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A Writing 'Altar'

I was just talking about this to friends on the WordWenches  and though I mentioned it briefly in the composite post about writers and their  ‘writing totems’ I thought it might be of interest to you.

Years ago I did an on-line course with Barbara Samuel (aka Barbara O’Neal). It wasn’t about craft-of-writing, but about nurturing the writer within. One thing she did was so ask us to make a ‘writing altar’ for our muse. So here is mine.

It’s an old wooden chalk box (about 5 X 6 inches) dating from when my parents were teachers, and it’s older than I am. Inside  it  is a collection of tiny objects that are meaningful to me.

On top are some small bears — Barbara got us to do an exercise  to reveal our ‘totem animal’. Mine was a bear (this being a Nth American site, there were no Australian animals). But I’ve always loved bears, and have a ceramic bear on my window sill, as well as a number of metal bear silhouettes that I bought in Montana, long before I did this course.

The picture in the background represents the romances I write, and the crumpled paper around it is Chinese joss paper, for luck. The crystals and amethysts represent clarity and focus, and as well, I just love them and have always collected them.

The tiny red bowl (a Japanese saki cup) contains  some red dirt symbolizing my country — the heart of this land is red, and so is the dirt. Friends brought several small bags of various shades of outback red dirt back from the Northern Territory and gave them to me.
There is also a polished piece of boulder opal found in the outback by a friend and her husband, who polished it up. They were gem-fossickers  (who search the outback for gold and precious stones and have the most amazing collection.) You can just see the glints of color in the stone. It’s the bigger one in the photo on the left.

The other little dish  is a Chinese wooden stand (from when my parents lived in Malaysia) and it’s filled with smooth, tiny pebbles from the French beach (in Brittany) where I sat, and wrote and wrote, and resolved to try to make it as a writer.

There is another stone that you can’t really see in the photo, a sliver of grey slate, that I picked up from a little stream in North Wales where I wept over the story of the faithful hound, Gelert. Beddgelert means the grave of Gelert (Click here to read the story — but you’ll need tissues.)

I picked up the little mother-of-pearl shell on a beach — I am a born beach-comber— and the mouse-shaped grey one is pumice stone from New Zealand. The little turquoise charm/totem is from one of my visits to the USA, and was a gift from a friend. 

Finally there are the little red shoes. I made them myself from polymer clay (one of my hobbies). They’re there because we also discussed fairy tales and I hate the story of the Red Shoes, where a little girl was horribly punished for the sin of wanting pretty red shoes. It reminds me to write stories that always end happily.

So that’s it — my writing altar. Good thing that box is small — I could add loads more things to it. Do you like the idea? If you were to make one, what might you include? (And if you do make one, take a photo and email it to me, and I’ll share it on the blog.)

Not Fondue

This was inspired by a post on FaceBook, where someone asked about making fondue. I don’t make cheese fondue, but many years ago my sisters were given several fondue sets when they married, and passed one on to me.

I make an Italian dish called Bagna Cauda (hot bath). I first made it 20+ years ago, and there is one group of friends that always complain if I start a dinner without it.

It’s basically oil, butter, anchovies, lots of garlic, and a bit of cream if there’s no dairy-free people at dinner. I don’t use a big fondue  pot — just a smallish stainless steel bowl. That’s it on the right.

I bring it all to a gentle simmer in a saucepan on the stove and then transfer the mix into the steel bowl, which I pop onto the fondue frame and light the little flame thing  beneath it.  (That part is covered in the photo) 

 It all melds into a delicious umami mix — not fishy at all. It’s served hot, and you dip raw veggies and bread into it. I put the stand in the middle of the table (on a heatproof pad) along with plates of mixed raw veggies sliced or in sticks — green beans, carrots, celery, peppers, thin asparagus, cauliflower florets, mushrooms, snow peas — whatever is in season generally. And crusty bread, which is good to catch the drips from the veggies and is then even more delicious to eat. (And it saves the table cloth too.)

I have some long forks that my parents used when serving  Chinese HotPots, and they work perfectly for bagna cauda. 

As the veggies are consumed, the mix thickens and bubbles down into a thick, delicious goo, and people mop up the last of the mix with bread.

These days I don’t bother with a recipe, but this is the original one I used several decades ago. Back then it was an experiment: now it’s a favorite starter.


I dropped in on some friends yesterday and their daphne was already in flower.

Standing on their front porch, near where the daphne bush is, the fragrance filled the air. It’s one of my favorite floral scents.

It’s also a sign that winter, while not exactly on its way out — the winter solstice was only a few days ago — but that spring is coming. 

They gave me some daphne to take home.  I put it in a small vase by my bed and the whole room smells divine.

What flowers are in bloom where you are? Any favorite?