little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: this editor’s life

A very bookish sort of Mothers’ Day

I don’t know why I do a Mothers’ Day post every year, but I do. Although this one is so late, it’s sort of morphing into the birthday post and really, it’s just about books.

The Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival was on in mid-May. It was exhausting and wonderful. I went to a creative writing workshop with Glenn Colquhoun and if you ever get the chance to go to any sort of anything with him, do not even blink, just go. It was scary as all get out and then it was affirming and then it gave me what I needed. Dirty up your writing, he said. I ask you, how could you not love a man like that? I heard the lovely Emma Neale and Barbara Brookes read from their new books, discovered Ian Rankin, Victor Rodger, John Lanchester and Stella Duffy, rediscovered Bill Manhire and remembered The Magic Faraway Tree, took Rabbit to hear Selina Tusitala Marsh deliver the keynote address and then learn about making books about bees and monsters, lost it at the circle of laureates when Rob Tuwhare sang his Dad’s poetry, cried again with my sister listening to the marvellous and compassionate Emily Writes, thought about family and memory with Ashleigh Young and Adam Dudding and then crawled home and tried, not very successfully, to reintegrate myself into family and work. I was so happy, thinking and listening, angling towards the light, towards words laid together just so, towards ideas and wairua and the song of it all. I couldn’t be there all the time, attuned like that, but for a few days it fed me.



Till the spring, then

20160616_163009These are the last flowers from our garden for a while. Seeing as it’s almost midwinter, I’m happy with that.

Following the creek

The reporter and I tracked the Lindsay yesterday. It’s an elusive little creek, disappearing behind houses and slicing under roads. The lower reaches are concreted and, well, kinda grotty, but it gets more open and burbly as you walk up it. We even saw riflemen flitting in the trees at one point! Featuring dorky photos and urban weeds.

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Another birthday!

20160527_121520The short version: 41 is just as good as 40, but with waaaaaay less angst.

The long version: Dad came over for dinner the night before my birthday, and there was much furtive scurrying in bedrooms and sneaking back and forth for pens and scissors and such from the boys.

The birthday was a school day, so we had a joyful breakfast with presents and homemade cards, then the usual ratty scramble to get everyone out the door. The Cat gave me vouchers for 15 sleep-ins, and Ian gave me an electric blanket. I don’t know if it’s age or personality, but both presents filled me with joy, and I intend to make full use of them.*

20160525_114453I went to the gym after that and my trainer had a hellish circuit ready for me, which was both exhausting and the best kind of birthday present.

I walked through the Gardens to meet my sister for lunch, and it was a cracker day. Clear and sunny, with gold still on the trees and some warmth in the air. Sisterly lunches are basically the best thing ever.

Dinner was cheap eats at the Khmer place at the bottom of our hill, then a brisk walk up the steps to home.

Sun, air, bird song, solitude, company, light, smiles. It made for a pretty good day.


* I put the blanket on in the evening, and it was superb. I cashed in a voucher the next morning and got a bit of extra sleep, then was woken with a small Rabbit face peering at me.

“Hey, baby fruitbat,” I said, “would you like to give me a kiss, then go and get some breakfast?” “No,” said the Rabbit, “what I would like is to get into a warm bed with a mama and have a proper cuddle with her.” Hard to refuse, that.

















Hitting my stride

I’m not sure what the deal is with exercise and plateaus and progress and all that, but it’s been a hard slog for the last month or two and then this week I think I turned the corner. I’ve been fighting low-level colds and a sinus infection for weeks, off and on, sometimes winning, sometimes feeling like shit.

I kept going to the gym and barre class during that time, but more sporadically and with variable energy levels. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, was struggling with everything and getting cross with myself. Rest felt more urgent, something needed rebuilding.

At the same time (and probably relatedly), I hit a work, identity and relationship jag. The details don’t matter too much — what am I doing with my life? what happened to my creativity? why the fuck am I logisticising everything around my partner’s work again? when do I get to throw myself into work? do I really have to spend another afternoon doing chores and cooking dinner while being a rubbish mother? will my brain ever work at full stretch again? blah, blah, blah — but the feeling was the same: stasis, frustration, emptiness.

But, you know, little by little, things shift. I started to nail chin-ups, took my cardio right back to a manageable level then built from there, kept warm, walked lots, cried a bit, gave it my best shot, did some thinking, had another look, a gentler look, at my partner and kids.

And this week I went to the gym four days in a row, kept my temper, firmed up some boundaries, let myself play, wrote a bit. It was better. Maybe I’m on the up. I hope so.

International Women’s Day

Lucy of Lulastic and the Hippyshake is hosting an International Women’s Day 2016 Blog Link Up. You should check it out immediately. It inspired me to write about this woman’s day.


6.40am: Alarm goes. Do not want to get up. Curl up for just five minutes more.

7.15am: Ooops. Stumble to kitchen and find that partner has made the school lunches and put the coffee on. Domestic equality winning. We get through breakfast, tidy-up and have showers, then the boys leave for school.

9am: Beautiful Women’s Day text arrives from one of the most inspiring women I know. Think of the women I love, the ones I miss, the ones I look forward to seeing every day, the ones I want to hang out with more.

9.10am: Head to the gym. Struggle with feelings of inadequacy and middle-agedness, but smash the rower, nonetheless. No longer give a shit what I look like in gym gear.

11am: Stop on the way home for groceries. Forget the chicken food. Listen to an interview with a terrific bonsai expert on the way. She sounds about 80, and when Kathryn Ryan asks her what the deal is with air bonsai, she says, “Well, if anyone would like to find out more about that, what they really need to do is Google it.”

12pm: Lunch, coffee and a chapter of the book of feminist essays I’m re-reading.

12.30pm: Attempt to work, admit to self that day is something of a write-off. Am distracted and irritated by a Facebook discussion about training girl children out of shyness. Try five times to articulate anger and pain caused by discussion, decide it is all based on white capitalist patriarchy, delete all drafts. Send love and solidarity out into the ether and hope they will reach all my favourite shy people.

1.30pm: Find out that a woman has been shot in Seacliff. My friend’s mother lives nearby, my partner is being called out to report on it, and it just never, never stops, does it? Do the things women do: get in touch, cry, look out the window, write.

2.09pm: Receive invitation to a Cilla McQueen book launch. Respond YES with whole being. Put event on calendar and discover it clashes with partner’s return home from Australia and elder son’s futsal match. Can vaguely appreciate the irony, I suppose.

2.10pm: More work.

2.35pm: Decide to walk to school. Fresh air’s gotta help, right? Smile at every woman I pass, lean into the hill.

3.00pm: Exchange comfort, hugs and stories with the mothers and grandmothers at school. Embrace my boys. Join the girls’ team in the after-school soccer match. We lose, but with a strong sense of solidarity, y’know.

3.40pm: Walk home with my boys, feel tender towards the world.

4.10pm: Enter the afternoon tea, animal feeding, chores, dinner vortex. Decide to be cheerful about all the domesticity in a kind of “Making the World Go Round” way. Remember my favourite exchange along those lines.

Friend: What makes the world go round?
Me: Curves.

6.51pm: The afternoon went much better than I expected, which might have been the walk home — or perhaps the sisterhood is even more powerful than I imagined because the boys put stickers in a space book together, did their screen time, had afternoon tea and then put away their dishes and set the table with nary a scrap or grump. My approach of deliberate good cheer seemed to work too, although the glass of wine and feminist reading while stirring the risotto possibly worked better.

Ian came home and we debriefed the day. The Rabbit made himself a homework book while the Cat checked top goals of the week.

7.30pm: Update blog while supervising the Rabbit’s photocopying. He is making alphabets for the kids in his class.

7.40pm: Publish post. There’s more of the day to go, but I’m done. I mean, I’ll update if anything REALLY THRILLING happens, but it’s not that likely.

And a tent my shelter shall be

We went camping! In tents and everything! Like real Kiwis!

The PTA at the boys’ school co-ordinates a family camp at the start of every year. The set-up is a piece of organisational genius — the location is the campground at Naseby and any family that wants to go sorts out their own accommodation, food, etc, but we’re all there together, so the kids spend the whole weekend outside playing and the adults enjoy a mix of walking and biking activity and sitting under the trees chatting.

We bought a small tent for the boys and borrowed a slightly larger one for ourselves (thanks, Nona!), Dad’s truck got us and our gear there then turned into a food pantry and kitchen bench, and my Great-Aunty Nan’s folding table and chairs served us well at mealtimes. We cooked on the little Trangia that Ian’s parents bought us 20-odd years ago, and the weather was still and hot. Some basic logistics appealed to my city-girl soul: our coffee pot, hot showers, a kitchen for doing dishes, the table and chairs, a couple of lamps.

The boys spent hours with their friends — the Cat’s gang played ball tag and hid out reading their books and having boy chats, while the Rabbit’s lot roamed around digging things, finding pine cones and rusty chains, racing their bikes up and down the drive, getting filthy and popping back to the parentals when they needed a hug, a bandaid or some food. On Saturday, everyone spent the afternoon at the swimming dam, sinking into the soft green water, mucking around in inflatable boats, wilting in the sun, retreating to the trees, falling in, clambering out, dripping and drying and floating through the day together.

I like a bare, grubby life; I like to wash it off. The wilderness retreats fast when you return to the city, home, chores, work, school. But it’s never that far away.

Taking stock

The holidays are over, and I’m ready for this new year. The boys have one more week of holidays: the Cat is at soccer camp for four days and the Rabbit is hanging with Ian in his last week before he turns five and starts school. I’ve booked a Mama–Rabbit day for Friday, so have four days to get myself organised for the year and start working out the patterns and routines that will carry me through. And I should tidy my office. And get things for two birthdays. And weed the garden.

I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’ve got a fair idea of what the building blocks need to be and mostly need to work out how to fit them all together.

Slightly odd choice for my number one concern, but one of my big lessons of 2015 was that regular exercise makes a big difference to my mood and ability to cope with shit. By shit, I don’t mean big stuff like deaths and discord and disaster, but more the mundane things like cooking dinner, folding the laundry and getting the kids to bed.

I had a break after Christmas and was a bit nervous about going back this morning, but I survived. We did lots of walking with hills and steps over the holidays, which probably saved me, but it will be ‘interesting’ to see how I go with resistance work tomorrow. I reckon I need to go three or four times a week and I don’t know when to fit that in. My favourite times are in the morning after breakfast, around 4pm, and in the evening. The morning is probably the most practical option most days, but needs to be early enough that it doesn’t cut into my work day too much. Am open to suggestions from people with experience in juggling all the things, but please don’t suggest early early morning or any time before I’ve had something to eat. That ain’t gonna happen.

I guess the other thing to do more of would be walking to pick the boys up from school and more family adventure outings at weekends. Oh, and we’re hoping to walk the Rakiura Track in a year or two, so we’ll need to practice with longer day walks and some overnighting in huts.

A few changes this year. I’m done with Critic, so it’s back to building up the business and keeping a wee eye out for a dream job. I’m pretty excited about having more time when Rabbit starts school, although not really ready to lose all those extra hours with my baby. But one lot of pick-ups and five clear days a week will be AMAZING. My main aims are learning how to be more productive and focused, running more workshops, finding a few more key clients, doing most of my work during ‘work hours’ and not in evenings or weekends, and honing my editorial chops.

I kind of wonder whether I might start reading in my thesis area again. I was doing a PhD taking a postcolonial look at contemporary settler writing from Australia and New Zealand when I had the Cat and gave it up to find something that fitted better with family life, but there are days when I miss it bad.

Yes, well. A bit like the exercise, I’m aiming for regularity here and for gradually building up my skills and capacity. One focused hour a day is my goal, and I guess we’ll just have to see how that goes. Sometimes it’ll be the blog and sometimes … other stuff.

Look, this one is always the same. I want to be calmer, less grumpy, better at resolving arguments between the boys and to have more time to play, listen and understand. I’m also on a ‘reclaim the evening’ mission, and it would be great if everyone cleared their dishes and kept their clothes in order.

And that’s me. What about you?


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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Things I love about Word

I use Word more than any other program. It has many fine features that I’d like to celebrate:

  1. Styles. I don’t go enormously fancy with my Word styles, but I love being able to get a handle on the shape and feel of a document by setting up headings, bullets, tables, etc.
  2. Fonts. It’s pleasing how much time I can spend trialling different fonts before returning to the usual suspects that adorn 95% of my documents.
  3. Keyboard shortcuts. Very satisfying. My favourites are SHIFT-COMMAND-M, SHIFT-COMMAND-N, OPT-;, COMMAND-C, COMMAND-X and COMMAND-V. I also love the shortcuts for accents.
  4. Paragraph spacing. I really like adjusting the spacing before and after paragraphs to get headings, tables, etc, looking nice.
  5. Focus view. Ahhhh, restful. Also — oh, that looks worse than I thought it would.


Things that make me go hmmmm

I use Word more than any other program. It has some qualities that really grind my gears.

  1. Fonts. Often I’m working on a  document that someone else is going to play with, so I need to choose fonts that are available in a range of Word versions and on both PCs and Mac. Why, why, are compatible fonts so damn ugly?
  2. Text boxes, graphics, etc. There has got to be an easier way to get visuals into a document. SO MUCH fiddling around.
  3. Saving. The save function on my laptop seems a bit glitchy. Just me?
  4. Changes. Whenever a new version of Word comes out, it takes … a while … to figure out where they’ve hidden everything.
  5. Automaticking. Look, I’m not an idiot. Stop adjusting everything for me. And put that back where you found it RIGHT NOW. I can spell too (more or less) and sometimes I make up words, so GO AWAY.
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