Holidays

holidays

We’re heading off on holidays this weekend. To the glamorous, fun-filled, culture-soaked destination of… Canberra. In other words, the destination is the people we love, not the places. Luckily, there is a LOT of love for the people on this trip.

I’ve decided not to write in my blog while we’re away. I won’t even bring my computer. I want to take the time to unplug and just enjoy this time out as a family. So I’ll see you in just over a week.

In the meantime, here are some lovely links to keep you clicking away happily, and some letters in shiny envelopes I’ve been painting and sending to blog readers. I hope they like them!

I might just try this: home-made hanging planter

Next holiday, if Canberra is unavailable, I want to go to this blue-painted town

Have you heard? There’s a hippo in the Thames!

How to graciously say no. Handy to know

Cute! Park your VW, park your keys

You think you’ve seen a treehouse, but then you see THIS

Would you do this to your old plates and saucers and cups?

How to be a good dinner guest

It’s my birthday next month and I really REALLY love these ceramics. Those two facts might be unrelated. But then again they might not

Vanilla rosemary pudding. Looks so delicious!

Do you remember ages ago when I told you about the OTO food trucks for kids? Now, they’re also made for cats. Which is so wrong, but so right

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Open hands, empty nests

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The video below is amazing. It’s a rare and quite vulnerable insight into the inspiration behind artist and sculptor Shelia Berger’s work, and the personal and creative path she follows as she pursues that inspiration. It starts with a family bereavement and an empty nest found in her childhood home, and builds from there.

Often I wonder “where did that artist get their ideas?” This video reveals so much more than the artist’s “ideas.” To borrow a much-abused word from reality TV, it truly is a creative and personal journey as she explores nurturing, loss, and the fragility and constant movement of nature, through art.

You can see this and more wonderful “Portraits in Creativity” produced by Gael Towey, here. Gael says her great love is storytelling. The “Portraits in Creativity” series seeks to capture the bravery of artists and artisans, and reveals the visual seduction of the creative process.

Creative life

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How do you keep track of your creative life?

Recently I drew this mind-mappy flow-charty thing to try to figure out, for myself, how all my various fun and creative projects relate to and support one another.

Here’s what I learned about my creative life from creating this map:

1. Writing a novel was not the pinnacle of my creative writing activities, but a catalyst for more

2. The people in blogging communities are awesome and so are those in snail-mail communities

3. All my disparate projects don’t seem so disparate after all. They work together in a funny kind of way

4. Having kids doesn’t mean you have to give up on doing the creative things you love. In many cases, it can inspire you

And it’s that last one I want to talk about. Last week a friend (Hi Bec!) said the NICEST thing to me. She said she wanted to have children one day but that she had always feared that prioritising her children might mean having to give up on doing the things she loved. But that knowing me and reading my blog had given her the confidence that the two didn’t have to drive one another away. Isn’t that wonderful?

I’m the first to admit that I really struggle to find the time to follow my passions. Hey, there are three good reasons why my next novel is still only a third of the way through after ALL THESE YEARS, that the magazine I’ve mentioned here hasn’t launched yet, that I take literally months to write and send the letters I promise to send, and that my blog posting is intermittent at best. Two of those reasons are sleeping upstairs right now and will do so for an undetermined length of time (could be I only have five minutes of blog-writing time left); and the other reason is my actual, you know, paid job. But…

Despite the perpetually time-poor state that comes with being a parent of small children, I make it a priority to work on my creative joys. They’re just not the TOP priority. I don’t achieve the way I used to, or hit goals the way I used to, but I do give myself permission to chip away at these activities, purely for the love of doing them.

And now Madeleine is entering an age in which she notices these things. She loves to watch me drawing and painting my “mail art,” and often I’ll go to her for inspiration on what to draw (if you’re noticing a lot of horses and tea pots in my post pictures lately, that’s why). I want my children to grow up understanding the value of work and responsibility; but also to feel like it’s good to have interests and passions, and that they can follow them as far as they want to take them.

I think that’s a good thing to teach, isn’t it? I hope it is.

Allo, Mummy

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Oh hello, have you been enjoying the sunshine? We sure have. But this was how my weekend started.

It was about 4am on Friday night/Saturday morning. I was coming home from a night out dining, drinking and dancing with my friends…

No, I wasn’t. I HAD been fast asleep in my bed with my ear-plugs in, when I felt something touch my cheek and it woke me up. Pulling the ear-plugs out, I could hear the soft sounds of a little person breathing. Blearily, still surfacing from sleep, I wondered why Mr B had brought Harry into our bed and what my baby was doing on my pillow. The little person flung his hand around my neck and I thought, “Isn’t that the most adorable thing? It’s almost like he’s hugging me!” Then I realised Mr B was saying something about going downstairs for a second and asking me to keep her safe on the bed.

“Him,” I corrected Mr B blearily as I watched his shadow retreat. For a moment, everything was quiet. Then the arm around my neck shifted and, millimetres from my ear, a little voice equal parts creepy and adorable, said, “Allo, Mummy.”

Turns out Madeleine had been having a nightmare (something about a lost hair-band) and Mr B had tried but failed to resettle her, then brought her into our bed. Let me tell you she was very pleased to be there. The nightmare was long forgotten but so, sadly, was my night’s sleep. She kept up a constant stream of chatter for the next two hours while Mr B and Harry both snored, snuggling happily next to me and stroking my hair and saying things like “I like you lots Mummy” and “I loving you Mummy” and “Harry still sleeping?” and “I have breakfast yet?” (at about 4.45am).

At 5.45am when Harry woke up (it is a true miracle that he didn’t wake sooner since his cot is RIGHT next to our bed), I sat up to feed him and Madeleine sat up too. She covered his face and mine with repeated kisses, which didn’t make breastfeeding particularly easy but which was ridiculously lovely.

And then we all went downstairs before the sun was up and BAM, just like that, it was time for the weekend to begin. Ah weekends, a restful reprise from the busy work week. The next two days continued as they had begun. Exhausting, entertaining, adorable, exasperating, hilarious, filled with love and filled with fun.

So, basically just another day in a house with a toddler and a baby. How was your weekend?

Here are some parenty-style links that you might enjoy:

* DIRECTLY related to my story above, this piece on the ageing influence of motherhood made me laugh

* I have a love-hate relationship with IKEA, I take issue with being forced to follow the arrows, for one. But ever since having kids I’ve had to make my peace with them. Those storage solutions are just so handy. And did you know they now have a stationery range?

* This beautifully expresses how I feel about the daycare drop-off (yes, I’ve started that early)

* Holy moly, how cool are the little cardboard castles in this party for a bunch of two year olds?

* What writers can learn from ‘Good Night Moon’. We love this book at our place!

* Do you like to drink flavoured water?

* How to grow your own crystals. I LOVED keeping ‘crystal gardens’ when I was a kid. Did you?

* Pretty much love all the clothes in this shop!

* Equal parts loving and loathing. Yeah, I get that

* Beautiful children’s rooms

* New-baby gifts that might actually get used

* Women need a year to recover from childhood. Well, that lets me off the hook a bit

* Super cute party food for little ones

Sunshine snail mail

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As I write this post winds and hailstorms are battering outside, which is ironic, because I want to write about celebrating sunshine and spring.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a fan of winter. I like the crisp, cold air of a July morning. The crunch of frost underfoot. My hands wrapped around a freshly-brewed cup of tea. Slippers, hot-water-bottles, cats on laps and snuggles with babies.

But I’ve also said it before and I’m saying it again: this year, I am determined to welcome the warmer weather with a positive attitude. Normally, the onset of a mild spring day has me all-a-dither about summer looming, and, “Oh no if it’s hot in September, January is going to be HORRIBLE.”

Not this time. I hereby declare that this is the year summer and I make friends. I will open my arms to the sting of hot sun on my skin, burning away the weariness and black mornings and endless winter viruses. I will re-plant my vegetable garden and let the summer sun and rain warm the soil into something that nurtures growth and life. I will make this a season of salads and seafood and fresh, wholesome summer on the inside of me as well as the back yard. And if it all gets too much, I will thank the gods that I now live in a house with air conditioning.

To celebrate my new friendship with summer, I made up a batch of little “sunshine packets” filled with organic sunflower seeds, to send to blog subscribers. I hope they will plant them and enjoy some glorious bursts of perspiration-free “summer” in their gardens or in pots.

Instead of the usual brown paper, I slipped these packets into cheerful yellow envelopes to make them even more summery, before I painted on the pictures and addresses. Here’s what they looked like.

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Dear mama: don’t listen to the stories

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Warning: rant pending.

This is a little pep talk for everyone expecting (or one day hoping to expect, or friends with someone who is expecting) their first baby. It is called DON’T LISTEN TO THE STORIES.

You know the stories I’m talking about. The “You Will Never Sleep Again” stories. The “Your Breasts Will Sag Forever” stories. The stretch-mark stories and the projectile vomit stories and the no-sleep stories and the nappy-contents stories and the traumatic birth stories. Especially the traumatic birth stories.

My advice is this: stop listening to them! These stories will not help you but they will probably scare you. And there is so much GOOD about having a baby, and so much practical stuff that you NEED to know, why would you bother with the scary, unhelpful stuff?

It’s like a trigger flips inside grandmothers and mothers and aunties and sisters and cousins and friends and complete strangers that makes them want to spill their most intimate and, in many cases, their worst labour experiences to expectant mothers.

I don’t get it! Are they thinking expecting mothers need to be taken down a peg or something? I imagine their inner monologue goes something like this: “Hey pregnant woman, you are clearly expecting everything to be soft and gentle and loving like a baby powder commercial, and I am here to tell you the hard truth.”

Whereas in reality, the pregnant woman is probably already plagued by nerves and fear and the unknown, alongside her excitement and anticipation, not to mention exhaustion and sleep difficulties and professional and financial nerves and a to-do-list that is getting out of hand. The last thing she needs is your doomsday prophesy.

I remember when I was a good eight-and-a-half months pregnant with my first child and we had gone out for a quiet dinner at the pub after work. There I was sipping my mineral water and eyeing other people’s glasses of sav blanc with longing when the waitress, quite a young woman, approached our table and began regaling me with the story of her sister’s recent labour.

If even half of that story was true, someone will be making a mini-series about it some time soon. It seemed to last for days (both the labour and the story). At one point I swear there were spy-thriller spotlights pinning the poor woman to her hospital bed. At another, some kind of water-jet that suggested they were trying to pressure-hose that baby out like old paint off a brick wall.

Mr B kept walking away from the table, ostensibly to warm himself by the open fire but really to get away from the Labour From Hell story. I could see his shoulders shaking with silent laughter even though his back was turned. Then he would return, realise the story was STILL GOING, and head back to the fire. Unfortunately I was trapped, both by the near-impossibility of maneuvering my enormous belly away from the table and between the tightly-packed bistro chairs, and by the deep-seated social constraints that made me smile and nod politely even when she got up to the bloody bits and the screaming bits and the frankly anatomically-impossible bits (“the baby was coming out sideways”).

Later in the car on the way home, we roared with laughter. “What about the bit with the water torture?” Mr B gasped, red faced and wiping away tears. “How could you have left me there alone!” I shrieked. “She just wouldn’t stop!”

Recently I was at the zoo with a friend who was expecting her second child. Another woman overheard us talking about it, and began to share the stories of her recent miscarriages. It was so sad. That poor woman. We both realised how raw and heartbreaking those experiences were for her, and how clearly she just needed to get them off her chest, to share her sadness and anger at the universe. Neither of us begrudged her this need, because neither of us could imagine how difficult such a situation must be.

But of all the strangers with whom to share her sad, sad story, did she really have to pick the pregnant one? A rounded belly, it seems, is as much an invitation for uninvited stories as it is for uninvited touching.

So, the point of my rant is this: don’t listen to the stories. You don’t need them. Deflect the conversation away, if you can. Sometimes, I point-blank told people, “Don’t tell me that, it’s not helping.”

Because this is your pregnancy, not theirs.

And your baby, not theirs.

It will be what it will be and the one thing that is within your control is freeing yourself up to enjoy it. Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to anticipate happy things if your mind isn’t full of tales of woe.

ps. That belly? That’s Madeleine, at eight and a half months.

ps2. Here’s another resource: the handy “pregnancy food card” I made when I was pregnant, if you’re that way inclined

The great custard controversy

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Don’t say I never bring you the important issues. While we were chatting the other night, Mr B started to tell me about the custard his Nan used to make. To hear him tell it, “Nan’s custard” was rich, creamy and perfect. She would whip it up for dessert after a Sunday roast, and make it at Christmas to pour over pudding. Mr B’s Nan was one of those truly hospitable women that you mostly only read about in old books. She’d be up at 4am on Christmas Day to roast the turkey, preparing a veritable banquet for the family.

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never really thought of custard as a dish in itself. It seems more of… I don’t know… a condiment. But he was so passionate about Nan’s custard and how good it was and all those memories, that I asked him to get the recipe so I could try to create his happy culinary experience. Here’s how the conversation went next.

Mr B: I don’t think she had a recipe. She just mixed it up on the stove.

Me: Would she have given your Mum the recipe?

Mr B (ignoring my question and looking all misty-eyed): It was delicious, and fluorescent yellow.

Me (growing suspicious): And she definitely made it from scratch? What ingredients did she use?

Mr B (with a withering look): What all custard is made from. Custard powder!

And just like that, the Great Custard Challenge was born.

To the best of my knowledge, there are three types of custard: the type you buy ready-made and refrigerated, the type you make up with custard powder, and the type you mix up with eggs and milk. I decided I would make all three, then challenge Mr B to a blind tasting to see which one lived up to his memory.

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It took me two goes to make the powder version, because I tackled it first and while I think I got the consistency the way Mr B described it (quite thick), by the time I had subsequently cooked up the ‘real deal’ version, the powder version had become congealed and gluggy, and I had to throw it out and start again. We will be eating custard in our house for a long time because Mr B bought a two kilogram jug of the refrigerated stuff because it was only a dollar more than the small carton. Sometimes he forgets it’s just us and two very small children, and shops like he’s back in his childhood home with three adults, five children, and umpteen aunties, uncles, cousins and neighbours visiting at any given time.

If you’ve never made custard from scratch (actual scratch, rather than with powder), it’s incredibly easy. Here’s my recipe, a bit of an amalgam of a few I found on the Internet. These are small quantities, and it makes about a cup and a half. I’m going to try it without the sugar next time and see if the kids still like it for a healthy snack.

Ingredients: 


1 egg
1.5 tablespoons cornflour
1.5 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
1.5 tablespoons sugar

*We only had vanilla essence in the house for this experiment because I bought it by accident, and it still tasted ok, but I definitely think extract or the scrapings of an actual vanilla pod would be the better way to go

Method:

1. In a small saucepan with the heat off, whisk the egg, cornflour and a couple of tablespoons of the milk together
2. When you have created a smooth paste with no lumps, turn the heat on low, and gradually add the rest of the milk, stirring continually
3. As soon as the custard becomes thick and creamy (which will happen the second you start to think “this is taking too long it won’t work”), remove the saucepan from the heat
4. Stir in the sugar and vanilla

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L-R = the powdered stuff, the refrigerated stuff, the homemade stuff

The outcome of this challenge? Much to my surprise, Mr B chose my homemade custard in his blind tasting! I can’t claim that it was up to Nan’s Magic Custard Powder dessert standard because a) I never got to taste it and b) possibly I just didn’t do the powder justice. But it was nice to get the stamp of approval on my very own creation. The best part was that the Custard Challenge led to a longer conversation about Mr B’s Nan and their Christmases in Bendigo and about the kind of woman she was. Which was quite lovely, and exactly what food memories are all about, I think.

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This is part of a new regular series exploring food memories from our childhoods. The good, the bad and the bizarre. I explain the whole thing in this post if you’re interested. Do you want to join in? Recreate or reinvent some of your best or worst food memories and use the hashtag #naomilovesfoodmemories so I can promote what you’re doing. Or ask me to have a go at one of your food memories and I’ll see what I can do!

Letterbox romance (link pack)

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My fingers are cramping up! I have been writing letters. With, you know, my whole hands, rather than just my fingertips. I have been slipping the letters into envelopes. Then I have been making little pencil drawings on the envelopes, with the addresses, and tracing over them with black pen and painting them and highlighting them with the black pen again. My hands really are cramping, but it’s worth it. Tomorrow I will pop my letters and decorated envelopes into the post for more of you lovely folks.

Ah, snail mail. Maybe instead of worrying about email killing the post (after all, video never did actually kill the radio star), we should celebrate it. Let’s leave the speedy deliverance of bills and business to the digital world, and reclaim our letterboxes for something lovely, and handmade.

And as if you needed them (surely you don’t!), here are 11 links to get you excited about writing and pen pals and the romance of the post.

* What a beautiful initiative. People in Switzerland can buy stickers for their mailboxes to display which household goods they are willing to lend to their neighbours

* One day I want to put together a sunshine basket to post to a friend

* Beautiful handmade ink stamps of your artwork or handwriting

* In this initiative, people write “love letters” and leave them in public places for strangers to find. Here is a response from someone who found a love letter

* How cute is this tiny, mobile printing press!

* Do you send thank-you notes? I thought this article in the New York Times was interesting

* Dress up your digital world with snail mail art

* Our mail gets dumped all over the house (except the pretty mail sent to me!). I love this mailbox organiser from the MoMA store!

* Writers and their typewriters. Love this print!

* My new blog crush! The Postcard Swap is full of handmade postcards sent around the world

* Would you try this? Cristina Vanko wrote only handwritten messages to her friends (no texts, no emails) for seven days

Teeny tiny mail-art

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These are some of the “tea fortune” parcels I sent out to some super-lovely people recently. (You can take a look the tea fortunes here). It was actually quite hard to come up with mail-art designs that worked on such teeny tiny packages. I struggled to find space to fit pictures and names and addresses and wax seals and stamps all on the one little panel, while still ensuring the addresses were big enough to be legible. Still, I kind of like how small they are. To me it makes them feel more gift-like, if that makes sense. I hope the recipients feel the same way.

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Transformation stories

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We had a picture book when I was growing up that told creation stories from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples. I don’t know which nation the stories came from – or maybe they came from many nations – but I loved the stories. They had been illustrated by children and the stories were all about explaining how the world came to be. Stories like “How the echidna got his spikes,” and “How the emu lost his flight.”

At the same time, we had a Little Golden Book that told the story of The Three Sisters. If you live in New South Wales you probably know this one. The story according to my Little Golden Book went that there were three sisters and one day, the youngest sister dropped a stone over a cliff by accident, which woke and angered an evil bunyip. Their father, a witch doctor, couldn’t reach the sisters in time to save them. Instead, he pointed a magic bone at his daughters and turned them into stone, so the bunyip couldn’t harm them. To escape the bunyip he then turned himself into a lyre bird. But in the process he dropped the magic bone. To this day, you will see the lyre bird searching through the underbrush in that bush to try and find the bone to turn himself back into a man, and turn his daughters back into girls.

The little girl Naomi was powerfully influenced by these transformation and creation stories. I was fascinated by the idea that something that seemed “ordinary” to me actually had a back story and had experienced grand adventures and great metamorphoses to get to where they were today. It made them the very antithesis of “ordinary.” I used to entertain the fantasy that I had once been someone – or even something – else, but that after my transformation into a little girl, I had experienced an amnesia and had lost the true history of me.

And not to get too philosophical on a Tuesday morning but I feel like I have been transforming and recreating myself ever since. There are the obvious metamorphoses: the transformation from girl into woman (that one took a lot longer than I had anticipated); the transformation from Independent Adult into Mother. Sometimes when I reconnect with friends I knew in school or university, it hits home how much I have changed in other ways. We still connect on many levels but many of our interests, our core beliefs, have parted ways. My friends will pull out the old music that we used to love, the books we used to read, the shows we used to watch, and be surprised that they no longer hold special meaning for me. They’ll remain loyal vegetarians while I now order the beef carpaccio. They’ll worship a god I no longer believe exists. They’ll breed horses while I couldn’t imagine life lived away from the city.

It all comes back to the “back-story” of those childhood creation tales. I don’t think I’m a different or new person to the one I was back then. I’m just wearing new layers. The echidna was still the echidna before he had spikes. I had straight hair my whole life but since Harry was born it’s gone curly. I’m still me, just a curly-haired version of me. And I’m sure I’ll undergo more transformations, in every corner of my life. Things would get a little boring if we stayed the same all the time, don’t you think? Maybe you’ll bump into me in a decade or so and I’ll be living the vegan lifestyle on a farm somewhere. Which isn’t actually so far from where I started, to be honest. But that’s another story for another day.

What about you? Have you undergone any radical transformations? Do you feel like the same person you were back then?

A little while ago I wrote about the hours I would spend on the floor of our family room, writing stories and creating “books.” This is the only surviving story I have from those days and, not surprisingly, it is one of creation and transformation. Let’s hope my spelling has transformed for the better since then.

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Spring fever links

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We’ve made it. The beginning of spring. Warmer days, bluer skies, flowers, hay-fever. Yesterday we took a drive through the countryside and solid banks of flowering wattle lined the road, thick with sunshine. We took Harry and Madeleine to a playground that was bisected by a creek: fast-flowing melted snow smoothed the pebbles where brave, blue-toed children splashed and played.

Last week when the days began to warm up I opened up the doors front and back to let the clean breeze flow through and blow away some of that winter dust and germs and stuffy, toasty air that has been circulating our rooms for months. And then the urge to spring-clean took me and I really put my elbows into cleaning out… the bathroom cabinet. Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I’m ambivalent about the start of spring. This year we’ve had an actual winter which makes the changing season kind of lovely and new and refreshing and welcome. On the other hand, spring does tend to be a dress rehearsal for summer, and SUMMER means sunburn and sweat and sleeplessness and sand-flies. I’m trying to be more positive about the hot weather this year and I love a family day at the beach as much as the next person, but… no, give me my words in a cold cloud when I step outside of a morning, and I’m a happy little rugged-up camper.

What is your favourite season? Does spring make you happy? This year, I’m going to stop buying trouble fearing summer and embrace spring fever in the moment. Will you join me? Here are some ways to do it.

Create water colour paints out of flowers

Plant something. Even a tiny pot plant. This city garden takes my breath away. What an oasis for every season!

Make a summer delicious. Spicy watermelon, mint and lime granita, anyone?

Spring clean your life. Lila over at Little Wolff is offering this ebook free if you subscribe to her newsletter

Face your creative fears

Colour code something, for no other reason than to celebrate colour. These colour-coded photographs are will inspire you

Hidden messages. Embrace your childhood, write a secret message. A letter in lemon juice, a fortune cookie, a code. Or, even better, a message hidden in jewellery

Make some crepe paper butterflies for your next party

Save your pennies, in a jar, for something special. Remember the movie “Up”? The penny jar savings “for Peru”? And how beautiful it is when the curmudgeonly old man experiences a springtime-like renaissance as a thousand balloons lift his house up, up, up, and away! Did you love that moment? I did, I loved that whole movie. And now THIS. This series of photographs is just glorious

Two words that make me think summer might not be at all bad after all: water trampoline