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A Retreat in Dorrigo – contemplation and rainforest beauty

A drive past Grafton to the Fernbrook Lodge in Dorrigo NSW is where Bill and I spent 5 days at the homestead of Glennis Johnston and her husband Craig. Built in 1909 the original country farmhouse offers visitors a restful experience of rural living away from the chaotic, fast paced city living. As Glennis grew up on a dairy farm in Queensland, she gained an appreciation and love of the country. As a social worker, crisis counsellor and Minister in the Uniting Church, Glennis now facilitates the bed and breakfast plus the spiritual encouragement for couples. groups in a retreat style approach.

We were the lucky ones who found silence, contemplation and the beauty of nature a gift. With brekky and dinner cooked each day, Bill and I felt cared for. The hospitality was above and beyond her calling. So to give you an idea of what contemplation is let me share with you some of the beautiful passages and inspiration that were ours to receive.




Contemplation requires us to take a sustained, unhurried gaze at the object of our attention – perhaps nature, a reading, a conversation or a question. It requires time. It requires space from interruptions. We cannot be open to observe fully if we are in a hurry.

Bill and I spent some time each morning observing, paying attention to the beauty of nature. Really looking, noticing and asking questions, for example, holding a leaf, feeling the bark of a tree, smelling the flowers, gazing at a tree and in silence, appreciating what was in front of us.


A loving look at a thing understands that the world and all within it is both beautiful and flawed. There may be need for forgiveness and letting go. Contemplation asks us to be gentle with ourselves and others.

In the silence away from the demands of family and all that clutters our minds, we take the time to pay attention to what is going on around us rather than thinking of what to say next, where to be, what to do.

We found this simple exercise very helpful and nurturing.


As Joan Chittister in her thoughts about spirituality and contemplation in the midst of chaos says, “one prayer at a time, the contemplative allows the heart of God to beat in the heart they call their own. Prayer is a long, slow process. First it indicates to us how far we really are from the mind of God. When the ideas are foreign to us, when the process itself is boring or meaningless, when the quiet sitting in the presence of God in the self is a waste of energy, then we have not yet begun to pray. But little by little, one word, one moment of silence at a time, we come to know ourselves and the barriers we’re putting between ourselves and the God who is trying to consume us.”

Bill walking in the rainforest – 6 kms.




We enjoyed listening to music, hearing poems being read aloud, taking time out to read for ourselves and walk in the lush rainforest a few kilometres from Fernlodge. Letting go of our fears and anxieties.

Glennis introduced us to Rohr who reflects on the contribution of Thomas Merton. Merton wrote, ” Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings… All life tends to grow like this, in mystery inscapes with paradox and contradiction, yet centred, in its very heart, on the divine mercy.”

Up at the Common, a magnificent shed that Craig built up the hill from the main house, we met in the afternoons to reflect, discuss and question. Glennis gave us hand outs on Vulnerability – Ted talk by Brene Brown. Worth watching. Patrick Oliver’s wise words and a message about the great adventure in one’s life. Richard Rohr’s dualistic thinking, Frederick Buechner and his scared space, and poems by Wendell Berry.

What we enjoyed immensely was the openness, honesty and processing that a retreat can offer. A space for silence, connection with God and without judgement. Exploring our thoughts as husband and wife was really magical too. When we arrived we had no expectation, instead we left with a renewed sense of transformation and peace.

The Common – comfy chairs, games area, bar, BBQ and piano.
The homestead with hydrangeas blooming





Rosetta bookshop in Maleny

The New Year has begun and a trip to Maleny to enjoy a coffee and browse at the beautiful bookshop is a must. There’s a friendly vibe in Maple Street as Bill and I find a table outside the Rosetta bookstore, read the newspaper, sip a cappuccino and watch the passers by.

This gem of a bookshop is full of diverse subject matter, something for everyone. Apart from gorgeous calendars and gift cards, there’s all the titles that I photographed that caught my attention. Here are some of them. I wonder if you have read any? or purchased one? Support and buy from your local book shop. Make 2019 a reading year, one with learning, discovery, reflecting and pleasure.

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End of a Bookshop Dream

It’s with great sadness that I visited Books of Buderim in Burnett Street today, a week before it officially closes its doors. Fiona Blond who has capably and passionately owned the book store knows that it’s been a struggle with the increasing online retail sales.

60 years serving the community is a long time to promote good reading. Many, many people will no doubt be disappointed, yet will understand her reasons. With 50% sale I walked in ready for the BIG BUY, starting with the children’s section, my favourite.

The temptation to overload my arms with books became clear to me, so I had to select wisely. Other mothers and children were collecting books too. From picture stories, classics to board books for babies, non fiction, young adults, crime, fantasy, poetry – you name it, the titles were there.

Fiona and others before her have stocked many popular reads, book awards, biographies, garden, cook books and art. Prize winning authors feature alongside book launches and guest speakers. The personalised experience is real for these treasured staff. Kay Nixon and I spoke today about the closing and her future endeavours. As a children’s specialist member of staff, she may find herself working in another book shop in the Hinterland.



Me with a Jeannie Baker picture book.


Books of Buderim started back in 1967 and the range and diversity of quality books allowed local people, visitors and tourists to enjoy buying what they saw or ordering and waiting.

Fiona has been proud of hosting author events with Peter Phelps, Jessica Townsend and Lynette Noni. The shop has supported Voices on the Coast, Reader’s cup, Gardens of Buderim, kid’s fundraisers and much more.

I will miss this book shop so much. Friendly smiles, bold covers, curious finds, exquisite gift cards, gifts and always a good travel section.

That’s ME with a couple of treasures.
Bill and his bag of books

Now for some of the books I bought. Can’t wait to go home and read them. What better time than during the Christmas holidays.





Thank you to all the book buyers and families that supported Books of Buderim, to the local community which is rich in culture, history and the arts. As the books go out from the shelves into the homes of many readers, may they double and triple their joy over Christmas; and may the books ( fiction, non fiction) stir the hearts and minds of their readers who fall in love over and over again.

In contrast to my purchases, husband Bill came out with deep, philosophical ones called On the Edge of Infinityencounters with the beauty of the Universe ( Stefan Klein) and The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly. A more scientific mind and a happy reader.

Well, I still have a few more days before the closing. Watch out! I might wander through the tucked away store on Christmas Eve to say my final farewell.

Christmas Traditions – what are yours?

Returning from Japan recently, I noted a lack of Christmas decorations in the shops and windows. Naturally, with Buddhism and Shintoism being the philosophies and religious practices, it seems that the Christian meaning of Christmas is next to none. Growing up as a child my own family kept Christmas quite low key with basic decorations ( door wreath, hanging cards on a string and the tree) Now as a parent, grandmother and creative soul, I like to bring in touches of Christmas festive reds, greens and gold with some vintage finds, hand made ornaments, cushions, candles and tinsel.

Over the years I have enjoyed going to church singing Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful and We Three Kings. Lighting candles, fruit mince tarts, garlands and wreaths on the door, even a bunting or two adds to the sparkle in the house. The star on the top of the tree, food left out for the reindeer, sacks and stockings filled with goodies Рall the merriment of December leading to the 25th.

Do you bring out the traditional Nativity scene? Are their bonbons on the table?

Do you wake at the crack of dawn with wide eyed children pestering you to open the presents under the tree?

Do you sing Rudolf the Red nosed reindeer?



Or bake the traditional roast pork and crackling with rich pudding, shortbread and rum balls? Traditions can take years to develop in families and they are passed onto the next generation. What are yours?


Are you planning Christmas at the beach, a country Christmas, overseas Christmas or madly visiting all the in laws type Christmas? Opening the presents – how do you do that?

Many years ago in Scotland, I did not have a white Christmas; instead we gathered at church about 11pm Christmas Eve and came home in the early hours of the cold morning to open some of the presents, then we went to sleep. Different. Surprising. Memorable.


Sometimes the simplest traditions are the best. Gathering with family and telling them they are loved. Remembering the birth of Jesus and the star in the sky. Giving to others.

Cheerful gratitude. The magical angel on the tree or the salads and seafood at the seaside; or roast turkey and plum pudding with custard; opening presents together; writing letters to Santa, carols by candle light.

“Yule’ in Iceland starts about 23 December; The Chinese Christmas trees are called, “Trees of Light”. Santa Claus is called Dun Che Lao Ren which means “Christmas Old Man.” The non Christian Chinese call the season the Spring Festival and celebrate many festivities that include delicious meals and pay respects to their ancestors. Nativity scenes are popular in Brazil. They are set up in churches and homes all through December. And in England, it is cold where families welcome the warmth of a Yule log blazing on the hearth. Holly, Ivy and other evergreens hang a mistletoe “kissing bough”.

Brooke from the Southern Highlands in NSW ( Country Style magazine, 2018) says, ” we always go a bit overboard dressing the house for Christmas and every year I make a new wreath for the wall. On Christmas Eve we celebrate with friends and family at the pub before returning home and feasting on a ham by our fabulous local butcher, Maugers Meats. Christmas Day is spent eating, opening presents, and playing games, and then we head down to my parent’s house at Narrawallee on the NSW South Coast to spend a few days recovering.”


Kate another creative mum looks forward to a Christmas filled with fun and family traditions. “First thing on Christmas morning, the children find small gifts in sacks hanging by the fireplace, but the real gift-giving is a well ordered ritual. I hate the idea of a frenzy of unwrapping presents and I like each person to take their turn unwrapping so we can enjoy that moment,” she says.


I sincerely hope you have an enjoyable Christmas wherever you live. Blessings, romance and lots of good cheer. And a shared story from a Christmas anthology.

Kimonos, Kyoto and Kusami

It’s the little back streets in Kyoto that surprises await unexpectedly. The four Alaskan travellers with their backpacks getting ready to move on. The elegantly dressed girls wearing their splendid kimonos shuffling along, and sometimes with a handsome partner. It’s the maple trees that spread across the shrine precincts, the smokers, cats, the pot plants mingled with the hanging lanterns. Someone singing. A policeman guiding the cars and more.

I love the colours of the kimonos – vibrant, patterned, floral and pastel. To rent a full robe with accessories costs 2,500 yen per day. Tax is added to the price. Hair styles include furisode, hakama, homing, kimono. The obi sashes are elaborate and can be a contrasting colour. I believe the difference between a kimono and yukata is in the fabric. Mostly silk versus cotton.


17 year old school students on a trip from Tokyo




The shops are scattered everywhere in Gion where we are staying for 5 nights. The main shopping streets are busy yet there’s a peace. With our trusty map and never ending curiosity we walk to many places passing Shrines, temples and craft stores. What is particularly nice is escaping the crowds and sneaking away to the quiet gardens. Tall cedars line the steep and winding steps, gates await, and a Buddha carving so huge that Bill cannot stop talking about it. Kyoto is the mountain home of many ancient temples and old legends. And orange is a stand out colour to mark your bearings plus some gold.



I won’t mention all the names of the shrines or explain the Shinto ways and Buddhist philosophy except to say that hundreds of Japanese worship daily, bowing their heads and clapping. Kyoto has the tall tower, Nijo castle, the Golden Pavilion, The Imperial Castle, Museums of traditional arts and crafts, Manga museums, Raku Museum, Shibori Museum ( where I took a the dyeing class workshop) and the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art where I was stunned with the screen prints and installations of artist Yahoo Kusama. Another hidden surprise. Today she is 89 years of age living in Tokyo, the one on the right!!


Inside this gallery, our shoes are taken off, put into a paid locker and collected at the end. No photographs to be taken inside the 5 rooms, except for the ones I could. The brilliant colour of the paint, pastel and fabrics of Mt Fuji scenes, flowers and pumpkins was a site to behold. I kept pinching myself for being there. I will remember Kyoto for this pleasurable experience.

When you think of Kyoto, there’s meditation, Beef shabbu shabbu, authentic sushi, rice bowls, bars, beer and sake. I’m a bit side tracked with the ceramics, teapots and textiles, so Bill enjoys some people watching and comes out with the funniest stories. It’s difficult to purchase fruit ( way too expensive), trash must be carried out with you so don’t expect to find bins on the streets.

a tranquil scene with fish in the pond






When it’s all said and done, strolling is the answer. Through the shopping arcades, the narrow pathways, the modern and traditional blends of architecture, wandering and absorbing the culture and ways. Chatting to the school students and taking their photographs added a sparkle to the day. Even though we missed out on seeing The Swords of Kyoto ( at the National Museum – a one hour wait), we did encounter the Sagano bamboo Grove and Arashiyama walking tour with sweet Kimiyo.

Travel tips

No bungee jumping off the Kyoto tower

Watch your head because the Japanese people are small in height.

A great snack to eat is a chocolate and biscuit for 99 yen at the supermarket.

Write on gift packet who the gift is for back home.

Try a calligraphy class or tea tasting ( 8 varieties of tea – matcha, gyokura, sencha, and bancha)

A touch of red in Takayama

November in Japan spells Autumn – the season of red leaves falling. We are currently staying 3 nights in Takayama surrounded by beautiful mountains and it’s chilly at 8 degrees. Lucky for my planning, we are across the road from the bus stop and easy access to the shops and attractions. The red bridge is clearly found, the red hedges trimmed neatly in the gardens, and the lovely reds found in the many museums.

Today we visit Hida Takayama Museum of Art filled with decorative arts, Art Nouveau and glorious glassware. Outside there’s a red London bus, something that Bill has not been on yet.






Hida dolls are everywhere, a symbol of Takayama



The Museum can be viewed from the Japanese Northern Alps and Takayama city. It is truly a beautiful place and we picked the best time at the start of the day when tourists were almost non existent.

perfume bottle




a glorious table setting



fountain ceiling changes from green to red to purple


Now the Hikaru Museum out of town was even more spectacular in its architecture and style. It was opened in the Spring of 1999 and showcases exhibitions of history and works of art. The courtyard is based on the pyramids of El Tajin: an archaeological site of the Maya civilisation. Western paintings, Japanese paintings, a Non theatre made of Hinoki cypress, video library, and a collection of amazing Hiroshige landscape paintings. Storytelling at its best. Jaw-dropping in its scale and we cannot imagine the cost of this mighty building.

Bill and I found ourselves suddenly being invited to dress up. What an experience. And it was free. I realised the layers and skill of the kimono carefully placed around one’s body. And the wedding dress, well, that was magical. I didn’t have time to bother about my hair but from the pictures and reality of the geisha women, hairstyles are immaculate and well kept.



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a window view to the mountains

After a rest, (Bill sleeps quickly) and I write, munching on a Snickers bar I decide to visit one last gallery but at 4pm it is closed. I am disappointed. The Ukiyoe Gallery Garon had some famous works by Hokusai and Hiroshige plus a dramatic 3D ukiyo-e-experience.

A few tips.

Check the closing times ( I actually did but this gallery closed earlier)

Pay money at the end of your bus trip, not at the beginning.( very sensible and practical)

Expect warm hand towels for dinners, not serviettes

Take out all litter as there are very few bins ( we found none!)

Take the steps – it’s good exercise

A museum Hida beef and rice dish costs about 7000yen, well presented and tasty





Tastes and Delights in Kanazawa

I am not going to tell you where this amazing place is, so that you can look it up on a map of Japan. The trip in the Shinkansen ( high speed train) from Tokyo took us about 2 hours. The weather forecast predicted rain and it did rain for the three days we stayed in an amazing Ryokan ( traditional inn) located in a mountainous valley surrounded by the beauty of nature. One of those days we decided should be luxuriating in the space of this accommodation. Motoyu-Ishiya has several tastefully decorated traditional rooms with crimson walls – the Bird Room, Quail room and Peacock.

Ishiya has a 100 year old Noh stage on the site and guess what? Bill and I could look out from our bedroom window onto the gardens and stage. The atmosphere was truly elegant and serene.

We were served traditional food with regional specialities such as fresh sashimi, steamed lotus root, steamed sushi, traditional duck stew. I counted 10 dishes for breakfast and what flavours!

theatre stage outside
7.30am breakfast on comfortable seats

The onset was another experience for another blog. Steamy and seductive, everything a grandma needs when travelling to unwind. Romancing with grandma involves my first ever hot springs soak in a bath. A wondrous and sensual experience and because I like hot water, it helped me to relax after the hectic Tokyo pace.

Kanazawa Castle in the rain


The gardens in Kanazawa were sculptured, nurtured and mossy green with the most magnificent trees of pine, Cherry trees in their Autumn colours. The Flying Wild Geese bridge formation has 11 red tomuro stones laid out to look like wild geese flying in formation. Bill and I loved this garden with its perfection, stone lanterns and ponds, monuments, bridges and fountains.

Bill with his twig broom




It’s the simple things that bring pleasure, like these single floral stems in vases back in the Ryokan. The polite nod of the hosts, the slippers at the door, the hot green tea poured for us and the warm flushing toilets that I could easily take back home to Australia with me.





Higashi Chaya District

The chilly days here at 14 degrees with clear umbrellas and warm coats saw us step inside the warmish shopping centres or Starbucks for the Wifi. And all those selfies taken by school students outside the shops made us giggle. It’s time to get to sleep under the comfy Doona on the floor ( the woven mats) ¬†Stay tune for the next Japanese adventure.