Worship in thanks

Determined to find the glorious in my mundane, belonging to this gratitude community is a way of turning dull old overwhelming Monday into the fold of simple thanks. The author of the associated blog has prodded me into more honest reflection of the divine than she will ever know. Wings to a new place.

1. Every beginning starts with the breath that gave form to life. This book and my salvation is then what has to take the cliche but obvious priority.

2. Strength, embrace and belonging.

3. These little people whose journeys of maturing stretch my character and make me who I myself am growing to be.

4. My first cup ushers morning in.

5. My obsession: the light. Every way it slants in, early bright stripes, mellow evening glow, it warms and inspires me. Seeing the way light is sitting on something has the ability to completely distract me from task at hand and make me pause in lengthy astonishment.

6. The artist in me is greedy for the way colour feeds me. Ridiculous delight. A miracle of light speaking in different languages. I am besotted with the banter.

It's an annoyingly predictable list, but the order sets the base for me to stand and view the joy of more gratitude. The creative streak in me is pulling faces at the adminstrative hand. It is the same battle that starts each time I begin to paint. Priming the canvas for the brush stroke brings chaos to my progress as discipline has to battle against impulsive whimsy. Only then can it last the distance.

But one more just to poke a tiny stick at the sensible.

7. This one needs no explanation... although it is more about the dear friends around the table that morning than the calories.


The Riches of Reading

There are few words that thrill me more than the ones I saw on the crude roadside sign.


I am a reluctant shopper at the best of times but let me loose on a second hand book fair and delirious, feverish joy takes hold. A pittance is spent in the form of loose change rattling around the coin jar, or a folded note found in a winter pocket, but you could be forgiven for assuming I had purchased a kingdom; for the swagger of richness under the weight of my tatty pile of treasures is always pronounced.
Rummaging through trestle tables of pages and discovering the books of my childhood is in particular the sweetest surprise, as nothing but memories have journeyed from my past into my present. These tangible links take me to times and places that I had forgotten and as I read the words to my own children, a loop is made. I cannot show them where they have come from, but I can envelope them in the very same words that embraced me half a lifetime ago on another continent and we can share that common bond. Africa it may not be, but heritage? Certainly. Below are the most valued of my new (old) library additions.

This is a 1931 vintage nursery rhyme book illustrated by the acclaimed artist Lawson Wood bought for 50 cents. When I got it home it was in reasonable condition, a little faded and edges of the hardboard pages softened with use, but still quite lovely. However, add a nearly two year old to the mix and quite soon for some reason the back page had been ripped off and I was left speechless. Why didn't she rip a worthless modern book? Why the vintage treasure? Anyhow, I am now planning to frame some of the nicer colour plates for Mishal's room.

Blackberry Farm books are crafted from simple, humble words. Poor Mr Nibble is about a bunny with bascially a case of man-flu, and the last page is written in a style of honour we do not see much of in the children's books of today.

But my favourite score of the fair was this 1950's flashback.

Little Pete contains most endearing stories of extraordinary small boy-ness; a gracious and gritty style that went again the times it was written by encouraging creativity and individuality. It was even banned from the radio readings of its time, as it encouraged untolerable rebellion such as 'coming down the stairs backwards'. Of course the artist-rebel in me thinks wickedness like this should be celebrated. I can remember my mother reading this to my brother and I when we were about seven and five. My brother was very like Little Pete and a few years ago I stumbled across this book at a different book fair and bought it for him to keep and read to his children. It is lovely now to have my own copy. If you have a son, and think it important for little boys to grow up using their imaginations in the fresh air, then hunt this book down. Below is one of my very best stories in the collection.

Pete and the Road Roller

One day Pete was coming down the stairs backwards. He liked it better coming down that way. It was rather slow as there were a great many stairs, but Pete didn't mind. He held carefully to the rail and took his time. He was nearly at the bottom when he heard a loud noise in the street. Glunk. Glunk. Glunk. Glunk.
'A road roller!' shouted Pete. And he turned quickly frontwards and rushed down the rest of the stairs as fast as he could.
Down the street he dashed, just ahead of a new green road-roller. And his shadow dashed beside him.
His shadow knew nothing about staying on the pavement. It stretched out in the road, very long and black.
Pete stopped, so that the road-roller would run over his shadow. What will happen to it then? he thought. That will teach it to stand on the road, the silly.
Glunk, glunk, went the road-roller. Glunk.
But it didn't go over the shadow because the shadow stood up and leaned on the road-roller till it had passed by, then it fell down quietly on the road again. 'Bother,' said Pete, 'I'll try again.'
So Pete ran down the street and got in front again, so the road-roller could run over his shadow this time. But the same thing happened. And Pete was rather disappointed.
Then Pete took an empty matchbox out of his pocket and threw it in front of the road-roller. Now what will happen, he thought. He put his hands to his ears and screwed up his face tight. He was sure there was going to be a tremendous crash.
But there wasn't any sound at all, except glunk, glunk, glunk. And when Pete opened his eyes again, there was his matchbox flattened out quietly, and the road-roller glunking down the road as if nothing had happened at all.
Pete ran after it again, and this time he took out of his pocket a soft, warm piece of Plasticine, and rolled it very quickly into a ball. He threw it under the road-roller and closed his eyes tight. 'I will count ten,' he said. 'One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine - TEN!'
When he opened his eyes again there was nothing on the road. Nothing at all. And the road-roller was glunking away with a bit of Plasticine stuck to it, rolling round and round and round.
Pete was very angry at this. 'Give me back my Plasticine!' he shouted. 'Give it me back, it's mine!'
He ran after the road-roller as fast as he could, shouting at the driver and making horrible faces. 'What cheek!' he shouted. 'Look what you've done!' he shouted. 'You should look where you are going, shouldn't you?'
The driver couldn't hear a word Pete was saying. He tried not to take any notice for a bit because he had a lot of work to do. But when he saw what fierce faces Pete was making, he thought it might be important. So he put on the brake and stopped.
'Hello,' he said, 'what's up?'
'Hello,' said Pete, feeling very out of breath.
'Look what you've done!'
The driver leaned out, so that he could see right down the road behind the road-roller. There was nothing there. Everything was just the same as usual. 'What have I done?' he asked, scratching his head.
'You've taken my Plasticine away on your roller,' said Pete. 'It was jolly good Plasticine. It was my best piece. I was going to make an elephant with it.'
'Was there a lot of it?' asked the driver.
'Of course there was,' said Pete. 'It was an enormous piece. Bigger than that house. Bigger than me even.'
'As big as my road-roller?'
'Bigger,' said Pete sternly.
'Well,' said the driver, 'Where is it then?'
'It's underneath of course,' said Pete. 'Underneath the roller, can't you see?'
'No I can't,' said the driver.
'Or course you can't see if it's underneath,' said Pete. 'Silly!'
Pete and the driver looked at each other.
'I'll have to start her going again,' said the driver. 'Then we can get it.'
He sat down in the seat and started the roller. Glunk, glunk, it turned with a clatter.
'There it is,' shouted Pete. 'Stop! Stop!'
The driver jammed on the brake. But when the roller stopped, the Plasticine had gone underneath again.
'Didn't you hear me say "Stop"?' said Pete severely.
'Of course I did,' said the driver. 'I stopped as soon as you said it.'
'No you didn't,' said Pete. 'You went on and on and on and on. And now look what's happened.'
'I'll start her again,' said the man, 'No need to get so excited.' Glunk went the roller.
'Stop! Stop!' shouted Pete. The roller stopped. But it was no good. The Plasticine was underneath again.
'Oh,' said Pete disgustedly. 'Bother it. Let me do it.' And he started to climb up the road-roller to get into the driver's seat.
'Here,' shouted the driver. 'You can't do that!' And he pulled Pete back by his legs.
Pete was very angry. 'You've broken my legs, and stretched my trousers, and bent my feet,' he shouted.
'Well,' said the driver. 'The Borough Council will be after you if you drive a roller, you know. It's not allowed.'
'Well you do it, don't you?' said Pete.
'I'm allowed to,' said the driver. 'I've got a special card saying I can.'
'Well anyway,' said Pete, 'you should say you're sorry for breaking my legs.'
'Sorry,' said the driver.
Then the driver said, 'I'll try her again. Just once more. And this time you hold up your hand, like this, immediately the roller starts turning. See?'
'Like a policeman?' said Pete. 'All flat and stiff?'
'All flat and stiff,' agreed the driver. 'Ready now.'
And he started up the roller again. Pete held up his hand immediately the roller moved.
'There it is,' cried Pete.
They both looked at the Plasticine. It was flattened out like a little white button on the roller.
'It's a very tiny piece for an elephant,' said the driver.
'I meant a baby elephant,' explained Pete.
'Anyway, I expect some has gone inside the roller.'
Then the driver climbed back into his cabin quickly, because he was rather afraid Pete might want him to take the road-roller to pieces to see if there was any Plasticine inside.
He set the roller going again. Glunk, glunk, glunk. And Pete ran in front.
Then do you know what Pete did? He rolled his Plasticine into a ball and threw it right in front of the roller again. And when it stuck, he ran beside it and watched it go round and round like a little white button, all over again. That was another good day.


Deep at Play

“Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude.”


Travelling back in time

As children we had a souvenir of a goldmining shanty town once visited on a family holiday. In a tiny vial, small flecks of gold danced in suspension with particles of sand. I used to cradle the vial and watch with fascination how the light glinted off the fragments as they spiraled downwards.
After a journey back to the town we left last year; after flights, toddler teething and late nights, after a personal voyage to spill time back into the cup of family we see so little of since our move, there are highs and lows. And a weird sense of having grown older in a matter of a few short days. Looking at old photos jogged and rippled the inner stills of the little me; memory lane became a three laned highway. Practical hands moved furniture, hung paintings, made tea. Snap and whir went my brain, assimilating and stabilising; trying to grasp a sense of gravity in the new family dynamics.
The drive from the airport I made on my own with the girls. In blinding rain that reduced visability to mere metres, baby slipped free of her seat belt. I was unable to pull over for 15 minutes and drove frantically praying and breathing deeply, as she screamed herself hoarse, attempting to climb over to the front seat and into my lap for cuddles. Stress fractured my clarity.
Still too soon to settle - now returned to the home of what is sometimes the distant and isolated mundane, the glass heart of sand is murky and the fragments at play are now suspended in slow drifts above the bottom of well lit and clear understanding.
In the sleepless glow of lampstand, I am lifting the vial of my tumbled thoughts and wondering if light would reflect off the flakes as they hang. The tiny glimmers of gold in that murky suspension need to hold my focus and attention more than the shards of worthless gravel.
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."


Nature Walk

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
John Muir


Icy treat


Diaper Combat

At night, after the children have fallen asleep, I am shell shocked, ears ringing combat echo and reflexes softened with fatigue from marshalling the troops for 12 hours. The battle haze is slow to settle and does not offer quality speech-traction.

The mirror reflects the trauma; who I am on the inside does not line up with that tired, messy woman staring back at me. That embossing on my black tee-shirt is courtesy of someone's small runny nose. The extent of intellectual conversation for many many many days on end pings between discussing how to divide 60 by 3 and finding a new place for the dolls to live because Middle has declared her graduation from such infantile relics. Sometimes I read a recipe to liven things up. Or grapple with the intricacies of sorting out the chaos of the hair-tie drawer. Or muse over the muddle of king and queen sheets in the cupboard. Or frown over a puzzle of the Taj Mahal that someone tipped out by accident. I try to engage with f-stops and html but keep being pulled back from the edge of momentum by a need wrapped up in soft skin and little hands. I yo-yo between laptop/book/camera and child catering demands. ISO settings are trampled on by spilt juice, a grazed knee, a toy too high to reach. Website design is punctured with drawing bunnies and kittens on the chalk board or scrubbing felt pen off the furniture. Every single intention in a day is religiously fractured into interruptions. And this is what it is all about. It needs to be. It is about being available and responsive and supple. I do it by choice.

But after a decade, sometimes, at the end of the day, the pumpkin soup of my pureed thoughts do not stay on the spoon of communication. Nothing meaty nor chewy is on offer. My thoughts are so used to being stirred around in the inner pot of motherhood that they cannot remember how to take form.

When I wake in the mornings, there is a sense of impending soup-dom. Of being sucked into the suspension of articulation while I care for my little ones. In this tiny sliver of time I try to buy time and establish a sense of rapport with life beyond the walls of our home. To start the day standing upright in my head, rather than still lying wetly in the puddle of unused words and unprocessed thoughts. To the only dear person I am safe to say just about any words to, I try to air the night's remants of dreams and the previous day's scum of triumph or attitude.

Misunderstanding likes to rise out of these Dressing Gown vs Suit chats. Snatching a dawn moment with someone perched on the edge of the bed, beautifully presented and scented, clock-watching and preparing to propel into their world of adenalin and mental gymnastics while you sit cradling your tea in the midst of rumpled sheets tends to mess with your words.
I catch an awareness of the goofy pom poms on the sides of my insane bedsocks. Of my turkey hair. The thoughts slurry into hurried frustration. A child's head bobs up the stairs. The day has begun and the rise of arty-wordy-thinking me-ness resentfully slides over to make room for the other me. You know, that one that ought be gracious and wise, smell nice and say few cross words, make cookies, kiss owweees, read stories and generously play hilarious games on the lounge floor. But truth be told, that Me is a little squashed by the grumpiness of the arty-i-can't-think-straight-can't-get-a-single-sentence-out-Me. So it becomes a muddle of Me-Mes, a foot in both worlds and neither side doing a great job.

I am grateful to be able-bodied enough to work in this amazing career of stay at home mom. It is an absolute priviledge. This is cabin fever talking.

The amazing man who provides for our family is of course hard-pressed to fulfill my starving breakfast appetite for lightening verbal discourse before the taxing snap and whir of the corporate merry-go-round bears him off.

I am tempted to tack a note to my forehead in the evenings of his return.

Gone mothering.

Back in 15 years when my brain is no longer wearing a nappy.

Wait for me. I miss you.


Lesson of Essence

Last week was a stretching episode of internal rearranging following on from Essence conference. There were so many different things that impacted me and initiated change of mindset, but at the root of them all was my 'one word'. Identity.

The days that followed the shift of transformation were fraught with the opposite of what I thought should occur. Everything went wrong. I just could not make sense of the fact that just when I thought I had grasped the edge of something new and incredible that my silly mental snow globe would be shaken to a blurry whirling mess. My ability to reason and analyse were completely dis-engaged. I could not make sense of a single thing. Relationships, home stuff and photography work all went crazy. I paced up and down. Tried to form words around the spinning headspace.
Eventually I got an extension on the photography deadline and snapped my laptop shut. Stepping over mounting piles of housework, ignoring stacked dishes and messy beds I bundled up Mishal and we headed out. I found myself driving to the Plant Barn. Grabbing a trolley I walked around selecting a few pots and plants that caught my eye, trying to breathe deeply and not think. Later that day, I set about potting and planting my new green friends.
As my hands moved over the plants, things began to quieten down in my brain. I pruned, re-potted, planted and watered. Without much conscious choice I had chosen simply what caught my attention. Strawberries, ornamental kale, sweet peas, alyssum and geraniums.

Hardly exotic. But later that night as I lay in the dark and the gentle process of my mini-gardening replayed realised I had chosen only red and white plants. A fruit, a vegetable and simple blossoms signifiying nourishment, life and purity.

Those seeds and seedlings are quietly growing where they are planted.
They don't struggle to be better.
They just are incredibly beautiful through no action of their own.

I find them amazing. Each scultured leaf, vibrant petal and fragile set of root feet makes me smile. Grow I tell them. Just be yourselves. I am your gardener. I want to see you come to sprout and fruit and full fragrance.

I will water you, shelter you and have paid for you. You belong to me alone. I don't see my ornamental kale wracking its leaves to work things out. It just IS. The geranium is face up to the warmth and underneath the soil, my sweet peas are unfurling in secret. To my knowledge, the strawberries haven't thrown a tantrum because they want to be blueberries.

Lesson understood. Loud and clear.

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.
Jer 1:5


O Best Beloved

My sweet sick child has been lying on the couch for two days, shaking with fever and chills. The lounge looks like a clinic. In between adminstering pamol, iceblocks and swilling out sick bowls, I have had the pleasure of reading out loud to her as she lay with head in my lap. It was quiet as the others had gone off to church and she finally drifted off to sleep to the song of Kipling's words, her daddy's favourite, read from her granny's own childhood book. Comfort.


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