little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: food

The mouths of babes

The necessary context: It’s our 15th anniversary and I forgot for the first half hour of the day, then remembered only to realise that we have no money for presents, no babysitter for a date, no time to relax, and I was going to be parent help at Rabbit’s childcare all morning. I was unhelpfully Eeyore-ish about all this through most of the day, but rallied enough to buy flowers and tuna, sweep the kitchen floor, chill a bottle of white from the “fancy” collection, and get out the flash cutlery.

I made an old and sentimental favourite for dinner, poisson cru, a raw fish salad served on rice. I should tell you how to make it because it’s a happy and bonding meal, with little heat required and not too much fuss. You start by marinating chunks of tuna in lemon or lime juice, and when I say chunk, I mean something that you can pick up in your fingers and pop in your mouth without either dropping it or doing that embarrassing thing where you can’t chew effectively and look like a gerbil until you either spit or swallow. Because that is not the look you are going for on anniversary night, or indeed on any night involving loved ones and the fancy wine. So then you have your tuna marinating for about 20 minutes and in the meantime you can put on the rice and start preparing the vegetables. I’ll leave the rice to you; we have our method and it’s foolproof, but no doubt you have yours too. I do think jasmine is best for this — you want a little bit of sticky.

Next we come to the vegetables. The cucumber is fun. I use a whole cucumber if I’m feeling rich and generous, and the first step is to peel strips lengthwise to give a stripy effect. I don’t know if that makes sense, but you’ll probably know if you’ve got it right, and if you haven’t, you’ll have something anyway and I’m sure it will be useable. Then you need to cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. I find this easier in shorter lengths, but it might depend on your prowess with a fork. You really want to scoop with the fork rather than scraping; it’s a textural thing. Once you have your stripy, scooped cucumber, slice it into half circles, a couple of millimetres wide, again about the size you’d want to pick up with your fingers. The garlic is easy — just finely chop a couple of cloves.  Tomatoes are also straightforward. Quarter them and cut out the stalky bits, then push out the seeds. I know no tidy way to do this; you’ll have to use your thumbs, so if you’re a bit on the hygiene-sensitive side like me, wash your hands first. Of course, you’ll have been washing your hands throughout this whole scenario anyway. You probably just did it, hey? Cut your quartered, de-seeded tomatoes into chunks — you know the drill. The last thing is spring onion. Slice it. Diagonally, for class.

So somewhere in the middle of all this vegetable finangling, you should have drained the tuna, tasting it first to make sure it’s “cooked” to your liking. And then you just mix the tuna and the vegetables with a can of coconut cream, decanted, aber natürlich, and then you serve the salad over the rice and pour the wine and have a jolly old time.

And that’s the context: poisson cru, fancy wine, a significant anniversary for which I am totally unprepared and under-resourced, plus (which I forgot to mention) two slightly cranky children, a not-very-pristine house, a strong desire for everyone under the age of ten to go to bed without any fuss, and actually, now that I think of it, the miracle of sharing my life from my early twenties to my nearly forties with the same long-legged, enthusiastic, kind, hilarious man. WITH TWO CHILDREN AND A CAT. Eight houses and as many gardens, hundreds of books, countless reeling conversations, walks and meals and nights and mornings and days, estuaries and mountains and beaches and cities, Paris and Melbourne and Tahiti and Dunedin, kisses and all the rest of it, collapsing laughter and tears and the occasional grump and stomp, all of those things that brought us together, that keep us together.

All of that, and at the bottom of the first glass of wine, Rabbit announces that he got himself a lolly this morning. I don’t understand; I question logistics and mechanics, get him to demonstrate his technique, express disbelief, incredulity. For the record, he pulled a chair over to the bench, climbed onto the bench, pulled down the lolly box, and extracted his prize. We watched him demonstrate; he was perfect. I still don’t know when this happened — he says this morning while I was in the shower, which seems incredible as Ian and the Cat were faffing around getting ready and the house isn’t that big and the chair takes a bit of shifting, so he must have been both quick and sneaky. Anyway, I’m trying to get my head around this small, determined, independent child, who — apparently — is mine, and so Ian tries to explain that the second-borns just are like that: they don’t need parental approval and they want to sort their own stuff out and they go ahead and do what they need to do to achieve the ends they want to achieve. And from the corner, the Cat lifts his head from his book. “Shite,” he says, “that’s so unfair.”

 

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.

Peaks and troughs, y’all

I read an article the other day that talked about how parents are generally about as happy as non-parents (although way more worried, stressed, and angry), but experience higher highs and lower lows on a daily basis. Which seems pretty accurate to me. The emotional roller coaster of parenting often leaves me feeling wrung out and bewildered, and I can only imagine and dimly remember what it’s like to be a little person in the middle of that maelstrom. I guess the best I can do as a parent then is to be the steady base, the centre they can return to or hold onto when their feelings get too big for comfort.

Yesterday was a case in point, and I can tell you, the wine bottle came out pretty damn fast once dinner was in the oven and the fire was on. The Rabbit is generally a sweet and thoughtful child, but there’s some three-year-old thing going on that’s got me and Ian fully on the razzle. All of a sudden, he’s Very Particular about how he’d like to do things, what crockery, cutlery and glassware would suit him, which socks, undies, trousers, shirts and jerseys meet his aesthetic requirements for the day. Life has become a steady round of negotiation and boundary setting, letting go of our own preferences when his wishes are possible, explaining limits and the capacity of our clothes-washing system when they are not. I keep finding myself hard up against my own stubbornness, frantically searching for the chinks in a conflict where I can offer him a solution, a helping hand, a madcap plan, then step back long enough for him to tear down the walls of his own obstinacy.

Yesterday, I took Rabbit to the supermarket while the Cat was at soccer practice. He’d agreed to the plan earlier in the day and we desperately needed a stock up after the pre-payday scrimp, so I foolishly ignored the signs of his mounting tired-and-crossness (refusing to get in the car and running away from me down the hill really should have tipped me off) and sallied forth. We had five minutes of him crying in my arms on the bench outside the supermarket, then a relatively good run round the first aisle where all I had to do was carry him, push the trolley, remember the grocery list, and choose fruit. By aisle two, he was in the swing of it, putting things in the trolley for me and consulting over whether to buy the olives with or without pips. By aisle four, he was choosing crackers and getting excited about having yoghurt in the house again. By aisle five, he was wanting to push the trolley and his pants were drifting down around his nethers. By the turn into aisle six, I was encouraging him to pull his pants up, while a helpful lady shopper counselled me about the advisability of braces. At the same time, Rabbit couldn’t push the trolley, but he yelled at me every time I pulled it back into line. By checkout, I was alternating between 1). holding Rabbit while he yelled and whacked me as I loaded groceries onto the counter and 2). letting him down only for him to stand in front of all the checkout counters with his pants around his ankles as he surveyed the world with grim, exhausted fury. Bizarrely, in the middle of all this, the checkout operator asked me how my day was going, and all I could do was laugh with a kind of hysterical edge. I’m sure she thought I was mad, but one of the other operators asked me if I needed help getting out to the car, which made me feel both grateful and deeply embarrassed. Anyway, we survived, although I fear this may be the beginning of a protracted Pants War.

Soccer got us back on the upswing, fresh air and a bit of a kickaround, a cuddle in the falling dusk while the Cat got in his final run. By 5.30pm, we were home — cold and tired, but with the kind of solidarity that holds a mother-son team together after they’ve weathered meltdowns and mayhem and scored a few goals and lugged groceries inside. Then I threw dinner in the oven (an unexpectedly successful combination of leftover rice, chicken, tuna, roasted fennel, carrots, olives, and peas, drizzled with olive oil and baked until it was crispy and hot), set the fire, and poured wine, while Rabbit methodically unpacked all the grocery bags in the hall and one by one carried items into the kitchen, asked me where they belonged, and put them away.

 

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

Matariki and Midwinter

Read the rest of this entry »

Barcelona and out

P105049520 May: Aix-en-Provence | Avignon | Port Bou | Barcelona
A long day of travel (taxi-bus-train-bus-train-train-taxi) that gets us into another country, a new language, and a whole different daily rhythm, with the loss of only one pair of little person shoes.

The final taxi takes us through the city and up, up the hills, so that we start to wonder where we are going, but then we find our little apartment and it’s just fine — small and clean and comfortable, with an extraordinarily complicated shower and a perfect view over the city to the sea.

We’re close to the top entrance of Park Güell, with a good selection of neighbourhood shops: a grocer, a butcher, a baker, fruit and veg, a café/bar, and a chemist. It’s not very touristy, more families and young people, and older ones too, and lots of dogs. We pull together dinner and settle to bed. Tomorrow, Barcelona!

P105049821 May: Barcelona
As soon as I wake up, I’m excited, eager to get out in this wonderful Spanish city. We have breakfast, then walk down to Park Güell — the paths wind down through the gardens, taking in views of the city and glimpses of buildings, sculpture, columns, platforms, kiosks, and people.

The Cat gets a crash course in the intersections of class capitalism and State power; there are men everywhere with trinkets laid out for sale on squares of white cloth — they want to sell, and the Cat, clutching his little bag of money, is very keen to buy. But every time he gets close, a police officer appears on the horizon and the men disappear, melting into the crowd, their goods tucked into a coat or shoved into a rubbish bin. It takes a few circuits of the park and some hurried negotiation before the Cat manages to get small presents for each of his friends, for his aunt and uncle, and for himself. But he’s fascinated by the process, and bewildered too.

P1050454We have lunch at the bottom of the hill, then wander home for siesta and a grocery shop. I try out my very rudimentary Spanish with a great deal of enthusiasm and very little skill — at one point I find myself mooing to indicate I’d like steak… all class, that’s me.

After a siesta — no actual sleep, but a definite pause in the day — we catch the bus into town and walk down to the Sagrada Familia. It’s big, it’s unfinished, it’s like no building I’ve ever seen before. The children are more interested in the playground across the road, but I’m on a Gaudi trip, so I brightly suggest that we wander around L’Eixample for a while because I’m sure there’s a famous apartment somewhere here. Which — it eventually turns out — there is, and it’s fabulous, but I’ve pushed too far and my child is mutinous. We forego the planned tapas and escape home on a bus. Next time, next time, I’ll go into these buildings, and maybe my boy will come too.P1050480

At the end of the day, the light brightens over the city, so that the shadows deepen and a sort of glow takes hold of the buildings. I stand on the balcony and take photo after photo, because I’ve fallen for this city, fallen big time.

22 May: Barcelona
We are off to be tourists today; we pack a bag of snacks and head into town. First stop = Plaça de Catalunya for morning tea and running with the pigeons. Then we walk down Las Ramblas, which is more cheerful and less hassly than I was expecting from the guidebooks. We spot the market and stop for a happy detour — piles of gorgeous fruit and veg, fish, meats, deli things, honey, etc, etc. We buy olives, anchovies, and artichokes, fresh juices for the boys, and hand-sliced ham. For those who skimmed over that last bit, a woman stood in front of a hanging, swinging leg of ham, steadied it with one hand, and carved paper-thin slices off it with what I assume was a very sharp knife. P1050507We take a moment to register what she’s doing, then just look at each other in awe. That’s some knife skills right there.

We need lunch now, so we find our way into a little square in the Barri Gòtic and settle into a restaurant. Then an afternoon of following our noses, gradually meandering to the sea. We do a bit of shopping (mostly window) and find excellent sorbet. I have pear with cinnamon and ginger, and it’s addictively good. I’m going to make this when we get home.

The Cat has walked like a trooper today, so we gather ourselves together and head back to the apartment, where we have a little pause before trying out the local swimming pool. We do pretty much everything wrong, including not having caps, but the staff help sort us out (we’re definitely the muddle-headed, incompetent foreigners in this one) and the water feels good after a long day. Home for a late dinner, which is basically our market shopping laid out on the table. Should I say it again? I really like this city.P1050503

23 May: Barcelona
Our last day, which seems to have come around all too soon. Ian takes the boys to the zoo, and I take Dad with me on an intense shopping trip through the old city, in which I sort all remaining presents, get only a bit lost, and forget to stop for food and drink. So by the time we meet the boys back at the zoo, we’re very ready for lunch, which leads to a lot of hapless decision making and vague wandering. But we do end up eating, which perks everyone right up.

Later that evening, with the sun setting and the moon rising into the night, we take the boys down to Park Güell for a final walk. We photograph each other, looking out over the city. It’s been such a very good trip.

24 May: Barcelona | Munich
We have an eye-wateringly early start for our flight to Munich, then train rides through the rain to Christl’s house. Christl meets us at the station, and it’s wonderful to see her again, and to settle into her warm, beautiful house. My grandparents met Christl 40-something years ago on the ferry to Stewart Island, when she was in her twenties and back-packing around New Zealand with a Toss Woollaston under her arm and all the courage and openness of youth. She stayed with them for a while, starting a friendship that has taken in four generations of my family. She and Mum had a special bond, and Mum’s absence feels strong here, like the link that holds us all together.

We have a Bavarian lunch: weisswürst and pretzels, with a lush green salad to follow. Then naps and curling up by the tiled wood stove, before a walk by the river and the lake. The bird spotter clocks a mandarin duck, swans on the nest, coots, and ducks. We throw stones into the water, and Christl and I discover that we both keep a small stone or two in our coat pockets.

That night we sleep under feather duvets, burrowing into the warmth.

P105060825 May: Munich | Hong Kong | Aotearoa
It’s my birthday! We wake to a sick Rabbit — he vomits four times before breakfast — but we also manage cuddles and presents, and when we make it to the breakfast table, Christl has laid my place with candles and flowers. We have coffee and rolls with good things, keep an eye on the Rabbit, wash a few hundred towels, and head out for some fresh air. It’s a funny day — we have a cold, damp trip to the zoo, the Rabbit sleeps a lot and slowly brightens, I speak German as well as I can, we eat lots of good German food, we talk and talk and talk, and all the time we’re getting ready to go home.

We fly out at night — a hideous trip — and many hours later, we land in Dunedin. My sister takes us home, gives us hot soup and rolls, sends us to bed. The first night, we are wakened by the Cat (x 3, then he’s up at 3.49am), the Rabbit (x 4), the actual cat (x 2), and Ian’s work (3 phone calls at 7am because it’s snowing and they’d really like him to get out in it and report. Indeed, there’s a good five inches of snow when we wake up, and I can’t really get my head around it.

Europe already feels like the other side of the world, and I want to go back.

P1050565P1050583P1050530 P1050527 P1050526 P1050525 P1050559

Fourteen things

One: Going home
Vincent O’Sullivan has written a 14-episode account of Ralph Hotere’s journey home. The number recalls Hotere’s use of the number, his referencing of the Stations of the Cross and of his 14 siblings. Frustratingly, the full version is only available to subscribers (when did the Listener change that?).

Two: Favourite birds (my son will be so cross that I haven’t used the proper full names, but the truth is, I can’t remember them)
godwit
kingfisher
pelican
spoonbill
robin
shag
plover
kea
bellbird
crane
heron
mandarin duck
black cockatoo
superb lyrebird

Three: Books that got me through my childhood, and my children’s
Corduroy, Don Freeman
Any of the Frances books, Russell Hoban (illustrated by Garth Williams)
Tell Me What It’s Like to Be Big, Joyce Dunbar (illustrated by Debi Gliori)
Mr Gumpy’s Outing, John Burningham
Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury)
The Ramona books, Beverly Cleary
Big Sister and Little Sister, Charlotte Zolotow (illustrated by Martha Alexander)
Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault)
Come On, Daisy!, Jane Simmons
The Raft, Jim LaMarche
The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog books, Judith Kerr
Dogger and everything else, Shirley Hughes
far too much by Noel Streatfeild
Anne of Green Gables and all the rest, LM Montgomery
bonus: Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henke + about a hundred others

Four: Authors I’ve found myself consuming in bulk
George Perec
Italo Calvino
Primo Levi
Laurence Fearnley
Janette Turner Hospital
Nigel Cox
Sara Maitland
Jeanette Winterson
Maurice Gee
Philip Pullman
Ann Patchett
Jim Crace
Michael Ondaatje
(see the children’s list above)

Five: Foods that make life better
avocado
pistachios
chocolate
smoked salmon
salad, lots of it
roast chicken, then chicken soup
oranges
peaches
eggplants
poisson cru
tomatoes
fennel seed and olive oil biscuits
bacon
lasagne

Six: 14-letter words

Seven: What I want in a house
a chair by a window, just for reading
a kitchen that I can eat, cook, talk, and read in
a space for the kids to play
a front porch
a sheltered space to eat outside
plenty of trees
a glasshouse
vegetable patches
a workspace
bookshelves in every room
a woodburner
insulation
flowers
light

Eight: Condiments, loosely interpreted
lemons — fresh, juiced, zested, preserved
honey
mustard
fennel seeds
yoghurt
parmesan
sea salt
pepper
tomato sauce
mint
coffee
a book
a friend
quiet

Nine: Punctuation that makes text prettier
fanciful ampersands
the Oxford comma
double quote marks
em-dashes
en-dashes
ellipses
semi-colons
full stops
question marks, sparingly
well-placed commas
accents
tidy, well-aligned bullet points
parentheses, occasionally
spaces

Ten: Plants I like to have in my garden
tulips
crocuses
sweetpeas
roses
azaleas
ferns
mint
thyme
sage
peas
beans
lettuces
zucchini
potatoes

Eleven: The elements of a fine day
rain
sun
a small boy’s arms around my neck
that first cup of coffee
a shower
a walk, run, or yoga class
music
writing
banter
a kiss
friends
seeing something through my children’s eyes
lunch
supper

Twelve: A 14-year-old dancer

Thirteen: Colin McCahon’s Stations

Fourteen: A sonnet, of course
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers’-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
“Look what I have!—And these are all for you.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Things I liked this week

A big week, this one. My partner had a birthday, our little boy turned two (today!), we cranked out some good family times for the last week of the school holidays, we spent time with friends, I conquered a formatting problem, the sun shone every day. No, really. Every single day.

And a few good things came my way, via Facebook, other blogs, serendipity. So I thought I’d share some with you.

The subversive copyeditor: How could I resist a name like that? Someone posted a link to this article on Facebook, and that led me to the rest of the blog.

Smitten Kitchen: Someone recommended this blog to a Facebook friend. A cook who can write — sign me up.

An ohhhhh, that’s interesting graph: with thanks to Blue Milk. I’ve been thinking about what it means all week.

Shetland ponies in cardigans: Epbot posted a link to these photos (via the Modern Farmer), and it made my day. Tourism NZ people, I’m afraid this blows both 100% pure and Middle Earth OUT OF THE WATER.

Still saying goodbye

Today another year ticks over: four years since my mother died. She was too young, it was too quick, we still need her. One of my boys doesn’t know her, and the other only remembers snippets: a packet of prunes in the fridge, playing outside with the hose, someone who always had time for him. But she’s in them nonetheless. The Cat is drawn to the squidginess of my stomach in a way that only a child who had known the warmth and comfort of a cuddle with my mother could be, and the Rabbit, well, he only has to turn his face to me and she’s right there. There in his eyes, and in the tilt of his mouth too.

I don’t quite know what to do with a lifetime without her, without the chance to talk things out with her, the big stuff, the silly, the gossip, without her hands, without her bread and her marmalade. I’m not even sure what to do without that funny salmon mousse thing she always made for Christmas. I’ll never make it myself, but I’d eat it tonight. With nothing but thanks.

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