Urban Providore Tasting Panel: my first bite

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I’m a bit happy to be part of Urban Providore’s Tasting Panel this year, and I’ve just been along to my first meeting.

Imagine this scenario – every month or so, I get to taste delicious foodie things, maybe drink some wine, hang out with some other Canberra foodies and a whirlwind of a business owner, and get to pass judgement – when invited. What’s not to like about that?

This little get together, now in its second year, is the brainchild of Dawn, head *providore of the Urban Providore at Fyshwick, a Canberra foodie establishment that specialises in delicious artisan and gourmet food products and accoutrements.

The idea is that we get to taste and evaluate a range of products, and have those comments passed back to the producers; perhaps meet some of them; do other food-oriented activities; and have a bit of fun at the same time. I had to do a bit of catch up with the evaluation methodology, trickier than you might think. I’m sure I’ll have it down pat soon.

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After we’d had some lessons in our perceptions of taste and the official tasting bit was done for the evening (in the case, balsamic oils), we headed out the door for an evening mystery excursion somewhere else in Fyshwick. Don’t fret – it was above board, and we ended up at the Fyshwick Markets to have a sneak peak at Dawn’s not-even-opened-yet stall in the brand new Niche Markets.

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The new little shopfront, The Canberra Regional Artisan Providore, features gorgeous food and foodie items only from artisans and producers from the Canberra region, of whom there’s a pretty good collection. It’s a tiny space, but it packs a lot in – think oils, sauces, chocolate, honey, aprons and tea towels – even cookbooks featuring recipes from the Southern Highlands.

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I have to say I was pretty pleased to have my fluffy beanie and gloves with me. Having a little party in a icy warehouse during a winter evening in Canberra is somewhat brisk. Luckily we were fed yummy things (try spreading some truffle honey and ricotta on bread and top it with prosciutto) and the lovely Sarah kept up well watered (well, bubbled) with Summerhill Road’s spritzy sav blanc sparkling to celebrate the opening and take our minds off the chill.

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Many of the little stalls were shut up tight but there were a few keen workers doing some late night, last minute shop fittings or finishing touches to their stall before opening, and we got to peek in a few sites and meet a few people. Will save details for next time.

And how lucky for me – it’s all just down the road.

More news soon.

Disclosure: I’ve actually spent way too long trying to work out the difference between providore and provedore, and whether a providore can be a person selling/providore the provisions, or just the establishment, whether one is American spelling and the other English, or whether the spelling is just optional. Can anyone enlighten me definitively? I need to know! My spell checker doesn’t like the ‘i’ spelling.)

* Providore/provedore: A person or business which provides stores and supplies to ship, such as food and beverages. (Wiktionary)

Yes, welcome to my world – where everything takes sooooooo long.

 

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Open letter to Kristen Henry, bride to be: listen to your Mum

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Dear Kristen

I’m not an early morning person, so it’s rare I have the radio on when you’re on. But this morning as I was out trying to catch the beauty of a crisp Canberra winter, I caught a snippet of you on air discussing the anguish of your wedding dress shopping, and the advice offered by your Mum. A serendipitous moment perhaps.

I know, I know, I’m a random stranger and why the hell do I think I should give you advice? But I feel I have to add my two cents’ worth.

Listen to your mum, Kristen. Mums are so often right, and I’m with her on this one.

I understand that finding the elusive ‘perfect’ wedding dress can be fraught—frustrating, confusing, and sometimes stressful. But should you rope your fiance into the decision-making process, to make your shopping experience easier and fill you with confidence you’re picking the right one, at the expense of ruining the surprise?

I get why your Mum might be disappointed if you do involve Iain, even a bit angry. I’m projecting, but maybe she’d be mainly just sad. That you’d be taking away a special moment from your hubbie-to-be—that spectacular heart-rending moment when he gets to see his future wife in front of him in her full glory, and be surprised and taken aback at the sight. It’s a special moment indeed.

Let me tell you a story.

Many moons ago as my husband spoke at our wedding, he relayed the story of my father describing the moment he set eyes on his first grandchild. Dad, a religious man, said at that moment he couldn’t understand how anyone could not believe in a God, who had created such amazing beauty. My husband, who’s not a religious man, then told our wedding guests that when he first saw me walking down the aisle towards him, his breath was taken away and he felt the exact same thing. And we cried.

Fast forward 24 years and my eldest daughter got married. On her wedding day, after the months of preparations and the ministrations of the day, finally she was dressed and ready, and she was stunning. We called in her father to see the final result, and as he walked into the room and took sight of her, he almost took a step back. I guess that’s what ‘taken aback’ means. We were all a bit teary. It could be that we’re all just die-hard sooks, but I think it’s a special moment indeed. (Did I say that before?)

My husband spoke that night at the reception. He relayed the same story again, and my old Dad’s eyes lit up in recognition and memory as he listened. And we cried, again. Entire tables of us.

(When I later saw the photo that captured my Dad’s face at just that second, I knew it was destined to go on the cover of his funeral brochure, whenever that may be. Because it captured him and what was important to him, and to us: love and family. Sadly, it was only a few years later that the photo appeared on that brochure.)

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More years later, and we did the whole wedding thing again with daughter number two, and again the ‘first glimpse’ to Dad at home brought tears to our eyes.

I’ve witnessed my husband see both his daughters revealed to him in their bridal glory, after months of preparation he wasn’t always privy to, and perhaps more importantly I’ve watched my two son-in-laws see their brides ‘revealed’, and seen their joy at that first glimpse—so proud, so in love. It’s a wow moment.

But Kristen—don’t stress. Don’t panic about finding THE perfect wedding dress, and don’t expect to burst into tears the second you put it. That mightn’t happen. Doesn’t matter. Because in reality, there will be dozens of dresses that will be beautiful for you, because there are so many damn gorgeous dresses. And whatever dress you end up choosing, of course Iain will love it, because you know him, and most importantly, you’ll be in it. He’s your biggest fan after all.

No doubt you will look stunning, because you’re beautiful, and you’ll be radiating with happiness from the inside. That’s a killer combination.

And listen to your Mum. Don’t underestimate the ability of mothers to be right. My grown and now eminently sensible daughters now totally get that, and heed my freely proffered pearls of wisdom: like never run with scissors; if it’s not important in five years it’s not important; and never take a sleeping tablet and a laxative at the same time. Sometimes Mums just know stuff.

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Don’t make your fiance go wedding dress shopping with you and lose the chance of the magic moment of the bride-reveal. It’s a gift he’ll remember forever.

And you never know—it may be a moment that gets passed on through generations and family lore.

Love from a Mum

PS If you’re really desperate and need shopping support, I’m available—and I have excellent taste.

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Photos: @MelHillPhotography; Steven Murray

When taking photos takes over: nine things to do with your 10,000 photos

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Who’s guilty of having a mind-boggling number of unsorted photos in their life? Just sitting there—on your phone and on your computer—just waiting, lurking, taunting, pestering, just begging for attention.

The dilemma of digital photography!

It’s all well and good to keep taking the wretched things and pretending one day you’ll sort them out. But even if you do manage to cull them, back them up, and even edit them, then what? What the hell are we actually going to do with this ghastly number of images we’re collecting along the way in this digital world? (I wrote ‘we’, in the vague hope it’s not just me.)

In order to justify my obsession, I’m working hard to utilise the images. Here are some of my favourite solutions.

  1. Make a calendar. Choose a theme – family, travel shots, landscapes, whatever. You might like to sell them or give them as presents. Every year my daughter gives me one featuring the grandkids, bless their cotton socks! With various online options available to make printing super easy, the hardest thing is choosing 12 images to feature.
  2. Even though we’re in a digital world, don’t forget about printing. You can stick to an album (remember them?), but there’s a world of possibilities beyond that—put prints on cork boards, hang them from pegs, in garlands or buntings. Have a look at Pinterest for some inspo.
  3. Make a photo book for your coffee table—again so many easy online companies selling photo books, with a range of features and qualities. I’ve used Milk Books, which I love – I made a beautiful book of my Dad’s life the year after he died and gave one to each of my family members.

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4. Choose some favourites to print and hang them in the house, either framed or on a canvas. A hallway can become an instant gallery.

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5. Stream a selection of photos through your TV and display them on the big screen in full glory. (Tip: pick the really in focus ones for this!) We use an Apple TV system which allows us to display photos while playing music. Why not display your own shots rather than Apple’s? Great when it works, bloody frustrating when it doesn’t. Ugh—technology.

6. Print your photos on useful items, like mugs, mouse pads, keyrings, jigsaw puzzles, another thousand fridge magnets. The options are endless. I’ve seen a suit lined with photo-printed fabric, but perhaps that’s taking it a little too far.

7. Print some on cards. Use them as cards yourself, or give some away in a pack. Always handy to have some blank cards in your cupboard.

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8. Use them on your blog and in social media—a great image can really grab attention and increase your engagement. Share the joy!

9. Convert your travel images into a simple video to share online. Lots of free programs and apps which take all the hard work out of it for you and you can share online. That way people can opt in to view if they like, rather than being cornered at a slide night. Keep them short—we all have short attention spans these days.

Do you have other ideas? What do you do with your photos?

North and south: how to escape the winter chills

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img_1897The winter chill has just hit Canberra with a vengeance. The days are glorious and the sky is blue, but each year when June arrives, it’s just a bit of a shock. Think sub-zero temperatures overnight, crisp mornings when frost greets you with a glistening grin,  lawns that crunch, and ponds that freeze (only very small ones though, like dog bowls, with a fairly thin layer). It’s terribly pretty and makes for some lovely photo opps, but it does make you yearn for warm evenings.

So we did what any sensible recently-retired people with time on their hands and a string of friends and relies who live in warmer zones would do—we headed north! What an amazing country that you can go from one weather extreme to another by just hopping in your car and driving for a few hours. Well, rather a lot of hours actually, like a couple of days, and we only travelled around a third of the vertical distance of this great and spacious land, and we didn’t even think about moving west.

Fast forward a few days and we’re in Queensland, where the residents are complaining about the cold snap that’s just bombarded them and how awful it is to cope with 15 degrees celsius during the day when normally it might be 21, or you know, even 24 degrees. Good Lord, they might have to close the doors at night or put a cotton jumper on. Perish the thought.

We were there for some full-on puppy sitting as the newest babe had only arrived a week ago and the very newly appointed fur-parents were already called away (for a holiday, of course) and needed backup . As it turns out, puppy sitting is just as tiring as having your own babies and perhaps just a little more hectic. It even included having to set the alarm at 1am and 4am to take the babies outside for middle of the night wee breaks. We didn’t know that little detail before we agreed to the gig. Good job the *babies were adorably cute. Photographic evidence below.

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Occasionally, the effervescent, energy-fuelled and just-home puppies exhaust themselves and cease their endless tumbling and wrestling and nipping and lie exhausted in a bundled, furry and silent heap.

That’s when I move to the edge of the pool and lie on the tiles, reliving the feel of my lazy days of coastal youth lying in the sun, soaking in the rays, and doing exactly nothing. Except this time I am fully clothed and have my face covered, because I’m sensible now. And I don’t need more wrinkles. Or melanoma.

Ah the decadence: the warm, deliciousness of a mellow winter sun that seeps deeply into you languidly and warms your whole body, not enough to get you hot, but just enough, and sends you off to oblivion—or perhaps it’s sleep— as the breeze whips around you, just strong enough to flip the plastic ring out of the pool but not enough to disturb. Perfection, if not for the intermittent little yelp of the grown up, not-sleepy dog contained outside the fence who is annoyed by your oblivion to his ball and his need for attention. ffs, play with me, he impeaches.

It was lovely.

And of course, the experience of a couple of weeks in the glorious winter sun of Queensland during June, while my beloved hometown huddles in down jackets and cranks up the heating appliances, it’s made us reconsider the question of purchasing that fabled campervan for a bit of winter drifting, all over again.

Ahh, it’s back to the drawing board…

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* For those interested in dog, the fur babies are Australian Shepherds, from two different litters and showing two colourings. Harkin, the monster-sized white one, is Merle colour and is only 9 weeks in these pics; Murphy is 11 weeks.  Just been reading about them – I feel a separate doggy post coming.

 

The pros and perils of hoarding

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It’s official. I am a queen of hoarding, and of procrastination. But it’s not completely diabolical. Sometimes it allows me to find some treasures from the past and have a little chuckle.

In a rare moment of clean-up zeal, I opened some overflowing cupboards in the study this week and started trawling through in an attempt to eradicate some. This thrilled my long-suffering husband who has been urging me to chuck that stuff out for years.

It’s been a long time coming, and there were some interesting discoveries. Like some ancient history relics from my days in the 1980s teaching business and computing studies—like instructions on how to format floppy disks and common DOS commands. Invaluable information. They were so old they were even printed on foolscap paper before the world moved to A4. Ahh—the memories.

My favourite find was a 1985 publication from the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations providing advice for graduates seeking employment, brilliantly illustrated by iconic Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig. The illustrations are enough to encourage me to pass it onto the National Library of Australia for future posterity.

Take this example of outstanding pictorial advice:

That combination of moustache and fur stole is truly inspiring.

or this:

Not only are the illustrations worthy, but there is some amazing written advice too on how to approach a job search and how to conduct yourself in an interview. For example, ‘smoke only if invited to do so.’ Who’d have thought? Hands up anyone out there ever lit up a ciggie in a interview and wondered why you didn’t get the job?

Actually, there’s rather a lot of good advice in the publication, and what a coup to get Leunig to illustrate. Brilliant communications work from a government department back in the 80s. I wonder if they have something similar now?

A separate list of what not to do in an interview, based on the real life experiences of a number of top personnel executives in the US, was also enlightening about what not to do in an interview. The list was first published in Bob Levey’s Washington Post eons ago. Some memorable incidents of interview fails included interviewees who:

  • stretched out on the floor to fill in the application form
  • brought a large dog to the interview
  • challenged the interviewer to an arm wrestle
  • asked the interviewer if he wanted some cocaine before the interview
  • threw up on his desk, then immediately started asking questions about the job as if nothing had happened.

Even my worst interview experiences are now looking so much better. Here’s the full list if you want more.

I’ve also come across a lot of stuff I’ve put away that was intended to be the basis of blog and travel posts. So many good intentions. So many lost moments.

As you might imagine, the process going through old stuff for me is very time consuming, as I stop often, very often, to read and reminisce. And sometimes even to write about it.

But thanks, Mr Leunig and Mr Levey. You made my day.

Now I must get back to the piles …

Disclaimer: In case anyone is panicking, when I say hoarder, I don’t actually have stuff piled up to the ceiling of my home impeding movement and human existence, like you see on those hoarding shows. In fact, often my house looks very neat. Praise Lord for big cupboards!!

Why photography matters: good for the body and soul

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img_6143There are many who consider the world has gone mad with snapping photos every minute, everywhere we go. And others who consider it to be a largely a technical exercise about capturing a scene or a moment accurately and clearly. But from where I sit, it’s more than that. So much more.

As I’ve become increasingly obsessed with photography, I’ve been asking myself why it is I’m dedicating so much time to this pastime. It turns out, on reflection, there’s a lot more to it than just snapping off a shot here and there. In fact, there’s a multitude of excellent reasons why photography matters. Here are some of my favourites.

  1. It’s a way of recording our lives and documenting our stories and what’s important to us. It can be how we remember those who came before us and what we’ll leave behind. Most people when asked what they would save from their house if it was on fire say their photos. We place a high value on them, far higher than their intrinsic value.
  • “What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” Karl Lagerfeld

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  1. Photography is a way of communicating. I am a great lover of words, but photography adds another dimension to language. It’s a way of capturing not just landscapes and places, but stories, emotions, and all the moments that make up our lives. It’s a language that transcends all languages.
  • “Photography is the story I fail to put into words.” Destin Sparks
  1. Somehow taking a camera for a walk allows me to see the world differently. My eyes are opened to detail and beauty that I might have missed a hundred times before. Try it.
  • “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” — Dorothea Lange

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  1. Photography can release your inner artist and allows you to put forward your own creative slant on the world. I struggle to draw a recognisable stickman, but photography allows me to overcome my lack of artistic talent. It’s not necessarily easy but the pictures and palettes are already created and all I have to do is see them, capture them my way and paint them with light. Unlimited scope for creativity.
  • “Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art.” — Ambrose Bierce

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  1. Learning new photographic skills is fantastic exercise for your brain, and there is certainly a lot to learn. Research abounds that learning new skills can changes brain function and can help stave off the effects of ageing, and who doesn’t want that? It’s all about neurogenesis: by learning new skills and taking up new mental challenges, we can strengthen existing neural pathways in the brain and even make new connections.
  2. Photography is good for your mental health. There is much evidence that art therapy and creativity are effective ways of improving mental health. When you’re looking for a photo and concentrating on your work, you’re being present and creative, and practising mindfulness – being in the moment – without even knowing it. Many people use the focus required for photography as a calming or healing mechanism. It’s also an accessible and non-threatening way to communicate and for people to share thoughts, fears, frustration and joys.
  • “The key to it is that you have to recognise that you need to be mindful to take great pictures. You need to give yourself permission to stop and step away from the demands of normal life.”  —Paul Sanders
  1. It’s not just your mind that can get a work out. Photography gets you out and about, disguising your long walks or clambers up hills for a better vantage point as an outing. It’s certainly about the only thing that will get me up early in the morning to catch a sunrise. You can do it alone, or join in with others with a similar interest.

Here are some ways to share the photography love with others.

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  1. Photography can be a way of healing. The act of recording someone’s life in a photographic exhibition or in a photo book, or even viewing it, can be cathartic. It is used as a tool to assist with mental illness and coping with grief. I love the very sad but very special work of Heartfelt , an organisation which facilitates volunteer photographers to record stillbirths or losses for families. Tough work but so appreciated by the families to have their precious limited time and memories captured beautifully.
  • “Photography is a magical kind of art that allows people to preserve time and moments, and to describe the world the way they see it.” ― Sahara Sanders

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So even more excuses to keep out there taking more pics, and knowing it’s good for me.

And as I gradually learn more and exercise my neural pathways as well as my legs, I take comfort in the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson: “Your first 10, 000 photographs are your worst.”

I’ve surely done that many. I might be starting to get there.

 

Farewell, Canberra autumn: an ode in pictures

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img_6123In autumn each year, pretty much the whole city of Canberra erupts in colours. That’s what happens if you live in a place where trees form so much of the urban landscape.

If you want to visit this fair city, autumn is the time to come. Or spring – that’s very pretty too.

This year has been warmer longer, so the colours have stayed around longer.

Such a treat.

So many photos.

 

Barry Humphries: The Man Behind the Mask

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img_5888Barry Humphries is a man of many faces—actor, writer, comedien, producer and raconteur—and the man behind a clutch of loud and larger than life alter-egos famed around the world. But in his latest Australian tour, it’s his own face that is given the limelight as he takes the audience on a retrospective ride through his early days and career as we discover a little more about the man behind the characters.

The night in Canberra, ‘gateway to Yass’, was a leisurely stroll through the past. In fact it takes well over two hours, but it’s a well-paced journey, as you’d expect from a master of comedic timing. We travel back to childhood days in inner Melbourne (then outer), of attempted poisoning and bullying, the influence of his mother, the ‘mistress of the vocabulary of disapproval’, and a failed Shakespearean debut. Along the way, amidst a torrent of one-liners and anecdotes, the spawning of his greatest characters are revealed – Dame Edna and Sir Les Patterson – borne from true life. It’s a fascinating insight.

The stage set is simple: an man in a pink suit (of course) on a bare stage, save for a matching pink lounge chair. His old mate and faithful accompanist of 25 years, Andrew Ross, sits at one side and gently adds some tinkling and a few words from time to time. There’s no need for much else. In Canberra the venue was unduly large and cavernous, a pity as it didn’t befit the notion of an intimate unmasking and the painting of a self-portrait. Perhaps the marketing was too low key—surely a talent of this calibre deserves a full house.

The body language lets you know this man is ageing (he’s 84), as he potters across stage and slumps occasionally into that pink chair. But his mind is quick, his language precise, and his timing impeccable. No doubt it’s well rehearsed, but it’s not all scripted and there’s an opportunity for a moment of impromptu repartee with an audience member — Helen, who lives in an apartment, not a flat. Just a friendly little chat, by all accounts, but all the while gently taking the piss out of her for the audience’s pleasure. Just as Edna might do.

The great characters of Barry’s career – Edna, Les and Sandy Stone – join him on stage in the second set , not in person but in the form of selected film clips and archival footage. In front of a star-studded curtain, another liberal scattering of stars appears — of the Hollywood kind, royalty and presidents — revealed in a snippets of classic moments of the past. Even a young Donald Trump was there with Ivana, before he was orange, but who appeared just as clueless back then as he is now.

The clips are old so the vision is not crystal clear from a distance and sometimes the audio difficult to catch, particularly the speech of the outlandish and despicable Sir Les. Or perhaps it’s the fault of those dreadful teeth he had to mumble through?

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It’s a joy to look back and remember the moments many grew up with, and marvel at how risque some of it was. To watch Mrs Norman Everage, dowdy housewife of Monee Ponds, evolve over the decades and climb the ranks of society to become Dame Edna Everage, international star and style icon, beloved of royalty, with a charming grin and a wickedly acid tongue.

Of course, Edna and particularly Sir Les can get away with a lot more than Barry can, although the man himself still likes to push the boundaries, provocateur that he is. He does get away with quite a lot, as his string of politically incorrect one liners and name calling would attest. The particularly faint-hearted might be offended, but the audience well and truly deemed them funny.

It’s not all fun and levity. At one point we’re let into a little of the whirlwind decade of the 60s, when fame and drinking mixed to dizzy heights, and when he dodged oblivion by staying for a time at a ‘private hospital for thirsty people’. He seems grateful for the rescue and his escape from the chemicals which consumed others, and the opportunity to enjoy the things still dear to him – his refuge the stage, art, music, and grandkids. And so are we.

He finished the show with a song, as he always does, and a promise to be back next year with a new show. He might be well and truly an octogenarian, but he’s not going anywhere yet.

See him in this show if you can, or wait for the next if you must, but see him because, in the words of that random bloke he came across recently in Sydney, the one who doesn’t know him from a bar of soap:

‘Baz, you’re a fucking icon.’

Making the most of a photo obsession: how to share the photography love

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Confession. I have a tendency to become a little OCD with certain things. Recently it seems photography has moved into this space and may have consumed my life a bit. A lot. Taking photos, sharing, editing, deleting (not nearly enough), learning, looking, liking, reading about photography, dreaming about photography holidays. It’s surprising there’s been room for anything else.

It’s time consuming this photography thing, and addictive, challenging, and even frustrating – but it can be exhilarating too, like when you manage to just catch that shot at just the right moment.

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I’ve also discovered it’s opened up a whole new world to me – even if it was the same one as before, which I just wasn’t taking enough notice of.

Because with a camera in hand – or even a phone – suddenly I’m seeing the world differently. I’m so much more observant to what’s around – the changing colours of the season, the glories of a sky, the character of a city, the minutiae of daily life, the expressions on a face.

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And oh, the light! Once you start seeing the complexities and nuances of light and watch them shift throughout the day,  you can’t un-see it. Ever changing intensities, shadows and moods.

I truly never noticed it before but now having searched for it for so long to capture in a frame, it’s constantly visible – even when the camera’s away.

That makes life one continual visual adventure, full of constant opportunities, and very slow walks.

But it doesn’t have to be a solitary adventure. For those wanting to expand your photography skills and share your passion with others, here are eight possibilities which actually involve others.

  1. Share your photos on Instagram. Warning, you may potentially lose your life! I spend an inordinate number of hours taking snaps and sharing them with family and others on this social media platform. But it can be rewarding. I was thrilled recently to be included in a Top 10 Canberra Instagrammers list among some talented photographers. Very addictive, but also inspiring to see what others are doing.

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2. Connect with local instagrammers, if you’ve got a local group or a broader one. You can connect on online or (perish the thought) in person. I’ve participated in an art exhibition with a local group and also attended a couple of events, including a night photography ‘light painting’ evening and  a tour of a historic property. Much fun and you get to travel with others who are also photo obsessed – which means they don’t get annoyed when you stop all the time or ask about camera settings.

 

3. Join up with a local photography group to meet others who share your passion. Activities might include meetings, excursions and competitions. Members are very willing to share their experience.

4. Do a photography course. Many workshops and short courses are available, including online learning, some free and some paid. I love in person training and last year completed one unit of the Certificate IV photography course at Canberra Institute of Technology – three hours a week for one semester. Really pushed up my skill level.

5. Join in with an online community, perhaps on Facebook. Great for learning and inspiration. Lots of ‘challenge’ opportunities to join in with to keep you on your toes and sometimes thinking outside the box.

6. Join in with the Canon Collective, and no, you don’t have to use Canon gear. They offer free and paid workshops across Australia (where you can try out some of their equipment), ‘challenge’ opportunities, an online community for advice and inspiration, and even photography holidays. An entire weekend of activities in Canberra was my first exposure.

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7. Take advantage of the wealth of information available online – articles, tutorials, workshops. Many offer free stuff in the hope you’ll also buy some of their services. Digital Photography School is a great source of tips, resources and free tutorials.

8. Take an guided photography holiday. No photos of this option yet – still on my dream list.

So many options to keep you interested and inspired.

Then you just need to work out what to do with all those photos you’re collecting.  But fear not, I’ve got lots of suggestions for those too coming in a separate post.

Recycling – what’s in and what’s out

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Plastic-waste-shutterstock_426187984-72dpiThere’s been a lot of talk in Australia recently about recycling, following China’s unexpected announcement in January it would be taking in far less of ours for processing. They do have over 1.4 billion people over there so they have quite a lot of their own recycling to contend with, but it was reportedly the high levels of contamination in recycling that was the catalyst for their revised import restrictions. It’s now set to ban 24 categories of solid waste – not just from us but the US, EU and Japan as well – in an effort to protect their own environment and public health.

This is sending Australian recycling systems into a state of panic. It’s also putting the onus back on us to work out other or better ways of dealing with our own recycling on our own shores, reducing our contamination rates, or even creating less of it in the first place. Opportunity abounds! (How we seize it is another matter.)

This recycling idea has been around some time and the vast majority of us in Oz urban centres have recycling bins with tell-tale yellow lids provided and collected. Easy peasy? Apparently not, as many of us haven’t really twigged as to what goes in those bins and what doesn’t.

So, in the interests of Planet Earth and to assist in our current rubbish crisis, here’s a little guide to help reduce recycling at the household coalface.

  1. Make it a habit to recycle in your house. Have separate bins in the kitchen and think about what you do. If it’s not a habit yet, stick some little post-its up around the place to remind you until it becomes second nature. Remind others to do the same. Nag if required. Train kids early. Forming new habits is easier than stopping old ones, so part way there already.
  2. Only put in recyclable materials in the recycle bin – like bottles, cans, paper, hard plastic. Not crockery, or food, or paint cans, or dead animals. Check out the rules that apply to your local area – local councils always have advice. Some places take pizza boxes, some don’t. If they don’t and you pop one in (or six in the case of parties), you risk contaminating the whole bin. Oops – out goes the whole lot to landfill.
  3. Do not painstakingly put all your recycled products into a plastic bag and drop that neatly in the bin. The people at the other end hate that and just chuck the whole lot in the normal bin for landfill. No one will open the bag and pull things out. No one. It’s just called contamination.
  4. Take the lids off the top of bottles. They’re usually made of different materials so is easier for sorting. And if lids are on, air can get trapped and explode, which does no recycling worker any good, particularly anxious ones.
  5. Not all plastics are created equal. It gets a bit complex with all the different plastic types, PETS and BPAs and different symbols, but the basic rule is you can put hard plastics in your recycle bin but not soft plastics. If you can scrunch it up, don’t put in your yellow recycle bin because it will ‘contaminate’ the other stuff and can cause havoc with the sorting conveyors.
  6. If you have lots of soft plastic in your life, help is at hand. Redcycle has teamed up with Coles, Woollies and various others to install soft plastic recycling bins in handy places. There’s now one in every Coles supermarket. They also work with other partners to make products from the recycled products (because we have to actually do stuff with the things we’re collecting).
  7. Mums, Dad and grandparents on babysitting duties – this one’s for you. Don’t put your used nappies in the recycling because – that’s truly just disgusting. Who does that, you say? Apparently lots and lots of dirty people do. Or lazy ones. Or sleep-deprived losing-their-minds one. Recent research showed 4% of homeowners in one catchment in Sydney put nappies in their bins!! Don’t be one of them. It’s gross. Don’t put other crap in there either, like fabric, or bikes, or food, or fans because that’s just ridiculous and yet apparently that also happens. Syringes are common too (ugh) and that’s plain and simple dangerous.
  8. You can rinse out bottles and food containers but they don’t have to be pristine. Don’t leave lots of liquid in though.
  9. Recycle your *aluminium (see note below). It’s incredibly energy intensive to make (we call it ‘frozen electricity’ in our house) but it’s totally recyclable and can be recycled over and over again. Recycling only uses 5% of the original energy needed to create it Doesn’t even matter if there’s a bit of food on it. So don’t throw it out – it’s valuable stuff.
  10. When in doubt, leave it out. No use risking the whole load for one item. Nappies, fans and food? – no doubt about those.

Go forth, Earth citizens. Recycle your hardest. This planet is having a really hard time and every bit surely counts.

Here are a couple of useful links if you’re feeling enthused:

War on Waste

1millionwomen

Who’s got some other great tips?

And just for interest:

* Note to US readers: In case anyone’s wondering, ‘aluminium’ is the same element referred to as ‘aluminum’ in the US. Blame Mr Webster, of dictionary fame, for changing the spelling back in the 1920s from its original format. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (based in the US) officially standardised the aluminium spelling in 1990, but it hasn’t translated across the American population yet. I suspect the opportunity has been lost.