Christmas with the family

We walked to Mum's house in the cold, wet rain, Grace all snuggled in her stroller with the storm cover down and blankie around her knees. The streets were oddly deserted, maybe everyone had already started their feasting, already arrived at the destinations. Myself, I quite like a late lunch, makes for a more relaxed morning. As it turned out, after the excitment of present unwrapping, Grace really did need a morning nap. I made salads and managed to overcook the beans. Oh well. Nobody cared. The stuffed mushrooms I made for Gerard to enjoy while everyone else was tucking into roast chook and ham went down well with everyone, especially G.

As we arrived at Mum's house Grace became very excited, calling out Nana, Nana. Soon we were absorbed into the bustle of getting ready, all helping. Relaxing, chatting, drinking champagne or something soft and pleasant.

As the day wore on it became more and more relaxed. The kringle was a hoot, some very well considered gifts and I don't think anyone got a voucher. Grace cleaned up, of course. She now has her very own laptop computer toy that makes racing car noises and talks to her. She loves it and so do I. Outside it rained and hailed. Really rained. Rained so much that the garden got really wet. Couldn't have wished for a better Christmas present. Then just as the cameras were pressed into service for the obligatory family portraits, out came the sun, just for a while. Unfortunately most of the pictures I took at this end of the day were somewhat blurry, a bit like myself. I get so anxious in the lead up to Christmas that I do tend to unravel a bit on the day itself. Which is really rather blissful. As is boxing day. Ah boxing day! Day of eating leftovers and reading Christmas novels (more on that later).

I love this portrait. I love it that we can have this Christmas with my Mum and my Dad, eventhough they're married to other people now. I love it that Lance and Nina are those people and that we can all get along. I love it that Rachael and Vivian are part of the mix and that Cam and Betty are having a baby next year and that I'm going to be an auntie. I love it that my Dad called Gerard son-in-law and that Gerard is smiling. I love it that Grace is in the middle and that this is where she belongs. You can see me holding the remote control and I'm smiling too!

Excellent Christmas.

Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la la la, fa la la la*

Earlier in the week I had in mind a serious exploration of Christmas, of yuletide stress, of over consumption, of the weight of expectation. All those things, but I've moved on and realised I quite like Christmas. The lead up to Christmas will always be slightly stressful for me, but that's part of what makes it good. The food preparation, gift selection and making, the logistics. I get a bit grimbly about the "magic" of Christmas being women's work but once I let go a little and realise that perfection is not expected or even desirable, it's mostly fun. I like it that my family can all get together despite divorce and re-marriage. I like it that G and I write wish lists and that the house is invariably filled with new music. I like it that there's a present under the tree for each of us from Grace and that we pretend that she chose them (it won't be long). I like it that we'll be having roast chicken and sago plum pudding and even that it may well be raining (that's my Christmas wish afterall). And I love boxing day, eating leftovers and doing a lot of nothing much.

We've decorated the tree and kept it safe from toddler hands for over a week. Grace approaches the tree with obvious mischievous intent, touches the box it's sitting on, looks around and goes Noooo. She's cracking me up at the moment, with her wiping of surfaces and removal of wet nappies. I'm thinking that the concept of opening presents will click with her this year. We've kept her gifts pretty simple, as befits someone who finds a cardboard gift wrapping tube more exiting than a you beaut education toy.
I've been thinking a lot over the last week or two about the sort of Christmas traditions I want to share with Grace as she emerges into Christmas consciousness. There's lots of different ideas I've picked up and mulled over, only to realise that we'll just do it like we always do. A bit organised, a bit last minute. Some making, some frivolous spending, some last minute sewing. I plan to start sewing a bit earlier next year, I always say this, but I think I'd like to entrench a tradition of a new outfit for each member of the family, to be worn on Christmas day. Not that you'd ever know whether to be sewing a sundress or a snowsuit, Melbourne December weather being what it is.

Tonight while I was waiting for the pasta to boil, I made some trashy treats, White Christmas and this fudge. All microwaveable and yummy.  Tomorrow I'll package them up as an adjunct to the official kringle. I have mixed feelings about the kringle, but given the number of steps and outlaws attending, it seems to work. But I quite miss trying to come up with a present for everyone.

Anyways, I'd like to wish all readers, lurkers and people who pop in from google a Merry Christmas (or holiday of your choice). It's been real.  Relax, stay safe and have a good one! See you after Christmas.

*     *      *     *     *

* I've had this carol on my mind all week. It has a more interesting history than I imagined. Sometimes in my head it would morph into the Banana Splits Tra la, la, La la la.. and I'd be flipping from fa la land to tra la land. It's been a long week...

WIP and the smell of rain

I was very good this morning and sat myself down at the sewing machine the minute Grace went down for her morning nap. I got stuck into these, a little pinafore for her and a matching one for Molly dolly. The pink fabric is one she'd shown a lot of interest last time I was going through my material cupboard. Seems she likes pink. They're all but done, just needing a button at the back.
 Tonight I made a matching bag, because bags are a bit of an obsession for Grace at the moment. Along with shoes. Lest any one think we are pushing her into gender stereotypes, I should point out that she also like anything with wheels, including trucks and playing in the dirt.  Now there are just the matching bloomers (for dolly too) to make, and if I have time, some new jeans for Grace. No stress. Enough has been done that I could wrap and say that's it. If I had to. We'll see how tomorrow goes.
As I was enjoying my public service holiday today, instead of between Christmas and New Year when it's really busy, I got to go for lunch with Mum, Betty and Grace at Barkly Square shopping centre. On the way home, it smelt like rain. Finally this evening we've had a bit. Not much, but enough to clear the air and leave a lovely smell of water everywhere. That's what I really want for Christmas, lots of lovely wet rain.

Inside, looking out

I had a serious, deep thought type post I was going to start tonight because you know, it's not like I feel it's necessary to post everyday (although I do find it rather relaxing). And I should be going to bed early because I have work tommorrow. With a Christmas party thrown in, although it's lunch in the tea room, so no alcohol will be involved. Oh, I remember the good ol' days back in the eighties when the celebration started with chicken and champagne breakfast, cocktails at morning tea and everyone was so legless by lunch time, that working in the afternoon was unheard of. And you could smoke at your desk. In fact it was expected that you would do these things. I'm sure nostalgia is making me think it was better than it was. Oh yes, now I remember, sexual harrasment was also the done thing and women were not allowed to wear trousers to work. And the pay was crap.

Anyway I digress, I was downloading my camera and noticed that I've been taking quite a lot of pictures looking out from inside. Maybe because it's too smoky and awful to be outside. Who knows. Below we see a hollyhock outside the sunroom window, camera focused on the window. Which it can do because the window is so dirty. I think with the smoke and haze, cleaning windows might be a very short term improvement. I'm inclined not to bother.

Above we have a view of the backyard through the loungeroom window, and through the bottlebrush I planted right next to the window, nearly eighteen years ago. I spent many an afternoon back when I was a stoner lying on the couch, watching the birds play in the tree. Which is why I planted it there in the first place. It's really a bit close to the house and I read in Earth Garden that this might make the house less pleasant in summer by cutting off the air flow. But then again, it is lovely and shady. And it's still pleasant to lie on the couch and watch the birds. Grace is in her stretchie suit, playing with her tricycle and squashing plums with her feet. Noice.

And last but not least, the view through the scullery window. A couple of years ago we planted jerusalem artichokes and tree dahlia along the side of the house. In summer it provides a lovely alternative view to the rather ugly house next door. And you get to watch insect dramas while you do the dishes.  Alas over winter, I also made some hanging baskets with cactus in them which I now can't see. I think I might have to selectively prune the greenery back.

Oh, look at the time. Bed is calling. Tomorrow maybe I'll spill my guts about the meaning of Christmas. Or not. Perhaps I should go to the gym instead because my attendance is slipping once again and G is starting to make cruel jokes about my membership.

Little hands on my face

We've been trying to get a family photo thing happening for a couple of weeks now. I've tried sitting us all down in front of the tripod and using the self timer and remote control. I've tried handing the camera over to my mum. It's hard to get Grace to be still for long enough, and although we've taken millions of shots, in each of them someone has looked totally wrong. So at the eleventh hour we asked Shaun to come over with his camera. He took some lovely photos in the week after Grace was born and took the one above while we were waiting for the light. It's a little soft focus for my taste and although it's seasonally appropriate, I'm not all that keen on red and green together. Still, I was trying to keep Grace in a clean t-shirt and even at that stage we were on number two of three, so I guess that's just how the day went.

I think what is most notable about this and the other photos that he took, is his ability to capture little moments between us. It's probably helpful to be a bit outside what's going on and not being constantly distracted by the cat stealing the smoked salmon, Grace playing with my camera, or trying to have her first taste of red wine (foiled) and all the other bits and pieces that make up family life. Shaun never uses a digital camera and I'm struck by how different these photos look on glossy paper and after scanning them in.  Something is definitely lost in the process and no amount of tweaking can get it back. So I've been very minimal in what I've done. Yet as much as I love getting printed photos, owning a digital camera has made taking pictures much more accessible for me than ever before, so I don't think I'll ever go back to film.

As it turned out he was only marginally more successful with the group photo efforts. In one of them I look positively browbeaten, and Gerard looks about 78 years old. There's one that's OK enough to be sent off to Gerard's family in Tasmania. Even though I'll cringe if I see it in a frame on the sideboard. We also made them a little album of photos, mostly of Grace playing in the backyard and eating her dinner, to send with the parcel of biscuits and jam. They've asked for no presents and yet overwhelmed us with gifts. It feels wrong not to send anything. Hopefully they'll like the photos.

Most of the photos I take of our family aren't of the staged sort, but sometimes that's what the occasion calls for. If anyone has some foolproof (or not) hints for taking family portraits, I love to hear them. December's self portrait theme is red, which I just happened to fluke this week. Go see what everyone else is up to here.

Afternoon in town

Today was my afternoon to go shopping in town. My feet are still sore and I'm still reeling from the physic shock that is the city in the week before Christmas. Why is it that there is so much stuff, just so much stuff and yet I can never find what I'm looking for? Target had sold out of both fake baby crocs (with the plum strewn backyard washable shoes seem the go) and nappy covers. And I don't think there is anywhere on this earth that sells plain childrens t-shirts and attractive skirts or dresses in natural fibres for larger women. I couldn't break my wardrobe refashion pledge this afternoon, no matter how hard I tried. The presents were easy enough, fair trade chocolate and cutesy candles for the work Kris Kringle, CDs from a list for Gerard. I'm making Grace's present and I drew my sister Betty in the family Kringle and she wants a big bag of books from the opshop. Which I'm looking forward to doing tommorrow. Opshop time on my own. Oh yes. Loving the list. It's been rearranged a bit, but that's what lists are for.

After I got over freaking out about the crowds, I quite enjoyed my time in town. I had eggplant curry and sticky meat for lunch. Read a magazine (summer edition of Earth Garden), watched the children looking at the Myer windows, looked at bookshops, had coffee at the post office corner and watched the crowds. Gerard convinced me to go to supercheap CDs for his present but I still had to go to JB HiFi in the end. It looked awful but was a cinch, they were so super organised and relaxed enough to engage in chit chat about the CDs I was buying. On the way to the tram home, I was momentarily taken aback by this. As I took the photo, the buildings behind seemed to sway in the breeze. Except that the air was still.

I used to work in a call centre just around the corner from here and would commune with the image on the Republic Tower several times daily. My favourite was Zappo head by Howard Arkley. This one is called Ambassador and is by Mariele Neudecker. I expected that it would be much more imposing than it was. I mean, you could take shocking pictures with it in the background but I'm not sure that in this context it says all that much. Maybe I'd feel differently if I walked past it each day.

Rocking the list

I have written the mother of all lists. More like what I would call a running order. Every day has a number of activites assigned to it. It's all been through the committee, deliberated, negotiated and enshrined on the front of the fridge. Today's activites were: bake biscuits, family photos, decorate the Christmas tree and make some phone calls re the big day. All done. The house is a bomb site but tomorrow is grinchy housework day. Not that it will be done very thoroughly because I'm off to town to do my Christmas shopping and G will be at home with Grace. She loves to help and runs around the house shrieking and holding tight to whatever you're trying to put away, so I'll be impressed with whatever he gets done. Really. I will. When I was at home with Grace by myself, it took me half a week to do what we can do together in half a day.

It was lovely seeing our mad friend Shaun today. He was the friend who arrived in the week after Grace was born and took this photo, among others. We've been trying to take a family photo that we can send to Gs family in tassie for two weeks now. It's been really hard to get one where we don't look like total dags. At this point I don't care if I look fat or if you can see the black bit on top of my front crown, I just want a photo of us all together with our eyes open.
So we sat around under the plum tree drinking red wine while the rosellas dropped plums on our heads and waiting for the light. He uses a a real ,as opposed to point and shoot type digital, camera and is fussy about such things. It was fun talking about photography but there's so much technical stuff I don't understand. Anyway he's lent me a big pile of books to read.  After the light had pretty much gone, he followed Grace around as she explored the less attractive parts of our backyard.
 Last week, I did quite a bit of work in the garden. Cutting back water stressed plants, mulching and planting some new things. I'm glad I've kept my planted area small though because this morning I read that we're going to stage three water restriction on new years day. We'll be using lots of bucketed bath and kitchen water and maybe a little hand watering when absolutely necessary. Anyway, it has become my habit when I pull up flowers that have passed their best, like these cornflowers, to hang them in bunches upside down around the garden. I'm quite amazed at how long these have stayed such an intense blue. As they dry out, the seeds are blown around and next spring we should see some self sown seedlings.

In which my mood lifts

The last week or so, I feel like I have been tottering on the edge of an abyss. It's been quite bad, long days of feeling rotten, bizarre and frightening nightmares, stress related dental issues, tetchiness and the feeling that not being me for a while would be quite a relief. There have been pleasant interludes where I've been out or have had visitors when I've felt good, but once I stepped back into the everyday, the crappiness returned.  I know I'm not the only one to get anxious or sad around Christmas but it occured to me today that last Christmas I was still on mood altering medication and the Christmas before that I was pregnant with Grace, and full of happy hormones. It's been a while since I've done the lead up to Christmas cold, so to speak. And now that I'm a responsible mother type, I can't revert to (very, as in last century) old ways and spend my non-working hours getting off my head. So I'm kind of stuck with myself.
Thankfully the cloud has lifted. Thursday was awful. I hadn't slept and the apocalyptic weather seemed never ending. As were the customers at work and the TV in the tea room. I contemplated not going to my mother's group Christmas dinner but didn't have the energy to make the decision not to go. I walked there in the rain, yes the rain. Light rain, but enough to make the lights shiny and wash away the dust. Dinner was lovely. I ate too much, talked too much and drunk too much. Walked home in the rain and crashed. Slept like I hadn't slept for days. Yesterday there were clear skies and clean air. I had a good day at work, inasmuch as one can working in an organisation which appears to be becoming increasingly kafkaesque with each new policy twiddle.

Last night I slept well again, even slept in till ten. Yes, yes I know I'm a lucky mother to get to do this. (Thank you G) And now everything feels OK. It's not like my life is perfect or anything, just that I can bear to be around myself again, which means that things will slowly spiral upwards instead of speeding ever downwards. I spent the day doing not much at all. Reading in bed, (finishing Susan Johnson's memoir A Better Woman, which despite the grimness of the subject matter, is one of the most engrossing books I have read for a while.) A fair bit of talking on the phone to my mum and my sister about this and that, making pancakes to eat with plum jam, reading the paper, and dyeing my hair.

I've finally taken the plunge and left the henna behind. Despite the warnings in the instruction leaflet, nothing bad has happened. I did test the dye on a hair sample before committing the bottle to my head and wonder why I didn't think to do this before. Even so, while it  was developing, I kept imagining my hair turning green or falling out and having to shave it all off. And being nearly bald in our Christmas family photo which we are having taken by a friend tomorrow. Anyway I'm quite pleased with the result. No more brassy red.
Tommorrow, I need to start on Christmas stuff, like decorating the tree and making Grace's present. And organise to go shopping. I think I'll make a detailed day by day plan slash list. Yes, a list again. Or maybe more like a running order to co-ordinate the various lists. So every day I wake up and know exactly what I have to do. Keep it simple, relax and have fun. Try not to let my cynicism about the magic of Christmas, as portrayed in magazines or on television, and its relationship to the work of women cast a shadow on my preparation.It will all be alright on the day.

Making Jam

It hasn't been the best of weeks around here. Most days the sky has been grey with smoke haze from the bushfires. The fires are not anywhere near where we live, but several smaller fires have joined together in the alpine country north east of Melbourne to form one huge fire with a fire front close to 120 kilometres long. It's constantly on the television, on the radio, in the papers.  You can smell it, and as you breathe in, it's hard not to be aware that you're inhaling small particles of what was once forest. My throat and eyes are sore. People are being advised to stay indoors. However, by far the worst thing is knowing that people and wildlife could be losing their homes or their lives as we go about our ordinary business here in the city. That people living in rural or semi rural areas will be constantly looking to the horizon for that first sign of smoke. Wondering if today is the day. Knowing that bushfires can take hold very suddenly, and become very fierce in a very short amount of time.  And this is only the beginning of a long, hot, dry summer.

Everybody is hoping and praying for rain. Decent widespread rain. Falling in the places that need it. Not just in the city and coastal areas.

I've been having strange apocalyptic dreams. I wake in fear, afraid to get out of bed and go out back to the toilet. And when I do, I startle the fruit bat who comes to eat the plums in the middle of the night. In my half dreaming state, the flapping of her wings sounds much more ominous than it is. So I'm not sleeping well, and I have Christmas organising to do, preparations to make, shopping, the Christmas tree to assemble and trees full of fruit ready to be made into jam. I am hovering on the edge of anxiety, alternating between bursts of frenetic activity and inability to do anything at all. Except fret and worry about it all. So today I wrote a big list. What gets done, gets done. What doesn't, doesn't.

The plum tree has ripened early this year. Normally I make jam after Christmas. We finished the last of the homemade jam from 2002 earlier this year, so I was very keen to make some this summer and have some to give away. Mum came over yesterday and gave me a hand. We chatted as we stoned the fruit and she held Grace, who watched fascinated, while it was boiling. A breeze sprang up and cleared the haze away. Anxiety about whether this was making the fires worse aside, it was very pleasant to see the sky. Needless to say, I am very proud of my deep red, glowing jam (recipe and pictures here). I had some this morning and it is a beautiful light red, and quite sour. I like it that way, but I think I'll make some more in a week or two when more of the fruit is ripe.

The theme for self portrait challenge this month is red. You can see lots of red, in all its beauty and glory, here.

Garden folly, the middle bit

A few weeks ago, I spent a pleasant couple of hours out in the garden relaxo area making a garden folly. It looked pretty good for a few days. Then we had a hot windy day and it started to come apart. It still looked pretty good. Then I tried to fix it. Not good. Then the wind came back and undid my fixing. Better. Now that I've relaxed about the impermanence of the garden folly, I'm enjoying watching the interplay between the elements and my handiwork. Especially the view from our outside bog.

Every couple of days, I've whizzed around it with the camera, documenting its' demise. I took this one yesterday, in that horrible smoke haze.

Somehow the limpness and the colour given by the sun shining low through the smoke says it all to me. As do the squashed plums on the path. G has already started a sweeping regime. He's good like that. Days of going barefoot in the backyard are off the agenda for a month or so. Even Grace demands to have her shoes put on. The rosellas have arrived, filling the backyard with their raucous chatter and birdpoo missiles. And causing half eaten plums to fall on the heads of unsuspecting step sisters. It will all reach a crescendo in mid January when the plums will start to ferment and the birds go right off their heads. Then there'll be a big clean up and the tree will be tatty but quiet until next year.

It's hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, the garden looked like this. As you can see, the grass is fading but the hot wind hasn't shrivelled everything yet.

A big part of the enjoyment for me has been watching the shadows the folly cast on the concrete path. I like shadows quite a lot and often take pictures of them. These ones have been like a garden slide show, moving in the breeze. Changing form daily.

The whole thing is getting looser and looser. As are we. It's really been too hot some days to do anything else.
What I'm wondering now is how long it will hold on. I'm not going to fix it, or tie it up any more. I'm just going to watch and see what happens. It could be compost by Christmas. Then again we could still have straggles and wisps well into the new year. I don't mind. There has to be something to take my mind off the water stressed garden.
I did spend most of the post cool change afternoon and early evening mulching the garden. This means that I can water some parts of the garden without feeling it's a total waste of time. If, and I know it's a big if, we get some rain this week it might all spring back to life.

Batman smells

It still feels like Christmas is ages away, but it isn't. It will be on us in 18 days. That's less than 3 weeks. So this weekend I'm going to plan the menu, work out who brings what, draw the Kris Kringle, make shopping lists, draw up a timetable and communicate all of the above to all parties concerned with tact and joy. While also being firm. And make jam. I got this meme from Penni. I've also taken the liberty of Australianising it just a little. I can't answer questions about the holidays and mean Christmas, it just doesn't work for me. And Santa isn't in my lexicon. If you're from the US and copy it from me, please feel free to change it back. I've left the references to cold weather though.

Egg nog or hot chocolate?
Neither. It's too hot for hot anything and the thought of drinking raw egg in summer just makes me feel ill. Eventhough I know that we eat raw egg in homemade mayonaise or mousse. Actually I think I've only had eggnog once, Christmas in Ireland sometime in the eighties. Boy,was I homesick. So chrissy drinks for me would include beer, wine, champagne, diet ginger, lots of water.
Does Father Christmas wrap presents or just set them under the tree?
Father Chistmas wraps all presents and when he makes the delivery, places them in the pillow case left under the tree. Then he has his snack. Very large items, eg a bike, might be left under the tree with a bow around them. Presents from anyone else are wrapped and placed under the tree.
Coloured lights on tree/house or white?
We don't put lights on the tree or around the house but if we did they'd be coloured. The white thing while lovely, is far too tasteful and restrained for me.
Do you hang mistletoe?
When do you put your decorations up?
The box of plastic tree bits and decorations has already been retrieved from the shed. I'm thinking of putting it all up about a week before Christmas. Mainly because I think it might be very tempting for Grace to try climb up and pull it apart. Maybe next year we'll start a bit earlier.
What's your favourite Christmas dish?
My mum's sago plum pudding, bought to the table covered in flames and served with brandy spice sauce and cream. It's the recipe that her mother, my nan, used to make. It's such a favourite that my mum has to make extra, so there's enough for us all to take a piece home to have cold for breakfast on boxing day. I've made it once and didn't dissolve the sago properly, so it had hard bits in it. It occurs to me that I will need to be properly trained in the way of the sago plum pudding so that the mantle of pudding maker can pass to me (or sister Betty) when the time is right. But I think mum has many years of pudding making in front of her, so not yet.
Favourite Christmas memory as a child?
The big pine bough we used to have as a Christmas tree in the corner of the lounge. Cut from one of the pine trees out in the vacant block behind our house, and usually reaching nearly to the ceiling. We used tp spend a night decorating it together. And opening presents in the morning with my sister, Betty. As a kid my favourite presents were the new clothes made by my mother and the gold wrapped chocolate coins. There are lots of pictures of us wearing our Christmas dresses and smiling. I've already decided to make Grace a new outfit (or two) with matching clothes for her dolly. And in a year or two, a real Christmas tree.
When and how did you learn the truth about Father Christmas?
I honestly can't remember. So it must have been gentle. I magine we kind of knew but went along with it until we were almost teenagers.
Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
No. Absolutely not.
How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
More is more in my book when it comes to tree decoration. Which definitely works with the little plastic tree we have. I try and buy one or two new things every year and my taste runs to the kitsch. I like metallic balls, glass ornaments, little disco balls, old decorations and lots of tinsel. I might try and make something this year, and once Grace likes to make things, they'll definitely go on the tree and be kept from year to year.
I've also started a collection of Made in China Christmas paper ephemera. But only one thing per year, lest I get caught in a buying frenzy.
 Snow! Love it or dread it?
Not part of my Christmas experience. Even in Ireland it didn't snow, although it was cold and dark, which made me even more homesick. My dread is the absolutely swelteringly hot Christmas.
Can you ice skate?
Well, yes I can actually. Not that it has anything to do with Christmas. When I was a teenager I used to speed skate. I think if I got on the ice now, I'd be wobbly for the first half hour and then pick it up again. Not that I'd ever speed skate again, you need to have no fear for that. And Black Sabbath.
Do you remember your favourite gift?
I think the pink and white striped sundress with a crossover back that my mother made me when I was about thirteen. It was hot.
What's the most important thing about Christmas for you?
That all parts of my family are welcome and get along. So as well as me and my sister and our menfolk and offspring, this includes my mum and her husband, my dad and his wife, my stepfathers's ex, my stepsisters, G's ex. Housemates, stragglers. There's room for everyone. I would like it to be the same with G's family but it isn't. We go to Tassie for some Christmases and they're different. OK but different.
What's your favourite Christmas dessert?
We've already talked about the plum pudding but there's also my mum's yo-yos and shortbread. And cherries. Lots of really, really good cherries. At least a box of the best I can find.
What's your favourite Christmas tradition?
I quite like the silly hats and bad jokes form the bonbons. And work Christmas parties with the really lame Kris Kringle where at least one of the gifts is a borderline (public service) code of conduct issue.
What tops your tree?
A gold star from the big bag of ornaments I got from the opshop two days before the first big, all sides of the family together at our place, Christmas. The day I decided we really needed a tree and some decorations of some sort, walked into the Salvos and they had exactly what I wanted. Some of the decorations are vintage and almost tasteful. But not the star, that's plain tack .
Which do you prefer: giving or receiving?
Giving? I like planning and wrapping presents, if not the shopping. Shopping's OK if I have lots of time and a good list, and can find what I want. Must plan shopping soon. Receiving's pretty fun too. I'm really looking forward to seeing whether Grace gets the present concept this year.

What's your favourite Christmas song?
I like hymns and proper Christmas carols. The old traditional ones. I'm not religious but I like the power and magic of the Christmas story, especially through song. Best of all is massed singing, not by choirs, but by large congregations, large enough to have a variety of voices and large enough to carry those who don't sing well. Unfortunately, I'm one of those that don't sing well but I do enjoy singing and having my voice blend with others. We also have a record of old German Christmas choral music which usually gets some play at this time of year. And I quite like the cheesy old stuff, you know It's beginnng to smell a lot like Christmas or some such. And of course ye olde jingle bells...
Candy canes?
These seem to appear mysteriously on my desk at work, to be eaten in the car on the way home. I don't buy them, though.
So I feel a little more Christmassy. Not quite as grinchy as I thought.

The summer we're having

A while ago I said that I thought we were going to have one of those semi tropical type summers, hot with frequent storms. Already I'm sure that I'm wrong. It's going to be one of those hot, dry summers where the wind from the north east or north west blows hot air from inland regions. When you watch the garden shrivel and dessicate before your eyes. Glad to go to work because there's air conditioning. Afternoons spent at the pool with the child. Bushfire warnings on the radio in the morning advising people living in various areas (some quite near the city) to activate their fire plans. Skies hazy with smoke. News bulletins that make you want to cry. Days when it's just to hot to go outside unless you really have to and you move slowly, always wear a hat, eat icy poles, stick to the furniture and look for a cool spot in the house.

There will also be, I hope: cool changes that rush through the house, cherries, grapes and peaches, balmy nights drinking beer, camping at the beach, dappled shade. Grace and I hung out under the tree this afternoon before it got too hot and windy. I've set up some waterplay and she kept putting her doll in the water. Not sure whether it was to wash her or just to see what would happen. Later in the afternoon it reached 34C (about 93F) with a hot dry wind. This is quite hot for early summer, I think. Normally I cope pretty well until it's over say 38C, but my stress related dental issues are still causing me grief and no-ones had quite enough sleep. So as the day drew to a close, we all got a little tetchy. I'm trying not to think about January and February, with the possibility of days at a stretch in the high 30s and low 40s.

After Grace went to bed, I had a little moment outside with a not quite cold enough beer. It slipped down all too quickly.  It is still  28C (about 82). A cool change is forecast for the early hours.

December's theme for Self Portrait Challenge is red. There's not many of us antipodeans in the challenge at the moment, so I'm expecting to be one of the few exploring red and summer.

With my teeth in my mouth

The last few days have been a bit gloomy. My teeth are not good and I had to leave work early on Thursday for an emergency dental visit. My new and very charming dentist spent a long time examining and tapping my teeth and blowing air over them while I squirmed miserably in my seat, expecting to shoot through the roof with pain. I didn't. The dentist then told me that my gums are a little inflamed but my teeth are fine. Then he asked me if there was any stress in my life. We had a little chat and he concluded that I need to floss more and relax. And not grind or clench my teeth. I officially have a stress related dental condition. Who knew there was such a thing?

Anyway, my stupid miserable teeth aside there have been some highpoints since then. Like Saturday, when I had the pleasure of afternoon tea with Sooz and Suse. It's funny meeting someone you feel you've come to know through their blog. Not bad funny, more curious funny. Today while I was dusting and thinking, I figured out why that is. There's a moment of catching your breath while you match a written voice you've come to know so well over time, with the actual person sitting across the table. Then before you know it, you're sitting around said table drinking tea and eating cake and chatting and looking at sewing like you've been doing such things for ages. It was lovely and delightful and I left feeling that there was still much to say. Ever since Suse put the idea out there, I've had in the back of my mind that it would be fun to organise a Melbourne lady bloggers picnic some time in the New Year, after the holidays perhaps?

Over the weekend I also felt an overwhelming desire to be baking. Yo-yos for afternoon tea, my inner pedant needing to stand at the kitchen bench with the sun on my shoulder and roll little balls of dough.  For some reason, I find this a very soothing and centring activity. Especially when I have perfectly judged the timing of Grace's nap to coincide with the rolling and baking. I also knocked up a boiled pineapple fruitcake (and wrote out the recipe), which we started on for afternoon tea today. We don't do afternoon tea everyday, only when we have visitors or we've had a particularly grinchy housework day. I'm starting to feel as though the house needs a very, very thorough clean. You know, the sort that involves emptying cupboards and shelves, moving furniture and bleaching plates. This may well be teeth/stress related. So this morning as I ran around doing the Monday tidy which precedes the Monday supermarket shop (bananas $6.94 a kilo!), I tried to think of how I could allocate a room a day. Then I realised we have nine rooms in our house, counting the small ones which can be tedious to clean, and there's no hope of finding nine days before Christmas that have lots of space in them. So I did some windows in the front of the house. Maybe if I get around to the windows I can ignore the rest.

I also started on planting out the vegetable garden. I've been waiting on a peastraw delivery from our local feedstore. There's been a holdup as there's not much peastraw around due to the drought. I considered doing without, but I don't think a hot summer vegetable garden without mulch is feasible. Sometimes I wonder whether I can justify having vegetable garden at all, given the water that it takes.  Then again, I don't think we use any more water than a commercial farmer would, although that's their living and ours is what I'd call a provident hobby, which in my mind gives them more justification in using it. Even so, I have decided to mulch the vege garden and water it properly twice a week. On Sunday, I gave up waiting and bought some peastraw from a local garden centre, way more expensive and the bales were half the size as the feedstore ones. And then of course today, the feedstore guy rings and says they have my five bails for delivery if I still want them. Which I did. Never mind, the other stuff wasn't nearly enough anyway. So this evening I planted tomatoes, basil, zinnias, beetroot (second lot), lettuce (third lot). Next up are more sowings of corn, beans and cucumber. And some cosmos seedlings I grew, as well as some special little things from the nursery; a new sedum, a new salvia and some portulacca. Which is why I try and  do as much garden shopping at the feedstore, because I just can't help myself at the nursery.

The gender blender

I've had a glass or two of red and I'm going to attempt the gender meme, as seen over at The View from Elsewhere. I found this one quite difficult, two long commutes on the train and some questions still had me perplexed. Maybe because I live in a household where roles are fairly fluid, or things have changed. I don't know, have they?

Three things you do that women usually do

  • Sometimes obsess and have moments of guilt and/or fear about whether I am doing the right thing as a mother.

  • Shave my legs.

  • Crochet while watching TV.

Three things you do that men usually do

  • Pretend I'm listening to my partner talking through my favourite TV shown by grunting in the right place, and then act all indignant when I'm caught out.

  • Wear the pants.

  • Take up space, and put my feet up on the coffee table.

Three things you do that women usually don’t do

  • Enjoy getting hot and sweaty doing manual labour in the garden.

  • Leave the dishes and toilet cleaning for someone else (knowing they will get done).

  • Walk alone at night.

Three things you do that men usually don’t do

  • Make family social arrangements. Ensure that everyone attends, has what they need (as in toddler bag, does anyone know a man who packs the toddler bag?) and looks presentable for said social event.

  • Know what's in the fridge and cupboard and plans meals accordingly.

  • Wear my hair up.

Three things you don’t do that women usually do

  • Enjoy shoe or clothes shopping.

  • Wear women's shoes (not on any regular basis).

  • Take full responsibility for the management of the household, all the time. This does tend to ebb and flow around here depending on who's doing what workwise and how control freakish I'm feeling. But definitely not at the moment.

Three things you don’t do that men usually do

  • Moan and feel all wistful about the gap between the footy and cricket season.

  • Spend large amounts of time in the shed drinking beer and doing shed things.

  • Wear surfwear ensembles. You know the board shorts and loud t-shirt look. Never.

Three things you don’t do that women usually don’t do

  • Promote myself well professionally.

  • Put off going to the doctor, if necessary.

  • Tinker with my car.

Three things you don’t do that men usually don’t do

  • Shave my underarms regularly.

  • Wear heels or other forms of footwear that render me immobile or uncomfortable.

  • Wear makeup.

Spring photo archive

My task for tonight, on the last day of spring has been to go through all my photos, deleting duplicates and the ones that don't grab me and archive the rest. Now that I have a digital camera, I find that I take huge amounts of photos and after a few months my folders start to feel cluttered. So at the end of winter I did a big archive, and now that spring has come to a finish, I've cleared up, ready for summer. As I was going through them all, I kept a folder of some favourites which I might get printed and you know, put in an album. Or perhaps to have have sitting around for several years waiting to be put into an album.

These are some that I liked tonight. This is our cat Tony sitting on the work bench being a baloney.

Some self sown foxglove growing in crack in the concrete next to my potting bench. I like the contrast between the flowers and the plastic so I didn't pull it out, even though I had decided not to grow foxgloves until Grace has passed the flower eating stage. I'm kind of glad that it's passed flowering so we don't have to be so vigilant around them any more.
This is the side of an old house that I pass when I walk to the gym. Sometimes in summer there's an old man who sits in the lean to and watches telly. Part of me is really sad about the state of the house and possibly, his living conditions. Another part loves the texture and freaky angles.

This is a picture of some cactus flowers in a hanging basket off the side of the shed. One evening I decided to ignore the instructions for the camera and see what happened if I pointed it right into the sun. Not looking of course.

And one of my big favourites, Grace after eating cherries and playing in the dirt. I can't tell you how much I love seeing Grace really, really grubby at the end of the day.

So there you go, that's November. Tommorrow is the first day of summer, even though it feels like we've been having summer for ages.

Nearly there

So tonight and then tommorow night (after the gym if I'm good), and it'll be done. I will have posted every day for November. And yet I still haven't written about all the things I meant to, or said everything I wanted about the things I did. Even so, it has felt good to do this everyday, some pause and reflection. I may have a little rest at the end of it all, but then again I'm thinking of a meme for Friday night.

Tonight (again) I wanted to write about blogging as a form but I'm not feeling all that coherent (dammed tooth, more dentistry will be necessary). Like last week, I had all these interesting and in hindsight, coherent thoughts this afternoon. The kind of thoughts that you think as your child sleeps soundly, the house is quiet with no music, no power tools, just a breeze and some sunlight and the dull hum of traffic and suburbia. And you go through your drawers and wardrobe and discard or pack away all the clothes that: don't fit, are scratchy or itchy, were worn when you were pregnant and have not been altered since, are too tattered even for the op shop, are seasonally inappropriate, or you no longer like. And then when it is all done, you realise that although there are some gaps to fill, that really you do have some things you don't mind wearing. But there is still not a thought in my head. I should have taken notes when there was. So I think I might schlep off to bed. Work tomorrow.

Lurex in the morning

For most of the last decade of the century just gone, the end of November meant two things to me, cherries and the start of the forest party season. Around my birthday, I'd start anticpating, planning, counting off the days. It wasn't always as good as I thought it would be and sometimes it was beyond anything I had imagined. There's a lot of bad things you could say about these parties; the environmental impact, portaloos, driving home, the behaviour of some of the patrons and oh yeah, the drugs (not going there because we all know drugs are bad, mhnn).

On the good side however, these parties rolled many favourite activities into one big bundle; camping with friends and workmates (hospitality types back then, you know work hard, play harder), wacky and frequent costume changes, lazing around, top notch freaky people watching, special moments taking in the beauty of our natural environment, constant techno music and if everything clicked, hours and hours of dancing.  My favourite time to dance was in the early morning, so I'd pace myself to have a rest in the wee hours and emerge just before dawn. Some dawn dancefloors had the most amazing vibe if you could catch it. Sometimes the energy was fleeting, hard to tap into. Other times, the best times, it was something truly special to be part off. It's really hard to describe, but amidst the trashier aspects of the whole scene there could be a deeply spiritual experience. Each person dancing their own dance but in harmony and in conversation with each and every other person around them. Fragmenting and coming together again, like the pattern in a kaleidoscope.

Then as the day dawned and the sun shone brightly (hopefully) the vibe would morph into something more playful and even more trashy. People would go change into their day outfits, hats, big sunnies and lots bright colours and lurex in the sunlight. Lurex was big back then in the nineties, as was a certain type of polyester. In our circles at least. I remember having to ban cooks from wearing it in my kitchen, the thought of the possible burns being too much to bear.  This summer, like most this century, I've seen the advertisements and they don't pull as much as they used to. In my heart I know that I'm really too old and sensible for that sort of thing now, even though I do know of other older people who go and sometimes, just for a moment I'm tempted. Just for a moment.

November has been the month of GLAM for Self Portrait Challenge. Go on over and see who else is glamming it up.

Running wild

I've been re-reading Swallowdale by Aurthur Ransome, a lovely old hardback copy from the Coburg market. I adored this series as a child and read and reread each one several times. Every so often I come by one in my travels as an adult and they are the ultimate comfort re-read. There's something very gentle about them, even though the children face danger and have adventures, they have a meandering pace and well, a niceness about them. Most of the stories take place outside the adult world, although there is a sense that the children are being watched and supported by sympathetic adults. They camp, cook for themselves, go sailing and are generally very self-sufficient.

As a child I used to ponder maps such as these and compare them with the mental maps I had of my own places. We were allowed to roam freely from quite a young age and were lucky to have permanent bushland and a creek (albeit polluted) out the back gate and across the paddock. Features of the landscape were given names and invested with meanings known only to us. We built cubbies, dammed the creek, dug caves, climbed cliffs, observed plants growing and explored every nook and cranny of all that land bounded by the roads we weren't allowed to cross. There were feuds with other bands of kids, followed by alliances, then more feuds. We dreamed up projects and made expeditions.

So it's probably no accident that my favourite books and series were those in which children had their own worlds, largely independent of adults. I'm thinking  of the Narnia chronicles, the Famous Five, I am David, and one book, the title of which I've forgotten, in which several children fend completely for themselves over summer and cook their meals in a hay box while hiding from the childrens services. We didn't often play games based on these books, but I'm sure that they fed our sense of adventure. I asked my mum if she worried about us free ranging around the neighbourhood and she said of course she did, and that she would sometimes watch us from a distance until she was sure we would be OK. She said that they had made a conscious decision to allow us this sort of freedom, that they'd both had childhoods with freedom to roam and wanted the same for us. It's not like we were allowed to do anything we wanted though. As a moody thirteen year old, I was allowed to ramble around the bush by myself for hours on end but not allowed to go into the city and meet friends at Flinders Street station by myself. My father came with me and watched from the car until he was sure everything was above board.

Em wrote this post the day before yesterday and I've been following the comments. It's got me thinking quite hard about what sorts of freedoms I want for Grace. I don't believe that the world has become substantially more dangerous than when we were children. We've become more safety conscious (I'm sure I'm not the only one with memories of bassinets strapped to the back seat and parents fagging on in the front) and more aware of possible danger but I don't think that there are more people who wish to do harm to children than before. We're just more afraid of them. I don't want to keep Grace inside, or only in the backyard or going from scheduled activity to scheduled activity. Already I know that this isn't what I want for Grace. Even now she has her own agenda and wants to spend time out of my orbit, and having cleared the area of obvious hazards, I'm happy for her to go her own way. She's still very little so I do watch her, but I try to be unobtrusive about it. When she's older, say middle primary school, I'm going to have to contemplate whether we'll let her go and ride her bike in the park by herself or with friends. Which places she'll be allowed to escape to.

Already I'm looking about our inner urban environment and wondering where it is that kids go to play, or if they do. I once saw a cubbie house in the nearby dog walking park, but it didn't last long. There's a creek but it's concrete and kind of closed in. I don't feel safe walking there so I don't see that I'd allow Grace to play there even if she wanted to. There's some scruffy bits of Royal Park with BMX tracks, but it's quite far away. I guess we'll have to see when the time comes. At least we'll be able to go and stay at a friend's house in the country, there's lots of good rambling and roaming areas there. The whole idea terrifies me but I wouldn't want her to be a young adult having had no experience of making decisions or looking after herself, or even sometimes having to get herself out of trouble.

Just another Sunday

I'm saving my jars, laying in the white sugar, steeling myself for the tediousness of de-pipping at least three kilos of tiny plums and for the watching of a huge pot of boiling sugar. And that it will be at least 36C on the day and I will be hot and sticky. We are totally out of homemade jam. The last bottle was eaten several months ago, so we have been subsisting on gifts and on supermarket jam. Mostly supermarket jam, or exotic varieties from one of the middle eastern outlets two streets up. All of which is OK, interesting even, but really no substitute. Unfortunately the loquat tree is still recovering from it's very severe pruning which was carried out because all the fruit was too high to reach, even by a tall person on a ladder. Loquat jam is lovely. It's the first to fruit and is high in pectin so it sets well. It can taste a little generic stone fruit, not quite like loquats, but like good stone fruit nonetheles.  The best jam however is from these tiny little olive sized  plums. The big tree is old and diseased, and if we owned the property would probably be chopped down eventually. But is does make the best jam, especially if made with about a quarter underripe fruit.
Looking at the plums this morning, I think I'll be jamming before Christmas. Maybe in two weeks for the extra sour batch and another batch a week later. So I'll be able to give some away in the inevitable erosion of the family kringle.

I spent most of the morning sewing a new top for work. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. Bias cut, asymmetrical stripe, with sleeves that weren't part of the pattern. I've never made a top cut on the bias before and I'm surprised at how easy it was. Mind you, I was sewing without a toddler rampaging nearby. G took Grace to the Trash and treasure, leaving me with a good two hours in which to immerse myself in the sound of the machine. I really need to buckle down and make myself some new summer clothes that I can wear to work. Last weeks effort was truly woeful, maternity pants held in with a safety pin that kept jabbing me. Noice. It was a choice between that with a matching long top, or non-maternity pants with a maternity top that I'm sure my colleagues would have recognised (I wore it every second or third day). Or a totally clashing blue and green outfit. Or a flagrant flouting of the dress code and wearing my black jeans which my team leader says look like blue denim to her. A new low even for me. So no frivolous craft or other projects until my wardrobe is sorted.

After lunch I took Grace to the park near the supermarket. She's starting to really enjoy playgrounds even though she's too little for most of the equipment. Today she enjoyed the baby swing for the first time, possibly because there was an older girl on the swing next to her. She also watched the girl go down the slide and decided to have a go herself. The first time, I set her on the low platform and she climbed the rest of the way to the top of the slide herself. She sat at the top for quite while then pushed herself down. It was all good until she leant back and went from sitting to lying on her back. She wasn't hurt, just startled and surprised. Then she climbed all the way up the steps and platforms, all by herself and went down again.  

After the park, we stopped to check out one of my favourite front gardens. (Photo taken from park across the road, seems a bit pervy to take photos of other people houses but I would if I was travelling and seeing new architecture) Anyway, in my dreams this house comes up for sale next June, and we can afford it and it has a really large backyard (which it probably doesn't).
And they throw in the retro van, which I renovate (this is my little fantasy) for us to live in while we polish the hardwood floorboards and rework the living area. I've lived in this style house before and they have potential. When it's all done, we use the van for guest accommodation and for charming seaside holidays where we spend rainy days playing cards inside and every other day, well at the beach and going for walks, making collections of flotsam and reading books.

What you can't really see in the photo is the little path through the long grass. I love this overgrown garden, even though it has me itching for my secateurs. There's a lovely she-oak down the side, an olive tree, good jam plums and glimpses of other fruit trees. Not to mention the rampaging geraniums and pelargoniums.


We have quite a few agapanthus out the front. They line the path to the door and are a particular pleasure in the evening light. Like many other plants in my garden, they could also be considered weed in some situations. I remember at my thirtyfirst birthday barbeque being quite upset that some young boys had pulled out the first two flower spikes and were using them as swords.  Not that I said anything.