little things

Little things - the cowboy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Little things in my home...

This pensive cowboy sits outside his restaurant and on my kitchen bench. I found his photograph in a bric-a-brac shop in Aspen, Colorado, when I was staying up there for a fiction writer's course (called Aspen Summer Words - if you ever get the opportunity take it - it was amazing!).

I almost didn't share the cowboy today because the whole purpose of this series is to tell the stories behind the little things in my home. Like this. Or this. Or this. And I don't know the story of this cowboy. Nor have I created a story for him since bringing him home. But I am so deeply drawn to this picture, and I don't even know why. I never tire of looking at it, or thinking about it, and wondering what is his story? What is the story of this new town?

Little Things” is an occasional series about the stories behind some of the little things you’ll find around my home. Are there stories behind the little things in your home? I’d love you to tell me about them! Or if you’d like to join in and write a post like this of your own, don’t forget to share a link to it so I can read it.

Little things - snow globe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALittle things in my home… Inside this snow globe is a sculpture of my old house. If you look closely, you can see the No. 10 number-plate gleaming proudly beside the door.

This was the first home that I ever owned and lived in, and it was glorious. Old carved-oak staircases winding up and dividing in two and winding some more. Hallways with stairs that go up two and down two again for no apparent reason. A Harry Potter-esque cupboard under the stairs. French doors, stained glass windows and a rickety upstairs balcony. There were tatty Persian carpets over the floorboards, left behind by the previous owner, and a truly hideous Medieval-style painting in vomit-tinted hues hanging over the fireplace in the dining room, that we kept up because it made us laugh.

The house was also icy and draughty in winter, and oppressively hot and prone to letting bugs inside in summer. It was dusty all the time, no matter how often you cleaned and vacuumed. The downstairs bathroom was too frightening to use (unless you were really desperate), and whenever planes took off or landed in nearby Sydney Airport, all the windows rattled and all conversations had to be put on pause.

Outside, we turned the little back courtyard into a garden with winding pathways and vegetables and flowering plants and vines. There was space for a table and chairs, and we would sit out there together on warm summer nights with a glass of wine to hand, and listen to the live music wafting across from the Warren View pub, just down the road. Until a plane flew over, blocking out all other sounds. Then, we would wave because, seriously, those planes were so close we were sure the passengers could see us.

Before we moved into this house, I lived out of our car for three months. Which is to say I didn't sleep in the car (there wasn't room - after a while I couldn't even drive the car because there was so much stuff in it), I just kept my things (and Mr B's things, and Emily's and Meg's things) in it while moving from place to place: hotels, hostels, short-term accommodations, while working every day an hour away in Sydney's west, and waiting. Waiting to buy a house, waiting for settlement so we could move into the house, waiting for Mr B to finally move down from Queensland, where he was still working. Waiting because I had crossed the world - again - and moved from New York to Australia to start a proper life with the man I loved and here I was with all my belongings in plastic bags (suitcases had long since stopped fitting in the car), alone, treading emotional water, and searching for home.

We only lived in that house for nine months. But in that time we hosted birthday parties and BBQs, my book was published, we got engaged, we planted vegetables (we harvested the vegetables, we ate the vegetables), we got married (in the back yard, witnessed by 40 of our closest friends and about 400 air passengers en route to some holiday or another), the house overflowed with summer house-guests, we rescued a cat. We loved we argued we laughed we planned we painted we explored we wove stories of us. I started to learn how to cook.

So much has changed since we lived at No. 10 (three more interstate moves! two babies!), and often I feel like the me that lived inside that house was somebody else, somebody I read about inside a book. Could all this really have happened only three years ago?

Just before we moved, I had this snow globe made so that we could take it with us. It sits on the bookshelf of our family room now, where more often than not mess and chaos and all things children reign. And that seems fitting, because No. 10 was the first house I lived in that felt like a family home, since leaving the one I grew up in. It was while living in this house and spending so much time with Emily that I first began to think that maybe, just maybe, I might like to be a mother after all...

“Little Things” is an occasional series about the stories behind some of the little things you’ll find around my home. Are there stories behind the little things in your home? I’d love you to tell me about them! Or if you’d like to join in and write a post like this of your own, don’t forget to share a link to it so I can read it.

Little things - marbles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALittle things in my home... A couple of months ago, our lovely friend Pascale gave Madeleine this simple wooden toy, that her own almost 15-year-old daughter (who happens to share the same birthday as Madeleine) had played with when she was little.

Already, that made it a special and rather lovely gift.

I wasn't sure how safe it would be to give Madeleine marbles but, during this heatwave I struggled to find enough things to keep her entertained inside day after day, so I pulled it out one afternoon.

Instant hit, my friends! Seems the tactile pleasure of cold, coloured glass in the hand, and of watching something make its way along tunnel or tracks, is timeless. I've long had a thing for marbles, ever since my father gave me three he had kept from his childhood. They became the key symbolic component of my novella Airmail.

It was so lovely to see Madeleine develop a fascination for these pretty little glass beauties, too. Of course, she wasn't exactly happy when it was time to pack the toy away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Little Things” is an occasional series about the stories behind some of the little things you’ll find around my home. Are there stories behind the little things in your home? I’d love you to tell me about them! Or if you’d like to join in and write a post like this of your own, don’t forget to share a link to it so I can read it.

ps. Another reader of this blog, Ailsa from Topaz Magpie, wrote the sweetest things about Airmail last week. You can read her words here, if you're interested.

ps2. If you'd like a copy of Airmail I'd be happy to send one to you for free. More details on this page.

Little things - old compass

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALittle things in my home... In the lead-up to our first Valentine's Day as a couple, Mr B and I were living on opposite sides of the world. I wanted to do something for him, but when you are separated by thousands of kilometres, your most romantic dinners together happen over Skype. Which is to say, not very romantic.

Then as I was walking my dog along West Houston, I stopped to look through some tables of antiques and bric-a-brac and came across this old ship's compass, still in its original box. The box was held together with tongues and grooves, rather than nails, and with little lips to make the compass 'float'. I posted the compass back to Mr B in Australia, with a message along the lines of "now you will always know how to find me."

Now it sits among the books in our family room where the two children play. Those years in New York feel like a million years ago, not four. My mind boggles at how much has changed in that time.

The compass, however, still points north.

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“Little Things” is an occasional series about the stories behind some of the little things you’ll find around my home. Are there stories behind the little things in your home? I’d love you to tell me about them! Or if you’d like to join in and write a post like this of your own, don’t forget to share a link to it so I can read it.

Little things - the weather house

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALittle things in my home... This dusty little German weather house sat in my Nanna's house, on a little shelf beside her kitchen table, for as long as I can remember.

As children it was the first thing my brother and I went for every time we came to visit her. It was the Nanna version of a Magic 8-Ball, so long as the only question we wanted answered was "Is it raining or is it dry, right now?" When the air was humid, the little man would come out of the house. I always wondered why he wanted to go out into the rain wearing such short shorts... On a dry day, the little lady would come out.

Despite having just come from outside ourselves, we'd race into the lounge room as soon as we'd kissed Nanna hello, to find out what the weather was doing.

My relationship with Nanna was... complicated. There was never hostility, but we were not close in the way that a lot of other people are to their grandparents. There was so much that frustrated me about my Nanna, and I don't think I was always kind to her, in my head.

But it wasn't fair. Because while I rolled my eyes at Nanna behind her back, her love for my brother and me was unwavering. In her eyes, we were golden sunlight. We could do no wrong.

Before Nanna died, she asked us if there was anything in her home that we wanted. I asked for this German weather house.

It sits in my office and, every time I look at it, I remember Nanna's kitchen table and those childhood days before I got all judgmental and superior, when Nanna was just Nanna: a funny-smelling old lady who still wore her hair in rollers to bed, told us Froot Loops were healthy (because they were made out of fruit), sang silly songs in a wavering voice, and had a room full of oil paintings in various stages of completion (oil paints and turps caused the "funny smell," I learned a lot later).

Nanna's house was a Federation bungalow with tiny windows. It was quite gloomy but, in my memory, that little barometer is always bathed in light.

Even when the man in his utterly impractical costume comes out to play in the rain.

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“Little Things” is an occasional series about the stories behind some of the little things you’ll find around my home. Are there stories behind the little things in your home? I’d love you to tell me about them! Or if you’d like to join in and write a post like this of your own, don’t forget to share a link to it so I can read it.

Little things - hand blown bottles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Little things in my home...

The Global Financial Crisis hit New York about six weeks after I moved to SoHo in 2008. It was just in time to come AFTER I'd signed a 12-month lease on my apartment, effectively locking me into a year in a dodgy, six-floor walk-up with mice and bed-bugs, for a price that could have rented me a doorman building and an internal laundry, if only I'd waited. The crisis also hit the Australian dollar hard, which was particularly tough since I was in the US on a Foreign Correspondent visa so all my income was Australian. Suddenly, I lost 40 percent of everything I earned in the exchange, and that came after tax. The meagre savings I took with me on the move that should have paid for new furniture and everyday household goods that you take for granted (like dinnerware and cutlery and pillows and clocks), was almost completely swallowed up by currency exchange. There was just enough left to cover my broker's fee.

So, like so many people before me, I started my new life in New York by furnishing my apartment with an odd assortment of hand-me-downs, thrifted finds and found objects. A dubious futon sofa-bed, left behind by the previous tenant. A desk that a client of my friend's cleaner was giving away. An unbelievably-heavy metal shelving unit, left on the third-floor landing of my building.

These three bottles were among the very few luxuries on which I splashed out during that time. They are hand-blown, and graced the window of a homewares store on Thompson Street a block or so up from where I lived. I thought they were just beautiful. The play of the three colours. The way the light flowed through some surfaces and bounced off others. How smooth and heavy they felt in my hands. I carried the bottles home and sat them the window sill overlooking my fire-escape where the sun, even during darkest winter, could do them justice.

There wasn't much I took home with me when I returned to Australia, but these bottles were among the first I packed. Carefully, tenderly, in reams of tissue paper and bubble wrap. And despite five Interstate moves in the 18 months that followed, this little glass trio has graced a table-top, a window-sill or a mantle-piece in every house I've lived since.

Our newly renovated home is still very much a blank canvas. You won't see many pictures on walls or cushions on couches or other little pieces to give it character. That's why I haven't featured before-and-after photographs or stories on this blog yet (that, and because by the time I've cleaned and tidied the house to a degree to which I'd be happy to photograph it for you, there's no time left to actually take the photographs). But my three New York bottles sit proudly above the hearth in our dining room, still gleaming like jewels after all that time and all those moves.

Until I came to Melbourne, I really hadn't felt at home since leaving New York. In each place we lived, these three bottles were my pretty little homesick tonic. Something both constant and lovely.

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"Little Things" is a new, occasional series about the stories behind some of the little things you'll find around my home. One day, I promise to share the big stories about our home renovation. Are there stories behind the little things in your home? I'd love you to tell me about them! Or if you'd like to join in and write a post like this of your own, don't forget to share a link to it so I can read it.

ps. Can you help? I'd love to know more about the artist who made these bottles. I bought them from a shop called Clio on Thompson Street in SoHo (between Prince and Spring) which has since closed down. The owner told me the artist was from Brooklyn, but that's all I know.