Sunday, December 31, 2006

Goodbye 2006

New Year's Eve used to be the night of the year. It wasn't necessarily a party night, but something had to happen and it needed to be big and interesting and special, well planned and preferably involvoing glow sticks. The year I was pregnant with Fred we went to bed before midnight and thus marked the end of big with glow sticks. Last year we were in bed by 10.30 but we did have a fabulous night, with drinkings and many children still running around a friend's backyard at 10pm - will go into the records as one of our best ever. Perhaps because we were feeling so optimistic about this year - we'd sold our millstone-round-our-necks house in the burbs and were heading back to the inner city and the joy of renting, having got the 'must own a house in order to live a happy and fulfilling life' monkey off our backs. Fred had fallen head over heels in love with her sister (happened when Una was 3 months, around Christmas time) and we'd gotten into the rhythm of two kids, I was no longer pregnant and starting to feel normalish again. Martin had given notice and was waiting for first round offers. Fred had been offered a place at creche. Breathe was out in the world. Life was looking rosy.

And it has been an excellent year. It's been good for writing, for study for both of us (HDs all round, only mine are called H1s now that I'm post-grad, which doesn't have the same ring to it), and for creche for Fred. Una learned where her brain is. Fred learned to sleep through the night; so did Una for that matter. We've reclaimed our evenings and from about 7 onwards the night belongs to us. Una and Fred grow daily and are both interesting and spirited little girls, different from each other but increasingly comaptible, not only learning how to play together but learning how to adapt their games to accommodate their different abilities. Both our families are in good health and as Fred gets older her relationships with her grandparents and other people outside the home are blooming.

Next year promises to be interesting too and I'm looking forward to it. I'm writing a thesis for my Masters - the first thesis I've written as it happens. Drift comes out in April. Another novel is due to be finished soon and I'm really looking forward to writing it, to exploring the intimate interior of another imaginative world. I'm switching over to Allen & Unwin for this novel and as much as I've love being with Random House and value the relationships I've forged over there, I am excited about being with A&U where I know everyone (in the Melbourne office), having more contact. No more conference calls! And it's not really goodbye to Random House, because of course they'll still have the Undine books so we'll still be in contact. I also wrote a short reader (a kind of middle years chapter book) which was heaps of fun and quick; it would be great to do some more of that stuff because then I won't have to ever get a grown up job and I might actually have some super when I retire (not that I can imagine ever wanting to retire from writing). I really want to play around with my writing this year and try some new things. I think finishing the Undine trilogy will be very freeing for that.

I'd love to travel a bit more. There's whisperings of a trip to India for a conference (with a friend and without Martin and the kids, which is a huge deal for me). Plans to go somewhere lovely for a week or two in winter (Palm Cove in July this year was such a boost mentally, physically and emotionally).

Martin will be doing his second year of his B Ed. Maths this year. Eep. But the geeky part of me is looking forward to him bringing maths home. Una is starting creche in January when we get back from Tassie and I'm excited and nervous for her. I think she will love it, but I think it will take her a while to settle in. Frederique is going back into the Octopus's Garden room (we made the decision not to send her to four year old kinder next year because we wanted to score her an extra year of childhood and wildness) hopefully with her beloved Sarah Jane (unless Sarah Jane changes rooms). We also plan to enrol her in a class this year to make up for the fact that she couldn't get a place in 3yo kinder because there's not enough places in our council. So we're thinking a singing or dancing class.

My New Year's Resolution is to ride my bike to uni. Also to write more, read more, dance more and s-t-r-e-t-c-h more (stretching is highly under-rated).

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Harry Potter and the Deathly (S)Hallows

For what it's worth, I'm betting Harry won't die. Instead Snape will sacrifice himself at the 11th hour in order to save Harry's life. And not only that I would put money on the fact that J.K. Rowling had initially envisaged that this final sacrifice would have been Draco's but she never managed to steer Draco towards maturity and adulthood in the same way that she managed with Harry; Draco has never been a fully formed character; he's never been a true threat. I think for dramatic value and in order to live up to the Harry-Will-Die hype, she'll probably have to kill off Hermione or Ron, but I hope she doesn't do this - I don't think it would be true to the story. Nor would killing Harry in my opinion. I think she's tempted to kill Harry off more because she doesn't want the franchise to continue - she's got control issues - than because the story demands it. I sympathise, but as a reader I think Harry's death would actually be an anticlimax. For him to have survived as a baby only to die as an adolescent, for us to have read seven books (some of them overlong and overdone) to follow Harry's fortunes only to have his future negated (especially considering that Voldemort has risen from the dead already, so what's to stop him from doing it again even if Harry sacrifices himself in order to defeat him a second time?), well what would be the point of that? An ending like that would ricochet back through all the books and, well, flatten the mood, trivialise and render temporary every gain, every small win at the climax of each book.
Nah, Harry won't die. And if he does, it won't be for the sake of the story, it would be for the sake of the franchise. And that would be criminal.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Birthday Me

This is the first photograph of me and Frederique. We bought the digital camera for Fred's impending birth so there are no pre-mother photos of me on the computer and we can't work out the scanner.

This is one of my favourite photos of me and Fred. Even though you can't see my face, it's very distinctively me (my tattoo and my wedding ring give me away).

This is a photo of me pregnant with Una (scarily enough, considering the size of my belly I was only 12 weeks - though she did end up being over 10lbs so maybe that was an early clue). I love being pregnant. I think I'll have to do it again sometime.

This is one of the the first - and one of the few - photos of me and Una, taken the day we came home a few days after her birth by Dusty Jo. I love this photo because it's also one of the first quiet moments I had with Una at home. It's actually astoundingly serene because Fred was screaming in the other room at the time.

Oh okay, I lied, I do have one premotherhood photo of me. It's a photo of a photo so not especially brilliant in quality but you get the general idea. Yes that is the laundromat on Brunswick St (daggy end) behind me. No I'm not doing laundry.

Happy birthday ME! We've got babysitters lined up this afternoon and we're off to see a movie - probably The Queen. Hooray.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Memorable moments this Christmas

* Rain on Christmas morning. Real, ground soaking, green making, consequential rain.
* Mt Buller's white Christmas, amid bushfires. Enough to make you believe in Christmas.
* James Taylor singing Our Town on the Cars soundtrack (surprisingly, one of Pixar's best my opinion anyway, for some reason my expectations had been low. But it's just the right kind of nostalgic, even poignant, and lots of laugh out loud funny moments. I love a road movie/small town narrative and this one really struck a chord with me).
* The look on Frederique's face after she opened her first present and said, with real joy, 'Is it for me?' (This did diminish and towards the end she had a glazed consumerist acquisitive expression, but you know...there was that moment...)
* The sight of Una unwrapping her presents, very studiously discarding each present and having a ball with the paper (ah, it's such a baby cliche but it's a cute cliche).
* Una holding her new tiny baby doll and stroking its forehead and saying 'shh'.
* Making the decision not to photograph the present opening but enjoy the moment for what it was.
* Fred running riot with her cousin, Nina.
* Opening my presents from Martin - beautiful things from Luft, my favourite shop.
* Crispy duck skin in the salad. Homemade raspberry icecream. Simple good food.
* Driving home on Christmas night in the rain across the Westgate Bridge and through the city. We don't drive at night much these days (the girls are in bed well before dark) and it's quite a magical thing to do.

It's Martin's birthday today. Happy Birthday my One. Thanks for being.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Cooking

We will be spending the day at home on Monday, before joining Martin's extended family on Christmas night for celebrations. We were considering an outing (the zoo is open on Christmas day) but decided against it since we're celebrating Christmas eve with Martin's immediate family and we thought we'd get more mileage out of the girls if we had a quiet day at home.
So I am cooking and I think this is actually the first time I've really cooked any kind of meal for Christmas day (I've contributed a plate but not done the whole shebang). I've decided on cold roast duck salad so I can do all the preparation ahead. For dessert, homemade raspberry icecream. I am also going to make a chocolate desert-y thing to take on Monday night - the main ingredients are dark chocolate and cream - how can you go wrong? Because what chocolate needs is cream, I've always said so. It also has pistacios in it. Classy. From the Donna Hay magazine, and I always have to say Donna Hay with a Kath and Kim twang.
The duck salad will be some kind of invention, but it will include a dressing with pomegranate molasses - a recent purchase because bill grainger's (he doesn't like capital B) tabbouleh was frankly boring without it and, it turns out, is inspiring with it. It has become my ingredient of choice for all salads, tart and sweet - it's great for kids. I was thinking a fruit too, to undercut the gaminess and fattiness of the duck - figs perhaps, or oranges.
When I am going to do this cooking I am not quite sure - I like to cook meals and I have a good instinct for food but I've never been big on cooking fancy. My energy levels are low - I don't know if it's the time of year or if I'm coming down with something (we went to a play centre the other day - for those of you without children a play centre is an indoor park type thing with lattes that you take your children to if you want them to get sick - and I said to Martin 'where's Una?' and he said 'over there, playing with the child with the spots' - eek). Anyway, as much as I love food and presents I am looking forward to Christmas being over and done with. I wish I didn't feel this way, I wish Christmas retained more magic than that, but there you go.
And then Boxing day is Martin's 35th birthday and the next day is my 32nd birthday. Talk about the season that is silly.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

poem - John Stammers

The Day Flies Off Without Me

The planes bound for all points everywhere
etch lines on my office window. From the top floor
London recedes in all directions, and beyond:
the world with its teeming hearts.

I am still, you move, I am a point of reference on a map;
I am at zero meridian as you consume the longitudes.
The pact we made to read our farewells exactly
at two in the afternoon with you in the air
holds me like a heavy winter coat.

Your unopened letter is in my pocket, beating.

-- John Stammers

Another one from the minstrels. This is a very poignant poem. I like poems like this that offer you a single moment of a much larger implied narrative and this particular poem resonates with love and loss. I also am very interested in the symbolic value of a plane (especially as someone who grew up on an island) - traversing the air: a separating, yet mediating space - in airspace there are no islands, everything is joined but everything is also apart. I'm not familiar with John Stammers but I think he is just my kind of poet and I will have to get to know him better. If you click the link above, there are some more of his poems online that you can read.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wilson's Prom

A confession: we only lasted two nights. We've been back since Saturday. It was great and hard and tiring and not at all relaxing but it did have moments of being fun. The biggest difficulty with camping was actually the fact that Fred found it difficult to always be with us. She's used to having quite a bit of safe space on her own and if necessary she used the television to 'switch off' from family life for a little while (she no longer sleeps during the day as a matter of course though occasionally she will drop off in the car). We really found with camping there wasn't the opportunity for her to do this. We all slept badly on the first night (Fred woke at 11 and spent nearly two hours whispering 'goodnight mummy' and 'i love you mummy' in my ear - she was scared of the shadows) and as a result Frederique was restless and moody - well we all were a bit. It wasn't a problem we antipicated because Fred is quite social and considering she invades my personal space all the time it's easy to forget she can be protective of her own.
One thing we did have that was tremendously successful for Fred was a little book called More Please: the hungry animal book. I picked it up recently for about $3 at our local newsagent and Fred loved it. It's a thick cardboard book that comes in a box with a collection of tiny cardboard food (little bones for the dog, sugar cubes for the horse, carrots for the rabbit etc) that you poke in the animal's mouths. Fred spent literally hours with this book, she came back to it over and over.
Another saviour was Bedda - Fred's imaginary friend (at first we thought Bedda was a girl called Bella but this was simple thick-headedness on our part - Fred has maintained a consistent picture of Bedda, including his black eyes and spiky hair, his little brother, though his age varies between 1 and 4 - we acquired Bedda in Palm Cove in July and he has visited us almost daily since.) Fred and Bedda and all their babies played in the car for nearly an hour while Martin packed up the tent and I took Una for a walk. Often when we go somewhere we can see Frederique earnestly explaing to Bedda where we are and what we're doing there.
We have lots of ideas for the next camping trip, including sketchbooks for all of us, music for Fred (on Martin's pda initially but we're thinking about buying her an mp3 player for her birthday in April), and a big dose of zen for Martin and I - we plan to follow Fred more, let her set the pace and eat what she wants when she wants (within reason - lots of tinned fruit and cheese and ham and yoghurt) rather than sticking to mealtimes - apart from breakfast, she didn't seem at all interested in meals while we were away.
One of the things about any kind of travel with childrent is that it's easy to get a picture in your head of what kind of experience you want them to have. You think you know what they'll love most, what they'll get out of the experience. But of course their experience is theirs, uniquely. We wanted to take Fred to the beach and fly the kite, she wanted to sit in the damp sandy mud of the river bank and dig holes. Letting this picture go of the experience you want them to have (Fred loved the kite, but she would have been just as happy without it and by then we'd hurried her along the river to the beach and she was on the verge of sulkiness) is part of the journey as a parent - it's surprisingly not as easy as you'd think to let them just do what they want to do. We didn't really relax until we stopped thinking about what we wanted camping to be like and just tried to inhabit the moment - but by then we had already made the decision to drive home on Saturday and it was hard to unmake this decision. Besides, Fred was ready to go. Una would have happily stayed forever. She, bless her, doesn't care where we are as long as we're all together.
I am sure Frederique will grow to love camping - she enjoyed playing in the next door's tent with a seven year old boy called Justin and being visited by cheeky parrots. She loved the early morning walks and the fact that as soon as she was up the day began instead of waiting for Martin and I to do all our boring morning stuff. Once she got over her fear of the shadows, she loved the cubby too, and she especially loved sleeping again between Martin and I (we co-slept with Fred until she was 2). As she gets older and can climb a tree and read a book (simultaneously) the hardest part about camping, the relentlessness of family life, will be over for Fred.
Tidal river was a great place for us - somehow I've never been to the Prom before. There was a gentle river for Fred to stomp in, a wild beach (complete with night time background ambient sound), lots of great campsites and a well-stocked, not too expensive shop. A fire went through Wilson's Prom on 1 April 2005 and it was quite eerie considering the fires this summer to see all the burnt trees. But also it was a lesson in resilience and the redemption as underneath the ghostly trees the rejuvenating undergrowth was lush and green.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Going bush

We're off camping for some relaxation (insert weak laughter here) to the Prom until Tuesday.
No it'll be fun.
It will.
And not at all stressful with a 15 month old who's into scoping other families at the park for a potential upgrade and a 3.5 year old who is the reason the 15 month old is looking into adoption.
No, really. Relaxing. I can feel the tension melting away right now.
That is all.
Bye me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Review (or gratuitous self-promotion post)

A very nice review of Breathe.

Warning, it has MAJOR SPOILERS in it if you haven't read Undine which, you know you could buy at Amazon if you want the exciting hardback or at Dymocks if you want the beautiful Australian paperback. And guess what? It makes a GREAT Christmas present. But you better buy Breathe too (sorry US edition is not out till February...but I am sure that Dymocks ships world wide).

Here are some non-spoiling excerpts from nice review:
This is a genuinely lovely novel. The writing style is elegant and evocative; it has a sort of dreamy remoteness that casts a patina of other-worldliness over the novel. At the same time, it is strongly rooted in reality; if the magical elements had been abstracted from this novel, it would still have been a powerful and effective story of a young girl struggling with the challenges of adolescence.


Postcards and Poetry

The Dove
I saw the dove come down, the dove with the
green twig, the childish dove out of the storm and
flood. It came towards me in the style of the Holy Spirit
descending. I had been sitting in a cafe for twenty-five
years waiting for this vision. It hovered over the great
quarrel. I surrendered to the iron laws of the moral universe which
make a boredom out of everything desired. Do not surrender,
said the dove. I have come to make a nest in your shoe. I
want your step to be light.

-- Leonard Cohen
From "Death of a Lady's Man" (1978)

Another poem from the wondering minstrels. I like this because it kind of reminds me of being a parent - those days where all these miracles happen in front of you and you're blissfully happy but there's a part of you that's a little bit can give in to the boredom or you can choose bliss.

More poems (kind of). Martin brought these postcard secrets to my attention. Some of them are funny, some beautiful and some almost made me cry. There's an article about it in the Age here. The site's heartbreaking, and don't go in there if you can't cope with feeling a wide range of human emotions in one minute. But I think it's a beautiful thing, anonymity can open the heart and sharing secrets can show how profound and sometimes how profoundly unprofound the most closed centre of the human heart is.

Frank Warren's description of his role as caretaker (from the Age article) is similar to how I feel reading through the unsolicited manuscripts which represent an enormous investment on the part of the writer, often very raw and personal.
Warren says his role is to be "the caretaker ... it's my responsibility to choose secrets others want to see." So the ones he posts on the website "are secrets that surprise me, that I haven't seen before, speaking in a voice I recognise. I select secrets that show the full breadth of our humanity ... secrets that are humorous, sexual, joyful, remorseful."

So why do I call them a poem? Here's another extract from the Age article. To me it describes exactly what a good poem should do:
But the space constraints of the postcard, he now realises, are integral to the concept's success. It forces "revealers" to be brief, witty and clear in their message. Yet it also means that those of us reading the book or viewing the website have to bring our own experiences into play so we can imagine what the other person is going through.

"These are conversations which reveal our humanity in a new way," Warren insists. "They allow us to discover truth and beauty and poetry in places we don't normally look for it."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Smoke Haze

Rye Beach

The Nylex Clock in Richmond.

Reader's picures from The Age

We are sequestered indoors today because of soaring temperatures (39ºC/102ºF) and smoke haze. We escaped the house early yesterday before the temperatures rose and went down to the Yarra for a play and a drink at the beautiful Fairfield Boathouse. The smoke hung over the Yarra like a mist, reminding us that in less citybound bush, people were fighting for their homes or waiting anxiously to see if the fire would spread their way. It makes me realise how lucky we are to live where we do. We dream of living in the bush but it's a naive dream. I honestly don't know if I could cope with the threat of fire, if I could stay and fight.

Even here, shut up inside our relatively cool Victorian terrace, far away from the fire's path we can smell smoke. We haven't seen blue sky for two days. The bush, usually a romantic, distant, quiet, empty presence surrounding the hub of the city, is suddenly intensely populated and we fear for the people who live there. The bush isn't over there, it's here, it's coming by air, converted by flame into smoke. Smoke signals fill the sky, but here in the city we barely understand the message. We know enough though to know it isn't good news.

A Southerly change is forecast for today, bringing with it the promise of a cool change and a clear sky in Melbourne. But the change in wind direction might not spell such good fortune in the bush. They say the fires might burn all summer. That's a lot of homes, a lot of human hours, a lot of fear, a lot of trees and animals (native and otherwise), a lot of loss, a lot of long nights in unfamiliar bush.

I am eager for the cool change and for the smoke to clear. But I can't help feeling that while Melbourne gets its reprieve things are still going to be challenging in the rest of the state for a long hot dry summer.

Eep: Edited to say that it actually got up to 42.1ºC today. But the cool change is here, and it came in time for dinner which was decent of it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Christmas Craft

Here is a list of all the Christmas crafts we have engaged in with Frederique so far this year:

Yes well.
Sometimes I read Kiddley and I am struck by a strange blend of admiration, jealousy and exhaustion at the endless descriptions of craft type things people do with their children. Claire of Loobylu fame (the first blog I ever read) is the main author and is always whipping up something impressive with her seemingly inexhaustable supply of time, energy and enthusiasm. I also suspect she has a not unreasonable supply of money (why does it seem insulting to say that?) because many of Kiddley's activities assume that you have on hand expensive resources. There seems to be a big online craft community of nice middle class people who have a fair bit of expendable income and more power to them but I reserve the right to experience occasional moments of bitterness. Plus who are these three year olds that sit around making just-so things? Fred is far too chaotic to make her own snowglobe or a pinecone hedgehog. Nothing ruins her fun more than instructions. I choose to stubbornly believe this is one of her best qualities. Plus with some of these things I suspect more than a little adult involvement. When I worked at the creche we were told vehemently that process was more important than product and gave the kids materials to do with what they wished rather than set up goal oriented activities, and for the most part I've followed this approach as a parent. At three I think she's too young to do anything more than explore different materials textures, characteristics and results.
And that's what I'll keep telling myself as I scroll through Kiddley and see that i should have made my own advent calendar, christmas cards and cute yet seasonally inappropriate mantel village.

Having said all that, I did make the girls some lion noses the other day. Frederique and Una have developed a game called Daddy Lion and Baby Lion that involve them making mountains out of pillows and doonas and then clambering around. The beauty of this game is that Una doesn't need to know she's a baby lion and Frederique gets to play with Una and Martin and I have nothing to do with it. Una has even learned to growl. Una loves dressing up so I made each girl an egg carton nose. Fred wore hers for less than five minutes. Una LOVED hers and was most upset half an hour later that I took it off her to put her to bed.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Writing as your J.O.B.

When you want to be a writer full time, which is a difficult thing to be considering it might take a couple of years to write one novel and Australia is a small market, you have to find other ways to fund your career. I am also a part time freelance editor, reading and reporting on manuscripts. It's quite complementary, because it gives me the opportunity to think about and articulate ideas about story and structure and character development. But it's sometimes quite time consuming and it can be hard to switch between reading and thinking about someone else's work and reading, writing and thinking about your own. And it's a bit like doing an undergraduate degree, it can get repetitive and you start feeling like you're trotting out the same old hackneyed phrases or that you've been reading the same novel over and over again. It also uses up some of my precious reading time that I would like to spend reading for the love of it.

The other thing many writers do are public appearances, usually through schools, conducting workshops or giving talks. This isn't an avenue I've pursued because it requires a certain degree of flexibility, and in terms of childcare it's been tricky in the past for me. Also I don't personally know any schools. There are speaker's agencies in Melbourne which I will probably contact in the New Year because I quite like the idea of it, mostly in terms of hanging out with some interesting teenagers and nicking their ideas. I'm all for teenagers. They've got this kind of in extremis thing happening - no one's beaten their spirit out of them yet. They are connected to childhood and adulthood and teach you lots of great stuff about both. For me doing the Masters is also an avenue to teaching, I would quite like to teach people serious about writing, because I like being an Expert and yap yap yapping. But I'm a bit scared of tertiary level teaching because what if they all know more than me? Eek. Plus I think there is a fine line that you can cross where you stop being a writer and become a teacher (or worse, an academic). And there are definitely writers who are better at doing schools and the festival circuit than they are at writing books, probably at least in part because they don't have time to write books, they're too busy yap yap yapping.

Another thing writers do in order to keep being writers is contribute to series fiction, ghost-write, write articles, write copy for weetbix boxes etc. I've recently had two series of books brought to my attention and I am trying to work up ideas for both. But ideas are hard when you're trying to think of one, and I must admit I am afraid to use up the really good, award winning type ideas (because all writers have plenty of those) that I already have filed away on series fiction (which is completely valid and great and marvellous but it's not about standing out, it's about fitting in, which is totally cool but it makes me want to hoard away my stand-out ideas for another time, which is entirely appropriate of me). And getting the idea is one thing, finding a voice - sustainable, entertaining, distinctive - is even tougher. Still, I feel quite energised by the idea of writing something purely to be enjoyed. I loved chick lit as a kid, I used to read three Sweet Valley Highs a night and then swap with Zoe the next day (we borrowed them from Lisa Donahoe who lived across the road from school and was our brief foray into popularity in grade six). So I want to write something like that, a bit more believable and less sensational and Valley Girl, but fun and playful and words to dream to...romance, drama...young love.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


It's a writing companion for kids who want to (or have to) write a story. This is Martin's other child. It went live today, though he's still doing the odd last minute tweak.

Martin lives for feedback, so comment here or drop him an email

Christmas Meme

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot chocolate though of course in summer it's not really a Christmas staple. I don't think I've ever had egg nog. I like the idea of it but does it actually have egg in it? I'm not really into drinking raw egg. Just read a recipe. Yeah, nuh.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree? Good lord. There are Santas out there that don't wrap? Where's the fun in that? Everything is wrapped.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Anything as long as they're twinkly. Usually low key both inside and out and we often haven't had a tree as such, but there will always be at least one string of lights somewhere, around a bookshelf or matlepiece inside or somewhere outside (we move a lot so we don't really get to develop Christmas traditions when it comes to decorating)

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nup.

5. When do you put your decorations up? Um...whenever. Sometime after 1 December and sometime before Christmas day.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Well cold veggie lasagne is a bit of a family tradition. Fresh berries. I love cold chicken at Christmas too.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: Well it's a big lump of memories but just hanging with my cousins - Claire, Steph, Ella and Charles. We'd eat and drink all day and then lie around groaning. I remember one year my uncle Nic made a toasted cheese sandwich for someone in the evening and then ended up making rounds and rounds of them. When i was younger we'd go to my nana and grandad's in the evening.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I honestly don't remember ever really believing in him. Or thinking he was real. But I also remember believing that Santa as a construct existed for so many people that he was real in a way and what's real anyway? How very post-structurally philosophical of me.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Yeah, we sometimes celebrate with Martin's family on Christmas Eve. I quite like the idea of present opening being an evening sounds very magical.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Well, like I said we often don't have one. As a kid it was pell-mell. Not arty at all, just hang all the jumble of ornaments acquired at different times from different places and then string the lights around. We'll do the same this year when we put up our tree.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Well, it would be a very peculiar happenstance in Melbourne (at any time of year), though in the realm of possibility in Hobart at Christmas time, on Mt Wellington anyway. But I love the idea of it. At least once in my life I'd like to experience a white Christmas. It used to snow in winter where I was growing up and it was very special and amazing, like an unexpected holiday.

12. Can you ice skate? Yes, badly. In fact so badly and so long ago, i think I might have to change my answer to no.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Potbelly, a large toy mouse, was a favourite for a long time. I loved then and love now getting books (oh yes I know, what a predictable answer). One year, when I was about 15 my parents bought me the boxed set of the Narnia books and I read them that summer on holidays at Cradle Mountain and many times since, though the later ones get a bit strange for my taste, poor old Susan doomed to a lonely life severed from her family because she wears make up).

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Christmas was always about seeing my cousins and aunt and uncle and that was important, even though they lived close by it was good to know there was a day I would see them and really catch up. Now they're scattered all over the world and I don't always get down to Tassie for christmas, and I have to admit most of the Christmases I spend in Melbourne don't feel right - I miss them (boohoo). But now it's all about my kids, making a magical day for them.
The story of Christmas isn't part of my belief system, I'm not Christian. But I do believe that babies are magical and amazing and change the world, every new baby offeres the promise of peace and redemption for the human race. A star shines over every baby when they're born. So I enjoy telling Frederique the Christmas story for that reason. She's pretty into Baby Jesus and angels too. Last year we were staying in a little apartment in Hobart for Christmas and she gathered together stones from the driveway every day and lined them up - they were her angels.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? A big bowl of fresh berries or fresh cherries. I made Nigella Lawson's Raspberry and Lemongrass trifle one year and I wish I could be bothered every year because it was truly amazing.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Cracking out our Frank Sinatra Christmas CD in December and listening to it daily. I love carols, i love communal singing. I love carols by candlelight too - we've got one at the park near us and I can't wait to take the girls - will be their first time.

17. What tops your tree? As a kid we had a big star and an angel, I loved the angel best even though she was little and wispy and unimpressive for tree-toppage. I love the aesthetics of angels, they're a lot more impressive than fairies and there's a kind of melancholy associated with them (I guess cos they're dead people) that makes them seem interesting and mysterious.

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? We giveth so that we mighteth receiveth. Both. But I love shopping for kids.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? 'I'll be home for Christmas' and 'The Christmas Waltz' both on said Frank Sinatra CD. Christmas carol would have to be Silent Night. There's nothing more stirring than a large group of people singing it. But I love them all. And I don't mind singing about god at Christmas. Christmas is when the idea of god and jesus seems very nice and I kind of miss having a spiritual belief system in my life.
OH SCRATCH ALL THAT! I had to come back and say it's Kermit's A Christmas Wish on A Christmas Together with John Denver and the Muppets. "I don’t know if you believe in Christmas./ Or if you have presents underneath the Christmas Tree./ But if you believe in love/ that will be more than enough/ for you to come and celebrate with me.”

20. Candy Canes? I like the aesthetic of them. I like the idea of them. The fact of them I tire of quickly. I'd love to try making my own. But I am a confectionery spaz, as I have already admitted on this site.

Pinched from Diana Peterfreund

Monday, December 04, 2006

Australian Summery Picture Book Recommendation

At the Beach
Roland Harvey
Paperback $14.95

It seems like only a heart's blink ago that I was writing about the first day of spring and now look. It's summer and it has been for days and I quite forgot to think of it because it feels like it's been summer for months.

I love Australia's summery Christmas (though I've never experienced a wintry one). I love that we give board shorts and beach towels for presents and that we eat outside and have prawns and chilled sparkling wines (preferably red for me). I love the long lead up, with barbecues and picnics, even though it's kid of exhausting. As a kid it marked the beginning of a long summer holiday, and that was part of its broke up a few days before Christmas and then was out till late February in Tasmania. I associate that hot dusty gum tree smell with Christmas.

I also think of a loved kid's book, Roland Harvey's Book of Christmas which I used to pore over every year, with it's songs, recipes and best of all, descriptions of how kids all over the world celebrated Christmas. Experiencing a northern hemisphere Christmas somewhere where they take Christmas very seriously is on my list of things to do, perhaps in a few years when the girls are old enough to appreciate the differences. Every year Roland Harvey used to put out a calendar with stickers and funny comments and his unique style of illustration. We'd buy it through school from the Ashton Scholastic book clubs and it would come towards the end of the school year, I remember afternoons studying it when it arrived and it was that sort of late term vibe, with the summer drifting in through the open classroom windows and even the teacher wants to skive off and blow dandelions.

Now Fred loves one of his books too, At the Beach: Postcards from Crabby Spit. Crabby Spit comes to life in this Australian story about a family caravanning holiday.

The endpages show a detailed map of Crabby Spit in blue ink and this image alone is one to spend hours over. Fred is particularly fond of maps so this is an effective entry into the story for her. On the title page we meet the family as they say their goodbyes to Grandma. 'Don't forget to write,' she says and write they do, the story is told as a series of lively and distinctive postcards to Grandma. The story takes place in a beachside caravan park and its surrounds, very Australian in feel. It's a lovely narrative about family and this particular type of chaotic holiday, culminating in a frenzied party on the beach attended by young and old, complete with campfire.
'It was so cool with the sea sloshing and the music jumping. I made up a dance and my head stayed still and my body danced around. My dad was being funny and he's done his back. Love from Henry Dear Grandma I stayed up late and there was a very big fire. I found a crab. And there were dolphins swimming in the sea. love. Frankie'
These are kids to love: busy, exploratory, active, playful, funny, serious, creative and interested in the world around them. There's cricket on the beach and bmx riding, canoeing, a big treasure filled market, snorkelling, sailing, surfing...and sunken treasure, pirates, caves, wierd lights and ufos, leafy seadragons, mosquitos, fish and chips for tea and scrabble in the annexe.

Martin and I both find his illustrations utterly compelling. My favourite in this book is the underwater scene, where the surface view is crowded up into the top of the page and the rest is the vast depths of the sea, complete with sharks, which thrill Frederique. There's a strong sense of a fragile yet resilient seascape and a sense of a respectful relationship between the natural environment and the joyful human world, noted if nothing else in the clean environs of the beach. There's a finding game to play with the book too, the artist at the beginning of the book loses all his belongings in the story and at the end you're invited to go back and find them (look for the cheeky dog). The game makes this book the perfect travel companion, since there's different ways to 'read' it. It also means you really immerse yourself in the world of the illustrations and seriously it's the kind of book where you feel that if you lean in close enough you might just fall's such a fully realised and evocative world. I want to go to Crabby Spit for MY next holiday!
At the Beach is published by Allen & Unwin and is being released in paperback for Christmas. There's also a companion scheduled for publication in March 2007
called In the Bush NOTE: I misread the Pub details for In the Bush, it is out now in hardback, where the same family go camping in Wombat Flat.

I'd recommend At the Beach for ages 3-8...I know this is a very broad range but I think it works for different ages because you can read it in so many different ways and the older you are the deeper you can dig in to it. Frederique began really enjoying it at 3 though she's only just getting into the postcard format now, though we did sit and flick through the pages and explore Crabby Spit when she was 2.

Other Australian Beach Holiday Picture Books We Love:
Grandpa and Thomas by Pamela Allen (In our experience Pamela Allen can be hit and miss - I don't enjoy her Mr Magee books at all and I often thinks she wins CBC Awards over other deserving books - but this comes close to being a perfect picture book in terms of rhythm and structure.)
Greetings from Sandy Beach by Bob Graham (Much much loved, Bob Graham is my hero.)
Magic Beach by Alison Lester (beautiful, see below for Fred's opinion of Alison Lester.)
Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker (Her collages are sensational and Fred doesn't mind the worthiness of her themes, though sometimes I wish she'd let her pictures speak for themselves which is why I love the textless Window and Belonging so much. I would also buy her books for artistic teenagers.)
Are We There Yet Alison Lester (we haven't read this yet but it's on the list and Fred so far loves every Alison Lester book she's met. And me too.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Love a Quiz - What kind of reader?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Thanks Lili for the diversion.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Every now and then I get a poem dropped into my inbox by The Wondering Minstrels. It's a lovely distraction and it reminds me to read poetry. Anyway, I thought this one was particularly good and pertinent to this household since Martin and I are both studying, and Martin wants to be a teacher when he grows up (which apparently doesn't happen till he's about 37).

Did I Miss Anything

Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here

-- Tom Wayman

I lost all the formatting when I pasted this in and Blogger (bad bad blogger) won't ler me put it back in - oh my god, how antipoetry. My apologies to Tom Wayman who I am sure is an avid reader of Eglantines Cake. The title is a link to how the poem appears on Tom's website. There are some more of his poems there if you are feeling poem-y. I have to go and wrap Christmas presents - Fred is having a close encounter with Claus tomorrow.