family

Ralph says, Scout says

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Conversations with my children, aged three and four... 

Scout [touching my acceptance ring]: Are you wearing that so I can marry a girl?  Me: Sort of, yes. I'm wearing it until Australia changes the law, because I think you and Ralph and anybody else should be able to marry whoever you love, no matter whether they are a boy or a girl. Do you think that's right?  Scout: Yes! [shrugs her shoulders] Maybe I will love a girl, maybe I will love a boy. You never know.  Me again [inside my head]: I am winning at parenting Ralph: Then I will marry Scout! 

Ralph begs me to tie a ribbon around his head like a flapper headband.  Me [tying it on]: Why do you want to wear this?  Ralph: It makes me more super-y. Now I can save the day! 

Scout [to Ralph]: I don't want you on my bed, you poo poo bum bum. You're spoilt Ralph: Well you're spoilter!

Scout: What is bigger, Jupiter or the sun?  Me: The sun [finding a picture to show her]. See how Earth looks teeny and Jupiter looks enormous? The sun is even bigger than that Scout: Woah!  Ralph: But Jupiter isn't jealous, because it has lots of moons Me: Yes! Where did you learn that?  Ralph: From Jet Revolting (I don't even know what this is supposed to be, other than a TV show. But it is clear that not only am I allowing my children to watch TV unsupervised, but also that I am allowing TV to educate said children. #parentoftheyear)

Ralph: I am an expert at doing things just a little bit naughty

Me: Would you like some meat Scout?  Scout: No, I'm like totally cool without

Scout: Ralph, let's play a game. You are my baby  Ralph: No!  Scout: Alright, not a baby. You can be a toddler Ralph: I am not a toddler. I am a CAR Scout: Well, "toddler" is actually the French word for "car" Ralph: OK then 

Scout: Mummy says we have to get dressed, Ralph. It's the LAW

Me: Ralph, that was a bit naughty when you threw that cup at me. Do you think you have calmed down now?  Ralph [looking up with a grin]: Well, I'm still a liiiii-tle bit curious of how cross you can be

I'll let Scout have the last word, in this poster I saw hanging up at her daycare last week. Could my heart swell any further? 

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Our favourite new children's book

archie+and+the+bear+coverLast week my first-blogging-and-then-real-life friend, children’s book author Zanni Louise, sent my children an advanced copy of her new story, Archie and the Bear.  I can't even tell you how much we love this story. Especially Ralph, who is three, and for whom it seems to have struck a wonderful chord. The story is at once magical and mysterious, and also heartwarming and homely. 

Archie and the Bear is about celebrating imagination. Just going with it.

Yesterday, Ralph found a piece of ribbon and asked me to tie it around his forehead. "It is a cap to make me more super-y," he informed me. Once I had tied the ribbon on he straightened his back and balled his fists. "You may call me," he announced grandly, "Super Boy." And he stayed in-character as Super Boy for the entire day, saving the day from all kinds of super-villains both seen (Scout) and unseen (the cat), and demonstrating a dizzying array of super-powers to combat the challenges besetting him on his heroic journey. 

Nobody told him "You don't really have super-powers," or "You're only a pretend super-hero." 

There are plenty of studies to remind us that for children, the benefits of imaginative role-play are numerous, helping children teach themselves impulse regulation, language development, social skills, conflict resolution, and ways to resolve real-life tensions and fears. 

But I also think day-dreaming is pretty special for us grown-ups as well. Do you ever like to imagine out loud what would happen if...? Imagine if I won a million dollars... Imagine if we moved to France... Imagine if I quit my job and pursued my dream full time... 

Those imaginings are like little head-holidays. They are like trying on costumes and testing out other lives, knowing that we can return to the safety of our own lives any time we like.

But how crappy is it when you start a sentence with "Imagine if," and the person beside you ends it with an ice-cold bucket of reality? You can't afford it. We don't have the time. You'd be bored in a week. Ok maybe they're right (or maybe they're not), but that's not the point. I'm dreaming here! Just go with it! 

On the weekend, Mr B has promised Ralph that we will go to the shops to buy more ribbons, so we can all be superheroes together. So look out for that impressive scene if you spot the Bulger family walking down the street this Easter. 

In the meantime, at Ralph's request, we will probably be reading Archie and the Bear every night, a story about a little boy who is not wearing a bear-costume (because he IS a bear).

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Here is a little flip-through of this beautiful book, created by its UK-based illustrator David Mackintosh. Take a look at the fabulous scale-play, with little Archie sometimes appearing as small as an ant in the deep dark forest, but as big as a bear in bravery, imagination, and friendship. 

https://youtu.be/PYmUeFxg6HY

Archie and the Bear will be officially released next month. Zanni sent this book to my children as a gift, but I was not paid to write about it, nor was there any requirement that I even mention it at all. I am just so seriously in love with this beautiful story that I couldn't help myself.

Ok happy Easter. See you on the other side! 

Rhythms and rituals

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetI'm in the middle of one now. As I type it is 5.30 in the morning and the rest of my house is still sleeping. Outside, it is dark and refreshingly cool. I've made a cup of tea in my green mug. Usually I choose my favourite stoneware mug (you'll recognise it if you follow me on Instagram) but, on mornings when I am extra tired, like today, I'm realistic about the increased likelihood that I might just knock or drop my cup, so I choose a less-precious alternative. The tea still tastes good. Really good. And almost-but-not-quite unbearably hot. I like to be up before the family every day. In the glorious chaos that involves parenting two small children, non-responsible alone-time is premium. Some days it is worth more, even, than sleep. I say "non-responsible" because on the days the children go to daycare I am technically alone, but those are my work days, and my time and mind belong to someone else. I'm on the clock, and I don't take a minute of those days for myself.

These mornings, on the other hand, belong exclusively to me. It doesn't matter what I do with them, as long as it is for myself. Sometimes I work on my book, other times I paint, others, like now, I write my blog. Make stickers, make mail, write postcards, read a magazine. Do a French lesson online. Always, there is the tea. (If there is time, I have more than one cup).

My early mornings are a deliberate pause before the whirlwind of the day begins, like a galvanising hand on my shoulder and a little voice that I trust, saying, "you got this." By the time the children wake and start calling for me, I feel settled in my mind but also satisfied, because I have done something I enjoy, whether it is furthering a project or simply indulging an interest.

Now, with the children awake, I am free to be (joyfully and without impatience) all theirs.

Yesterday during my morning ritual I began cutting out dozens of little handmade stickers, rsvp labels I have drawn to enclose as gifts in some of the mail I send. While I was cutting, I listened to podcasts. There was an episode of The Slow Home Podcast with Brooke McAlary, in which she and her husband Ben were answering listeners' questions. Someone had written in to say that with small children at home, decluttering felt like an impossible task: what other things could she do, instead, to "slow" her life and home?

They both had some useful responses, but Ben spoke briefly about rituals and this really resonated with me. He was referring to checkpoints or important moments that we can build into our routines, that encourage mindfulness, or gratitude, or just help us be "present" in what we are doing and who we are with. These are spiritual or social slowing-down activities that are structured into the rest of our week as habits, and they can be done no matter how busy our lives are, and no matter how many Hot-Wheels cars or Sylvanian Families pieces roll and crunch under foot on the way to the bathroom.

As I listened, I realised, "I'm doing that!" My husband and I love creating traditions and appreciating the small things, so maybe it comes naturally enough to us to do this, but I realised we had unintentionally built a number of rituals into our lives that help us connect as a family, despite pretty insane hours put in by both of us.

My alone-with-my-tea mornings are one such ritual. And in case you're interested, here, in no particular order, are some others.

Taco Sundays

Every Sunday we have tacos for dinner. The children help make it so we all cook together, and then sit around the table with little self-serve bowls of taco-filling in the middle to pass to one another, while we crunch and chat. The tacos aren't fancy: we get the probably-very-unhealthy versions that you can buy in a kit. But they are quick and easy to make (so easy, a four year old and a three year old can do it). Nutrition isn't the priority of this particular meal, it's family. Mr B's hours are so long - he is often at work before 6am and home after 8pm - that he can go days or even a whole week without seeing his children. On Sunday nights, we reset the week with the millennia-old practise of cooking together and then sitting down and eating together, and it is our favourite meal of the week.

Making the beds

There are all kinds of research studies about the benefits of making the bed, and I know for me the day feels more "under control" once my bed is made, and I get genuine pleasure from seeing it all nicely made up (nerd alert).

Recently, my children got new "big kid" beds. Previously they slept in cots that had been converted into toddler beds, but these new beds are the real deal. That also meant new bedding because they old cot-sheets didn't fit, and a bit of a clean-out and rearrangement of the room they share, because it is a small room. You've never seen two children more eager to go to sleep at night than they were the first night they got to snuggle down in those new beds and a fresh new room. But the point of this is that it is super easy for them to make their beds (just a sheet and a doona), so I simply incorporated that habit into their mornings. We don't leave the room to start our day until the beds are made.

The best thing that happened today 

This is not actually one of our rituals yet, but after listening to another of the Slow Home podcasts, it is about to become one. It is a question to be asked around the dinner table (or in our case, to be asked while the children eat dinner and I supervise them): "What is the best thing that happened to you today?" Sometimes when they come home from daycare and kinder it is so hard to learn about what they had been doing and how they were feeling all those hours we were apart. "What did you do today?" "Don't remember."  The "favourite thing" question takes the pressure off. It is positive, so not fraught with anxiety, and it is just one thing, not a whole day's worth of things. On its own, this is a lovely little gratitude exercise. But I'm also hoping it will lead to more openness and sharing between us. 

Mummy magic 

"Mummy magic" is our word for a kind of Reiki-style meditation that I do over the children before they go to sleep. It started a few months ago when one of the children was afraid of returning to a nightmare if they fell asleep. Now, it is an indispensable part of our bed-time routine. After bath and brushing teeth, we read some stories, and then the children each get into bed. One at a time, I "lay hands" over them, without touching them. I pat my heart then hover my hands over their hearts, focusing my mind on just how much I love them. Then slowly I pass my hands over their whole body, from head to toes. At the toes, I kind of flick my hands and imagine I'm pushing all the toxins (physical or emotional) out, and then work my way back up their little bodies, trying to pour all my mama-love (mummy magic) back in. 

Sending postcards from holidays 

Who does that any more? The Bulger family, that's who! Every time we go on holidays, even a weekend break, Mr B buys postcards to send to some of the lovely donors and supporters of the charity he works at, to let them know he's thinking of them. (Imagine how good it must make them feel to have the Executive Director of the charity writing them a personal postcard! I don't know anyone else who does that, but then maybe I am biased because I think I married someone pretty amazing). Following his lead, the children like to write postcards, too. So over a breakfast meal at some point in the holiday, we all sit down and think about what we have seen and done and what we enjoyed and what stood out to us, and we write those things down, put a stamp on them, and send them to someone we care about. 

Leaving notes 

One lovely habit Mr B has to counteract the long hours he works is to leave little notes for us to find when we wake up in the morning. Notes telling the children how much he loves them, and what he hopes to do together on the weekend. Notes telling them how much he loved the drawing they did for him, or how the video I sent of them made him so proud. Notes telling me how much he appreciates me. Last week I opened up my recipe book (the one in which I write or paste all my favourite recipes) and discovered a beautiful letter from Mr B tucked inside the pages, from September last year.

Those letters, scribbled on the backs of envelopes or receipts or shopping lists, are keepsakes. I keep all the letters he writes to the children in a little book, so that one day when they are older I can show it to them and they will know (if they don't already) how deeply they are loved. 

Slow mornings 

Circling back to my alone mornings, my children have a morning ritual too. I have taught them how to read the clock, and, no matter what time they wake up, they know they are not to call out to come downstairs until the clock reaches 7am. Often (although not always), they wake up a lot earlier. Any time from six in the morning, they could be awake. But I have learned that if I bring them downstairs when they first wake, the day rarely goes well. They are tired and grumpy and bicker with one another and with me. Burst into tears for no reason. 

But their mornings, while they wait for 7am to roll around, are slow and lovely. Downstairs enjoying my me-time, I listen to them on the monitor. One wakes and says in a croaky sleep-voice "Do you want to cuddle?" Then you hear rustling and the pad-pad of little feet, more rustling, and they have snuggled down in one of the beds together. Everything goes silent for a little while. Then slowly, the talking begins. Games, questions, ideas for the day. Sometimes Scout pulls out books and reads to Ralph (she can't actually read, but can recite many of their books word for word). Other times, they start a tickle game, or play with the soft toys in a basket in their room. It is a gentle, slow waking up that gradually becomes louder and more rambunctious as the morning continues and, by the time the little hand points to the 12 and the big hand points to the seven, they are excited to start the day. 

Now it's over to you. Tell me about your rituals! 

(ps. That beautiful window is not in my house, it's from a country home I visited recently that has me dreaming about a tree-change. It just so happens to be for sale if you want to wake up to that every day!)

Be bold for change

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Today is International Women's Day, and the theme this year is "Be Bold For Change." The organisers are calling on all of us to help forge a better, more inclusive, gender-equal working world. 

Last night I wrote a long, impassioned blog post about gender equality in the workplace (and at home), about the pay gap in Australia, and about discrimination world-wide... but then I reminded myself that, by my own decision, this blog is not the right forum for those kinds of conversations. 

So, instead, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate hard-working women the world over. 

These little illustrations-in-progress are part of a commission that I'll be able to share with you shortly (I can't wait for THAT big reveal), made for a woman who, like many others, is also an artist, an entrepreneur, and a mother, trying to make a living while also giving up many hours of her day working for her family for free.

You can't see the faces of these women because they are supposed to represent you and me, and celebrate the beauty in our everyday lives. Reading, hiking, working, making. Bringing home the groceries, and multi-tasking on the phone.

Whether you are the CEO of a fortune 500 company, the CEO of your kitchen, or the CEO of your personal dreams, you deserve to be recognised and rewarded for your work in accordance with the contribution you make, and not whether the midwives tucked a blue or pink baby-blanket on you in the maternity ward the day you were born. 

Wouldn't you agree? 

* Raise this issue on social media to maximise awareness and support. Use the hashtags #IWD2017 and #BeBoldForChange to join the community discussion 

* Get involved in advocacy and find inspiration for other ways you can campaign - big and small - on the International Women's Day website here

Open windows

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset Early in the morning, the rain smelled like the best smell in the whole world aside from the tops of my children's heads, and the cooler temperatures were better than any medicine for my headache.

I opened all the windows up wide and right away Ralph and his dad started to complain. "It's too cold!" they grumbled. Scout, on the other hand, was unfazed: "Cold doesn't bother me anyway," she sang in her best Queen Elsa voice, and complaints didn't bother me either, because when there has been gastro in your house, fresh air is not negotiable. Put on more layers, boys. 

While Mr B and the children started building the train set, I ventured alone to the organic food market to stock us up on fresh produce for the week.

I was supposed to pick up broccoli, cucumber, and carrots. I also came home with celery, apples, rhubarb, plums, zucchini, garlic, heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil, lemons, watermelon, a jar of freshly harvested honey, another jar of freshly pressed peanut butter, some more pink salt, half a baguette, two bagels, and some really cool patterned beeswax food covers.

But I forgot the cucumber. 

Spiders, bedtime stories, and what's the fuss about Henry Fussy?

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset We have been reading Charlotte's Web to the children at bedtime. Last night was the final chapter, and the whole book has been every bit as magical and sad and beautiful as I remember from my own childhood.

Scout was enthralled from beginning to end. I wasn't confident of this when we started: books from this era move at a slower pace to those written these days (slower than, for example, Monsters Wear Underpants, a tremendous favourite of Ralph's - thanks Mum), and Scout is only four after all.

But she soaked it all in, even the long passages about the changing of the seasons, the subtle shifts on a farm from one month to another. Even the brutal honesty about life on the land, about how spiders eat, about love and loss. It was precious to see her settle into this slower pace, resting up against my side and dreamily playing with a thread on her pyjamas as she listened, always begging for more when each chapter ended. 

However, here's something I did not even remotely pick up on when I read this book as a child: Henry Fussy. How did I not notice Fern's complete desertion of her best friends, for a boy called Henry Fussy? I'm guessing I must have been so caught up in Wilbur's and Charlotte's stories that I failed to notice that Fern was having a story of her own, a coming-of-age journey that took her away from the barn and onto a Ferris Wheel instead. 

And I get it. Fern wouldn't be the first person to neglect her friends for a crush, and she won't be the last. But...

Fern happens to be the only human on the entire planet with access to the MAGICAL WORLD OF TALKING ANIMALS. 

Nope, not enough. Henry Fussy is over there.

Well how about this: Wilbur, who she claimed to love "more than anything else in the whole world" is going to be KILLED BY FERN'S UNCLE, unless Charlotte's plan to save him works.

Henry Fussy paid for her ticket on the Ferris Wheel, so she didn't have to spend her own money.

We learn Charlotte is dying. She is also about to become a mother, but will not live to see her sweet babies. 

Fern says this has been the best day of her life. 

THE PLAN WORKED! Wilbur is getting a special medal, Fern's Uncle has never been happier, Wilbur's life has been saved. The entire family goes crazy with pride and excitement.

Fern wants money so she can pay for Henry Fussy's ticket on the Ferris Wheel. 

And can I finally please point out, Fern is EIGHT. Girl, we need to talk. 

After we finished reading Charlotte's Web last night, we talked a little bit about friendship and love and death, and it was a little bit sad but a lot beautiful. I kissed the children, turned out the light, and went downstairs to make my dinner alone as Mr B was working late. Then about half an hour before my bedtime, he came home. 

Pale, shaking, and giggling in a high-pitched, slightly hysterical way (you know, like Floki from Vikings, if you happen to watch that show). Turned out just as he was parking the car, a giant huntsman spider the size of his palm had scuttled across the windscreen of the car.

Then it disappeared. Somewhere in the dark. On the car. Waiting. 

Now I happen to think Mr B is all man, but that spider knew better, and it reduced him to the state of a terrified little old lady. Me too, when he told me about it later. Oh man, I was terrified just from the telling.

Just as Mr B was about to venture out of the car into the dark, where the spider waited unseen - literally a nanosecond before Mr B opened the car door - the spider appeared again, millimetres from his face, crawling down the outside of the car window. Slowly. Big, hairy underbelly and powerful legs moving across the glass and across Mr B's petrified face. If he'd opened that door even one second earlier, the spider would have landed on his head. 

He scrambled over to the passenger seat and climbed out that door, ran back around to the driver side and whacked the spider away (don't hate - neither of us could have got back inside that car otherwise), and came inside to giggle hysterically in the lounge room. Then he went back outside again to check whether or not he'd left the headlights on in all the shock. 

When at last he came back inside for good and sat down, we both started laughing, because from time to time we like to dream about moving to the country: a tree-change and a slower pace of life. And then a spider crawls across the windscreen of our car and we remember that we are literally the worst people in the world to ever attempt life in the country. Completely pathetic. Nature wimps. 

But in our defence, "That was no Charlotte," Mr B said. 

Holidays at home

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Summer holidays at home are for bare feet and late nights. For dining on ice cream instead of vegetables, watching Netflix instead of deadlines, and reading trashy novels instead of weighty text-books.

They are for heatwaves and plummeting rain and, when the rain clears, for a million petals carpeting the footpath like confetti.  

Holidays are for languid afternoons and lazy nonchalance, for baking and making, for staying in pyjamas all day one day and swimming costumes all day the next. For games. New games, old games, games together and games alone, games of action and games of craft, games of imagination and games of giggles. And for at least three complaints of "I'm boooooored," issuing from among mountains of new Christmas toys.

Then, the new year. 

Holidays turn to tidying bedrooms, cleaning out cupboards, making plans, and writing lists. So many lists! To-do lists, shopping lists, lists of recipes to try, lists of creative projects, gratitude lists, mailing lists. And new calendars and fresh new planners, lined notebooks full of promise, and bright new collections of art-paper, ready for rainbows. 

What have you been doing lately? 

Stop just a minute

Tea This is all happening too fast.

It's not just the growing, it's the developing, the knowing, the maturing. "Stop growing up, start growing down," I tell them, and they roar with laughter. "Again?" requests Ralph, "Will you tell me to grow down?" ("Grow down," I obligingly order him. "NO!" he yells in evident delight).

Ralph started toilet-training on the weekend. I have always said this wasn't the kind of parenting blog that would share the details of my children's challenges, and I'm not about to change that now, so I'll spare you the details of that particular story (although you can ask me in private if you want to: there is much hilarity for people who can appreciate or relate to that sort of thing). But I didn't need Ralph to keep reminding me "I'm a big boy now!" to reinforce the significance of this time. Nappies = babies. Undies = big kids. Once my last baby is out of nappies, that tender, sweet, all-encompassing stage in my life is gone forever.

Oh, it's such a boring cliché, I am bored even as I write it and you are probably yawning, if you're still here at all. Alert the media: Mother Mourns Passing of Time.

Ballet

Each little milestone, announced with such pride.

Scout: "Mummy, watch me. I can skip!"

Ralph: "Mummy look at me standing on one leg!"

Scout: "Is this how I write my name Mummy? I am very good at this."

Ralph: "Don't help. I can brush my own teeth."

And Scout (beaming with pride): "Maman, comment ça va?" ("Je vais bien, merci," I reply.) Scout (nodding her head approvingly, like a wise old lady): "Ah, bon."

Daisies

Here is another cliché that is true: every age is the most wonderful and the best.

Whether they are cloud-gazing or deciphering words, practising new skills or teaching one another, seeing the world through their eyes is a great privilege, a front row seat to the theatre of life as it unfolds, all over again. Just like it was for me when I was their age, I imagine, but I was too busy doing the growing to pay attention to the sheer wonder of it all.

Last night I lay them on the carpet side by side after their bath, to get them dressed. They turned to face each other, giggling and playing, each one using the other one's hand as a pillow, feigning sleep, cuddling, kissing.

Suddenly it all hit me.

I stopped trying (and failing) to get them dressed, and started paying attention, proper attention, to the moment. "Look at them!" I wanted to open a window and shout to the whole world. Why couldn't everyone else see what I was seeing, the absolute miracle of these two human beings?

(A mother's ego that everyone must naturally find her children as fascinating as she does.) (Nobody does.) (Plebs).

Time stopped and it didn't matter any more how big they were getting or how small they still were, the new skills they had mastered or their adorable mistakes, it was just them. These two amazing individuals, and their love for each other. Such a love that I have never seen between two people for each other. Ever.

Mangoes

Later, we three snuggled together and read stories. I read to them from Amazing Babes, a book that celebrates women of courage, of conviction, of creativity, and of compassion. We had conversations about women's rights and war crimes, about equal opportunities, about the law. It wasn't easy to explain these things in ways that a four-year-old and a two-year-old could understand, but I loved them for trying. Those little furrowed brows: concentrating, questioning.

Leaf prints

Small fingers tracing over the dark skin of Mum Shirl. All the questions! About prisons and prisoners, about Indigenous people in prison, about the whole history of colonialisation. Those big grey eyes looking up at me, round as little stars. "What did the people from England do to them that was naughty?" I took a deep breath. "Well, they took away their homes, and they hurt them. They tried to be the bosses of them, and they were cruel to them."

Those eyes again. "Why?" Oh sure, let's just solve the entire problem of racism during a cosy bedtime-story chat. "Because they were different," I said at last. "They looked different, and believed different things, and spoke a different language, and lived a different way. Because they were different, the people from England though they were better than them."

Scout stroked the dark-skinned face of Mum Shirl again. "Shohana has dark skin like this," she said, thoughtfully, "and Bella," naming her best friend. I pressed the advantage. "Do you think any of our friends are better than others, because of the way they look or what they believe?" She shook her head solemnly. I could tell she still didn't understand: racism wasn't just wrong, it was genuinely incomprehensible.

"Vaishali looks like that," Ralph piped up all of a sudden. "Yeah and Rajetha!" Scout returned. "It is a little bit like Yulia," Ralph continued (he pronounced it "Loolia," be still my heart). They started naming everyone they knew and loved with skin that was any colour other than their own: friends and teachers from India, Iran, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Peru.

Cloud gazing

Last night I talked politics and race and feminism and creative expression with my two kind and compassionate children. Yes, they are growing up, and it is an honour to witness the growing.

Permit me a proud-Mama moment, cliché or not.

Winter solstice

solstice-winter I welcomed the sunrise on the morning after the winter solstice in the solitude of my still-sleeping house. The first cup of tea of the day was beside me on the window-sill, making miniature mist on the cold glass.

Slowly the long, long night - the longest night of the year - burned away into grey dawn. The first light pierced the antique glass above our front door, now pink, now gold, and soon the whole room swam with morning. Upstairs, my family began to stir, and the day began.

My winter coat, draped over a chair to dry, still smelled of damp earth and woodsmoke from the previous night's solstice bonfire (a bonfire which, thanks to a week of rain, had taken a lot more coaxing to ignite and somewhat lacked the primal oomph of last year's fire, but was nevertheless beautiful and brilliant in the end).

On the solstice night there had been a tiny break in the clouds as we waited for the bonfire to catch alight and, seeing it, Ralph had yelled "The moon! I want to touch the moon!" We showed the children the Southern Cross, and the two Pointers that show the way, and, glowing steadily directly above the moon, we found Venus. Ancient fires and rocks, all of us, spinning and hurtling through millennia, marking the dark days. And the light ones too.

As the morning's temperature crept into double digits, I ventured into my frost-melty garden to dig and plant and prune, and to think some alone thoughts about winter and hibernation and stillness, and about all the quiet rest and rejuvenation that happens underground, for life to burst forth life in spring.