blogging

I'm ready to send you mail again!

snail mail I have a little Christmas present for you, my friends. Actually, I have more than one to give! 

You may remember that I used to send letters to people who subscribed to this blog, to say thank you to them for reading. I had to suspend that in July this year, when I discovered I was more than 60 letters behind in all the mail I owed. It was overwhelming, and I felt terrible for being so slow. 

But here we are a week before Christmas, and I'm all caught up. If you subscribe to this blog and you haven't already requested this mail from me, I invite you to share your address now. The sign-up form is here and I look forward to making mail for you.

UPDATE 7 Feb 2017: Aah I'm so sorry. I've been making mail as fast as I can but you guys are KEEN (I do love that!) and, as fast as I've been going, there are now 123 people on the waiting list. So I've had to disable the form again while I catch up. Again. Watch this space. 

I mentioned I have some other presents to give. While things have been quiet on this blog of late, I haven't forgotten you, and I've been working away behind the scenes to develop some resources that I hope you might enjoy. 

The first is a free monthly newsletter that will launch mid-January. Short on words but big on inspiration, it will contain an original artwork every month, that you can print out and customise into your own mail-art.  

The second is my new e-book, Making Mail. This is a 10-part guide to writing letters that will become keepsakes, by writing entertaining missives that look beautiful, survive their journeys, and make the recipients feel special. This book is free when you subscribe to my newsletter. 

I really hope you enjoy all of these gifts, and I want to thank you for sticking with me as I've developed all these resources in the background. I'm looking forward to bringing you more inspiring, uplifting, funny and creative content in the New Year, and wish you every happiness for this festive season. 

Love, Naomi 

Sickle moon

moon It was a sickle moon last night. Did you see it? Wavering and watery, paper thin, I stopped to greet it on my way back across the road, with a $12 bottle of rosé in my hand. "Good night moon," I said (good night stars, good night air*). That was a little bit embarrassing because it turned out I said it out loud without realising, and two people coming out of the bottle shop with wine that probably cost a lot more than $12 looked at me kind of funny.

Anyway I have been absent from this little blog for the past few weeks, while I finished the photography for my book (eek!) and the illustrations for Wendy's book (woot!) and another big pile of letters to send to you folks (coming soon!). I always miss this space when I am away, but I have learned to (try to) be more realistic with my time and with what I can and cannot do.

But then I saw the moon last night and I thought of you.

I thought about how strange and magical it always feels to learn that people are reading my blog, reading it from all over the world... Melbourne and Bendigo, New York and Illinois, Russia, the Ukraine, France, Germany, Portugal, Singapore, Mexico, Argentina, and so many other places. Last night, when I looked up at that sickle moon, I thought about how maybe you were looking up at that same sickle moon (or that you would, in just half a world's rotation's time), and I felt strangely close to you.

(*Good night noises everywhere)

Image credit: sickle moon by Nousnou Iwasaki, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

My people

museum-1 On the weekend as I walked home with Mr B, pushing the double pram with two tired but happy children whose bellies were full of yum cha and ice cream, we got chatting about “tribes."

That morning I’d spent two hours at the Melbourne Museum in the company of a lovely bunch of women, some of whom I’d met before and others who were relative strangers, although we’d been in touch on Facebook and on blogs and, in most cases, by snail mail.

We were all part of an alumni group of folks who had participated in "Blog With Pip," a month-long online course that helps beginner bloggers get started, and helps more seasoned bloggers shake things up and improve them a bit.

It wasn't the first online course I’d ever done, nor the first group of alumni or otherwise that I’d been part of, but never before, not once since the Internet, had I experienced any genuine desire to “meet up” with members of an online group. But these people I did want to meet. I looked forward to it, and I loved every minute of it. I’ve met up with members of this group before, and I hope I’ll join them at other events in the future.

So as Mr B and I walked home that day, we got to thinking about what made me feel like these were “my people,” and why it was so easy for me to enjoy their company.

In the end, we figured the answer was as simple as “like attracts like.”

I chose to do the Blog With Pip course in the first place, over all the other blogging courses and lessons I could have pursued, because I admired the teacher Pip Lincolne. Her blog Meet Me At Mikes was one of the first blogs I'd ever read (I came across it when she hosted a sail mail project, of all things, in 2010); she is a talented and prolific author; we share similar interests (craft, creativity, colour); and she has a kindness and a sense of ethics and justice that I deeply admire.

I’m assuming a number of other people chose Pip’s course over all the others for much the same reasons, so right there we already had a lot of interests AND life views in common. Easy friendship! Lots to talk about!

It’s nice when you find your people, isn’t it. How do you find YOUR tribe?

Onwards to the pictures.

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↑↑ Scout decided at the last minute that she wanted to join me “with the ladies” but then when she got there she was shy. And then she wasn’t.

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↑↑ What's going on here is that I’m taking a picture of Pip taking a picture of Carly’s boots. Because, THOSE BOOTS.

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↑↑ As we wandered through the indoor/outdoor rainforest, everyone pulled out their cameras to start taking photographs, and I gave Scout my phone so she could take photos too. Here she is taking a groundbreaking close-up of... a pole. She also took this picture of a waterfall using "Mummy's big camera."

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↑↑ There is a weird taxidermy room at the Melbourne Museum, which is creepy and educational in equal measure (not pictured here but I'm just saying). I never can quite decide how I feel about it. Also a cluster of indoor windmills. A real Egyptian mummy (so cool!). And this truly bizarre human-map of… um, I can’t remember. Arteries, I think?

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↑↑ It’s almost ANZAC Day. A few of us sat down to write remembrance / thank-you notes to men and women who have served in a protective capacity. I wrote a thank-you to my brother-in-law, who sacrificed and lost more than anyone should have to to keep the people of Timor safe.

Meanwhile, the photo at the top of this post is a not-so-shy-anymore Scout, getting a cuddle from Michelle while they looked at butterflies.

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ps. Here's a roll-call of who was there, if you want to visit their blogs and say hi. Props to Jacquie from Bird and Fox who created this list - I have shamelessly copied it. You can read her impressions of our outing, and see her lovely photographs, here.

Jacquie - bird and fox Yvette - bear loves dove Emily - squiggleandswirl Carly - Tune Into Radio Carly Pip - Meet Me At Mike's Kate - One Small Life Michelle - Girl Gone Home Also Catherine, who has a blog yet to come (we can't wait!)

How to make iced tea

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On the weekend, a small group of bloggers and one two-and-a-half-year-old girl relaxed in the leafy and floral courtyard of the Travelling Samovar Tea House to chat, giggle, taste tea, and learn about how to brew and blend and make the best of all the (non-alcoholic) summer drinks: iced tea.

Scout had begged to come with me and I was proud as punch to bring her along, but she did make it somewhat more difficult to listen and concentrate on everything we were learning. In between supervising toilet stops and watching her twirl around a garden umbrella and having half-an-ear on the shutter-click of 555(!) photographs (of the ground) being taken on my phone, here is what I learned about how to make a delicious iced tea.

Step 1: Choose your "base" (for example, black tea, green, yellow, or something herbal)

Step 2: You might want to blend some fresh or dried herbs in at the brew stage for flavour. For example, perhaps you'd like to add rose buds or peppermint

Step 3: Brew up the tea. Make it a fair bit stronger than you otherwise would because if you're going to pour it over ice, that will dilute it

Step 4: A good tip the Travelling Samovar gave us was to pour strong, HOT, freshly-brewed tea over ice, which will immediately cool and dilute it. Alternatively, you can store brewed tea in the 'fridge for several days, as long as it's properly sealed and you haven't yet added anything else like fruit or sugar

Step 5: Does your tea need sweetening? Experiment with fruit, sugar, honey, fruit cordial… To the yellow iced tea you see Scout making in these photographs, we added a strawberry coulis and some squares of mango for sweetness. It looked extravagant and tasted delicious

Step 6: Try to make your tea pretty. Apparently, we drink with our eyes as much as we eat with our eyes. The ladies at the Travelling Samovar suggest serving the cold tea with frozen fruits instead of ice: not only will it look beautiful, the tea won't become diluted as it warms up

Are you an iced-tea drinker? I confess that before the Travelling Samovar opened its doors in our neighbourhood, I wasn't a big fan.

I mean, there was THAT TEA I'd had in New Orleans that was pretty close to perfection, but other than that, the pre-bottled stuff you can buy at service stations really didn't float my boat. But the subtle, sweet, refreshing and gorgeous-looking teas these ladies serve up (there's easily half a dozen iced teas on the menu on any given day in summer) have completely won me over.

A big thanks to the Travelling Samovar for hosting such a fabulous event, and to all the ladies who came along and made it so much fun. I loved learning more about the history of this drink, and how to make it at home. And at 36 degrees by later that afternoon, you couldn't get a day better suited to the drinking of iced beverages. Just ask Scout, who got home and announced to her father "I DID MAKE THE ICED TEA" along the lines of "I JUST INVENTED PERPETUAL MOTION."

ps. This was not a sponsored event - we all paid our own ways

Meet Scout & Ralph

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Meet my children. They're pretty great. Their names are Scout and Ralph.

Those are not their real names, of course. Their real names are no big secret and if it's eating you up inside and you just have to know, simply scroll back through some of my older posts and you'll find them. I haven't exactly been backwards when it comes to talking about my children.

But from now on, I will refer to my daughter as Scout and my son as Ralph on this blog, because I want to lessen the digital footprint I am leaving for them.

I'm not overly concerned, really. There's nothing on this blog that is likely to embarrass them when they are older. No bare-bottom photos; no potty-training stories; no revelations about emotional, mental or behavioural challenges; no recounts of arguments with their father; no heartbreaking confessions from me... just a celebration of how much I love them.

And that has been deliberate, all along. This blog is my happy place, so I write mainly about the GOOD things in life that make me happy. Also, I want to respect my family's right to privacy so I don't write things about them or myself that should really stay with us.

However, I have in the past used their real names. So if you were to type those names into a search engine, you'd find the old posts I've written about them.

That's ok, but from now on, there won't be any more. I mean of course if you were to type in their real names, my blog is likely to come up anyway because we share a surname, but nothing specific.

(As an aside, that's why I always call Mr B "Mr B" on here. A lot of you know his name and again it's no big secret, but this way his digital footprint is his own, not something of my making).

You may or may not know or have noticed it in the past, but both of my children bear the names of storybook heroes. They weren't named for those heroes, per se, but we were certainly aware of the characters and fans of the books and looked forward to reading the children the stories of their namesakes when they were old enough to enjoy them.

So when I came to select pseudonyms to use on this blog, I gave them the names of some of my other favourite fictional children. Scout (from To Kill a Mockingbird) is brave and inquisitive and intelligent and thoughtful and kind and fun. Ralph (from The Lord of the Flies) is charismatic and clever and compassionate and reflective and kind.

All attributes I like to think I see in both of my babies, and all attributes that I would hope to nurture and celebrate in them.

Now please excuse me while I go and hug my children.

Tumbleweed

landscape Have you seen the tumbleweed rolling through this corner of the Internet lately? I feel like it's ages since I've been here, and I've missed it. I've missed YOU.

To be honest I feel like I've lost a bit of writing momentum. We went away on a little holiday and I brought back all kinds of stories to share with you but, before we'd been back a week, little Harry got sick and ended up in hospital. He's fine, he's a tough little guy, but it was a tiring and stressful and all-consuming period.

And then of course by the time Harry and I got home from the hospital I was miles behind on work deadlines and all the little jobs and big jobs that life throws your way every day. They had piled up one on top of the other and it was all a bit overwhelming. It still is.

I'm trying to work my way from underneath the domestic and emotional detritus. Sometimes I see daylight, but then (for example) Madeleine throws up all over herself in the fancy food court at Emporium in Melbourne, and the world and worry tighten their grip on creative thinking, all over again.

(Silver lining: the outcome for Madeleine was not at all bad. We stripped her to singlet and nappy and cuddled her the whole way through to David Jones, where she got to pick out a new outfit for herself while checking out the toys. On the way home, riding in the Ergo with me, she announced, "I love my new clothes. I going to wear them ALL DAY. I going to wear them for EVER.")

I signed up for an Inspiration Information for Bloggers course by Pip Lincolne, which started at the beginning of this month. I've barely had a chance to look at it, but now I'm going to start reading, retrospectively, through the past week-and-a-half's worth of lessons. Hopefully, it will help me get my mojo back, and I can start giving you content worth your time. Some time. SOON.

I really hope so! Thanks for your patience, dear friend. x

ps. Were you as shocked as I was at the outcomes of The Block Glasshouse auctions? Did anyone else NOT see that coming? I feel so bad for the contestants. Imagine giving up three months of work, and being away from your family for three months, only to come away with next to nothing. I know it's a competition, but that's got to be really tough.

Creative life

creative-life How do you keep track of your creative life?

Recently I drew this mind-mappy flow-charty thing to try to figure out, for myself, how all my various fun and creative projects relate to and support one another.

Here's what I learned about my creative life from creating this map:

1. Writing a novel was not the pinnacle of my creative writing activities, but a catalyst for more

2. The people in blogging communities are awesome and so are those in snail-mail communities

3. All my disparate projects don't seem so disparate after all. They work together in a funny kind of way

4. Having kids doesn't mean you have to give up on doing the creative things you love. In many cases, it can inspire you

And it's that last one I want to talk about. Last week a friend (Hi Bec!) said the NICEST thing to me. She said she wanted to have children one day but that she had always feared that prioritising her children might mean having to give up on doing the things she loved. But that knowing me and reading my blog had given her the confidence that the two didn't have to drive one another away. Isn't that wonderful?

I'm the first to admit that I really struggle to find the time to follow my passions. Hey, there are three good reasons why my next novel is still only a third of the way through after ALL THESE YEARS, that the magazine I've mentioned here hasn't launched yet, that I take literally months to write and send the letters I promise to send, and that my blog posting is intermittent at best. Two of those reasons are sleeping upstairs right now and will do so for an undetermined length of time (could be I only have five minutes of blog-writing time left); and the other reason is my actual, you know, paid job. But…

Despite the perpetually time-poor state that comes with being a parent of small children, I make it a priority to work on my creative joys. They're just not the TOP priority. I don't achieve the way I used to, or hit goals the way I used to, but I do give myself permission to chip away at these activities, purely for the love of doing them.

And now Madeleine is entering an age in which she notices these things. She loves to watch me drawing and painting my "mail art," and often I'll go to her for inspiration on what to draw (if you're noticing a lot of horses and tea pots in my post pictures lately, that's why). I want my children to grow up understanding the value of work and responsibility; but also to feel like it's good to have interests and passions, and that they can follow them as far as they want to take them.

I think that's a good thing to teach, isn't it? I hope it is.

The foretelling

reading If I close my eyes I am instantly back there, sitting cross-legged on the floor of our family room underneath the IKEA shelves and fold-out "architect's desk," scribbling on scraps of paper. Sunlight slants sideways from a big wall of windows, the curtains decorated with lime concentric circles. There are lime-and-red cushions on the chairs.

The family room is dominated by a gigantic, yellow, vinyl, double-sized beanbag. On days that I am sick and stay home from school, I lie lengthwise in this beanbag and Mum lets me watch daytime TV. On one particular afternoon, one that has gone down in family folklore, Mum lets the dog inside to "comfort" me. He races through the kitchen and leaps onto the beanbag, not realising I am already in it until it is too late. He lands on my head. From that day until the day he dies, that dog will never leap into that beanbag again.

I'm not in the beanbag when I close my eyes. I'm on the floor, under the furniture. I'm writing a book. Scraps of paper surround me and on each of them is a new page of my story, thick with misspellings and childlike illustrations. Later, Mum will staple all the pages together to create my book. I am rewriting Black Beauty. "Black is my favourite colour," I tell Mum, "because I love black horses."

That is the first time I can remember thinking I want to be a writer.

In the years that follow, I swell with pride when my story is printed in my primary school newsletter, the Panorama (because my school's name is Wideview, get it?). I pen self-conscious and intensely melodramatic dramas during my hippie stage in high school, inspired by a blood moon rising beyond the horizon. Once, I create a mythology for "the birth of the sun." In my description of the "raw power and force," I believe I have tapped something deeply inspired. My English teacher tells me she feels as though she is reading a motorcycle advertisement.

Later, I write a fable about time. A travel memoir about growing up in the country. Poems about broken hearts. I subconsciously turn every job I have into a writing job, until I stumble into a commodity analyst/journalism role and my editor becomes my mentor. Writing is now my profession, but the words I create are a long way from those motorcycle-advertisement dramas. Now, I write about wool futures and cattle markets. About business leaders and political decisions. The subject matter is less than inspiring, but my editor teaches me about plain English, the elegance of minimalism, the value of self editing.

Hunched over my desk under a flickering flourescent light on a contract writing-job for a client, I write a novella in between memos and reports. At home, insomnia turns my brain into the rabbit hole to Wonderland. My novella spirals with it, and transforms into something unintentionally tainted with magic. When the editors at Curtin University's Black Swan Press approach me to publish my book, I am as proud as I was the day the Panorama sent out photocopies of my Nancy Drew-inspired adventure. Possibly more.

The day I get the letter to say cutbacks in funding mean Black Swan will be closing, and my contract is void, I am devastated. I take it personally, and it is months before I write again. But then I do write, and I burden my next character with more humiliation than I have ever known. It is cathartic.

I am writing this on the floor of my lounge room, cross legged, wrapped up in my dressing gown with my lap top on my knees. My two children are upstairs asleep. Madeleine is two and two months, and she loves to create stories in her little notebook. "One day..." she will promise out loud, while scribbling across a page. Then she will mutter for a little while over more pages and more scribbles, before closing the book with a loud clap and announcing, "The End!"

My fingers on the keyboard are my livelihood but, more than that, they are the outlet for my deepest emotions. The telling of my story, and of theirs. The retelling, the rewriting, the foretelling.

Snail mail - thank you + Tuesday links

bunting Some beautiful surprises have been arriving in the mail and on my doorstep in recent weeks. I feel so lucky to be on the receiving end of so much thoughtfulness and generosity.

:: Lovely cards and notes and ephemera from beautiful friends met via this blog :: Precious cherries in the middle of winter, from my wonderful husband :: An adorable, polka-dotted parcel of goodies, from the lovely Louise of Jubilee Road :: The most extravagant, glorious floral postcard I've ever seen, from mail artist Dean Grey :: Stunning pink roses from Tillda Flowers, with little watermelon sweets from Suga Muma :: And this crocheted bunting from Sandra, which is so perfect I don't even know where to start

Mail-1 Mail-2Each of these absolutely brightened my day, and I'm so incredibly thankful to everyone who has taken the time to write to me and send these things. WOW, you guys are so generous!

It's not exactly the same, but I thought I'd try to pay it forward a little bit by sharing some lovely bits and pieces with you all that I've collected from around the Internet of late. I hope you enjoy them.

1. To test any creative idea, ask yourself: what comes next?

2. These people have transformed something from the everyday (a school bus) into something wonderful (a stylish holiday home)!

3. More giant knitting. Snuggle up!

4. This made me laugh. My ideal wedding at any age

5. LOVE the look of these DIY 'watercolour' mugs

6. When was the last time you wrote a thank-you note?

7. Cats like food trucks too!

8. Valley of the Kings. I want to go here.

9. Fantastic list of books for creative people

10. I lost way too much time exploring The Nostalgia Machine. All the memories!

11. Don't try this at home: railroad street art

12. Healthy nachos? Don't mind if I do!

13. This makes me want to create my own urban jungle

14. In my job and my creative pursuits, I often still draw or write things out by hand before flipping open the laptop. Seems I've been doing something right.

Have you written someone a letter later? Just a little note in the mail to say "Hi, I'm thinking of you"? Let's all send someone a lovely surprise in the mail this week. I can tell you from personal experience: it will make their day!