little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: building blocks

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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Shameless bragging

20160622_184603Exciting times here — the Cat’s team won a local spelling bee! I gotta say, for an editor mama, that is a peak pride moment.








20160622_180831And the Rabbit made a sign, an exercise that involved a lot of writing and hammering and fixing. It says, “There is a cat here and her name is Stelllla! Stop! Wait. There are more words.”

Indeed there are. Long may there be words.


Space above his head

I took the Cat to Melbourne in the school holidays, the first time we have travelled as a pair and a chance for him to spend some time with his godparents. We had a terrific time, enjoying warm autumn days, pomegranates from the tree down the street, drawing over breakfast, books, long talks, a new baby, soccer games, treks to the lake and noodles in the city. We spent a day at Healesville Sanctuary, then had a magical dusk experience exchanging whistles with a lyrebird at Badger’s Weir. For a birdo, it was peak spotting.

Less successful was my attempt to introduce the Cat to the joys of wandering Melbourne’s lanes and arcades. He got steadily more tense and grumpy, and I started to plumb the depths of maternal self-pity and stubbornness. Not a pretty thing on either side of the equation.

Then the Cat’s godmother suggested that we go into the State Library, a place that had given me much-needed calm and solace during our time living in Melbourne. We walked into the reading room and the Cat stopped still, his mouth open, wonder on his face. “This is a good place,” he said. “We can stay here as long as you like.” High above us, the roof domed to the sky; around us, the walls curved and people sat at the desks spoking out to the edges of the room. The Cat settled at a desk, opened his book, disappeared into himself.

So, a place that was built to provide the people of Victoria with somewhere to learn, to rest and to connect with their heritage and each other is still working. Architecture that inspires and lifts the mind, that speaks of democracy and learning, and that can soothe the frazzled nerves of a 10-year-old visitor — that’s good building.

Also, it has a chess room.

Making things

20160402_171411_resizedLittle Rabbit is a builder. A slightly thwarted builder because he doesn’t have a builder’s belt. Until now.

Today has been difficult. I think that would be the best way to describe it. The morning involved standing in the cold for three hours watching the Cat play soccer, and by the time I got home I was grumpy and nauseous. I read by the fire for as long as I felt I could get away with it, then ventured outside to see what the Rabbit and Ian were up to. Harvesting vegetables, it turned out. Lots of potatoes, some epic carrots and a fine zucchini. They had also cleared all the crap from the back porch, so we swept it out and rearranged the furniture and now we have a lovely wee sitting spot by the back door.

Rabbit, meanwhile, was hatching plans. “I want to climb a tree,” he said. Ian rigged up some ropes and offered to be the tree, but that was no good. Rabbit decided that his main barrier to tree-climbing success was his lack of a builder’s belt. The Cat has a builder’s belt, which he got for Christmas and has never used, but the Cat wasn’t sharing. The Cat was stubborn, the Rabbit was cross, the chores were mounting up. I ordered a glass of wine and decided it was time to sort this out.

20160402_171517_resizedRabbit and I hunted through the dress-up box and found a belt and the bottoms of two trackpants. Why we had decided to keep the bottoms of two trackpants I do not know, but here they were, ready to be useful. I did some cutting, tried lining things up, made a rough plan. I got out my grandmother’s Husqvarna and showed Rabbit how to thread it. It’s a beautiful machine, as you can see, and it’s still going well. On the slow speed it purrs like a cat, on the fast it revs up, then rattles along the cloth. Yes, there is a soccer book in our fruit bowl. No, that is not unusual.

I sewed the belt together and explained to the Rabbit that my abilities would not extend to flaps to close the pockets. Ian came to the rescue with some large clips. The Rabbit was finally pleased.

20160402_171502_resizedLater I was outside feeding the animals and found the Rabbit sorting things in his toolset. “What are you up to?” I asked. “Just getting organised for my tree climb,” he said. “I need to find a tree now. I might need to have a look on someone else’s property.” I vetoed that, but now he is writing a to-do list for tomorrow. Guess what’s at the top.


20151216_181726So, this happened. As I write, I am watching my hens fossicking in the grass on the bank. We spent most of the year building a coop and run, by which I mean my father-in-law designed and built it with our help over a couple of visits from Australia and we did bits in between with many phone calls and questions back and forth across the Tasman. We got the hens from HennyPenny, a free-range outfit in Omakau that sells beautiful, healthy Hyline point-of-lay chooks.

20151218_162843We got the girls last weekend and have spent the week getting to know them. They started laying almost the first day, and are now producing an egg or two a day between them. We got three hens: Helen, Angelina and Tilda. Angelina has darker colouring and appears to be the leader of the pack. Tilda is paler and likes to be hand-fed grass. Helen is in-between, and likes to keep her own counsel.

P1090818They are doing all the right chicken things: roosting on their perch at night, scratching for bugs, using their nest boxes, dust-bathing and following me back into the coop when I take them their supper. Their eggs are small, brown and really intense. They are spending a lot of time grazing around the berry bushes and they seem fond of rock melon. I stroked them yesterday, and they are soft as silk. And warm. Lovely.

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The chickens are going to need names

Chook mission is getting serious around here. My father-in-law will be over from Australia in a week or so, and we’re planning to take advantage of having a competent grown-up in the house by getting him to help us with the netting and fencing for the chicken house. Theoretically this is something we should be fully capable of managing on our own, and yet … we haven’t.

We have planted the berry bushes that are the start of the “orchard” (berries and small fruit trees on the bank), we’ve got a nest box and a perch (and a house), and we’ve also starting thinking about what is probably the most important part of the whole dealio: chicken names. We have embarrassingly few practical skills, but we’re okay with words.

So, thoughts please.

Option 1: flowers. Daisy, Rose, etc. No, I didn’t think so either.

Option 2: Crime novelists. Ngaio, Agatha, Dorothy, etc.

Option 3: Women of film. Tilda, Angelina, Marilyn, etc.

Option 4: Bad taste. Kebab, Nibbles, Drumstick, etc. Yeah, nah.

Option 5: Old-fashioned lady names. Harriet, and then we got stuck.

Opinions and fresh ideas would be very welcome. There’s plenty of time though. We haven’t got walls yet.

Block by block

P1060885In the past couple of weeks we’ve weathered death and the extended family, work changes and drama, the tip past solstice towards the Return of the Light, cold, flu, nits, money woes, boredom, and a dwindling supply of firewood. None of it unmanageable, but taken together, it’s got me and Ian in a state where we eye the coffee pot at dawn, the wine bottle at 5pm and bed at 9pm. The Rabbit has been joining us in said bed most nights, and while he’s usually small, warm and soothing as a night-time companion, in his current condition he’s wriggly, unsettled and coughy. We’re going away at the end of the week; we’ll be limping all the way to the airport gate, but dear lord is it going to be good to fly out of here. My to-do list never seems to get below 30 items, no matter how many times I sit on call waiting or write an email.

However, we are also making progress. We’ve weeded the whole garden and trimmed most of the hedge. We’ve booked flights and buses, we’ve chopped wood, we’ve planted bulbs. We’ve kept the children warm and fed, and we’ve done puzzles and watched a lot of soccer. We remember to hug each other often, to say thank you, to celebrate small achievements. The boys have been playing together, kicking a ball around, building carriages for the trike. They found a huhu grub, roasted it on the barbecue, and ate it. That felt like a milestone, but of what sort, I do not know. The toilet does not smell of boy pee more days than it does. I’m getting more exercise and reading more books. The little things and the big, carrying us through.

P1060888The Rabbit is having one more day at home today, getting over a virus and resting his wee self. He got out the Duplo and built this vehicle, and I don’t think it’s just motherly pride that makes me love it. The colours and the patterns make me happy, the punctuation of blocks with wheels. It has all the order and sweet calm that I love in him, that he seeks under the surface of his frustrations and stroppiness, that bend his arms around my neck in the night, that make him smile when he wakes and sees me — make him smile and kiss me good morning even after the most restless of nights.

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