Friday, July 25, 2014

How to greet a granny in a fog

Winter is full of slanting light, that breaks through the chill. In the school holidays, the little one and I  once again take time together.
She is awaiting a visitor from across the sea and across the hemispheres.
Her other granny is immigrating from China.
We play together on the afternoon of the arrival. But the light that has been bathing us gently this week, nudging our awareness into hope of a change of season, has dived under the bed clothes overnight. Without it, there is nothing left but fog, wrapping around the city, thick and damp. The granny's plane is diverted to Christchurch, and there she waits for five hours as the afternoon ticks by.
 How to greet a granny who has been greeted by fog?
Why, you make cards and prepare gifts.
Here is a pot of stem ginger cookies and some sachets of soy sauce. Rosemary is for remembrance, and this is a day she will always remember, arriving in a new country where she doesn't speak the language. The little one has been teaching her English: 'I think I taught her "thank you"', she tells me.
The mandarin is a joke that probably won't translate, but I tell the little one, 'I'm giving her a mandarin because she speaks Mandarin', and she chuckles.
Flowers need no translation. I drive the little one to the family home where we gather around the meal table for dinner. The little one, her mother, and her granny chatter away in Mandarin with much excitement, the fog forgotten. My son and I exchange words in English. The little one, sitting between her two grannies, translates when we wish to say something to one another.

Even though winter clings on and the change of season is dragging its heels, life keeps on bringing newness. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Winter stories

We are in the coldest part of winter. Not a time to be alone, pecking at the edge of the tide for morsels.
 No, it's time for our annual midwinter dinner (two weekends ago). Our family links up with my friend and her daughter, and once again we are joined by the Chinese solo mother and her two children. We bring wintry, Christmassy food, for this is our Christmas and new year season, if we follow the rhythms of the earth and sun. I couldn't photograph my Christmas pudding with its blue flames because the flash drowned the colour of the flickering blue flames. But we all saw them.
It was good to feast with our extended (and extending) families,
and gather around the fire to tell stories. This year our theme was: 'A special gift'. I was touched by the story told by the Chinese mother. 
As a young woman she saw a little Chinese boy who seemed strong and independent. When she had children, she wanted them to be like that. This little boy was sent away to school at the age of one year old. (Yes! I know.) She thought that to send her children away at a young age would be the secret to bringing them up tough and strong. But, fortunately, she was by this time growing up in New Zealand. She learned about the Play Centre movement, and by taking her children to Play Centre, learned a whole different way. 
Her special gift to her children was bringing them up in this different way, and being an at-home mother until they were ready to go to school.
Connection, not isolation was the answer to raising a strong child, because that child would be secure and loved. This year her 8 year old daughter joined in the story telling by reading a poem she had written and illustrated. We all loved it, and welcomed her coming-of-story-age. Her six year old son sat mesmerised by the candle flames, taking it all in.
Our little one had a story too, which she was too shy to tell, but the week before, she told me so that I could pass it on.
After the stories, which were rich and wonderful, we each lit a candle and made a wish.
Being together, creating new family constellations, creating new traditions and magic. That's what encourages the light to return, when we are in the dark nights of winter.

Being with real people who warm us, who endorse and exalt our creativity, is essential to the flow of creative life. Otherwise we freeze. 
—Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Always start with a sheep . . .

 It seemed a good idea at the time. Knitting quietly is my ideal way of welcoming in a new babe. But since using a computer, I can't knit any more because I get RSI. It's winter, and I need a project. So I had the great idea to order a kit-set baby quilt, and quietly hand-sew it over the 2 months that remain. (Click here to read how the little one found treasure on the beach to help pay for it,)
 First disappointment was that it arrived too late to sort out ready for my weekend away with my women's group. Second disappointment was that, despite being so beautifully packaged, it wasn't pre-cut (naive me thought that kit-set meant all cut and ready to go. I did find this out before it arrived)
Trying to work it out. I'm not sure that I like the colours.
 Third disappointment: the cutting was laborious, the instructions very unclear (what is a 'fat quarter', and where is the 12 inch piece, and can I find a measure that pre-dates NZ's changeover to metric several decades ago?). It would have been helpful if the instructions said that step one was to wash the fabric - BEFORE I rushed ahead and cut these strips.
 More washing, this time of the supposed 'fat quarters', before I cut them. Then they had to be ironed.
 Then cut. I've never used the 'steam-a-seam' iron-on backing before. The instructions were impossible to follow. In the end I just made it up myself, and managed to cut out a sheep. Then I put it all away. Two weeks have passed and this is going to take forever. I feel discouraged, until . . .
 the little one comes to play. We play alongside each other, me arranging the quilt squares in different patterns, while she makes a hut. The rain pours down and the wind howls, but we are cosy and happy.
She melts my heart, that little one.
 I manage to cut out a second sheep, without using the sticky backing. It's easier this way, and I like the white sheep on the brown background, even though it has no legs yet.
 The little one likes the special buttons she found in my sewing bag. 'I'm going to make a person,' she says, arranging them happily. 'Look it's Rapunzel!'
 The hut has blue sky over it, and a blanket of snow covered in crystals just outside the front door.
Meanwhile, I start what I've been so eager to do, what I know well—hand sewing, and arranging the colours. It's taken a few more hours to get this far, but I'm so happy with it. I'm planning to add eyes, and a smile that isn't in the pattern. A sheep like this must have a curly mouth, don't you think?

The sheep will look after the rest of the animals as they emerge. It will smile on my work. I nearly threw the whole thing away, but now I'm starting to enjoy it.
That's the secret, so often I find: remember to approach difficult things in good company, with a playful spirit, and then everything will fall into place. Oh, and always start with a sheep.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sail away, climb away

Does winter ever get you down? Do you get that shut-in feeling when the rain pelts down and the wind blows icy tendrils down your neck and into your ears?
Then it's time for a winter walk. The sun is shining between showers and my friend wants to show me a new route. Instead of carrying straight on when we reach the marina, she shows me what happens when we take a right.
The sigh of so many yachts, peacefully moored, sets me dreaming of escape. When I met my son's father, we were at university. He owned two things: a Lambretta motor scooter and an Idlealong sailing dinghy, which he kept at this very marina. That was in the old days of course, before it became a haven for luxury yachts.
I can still remember the feeling of freedom rushing through me as we hoisted the sails and harnessed the wind, letting it take us wherever we wished (and sometimes where the wind wished).
 The Auckland Council is building a walkway to the city. Walking over water is the next best thing to walking on water, as dreams of sailing waft through me like summer clouds.
I could linger here, just listening to the clunk of halyards in the wind. But my friend has a climb in mind. This means skirting around the water to a distant point in the very middle of this photo.
where we will walk on air and cross the sky. The walkway has been up for two years now, but I never knew it was there. At first I was not attracted. It looks ancient, as if constructed out of barbed wire. The brown colour is the result of an unfortunate choice,
 which probably seemed a good idea at the time. But these pretty lozenges in orange and green look old and rusty when viewed from the outside.
Time to climb. We make our way up a stairway before our walk on air, towards another stairway, which you can see across the motorway, on the left amid the trees.
 It was known as Jacob's Ladder in the past, for it was rickety and precarious, and clung to the cliff. Check it out in this link. (In naval terms, a Jacob's Ladder is portable, made of rope or metal, and used to board a ship.)
Now it shines. The name 'Jacob's Ladder' is originally biblical, referring to Jacobs vision of a ladder leading from earth to heaven. And so we climb away, into the sky, as I dream of flying into the heavens of new life.
Spring is still a wet cold month away, at least. But at least we can find little glimpses of cheeriness along the way, and in the free realm of the imagination, escape by sea or sky.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Happy New Year!

Today marks the beginning of the Maori new year here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
For this is the first new moon after the reappearance of Matariki, the little eyes (mata) of god (ariki).
Matariki is the bringer of food, and so the appearance of this jewel-like constellation is greeted with much joy. It is also the home of god and the ancestors, the resting place of dead souls after they left the earth.

Matariki is known to Europeans as the Pleiades, and the Pleiades new year, beginning in late autumn or early winter, was known throughout South-east Asia, ancient Egypt, Sumeria and Celtic Britain.
 In Europe, winter solstice marks the threshold of the new year also. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, winter solstice falls very close to Matariki. This year it fell on June 21 and the two festivals are only seven days apart.
The return of the sun, the ripener of crops, was greeted with as much enthusiasm as the return of Matariki, also a food bringer.
The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
In my book 'Celebrating the Southern Seasons' (1995 and 2005) I recommend that we celebrate our new year, not in January when everyone is rushing away for their summer holidays, but in the quiet of winter, according to the old traditions of both Maori and European. Winter Solstice and Matariki: the festivals of sun and stars, fire and food, uniting us in the land that we now share. This is the vision that I hold in my heart, like a seed tenderly nurtured in the winter darkness.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The turning of the sun

Today I had a conversation with a friend, one of those exchanges that searches into forgotten places.
It was about how we love the dark,
and the way it holds so many secrets.
 From the perspective of the darkness, the world outside changes shape.
 The winter hills are sleeping,
 as somewhere, in the stillness of winter solstice, the sun turns away from its trajectory of loss,
and a promise is seeded, of something new and glorious being birthed from the depths.

Happy solstice to you all, whether you are in the depths of winter, or in the brilliance of full summer.
Across the world, we are linked.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Feeding body and soul

 When I feed others, I too am nourished. Yesterday I led my first 'Pathways to Spirited Ageing' workshop, for counsellors and therapists. How satisfying it was to spend a day in the company of others who are willing to face into the ageing process with humour, curiosity and openness.
 Here are the five kete (a Maori kit bag) of resource  (all tied to the larger 'mother kete' that I shared with the group. In turn, they shared their stories with me.
 Off to the farmer's market this morning to fill my basket with organic produce: slim carrots, kohl rabi, capsicum, bok choy, pumpkin, parsnips, local honey, local almond/brazil/cashew nut butter, ginger chai syrup, rocket and pumpkin, all fresh from the earth this morning.
Together with the coconut chutney idli I bought from the Indian stall, they made up a fresh and lively lunch, which I ate in the winter sunshine.

 Other ingredients went into the shepherd's pie that I cooked for the family tonight.
I've been asked for the recipe, so here it is. [Warning: I am not a recipe person; but I do have a method]

Soak 1 cup of green/blond lentils overnight
Saute chopped seasonal vegetables in oil: eg 1 onion, bunch of carrots, half a capsicum, 2 parsnips, half a kohl rabi, clove of garlic, plus a few leaves of greens (silver beet, kale, or bok choy).
Drain and simmer the soaked lentils in vegetable stock with four or five chopped tomatoes and the sautéed vegetables. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until just tender.
While the lentils and vegetables are cooking, steam fiver six potatoes or three large kumaras.
Mash with butter when cooked.
Place lentil mixture into a casserole dish and spread the mashed potato or kumara over the top.
Make ridges with a fork, and add dots of butter. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the top.
Grill in the oven until top begins to brown (keep an eye on it!)
And oh dear, it was so scrumptious that we all devoured it eagerly and I forgot to take a photo of the finished pie! Here is a little jumble of leftovers, popped into a container for tomorrow's lunch.
I hope your weekend was nourishing too, for both body and soul.