Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Carpe Diem

The time has come for us to reflect on why we bought The Blue Bird and what it means for our future.  Remember that we first fell in love with a forlorn gem of a building desperately in need of someone to rescue it from crumbling to dust.  The potential of the art deco shop to be a significant building in Australia's culture and architectural history was immediate. We also saw a business potential though recognised that the days of the Greek cafe had passed for so many country towns that it was unlikely the shop would see the same vibrancy and success as it had in days gone by. Nevertheless we hoped that we could find a new purpose, stamp our own mark on the Blue Bird and provide a new relevancy for an old relic.

First and foremost was the building. With very, very limited funds but enthusiam and energy to compensate, we set about restoring and renovating the defunct shop for a new life, a new era.  Our initial burst of energetic work was hard going. We battled on with no income to fund tbe work for four months and in that time it became apparent that we had bitten off more than we realised. Still, we knew we were up to it. We were learning more each day how to care for and restore an old building. After four months however, it was necessary to generate an income in the shop so it could support its own repair.  So we opened before we felt we were ready to unveil our work. It was a necessary sacrifice in the interests of survival. We also opened a business that we were not ready for and that side of our lives quickly took over.

Before we knew it, we were slaves to opening in order to make money so we could continue the restoration we felt compelled to do. Trading however had its drawbacks. Originally six days a week meant that we had no time at all for restoration work let alone resting and looking after ourselves. We neglected life outside of the Blue Bird for a year, spending our one day a week closed, running around for the business. And as we did, people kept asking us what we were doing away from the shop, as if we were not entitled to a life outside of making money. We did not go into business so that we could burn ourselves out chasing money. There is more to life than that and many people in small business, including the original Greek cafe owners will tell you that small business is not as lucrative as you'd think. It is hard work for limited personal gain.

After the first year we realised that six days opening was not getting us anywhere in terms of our original aim to care for a lovely, deserving heritage building. So we cut back on opening hours and gave up some of the necessary funding for the building restoration work. After that it became a balancing act of work versus work, money versus time and we never seemed to find the successful combination.

We had some milestones along the way, like opening the milk bar again, restoring the booths and increasing the usable size of the shop, little by little. Threes years on however we had built a business that had developed into something we were happy with and proud of but we knew that it was at the expense of the building we loved suffering as it started showing signs of neglect and continued slow decline.

So after some agonising and head scratching about the future, we decided that we did not want to lose sight of our original purpose of taking care of the Blue Bird. We have closed the business for the time being so that we can dedicate effort to building repair and restoration. The ceiling needs a lot of work that was never going to be achieved while the shop was open and the brick and plasterwork needs attention too. Until now, we had never managed to take on the old kitchen because we understood early on that it was so far gone it could not be practically restored beyond beginning again from scratch and we never had the money for that project.

We know that some people will question our decision in many ways but it is what we need to do for our future and the fiture of the Blue Bird that we have put our hard earned money and time into when so many others passed it by day after day not caring if it crumbled to dust and forgotten memory. We are comfortable with our decision to take care of ourselves and our investment in the past/future. They say that if you are not moving forward you are going nowhere. This is a step forward, for us and for the Blue Bird.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Celebrating the End of Summer

I hate to seem ungrateful but summer, you have outstayed your welcome and it is time to go. Thanks for coming but I'm ready now for autumn not this Indian summer they are telling us we are having. Given that here in Lockhart we have had probably two days out of the last five weeks under 30 degrees, and a cool change is announced as 36, I think I can safely say I am exhausted by a pretty relentless summer. Besides which, we need the gradual cooling autumn brings to ease us into and acclimatise us to winter. I like autumn, it's a fabulous season for cooler nights, warm days and amazing colours, both in leaves and and shades of light.

I'm not even sure what has happened to the light this year. Has anyone else noticed that it has not been very light this daylight savings season? It has been light in the evening sure, sometimes even glaringly so if you're driving anywhere but the mornings have been a hazy dark until about 7am. I'm used to waking up with the sun and this summer that has been happening after my alarm has gone off. And on the occasions when I have had a sleeplessly restless night sweltering in the heat, the night has gone on interminably long.  What gives? Is this part of global warming? We haven't been warned about global darkening too.

And then there is the autumn festivals like the one we have coming up this weekend. The Vintage Veranda Fest, it even sounds like an autumn festival and traditionally it has been, making the most of the stable autumn weather to have one last knees up before the long winter months devoid of celebration kick in.

So what to expect this weekenes at the Vintage Verandah Fest. Well as usual there is the National Historic Truck show out at the Lockhart Showgrounds, street traders of retro goods and crafts, the auntiques auction, garage sales around town and other entertainment such as music, kids fun, that sort of thing. Mostly it is a chance for people to visit Lockhart and remind themselves about the Veranda Town. Visit the Blue Bird, the museum and the unique Doris Golder Gallery and stroll around the streets taking in the historic shop fronts and houses. Lockhart is 116 years old as a shire this year, not bad going when you consider that the land boom attached to the wool fortunes of Brookong Station was only expected to last 5-10 years back in 1906. That was when a handful of prospector business developers like WD Drummond erected the shops on Green Street to service the farmers and their employees. In the 1930s and 40s The Blue Bird Cafe had a roaring trade from seasonal workers and travelling salesmen, single men often, on their own looking for a home cooked meals seven nights a week. Those days are sadly gone with modern automated farming not requiring so many hands any more. It seems like an age ago but I wonder what the founding fathers of Lockhart would think of the town today. In some respects they might not see much that has changed, the Blue Bird is still there and so are the buildings that housed the banks, bakeries, butcher, hardware, menswear and other shops. Businesses of course have come and gone or adapted to change and there are now only two pubs in town as opposed to four (at least) but two of the biggest building changes would have to be the War Memorials and the Ex servicemens Club. Which of the founding fathers and mothers would have anticipated the need for those in the country town? So let's celebrate the end of summer by looking back to summers gone by.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hot start to 2016

I don't know about everyone else but I have spent this summer melting, more so than other summers.  I remember that 2014 was a difficult year with three heatwaves through December and January.  I also remember one of our fridges struggling to cope as much as me.  We had it re-gassed that February but it was the beginning of the end for the poor thing.  The joys (or not) of food service.  The equipment, maintenance and risk of breakdown is very stressful and expensive.

Anyway, hot as it was that summer, this one has been in some ways, harder for me.  I don't cope well with heat and while we have not had as many days above forty degrees, we have had week long seemingly endless stretches between 35 and 39.  I cope with temperatures up to 35 and then I start to hurt.  I suffer headaches when I over heat and 35 degrees seems to be my cut off point.  It has been nice this last week to have had lower temperatures but I note the forecast this weekend is rising and will hit 41 by Tuesday.  Not looking forward to it.

One silver lining has been that we managed a rare holiday in January.  It was our first real holiday in four years and we used it most importantly to catch up with family in NZ.  It was so good to see them, I have missed my family so much and have had little opportunity since moving to Lockhart to see them.  We are fortunate that Mum and Dad have managed to visit us a couple of times but this January was the first time I seen my great niece and nephew as they were born since we came to Lockhart.  Such a shame that we had not had the chance to meet before now, my nephew is so grown up, I missed his early life.  All my family, nieces and nephew have grown up such a lot since we last saw them.  They are fast approaching adulthood.

We spent a lovely two weeks with them as well as enjoying the beautiful green New Zealand countryside.  I was quite homesick and pleased that while we were away, we missed the hottest day, a scorching 46!  But all holidays are too short and we are back to familiar surroundings.  Let's hope that the season starts to cool soon.  I'm more of a winter person than a summer one but I do like autumn and seeing the colour changes.  Looking forward to it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Just Around the Corner

So.  Christmas is just around the corner and I have this odd feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have forgotten to do something...and I hope that it is not that I have forgotten a gift for someone but if I have, well, there is little I can do about that now.  Other than that, the chook is defrosting and waiting to be cooked, the pavlova is cooling on the tray and my feet are looking forward to a day off.  We will be open again on Boxing Day as we have done every year, to save the sanity of the travellers so I will have to make do with just one day off this week for Christmas Day.  That is why my plan is to cook the chicken tonight and save tomorrow for relaxing with family.

At some point in that I might allow myself the luxury of half an hour to read.  At the moment that is Joanne Harris' third installment of Vianne Rocher's story, "Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure".  It all began with "Chocolat", that now well-known book about a mother and daughter, travellers blown by the north wind to the conservative little French town of Lansquenet.  They change the inhabitant's lives forever, tempting them during lent with the mystique of chocolate and generosity.  This time after having fled to Paris in the second book "The Lollipop Shoes", Vianne and her daughters return in response to a letter from beyond the grave and find their old haunt much changed by new arrivals bringing a new religion and culture.  If Vianne did not fit into Lansquenet, then the Muslim community that has taken up residence in Les Marauds, certainly will not.  Father Reynaud is still the self-proclaimed upholder of morality and tradition in Lansquenet but he has changed greatly since he last met Vianne.  In the context of today and the challenges the world faces with social cohesion and tolerance of cultural differences, this books is a lovely way to remind ourselves that friendliness, neighbourliness and gentle acceptance goes a long way to bringing people together.  I am enjoying the book so far and I'm only a third of the way through but look forward to every moment snatched to read a couple more pages here and there.

I wish everyone a happy summer break and hope that you get more time off than me to enjoy a rest at the end of the year.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Season for Giving

Christmas is coming and it is the season for making things to give friends and family.  A friend of ours gave us some mulberries and as it was getting to the end of the useful fruit on the tree, I turned the harvest into jam.  I was a bit concerned that the fruit might either be too tart because it was not ripe enough or too sugary being over ripe so I decided to add some other fruit and flavours to make it more interesting.  I wasn't sure if it would work but I had some apricots and added some vanilla bean and - well, it worked.  Go figure.  It will be nice to be able to give a jar of jam back to the friend who provided the mulberries.

The same friend gave us some wattle seeds.  Mind you I had to do the tedious work of extracting the seeds which took ages.  It's not hard, you leave the pods in the sun until they dry out and open then scoop the seeds out, or if you have left them on something easily shakeable, they will shake free but of course I didn't do that so had to manually split the pods and flick the seeds out with my fingernail.  Like I said, not hard but time consuming and I'm not sure how rewarding it might end up being.  I've never used wattleseeds before but I am aware that you can use them in the same way you'd use poppy seeds so a little experimentation is in order.  Eating them whole is tough, unlike poppy or sesame seeds they are hard little beggars but I read that you need to toast and grind them in a coffee grinder.  Well, fortunately we have a coffee grinder so no problem.  I have a few recipes that I will be trying as soon as I get the chance.

I've been making Christmas mince pies, experimenting with an almond meringue topping on my gluten free spiced pastry and making the filling less sugary sweet by adding fresh pear to the standard fruit mince.  I won't claim it to be acceptable to diabetics with the meringue topping but it might be better than a regular mince pie.  I would certainly hope so.

So, the real joy of the Christmas season is the preparation building up to the day, the making something to give.  Shopping and Christmas carols have long since worn off but the feeling that I can use my skills to make presents feels good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Rain, rain, steamy rain

Just before Spirit of the Land earlier this month a farmer told us that they were looking at a good harvest and just needed a spell of rain in October to finish it off.  Well, that much needed rain arrived and I hope for the farming community's sake that it did the trick.  The harvest has started but not in earnest quite as we haven't observed the wholesale emptying of the crops on properties along the Wagga or Boree Creek Roads yet but it is happening.  Mind you we had quite a bit of rain courtesy of a storm cell last weekend.  It was warm (though not as warm as Alice Springs thank goodness) and steamy when the storm hit pelting the shop with driving rain for about half an hour of power threatening lightning.  We have become accustomed to holding our breath during electrical storms as they threaten power cuts which are not good when you run fridges and ice cream freezers and certainly there were a few flutters in the supply but nothing too serious.  The thunder and lightning continued across the weekend especially through the night when a bright flash and very loud crack directly overhead jolted me awake.  But we survived without leaks in the shop.  The crops looked a bit hammered on Monday bent over by the onslaught of wind and rain.  Let's hope that they survived well enough but I guess they will need some drying out which as there is more rain predicted through the week, they might not get the chance to do.  There are pools of swampy water lining the roads again as they did most of this winter.  I noticed on my evening walk last night, that those pools are now smelly, instant breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  With such a flat landscape in this area with little natural drainage, swampy water is a problem, especially in the townships where there are not many stormwater drains.  It just seems to be left to nature to sort out.

I'm starting on my traditional 'build-up-to-Christmas' Dickens reading.  For some reason around this time of year I start hankering to read a Charles Dickens classic.  It's something to do with the idea of experiencing a traditional Victorian winter Christmas.  I don't go in for decorating in the Northern Hemisphere tradition of fir trees, snow scenes and Santa Claus in the summer heat we get here in Australia and New Zealand for Christmas and the idea of eating all the stodgy winter trimmings is too much but I do like to imagine what a Northern Hemisphere Christmas must be like by reading a Charles Dickens novel to get into the Christmas mood.  It doesn't even have to be A Christmas Carol that I read, I get the same satisfaction from any of the classic Dickens tales.  They are all brilliantly written satirical cautionary tales and always worthy of multiple readings.  This time however, I am taking a slightly different tack and embarking on 'Havisham' by Ronald Frame, the back story of the infamous Miss Havisham of 'Great Expectations' re-imagining the events leading to the tragic wedding day abandonment that set the scene for Pip's education in that marvelous book.  I hope it lives up to the original.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Exciting and New

Spring is here, at last!  It has been a long hard winter this year.  We are bracing ourselves for the future as we are being told that we are heading into the worst el Nino conditions this October to January.  But that was not the exciting news, far from it.

No, the exciting bit is that we have put our bookshop online so you can now buy from the books you have seen in our Lockhart shop, in between visits to the town.  It is something we have wanted to do for a while now so we can better promote our physical presence by venturing into the online world.  We still encourage people to visit and discover us in Lockhart which is a pretty little spot in the Riverina but we understand that Lockhart is not exactly on the regular route map for many and you might only be in town once or twice a year.

I am working each day to put more of our extensive stock on the website so keep an eye out on a regular basis as it is worth seeing what is new.  We run a browsing shop where you have the opportunity to stumble across gems you never knew about or were on your 'one day' list but if you don't see what you are looking for, you are welcome to contact us via the store website and we will see if we have what you want in our 'yet to be catalogued' pile.  As you can imagine, it is quite a task and we were eager to get the site up and running and too impatient to wait until I had everything entered to 'go live'.  My goal is to catalogue a pile of at least ten books a day so there will be something new all the time.

Here's the link to the new bluebird-books shop.  www.bluebird-books.com  Have fun shopping for a good book and remember, we hand pick our stock based on my long library background of reading and matching readers with good books.  I know a lot of readers and they have been recommending books to me for many years so I rely on their impeccable taste as much as my own.  I have also stocked the shop with books I've read with my many book groups.  You won't find any of the well-known mass produced romance series or churned out mysteries in our collection I'm afraid.  And I haven't gone for fantasy collections either for the simple reason that if you don't have the whole series all the time then you are usually missing the one particular book that the serious collector is looking for.  No, we specialise in good fiction, literature but not high-brow literary, Australian and New Zealand works, some classics, small print run local histories and a selection of Australian historical texts from a private academic collection.

Read and Enjoy.