Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Play: International Postcard Swap

This week we've been busy preparing our letters, cards and pictures for Playing By the Book's wonderful International Postcard Swap for Families.

The big girls have written letters and drawn pictures for the families we have been given (one in the UK, one in the US, one in India, one in Japan and one in NSW - very exciting!) We have also composed a family letter together to go with each package that tells a little about our family and a lot about our reading habits (this being, in fact, a literary-themed swap!)

The toddler got involved too, helping me select the photos for a picture-page that we also put into the package. She was insistent that we had to include lots of a'muls - hence the emu, wombats and koala pictured in this post!

Writing letters and postcards is a brilliant and fun way to encourage literacy in children, and I have known this for a while, but there is an added dimension to writing to people overseas that I hadn't quite anticipated.

The girls are waiting with great anticipation for their own international mail to start trickling in, and they are really thrilling to the idea of reading books recommended by people in faraway places.

A, my almost 8 year old, is hoping that we get some recommendations of things that are "not books we'd normally know about", and I couldn't agree more.

Monday, May 30, 2011


on this clear autumn morning, walking,
and talking to my daughter, I said
look! there are rosellas in the trees
high up there, can you see?

she, her warm eyes crinkling at the corners, shook her head gently
sighed with old-woman patience, and said,
no, Mum
they're parrots, not rosellas. don't you know?

no, I did not,
I said, and searched her face for signs
of the half-amused, half-contemptuous exasperation
that time seems to gift to all daughters
talking to their mothers.
that surety that one has depths
beyond the mother's understanding; that one is more able, in essential ways
less contigent
less constrained
destined for better things.

but in my daughter's open face I saw none of it
not yet.
she, still so much a child in essence
not old enough yet
to think her mother foolish
to love, but to pull restlessly against love
to be embarassed.

and as I kissed her goodbye
her face lifted towards mine for the caress
I felt my heart turn over, in anticipation
of the day
when she will turn away.

- Kathy, 30/5/11

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

We Play - Cake decorating

E, my second-born girl, turned 6 on Saturday, as I wrote here. She's having a party at a local playcentre this coming Saturday with her sisters and 20 of her friends (yes, yes, it's a big party, but it's her first year of school, so I want her to enjoy it).

She is, naturally, very excited about the whole birthday business, but possibly the single greatest impetus to her excitement was the promise made by our friend K, she of the drool-worthy food blog Inspired by Wolfe, that she would come and help decorate a birthday cake for E. K is no stranger to either cake decorating in general (check out her mahvellous efforts here) or indeed to cake decorating in our house in particular, as she was our partner in crime in the marathon that was the creation of 118 inscribed cupcakes for my eldest girl's Periodic Table of Elements cake last year.

So, yesterday after school, the kids were thrilled to see K arrive with her toolbox of cake decorating gear to help us decorate the two love-heart shaped butter cakes E and I had baked for the purpose.

My, but the girls had a wonderful time. They chattered away excitedly as K and I took it in turns to mix up a large quantity of buttercream icing, and watched as K carefully coated the two cakes with it.

Next, they donned plastic gloves to help K knead the colour gels through the fondant icing. They both thought this was excellent fun, as did the toddler, who hung around their legs in the hopeful (and satisfied) expectation of grabbing a few bits of dropped icing to eat.

E had decided on a pink base for the cake, decorated with pretty things, so K had obliged by bringing sweet little butterfly and love heart cutters. The girls worked hard to create their decorative objects for the cake top.

K had also pre-made several beautiful yellow roses to go on the cake. When my elder girl saw them, she was fascinated and wanted to have a go herself, so K very patiently and kindly instructed her in the art of rose-making. The pink roses on the cake were made by A, my almost 8-year-old, with K's help.

The girls often bake with me, but in baking as in cooking, I am generally a Taste Not Appearance person; I lack the knack (and patience!) to make food beautiful as well as nutritious and delicious. I think I often lack the confidence, too, thinking that I could not possibly produce something elegant or pretty or "proper" looking.

Seeing E and A's enjoyment of the decorating process, though, and realising that with pre-bought fondant icing, it's not terrifically complicated, inspires me to think that the girls and I might give cake decorating a whirl again soon, maybe as a winter holidays activity. After all, it looks pretty awesome (if I do say so!) and much of it was put together by my girls under K's expert tutelage. I reckon it could be great fun to do in a wet, wintry day.

This post is part of the weekly We Play meme at the wonderful Childhood 101. Check out the main page over there for lots of fantastic play ideas.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rainy day playlist

I've just finished re-reading Nick Hornby's wonderful 1995 novel, High Fidelity, and it, along with the companionship and support that music is providing to both cold-ridden toddler & I today, has inspired me to do a Top Five Songs for a Wet, Cold Monday.

So here they are ... my Top Five.

1. Can't Stand the Rain by the Rescues
up up up
doom and gloom
clouds gathering
up up over my head...

">2. Rainy Days and Mondays by the Carpenters
What I've got they used to call the blues:
Nothin' is really wrong;
Feelin' like I don't belong;
Walkin' around, some kind of lonely clown;
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down...

3. Rain by the Beatles
If the rain comes they run and hide their heads.
They might as well be dead.
If the rain comes, if the rain comes...

4. Raindrops keep fallin' on my head by Burt Bacharach
Raindrops keep falling on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothin' seems to fit
Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling...

5. Kathy's Song by Simon & Garfunkel
(Well, obviously I was going to have this one ;-)
I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls...

Ah, music. It makes all weathers possible (with tea and sympathy, naturally ;-)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mud in my eye

Me to my 6-year-old last week, as she sat cuddled on my knee talking about her school day:
"Sweetheart, you have such beautiful eyes. Just like the ocean, they are."

Her almost-8-year-old sister, overhearing, instantly cuts in:
"What about MY eyes? Are THEY beautiful?"

"Oh yes," I say. "Like melted chocolate. Two warm pools of deliciousness!"

She smiles. Then she looks at me thoughtfully, staring into my undistinguished brown-hazel eyes, and says,
"Mum, your eyes ... they're just like ... dirt."

That's so sweet, pet ;-)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy birthday

Happy birthday, my secondborn baby girl!

Today you are 6, and we celebrated with family and close friends, with laughter and jelly, chips and pillow fights, frankfurts and ice-cream cake.

Next week you'll enjoy your party with your schoolfriends at a no doubt loud and frenetic playcentre, but today was about home comforts and beloved adults surrounding you, games with friends' children who are as close as cousins and as dear.

Such a beautiful lot of gifts you received - a red knitted dress made by your grandmother, books, games, craft supplies, a party silk dress, and, to your great excitement, a digital camera of your very own, and your wonderful pink guitar. Now, worn out from the excitement, you and your sisters are curled up on the couch watching an old Wiggles DVD. Your arm is wound around the 2 year old's neck gently, and your eyes look sleepy.

I wish you many more such birthdays, lovely girl. I look forward to seeing you grow into your years, to being part of that in whatever way you need and want me to. I love you with all my heart, and always will.

Friday, May 20, 2011

School chooks

One of the nicest things about the school my elder two daughters attend (other than the fact that it's small - about 350 kids) is the wonderful Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program that runs there. I remember touring the school when A, my eldest, was 4 and in her kindergarten year, and being entranced with the then-embryonic vegetable patches and the newly-constructed purpose-built kitchen, with its light, airy interior and wonderful, welcoming smells.

It was one of the reasons we chose this school for our girls, and in the three years from that time to this, it has only gone from strength to strength. All the kids from term 3 in grade 3 onwards have weekly cooking sessions, and, now that the garden is established and very productive, they use predominantly produce from the beds they themselves have weeded and maintained. The kitchen is also used for twice-weekly breakfast clubs, one of my personal pet programs at the school - providing a free, nutritious breakfast and a chance for kids to relax and socialise before school (and for working parents, two mornings a week that they can drop off early without any concerns).

With the removal of the last portable classrooms at the school and their replacement with a multi-purpose classroom building funded by the stimulus package education money, more space was freed up for veggies, fruit trees, mulched areas...

and chooks!

Oh the anticipation that the kids manifested, waiting for the chookyard to be constructed. Oh the excitement on the first day of term, when the 4 Rhode Island Reds were installed. Oh the loving care with which the kids feed grass scraps to these fat, happy hens. Competition for the privilege of filling their food and water bowls, bringing them bowls of fruit & veg scraps, and collecting their daily eggs is fierce. The kids love to stroke them, and at least one of the hens is a shameless poser for this, backing up to the fence so little hands can reach to scratch her gently.

I think it's fantastic to have chickens at school. The kids are getting to use the deep-yolked, full-flavoured eggs that these well-fed ladies are producing in their cooking classes, and are already noticing the difference from cage-fed hen eggs in particular. The soft burrrrking sound that the chooks make as they go about their business adds a friendly, cheerful note to the playground, even when it's in repose (ie when all the kids are inside!)

In time the plan is to extend the run by about another 8 feet and add in three more chickens. It'll be a great thing well into the future for the kids.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reading Notes - Toddler's Top 20 for April 2011

(Earlier posts in this series are here - February's books - and here - March's books).

Continuing on my monthly wrap-up of toddler's top-rotating picture books, the past month or six weeks has seen a transition towards longer titles on the whole, with one or two exceptions. At almost 27 months, C's sense of humour is burgeoning, as is her ability to predict narratives and rhymes. This has led to the retention of two of last month's favourites in this month's list - they have remained stalwart on daily rotation because of their humour (in the case of Too Many Pears) and rhythm (Where is the Green Sheep).

C is also engaging with more complex stories and characters, and her lengthening attention span is showing in her capacity to follow plot points across an entire book. Her narrative sense is emerging and, like her sisters, she's part of a storytelling and story-hearing clan, and she's drinking it up. We were born for the tale, all of us ;-)

This month, daily books on most days have included at least half of this list. We've been reading, on average, 25 books a day - C is in a very beautiful phase with books at the moment, of wanting to sit down with me for extended reading sessions and cuddle and explore the text. I remember this stage with delight from my older two and I'm very much soaking up having it back again. Unfolding the written word to a beloved child must be one of the purest pleasures in parenting, I think.

So this month, the top reads have been:

1. Good Night, Little Bear (Patsy Scarry)
All of my children have enjoyed this one. We have it in a Golden Book form.

2. The Kitten Who Thought He Was a Mouse (Miriam Norton)
This is a classic and another Golden Book - ah, how I love the Golden Books! Mickey Miggs is one of C's favourite fictional characters of all time.

3. Piglet and Mama (Margaret Wild)

Hey, lookit - another charming pig in children's fiction! Piglet and Mama is very sweet, and very much part of the repeating-pattern little-lost-animal school of picture book (as are both Little Baa and Little Lamb, listed below).

4. Little Baa (Kim Lewis)

5. Goodnight Harry (Kim Lewis)
Kim Lewis is a particular favourite of mine in the children's picture book arena. Her soft watercolour illustrations team perfectly with the themes of her stories, and the countryside is like another character in the books, always waiting just outside the window. C loves Harry deeply; this is probably one of her two or three absolute favourites at the moment.

6. Little Lamb (Piers Harper)

7. I Know a Rhino (Charles Fuge)

8. The Poky Little Puppy (Janette Sebring Lowrey)

9. The Saggy Baggy Elephant (K & B Jackson)

Both The Poky Little Puppy and The Saggy Baggy Elephant have emerged from the Golden Book section of our library this month in triumph. Our own dog is called Pokey (named after both this book and the Hokey Pokey) so C finds that an endless source of mirth.

10. Ten Apples Up On Top (Theo LeSieg)
Is there a better early-counting book than this classic?

11. A Fish Out of Water (Helen Palmer)
This was my husband's earliest memory of being read to - an early school teacher reading A Fish Out of Water to the class. He picked up this copy in a secondhand bookshop in Echuca last year and it was instantly adopted as a favorite by the older two girls. C is just ready for it now.

12. Charlie and Lola - I really, really need actual ice skates (Lauren Child)

13. Charlie and Lola - I will be especially very careful (Lauren Child)

Yes, we're back to Charlie & Lola again. She spotted these two titles at the library and nothing would do but that we should borrow them and read them, many, many times. Le sigh.

14. Too Many Pears (Jackie French)

15. Where is the Green Sheep? (Mem Fox)

16. Hop on Pop (Dr Seuss)

17. Cuthbert's Babies (Pamela Allen)
I love this Pamela Allen story of Cuthbert and his quintuplet baby sisters, and so, it seems, does Miss C.

18. Are You My Mother? (P D Eastman)

19. The Sea Mice and the Stars (Kenneth C Steven)
This is a very appealing little book indeed, and while I would have thought it was too old for C, she listens intently and devotedly to the story of Ashenteen and Willaby gathering the fallen stars to light up the mouse village. A lovely story to read over and over, too - it has adult appeal.

20. The Wish Cat (Ragnhild Scammell)
This is such a favourite of mine! It's the story of Tom, the beaten-up, scruffy but endlessly good-natured stray who is definitely *not* the answer Holly expected to her shooting-star wish for a sweet, fluffy little kitten.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We Play - Outdoor Art

We had one - and one only - good day weather-wise this past week, and it was the occasion for getting outside after school: bouncing on the trampoline, riding scooters and bikes, playing in the sandpit, and drawing on walls and concrete.

Drawing happened with sidewalk chalk, naturally,

but also with nature's own green ink, the rich, juicy, abundant grass.

Later, the kids experimented with painting with lime and lemon juices on the wall, and rubbing crushed rose petals on the ground (none of which produced anything as photogenic as the Green Grass Girl above, but all were great fun!)

Learning about pigments and colours available in the natural world was such a fun thing to do on the cool but clear day that may well prove to be our last hurrah of decent weather before the long dark of winter closes in.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

RSVP - The dying art?

I try not to write too many posts that are just straight-out whines on this blog. There is so much that is beautiful in this life, so much to celebrate, that it just seems like a waste to spend a lot of time grumping about the small stuff.

This can be considered an exception ;-)

My second-born daughter has a 6th birthday coming up very soon. As it's her first year of school, I offered her two parties - one with friends at a venue of her choice (she chose a local playcentre) and one with family & family friends at home. The invitations for both parties were distributed about 10 days ago.

The family / home party will take place in 6 days - next Saturday. I invited 23 people in all to that party; it is designed to be a small, relaxed afternoon tea. How many of those people have replied to let me know whether they're coming?


(No, I'm wrong ... 8. Just recalled that my MIL told me she's coming on Tuesday afternoon when we were over there).

I want to plan the food I'm going to make, I need to shop for it today and prepare it mostly Monday and Tuesday as the back half of the week is excrutiating already. It makes a fairly material difference to these plans to know whether I am catering for 8 guests plus our family, or 23 guests. I feel a little diffident nudging people for replies, but I'm going to have to do just that, or else risk either over- or under-catering.

As for her playcentre party, scheduled for the Saturday after, she's invited (gulp) 25 kids to that one - she wanted to include a lot of people from school, and also felt very strongly that she wanted some of her gymnastics friends there. I grant that it is still further away in time - almost 2 weeks still - and people may be planning to RSVP this week. However, 10 days after invitations went out, I have replies from 4 children, 3 of them from the same family (ie only 2 families have replied).

My past experiences with past kids' parties lead me to believe that most people who are going to reply unprompted do so within the first week. If I was a guessing person, I'd say I'll get maybe 6-8 more replies before I have to start chasing them up. In the case of a playcentre, I will need to tell the venue 5 days beforehand how many children will be there, and that is how many I'll be charged for. So inevitably I'll be spending time late this week and early next week chasing up replies from people who haven't told me their intentions yet.

Am I being ridiculous about this? Is RSVP so last century or something? Honestly, it would never occur to me not to reply one way or the other to a party invitation - it just seems common courtesy to me. Perhaps I'm out of step on this though (it wouldn't be the first time!)

Does anyone else have a problem with RSVPs? If so, how do you handle it?

Friday, May 13, 2011

What I Did On My Holiday

I've just finished a 7-day online holiday, where I did not do any online pootling (that's my catch-all word for the myriad of non-life-administration stuff I do online ... writing & reading blogs, Twitter, Digg, YouTube, news and analysis sites, occasional online games and puzzles).

I wasn't off the grid completely. I checked email daily, including my Gmail; I checked the weather forecast and Googled some factual information for my daughter's school project; I did my online banking and I registered both the big kids for this year's MS Readathon; and I placed two online orders (one for books with Booktopia, one for art supplies with Carnival Club). But all the things I did online were basically compulsory - by which I mean they had to get done one way or another, and the Internet was actually the fastest way to do it. Given that I've been working on a couple of biggish volunteer things that are coming to a head in the next fortnight, email was also a necessity, as that's the primary method of information exchange in that arena.

No pootling did mean a change to the disposition of what I laughingly refer to as my discretionary time. Even in a normal week, I don't usually expend more than one or two long blocks of time online (where long blocks = 2 hours or more). I do, however, often spend 30 or 45 minutes during the toddler's nap on the pootle (often, indeed usually, Tweeting and reading blogs); I also have tended to slump in an exhausted puddle at the computer for 20 minutes before dinner, and had developed a very bad habit of jumping on the computer at 7pm while hubs got the kids washed & dressed for bed. (I say "bad habit" because, after a week of not doing it, I can see how disruptive it was for the whole family having me zoning out in that crucial half-hour. The pre-bed routine has been so much pleasanter and smoother this week with me not pootling at this time).

I have had both a busy and tiring week IRL in any case, with a lot of things on, hubs away for work two nights, and a cold-ridden, sleep-interrupted, toddler. So even if I wasn't on an online holiday, I doubt I would have got any long blocks of online time this week. But knocking out even the shorter snatches freed up more time and headspace than I had anticipated. Instead of pootling, I:

- finished everything for the launch event that I am organising for our school's new building (as part of my school council role);
- sorted out a range of tiresome small niggling things that I had never seemed to get around to (eg. sorting through my wallet & handbags, and updating my birthday book)
- read 3 novels, which is at least one more than I would have read in a busy week normally;
- sorted through one of the junk depositories in my house (there are *plenty* left, sadly) and disposed of redundant stuff;
- started sketching out the sequel book to the middle-grade detective novel I wrote last year for NaNoWriMo.

I'm not counting things like housework, laundry, kid-transporting, cooking, regular activities, and play / fun time with the kids, because those things tend not to get missed in any week (ie they are not sacrificed to pootling time ;-)

What I realised is that what I've effectively been doing, subconsciously, is to designate pootling as my go-to second-tier activity after all my A list stuff (quality time with kids, house, laundry, cooking, logistics, activities, volunteer obligations) is done. This is all very well and good, but it does mean that lots of other second-tier activities - tidying / decluttering, meta administration, gardening, reading, even TV - are never even in the same postcode as my week. I also realised that pootling definitely has a time and a place, and 7pm is not it if I want the evening to run smoothly.

That said, I did miss aspects of my online existence, and I didn't consider extending my holiday. I enjoy writing my own blogs and reading those on my blogroll - I find them interesting, relevant and in the case of my own, a release and a creative output. I like chattering on Twitter, especially if I'm having a rough day with little adult interaction in it. I like reading things that make me think and challenge me, and some of the sites I visit do that all the time.

But overall, I think that the holiday did me good, and I found it relaxing and enlightening. Now that I'm back, husband and I have made a joint commitment to not have our computers on between dinnertime (5:30) and the older girls' bedtime (8pm), and I think that'll be a good thing all round. Midday pootling, while toddler naps (such as the 45 minutes that produced this post ;-) is definitely green for go again though!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reading Notes - Planning with Kids

I'm going to go out on a limb in this post and describe a book as THE single most practical parenting-related book I've ever read. It's not (yet another) baby sleep book, although I have my share of those, don't we all ;-) It's not a behaviour management or child-rearing book, although I would posit that following the ideas in it would help with addressing some key issues under those headings too. It's not an "experience of parenthood" book, really, although it is in some ways; it will help many people's experience of parenthood be a lot more coherent, I believe.

Instead, this is a book about family logistics - about building the frame within which your family can grow and develop together, and everyone has the best shot at thriving. It's about, as my husband remarked on flicking through it, the superstructure of life - how you manage the housework, how you budget, how you provide food, how you balance competing needs and activities. In a word - it's about the Power of Planning ;-)

Planning With Kids is written by well-known and well-loved Melbourne blogger, Nicole Avery. Based on her highly regarded blog of the same name, Nicole, aka The Planning Queen, takes the reader on a detailed, pragmatic and helpful journey through the myriad of ways in which planning can enable family life to run smoothly (well, at least more smoothly - no-one, least of all Nicole, suggests that all eventualities can be planned for!)

The book is divided into 4 parts - Organising your family (Routines, Meals and Family Finances); Ages and Stages; Enjoying Parenting; and Family fun times. I found each part interesting and worthwhile, but confess that I think the real meat of the book, and the parts that are most universally applicable, are found in the first and last sections. The meal planning advice and practical modelling are solid-gold PWK, as is the budgeting section and the tips on holiday, Christmas and party preparation.

What's so nice about the way it's written is that the author isn't telling anyone what to do, or even how to do it - this is more a roadmap, a tools list and a series of markers to help you decide where you want to go in these areas, start going there, and critically, how to measure success in your journey. Nicole has also drawn on the thoughts of commenters on her blog to provide valuable fresh perspectives on issues, which adds a really strong feeling of immediacy and conversation to the text.

If there is a fault to find with this book - and I am stretching here - I guess I would say that it is in the fact that the whole message is underpinned with an assumption that two responsible and involved parent-figures are available in each household. I know that Nicole explicitly states several times that X or Y might not work this way for single parent households, and several of the comments from others come from single parents, but for me, I did feel the whole thing was deeply embedded in the traditional-household model.

The third section in particular, on Enjoying Parenthood, I personally loved but have received two comments from single-parent friends that a lot of it wasn't applicable to their situation. (That said, they *adored* the first and second sections and I have yet to successfully get my copy back from one of them, so I am in no way suggesting that this is only a book for mum-and-dad households!) I suppose I'm just noting that this book is fairly well encultured in the life experience of its writer. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and for me, it resonated because that is also my experience.

All in all, this book is fantastic and you should immediately go out and buy 5 copies. (Kidding ... one will do :-). And if you are not a reader of the blog, I'd suggest you make its acquaintance forthwith.

Note: I was NOT provided with a review copy of this book - I paid for my copy like everyone else! Nor was this review solicited by the author, publisher or any other person. No financial consideration was offered or accepted for this review. All views are entirely my own.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


In reading comments on a post at the wonderful Irretrievably Broken (a blog whose acquaintance I highly recommend you make, if witty, insightful, engaging writing is your cup of tea), I came across a word I'd never heard before - Saudade.

It is a Portuguese word that does not translate fully into English, according to the Wikipedia entry, but can be roughly rendered as "a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is lost. It often carries a fatalist tone and a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return." Alternatively, it is "vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist ... a turning towards the past or towards the future."

It's not quite - or, at least, not only - nostalgia that's encompassed in this word. Nostalgia (at least in its conventional usage in English) is about a yearning for an idealised past, which can be one element of saudade but doesn't seem to be its essence. It seems to me, non-Portuguese speaker that I am, that saudade is putting a name to a more generalised longing - a sadness, an ache, for that which isn't here; for things and people and moments and states of being that are either past, or imagined but not yet realised, or, possibly, unattainable altogether.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude when I discovered this word, because now I have a label for the feeling that sweeps over me on occasion, when I am at a low ebb, and can be extremely intense. I've never been able to adequately describe it before. It's sadness, longing, resignation ... yes. It's not depressive or tragic so much as mournful, pining. It's not always nostalgic in nature - sometimes I'm longing for an imagined state or an imagined future. And when it is nostalgic, I'm certainly hungering for a past that didn't exist, that has no reality except in my memory. This is quite a different emotion to grief or missing a lost loved one - I'm no stranger to those feelings either, and I know this is not grief, or at least not in the way I've experienced it.

Yet aspects of this longing are pegged to past selves - I often feel intense, almost physical yearning for the younger iterations of my daughters and the life we lived when A was an only child, or when E was a baby, or when I was pregnant with C. It's not that I believe now (or believed then) that any stage of life was more perfect or beautiful or desirable than any other; rather, it's that I feel that every stage slipped away more rapidly that I could comprehend, and that all that time, all those kisses and tears and stories and play and laughter, ran through my fingers before I could fully appreciate it. Ahhhh ... There you go. That feeling, right there. Saudade.

When I am awash with this emotion, I find that I am quite calm, but also melancholy, unproductive, unmotivated, and sensitive to small troubles that ordinarily would not phase me. This is the state of mind in which I'm quite likely to cry when reading a sad story, or pootle around the house picking things up and putting then down aimlessly without accomplishing anything. This is the state of mind in which I look up into the sky and feel ... aching. Longing. For what, I can't always say, but for some self beyond the one I'm living today.

It's not a comfortable feeling, saudade, but neither is it devastating (to me); unlike grief or pain, it doesn't maroon me, it doesn't leave me unable to touch or be touched. I am still me, when I'm in this state; just a quieter, more pensive, more introspective me.

Perhaps Shalom Freedman's poem can express the sentiment best of all.


The longing is the heart of the poem
The longing for so much
Which will never be again-

The longing to be young again
To love again
In a true and deep way-

The longing for all the times and people
Who are not
And never will be again-

The longing which tells me again and again
How much we lose in merely living
How deep and rich life is
In time and ways and people
Beyond our ever remembering and recollecting fully-

The longing is for so much that is gone
For so much that will never be again-

Life itself is a longing for life itself
And life goes beyond itself in so many ways-

All the longing all my longing
Will never bring it back
even that
which is always here.

- Shalom Freedman

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Indigo Girls

I took my eldest daughter A, who's almost 8, to see the Indigo Girls in concert at the Palais on Friday night. We had a brilliant time. She loved every part of it - the trip in (we talked the whole way), seeing Luna Park lit up at night, the grand old Palais itself, meeting up with my friends (and her beloved aunties) who we were seeing the show with, the support act Henry Wagons (who was very funny) and then the magic of the show itself. We had fantastic seats - stalls, 5 rows from the front - and we could see very clearly, which also thrilled A. She managed to stay awake right through it, eventually hitting the sack at midnight, a good 3.5 hours later than usual.

As for me, I enjoyed the concert immensely. The Indigo Girls are my favourite band and have been since my university days, and this is the third time I've seen them live - I saw them in 1997, not long before my wedding; then in 2007, when A, then a 4-year-old, begged and begged to be allowed to come (and was promised "next time"); and now in 2011. I think, on balance, this was the best show of the three - or perhaps it was just the best experience of the three for me, because my pleasure in the music and the atmosphere was amplified by the delight manifested by A. I'm so glad that I was able to take her to see this band as her first-ever grown-up music show, so happy that she picked this so enthusiastically while her peers are all dragging their parents long to the Justin Bieber shows in Melbourne instead. (Not dissing Monsieur Bieber here - that would be unjust, as I don't believe I've ever heard a single one of his songs. I'm just saying, Indigo Girls = Much More Betterer Adult Experience ;-)

The show was just, oh, wonderful. A commented that she thought Emily was looking tired, and I agree, but her performance, while mellow, was not lacking in any of the good stuff. I just love her voice, the way it soars and weaves its way through the poetry of their lyrics. Amy, in her waistcoat and tie, looked awesome and seemed relaxed and happy to be there, which helped make the experience even better for the audience.

On the way there, I asked A what three songs she was most hoping to hear. She replied with two of the better-known old hits, Closer to Fine and Galileo, and I'll Change (a song from the newest album, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug). She asked me the same question and I said - Least Complicated, Love's Recovery, and, although I rather doubted I'd get it, Amy's version of Mark Knopfler's Romeo and Juliet. Well, we made off like bandits, with 5 out of our 6 getting an outing - only I'll Change wasn't played, and A was consoled with Sugartongue, another favourite song from Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. The highlights of the evening, musically, for me, were Amy's inspired rendition of Romeo and Juliet - it was absolutely wonderful, better than the recorded version by several orders of magnitude - along with crowd-pleasers Closer to Fine, Galileo, Watershed and Ghost.

A was fascinated and entranced by the artistry of the performance, watching Emily's fingerwork on her guitar solos with awe, listening intently to the interplay of two beautiful voices. I, as always, was struck by how the Indigo Girls seem to have the capacity to reach people where they live, with lyrics that speak to everyone: sad, pining, aching, sweet, hopeful, loving, angry, compassionate ... Every mood and season finds a place in their songs.

A commented on the way home that there were lots of what she calls "couple-ladies" at the concert who seemed to love each other a lot and be very happy. Yes, I agreed, there were. A sighed happily and said, "It's just nice when people love each other, isn't it, Mum?"

Oh yes, sweetheart. Never a truer word.