The trick to …

… maintaining a habit is that when you skip the habit you must get back in the habit. Because it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to write every day in December. Especially because it was our weekend of the family lunch for everyone who goes to other parts of the family for Christmas Day. I really love that lunch, and I love that we were able to have it at our place, and welcome everyone here. I put all the lights and the candles on even though it was lunchtime, because even in the daylight, the candles and lights look so pretty.

I tried a few different things with the ice cream this year, and I was very pleased with the creamy result. This was the second year of making a trifle, and I followed a recipe extremely carefully, making my own jelly and learning how to make the layers. I loved the result, although next time I might try cake instead of the ladyfingers, because it might now swell so much with the jelly, and I might also make a bit more jelly so that the jelly layers can be slightly thicker (here’s hoping I re-read this sometime to remind myself, but chances are I’ll just think to myself ‘I’ll follow that recipe I used last time, I remember that worked’). For the top, I decided not to use any cream and instead to have a thick layer of berries (frozen, the fresh ones are still eyewateringly expensive). It looked festive and inviting, but as leftovers in the fridge the following day, significantly less so.

Next year I might try some kind of cake–a yule log perhaps. Or maybe I will make one this year just to have one evening. Why not? Though that would make my list of Christmas traditions and rituals grow even longer and I can hear the mister now: ‘haven’t you got a show to write?’

He’s not wrong, but the older I get, the more that immersing myself in rituals feels both grounding and enriching. And they are probably the feelings that I seek more above anything else. So middle aged, and probably so privileged and middle class to be able to seek that above safety and security.

Next on my Christmas list is cards (not sure I’ll be able to make them this year), Christmas biscuits, refreshing my playlist, thinking about Christmas presents (remembering last year when I believed the whole supply chain thing and got out there to have all my presents bought by the beginning of November), making a tour of the Christmas lights, and planning for the best of the week of the year–the glorious days between Christmas and New Year. (The highlights of my year are that week just described, Easter, and the day that daylight saving gives us that luxurious extra hour in the day).

And what I just remembered is that one year I made marshmallow and I loved it. So that should definitely be on the list. Sugar! Sugar! And now with added sugar!

It’s taken me a loooong time to get these words written this morning, could it be that I’m diverting myself from this diversion from writing my show, because the longer I take to finish this, the more I get to put off writing my show. I know myself so well.

Talk tomorrow, okay?

More ponderous

Living in a Muslim country makes for a surprisingly awesome Christmas. The difficulties and complexities are stripped away, or at least easily ignored, and from this distance it’s very hard to insult anyone or be insulted by anyone in the heat of a December moment. There is no stress of trying to get from the music concert across to the kindergarten graduation and then home to have a shower and scrub the toilet before the babysitter comes and you leave for the work Christmas show. And you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to cater for 27 people when, even if you use the good plates, you’ve only got 16.

There is, of course, the melancholy and the yearning for Christmases past, but (and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear this), I quite like that bit.

So I don’t have any major stresses or whinges. But I do have a few little grinches which seem to come up from year to year, so herewith, my little list of Christmas grinches (because it’s either that or some sentimental piece about grief and the layers of time and I’m sure you’ve had enough of those):

1. I cannot stand anything set to the tune of Twelve Days of Christmas. Sorry Annabel Crabb, this includes you. However witty, however informed, however contemporary, if you are setting words to this carol, you will evoke an image of a work Christmas skit which includes men dressed as women or possibly men dressed in fairy wings.

2. I would like to know (or perhaps I would not like to know) how many Christmas letters begin with the following: ‘Well, I can hardly believe it’s time to sit down and write this letter…’ or some variation on that theme (‘I can hardly believe another year has passed’, ‘Can you believe it’s been a year…’ and so on).

3. I’m not sure that I’m totally jiggy with the whole ‘give a goat’ thing. I have worked or volunteered in many NGOs and I know the thought that goes into fundraising and awareness raising. I know that there is probably endless discussion at staff meetings, board meetings and so on and that overall and taking everything into account, they are considered to be a good thing. I’m also pretty sure I have handed my brother a card telling him that I bought a goat or a latrine or somesuch on his behalf. But I dunno, it isn’t really a gift, is it? It feels a little bit earnest, and a touch patronising in its assumption that the person receiving the card needs you to intervene and do their good works for them. Also, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the first world gifts to the third world dynamic it perpetuates.

4. At this time of year, I get a lot of hits on my blog by people who appear to be looking for the recipe for nuts and bolts made with nutri grain and curry powder. People, it’s 2010. Move on.

5. I also get a lot of hits for people looking for the Magic Cave. My advice? Go and look at the Magic Cave, but if you want to see Santa Claus/Father Christmas, go down to Myer. Although the days of just turning up and being the second in line have gone, it’s still a heaps shorter wait than at the Magic Cave. And they let you take your own photographs, and don’t put any pressure on you at the end to buy theirs.
and a propos of nada, a Christmas photograph from the archives
Road Closed, Loxton, South Australia
If you’re interested, you can catch a bus from Adelaide or even Mildura to see the Loxton lights. I just see them as part of my Christmas family visiting, but there’s a shirtload of buses making the trip.

One year down, one to go

I took the lads back to Berri (the mister’s home turf) via Adelaide for Christmas while the mister stayed here Abu Dhabi.

Landing in Australia, putting credit back on my Australian SIM card, I felt the relief that you feel on arriving somewhere that takes no real effort. The relief that comes from knowing the language, the laws, and what to do if you lose your purse. We could get sick, robbed, lost, but it would be okay and, anyway, we wouldn’t get sick or robbed or lost, because we were home.

Except I was a little bit lost.

Well of course I was.

I’d just taken my lads to Paris for what must surely be, even if I am only half way through it, one of my life’s highlights. I’d dropped in at Abu Dhabi just long enough to remember how incomprehensible it is; to have a farewell coffee with a wonderful friend who won’t be here when I get back; and for the mister to wash my knickers and shove them back into my suitcase not-quite-dry. Then I pulled my clot-preventing socks back up and collected my boarding pass.

Back in Adelaide, I found, as people always do when they return, that everything was all at once different and the same. The light and the smells and the sound hit me with their forgotten familiarity. The air was dry, no crane in sight. But our house is rented out; we wouldn’t be spending the Christmas-New Year break on Kangaroo Island; the people who bought my Grandfather’s house have knocked it down and built a new one in its place; and a few days after I arrived in Adelaide the sale of my Dad’s – our family – house was settled. Dusted and done.

I was home, but not.

Mostly though, I was lost, because this was the second Christmas after Dad’s death. The second Christmas of being parent-less.

I think that in the grieving cycle, seconds are a bit more complex than firsts. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. In the second year, it all becomes real. In the second year, the shock has worn off and the protective numbness is receding. In the second year, that loss has been layered by births, illnesses, marriages, break-ups, break-downs, deaths, graduations, birthdays, bushfires, redundancies. Life has gone on as it does, layering our experiences minute by minute, days at a time. And so, at the second Christmas, you look around and you realise that this is how it is. He’s gone.

Intellectually, I know that I am a middle-aged woman without parents. I know this. But emotionally, I’ve lost my bearings, and I’m still not quite sure where I fit in this post-parent age. Even physically, I have to adjust, because my body still feels the absence of my parents as an emptiness above and around me. Somehow or other I have to work out how I can grow into that space.

As much as I try to keep Christmas low-key, it as at Christmas time that absences loom large. I do have places to be and people to be there with. Other families, of which I am a part, love me, welcome and care for me. Really, it’s quite something and even just thinking about how beautiful people were to me, I cry. But the absences are still there.

I’ve got welcoming places, but I haven’t got parents. I have safe harbours, but my anchors are lost.

Still, however lost I did feel, however overwhelmed, I was always glad that I’d made the trip. I watched the lads play with their cousins and have sleepovers and trade pokemon cards and go for swims in the river. I sat in backyards and in cafes and on the beach with my aunties, uncles, my step-family, my in-laws, my cousins, my friends.

I drank too much and stayed up way past my bedtime every single night (one time, almost til dawn, and it wasn’t even New Year’s Eve – brilliant times). One of the things I especially liked was sitting with my cousins and my friends, the ones who are around the same age, people I’ve known a long time or through tricky times, all of us who have looked, or are looking, around and thinking, ‘my goodness, look where we are, how did this happen and what are we supposed to do now?’

We cried and laughed over the years we’ve just had and the decisions we’ve made and the things that have turned out right and the things that have turned out wrong and the things we’re glad we’ve done and the things we should-oughtta have done. I wallowed, then get over myself, then wallowed, then get over myself again.

And it’s interesting, that even as each conversation acted like a little anchor, each one adding to the other, giving me more and more steadying weight, I felt myself able to leave them again, able to return to this incomprehensible place and say to the mister, ‘We should go and buy a bougainvillea to plant in the courtyard this weekend.’

Up and down

Yesterday, I bought new bathers. My first new pair in 13 years if you don’t count that rather disastrous effort from last year. Which I don’t.

These bathers make me look like CatWoman. A suitably matured and rounded out CatWoman. I feel so good in them, I almost took a photo to show you. But then I saw M*rced*s C*r*y on the news last night and it kind of put me off people in bathers taking photos of themselves for all the world to see.

After I bought the bathers, I went to the ABC shop, then left when I realised the main reason for going to the ABC shop was to find my Dad a present.

End of year picnic

Christmas has become an over-commercialised construct which places undue economic and social pressures on people who could really do without it;

And fully recognising that:
Father Christmas has been totally appropriated for aforesaid commercialisation;

And not withstanding:
That children get way too many lollies at this time of the year;

And also acknowledging:
that our primary schools should not be culturally isolating by introducing potentially inappropriate cultural symbols;

I nonetheless need to tell you that watching an entire school (admittedly a small school) of children run (arms and legs akimbo, hats flying to the ground) from one end of Marshmallow Park to the other in order to greet aforesaid commercial construct carrying sugar bounties is worth it’s weight. In myrrh.

One. More. Sleep.

Just got my Christmas cards and two small presents in the post. So they’ll be late. Though I did get a few cards out earlier last week. Dropped off a little gift to friend. Went to the supermarket, forgot my list, but still got everything I meant to get. If you need cream, can I suggest you get there pronto. There wasn’t much of the good stuff left.

In the supermarket (the small, independent one up the road, I’m not going into any of those big ones), a man, watching me lug two casks of water out to the car said: ‘you should’ve got your old man to come and get those’. I said: ‘he’s busy’. The man said: ‘mowing the lawns is he?’. I said: ‘scrubbing the shower’.

Tomorrow, all going well, we will be having tartufo for dessert. There is slightly less than there might have been if Youngest Boy hadn’t been helping me.

There is much more to tell, of course there is. But best not spend too much time on this post, in case the mister comes home from the last minute shit, we forgot the…shopping and sees me here, because before he left, we had a small dispute over priorities. I’m sure you’re having similar conversations.

Take care of yourselves. Of yourselves and the ones you love.

Talk with youse next year.

Drenched in December

I would love to be writing more, as I have much to say, but I am drenched in December, so here is a dot point update (more for my benefit than yours):

  • school concerts are teh bombe. If you see me slumped in a slough of depression next year, do remind me of Littlest Boy’s concentration as he steps it out to ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’; or the look of untainted happiness on Eldest Boy’s face as he jumped up and down, up and down, arms in the air shouting ‘We will, we will, Rock You’ and how safe it feels to be sitting next to your Dad while you watch your boys and you remember that when you were seven you had nothing to fear;
  • I know I’m a mother, because yesterday, Eldest Boy said at eight o’clock in the morning, ‘I’ve got four special things…’ three of which involved me developing and maintaining a tight schedule, and allowing for plentiful food breaks and involving me falling on the lounge at six o’clock with a beer in hand. And then he ended the list with ‘and the piano concert at six o’clock’ and here’s my response: ‘what concert?’;
  • at the piano concert, my children were, without doubt, the most ill-mannered, poorly-behaved children there and I have never been so embarrassed in my life and if I ever meant it when I said ‘one more word and I will throw all your Christmas presents in the bin’ it was last night at half past eight, and honestly what kind of mother says that kind of shit, and obviously I blame my own parents because where else did I learn to be a parent;
  • one of the fires on Kangaroo Island has been burning extremely close to my place, and our neighbours were told to implement their fire plans on Saturday…it has been very strange watching from so far away and feeling so frightened for a place I love so much and feeling deeply for the community, but knowing that it is because of moments like these that we really are not part of that community and the contribution we make to the community is, at best, minimal;
  • I got a grant from Arts SA to work on my ambitious project – second novel and ‘companion weblog’;
  • I was invited to Melbourne last week to perform in a pretty amazing gig, and it was the hottest I have ever been, but I went okay and I let myself be proud of myself for going;
  • there’s nothing like December for bringing your own family tensions and issues to the fore, – obvs that’s all I’ll say because this is the internet and there is no such thing as ‘personal’…(but don’t worry, it’s not about the mister, he has shaved off that stupid bloody moustache, and balance is restored to our relationship).

That’s all for now, I’m off to Littlest Boy’s graduation – it is his last week at Preschool. He is (literally) upside down with excitement. I am sad in the depths of my soul. But see bullet point one.