Three things: Some news, nostaliga, and chicken dinner

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I have some actual news (as opposed to the minutiae of my life) to share with you today. We are moving. Far away. If you know me in real life I think you will already know this, as it has been on the boil now for months. In early December we’ll be leaving the UK and heading to New Zealand to spend a few months before we head to Parramatta, Australia. We are looking forward to being closer to family, in particular, and a bit of a lifestyle change. But we are also really sad about saying goodbye to our people here, the lifestyle we’ve got used to, and this beautiful land. We’re nervous about the future (spiders, schooling, snakes, church-life in a very different church world, lizards, climate change in an already hot climate, scorpions, work prospects for myself, etc). We have one month to go before we take an epic 45 hour journey across the globe (more to come on that!), and there feels like there is a lot to be done. It’s not actually the stuff that needs to be done that feels overwhelming, it is all the emotional stuff around that stuff. L., for example, is excited about a new adventure and is a relatively flexible kid on the whole, but there are tears when he considers life without his two close school chums (I feel similarly when I think of their respective parents). Because of the cost of flights, we are leaving earlier than we would have otherwise liked, and will miss all the festive activities that surround Christmas. L. is already rehearsing songs for the school nativity play, but will not get to perform. I love Advent, and Advent in the northern hemisphere is especially wonderful–waiting for the Light makes sense here in a way I am still trying to figure out for a summer context–but the season will be disrupted by our move. These are little things, really, but things like this can help with the sense of closure to the broader season. Any advice for getting through this time gracefully?

The above picture is one of me more than 12 years ago when I first left NZ for South Bend, Indiana. Look at our haphazard bags! We are much more streamlined these days. But then again, those were all our worldly possessions right there. Our next international move will involve boxes and a ship. Why am I smiling for this picture!? I want to shout at my young self. I’d just had a very long trip which was supposed to have included a 3-day honeymoon in Tahiti but it had been cut to less than 24 hours as we just missed the flight and they only went twice a week. Turns out that we would have starved for three days in Tahiti and not just the one, as we could only afford to buy locally grown oranges (delicious, but not exactly sustaining). I had not slept in Tahiti, and I had not slept the night before this picture was taken because we stayed in the Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Not in a hotel. In the actual airport–where nobody stays overnight because O’Hare is not a 24 hour airport–on divided metal benches under flourescent lights and a solitary man with a pocket radio painting the steel beams with paint that smelt like decaying mushrooms. So many things have happened in the last 12 years and there are so many things I would whisper into the ear of that young woman now…

We are having some friends for tea tomorrow and this lovely chicken curry is what we are going to have. As well as a bunch of things that we can cook over a fire. We have a somewhat large collection of wood we’ve collected exactly for this purpose that we need to work our way through before we leave, and fires with friends is our favourite activity.

Between places

He remembers being born at home.

At home in that flat with the thick carpet,

the dark window frames around beech trees and the sea.

That flat was our home–our homeliest home–

and still it was not meant to be.

 

I’ve taken to standing in stairwells,

sitting on porches, waiting in foyers,

and I only take that which is not nailed down–

the cups, the coats, and the combs.

But I have planted trees and placenta,

my own feet, in fact, and seen them bloom

so there’s not a room large enough

to contain us.

 

Foxes have their holes and birds their nests.

He’s drawn a picture, calling it ‘home with a bed’,

but the space between it and me is a place

in itself; the doorstep of desire, the yearning train journey.

And the closer I get to home with a bed

the more my bones settle into their stride.

Three things: Bonny Bennachie, Vincent van Gogh, and Halloween

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Hi you guys. How are you? I have missed being here! With a very long ‘very necessary things to do’ list, I should have spent my Tattie Holidays dragging the kids along on errands and sitting them in front of ‘educational programs’ on the telly while I got a few of these very necessary things done. But instead I chose to procrastinate on all fronts, and now these things are taunting me in the middle of the night. Perhaps not so necessary, but absolutely wonderful, was a wee hike up Aberdeenshire’s mountain, Bennachie. When I told my dad about the plan to walk up Bennachie, he said, ‘it must be rather similar to one of those Dutch mountains’. Thanks Dad. It was actually a little more strenuous than walking on the flat, but our kids did pretty well and it only took a couple of hours. It was also steep enough that I worried we may lose the two-year-old over the edge in the wind. We were rewarded with extraordinary 360 degree views and that glorious feeling of walking where people have walked for hundreds of years before us. On the way to the start of the hike we stopped to visit the Maidenstone–a Pictish sculpture that is about 1300 years old and is said to be a maiden who was turned to stone when she lost a bet with the Devil. The chunk out of the side of the stone is where the Devil touched her on the shoulder. Do you see the mirror and comb on what is supposed to be her apron? There is also an idea that it is a stone that marks a prayer stop. On the other side, very worn, there is what is believed to be Jonah’s whale inscribed. Seeing this stuff never ceases to amaze me. Touching these things that other people touched and even made themselves. Amazing.

When I was a teenager I became kind of obsessed with the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. Have you ever seen this work of his called ‘The Potato Eaters’? We all recognise the sunflowers, portraits of people in front of gorgeous wallpaper, and the pastoral paintings of his, but this early work of his made me realise just how much he saw the fullness or essence of all his subjects. And how, even in his joyful paintings, there is also a melancholy or a sense of searching for something that is missing. Last week we saw the film ‘Loving Vincent’, a work of art–actually 65,000 oil paintings–and now I am kind of obsessed again. I have listened to this song, ‘O Theo’, a million times this week, and have put the book, ‘Dear Theo’, on my Christmas list.

Finally, Halloween. This is not a thing I grew up celebrating in any way–I remember a few kids doing it when I was young, but on the whole it just wasn’t really a thing. In the UK, unlike what I saw in the USA, there are some seriously scary costumes, and I have even seen babies dressed up as car crash victims and the like. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I must say, I do like that one night is dedicated to frightening things, and this is the perfect time of year. We carved pumpkins, and then spent the evening scaring the crap out of one another playing torchlight-tag/murder in the dark in our extremely large, terribly cold, and possibly ghostly house we are staying in. I hid in my bed and listened to podcasts. L. made his costume (not quite complete in the picture–eyes+mouth missing) and it took him hours to cut the jagged edge around the bottom with the only pair left-handed scissors we have. The bluntest ones in the house. What a trooper.

Three things: Autumn foraging, Death Cafe, and climate change

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One benefit of living in the city is that the squirrels don’t get to the nuts before we do. We’ve been collecting beech nuts on the university campus. In the past, I have shelled these things until my fingers have bled, so I am relieved that the older one has developed his own technique (a delicate sort of boot crushing) and I only have S. and myself to shell for. And, with a nearby street lined with oaks, acorns have become the new conkers. I have to fish them out of pockets before they spin around the washing machine. For a few years now, I have been wanting to make acorn flour but now that I have enough acorns to bother trying this out, I just don’t have the time. So these beautiful ones are now either sitting on a mantelpiece or rolling about the floor and under pieces of furniture. Those beautiful beans are from the runner beans we grew at our flat this year. They’re called ‘Enorma’–extremely prolific and delicious–and I picked them up a couple of years ago at a seed swap in Edinburgh.

Over the weekend, I attended my first Death Cafe. Have you heard of this initiative? There are cafes running all around the world and their aim is to take away the taboo of death by normalising conversation about it and to help people recognise the value of their lives now. I felt very connected to the group–all of whom were strangers to me. This meant I could share freely my experiences and anxieties around death and grieving while others also shared freely. You might think it a rather morbid and depressing thing to go to, but actually, I think we all left the meeting a lot lighter than we entered it. I would recommend Death Cafe to anyone who may die in the future or know people who may also die.

I am feeling quite overwhelmed about the recent IPCC report on climate change, which tells us that we have only 12 years to limit catastrophe. I knew things were bad… just didn’t realise they were that bad. My kids will be in their mid 20s when they are living with the great weight of their parents’ and their grandparents’ choices and shortsightedness. I have a lot of things to keep me awake at night at the moment, but this one has got to top the list. We soon have some international travel planned and my carbon footprint will expand exponentially again–and I guess I need to take responsibility for my kids’ footprints too. Even though I am relatively conscious of my environmental impact, the report has been a wake-up call for me and I am trying to think twice in all aspects of life about how to reduce my impact further. I wonder how you approach this stuff with your kids? So far, my approach has been to follow the advice of Richard Louv, and I think I will stick with it a little longer (although I’d love to know if you’ve got ideas, too). He said in his amazing book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ that a lot of kids have such great anxiety about the state of the natural environment that it’s debilitating. He suggests that if kids are encouraged to enjoy being the natural world, they will come to realise that they are actually a part of the natural world. This is in essence what love is. And if you love something, then you will care for it. It’s good advice for grown-ups to experiment with for themselves too, I reckon.

Our friendship (for Carolina)

The sun stretches a parallelogram further across the grass and soon shade

will be nipping at our feet and the kids will be in our laps.

Stuck for words again, I nod and smile; and she nods and smiles a smile handed down

 

from generations I’ve never seen, save for the tiny pictures by her front door.

Like the melon seeds drying on the kitchen window sill, the kettle in the garden shed boiling for tea,

the two-second silly dance with her son until both sets of eyes became almonds–

 

the photos are fragments that shed but a sliver of light on the mystery of her.

I sit here, and she sits there and so few words spoken;

it is not possible that she is all I see of her, and I am all she sees of me.

 

I could start to add up the sum of all the obvious parts–starting with the pictures,

the melon seeds, the kettle, the two-second dance with the almond eyes–

but I’d only come up short against what is actually here inside this lengthening parallelogram of light.