Sunday, December 28, 2008
On Christmas Eve we had a huge meal with my step-siblings: turkey and stuffing; parsnip, mushroom and cashew roast; candied carrots; roast potatoes; brussel sprouts and walnuts; coleslaw; homemade gravies of various types and cranberry sauce. Plus lots of traditional English mulled wine. Unfortunately, we were so busy cooking that we forgot to take any pictures of the completed feast!
We do, however, have pictures of Hugh, created by my husband and siblings:
We read The Night Before Christmas and my youngest sister insisted that we put out milk and cookies for Santa - although they didn't last long:
We all woke up early on Christmas morning and drank lots of spiced holiday tea while opening our presents.
After hashbrowns and eggs (my favourite Christmas breakfast as it reminds me of my dad) we went out to get some fresh air playing disc golf in the snow - my stepdad's favourite activity:
Finally, we had a late dinner of leek and potato soup, paella, white beans with chard, and hazelnut chocolate roulade:
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
In Michigan and have been without internet for the past few days. Still getting over the jet lag and the shock of being snowed in without public transportation. Not quite up to writing a full entry at the moment, so here are a few pictures.
The lake, frozen and snowed over. My husband and my youngest sister spent the afternoon yesterday making an ice rink - with limited success.
My birthday on Sunday which was a lovely day. These are glasses of champagne with a drop of Mom's homemade raspberry cordial - delicious! My sister cooked a great gluten-free pasta bake with tomato sauce, basil, lentils and lots of cheese. I got lots of children's books this birthday, some of which were favourites from my childhood, others new YA fantasy from a couple of my favourite authors. Also two classic DVDs to add to my collection, earrings, gloves, and an original painting from my sister. A perfect birthday, and my first in America for three years.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I had a lovely break in the middle of the day today, however, getting the bus into town to go to a lunchtime carol service in the cathedral with some colleagues. I have a real reverance for cathedrals, partly because I still haven't gotten over my American astonishment that things can be so old, partly because they epitomise the mystical, dramatic side of Christianity that I find intriguing. Cathedrals are so impressive and intimate at the same time. I'm rarely disappointed by them.
On our honeymoon in Paris, we very nearly didn't visit Notre Dame on our last day which was pouring with rain. In the end, though, we were short on money and cold and Notre Dame was both free and dry so we thought we'd pop in for a look. A boys' choir was singing, and all around the church were little candles burning, each lit by a different visitor, all those prayers and rememberances floating up with the boys' voices into the rafters. I put a coin in the box and lit a candle for my dad. I always wonder what my dad would think of things like that, having been very unreligious himself, but I feel he would have appreciated the gesture. He had a soft spot in his heart for things like this - he always teared up, for instance, at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird when Boo Radley finally appeared. It's the sensory side of lighting a candle that does it I think - the flicker of the flame, the slight crackle and the faint scent of the burning wick, makes the act of rememberance feel physically real.
Anyway, the carol service today was lovely - only Once in Royal David's City really caused me any difficulty. I'm sure that I must have heard this one a million of times before in both England and America, but the tune never seems familiar. The version of O Come All Ye Faithful (one of my favourites) had the dreadful lyrics along the lines of 'does not abhor the Virgin's womb.' Go read it, really that's a terrible verse. The service was quite thoughtful and the presiding priest serious - I'm told that in past years it has been a little more joyful, but I don't mind my carols a little mournful. It feels more holy.
Monday, December 15, 2008
For those of you who are still here, you may know that I have been knitting a green blanket... for 3 1/2 years! It is the simplest pattern in the world and I'm a fairly competent knitter - although the lace mohair shawl I tried to make for my sister last year defeated me. But this is big! Double bed size! It is good to knit in front of the television - but it's so boring. You don't ever get anywhere. It all looks the same. This is why there have been year-long gaps in between just a few rows. I don't knit that slowly, I promise.
First it was this:
But now it is this!:
Okay, slight confession, that first picture was taken today, and this excitement is because I have finished the second panel - of five. But I am resolved to finish the rest by Easter (which will be the four year anniversary of starting this project, oh dear.) Watch this space.
Backdating my entry is very naughty - it is lying really, I know that. But I finished the panel on Sunday and meant to post this on Monday so it is correct in spirit.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
- e.e. cummings
I'm finally recovering from being ill and Simon and I went for a short walk by the sea this afternoon. Our shoes and socks ended up soaked through, but I always find the sea inspirational, awesome in the correct sense of the word. The rhythm of the waves is always calming, and eventually it feels as though you are breathing and your heart is beating in time.
This is one of my very favourite poems, first read in a much-loved fat book of children's poems that my grandparents gave me (one of the best of its kind I think, I wish I could remember what it was called.) I've always wanted to write a story out of this poem, and recently I've begun little fragments of one on my train journey to work that runs right along the coast. It's the story of four adult sisters who move, for the autumn, to a house by the sea. Think The Ghost and Mrs Muir meets The Sea, The Sea - but not at all of course because I've drawn on a lot of different threads in my past to create these characters: trans-Atlantic experience, close families, both east and west coasts of England, and much of the material feels very real and familiar to me. As with all of my writing these days, I can't seem to keep short, and I think it's a roughly 80,000 word novel in the making rather than a short story, although I'm really using this as a de-stressing exercise rather than a serious project. It makes a nice break from the rewrites for Glass and Ice, my first novel which is a mammoth children's fantasy that needs major work (and that I do find very stressful.)
But I like the rhythms of the sea, and my 'maggie and millie and mollie and may' story (tentatively called 'Whatever We Lose') is as therapeutic for me. It's something I can work on when I walk along the beach and just feel the need to write that wind-sea-sky feeling down.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
This is me and my dad, many years ago now. I'm talking - as usual. He looks so young there, and healthy, this is long before he was ill and is the way I like to remember him. My instinct always places this photo as the same Christmas that my mom gave me my Gwinna doll - not Gwinna really, I don't think, but obviously reminiscent of that red-haired girl who grew wings in the beautiful, luminous Barbara Helen Berger book. I always think of that book as glowing, all of the illustrations pulse with a kind of inner light. My mom didn't make the Gwinna doll, but this was back when she did make dolls, even sold some through the nearby Waldorf school, soft cotton star-shaped babies and a brown-haired brown-eyed one that looked like me. It's been a long time since my mom has made dolls and it's hard to imagine her doing that now - like me, I think my mother goes through phases of these things, an intense interest that fades as life changes. It's strange to think of, we are all so different now than we were then, and there is an emptiness where my dad is, that only pictures like this and my hazy (possibly imagined, certainly embellished) memories can try to fill. I find that I do come back to some of my young phases, however, years later, so maybe Mom will make dolls again, in that distant future when we have children and there is some reason for it again.
I don't think this picture can be the same Christmas as the Gwinna doll, however. That Christmas, I'm sure (I think) is the one where I painstakingly copied out all the lyrics of the many verses to O Little Town of Bethlehem, my favourite Christmas carol, as a gift for my parents. I can't have been more than six then, but I must have been older than the me in the photographs. It's still my favourite, but it's one of the few things that jars in an English Christmas for me - in England it has a completely different melody, more joyful, upbeat almost. It is the sadness that I like most about the version that I know and love, the solemness, the stillness, the wonder. In the more melancholy version, I can feel the cold, the empty streets, the stars twinkling, each solitary in the sky, waiting, watching. It's that feeling that I like, and the reason I copied the song for my parents who were quite unreligious, and very rarely sang Christmas carols.Here is our tiny Christmas card display, including (although you can't see it very well because I am a terrible photographer) our little Advent calendar from Simon's parents. Although I am decidedly agnostic in my religious views, there is something about the traditional Christian Christmas that deeply appeals to me and I love Advent. I'll always fall for a good story, and this is one of the best. When it comes to Advent calendars, I've always preferred the traditional ones with pictures each day, counting down to a final double door on Christmas Eve. We always looked forward to it (I'm sure my sister opened those doors early more than once - but I never did) as though it was a surprise, as though it wasn't always Mary and the baby in the manger. My cousin's blog reminded me of another Advent tradition in Waldorf teaching, the star walk, where figures of Mary and Joseph walk along a path of stars to the stable, getting one star nearer every day. The stars they've left behind are placed in a blue felt sky above them. Finally, Simon's parents have an Advent ring wreathed with holly and ivy, with four red candles for each Sunday of Advent and a final white candle for Christmas day. I like these ways of counting down to Christmas, making the getting there almost as important as the day itself.
I am not a fan, however, of what passes for an Advent calendar for most children in England these days, with chocolate behind the doors instead of a picture. The plastic and foil shell left behind does not make a nice display for the mantelpiece, there's no story to it - and it rots their teeth. When it comes to the holidays, I don't see how American obesity rates can be so much higher - in England, the term Easter eggs, for instance, usually refers to large chocolate eggs rather than coloured real eggs.
To finish, here is my little indoor rose bush. It is much prettier than it looks here. If I could take pictures properly, you would see how beautiful it is.
Happy ten days to Christmas - and eight days to my birthday, by the way!
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
At the moment, I'm stuck in a cycle of working, eating, sleeping, and more working, obsessing about writing but not doing it. I need something to remind me that there's still creativity left in the tired me that comes home from work every night. I have lovely life, really, but I do so little with it! This blog is to encourage me to do something - and make me appreciate the things I already do.
And there is a literal (but not metaphorical) ocean between myself and my family that I'd like to bridge. My sister said to me the other day that the hardest part of being so far away is thinking "What is Amelia doing today?" and not having any idea what to picture. So this is for that too. To give the people I miss somewhere to imagine me.
So here's to inspiration and adventures and optimism (this is not a blog for me to complain about my life.) Wish me luck!