Rock on!

rockonThe August Bloggers for Peace challenge on Everyday Gurus this month stumped me, I’ll admit it. While I love music—I grew up learning classical singing, had a piano at home which my mother played by ear,  have learnt piano and guitar and have an eclectic personal music collection—I didn’t know what I could add to a discussion about how music can bring or promote peace.

I could state the obvious: Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon and loads of hippie songs from the 1960s and so on. But everyone knows that.

 Music is probably the world’s most universally understood medium, thus it’s arguably the most powerful. The challenge, and my inability to come up with a worthwhile contribution, made me think, What do I really know about modern music?

This week, when my regular email from Coursera arrived, I clicked on it, and skimmed the list of courses offered. (If you haven’t heard, Coursera is an online organisation that offers free university-level courses from many different universities to anyone who wants to sign up).  My eye hit ‘The History of Rock Music’, and now I’m enrolled for the seven-week free music appreciation course starting Monday.

I know you don’t need to do a course to appreciate music, but I’m interested in finding out more of the background to great US music from the 1950s on. The course instructor has done the hard work for me, and promises I will discover musical tastes and directions I never knew existed. It’s a free course, so I have absolutely nothing to lose.

Plus, it seems to me that spending a few hours a week listening to wonderful music will help promote harmony in my life–in the same way as my painting takes me away from rules, words, work, timetables, worries. I will keep you posted on how it goes!

My talking Ozzy Osborne doll. But more about him and the other three Osborne dolls in a post for another day...

My talking Ozzy Osbourne doll. But more about him and the other three Osbourne dolls in a post for another day…

 Update, October 20: I’ve finished the first ‘History of Music’ course on Coursera and got 100%! I’ve now enrolled for part two of the course coming up soon. It was fascinating the way the course covered so much in such a short time. I’d imagine the most difficult part was deciding what to leave out. I can now appreciate much more strongly the musicians of the 1960s, who I’d not had much time for previously.

Writer’s Diary #6: How to finish your novel: ditch the to-do list

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 10.17.44 AMWe’re constantly thinking up new things we want or need to do, adding them to the never-ending list, then moaning about never having time to do them. If you are a writer, you probably complain that so many things get in the way to thwart you that you will never finish your novel.

The answer? Don’t have a list! Obviously, it’s good to have goals, but when you have so many that you’ll never have any hope of achieving them, it’s counter-productive. Often you have so much to do, you don’t know where to start.

So, the idea is, only put on your list what you can reasonably achieve.

In one weekend, no matter how enthusiastic you are at the start, you will not be able to clean out the cupboards, start your novel, read a whole book and go to the movies. Pick one and do it. Then you’ll be happy you achieved your goal, and you won’t be disappointed in yourself for not finishing four other things on the list.

Sometimes one day at a time is better than making five-year plans.

I’ve got a long-term to-do list that has been the same for about five years. I never cross anything off it, because I never get to it. So it’s always lurking there on my virtual computer sticky notes, reminding me what a disappointment I am to myself and others. I’m going to get rid of this list soon.

I gave away superfluous clothes from my wardrobe recently. Two big bags full, so now I can find the clothes I wear. The clothes that went to charity were all things I thought I’d wear again. But I haven’t, so out they went, except for a few classics.

So now I want to take the same philosophy to my to-do list. I have to realise that I am not going to be able to write 10 more novels in the foreseeable future—and probably not ever. But I think I might be able to write one, and possibly two or three. So I should just pick my top three ideas and forget about the others. I’ve started all three of them anyway. Yes, I know. I should choose one and go for it. Actually, I’ve got a new idea that I think would be great and for which I could happily put all others aside for a year.

I’m making a new plan to finish my third book and to have it published. To do that, I will have to put all other things aside, particularly to-do lists, though unless I am successful in attaining a government grant, I won’t be able to give up paid employment. Still, eligible applicants have about a one in 10 chance of getting a grant in my category, so it’s better odds than buying a Lotto ticket.

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 10.27.07 AM

Cats by Candlelight

catcandleOur street had a power outage on Monday this week when a tree fell in high winds and knocked out the lines. The outage lasted from 12.45pm to 8pm, more than two hours after dark.

Not only did this put me almost a day behind in my work, but we couldn’t run our heating all day and it’s mid-winter. I had neglected to charge my phone and iPad over night, so had little juice left in both.

Power outages probably happen about once a year for various reasons, but they rarely last more than a couple of hours. We knew this one would be different, because there were so many call-outs due to the weather that it took four hours for the repair truck to turn up. And when my husband asked the guy how long it might take to fix the power lines, his reply was,  “How long is a piece of string?”

Never mind. At least we had a warning that we would probably have to spend some time after dark without power. We have a gas stove, so we could cook on that by lighting the gas ring with a match.

We stocked up on fat candles and two battery-powered camping lights, and took out some spare blankets to wrap ourselves in, in the absence of our central heating. My tall Balinese cat candle holder (pictured above) came in very handy.

We usually have dinner between 7.30 and 8.30pm. But this night, we realised it would be difficult to cook by candlelight, so we cooked at twilight. And instead of putting together one fabulous recipe or another, we decided to go simple: toss a salad, butter a bread roll and quick-fry some small lamb chops. Add some store-bought mint sauce and it was delicious. It felt like we were camping—or what I imagine camping would be like, since I’ve never actually been camping (unless you count a week in a camper van).

And the night came tumbling in.

My cat, Lucy Locket, just carried on as normal, jumping up on to the arm of the couch and lashing her tail. Then I remembered, cats can see in the dark, so she probably wondered why we were doing anything differently to usual.

“It’s so black out there,” my husband said, looking out the floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows in our living room.

It certainly was. And inside, even with lots of candles and the camping lights, there wasn’t really enough light to do anything useful by. He could just see to read a book, but only just.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: an old-fashioned battery-powered transistor radio is one of the world’s greatest inventions. We moved this little radio from its usual place in the bathroom to lounge central, and it was our link to the world. We learned that thousands of other people were without power in Melbourne that night, too.

It certainly made me think about how much we take for granted in this modern life. A day without my blog feed, without Facebook, Twitter or email, and without access to the internet and to my computer itself felt very strange.

Then I thought about my great-grandmother, Isabelle Abbott, born in the 19th century, who told me in the 1980s that she hated electricity and the gadgets that went with it. The old coal-fired range was so much better to cook on than these newfangled electric stoves and ovens, she said. And as for the automatic washing machine—you could keep it. Electric lighting was overrated. What to do when it gets dark? “Go to sleep”.

You’ve won!

Everyone loves to win something, so I’m excited today to be able to announce that I’ve been nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award by my blogosphere friend Fransi at 365 And Counting. I always enjoy reading this blog with its positive outlook and wide ranging topics such as media and the quirks of everyday life. So thanks so much, Fransi, for nominating me.

So, one of the requirements of winning the award is to tell you seven interesting things about myself that you might not know. This is hard, and I know that lots of my friends will say, “I knew that”! But maybe my newer WordPress friends will be surprised.

So, here goes:

1) When I was a child and lived in Los Angeles for two years, I did small roles in films and TV shows. I appeared in The Waltons and Bonanza, among others. I loved getting a day off from school every so often to work at Warner Brothers studios or to go out on location. I attended the Lois Auer Workshop on Saturdays for screen acting lessons, where one of my three classmates was Mary Beth McDonough, who played Erin in The Waltons.

In the 1970s, these were called "flyers" and, as you can see, were displayed to casting agents in ringbinders. There's a full-page photo on the other side.

In the 1970s, these were called “flyers” and, as you can see, were displayed to casting agents in ringbinders. There’s a full-page photo on the other side.

2) I briefly studied tap dancing when I was 11—I still have my shiny black tap shoes!

3) I see numbers, days, months and people’s names as distinct colours in my mind. I also see the days of the week and year as a kind-of signposted road, with physical distances between the days/months/years. I discovered only a few years ago that this is not normal, and is called synesthesia.

4) I studied speech and drama all through my school years and my early adult years, and have Associate of Trinity College London and Associate of New Zealand Speech Board letters in teaching. I wish I’d completed my licentiate teaching qualifications, and perhaps I will one day. Do kids today even learn speech and drama though?

5) I feel drawn to the sea, and coming from an island nation (New Zealand), I am happiest when I’m near the ocean. However, I’m a poor swimmer and have been terrified of—but strangely attracted to—sharks all my life (blame Jaws).

6) I would like to stay up until 1am or 2am every night—unfortunately, work commitments get in the way of this!

7) One of my favourite shows is Gardening Australia. I look forward to this show every Saturday at 6.30pm on the ABC. Why is this unexpected? Because I don’t garden. Not at all.

The other requirement of the award is that I in turn nominate some blogs I admire for the award. Officially, it’s 15, but as they say on the VBA site, “rules are made to be broken”. So, I’m nominating three:

Rejection Love Letters, or A Thousand Ways to Say ‘No’! John Tompkins is a writer trying to get his first book published. All writers know that sinking feeling when you receive a rejection letter from a publisher or agent, and John’s decided to document his rejections on the way to publication. Hilarious, novel (no pun intended) and bitter-sweet.

Consider the Sauce  Kenny Weir is my friend and former journalism colleague whose blog focusing on food in Melbourne’s west is always interesting, entertaining and well informed. He also occasionally visits restaurants outside his area, and comments on wider issues, including media and observations on life. What I like about this blog is its infinite variety, such as its coverage of food experiences that others rarely do—maybe a sausage sizzle at a school fair, or stories about charity food groups, or reviews of mobile van-type restaurants. His son, Bennie, often accompanies him on his travels and adds so much to the experience. Warning: don’t read this blog if you are hungry, because it always has pictures of lots of delicious-looking food.

Bryan Patterson’s Faithworks Bryan is another real-life friend and former journalism colleague who has a knack of writing intriguingly about so many issues that concern us. Bryan wrote a very popular newspaper column about life and faith for many years, and when he moved on, he decided to continue writing via a blog. Although ostensibly, Bryan focuses on religion, his blog is about lots of other stuff that affects us, too. He’s prolific, witty and wise.



Painting Canada

My painting from a photo taken during the Rocky Mountaineer journey, Vancouver-Kamloops leg. PanPastels on treated board. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

My painting from a photo taken during the Rocky Mountaineer journey, Vancouver-Kamloops leg. PanPastels on treated board. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

How does one do justice to the majestic beauty of Canada? My skills with a camera do not approach a level where my photographs could be called art, and my camera itself (just my iPhone) is adequate but limited, compared with the old Canon Eos film camera I used to lug round on vacations.
On my recent two-day journey on the Rocky Mountaineer train, from Vancouver to Banff, I took photos with a view to using them as the inspirations for paintings. Here is the second of them, a scene not far out of Vancouver on the way to Kamloops. Coincidentally, it just happens to fit this week’s A Word A Week Challenge: Bisect, as the line between where the mountains end and their reflection starts neatly bisects the scene.

The Colour of the Mountains

My water colour painting of a scene early in my Rocky Mountaineer train journey from Vancouver to Banff. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

My water colour painting of a scene early along the Rocky Mountaineer train journey from Vancouver to Banff. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

I used to take photos constantly as I travelled. I worked as a travel writer for a big newspaper for most of the first decade of this century, and I was always looking on my travels for a picture that would go with a travel story, that was the right shape for the cover and so on. That habit is hard to break, and sometimes I felt as if the travel was all about getting the shot and not so much about the joy of travel for its own sake.
Before digital cameras took over, my camera gear was heavy to lug round everywhere I went, but worth it to get a good photo. Of course, in those days, I took rolls and rolls of film, and we didn’t know what we had until we arrived home and got it developed.
Today, my old film camera is still sitting at home in its case, though I haven’t used it since 2005. I even did a painting of it, which you can view here.
The only camera I use now is the one on my iPhone. It’s good enough for memories of where I’ve been. The other thing I use it for is to take reference photos for my artwork.
A couple of weeks ago, during my three-week trip to the US and Canada, I travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer train on a magnificent two-day journey from Vancouver to Banff.
I had brought along my Winsor & Newton miniature water colour set:

My Winsor & Newton travelling water colour set. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann

My Winsor & Newton travelling water colour set. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

As we travelled along, I completed a small landscape painting of the scenery (you can see the result at the start of this post).
To do this, I took a number of photos with my phone, chose one, then propped it up on the tray table as a reference. As I was painting, we were of course still going past the scenery, which allowed me to really contemplate what I was seeing—the real colours, forms and majesty.
“En plein air” is a term artists use to mean painting a scene outside at its location, rather than working later from photos or sketches. I always admire those artists you see outdoors, easels set up, braving the elements and not too shy to let onlookers pause to watch them work.
While my train trip painting isn’t quite “en plein air”, just being surrounded by the sort of scenery I was painting, being able to see the exact colour of the mountains through the big picture windows of the train,  was a different experience altogether than painting at home at the dining table, perhaps on a dreary winter’s night, from illuminated vacation snaps.
However, that is what I’ll be reduced to now that I’m home. No doubt some of these photos taken on the journey will provide inspiration for a painting or two:

On the Rocky Mountaineer between Vancouver and Kamloops. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

On the Rocky Mountaineer between Vancouver and Kamloops. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013


Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

This tranquil boat mooring only an hour or so out of Vancouver features a picnic table and chairs.                                       Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013


©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

View from the Rocky Mountaineer train on the Kamloops-Banff leg.                                     Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013


Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

On the Rocky Mountaineer train, near the Lake Louise stop just before Banff.                                       Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013



Photo © Caron Eastgate Dann 2013. The Crayon Files

The view from behind our hotel at Banff. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013



All aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, about to leave Kamloops for Banff. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

All aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, about to leave Kamloops for Banff. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann 2013


Flying Fish and Beef Stifado. Kokari, Samos

It’s winter in Melbourne at the moment, and although we’ve been told it’s the warmest July on record, it still feels cold to me! So for a bit of escapism, I couldn’t resist reblogging these amazing photos of Samos in Greece, on one of my favourite blogs, A Word in Your Ear.

A Word in Your Ear


Unlike some Greek islands, Samos is not covered in photogenic white-washed, blue roofed villages and despite the number of Greek philosophers and deities that originate from here antiquities and ruins are few and far between.  What Samos does have is character, swathes of  green, remote beaches, plenty of wild life and abandoned topaz coloured stone buildings.  However,  there are some villages on the island that conform to the traditional stereotype of what the world thinks Greek Islands should look like and the village of Kokari is one such place.


I always try to take our visitors to Kokari at least once during their visit where the village is set around a harbour and beach area.  The food is always good and there are 3 stunning coves close by that one can  walk to for a swim before heading home.


Sitting down at ‘La Casa’ restaurant by the harbour, where silver…

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