little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: Christmas

Gotta laugh

My children are very different from each other. We started on Christmas decorations this week, and tonight is streamers. I started cutting lengths of card for a loop streamer, then the Cat decided that he wanted to work on a folded crepe paper streamer instead. Bear in mind that I am also trying to wash the dishes and cook dinner.

I told the Cat to get two rolls of crepe paper in the colours of his choice and meet me on the sofa. I cut the rest of the card and showed the Rabbit how to make loops and staple them together. The Rabbit (3) sat at the kitchen table and diligently worked on his streamer. The Cat (8) dumped half a roll of crepe paper on the living room floor, walked around the house with the rest of the roll on his head, fell off the sofa, watched me start the streamer, did one fold, and decided he’d had enough.

God, I love them both with all my heart, but sometimes I wonder how much I can pin on the genetic inheritance from their father. As I write, the Rabbit is still working on his streamer, and the Cat is standing on his head and debating what his name is while Ian fills out a form for school camp.

Taking a moment, part II

I did this for my great-aunt a few months ago, and yesterday it was for my grandmother. Just paying tribute, I guess. The first eulogy is mine; the second my sister’s.

 

Mine

We’ve come to say goodbye, Granny. The words don’t come easily; all our lives, you’ve been there. But you shaped us and made us whole, and though we feel weak and imperfect today, we know you gave us the strength to honour you and let you go.

I want to spin words for you today — dark, rough, warm words — spin them out of storm-grey wool, keep the wheel turning awhile, draw yarn from fleece. I would like to knit you a story — plain and pearl — wrap you in bright, true colour. Or if I had the skill, I would make you a garden of love — plant gentleness and welcome and care — sit you under a tree and magic up a world of light and good, growing things. I’d let the children run and bring you a cup of tea, sit down beside you, touch my head to yours. But that magic is not for us, not in the way I want it, so I will have to conjure what I can out of memory and story, make do with the worlds in our heads and our hearts.

When we were children, we often stayed with you on the farm. You had a beautiful house and a beautiful garden, with a berry cage and a glasshouse and a tyre swing in a big tree. The garden had stone walls and wooden gates, with secret hiding places and a lawn we played croquet on at Christmastime. Papa died when I was little, and you kept all this up on your own, although I know you missed him very much. But we were too young for that for a long time, so we picked berries and collected pine cones and swept leaves and snuck into sheds and stole grapes happily.

You woke early, and you always got to the kitchen first. You’d check the traps for mice, light the Rayburn, make a pot of tea. The mice ended up, unceremoniously, in the compost bucket — I shiver at it still. You’d make the rounds of our beds with the tea tray, give us each a cup, and a slice of bread with butter and sugar on it. It was a lovely way to start the day, lovely too when I managed to get up in time to help with the ritual. You would be dressed, always neat and trim, but Mum would be soft and warm in her dressing gown, and I loved you both, loved the order of my grandmother and the sleepy arms of my mother.

You and Mum had quite different ways of being women, mothers. But your qualities played off against each other, and in that play you gave me and Fiona room to grow in our own ways, to find our own paths. And you had common ground that gave us a good foundation: hospitality, generosity, craft and gardening, a sneaky love of shopping, a disdain of excessive grooming and frippery, a deep enjoyment of friendships, and an enthusiastic commitment to nourishing and delicious food.

The bond between you was strong, too. You wrote to each other every week, probably for close on 50 years. You took pleasure in each other’s lives, looked for opportunities for celebration, support, or care. I think losing Mum was a blow too heavy for you to bear; it was something you could never fully get your head and heart around. Although we didn’t talk much about our grief, it helped a little to know that you felt it too, that the hole in our lives was also a hole in yours.

Christmas was a big deal at your house. All the aunts and uncles and cousins came, and the cooking started early and the dishes stretched forever. We were allowed our stockings before breakfast, and my sister and I opened our presents to each other. But everything else had to wait until after church. Then the other families arrived, and the feasting began. The uncles put all the leaves in the table, and we used the best crockery and cutlery. We got most of the fruit and vegetables from the garden — teams, hordes really, of children sent out to forage, pod, pick, scrub — and I guess the lamb came from one of the farms. The luckiest adults got the ruby-red glasses that Papa brought back from Florence, and I’d watch them carefully, wondering when it would be my turn.

I was never allowed to read as much as I wanted to at the farm — children needed fresh air and activity — but on a cold day, you would light the fire and then I could curl up beside your chair, its leather worn, cracked, and you’d stroke my hair, your fingers curved, the bones tender against the nape of my neck. You understood balance, the weighting of exercise with rest, work with play, talk with silence. And maybe that is why it was hard to see you these last few years, to see you quiet and still, without the counterweight of activity and independence and work. You drew life from hospitality and conversation and making a home; without that, you were frail, unmoored.

And in that unmooring, I lost part of myself too, as I suspect many of us did. So many of our lines to the past are traced through women — our mothers, grandmothers, aunts. Your talk gives us our history, and it is your arms we return to for support or care. So now that you are gone, we feel unsteadied, unsure on the shaky ground of our middle years. I wish I could bring back that world — even for a day — just to step into it, look around, be small and safe and cared for again. I wish I could take my children there, my friends too, but instead you have given me, given all of us, the harder task: to create our own worlds, build our own homes, and open them to others.

And perhaps the best we can do is to remember you in the small moments — when we light a fire or brew a pot of tea, when we stir porridge or let marmalade fall from spoon to toast, when we pick flowers from our gardens or welcome family and friends to our tables. Perhaps all we can do is carry you with us in the quiet fabric of how we live and be in the world; perhaps all we can do is recognise you, greet you, in a sister, a child, a friend.

 

Fiona’s

Obviously, I have known Granny all my life. However, I’ve realised recently that what I know of someone is in most cases only a small fraction of their whole lives, so this eulogy is fairly limited to my own experiences, for which I apologise. But when I think of Granny, I think of my childhood.

Growing up, my family went regularly to visit Granny at her old house in Lady Barkly. This was a magical place to us, like stepping into a storybook: full of long sun-drenched afternoons, tea and biscuits on the lawn, frogs hiding under rocks and sheep in the fields. Stiles and gooseberry bushes, tennis and bike rides, and cosy evenings by the fire, watching Coronation Street. But my favourite memories of the Barkly are of staying in Granny’s wee sunroom, nestled between her room and my parents’ at the top of the house. Lying awake surrounded by my grown-ups, hearing the trees rustle and the occasional lonely sheep, I have never felt more safe.

It was that safety and sense of peace, I think, that made staying at Granny’s such fun. In such a stable and loving place, we were free to explore, find boundaries and pretend to transgress – knowing all the while that a pot of tea and cheese biscuits were just around the corner. Granny built this environment, it came directly from her. She offered us a space of boundless discovery, and set us free to find our own places in it.

Mind you, us kids didn’t just run wild at Granny’s house – or in my case, lie idle. My idea of an ideal winter’s day is: fire, chair, book. But Granny knew that these things are even better if you split them up with a bracing walk around the driveway to collect pinecones. She taught us the value of a balanced life, one that includes both rest and work, conversation and reflection, simplicity and small indulgences.

I think this was also apparent in her craft. Granny knitted, sewed and made embroidery all her life, and was a skilled craftsperson. There are few memories more comforting to me than the sound of her spinning wheel on an evening by the fire, and us grandchildren cherish her beautiful hand-embroidered Christmas stockings. And to me, her craft was about balance: the economy of clothing your family in hand-spun handknits, and the creative joy of making beautiful things. The pleasure of wrapping your loved ones in warmth, and the pleasure of spending your time in satisfying industry. My mother made her own way into craft and textile art, and I think was influenced by this dichotomy of function and economy, and a love of creative expression, colour and form. I’ve now found my own place in craftwork, and while I regret that I can’t directly share this experience with these women who came before me, I am deeply glad to continue the conversation.

Lady Barkly also a highly social world, for all its geographic isolation. Uncle Hugh or Cousin Mike would often pop over during breakfast, to snag a cup of tea and drop off the mail and the milk. And in the afternoons we would go to see Uncle John and family, or to Margie Divers or another friend. This taught me the value of maintaining family and social connections, but also showed me one of Granny’s qualities that I truly admired: her sense of place in the world. Granny, I think, never felt any great need to define or question her life, to proclaim it to the world or rail against it. She had a life of social networks and strong relationships, of routine and well-established belief. An awareness of what was important to her, and how she was important to other people. This gave her her generosity, her ability to share wisdom and guidance, and an shakeable sense of the right way to do things: how to bake bread, prune roses, or look after guests. I found this deeply reassuring, and loved sharing her world of peace and calm.

But we didn’t always get along, Granny and I. My teenage years saw a prolonged series of arguments, mostly around clothes and appearance. But I like to think we each understood the others’ side of the debate. I knew she just wanted me to have self-confidence and care in the way I presented myself, and she knew I was a bolshy upstart who would grow out of it. Granny cared about presentation: she was never more herself than in a fine knit jersey, hair done, with her pearls and a matching skirt. But it wasn’t just about shallow appearances. Granny believed in the self-confidence and poise that such care brings, and found strength in presenting a strong face to the world.

But the best thing that she taught me was the value of family, and most especially of sisterhood. She and her sister Nan were both widowed young, and lived for years their own lives, separate but always close by. Quite different in their temperaments, beliefs and outlooks, they were able to live side by side, accepting their differences, and finding a true companionship. They were never far apart, and it is hard to remember one without the other. Being lucky enough to have my own sister, I have always been touched by their unquestioning trust and love for each other, and I’m quite looking forward to Mary and I being similarly formidable old ladies one day. We’re practicing. Thank you.

These ladies whom I love

granny and me Dad and I drove to Winton yesterday to visit my grandmother and great aunt. It was a heavy day — my heart was heavy, and the sky too, with mist and cloud and pent-up rain that didn’t break until we hit Milton on the way home. Aunty Nan was bright, particularly when we got onto politics and family history, and took her for a walk around her garden. But Granny was sleepy, her head drooping like a small child’s and her hands turning together in her lap. I held my cheek against hers and stroked her hands, and I hope that somehow she knew I was there.

lawn gatheringWhen we were children, we often stayed with Granny on the farm. She had a beautiful house and a beautiful garden, with a berry cage and a glasshouse and a tyre swing in a big tree. The garden had stone walls and wooden gates, with secret hiding places and a lawn we played croquet on at Christmastime. Papa died when I was little, and Granny kept all this up on her own, although I know she missed him very much. But we were too young for that for a long time, so we picked berries and collected pine cones and swept leaves and snuck into sheds and stole grapes happily.

mum and mary 2 Granny woke early, and she always got to the kitchen first. She’d check the traps for mice (which ended up, unceremoniously, in the compost bucket — I shiver at it still), light the Rayburn, make a pot of tea. She’d make the rounds of our beds with the tea tray, give us each a cup, and a slice of bread with butter and sugar on it. It was a lovely way to start the day, lovely too when I managed to get up in time to help with the ritual. Granny would be dressed, always neat and trim, but Mum would be soft and warm in her dressing gown, and I loved them both, loved the order of my grandmother and the sleepy arms of my mother.

peasChristmas was a big deal at Granny’s house. All the aunts and uncles and cousins came, and the cooking started early and the dishes stretched forever. We were allowed our stockings before breakfast, and my sister and I opened our presents to each other. But everything else had to wait until after church. Then the other families arrived, and the feasting began. The uncles put all the leaves in the table, and we used the best crockery and cutlery. We got most of the fruit and vegetables from the garden — teams of children sent out to forage, pod, pick, scrub — and I guess the lamb came from one of the farms. The luckiest adults got the ruby-red glasses that Papa brought back from Florence, and I’d watch them carefully, wondering when it would be my turn.

readingI was never allowed to read as much as I wanted to at the farm — children needed fresh air and activity — but on a cold day, Granny would light the fire and then I could curl up beside her chair, its leather worn, cracked, and she’d stroke my hair, her fingers curved, the bones tender against the nape of my neck. She understood balance, the weighting of exercise with rest, work with play, talk with silence. And maybe that is why it’s hard to see her now, to see her quiet and still, without the counterweight of activity and independence and work. She drew life from hospitality and conversation and making a home; without that, she is frail, unmoored.

reading with grannyAnd in that unmooring, I lose myself too. So many of my lines to the past are traced through these women — mother, grandmother, great-aunt. Their talk gave me my history, and it is their arms I returned to again and again in that vaguely tortured sorting out of self that our teens and twenties so often demand.  So now that they are gone, or going, I feel unsteadied, unsure on the shaky ground of my middle years. I reach out to them, stroke a hand or gently kiss a cheek, and my touch comforts myself as much as them; it comforts me, and I fear its breaking.

mum and mary

This post is part of a brave blogging link-up that’s part of Liv Lane’s How To Build a Blog You Truly Love ecourse. As a participant, I was challenged to step outside my comfort zone and share something with you that felt especially brave.

swing stile painting christmas

But hang on, isn’t this a business blog?

Oh, so you noticed. Noticed that along with the writing tips, the wordplay, and the grammar musings, some other things keep slipping into this blog. Bits of fiction. A poem (!). Stories about my children (good grief). Words like decolonisation (really?). Reflections on motherhood (enough already). Feminist analysis (settle down, ladies). Politics, family history, Christmas presents. What’s all that about? Am I confused? Do I know what I’m doing?

Well, “yes” and “not really”.

 

“Yes”

My main aim with this blog is to treat it like a scrapbook. To gather together snippets of the things that move or inspire me, that have me laughing in agreement or making sense of another day spent trying to fledge a business and hold together the threads of a full and busy household. To say, “Look, this is what writing can do. These are the words we need to guide us into a more hopeful future.”

And I’m also trying to be as open and generous as possible in my understanding of what a business can be. Because why shouldn’t a businesswoman think about colonisation or feminism or children or any of that? Because those things don’t go away when we say, “No, you didn’t see the boundary there; this is business, this is work.” Because I’m not going to cut myself into pieces and sanction one little bit to build this business up. What you’ll get is all of me, stroppy, reflective, silly, curious, ratbaggy as I might be. And I don’t expect anyone else to agree with my views, but I do think that there’s space in the business model for me to wander off the page and write about the rest of my life, about the questions and anchors and truths that keep me alert and keep me whole. And if there’s not that space, there should be.

 

“Not really”

But, of course, it’s not that simple, is it?

Because I do put my own boundaries on what I write, and I do worry away at the distinction between a personal and a business blog. I question my decisions. I self-censure. I link to other people’s words instead of putting my analysis and thinking on the line. I feel vulnerable when I post creative writing and a bit soft when I write about mothering or my children. I tell the funny or appealing family stories — not so much the ones where I am less than graceful and composed.

 

“Well maybe”

So, what to do?

You know, the thing I keep coming back to is the idea of wandering off the page. Of saying, “Yes, this writing is connected to my business, because it all stems from me and my writing self, but it’s a little bit to the side, a little bit meandering. It’s where my thoughts turn in my quiet moments, or where they snag as I’m playing with the kids or making dinner or listening to the radio or having a shower. It’s the writing I do when I’ve got something to say.” And what I’d really like is to live in a world where the page origamis into new shapes, where the centre no longer holds and the eye is free to follow those wandering, marginal lines.

Writing in the present

It’s el cheapo Christmas in our household this year, so I’m making my boys some wordy presents, and it got me thinking — what other presents could I make with a few dollars, a laptop, and a printer? I’d love to get more suggestions in the comments.

 

Recipe book

For the Cat, I’m making a recipe book. I’ve got a large notebook with ruled lines and divider cards, which I’ll use to divide the book into a few sections (snacks and salads, soups and stews, etc). I’ve used a photo of the Cat as the base for the cover, and I’m typing up his favourite recipes to stick in the first few pages of each section (spaghetti bolognaise, raw fish salad, chicken noodle soup, etc). I hope that as he gets more into cooking, he will add his own recipes in the blank pages.

 

Alphabet book

For the Rabbit, I’m making an alphabet book. I’ve got a folder with clear plastic sleeves, and for each letter of the alphabet, I’ll do a cover page with the letter in upper and lower case. Then I thought I could find pictures of animals and other Rabbit-friendly things for each letter. I’ll print out the pictures and stick them on bits of coloured card, which can slot into the appropriate sleeves. At this stage, the wee one will just pull out the pictures and look at them, but as he grows, he can start to learn which pictures go with which letters.

 

Bird migration map

This is not so wordy, but the Cat and I are working on a present for a little cousin. We’ll get a map of the world and trace the migration paths of different birds on it. We thought we could put pictures of each bird at their winter and summer homes.

 

Children’s books

The Cat likes to think big, and he’s writing a chapter book to give to friends and family. I’m not sure how it will turn out, but so far there’s bug collecting, animals, fancy equipment, and some very unusual names.

 

Homemade calendar

One of our best Christmas presents was a calendar illustrated with bird paintings done by the Cat. We photographed the paintings and imported them into a calendar-making application. Although I have to say that it didn’t work out all that cheap by the time we paid for the printing and binding.

 

Scrappy poem

The Cat and I are making poems out of words and phrases cut from magazines. The first poem is a little… odd. Maybe we need to up the quality of our source material?

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