little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: fireside musings

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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Good spot

20160605_173612I think Granny would whole-heartedly approve of a small boy using her chair to warm his toes by the fire.

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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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.

Wrap up warm

P1070570Today: brought to you by wind, rain, hail, sun, train tracks, fruit, fire, almonds, oatcakes, coffee, books, and all the blankets.

I hope you’re warm and comfortable, wherever you are.

xo, Mary.

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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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