little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: and the rain came a’falling down

Putting things together

20170123_122043I’ve done boot camp, Christmas, Trump, summer holidays, the return to work, gardening, adventures with children, movies, books, terrific whiskey, and a sleepover for 11-year-olds. Yesterday it rained and I had a cold, so I lit the fire, made hot drinks and retreated to the sofa. I wouldn’t describe it as restful, exactly — the children were tired and scrappy and stuck indoors — but it was a necessary grinding to a halt, of sorts.

It’s often hard to know what will save a day, but in this case, it was minestrone. I don’t always like minestrone, but this was a light, summery number with enough savour and steamy heat to restore just enough wellbeing for me to get to bed.

20170123_122942Ian made it, so I don’t know the fine details of the recipe, but here’s what I think he got right. The vegetables were sliced at angles, thin enough to fit well on the spoon, but large enough to offer definite taste and something distinct in each mouthful. There weren’t too many carrots, giving a layer of sweetness but not overwhelming the fundamental earthiness of the dish. The cooking started with bacon and ended with strong, fresh chard from the garden. I had extra tomatoes in my bowl, and a scattering of feta. The pasta was rigatoni, thick and knubbly. There were broad beans from our garden. The zucchinis were young and flavourful, with firm, peppery skin. The stock was light and hot.

20170123_122034The Rabbit was home sick today, so I had another quiet day. He made a Lego lawnmower — my role was to find the pieces and offer moral support. We succeeded, but only just. I left my work phone on, which was a mistake.

20170123_121854I reheated some of the minestrone for lunch, something I would avoid with a less robust pasta. Still, it needed a bit of tarting up for a new day, so I sliced in a couple of dusky Nigella tomatoes, a few shredded leaves of chard, some leaves of purple basil from the glasshouse. Feta again, of course.

The sun came out after that. We went to the gardens, kicked a ball, flew a kite. The Rabbit rescued his toy bandicoot from the animal rescue boat. We put ourselves together, not perfectly, but from what we had.

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Rainy day

2016-05-28 14.00.43

Good shot, little Rabbit!

On the island

Rakiura | Stewart Island is one of my homing spots. My family has been coming here for many years; slipping into the bay on the ferry — the boats, curved beaches, quiet bush all around — always makes me feel like dropping anchor and staying put for the rest of my days.

The proportions are right here — lots of birds, few people, fewer roads, more boats, and everywhere the water and the trees. We walk everywhere, avoid screens, sift through our memories and dream of new beginnings. We take turns cooking and test relationships with epic games of Monopoly. The Cat rejoices in the birds, the Rabbit and little Squirrel get sand everywhere, an uncle builds boats, an aunt reads stories and gives cuddles, a grandfather lends a gentle hand, and we walk through the rain and the sun and the grey and blue and green of it all,  not talking much, just taking it all in, breathing it all out.

We are also fairly silly, as you will see.

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Ten thoughts in ten minutes

Eek, I’ve been away from this blog for far too long, and I have to be out the door in ten minutes, but what the hey, here goes. A mini-update before I get back into regular writing, sort of like that first time in ages that you pull on your sneakers and it all feels a bit strange and rusty, but it’s nice to be moving and you don’t want to die quite as much as you thought you might and you’re pretty sure that if you keep going, the next time will be easier.

  1. Speaking of, I’ve started going to the gym, and not only that but regularly and with a trainer. I know. The world is a very strange place. It’s making me happy though and I’ll write a post about it soon.
  2. The weather is starting to warm up (okay, it’s raining today and I’m getting a cold), so I’m on a vegetable appreciation drive. Purple sprouting broccoli was this week’s winner.
  3. I think we might be able to keep the garden under control this year if we work consistently and methodically. Mostly I just want to plant big flowering things and baby edible things, so we shall see how that goes.
  4. We went on holiday last week and I didn’t take any work. It was the most awesomeness ever.
  5. I finished up my job as subeditor for Critic, which I have been meaning to write about all year. It was wonderful and exhausting and interesting and happy and occasionally drove me into full grumpy old woman mode. I guess the best jobs do that.
  6. I’m going to write about tomato and feta salad soon.
  7. I have a book plan.
  8. The Cat taught me how to do headers. More fun than I anticipated.
  9. If you’re going to play tennis, I recommend in a paddock with no markings and a nine-year-old.
  10. It turns out I can no longer party like it’s 1999.

Checking in

In a group I’m part of, we start and end meetings by checking in. We’re chatty, self-reflective types and also good listeners, so this process can take quite some time, but it’s always worth it. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s happening in your life, and having a good ramble about it can reveal surprising patterns and responses.

I think this check in is going to focus on birds.

We put the birdfeeder up a few weeks ago, and the birds started coming to it last week. I can see the feeder from the kitchen window and from my office; typing or washing dishes while keeping an eye on a green-flecked bunch of birds flickering around the feeder is quite a few steps up from typing or washing the dishes without the birds.

So far, the customers have mostly been waxeyes, with chaffinches, blackbirds and thrushes patrolling the ground below. But I think a tui did a fly-by a few minutes ago, so maybe she’ll come back soon.

It’s all very happy, except for the washing line situation. As mentioned in my previous post, the birds like to perch on the washing line while they psych themselves up for feeder negotiations. Then they poo on the washing and I have to re-wash it. This is sort of doubly frustrating because I already have trouble reaching half the washing line, so I’m already pretty grumpy about laundry duties.

Anyway, I guess we’ll move the line because I’m enjoying the birds too much to move them.

In other news, a youth group in the Valley is fundraising for a ski trip and I got them to dig over the vege patch yesterday. It was hilarious and wonderful in all the ways you might expect when you ask a group of teens to dig your vege patch. Two left after ten minutes when they realised the job was going to involve strenuous exercise and coordinated effort. The path is considerably muddier than it was before they started, but the patch is clean and fresh looking. They broke a pane in the glasshouse and left behind three shoes and a bucket. Some of them worked diligently and hard; some did flying leaps off the bank into the garden. The youngest and the skinniest and the biggest were the best workers. No-one stabbed anyone else, but it looked close a few times. A clump of lilies disappeared, but I wasn’t that fond of them. Maybe they’ll bloom in the compost heap. One boy did a beautiful job tidying the glasshouse and washing it down. The trays in it are neatly stacked and the mint has room to breathe.

I kept a quiet eye on the kids from my office as I worked on a copyedit, and I have to say, my feelings about them were almost identical to my feelings about the waxeyes. I loved them, but it was a rueful, charmed kind of love.

Strangely, while I was writing this, a bird flew past the window and I could swear it was a heron. I’ve never seen such a thing in suburban Dunedin, but it had a very heronesque bodyline and  it sure as shit wasn’t a seagull. It circled down towards the Gardens; maybe it’s gone to catch a fish.

A birthday

P1090152 Well, folks, this little editor hit forty a couple of days ago.

I will not lie, I worked myself up into a fair state of denial, loathing and grief over this birthday. Fortunately I started doing this about a year ago and have been getting steadily more reconciled until I made it to the birthday itself and it didn’t hurt a bit. I liked it, even.

P1090014The turning point was a conversation with a new friend who raised her wine glass, looked me in the eye and said, “Mary, you just have to do something to take the edge off. I went to Paris with my mother.” You have no idea how tempted I was, but neither aspect of that particular solution seemed feasible, so I went to Pūrākaunui with my family instead.

Pūrākaunui is an estuary about 30 minutes drive from Dunedin, over the hill to the north of Port Chalmers. The tides come and go, the birds and seals too, people stoop and reach after cockles on the mudflats, time runs at half speed.

P1090063We stayed in a small house beside the water. It was perfect. When I looked out the window, all I could see was water. A heron flew past while I was sitting on the loo. A seal chased a penguin onto the sandbar about 20 metres from our front door. They threatened each other; we covered the boys’ eyes, fearing bloody mayhem. The penguin prevailed, and the seal flounced back into the water. Shags sat on rocks, dove, surfaced, dove again. The Cat walked around saying, “It’s a bird lovers’ paradise. Well, all of New Zealand is a bird lovers’ paradise, but this is REALLY a bird lovers’ paradise.” He’s been reading Steve Braunias lately, as should everyone. We passed a penguin on the track at dusk, and I found myself saying excuse me as I edged slowly by. It just looked at me, noting my idiocy.

We had a night by ourselves while the boys stayed with family friends. It was our third night alone since the Cat was born nine years ago — the quiet was startling. We walked along the water for a few hours, watched kingfishers dart, made sidecars, watched a crazy film about Russians who find a window to Paris, ate lamb and grilled tomatoes and salad. By eight thirty, we were in bed.

P1090082The next morning we ate croissants and drank coffee. We walked to the sea, lit the fire, put lasagne in the oven and read. The boys came at lunchtime and we ate with our friends.

The house seemed a little smaller in the afternoon and I collected cockles with the boys. The cold deepened outside, but we were snug. We ate the cockles and cobbled together a simple dinner. The boys slept on mattresses on the floor, one in the living room, one at the foot of the bed. The snow started to fall.

P1090011The night brought wind, rain, thunder, lightning, hail, snow. The boys slept through it all. I woke up, and I was forty.








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An island, a mother, the rain

family portraitIf this blog could be said to have any kind of theme, it might be mothering. Or rain. This year, as with the last, it looks like my Mothers’ Day post is doing the combo, not that it rained on the day, but that it takes a day or two of settling and the clouds to open before I can sit down and write it out. At the opening of the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival last week, Witi Ihimaera asked us how we might define New Zealand Literature, and all I could think of was that in a New Zealand book it will usually rain somewhere along the line. More on that in another post.

It’s a lamps and fire and rain on the windows kind of day here, some gold still in the trees, the house firm and old and quiet. It’s a pondering sort of day, and I do like to ponder.

Mothers’ Day was a bit *different* this year. I woke to the alarm at 6.20am, which is about my least favourite way to wake up, then had breakfast on my own. When I opened the cupboard to get the coffee, I found a postcard of Paris from Ian, who was away for work. I’m a total sucker for that sort of thing: coffee, Paris, loving words in black ink, an empty kitchen, a solitary breakfast — it was a pretty zen start to the day.

It became more of a scramble at 8.15am when I had to get the boys out of bed and out the door by 8.30am, but thank god they were going to my sister because I could shove a pack of crumpets and a pile of fruit in a lunchbox with no qualms whatsoever. The Cat gave me a card covered in soccer drawings (a number 10 jersey with my name on it, a soccer pitch with me scoring a goal, a Barça shirt, etc), with the message that I should “keep being awesome”. I put the card in the cupboard next to the postcard and I see them whenever I’m looking for coffee or honey or butter.

I dropped the boys, collected my father and took him to a talk on tramping in New Zealand. Afterwards, I found my sister, her partner, their baby and my boys playing soccer in the park. The sun was warm, the grass was wet, everyone was in good cheer. The Squirrel-baby is learning how to hug; he reaches towards you with his arms out and leans on whatever bit of your body he lands against. It’s basically the most excellent thing ever.

P1010791.JPGThe afternoon was more soccer, the library, a quick walk in the Gardens. We got home a little too late, with too many chores to do, dinner to make and everyone losing it at 5.30pm. Ian sent messages from Stewart Island, where he was tracking —of all people — Prince Harry. He managed to spend some time at the place where Mum’s ashes are, and I was caught out by the thought of him being there, of the Mothers’ Day I wish I could have, of the pull of that beautiful, honest, gentle place.

P1030017.JPGSpaghetti with prawns and peas smoothed most of the feathers, a glass of wine a few more, cuddles most of the rest. But my dear old Cat was still a bit spiky. It took all evening, but he finally told me that he was feeling bad because he’d realised that I’d only done things they liked on Mothers’ Day, not the things I would probably like to do. I held him close and told him about how happy it makes me to see him and his brother doing the things they enjoy, about the struggle it is to get dinner on the table when I’m tired and my children are fighting, about how touched I was that he’d thought about what the day might have been like for me.

He hugged me back, tight and warm, and that was the best of the day, right there.



A thick layer of wool

We got insulation put in the roof last week. What a revelation! We still need heating on cold days, but the HEAT STAYS IN. And there’s not that slightly chill draughty feeling at the far end of the woodburner’s reach. And the windows are dry in the morning. We could do plenty more, and may as budget allows, but for a quick, long-term, not terribly expensive improvement to your house, it would be hard to go past insulation.

When I say ‘not terribly expensive’, I mean around $1200, so not peanuts either by any means, but not in the realms of a new roof, piling, major redecoration, etc. And I cannot understand why landlords don’t all do it. For sure, they don’t get the direct benefit — not living there and not paying the power bill — but wouldn’t some sort of social conscience prompt you to give your tenants a fair shot at being warm? And wouldn’t it be worthwhile to make your house warmer, therefore drier, therefore likely to stay in good nick for longer?

We need it now, too. The colours have turned across the city, the days are getting shorter, it’s the letting-go time. Some days I want to step out into it, others to stay home, light the fire, brew coffee, hunker.

Cracking open the cage

P1080487I’ve been tending to my back for about six months now. I’m an editor, so I spend WAY too much time in front of a computer and not nearly enough doing yoga. I get massages from a bodywork therapist who has an uncanny ability not only to find any lurking knots but also to tap into whatever emotional shit you might have stored up in your body. I’ve cried in front of her more than once, but she seems to cope okay.

Anyway, things amped up in the last week or two, starting with a visit to an osteopath. “Oh,” said the therapist, “I think he’s a bit more than an osteo, actually.” I don’t know; it’s all Greek to me. He pointed out that my ribs are very tight, along with my back, shoulders, neck, everything. He cracked a few joints, told me to get some weights and build up my muscles, and sent me on my way. When I told my dear, dear friend about his rib comment, she said, “Well, of course. They’re protecting your heart. Think of how much you’ve loved and lost in your 30s.” She’s like that, and I also hold her responsible for the mist that descended about the hilltops as we walked and talked.

The next day I went back to the therapist, fully expecting to turn into a small sad mess at some stage during the massage. But everything went pretty smoothly, we got some stubborn knots out and my shoulders felt pain free for the first time in, well, decades. I was congratulating myself on my ability to simultaneously LET GO and HOLD IT TOGETHER when she did some Reiki-type move over my head and all of a sudden my mum, my grandmother and my great-aunt were right there in the room, watching over me and telling me I was safe with them. So, that was the end of that, except that I then had ten minutes to get back to the valley and pick up my kids. I tell you, the 5.30pm red wine came not a moment too soon last night.

P1080488And then — I swear I am not making this up although I am probably reading way too much into natural phenomena — I walked into the kitchen to make breakfast this morning, noticed the sunrise flooding the sky and then saw, due west, the most goddamn perfect rainbow I’ve ever seen. I went outside and stood looking at it and thinking, “You have got to be kidding me, Mum.” At which point it started to rain, very gently. Regular readers may have noticed that I am highly suggestible in the rain.


The next day

A flat day here, made better by the following:

  • a jonquil, brand new
  • Rabbit falling asleep on Ian on the couch, with bonus snoring
  • new business cards and flyers
  • a fire and no great expectations
  • coffee and cake
  • handmade mugs
  • yoghurt
  • Ani d’Franco: “all of this is just someone’s idea; it could just as well be mine”
  • rain, grey sky and a green jersey
  • the Cat’s face, clear and open, with bonus freckles
  • gin and tonic, and no, I am not a complete lush

I thought I could be completely trivial today and write about clothes. Not my speciality, obviously, but I do wear them and I have thoughts.

pearsThe first thing that must be acknowledged is that I’m irreducibly pear-shaped. I’m fairly at peace with that — I fit the prototype passed from the women of both sides of my family, so at least I have lineage — but I would like to aim more for the Buerre Bosc end of the spectrum than the Winter Nellis one.

Being pear-ish, fashion doesn’t work so well for me as playing to my strengths. I have finally made the move from flared trousers and fitted tops to narrow pants and looser tops, at least in my head. I don’t go shopping very often and I don’t like replacing clothes that still fit and don’t have holes, so my wardrobe is a bit slow to catch up. Also, there’s a very narrow range in which narrow pants work for me: leggings, jeggings, skinny jeans, and ponte pants (whatever they are) are usually BAD NEWS, unless they achieve some miraculous combination of arse-friendliness and leg-forgivingness. This miracle is usually only achievable with the addition of heels; as I like to walk, we don’t see that miracle in these parts very often.

I have a bone-deep weakness for cardigans and woolly hand-knits. If it’s soft, drapey, snuggly, and the right colour, I’m ALL IN. The right colour is tricky: I’m partial to greys, greens, blues and certain reds. A soft pink has been known to lure me, and a stripe will usually find its way to my heart. Silver is also good. Mum had an aversion to black that verged on moralistic, so even though I admire all-black ensembles on my friends, I usually wear colour unless we’re talking nightwear. I had a pair of black silk pyjamas in my 20s with white edging, and they were THE BEST. In the last year, I’ve relied heavily on scarves to brighten up my days.

I don’t like to linger or browse in clothes shops; I’m more your “walk in, scan the racks, pull out five things, try them on, make decisions, buy or leave” type. I like an honest salesperson and help thinking of different options, but I can’t stand being talked into something that doesn’t work. If the whole operation can be done in less than 15 minutes, so much the better. Most of my best buys have been second-hand, and my only problem with that is the need to fossick in larger second-hand stores. I’m quick, but I like to know that I’ve seen everything, so vast choice makes me twitchy. I can sew skirts and simple tops, but buttons and zips are at the outer limit of my skill range.

I’d like to own a silk shirt like the ones Allison Janney wears on The West Wing (although she is longer and leaner than me, so maybe not — also Mum kept silk shirts in the freezer to make them easier to iron, and I’m not sure I’m game for that), a pair of slightly heeled ankle boots, a slouchy grey jersey to replace the one I’ve had since I was 17, better pyjamas, and a bra to replace the one that saw me through Rabbit’s breastfeeding years. One day…

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