31 December 2013

Tiny Mice

I walked home yesterday in the gloom. It wasn't late but it gets dark so early. The streets were empty, the snow mostly gone but for a few dirty piles.  I could smell smoke from a wood fire, a smell that reminds me of chilly childhood winter afternoons at my grandparents place, wet shoes, walks in Sherbrooke Forest.  For some reason, wet days and wood smoke make me feel lonely, or perhaps not lonely so much as yearning for a warm house full of people and food to share. It's a funny feeling because of course I was returning to exactly that.

It's been a lazy week for us here in Boston.  After all the excitement of Nana and Pa arriving, Manhattan and Christmas I think we all felt like doing nothing much for a few days. The past week we've visited the Arnold Arboretum (a sort of Botanic Gardens run by Harvard University on a thousand year lease) for a lovely winter walk through their woods, gone ice skating, seen 'Frozen' on a particularly wet and miserable day and had dumplings at our favourite place for xiao long bao.  After a few days I was feeling a bit strange, melancholy nearly, and realised that I hadn't done anything with my hands for some weeks. 
The next day the girls and I made these little felt mice, inspired by a few I saw on Pinterest and in particular one that I can't find anymore so can't include the link. I felt a bit better but am now missing my sewing machine. I'm filling the void by purchasing fabric online...
Up till now we had largely planned our time, but from here till the end of January, we've nothing organised, which is quite exciting as there are so many possibilities.  The weather means a few things are off the table - a ten hour tour of Gettysburg in sub-zero temperatures won't be welcomed by the girls for example- but also puts a few things on the table, like a ski trip to one or more of the many small ski fields New England offers.  Tomorrow is New Years Eve and we will be going along to some of the First Night activities.  I suppose the end of a year always calls for some reflection but I am not yet sure what to make of this year of 2013. Certainly the end has been a highlight, but the rest of it is a bit of a blur. I have much thinking to do about it all before I can adequately summarise it.  For those of you for whom the end of 2013 has already arrived, Happy New Year. Here's to 2014.

27 December 2013

The Christmas that was.

Grace by Ruby

Nina by Ruby

Popcorn and cranberry strung on the tree

Santa brought me a little something

Craig and Lil at our local rink
Goodbye Nan and Pa

So Christmas has come and gone and what a very lovely day it was. No one woke up at 5.00am, instead we had a leisurely morning opening presents and eating chocolates.  Though I hadn't made a single gift for Christmas, the girls had.  Ruby did the portraits above for Grace and Nina, which I think are wonderful, and wrote a story for Lily.  Nina made a lemon slice for Ruby, and tiny bear for Lily and a pendant with a lucky penny for Grace.  And Grace made Nina a mini laptop, wrote a book for Lily and made Ruby a line of joined cats.  They were all simple things, made with what we had on hand, but I love that they did it without any pressure or expectation from us.  I'd thought they'd probably give it  miss this year, with our travels and all, but they didn't.

My creativity only extended to making pancakes for brunch. Afterwards we had a rest/nap on the couch while the girls played with their presents. Usually we either have a tribe coming over and a whole lot of cooking and getting ready to be done, or we are heading off to whoever is hosting Christmas and have to leave the house pretty early.  I missed seeing all my family and the girls certainly missed their cousins, but it was nice to take the day as it came, without any need to rush.  We didn't eat lunch till 3.00pm which was just fine, and then I went for a walk with the eldest three girls while Craig and his folk watched the basketball/dozed in front of the telly, and Lily pranced around in her special dress and entertained herself. 

It all nearly came unstuck on our walk.  Ruby had wanted a little time with me by herself, so when Nina and Grace came along too, we had a bad case of the sulky grumps.  I'm ashamed to say I completely lost it with her, accusing her of 'ruining Christmas' which of course didn't help things at all.  I had what I can only describe as an embarrassing  tantrum in the darkened street and was pretty sure I had, in fact, ruined Christmas.  Very undignified behaviour on my part and poor Ruby was in sobbing tears.  We ended up both profusely apologising to each other.  I'm always amazed and humbled at a child's capacity for forgiveness.  It's something I hope I never take for granted.

Anyway we came home after a very frosty walk (temperature-wise, our moods had thawed) and had blueberry and pecan pies and our traditional ice-cream Christmas pudding.  We didn't have violet crumbles, cherry ripes or peppermint crisps to put in, so we made do with a butterfinger, kit-kat and some peppermint candy.  It was a bit odd, actually - Nina described it as 'like doing your teeth after having a peanut butter sandwich'.  Dinner was chocolate and a bit of cold turkey.  No one felt like going to bed so we stayed up late and chatted and watched the girls get silly and funny.  It was a very special Christmas in all sorts of ways.

As I write this late on boxing day, none of us has even got out of our pyjamas.  We've had bubble and squeak for breakfast, farewelled Nana and Pa who fly back to Australia today - they'll be nearly in Los Angeles now, played trivial pursuit, watched 'The Borrowers',  enjoyed the snow fall in huge lumping flakes knowing that we didn't have to get anywhere in it,  eaten more chocolate, cheese, ham, dips and decided the post-Christmas austerity can wait till tomorrow (or the day after).  Grace has not taken off the raccoon hat she got for Christmas - she slept in it last night.  It all feels a bit unreal and precious, as though we are on a little holiday from reality, tucked away in our warm and cosy corner of New England with not a care in the world.  There are cares, of course, and obligations and responsibilities.  But they can wait till tomorrow.

25 December 2013

I'm easy. Oh yeah, maybe some chocolate.

Writing letters to Santa by candlelight

Dear Santa, I hope you have had a wonderful year.  I have bveen having a wonderful holiday and seems like only yesterday I was writing my last letter.  This year sure has gone fast! This year I would like for Christmas: Some surprises, something mini or a charm, an ipod nano (maybe) well, I'm not really sure what I want, anything really, mostly just surprises and anything you think of.  I'm easy.  Oh yeah, maybe some chocolate.  Well merry Christmas and I hope again you have had a wonderfull year.  Love from Nina

Dear Santa I hope youa re having a wonderful Christmas and I wood like to ash you how is Melbourne going and I wood like to have these things for christmas a charm bracelet and a picter of your family and some surprises.  Some candy to put in my candy bag a glow in the dark jumper that I can were to bed and maybe some more surprises. Love from Grace
Dear Santa, How are you? Did you have a nice year in the north pole? For Christmas I would like: Surprises, etch sketch/mini etch sketch (I don't care which) well crackle nail polish or glow in the dark or both: All I really want is surprises other than the nail polish and the etcha sketch.  Love Ruby
Sanders Theater, Harvard
End of the Revels - singing the Sussex Carol
I thought I'd put aside old traditions, at least temporarily, and embrace new ones. We went to the Christmas Revels yesterday on the recommendation of a woman from my knitting class. It was sweet and fun but I suspect much sweeter and more fun if you've gone every year for the past twenty or so, and like singing the chorus to Lord of the Dance repeatedly. Don't get me wrong, I love a group sing but I think I'm more of a Termanativity kind of girl when it comes to Christmas shows. 

On our return the girls realised they hadn't written their letters to Santa yet, and felt this must be remedied immediately. Fortunately 'a surprise' featured quite highly on all their lists. Lil did a few lists too, but it all ended in tears with her adamant claims that she is not a good drawer and that the list was not up to scratch. Is this the lot of the youngest child? To have siblings with whom to compare and find oneself wanting? It's true that at 4 she shows no particular skill as an artist but she doesn't strike me as being especially worse than her peers. Mind you, I don't think she has ever considered the other kids at kinder to be her 'peers', telling me once that kinder was boring because there was 'nothing cool' to do there. And once, when were dancing around the kitchen, she looked at me assessingly and then broke it to me: 'you ackly not really cool Mum'.

In any event Christmas letters were written and I had to capture them, even though they're nearly impossible to make out.  This one was one of Lil's rejects:

Today we went ice skating at our local rink.  $8 for our whole family to hire skates and use the rink.  We'll be making it a regular activity, even though each time we skate we seem to get blisters on different bits of our feet.  The sun came out briefly, and even though the snow has mostly melted except for dirty piles on the sides of the road, it's feeling pretty Christmassy.  We made lamingtons for our landlord and after I baked the sponge I put it outside to cool down quickly.  Five minutes later I caught a squirrel just about to help himself.  Cheeky bugger, I saved the cake in the nick of time.

As I write this, the girls are stringing popcorn and cranberries to hang on the tree.  Back home it's already Christmas.

23 December 2013

NYC Wrap

Christopher Wool - Guggenheim
Street Art from the Highline
Bikes - from the Highline

Scaffolding, 30th Street

Temple of Dendur - Metropolitan Museum of Art

B & J Fabrics, Garment District

Balustrade detail, Central Park

Frozen Central Park

I'm posting this from my Amtrak train as we pass through Connecticut on our way back to Boston.  New York is already feeling a little like a dream.  To totally confound us, today is 19 degrees (Celsius). This after a week of freezing and below freezing temperatures, witness the frozen pond in Central Park above. Miraculously we managed to squeeze nearly everything in: a very modest bit of fabric shopping;  some rushed but productive Christmas shopping at FAO Shwartz; the Highline (which had reopened, and the crowds were thronging on the first day of 'The Holidays' and in the mild weather). We had to imagine how it would look all leafy green.  We even made it to the Saturday evening session at the Guggenheim for Christopher Wool and Robert Motherwell retrospectives.

We had a rushed few hours at The Met. They say to leave 'em wanting more, don't they? So much to see.

Craig and I went to The Breeders at Webster Hall on Friday night, the last night of their Love Splash tour. Kim and Kelly Deal are looking (& sounding ) pretty damn good for fifty odd. Kim was wearing a black jumper (sweater) and comfortable pants, as was I, so I felt totally at home. I spotted at least two people older than me in the crowd. Everyone else could have been twelve except for the facial hair and full sleeve tatts.  Craig had a shave and a haircut at a groovy looking barbershop nearby. I joked that his barber would probably be a Columbia student, but as it turned out he was a Boston University graduate in New York doing his PhD. 

So that was New York. I'm looking forward to a few quiet days in Boston, though of course there is Christmas ahead which is not traditionally a quiet time. Although the streets have been full of decorations, the shops full of Christmas songs (not really many traditional carols to be heard though, which I miss), and everyone wishing us a happy holiday, it doesn't feel like Christmas. I guess for me, the end of the school year, all the work and social functions, our annual gingerbread decorating party, those long days when you savour the coolness at dawn and dusk, the endless baking and sewing - that is what Christmas is. People used to Northern Hemisphere Christmas often say it doesn't feel like Christmas when it's summer. I thought that, somehow, Christmas would feel more Christmassy in the winter. But it turns out that it's not the weather that makes Christmas at all. 

20 December 2013

Empire State of Mind

On Monday night, as Craig and I took the subway to Madison Square Gardens to see the Knicks get beaten by 1 lousy point by the Washington Wizards, we agreed that we'd love to live in New York, at least for a year or two. I asked Craig's dad whether he'd live here:  'No way!!!' was his unequivocal answer - he reckoned he'd go crazy within a year. Ruby concurs - too many people for her, she's looking forward to getting back to Boston. Funny isn't it, what does it (or doesn't do it) for a person? 
We've been doing a fair bit - the Museum of Natural History, Empire State Buildjng, Christmas windows on 5th Avenue, Rockefeller Plaza. It's a lot for little legs and old knees, so today we decided on a leisurely stroll through Central Park (Nana and Pa had a rest at home) and a skate at the outdoor rink. It was just what we needed to recharge and refresh - healthy activity that didn't involve battling crowds and making sure eight people have got on or off the subway. We are all getting to be passably decent skaters. Even Lil can get around holding my hand.  
If you come to New York in winter and want to skate, try the Lasker rink at the northern end of the park. Mid week there were no queues and it was $7 and $4 for adults and kids respectively. Highly recommended.
Because of all the snow, the Highline is largely closed, though sections of it are due to open and with warmer weather forecast I'm hopeful I'll get to it before we leave on Sunday. I've somehow also got to squeeze in a visit to the garment district for a bit of fabric shopping, and the Guggenheim.
We went to a fantastic Broadway show - Matilda (a musical based on the Roald Dahl book written by our own Tim Minchin).  My friend Megan had given us a CD of the music which made it especially enjoyable for the kids.  I'm not a huge musical fan but this was really terrific. If it comes to your neck of the woods it's worth going to see. Even Craig liked it.

Today we plan on visiting the Met, which has the tick of approval from Ruby and Nina because of 'From the Mixed-Up Files if Mrs Basil E Frankweiler' which they loved. I'm anticipating another day that alternates between amazing and irritating as we experience priceless wonders whilst contending with the tired or bored or hungry or urgently-needing-a-toilet. Wish me luck.

New York

Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island

Tiled Ceiling, Ellis Island

Just in case it isn't obvious from the photos we are in New York. Having four little kids and two septuagenarians with us means that dashing all over town and taking full advantage of the night life on offer isn't quite possible. But I have long since understood that parenting is, in part, a lesson in accepting limitations. So we won't get to everything and I won't be able to spend hours wandering around the Whitney and the Frick and I might be lucky to even get to the Guggenheim, but there will still be moments, however fleeting, of magic.
Yesterday we took the ferry across to Liberty Island. Though her image has become almost hackneyed, in real life she is both impressive and profoundly moving. We had clear skies and sunshine to take the edge off the minus 3 day.
On Ellis Island we walked through the hall like more than 12 million had done before us. The museum is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and most of the exhibits were closed, but a sense of the immigrant experience, the beauty and terror, was still present. I was annoyed that we missed an earlier ferry home, but how fortuitous that turned out to be.  As we boarded the later ferry the sun was setting over Lady Liberty. We oohed and ahhed and then, in the still blue sky, a huge full yellow moon rose over Manhattan. It was there only moments before disappearing behind the skyscrapers. The ferry, filled with sightseers tired after a long day, suddenly came alive. There was an audible gasp as everyone rushed outside into the biting cold to capture it, either in mind or on camera. I tried but failed, my shots show a blurry washed out disc partially visible by a building. But I can see it now in my minds eye - one of those brief moments that exist only for the few who happen to be in the exact place at the exact time.  The captain slowed the boat and announced in his New York drawl 'there you have it ladies and gentlemen, the moon over Manhattan'.  It acted as a tonic on the passengers. We were all newly invigorated, talking and laughing, aware we were the fortunate few.

16 December 2013

The Tree

It's a very different Christmas this year. I have so been looking forward to a white Christmas, and indeed we have snow on the ground and rosy cheeks on the girls. It is lovely. But I had thought that all the time I am spending not working would be available for creating instead.  Of course it hasn't turned out like that. Our trip to the South West took two weeks and we are in New York for the week leading up to Christmas. Back in Boston the weather and lack of a car means it's pretty easy to spend a whole day doing something like buying snow boots for the kids (3 trains each way, a stop for lunch and donuts and it's dinner time upon our return.) I also came here without any kit at all. I've bought scissors, needles and thread as well as some felt and fabric, but with no sewing machine and no permanent work space it is less likely I'll spend the evening sewing as I usually do. So my dream of a tree entirely decorated in hand made ornaments has not been realised. We did spend a snowy Tuesday making felt decorations - you can see the girls efforts above. We've also bought a few decorations as souvenirs, like the American Presidents one above (which I adore),  and our landlord kindly invited us to use some of her decorations, which we found in the basement.  I'm not fussed about the lack of handmade, nor the variance of reality from expectation. I thought somehow in the absence of a long work day I'd be incredibly productive, but actually  I am realising the truth of that saying 'if you want something done, give it to a busy person'. Busy-ness begets efficiency, at least for me. Plus I use sewing as a meditative wind-down from work. In the absence of any stress beyond the perennial search for 'restrooms' that travelling with four young girls invariably entails, I don't seem to have quite the same need to craft. I still want to sew but the need to get a finished object out of it has diminished somewhat. Isn't that curious? Perhaps this is a bit of justification and I have merely fallen into laziness. It's certainly true that I'm falling back into sleeping patterns unknown to me since before children - going to bed in the early hours of the morning, getting up after 9.

Whatever the reason, our tree is unadorned by a single object I've made and, regardless, delights me. It's a fir tree and the look and smell is different from whatever we get at home (pine? I've never    really known). 

14 December 2013


When it comes to knitting, I am really clueless. I don't get how it works. I don't have that sort of intrinsic understanding of the process that I suspect the true knitter requires. I can follow a pattern and I can get by with the basics. When I first knit something on circular needles I thought it might be the start of a whole new things for me. A thing in which I got knitting. But no, I've just stagnated.

I read quite a lot of knitting blogs and I have watched more than one youtube video but I still don't understand how it works. I can't correct a mistake very well, I am pretty hopeless at picking up stitches because I struggle to work out what the hell the yarn is doing. I cannot understand how people can write knitting patterns. I cannot understand how people can alter knitting patterns. Without a picture of what a pattern looks like I would have absolutely no clue at all. And instructions in patterns are quite often confusing to me because I don't really know where I am heading.

Is it simply time and practice? Will it one day click? Or is it a brain wiring thing? I really love knitting and I really wanted to finish this scarf, the first thing I have ever knit for myself (nb. Craig queries whether it should be 'the first thing I have ever knitted for myself. I feel that knit can happily work as past tense but I am open to adjudication from grammar enthusiasts).  In fact I so wanted to get it finished (partly because I actually need it - I managed to leave my scarf in Santa Monica and it's bloody cold here) that I stayed up late to get it done, which involved watching 6 out of order episodes of 'Will and Grace'. Initially Grace was pregnant, and Will was in love with a cop. Then Grace wasn't pregnant and Will was in love with a Canadian photographer. Then Grace married the Canadian photographer so that he could stay in the US. Then Will had broken up with the cop but Grace wasn't pregnant so I think that this before the photographer. I could have changed the station, but honestly, we have about fifty billion channels to choose from and I can almost never find anything to watch. Anyway, I stayed up late and finished it - it is a completely plain rib knit in a lovely wool by Manos called Spruce.   I had planned stripes but then decided against them, so ended up with just two, which I think look a bit crap and I probably should have left them out altogether. But anyway, I finished it and then I thought - should I block it? I've read about blocking but I don't know whether it's required for every knit, whether it would be required for this knit, or really how to do it at all. I only have a few pins here, not having brought any sewing kit with me. The pins come from a shirt that Craig bought which was pinned in no less than 12 places (!). So I damped down the scarf and pinned it with pins and, when they ran out, needles, to a couple of towels. Is this appropriate? By the next morning it had mostly dried and was definitely wider and more open than before. I whacked it, still pinned to the towel, onto the hydronic heater (a gentle heat but still - appropriate? Or wildly inappropriate?) and now I've worn it and it is lovely and soft and I like the colour (sans stripes) a lot. But I remain clueless.

13 December 2013

When the kids play around with your phone...

I found these photos on my phone. Kind of creepy, kind of lovely.

12 December 2013

Southern California Wrap

Santa Monica breakfast condiments

Freeways, beaches and sunshine

We spent our last two days of this little side trip in Santa Monica. Unfortunately, after 2.5 days at Disneyland we were all a bit too exhausted to do much except relax, sleep in and swim. We caught up with some Aussie expat friends who've been living in LA for about 18 months. Fascinating to hear their experiences. Despite some dread I found driving on the notorious freeways fine - much less stressful than navigating. I still have to remind myself 'passenger to the curb' frequently.  When we got 'home' to Boston the Charley Harper fabrics I'd ordered in the 'Black Friday' sales (day after thanksgiving - it's a big day for sales) had arrived, ready to be turned into Christmas stockings for the girls.  We have a week here re-acclimatising (or acclimating as they say here) before we head to New York.  Yesterday it snowed all day.  The girls have never seen snow actually falling before so there was high excitement.  A walk to the post office took ages as every snow flake had to be caught, examined, tasted and every snow drift had to be trodden on or in.  We got proper snow boots today.  Runners just don't cut it.