep. Our 12-year-old is a bit more animated – the only time he has seen snow was when it came out of a snow machine some years ago. For the past two months he's worn us down by reading out the snow levels each day. We knew we had no hope when he started checking the mountain's webcam . The snow was coming down and we had to go and see, in his words, the 'real thing'.
The $5 bet is the cheapest part of the day. It’s still early in the morning, and we have parted with more than $250 – for petrol and chewing gum; hired gear and fees to get up to the mountain; a vanilla slice, jam donuts and coffee. And there’s still lunch to be bought. Last time we were here, I packed sandwiches; I remember looking longingly at other diners as they hoed into their hot chips and pies. This was comfort food weather. No cold sandwiches for us this time.
I’m the first to see the snow – just a glimmer up at the top of the mountain, only a little lighter than the grey landscape around it.
‘It’s not fair,’ complain the kids. ‘Dad meant spotting snow on the ground.’ They’re pissed off that I saw it first.
A little later, ‘There’s the snow on the road – I’m still the first to spot it!’ I gloat.
‘That’s not snow,’ says the 12-year-old. ‘It looks like dirty soap suds.’The soap suds get more prolific as we head up the mountain.
We get to the car park. My son digs his hands into the mounds that have been pushed to the side of the road, expecting the snow to spring back. It’s hard and icy. ‘American snow is better. It’s fluffier. Softer.’ He says it reverently, as if the snow he’s seen in B- grade Christmas movies is a warm, cosy entity; a whole different species to this friendless variety.
He repeats his mantra when we join the many thousands of snow seekers at the top of the mountain. He calls it out as he crashes roughly over the unforgiving bumps of the toboggan run. And he repeats it as he grumbles his way up the mountain towards the lookout.
‘It’s cold. My gloves are wet’. He wrings them and the water runs down his pants leg. ‘American snow is definitely better.’
By this time, my patience is running thin. The anticipated hot chips were lukewarm. The din on the mountain was deafening. And the run down the slope painful. I can’t move my neck – I heard it crack after coming down too hard over a bump on the toboggan run. I mentally add an appointment with the physio to the tally of today’s expenses. Is it too much to expect a little gratitude when we’ve spent all this money so that our 12-year-old can experience the snow, in all its pristine, fluffy glory?
‘American snow is NOT softer. It’s NOT better. It’s just as cold and hard and wet as this snow is here. So get over it and start having a good time!’
There, I’ve said it. I stomp off. From the corner of my eye, I see him give his gloves a final wring. Put them back on. He soon veers off the path to find the spots among the trees where the snow is deep , where he sinks in over his knees. He invites me in. I too sink down into the soft, soft snow. Before long, he’s making snow angels and throwing snow balls and doing all the other things that, in Australia, one has to pay good money to do.
On the way home, he says, ‘Thanks for taking me to the snow Mum and Dad. I had a great day. But I still think American snow is softer…’
What happens when five internationally-recognised street artists, an Ethiopian cafe owner, a truckload of helpers and a volunteer with an extraordinary vision get together? Read this article I wrote for the City of Maribyrnong to find out.
Join the other procrastinators and get on the road to redemption. Part bookish boot camp, part self-help group, this 12-step program I'm running at Writers Victoria will help you get over the most common organisational and personal hurdles to writing.
Find out more here....
These are some of the things Danielle Hazen has collected over the years. And now she's finally got the space to house them - the old Kinnears Ropeworks factory in Footscray.
If you love your vintage, then check out this article I wrote about Footscray's Hokey Pokey Vintage Emporium.