Children’s stories in the Australian Bush

Australian animals by Ria Loader

Billabong Flats animals by Ria Loader

These are modern fables, tales of the ordinary acts of kindness and friendship, of discovery and adventure. Purely invented, they come from memories of childhood. They occur at the intersection of seeing the animals in the wild, and imagining what their lives would be like if they could tell us stories.

Billabong Flats is a mythical place in the Australian Bush. It is somewhere on the Eastern part of the continent, in the hills, between Sydney and Melbourne, thereabouts. It is also in another fictional world at the same time. Billabong Flats shares virtual space within my love affair with other imaginary places like the Five Acre Wood, the Peace Rock, and the abode of Ratty and Mole. It is just as real as you’d like it to be – no more, and no less.

In my stories, the animals dream the world, as much as the world creates them. The Land speaks through them. They welcome all, no matter how different they may be, or what native languages they may speak. When they come together, they can all speak the same tongue. The voices become that of friendship and accord, where all can have adventures together.

“Each according to their nature,” says Flying Fox, who likes to have fun.

“Each according to their means,” says Koala, who is wise in such things.

The first adventure occurs when Koala organizes the First Billabong Flats All Creature Race. The letters are all in capitals, because it’s a Very Important Thing.

There is a sense of fair play at Billabong Flats. Friendship is as important as winning, though winning the race would be a fine thing, if only there are not too many distractions. It’s an opportunity to get together and have fun. Koala is the organizer. She is a busy and industrious being, when she is not sleeping, which is most of the time.

I wrote this first story during the American election in 2016. My sweetie was annoyed at the shenanigans of the election, and the story was written for his internal eight year old, the child inside him. He loved fairness and justice; this one is for you my Raven.

When the world gets too noisy, and there is discord and strife all around, come visit the world of Billabong Flats and have some fun.

THE BIG RACE LINK

Writing the last 25% of a novel

We’ve all been there. The stage is set, the outline written, and the writing is flowing right along, all on schedule. The deadline comes and passes, and 2000 or so words a day are humming right along. Then the deadline, artificial or not, passes. Falling down from the state of focus, distraction settles in. The momentum of NaNoWriMo passes and that 50,000 words fails to become 75,000 and a finished novel. What now?

There are various strategies of course.

  • Finish the flow of scenes that you’ve outlined
  • Give up lunches or get up earlier in the day to write for an hour or so
  • Set up rewards, like chocolate, if you get two hours of actual writing done
  • Outline the next novel in the series so you’ll have something to look forward to
  • Get a writing buddy and set weekly meetings to hold each other to account
  • Set some more deadlines
  • Write blog posts like this instead – at least you are writing something, right?

I don’t know why the last set of drafting the novel seems more difficult than the first three quarters, but for me, that’s the way of it. I don’t even have the excuse of it being the first story. To be honest, the first one was hard in the home stretch too.

Some of the distractions come from the second novel in the series sparking ideas about how to make the first one better. Other distractions come from the business of writing and the need to update web sites, however, some of it is just procrastination to be sure. Bad me, right?

I wonder what other folks do to motivate themselves over the finishing line? Share ideas in the comments. Looking for inspiration my friends.

Food: Mushroom chocolate crème sauce

MushroomCacaoTamarindSauceI’ve been making a mushroom sauce for years now, and it’s a versatile base for a range of different meals. By moving towards olive oil, and adding tofu and coconut milk, I can make it vegan; by taking out the garlic I can move it from savory to sweet; and for a spicy change, I add chile and chocolate.  Here is the basic recipe, with some variations I’ve invented over time at the end. The most ambitious variation is one that results in a “chocolate marsala creme sauce”.  Odd as it may seem, the chocolate marsala version is great with steak. Add wine.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil (or butter)
  • Crushed Garlic
  • Mushrooms (white button, or others to taste)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Lemons
  • Starch (for thickening)
  • Cream (creme fraiche, or sour creme, or coconut creme)

Optional ingredients

  • Tamarind paste / sauce
  • Semi-sweet chocolate
  • Maple syrup
  • Chipotle chile powder

Preparation

  • Wash mushrooms and remove stems
  • Finely slice enough mushrooms to fit medium size skillet (2 cups)

Cooking

  • Saute garlic in oil (or butter). IMHO olive oil tastes better.
  • Add mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring continually.
  • Squeeze 2 lemons and stir well.
  • Add Worcestershire sauce (1-2tablespoons) and, if you like
  • Add marsala wine to taste
  • Add 1 can of coconut milk OR 2 cups of sour creme, or creme fraiche
  • Thicken with starch (corn starch OR rice starch)

Variations

  • Vegetarian Meal variation – before thickening, add diced firm tofu, and cook for 5 mins -and serve over rice
  • Sweet sauce variation – Leave out the garlic at the beginning, and add maple syrup at the end, before serving
  • Chocolate Marsala sauce – this has the most variations, so it likely qualifies as a separate recipe. Basically, leave out the garlic, add tamarind to taste, 3 pinches chipotle chile and a cup of semi-sweet chocolate, and blend after cooking, but before serving. This variation uses creme fraiche, and does not require thickening. It is a great accompaniment for steak, lamb, salmon or chicken.

Character

  • The character of the sauce is tart/sweet and smooth. It has a complex mouth-feel, and can be adjusted towards chocolate/spice or savory/tart.

Meditation and Mindfulness

ng-60686Over the years, I’ve tried various kinds of meditation, and some of them have been more fun than others. I think we all discover the ways that work best for us individually. I thought I’d share some of the techniques that I’ve tried, over a few blog posts, and what I got from them. That actually sounded a little odd; the purpose of meditation is often to get beyond purpose, to reach a place of relaxed awareness, beyond desire for result. Never mind, some of us like to know what we’ll get from something before investing the time and effort required to get there.

Meditation using breathing

Where to start? To satisfy the intellect, I’ll say that messing with the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide results in a change of consciousness. The number of breaths, how long the in-breath lasts, and how long you rest before exhaling has meaning in various esoteric traditions. However, if you want to play with it, start with the basics.

4/4 breathing
In this pattern, you breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. And then you repeat. As you can imagine, at first, those are going to be kind of quick breaths; the notion is to extend them until you are making around 4 breaths a minute, without stress. Counting helps as it keeps the conscious brain occupied. This pattern is one that became very popular in the 60’s and 70’s, especially when you add a mantra (a small verse)that has meaning to the person meditating.

meditationSilhouetteThe general idea is to allow thoughts to pass through your mind, but not to pay much attention to them. Think about day dreaming with your eyes closed, without falling asleep. Often visions arise, solutions to things you’ve been thinking about, and sometimes you just fall asleep. That’s not wrong, just not the point. Keep practicing until you can be comfortable being in the moment, noticing your body, being in it, and being mindful, without paying too much attention to it.

One mantra that goes with this is “OM MANI PADME HUM”, where each of the words corresponds with a count. The words are most often translated, perhaps not entirely accurately, as “the eternal jewel in the lotus” along with the visualization of a lotus blossom opening up and revealing a hidden mystery in its center. Incidentally, the OM is A-U-M and all 3 sounds are chanted / subvocalized.

Use your own words
Please do not feel constrained to using just the count or the OM MANI PADME HUM chant. Try out things that are meaningful to you, personally. If you are following a particular spiritual path, perhaps there are words from there that will work for you, or you could simply pick four personally meaningful words, like:

  • love, friendship, peace, understanding
  • laughter, play, joyful, bliss

Be playful; it is more important that the words correspond to things you can visualize and that have personal meaning. I’ve heard some odd things at times; one friend picked the four Norse figures who mythology tells them hold up the world (Austri, Vestri, Nordri and Sudri). Some folks pick the elements in English or Latin (Earth – Terra, Air – Aer, Water – Aqua, and Fire – Ignis). Use whatever works for you.

What is this good for?
It is good for relaxation, and I noticed that it has a good impact on memory. Doing it before memorizing a speech, materials for a presentation, or attending a workshop where you will learn some complex new material, tends to result in recall being easier and more complete.

  • Do the meditation for 5 minutes
  • Read the study materials from start to finish
  • Do the meditation for another 5 minutes

Just before a presentation, go to the bathroom and take 1-2 minutes to go through the meditation again, knowing that the materials will be recalled both quickly, completely, and easily. You will be surprised by how successful this is.

Other impacts
Breathing meditation is good for your general wellness, according to most traditions that use breathing techniques as part of meditation. We mostly engage in shallow breathing, depriving ourselves of oxygen, and the deep breathing gets oxygen to the brain. That may be some of the reason it helps memory. The more often you do breathing meditation, the more relaxed you will feel, and the easier it will be to focus your attention. Sometimes, just a few deep breaths will be enough to center your attention in the moment.

Copyright 2018 Ria Loader. All rights reserved

Writing process: Top 10 ways of finding grammar errors

Grammar errors are one of the most pesky things to eradicate in the writing process. Scrivener doesn’t find grammar mistakes, and while MS Word is pretty good at finding normal passive errors, it fails to recognize idiom. Language is changing. Sentences can and often do start with ‘and, but, or, though’ in colloquial use.

If you’re like me, when you write the first draft you don’t pay any attention to the rules. Well, truth to tell, rules are hardly ever my best thing. I tend to think in fragments; that means some of my characters share this trait. Enough said.

Even in a blog, the sentence construction is not a slave to the Oxford English way of writing. Be a bit boring if it was. However, the unintentional grammar error is the bane of a writer’s existence. It’s just fine to break rules on purpose, so long as you know your purpose. Richard Morgan stood the grammar rules on their collective head in Altered Carbon. His more stream-of-consciousness writing included sentence fragments much of the time. None of that made it difficult to read. Instead, it made his protagonist much more sympathetic. So how do I find those errors in the editing process? I have a few tips and tricks to share.

  1. Walk away from the writing for a couple of days to give yourself some distance
  2. Print it out and keep a highlighting pen handy to mark the pieces to come back to
  3. Read it out loud to a friend. The tongue will trip over phrases that aren’t quite right
  4. Do an editing pass with track-changes on
  5. Try turning it upside down – for those of us who can read that way, the comma and grammar errors jump out
  6. Do an editing pass just for dialog.
  7. Use Find / Replace to fix issues like quote plus period (“. wrong) rather than period plus quote (.” correct)
  8. Write with a manual of style handy – look up stuff that you know you get wrong
  9. Replace instances of passive voice (often uses words that end in y) with active voice (often ends in ‘ed’)
  10. Relax about it. No matter how many times you edit, someone will disagree with your choices

I hope some of these prove helpful. Please share the tips and tricks you have found work for you.