Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I'm waiting for the bread to cook and doing other preparations for Christmas lunch (arduous tasks like unwrapping the blue cheese, laying fennel salami out on the plate and getting the oat crackers out of the box). The presents are unwrapped and have been lovingly played with, Frank Sinatra is crooning Christmas tunes on iTunes and Martin is reading Mr Men books.

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas everyone. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women, and love to the babies who remind us that everything is always new, everything is filled with promise and life is truly a miraculous and wonderful thing.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Before Christmas

It's hard to believe that we could have a whole weekend free before Christmas, but as it turned out, we did. Which is a blessing because our girls are tired. The end of year madness is wearing them out and Una has reverted to sleeping in the afternoons, either crashing out in the car or secretly nodding off on the couch in front of the television. The days she doesn't sleep we try and give her a mid afternoon bath, which is the happiest place in the world to Una and we've had enough rain that the tank allows for some non-essential washery.

Yesterday we drove up to Kinglake, the next town down the road. It's a hairy drive, a narrow country road with lots of deathwish bicyclists and motorbikes carrying what an old friend in Adelaide used to refer to as temporary citizens. In fact the day we took ownsership of this house we drove up there and very nearly got wiped out by an errant log truck (they're supposedly banned from using the road). Anyway, it's worth it, partly for the exhilaration of survival but mostly because Kinglake is beautiful with some awesome views of the city and a real sense of being out out out of the city. Anyway, yesterday we had a destination in mind - a raspberry farm where you can do all your own picking because in Australia Christmas isn't Christmas without fresh berries. The PYO rasberries are $15 a kilo, which still isn't especially cheap compared to the raspberry prices in Tasmania but is good for Victoria where punnets remain well over the $5 mark for most of the season (cherries are cheap and delicious though this year, Christmas isn't Christmas without cherries either).

The girls are great pickers. Una ate all the 'broken' ones and Fred, I think, ate every single one she picked, while Martin and I filled up our buckets. I sampled a few too. They are delicious.

We stopped at a nursery on the way home with a real country cafe - I had a cold meatloaf sandwich and a caramel slice, Martin had a ploughman's lunch with thick slices of cold corned beef, tomatoes, apple, various cheeses. The girls had herb scones with cheese - at one stage I remarked that I felt like we'd stumbled into an Enid Blyton novel. And then we had desserts too - caramel slice and lemon tarts and jelly and icecream for the girls. We bought some pink flowers and pineapple sage for my little flower patch near the fairy door (this photo makes me realise just how far the garden has come), and then spent the rest of the day outside. Martin massacared the last of the agapanthus - we rejoice in its demise - Fred played with the next-doors and Una cried intermittently till we put her in the bath. I walked down to the barrow on the main road and bought a few more plants for $1 each, dropping my coins into the honesty box.
For dinner fresh pesto, made with basil from the garden and olive oil from the olive grove down the road. Which Martin and I ate outside, driven out by Fred's bewildering new love for Spongebob Squarepants (yeah yeah, sometimes our kids eat dinner in front of the TV).

I have been meaning to blog for a while about our lives out here, more than one year on after the move from the inner city (and a life we loved) to the fringes of Melbourne, in the bush. I knew that life out here would offer something we couldn't get in the city, but largely I saw the benefits as being for the children - that they would be able to live with a freedom and wildness they wouldn't get in a small terrace house in the inner suburbs. The simple fact is - we're all happier than we ever thought we would be. I am often overwhelmed by love for this place, and though I miss the city, and though going into North Fitzroy (which broke up with us years ago) makes my heart crack all over again, every time I drive home, once I can see mountains and horses and paddocks and large tract of bush, my heart starts to sing again. I love it here, I really really do. Which Martin and I talked about as we ate our spaghetti last night, outside, under the gentle summer evening sky, overlooking our hard work - the clothesline Martin made (above), the rumpled dirt under the paperbark tree where agapanthus used to be, the veggie garden, the bank we shored up where the succulents are taking hold and sending out new green shoots, and before we went inside, we visited the fairy garden and admired the pink and silver and green.

By the way, the pesto was the best I've ever had. And for dessert? Raspberries of course.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dorothy Porter 1954 - 2008

I often say I started out my writing life as a poet, which feels a bit cheaty, since I have had very few of my poems published (partly because I sent few out). I have a third of a verse novel in a box under my bed, called The Hanging of Frances Knorr (I lost a little heart for it when Jordie Albiston published The Hanging of Jean Lee the year I was writing Frances Knorr - Frances Knorr and Jean Lee were two of the five women hanged in Melbourne for murder, so it seemed that relatively speaking, the market was already flooded.)

My attempts to write a verse novel were an immediate and fannish response to Dorothy Porter's The Monkey's Mask, which I'd discovered a few years before during my first year at uni in Tassie at the age of 20. I remember being totally electrified at this fast and sexy way of telling a story.

I was devastated to hear of Dorothy Porter's death in the last weeks. At 54 she was young, especially for a poet, and to me Australia is a lot emptier without her. The poetry she should have written hangs in the ether somewhere, taunting us with its unavailability. I have read a few tributes to Dorothy Porter over the last week or so, but I wanted to pay my own respects.

I saw Dorothy Porter talk at Tas Uni. I was twenty and in love with the following: poetry, a boy called Ben, Classics. I was wide open, hungry for experiences. And so it was that Dorothy Porter, completely unknown to her, entered, and became a part of me, and in particular, a part of the writer I would become.

She said three things which have particularly stayed with me and I am going to share them with you now:

1. READING: She talked about the structure of her days - how she works. She said she reads in the morning and writes in the afternoon. As a writer now I often think of this. With my two little girls and my chaotic existence, there is little time to factor reading into my working time, though I often dip into poetry when my writing is lagging. But when Una goes to school and I have five days a week to work, I plan to develop a similar structure. I am woefully out of date with my reading. Before Fred was born, I had a fairly intimate knowledge of what books were in the bookshops, what was being read and discussed and debated, and I'd usually read everything shortlisted for the CBC awards at least, if not the adult prizes. I'd spend weekends leisurely perusing the review sections of at least two Saturday papers. Now, I admit, I often don't even recognise half the shortlisted titles. I am constantly getting books out of the library and returning them unread. To designate time for reading in my work day would be a luxury and a pleasure, however, I am also convinced it would make me a better writer.

2. WRITING: She said that she writes to music and that all her novels had a soundtrack (I seem to remember she wrote a lot of Monkey's Mask to Crowded House). Now I often have a song or an album for my novels (though I usually listen to them in my thinking time as opposed to my writing time). Drift's was 'Who Will Sing Me Lullabies?' by Kate Rusby. Little Bird's song was The Nicest Thing by Kate Nash (I know some people hate her accent but I adore it, and find her music incredibly touching and human). Only Ever Always has a song too: Burgundy Shoes by Patty Griffin (when she sings 'Sun' my heart breaks, every time).

3. VERSE NOVELS: Dorothy Porter said that in a verse novel, each poem should be like a haiku, capturing a single moment. I suppose you could say a verse novel is kind of like a photographic essay, moving from moment to moment, with the spaces between filled with the potency of the unsaid. I often remember this when I'm writing or reworking, even in prose, because I think there's a lot to be said for distilling a scene down to this single moment. This is what makes reading a verse novel such a compelling experience for me, these narrative stretches, where even the smallest things are noticed, but with the lightest of touches, the antithesis to the heavy quagmire of descriptive prose.

I have said before that my ideal of the afterlife is wandering around a library filled with books, one for each person - the story of their life written in a style or genre that best suits them - naturally Dorothy Porter's would be a verse novel, and I look forward to reading it. In the meantime I wish for Dorothy this: a morning of reading, and an afternoon of writing, and everything else an afterlife should supply, wine, conversation, music, mountains to walk in. I wish she finds her own peace, whatever that might be.

Dorothy Porter's beautiful poem The Fish Eagle is in Island's current issue and available to read on their website. The last breath of the poem hangs eerily in the air long after you finish the poem. Thanks Mum for the link.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Beyond Creative Challenge

Dear Frederique,
thank you for showing me your world, for taking me beyond the surface of places and into the centre of them, and out of the centre and to the edges. Thank you for being angry and happy and sad. Thank you for watching the tiny polysteirine balls bounce down the bridge over the Seine while I fell in love with the Notre Dame, and thank you for making me watch them too, as they swirled and dived in the wind.
Love Mama

I've answered this challenge with this video, a collection of photographs about our teeny little trip overseas (Hong Kong, England, Paris, Helsinki), to one of my favourite songs. For the first time in my travels I found myself, instead of hungry for the world, hankering for the scents and sounds and comfort of home. Going away was an adventure, but it was also always a journey home. Travelling the world with someone who doesn't understand borders, whose grasp of language is wholly intuitive and instinctual, who doesn't have a grasp on multicultures or diversity, but thinks the whole world is a product of her own brain is a dizzying and frustrating experience, as well as utterly informative and awakening. It took me beyond the limits of my own patience, and to places I admit I never wanted to go as a mother, like crying hysterically with my child (both of us jet-lagged and over it) in the middle of Kensington High Street (or wherever the hell we were, being mildly lost was part of the over it-ness) or being bellowed at by a man in a green hat on a double decker bus when Fred threw a tantrum in the aisle and I sat down without her (after which I wrote in shaky angry writing in my diary: 'I hope the green hat man dies in Windermere with his pants around his ankles'.)

But it was while we were away that we developed a deeper rapport. I told Frederique about my ex-boyfriend, Tom, and she realised that I'd loved other men before Daddy. She learned about kissing and that women can get pregnant without wanting to be (er, which has nothing to do with my ex-boyfriend), we talked about god and death and angels. We visited the Princess Diana Memorial and she learned about the dark ending to a real Princess story. The memories I have, both the ones I treasure and the ones that make me flinch (I came very close to biting Fred once in the street in England, when she was kicking me, with one hand pinching my neck and the other flailing in my face while I was trying to carry her. Soon after I came back I learned a woman had been given a prison sentence for this very act, biting her son, in the UK), will shape the mother I am yet to be.

I was also so proud and amazed by her moxy, the way she would walk up to anyone and ask directions, or where the toilets were, the way she said Bonjour! to everyone she saw in France, and ran to intercept all babies in prams (because babies didn't care what language she spoke). We drove each other crazy but at the end of every day we lay in each others' arms and whispered loving words to each other and every morning we woke side by side.

Some basic "rules":

1. Be creative. You could share a story, an opinion, your experience, a motif, a poem, a picture, a short video, a call to action, or…you decide! The idea is to share something that represents a way to think “beyond” and make a difference in the world

2. Place a link on your response to this original post. You could also mention that this is all about raising awareness and funds for a microfinance project in the Philippines.

3. Verify your entry by commenting on this original post with a link to your response.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Early Christmas Special

Little Advent House
I finished making this at about 5 minutes to December. I really wanted to do a calendar this year but the idea of making 24 windows or pockets or envelopes filled me with unspeakable ennui. In the end I decided on the house, which lacks a countdown aspect but does help inspire us to do Christmas related activities. Every morning we poke a new activity written on a piece of paper into the chimney. So far we've put the Christmas tree up, made a pie, had stories with puppets, and had dinner by candelight listening to Christmas music. Coming up is a trip to the city to see the decorations, a trip to see Santa at the shopping centre, present making, biscuit making for the neighbours, and painting daddy's toenails. Sometimes I get a bit blue around Christmas, because I miss the Christmases I had, and my own family on Christmas day. Every year I tell myself I'll get organised to start some of my own traditions and every year I let it slide. This year I managed to pull something together at the last minute and I'm ever so happy about it. My little wooden people have no names - anyone want to have a go at naming them? I think it is a boy and a girl, but Una and Fred swear it is 2 girls.

Waiting for Santa

Is he coming yet?

Peering bravely into the dark.

Of course it is an Australian Christmas cottage, so there is a water tank. Smoke in the chimney can be equally authentic at this time of year.

Friday, December 05, 2008

little bit country

Thing I learned today:
Turns out socks for four year olds make fantastic barbie clothes. You can make a boob tube style dress just by cutting off the heel and toe section, the band at the top fits snugly at the waist or over the boobs and you don't even have to hem it if you don't want to. Then from the foot part you can get another dress, I cut off the heel and the toe and sewed on a few cotton bands at the hips and then threaded a ribbon through it to make it tie on. For the first time nearly ever our barbies aren't nude. I also knitted a little top, just a square with six rows garter, six rows stocking, six rows garter, sewn at the back and again a ribbon threaded through to make it tie on.
Wish I'd learned this BEFORE I sewed the other top but ah well.
I also made this. (The activity in the girl's nativity set today, which is dang cute, must upload photos, was to make a pie. Una helped.)
And a delicious stew/warm salad from baby beetroot, white beans, garden greens, feta and pancetta for dinner.
Martin made a clothesline.
I knitted a horse.
We are sooo country (and a little bit rock and roll, I took my cleavage out to the A&U Christmas party to prove it, and made merry with the champagne, the boys* were rascals).
Tomorrow, will take photos of everything, except maybe pie if consumed.

*topping up the champagne that is. No other rascally boys in attendance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008