Peacetime at home

Even if you can't afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

Even if you can’t afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

This post is written in response to Kozo’s June Peace Challenge at Everyday Gurus, to write about maintaining peace at home.

In our hectic lives when every minute of the waking day seems to be filled with work, chores, to-do lists and regrets about so few items on those lists we’ve crossed off,  sometimes we forget that relentlessly, every minute, time is passing us by.

We often neglect relationships with the people closest to us in the pursuit of making those very people’s lives better: trying to make more money to buy them more things, trying to achieve what we suppose are life’s goals.

Yet on our death beds, we will never be glad we made more money, spent more hours working, bought more stuff or cleaned the house more often. We might, however, regret not spending more time on just being with those we love, listening to them and facilitating peace between us.

It’s so important to replenish, rejuvenate and find a sense of joy and peace in our lives, without feeling guilty for taking time out.

I’ve compiled a list of six things I think are important to promote a sense of well being, peace and inner health: I am not saying I follow these things all the time. Too often, I too forget that the world won’t collapse if I don’t meet a deadline.

1. Recycle some stuff you don’t need. There’s something cathartic about de-cluttering your house, and even better if that stuff can go to a good cause and your trash can be someone else’s treasure.

2. Read inspiring novels. Great books teach us empathy, something that is sorely missing in this society that sees angry people constantly tooting horns, pushing in front of each other, and discriminating against their fellow people. Read the classics: anything by Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; read recent novels—anything by Mitch Albom, for example; read historical novels such as March by Geraldine Brooks.

3. Take a vacation, or holiday, as we call it in Australia. Of course, not everyone can afford to actually go away on vacation to an exotic tropical beach, but you could take a holiday at home, even if it’s only over a weekend. A holiday at home means you vow to do no work—not even housework—on those days; it means the majority of every day is relaxing and enjoyable—read a book, watch a movie with your family, make a picnic lunch, lie in bed reading the newspaper.

4. Be a tourist in your own city, and visit the art galleries, museums, or other places of culture you’ve been meaning to see. Go to a live theatre show, particularly if you’ve never been to one before. Small, independent theatre companies desperately need your support and can often be surprisingly affordable.

5. Contact a friend you’ve been neglecting because you’re always too busy. If we don’t keep working at friendships, they are in danger of fading away. And even if this is the sort of person you know you could pick up with again at any time, it’s sad to get out of touch and miss the events, big and small, that are important in each other’s lives.

6. Go for a walk and get to know your neighbourhood. We spend so much time at our computers, in our cars, sitting in the train or bus, that we forget to walk. I walk most days, and often towards dusk, I pass an elderly Greek couple sitting on the veranda of their neat-as-a-pin house overlooking their carefully tended garden. We nod and chat now, even though our conversations are limited by a language barrier. But no matter, we mean each other well. On another street, there’s an old black and white cat who suns himself every afternoon on the warm concrete path outside the apartment where he lives. Then there’s an old man who looks about 90, who rides an ancient bicycle to and from the shops every day. There are all sorts of modes of transport round our neigbourhood: the other day, I saw a young man casually riding a unicycle along the street. Every day, I notice something I have never seen before.

For more on establishing and maintaining a peaceful home, check out blogger Julianne Victoria’s inspirations at Through the Peacock’s Eyes, and to discover what ducks have to do with peace, see the blog My Little Spacebook.

I’m a poet and I didn’t know it!

Dear Readers,
I’ve been pondering how we start and end our correspondence, particularly electronically (which is 99% of the correspondence I get these days anyway). I made a quick list the other day of some of the greetings and closes I’ve received recently. I laughed when I read it back, because it sounds like a poem. Here is my list, which I’ve even given a poetic title:

 Truly, sincerely, faithfully




To whom it may concern

How are you?

I hope you’re well


Kind, best, warm regards

Yours truly, sincerely, faithfully

All good things

In solidarity

Bye for now

Thank you


When I was growing up, there were strict rules about letter writing. You started with “Dear so-and-so [comma]”. You then indented the next sentence on the line below. This sentence should contain a greeting: “I hope you’re well”, if it was an informal letter to a friend or acquaintance, or a statement of the purpose of the correspondence if it was a business or professional letter.

How you ended your letter would depend on your relationship with the person.  If it was a formal letter, you would thank them for their attention and then sign off with “Yours faithfully” if it was a first letter on business, then “Yours sincerely” in subsequent letters. Historically, Americans use “Yours truly” and “Sincerely Yours” in the same way. There’s a link here to more on the rules, if you’re interested.

Nowadays, of course, the old rules have been relaxed, especially with the advent of emails. Hardly anyone starts an email with “Dear…” any more, particularly young people. They almost always write “Hi…”.

I always sign off with “Love, Caron” if I’m emailing close friends or relatives, or “Cheers” for colleagues or acquaintances (for want of anything that doesn’t sound as formal as “Regards” nor as familiar as “Love”). Because I write so many emails to friends and relatives, putting “Love, Caron” is almost automatic: I often double-check emails to my students to make sure I have put “Regards” and not “Love” absentmindedly, because the latter would sound weirdly inappropriate!

And I often think “Cheers” might not always be appropriate for acquaintances, because of its connotations with drinking. But as I say, I can’t think of anything else, so I use it reluctantly.

Sometimes, I just sign my name, without a closing “Cheers” or “Regards”. Then again, many people don’t bother to sign off emails at all, because their name is at the top anyway.

By the way, “In solidarity” is how staff at my union sign off, and “All good things” is the hallmark of a happy friend.



Amazing Stories of Trust #1: the airline and the lost baggage

Image courtesy Mark J P on Flickr

Image courtesy Mark J P on Flickr

I don’t like to look at the past with rose-coloured glasses too much. However, one of the things I think has suffered in the last 30 years is the element of trust in one’s fellow person: the concept that most people will do the right thing most of the time.

I’m reminded of something that happened to me in 1980 in my homeland of New Zealand, when I took a flight from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay. It was only a one-hour flight, and while I arrived at Napier-Hastings airport safely, my bag was nowhere to be seen. The Air NZ staff were apologetic, and said my bag had been put on the wrong trolley and would be forwarded the next day.

In the meantime, they said they would pay for some toiletries for me to make do with. They gave me an Air NZ cash cheque and told me to go to a chemist (known as a drug store in the US) and get whatever I needed.

This was not just any cheque. Well, it was, actually. It was what was known as an “open cheque”, which was signed, leaving the amount blank for me to fill in, depending on how much it was. I could do that at the point of purchase, they said.

“How much should I spend?” I asked.

“Just whatever you need, within reason,” they said.

Even back then, this amazed me. Such trust!

I didn’t buy much: a toothbrush, deodorant, a few other minor items. The bill came to less than $10.

The next day, the airline arranged for my bag to be couriered to my house in the small town of Waipukurau, about 45 minutes’ drive from the airport.

That’s customer service, trust and great company PR all in one.

Day (463) – 4 Years of my Life

A great column in which Evan Sanders says that while university might well be the best years of your life, it’s not necessarily so: that the best years can be all the years you are living, even if there are struggles along the way. It’s a lesson in making the best of what we have.

The Better Man Project

First of all, right off the bat, I just wanted to say that there is nothing wrong with the saying “They were right, college was the 4 best years of my life” or any other saying related to that idea. Yesterday was exactly one year since I graduated from university and seeing all of the pictures of everyone’s caps and gowns really brought me back. But those short sayings about college being the best 4 years (or 5 for those super seniors) really struck me and I got to thinking.

I was taught a while ago that in this moment there is nothing, no past, no future, it is perfect…nothing to fix or change. From nothing, I can create – anything. And then I thought back to my experiences at school. Many were up, many were down. But then I thought about the whole entire idea and started to ask…

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The perfect inventions: top 11

Apart from the ancient essential inventions, such as the wheel and fire, and the obvious modern inventions, such as antibiotics and X-rays, and world-changing new media, such as the internet and computers, what are the inventions that make our everyday life better than it would otherwise be? What are the inventions that just can’t be beaten? I’ve made a list of some of my favourites. To make the list, they had to have longevity, be sturdy if not unbreakable, be cheap and provide an essential function. Here, then, are my top 11 inventions, in no particular order.

 1.Transistor radio: you need never feel lonely and a couple of batteries will last for a very long time. I have a transistor in the bathroom. Steam from the shower doesn’t bother it, I don’t need to pay anything or use up any data to listen to live radio shows at any time of the day or night. I can get news, real current affairs, interviews, travel updates, music, talkback, lifestyle information, comedy and more. Even my cat likes to sit and listen to the radio.

Radio Lucy: my cat likes to listen to the radio. I've heard they also like a CD, and there are some specially made for cats. That might be taking it a bit far. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013.

Radio Lucy listens to the morning pet show on the radio. I’ve heard they also like a good music CD, and there are some specially made for cats. That might be taking it a bit far.                                  Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

2. Ballpoint pen: doesn’t go forever, but goes for a long time. Tiny, and never needs batteries. A $20 bundle of pens from the Post Office shop has so far lasted me 10 years. Granted, I don’t hand-write much these days, but there are doodles, occasional lists, scribbled reminders, class rolls. Great books have been written with one of these. Roald Dahl wrote by hand in his garden shed. Students with late essays would never be able to use the excuse that their “computer broke down”.

3. Paperback book: probably the most dodgy on the list, because people will say that ereaders have superseded it. Well, not necessarily. I love my Kindle and my iPad for reading, too, but they have limitations. Obviously, with the iPad, its battery life is a problem (though some flights now allow you to recharge). And with the basic Kindle, although the battery life is great, you still can’t operate electronic gadgets when a plane is taking off and landing, meaning you have to find something else to read then. I often take a paperback, as well as my Kindle, for the no-electronics times. And marginalia, although it can be made electronically, is just not the same. I recently found a text I’d had to read as an undergraduate student, and in the margin, I’ve written in pencil, “Soooooo tedious”.

4. Automatic analogue watch: all you have to do is wear it every day and it just goes. Or you can wind it up. No battery ever needed. My father had the same automatic watch almost all his life (though he owned lots of other watches, too).

5. Toothbrush: I’m talking the manual kind over the electric. I recently went back to this old fashioned gadget that never needs charging or a battery, is easy to clean, is good for three months or more, and is very cheap—the one I just bought cost $1.

6. Plastic comb: minimal cost, you use it every day and it fits in your purse or pocket. All you have to do is wash it every so often. I’ve had the same comb for more than 20 years, and now it has sentimental value.

7. Automatic kettle: most of us still have one, even though we can heat up water in the microwave quicker. My twentysomething brother doesn’t have one though, so perhaps times are a-changing.

8. Electric non-stick toasted sandwich maker: a meal in five minutes, barely any mess, maximum satisfaction and you can pick one up for $30 or less. You can also make omelets in the compartmentalised ones. I like the sandwich-press style these days, which you can also use as a mini grill.

9.  Digital camera: ‘new’ technology but so much better than film cameras (for everyday snapshots at least—proper photographer/artists might have a different opinion). The concept of putting a camera in our phones was brilliant. It’s so easy now to illustrate my blog, for example.

10. Scissors: imagine if they didn’t exist. We could still cut things, but it would be a pain. I have scissors in just about every room of the house. They’re cheap, simple, and although they are sharp, there’s much less chance you’ll accidentally injure yourself with them (unless, as the old saying goes, you run with them—even then…).

11. Dried pasta: lasts for ages without refrigeration, is very cheap (from 65c a packet), filling and incredibly versatile. The simplest of pasta dishes is also my favourite: for two people, boil half a packet (or less) of dried spaghetti in salted water until just al dente, then drain it (do NOT rinse). Meanwhile, in a deep-sided fry pan, heat two tablespoons or so of olive oil (or 1 of olive oil, one of butter) and, on low heat, add a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic and fresh or dried chilli. Fry for a few minutes until the garlic starts to brown, then add one or two bottled anchovy fillets with a little of their oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring to break up the anchovy. Add the spaghetti and stir well in the sauce until it is piping hot. Serve  garnished with parsley, black pepper and parmesan, and you have aglio e olio, superb, simple and tasty comfort food.

Old Gadgets

It’s strange to think that something that was made as recently as 2000 could now be a relic of the past, a strange reminder of technology most of us no longer use.

I teach media studies and communications at a university, and I’m interested in the links between creativity and technology. One of my hobbies—ironically, to get away from that world—is painting.  I’ve been doing a series I call “Old Gadgets”.

My latest painting in this series, finished last night, is “Old Gadgets No. 3”, which features my mother’s Panasonic cassette player-recorder. It was state of the art when my parents bought it in 1973 at the Santa Monica mall in Los Angeles, where we were living at the time. At the same time, I got a smaller cassette deck, which I was very proud of but which is long gone. Now I wish I’d kept it!

Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board.
Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

The Sony Walkman in the painting was bought by my husband to take on an overseas holiday in 2000. Remember when cassette players used occasionally to “eat” the tape, and you had to carefully unravel it?

Old Gadgets No. 1: my manual typewriter, bought in Bangkok, 1991. On the case is the German version of my novel, The Occidentals (Das Erbst Der Schwestern). I wrote the first draft of this novel many years before it was published, on this typewriter. Acrylics on board.

Old Gadgets No. 1: my manual typewriter, bought in Bangkok, 1991. On the case is the German version of my novel, The Occidentals (Das Erbst Der Schwestern). I wrote the first draft of this novel many years before it was published, on this typewriter. Acrylics on board. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

“Old Gadgets No. 1” features my manual typewriter, which I then gave to a friend who collects such things. I bought this typewriter in 1991, when I was living in Bangkok, because we had frequent power cuts during the rainy season and I wanted to be able to keep writing. Remember how messy and annoying it was to change the typewriter ribbon?

“Old Gadgets No. 2” is my Canon Eos film camera, bought in 1999, and various accessories. I used it until 2005, but it was already well out of date then. Remember those Kodak print packs you’d pick up and excitedly see what surprise gems you had taken on holiday?

Old Gadgets No. 2: my film-era camera, 1999. Acrylics on board. The prints are from a trip I did to China in 2001. The slides are the only ones I ever took, on a trip to Vietnam in about 1996.

Old Gadgets No. 2: my film-era camera, 1999. Acrylics on board. The prints are from a trip I did to China in 2001. The slides are the only ones I ever took, on a trip to Vietnam in 1996. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

I have a drawer at home where I keep old gadgets I might want to include in a painting. In the drawer are a purse-size address book, a tiny Motorola cell phone from 2003, 3D glasses that are still current but will be relics within a few years, and a TEAC external floppy disc drive unit in see-through turquoise, which matched my iMac in 1999. Apple had decided, ahead of its time, not to include floppy disc drives in its computers, so we all had to buy these little gadgets.

I wonder what the next thing I relegate to my “old gadgets” drawer will be?

Light of my life

lampDo you have a possession that has been with you a long time and that you’d never part with? Mine is, surprisingly perhaps, this replica French art deco lamp.

I bought it when I moved to Australia as a young journalist in the late-1980s and, for me, it symbolised an exciting new life. I think it was one of the first things I bought in Australia, and it was expensive. But I had to have it, and it’s been with me ever since, to Thailand twice and to many different addresses and styles of house.

I loved art deco style (and still do), but in my 20s, I thought it THE most beautiful style. I’ve since broadened by ideas of what good style is, but art deco is still up there.  It is the reason I love the style of Napier in New Zealand, which is the best preserved art deco-style city in the world. Sadly, this is because there was a major earthquake there in 1931 and virtually the whole town had to be rebuilt.

But back to the lamp. It has been on the mantlepiece of the formal sitting room in an Edwardian house I owned in Kew, Melbourne. It has been on a side table in two marble-floored apartments in Muang Thong Thani and in Bangkok, Thailand. It has been in a flat above a fish and chip shop in the coastal town of Sorrento, Victoria (Australia).

The frosted glass backing has been broken and replaced twice. It wasn’t broken in transit, as you’d expect: you can undo the glass and pack it separately, and when reassembling it, if you do it back up too tightly, the glass breaks. But I haven’t done that for some 15 years now.

For the last 10 years or so, it has been my bedside lamp. Every night when I turn on my lamp, I find a source of comfort, like a dear old friend. If I wake in the night with a bad dream or a worry, I turn on my lamp. It’s bright enough to read by, but low enough to go to sleep by if you want.

Chances are, I will have this lamp forever.