Bliss

Meme: picture of oddly smiling Mr Bean with caption "This is my excited face"

Oh! I am so excited! Please be patient with me while I have a little gush.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent an email to Australian Catholics magazine.  I’d been meaning to do so for a while now.  I kind of hoped they might take me on to write something for them and I gave them links to some of my posts (OK, six posts.  I may have gone a little overboard).  For those of you who didn’t go to Catholic school here and didn’t receive a copy of this glossy quarterly with your Friday newsletter, Australian Catholics is an entertaining and accessible magazine which also seeks to address the deeper questions of what it means to be a Catholic in today’s world.  As far as church-based colour publications go, it’s kind of a big deal.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the reason I had the mental clarity to compose this email was because my heroic husband had taken all of my offspring (well, not the ones in utero…) on a camping trip, leaving me to wallow in the luxury of a quiet house with nobody to please but myself (I tidied the kitchen bench and it stayed tidy!)

Anyway, the thing is they wrote back!  And they said they would be Definitely Very Interested in me writing an article for them!  And then, after an exchange of emails (my response email had something in it about how their response made me do little squealy noises in my chair.  Not sure why I felt the need to share that.  Probably should have pretended that I’m such an in-demand writer that this sort of thing is totally commonplace but I think I was high on the fumes of the spray-n-wipe on the kitchen bench which was still clear and shiny), and also a phone call (do you remember what we were talking about?  That was a long tangent I went on in the middle.  You might need to go back to the start of the sentence.  Sorry about that.), I agreed to write a 550 word article for them which would tie into the theme of their upcoming issue.

And they would totally pay me for it.

It was after about half-an-hour of dancing around the house that the panic set in.  Wait a minute: this isn’t like my blog where I bang on for as long as I like on a topic that interests me.  This is a professional article with a set topic.  I don’t think I have anything of use to say on this subject.  And I have to be funny.  I can’t be funny on purpose.  What am I going to do?

Plus, by now the children were all back home and I was feeling far less sure of myself and my writing abilities than I had been in my super-confident child-free bubble.  But, after talking my husband, family and Lovely M to death on the topic, I somehow managed to tease out a few ideas without having to invent a fake ‘fail’ story (my sister’s suggestion: I don’t think I could have pulled it off).

I didn’t have much time to write the article, which I think was a good thing.  It stopped me from procrastinating and agonizing over my lack of things to say.  In the end, I got down to work and scribbled down something that was far from brilliant, but still workable.

And about twice as long as it needed to be.

I think it’s a good discipline for me to put my writing on a diet sometimes.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but brevity isn’t exactly my strong suit.  The first few hundred words I culled made everything sharper and snappier and gave the article a good pace.  But I still had to lose 180 more words and I was down to muscle and bone!

In desperation, I emailed the draft around to my family and they gently coaxed me to scrap and condense, without neglecting to stroke my ego (“this section reads really well.  You did a great job, Kate.   Now, get rid of it.”)

Some friends asked me “how do you find the time to write?”, then they visited my house and stopped asking that question.  As I spent my days furiously tapping at the keyboard or wandering about vaguely, churning ideas in my head, the entire house quietly and promptly fell into disrepair all around me.  Let’s just say, the kitchen bench had long lost its sparkle.

The final, rather emaciated draft, was chock-full of apostrophised contractions and was sometimes so word-frugal that it didn’t make sense.  Even then, it was 34 words over.  But my editor (“my editor”: doesn’t that sound nice?) very kindly said they could work with that, and so, in a fortnight or so, my article is going to print (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Thank you so much for making to the end of this post.  It was such an indulgent one – bloated and well over the word limit, long past deadline (I started writing this weeks ago), and with no real point to it.  But that’s the best thing about having a blog, I guess – every now and then I can get away with indulgent and boasty writing.  Maybe my next post will have some sense in it.

I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Barbara Feeney

pop art design - close up of a woman gesturing "shhh"

I’m not sure I should be telling you about this.

It started innocently enough, but now it’s spinning out of control.

You see, it’s like this.  Our local parish is pretty much run by old people.  The women tend to be named Pat and the men are all Grahams and Bills (except when they’re actually Brian, but I digress).  Some – like my hero, Pat Baker – are warm, giving folk, full of wit and wisdom.  Others can be rather narrow-minded and fiercely opinionated: what our late PP referred to as the ‘Parish Antiques’.  Many have a good measure of both these aspects, and all are hard-working souls with deep parish loyalty.

The person I want to tell you about today is a formidable lady by the name of Barbara Feeney (well, OK, not really.  I had to change her name.  But we can all pretend.)  Barbara Feeney is a sacristan (she gets the church ready before Mass) and a special minister (she helps to distribute Communion), and her facial expression of choice is a disapproving frown.  Barbara would best be known to the parish school children as the lady who stands near the door of the church aggressively shushing them as they file out after a school Mass.  Unlike her duties as a sacristan or special minister, this policing of juvenile noise-making is a self-appointed role.

Barbara is also very strict with the young altar servers, pulling them into line for spilling wax when they walk with candles and fidgeting in their seats during Mass.  There is a person in the parish who is in charge of training the altar servers.  It isn’t Mrs Feeney.

In the sacristy (it’s like a ‘green room’, but for priests) after one particular Mass at which Matilda was serving,  Barbara descended upon the small knot of altar servers with another Stern Parish Lady (SPL) to back her up and launched into a tirade about their terrible behaviour (The altar servers’ behaviour, I mean, not the angry ladies’).

I must have missed it, but apparently towards the end of Mass, some of the altar servers had been fiddling with their tassels and giggling.  Mrs Feeney berated them for ten minutes and SPL nodded grimly at intervals for good measure.

Had I been nine years old and in the sacristy at that time, I would have fallen to pieces, become a quivering mess.  Matilda, however, is nothing like her mother and I think this is where the trouble started.  To be fair, Matilda listened demurely enough to this post-liturgy tirade and did not answer back in any way.  But the seed had been planted.

It started small.  When Annie and Harry were chatting animatedly after lights-out, I overheard Matilda calling out a warning: “You better be quiet or Barbara Feeney will come and shush you!

Before long, Matilda and Christopher Robin had developed an advertising jingle:  “Barbara Feeney’s Helpline says ‘Shush!  Shush!'” (to the tune of Motor Finance Wizard).  In retrospect, I should not have giggled at this.  Nor, I suppose, should I have fallen about helplessly with laughter when Matilda used Microsoft Power Point to devise a full-scale advertising campaign for said helpline (Noisy neighbours ruining your life?  Barbara Feeney can help!  Call now and get your first shush free!).

You see, it’s hard to explain to your daughter that it’s not at all respectful to refer to dignified SPLs as Barbara Feeney’s ‘sidekicks’, when you’re focussing so hard on stopping tea from pouring out of your nose.  (Do you know where Barbara Feeney got her qualifications as Chief Parish Shusher?  It was at Monassshhh University.  She got a double degree in Stern Lectures/Finger Wagging).

It’s getting worse.  All of Matilda’s friends know about her hero, Mrs Feeney.  At a party recently, several children were jumping on the trampoline at once lustily singing the helpline jingle.  This wasn’t even at our house.  And Matilda’s friends live all over the place.  Slowly but surely, the Legend of Barbara Feeney is spreading all over Victoria.

I’m scared.  It’s only a matter of time before Barbara Feeney herself finds out.  More than once, in the middle of Mass, little Annie has called out “Oh no!  Look, Mum: it Baa Baa Fee Nee!”.  I try to make her be quiet.  I try talk to my children about ‘respecting your elders’, but Barbara Feeney is their favourite topic of conversation and I don’t know how to stop them talking.

If only there were a helpline I could call…

Busy Fingers #4

Baby Presents

Is it just me or is everybody having babies?  I thought I’d share some little projects I turned out recently for my fertile friends and their freshly-minted progeny.

crocheted elephant

I love this elephant.  The pattern for it is so clever that you hardly have to do any sewing together (I HATE sewing together bits.  I always do a wonky job.  It drives me crazy).

crocheted elephant

It’s all very elegantly designed (which I suppose would make it an Elegant Elephant).  And the fabric in the ears makes me swoon (even though I had to sew it).  I made it for my friends who recently had a baby girl.

Recently, I was making a set of tiny teddy bears as a get well soon present, using Lucy Ravenscar’s excellent design (I swear I’m a little obsessed with that brilliant woman and her clever patterns), and I ran out of wool before I finished one of the bears.  It struck me that this half-finished bear would make a very cute finger puppet.  And THEN I remembered the Bananas in Pyjamas that I’d made for my nephew and I thought it would be a good idea to give the bananas some teddy bears to chase on Tuesdays.  This was to make a present for my friends who had recently welcomed a baby boy into the world (and who already had two preschool girls who might also benefit from the present).

bananas and teddies finger puppets with pouch

Lucy Ravenscar’s bears and Chisachi Kushima’s elephant (as translated by Stephanie from All About Ami) are elegant patterns that are a joy to make.  Unfortunately, my pattern for banana finger puppets is a clumsy and complicated mess that brings no joy to the fingers and ends up looking rather wrong.  I’m too embarrassed by it to share it on my blog.  There must be an easier way.

I purchased a little pencil case from an entrepreneurial eleven-year-old on a market day at our homeschool co-op.  I figured it might be useful for my friends to carry the puppets around in a purse or nappy bag so that they could be on hand (sorry) to entertain their kids in waiting rooms, cafes or churches.

puppets in pouch

If I could only get a better handle on the banana component, this might be a good gift for my friends who live far away when they have babies – it would post so easily.

Oh!  And I mustn’t forget to let you know that these presents were ALL made from stash yarn.  But I did it before I took the shameful photo of my yarn mountain, so no progress made there…

Sigh!

Edited to add: The very talented Veronica from Veronica’s Miscellaney (who, incidentally, is another Australian Catholic Homeschooler who Crochets) has worked out an excellent pattern for these bananas.  She used the same method as me, but added some critical tweaks that have made all the difference.  You can view it here: http://veromarybrrr.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/bananas-in-pyjamas/

Stash Confessions

OK, so maybe I have a problem.

I’m not sure how it started, really. I’m sure it was innocent enough to begin with, but it’s now got to the point where I don’t even have a handle on how much things are getting out of control and I’m too scared to face up to reality.

My name is Kate Knightley and I own an excessive amount of yarn.

Drawer overflowing with yarn

I think it might be taking over my house. I’m pretty sure I can stand in any room and, if I look carefully enough, find evidence of my addiction. Plus there’s all of the stuff I have hidden away. I have two large bureau drawers dedicated to concealing my stash and I think I have the problem contained, but then sometimes I uncover random Lincraft bags chock-full of lambswool/alpaca blend.

It frightens me.

And worse than just the wool – the half finished projects.  Oh!  The shame!  They glare at me reproachfully from the various places I’ve tried to hide them.  They call to me:  Kate!  Kate!  Only three more rounds and I would have been complete!  Kate!  Don’t you love me?

I’ve tried to be good.  Really, I have.  So many of my recent projects have used up stash wool rather than new wool.  I’ve tried to be creative and figure out ways to work with what I’ve got.  But it doesn’t seem to help.  It’s like Strega Nona broke into my stash and stirred it up with her magic wooden spoon.  It’s like the Magic Pudding of stashes.  It doesn’t make a difference how much of it I consume.  It doesn’t get any smaller.

Illustration from Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding in which pudding has been replaced with a ball of yarn

Mr Knightley has his suspicions, but he doesn’t know how bad things really are.  I have been guilty of concealing my (necessary and perfectly legitimate) yarn purchases from him (“this old skein?  I’ve had this for ages”).

But now it’s time to face reality.  I’m going to get all the yarn I can find together and take a picture.  This might be a little disturbing:

embarrassing collection of yarn

Oh!  The shame!  It’s only in a heart shape because Christopher Robin helped me collate it all  (“You love your wool, really, Mum”)

And here are the dud projects:

graveyard of abandoned projects

Don’t look at me!  I’m hideous!

And here’s what makes it all much worse:  I want to buy more.  I want to buy so much more.

This weekend I went to Healesville with my husband of twelve years and we spent some blissful time exploring markets and second-hand shops sitting in lovely cafes all without the company of our children, who, delightful as they are, tend to have grabby hands and an electron-like capacity of being in many places they shouldn’t be all at once.

I got the chance to feast my eyes on some gorgeous hand-made baby clothes and it gave me a desperate case of the wanties.  My fingers started itching to create some adorable hats and jackets for the twins and none of the yarns I already own are quite what I am looking for.

I’m beginning to fantasise about gender-neutral pallettes in rich, unusual colours tempered with soft greys and creams all in finger-weight yarn.  Or large balls of thick, soft, natural-coloured wool.  Or the vivid, jewel-bright colours of Rowan DK or Debbie Bliss yarn (I’ve never actually owned these brands, but everybody on the internet seems to use them and the colours are to die for).

Did you know you can order yarn online and they deliver to your door?  Can you imagine what it would be like to open a parcel and find it full of delicious wool?  I was chatting about this with my husband on the weekend (we were eating lunch in a Healesville café and I’d just seen the inside of this amazing store).  His eyes were a little glazed over for most of the conversation (“granny square matinee jacket” / “New Zealand possum yarn” / “new method for edging blankets’), but he snapped back to reality when I mentioned purchasing yet more wool.

“What are the names of these websites?” he asked, with concern wrinkling his eyebrows, “perhaps I should put a block on them…” and then he went on, talking about “my own good” and “saving me from myself” and “seeking professional help”.   I’m not sure – I wasn’t really listening.  My mind was exploring colours and textures and exciting new projects.

It’s sweet that he cares about me, but he really doesn’t need to be concerned.  It’s fine.  I can stop at any time.

Plus I bet I can get a discount for ordering in bulk.

 

Do you have a wool or craft stash that is getting out of control?  Please photograph and/or write about it and we can enable link to each other.  This is a safe place.  There is no judgement here.

Handbag Fail.

Kate's Handbag

I think I might have double pregnant brain.

Last week was Matilda’s birthday.  One of the presents I wanted to get her was a guitar case from Aldi (only $9.99!).  The only problem was, it didn’t go on sale until the actual day of her birthday.  Matilda, however, is a pragmatist like her father.  She assured me it didn’t bother her in the least if one of her presents was a note that said “I will buy you a guitar case today”, rather than the case itself.  We formulated a plan (one of the perks of homeschooling is that you get to take the day off for your birthday).

  • In the morning, Matilda would have breakfast in bed, followed by presents.
  • After we dropped Harry at the church for his Catechesis of the Good Shepherd session, we would whizz to Aldi to grab the guitar case and then whizz back to pick him up at the end of the session.
  • Then we’d head over to Ikea and have lunch with Daddy (who works nearby).
  • After soaking up the sights and sounds of this Scandinavian wonderland, we would drop by the library to pick up the book Matilda had reserved and was itching to read.
  • Then netball practice
  • Then home.  Matilda would get to choose what we had for dinner.

It was as we traipsed through the local shopping centre on our way to Aldi that we met our first roadblock.  But it was a delightful roadblock.  I ran into Lovely M and Pippi outside the café, where a gaggle of nice school mums were sitting.  How could I resist?

I mentally shifted my Aldi errand to later in the day, ordered a special hot chocolate for Matilda and recklessly abandoned myself to a feast of marvelous gossip.

I guess the next road block I came across was when we got to Ikea.  I must admit, I have a bit of a weakness for the Grand Nordic Palace of Domestic Loveliness, and it’s possible I might have passed this obsession predilection on to my eldest daughter.  We spent rather too long drinking free coffee, sniffing at candles and gasping in rapture at the insides of drawers and cupboards.  After a while, it became too much of a good thing (get DOWN off that pile of rugs, Harry!).

I had been a hostage in that baffling Swedish prison for so long, I was starting to identify with my captors.

"Knights of the Ikea Table"  King Arthur and his knights grapple with Allen keys

By the time we had extricated ourselves, it was already time to take Matilda to netball training.   I longed to go home to rest my aching bones, but then I remembered I still had to go to Aldi.  So I swallowed a sigh and pressed on.

As soon as we trudged through the automatic doors,  Annie announced triumphantly that she needed to go to the toilet.  Getting about with a toddler who is toilet training is a bit like carrying a grenade with the pin drawn.  You have to keep your wits about you.

I ushered us into the nearest Ladies toilet (Christopher Robin insisted on waiting outside) and heaved Annie onto the seat.  Realising that this might be a two-hand operation, I slung my handbag onto the hook behind the open cubicle door and stood in a half crouch, poised for action.

As it turned out, not much action was required.  (“I was just having a try”).  Annie, it would seem, is a connoisseur of public bathrooms, and outside Aldi’s was one she hadn’t sampled yet.

We were SO efficient when we got inside Aldi.  We just swept through there, grabbing everything we needed.  Thankfully, there were still plenty of guitar cases in stock (What if they’d sold out?  What if Matilda missed out completely because her mother was an irresponsible extrovert?).  It wasn’t until we sailed up to the checkout that I realized something was amiss.

“Ummmm,”  I said nervously to the man at the register, “I appear to be missing my handbag.  Might I go back and retrace my steps through the store?”

The man blinked at me and began to shift my groceries off the counter.  I dashed around the store twice, but to no avail.  I went back to my Register Man.

“Ummmm,”  I said, “it’s not there.  I might go check if I left it in the car…”

Register Man nodded blandly.

It was as I approached the automatic doors that it hit me.  The hook.  The toilet door.  I dashed to the Ladies’ toilet and darted into the cubicle.

It wasn’t there.

My mind started racing.  Perhaps some kindly stranger had handed it in?  Perhaps some lady with a gambling problem saw it as an answer to her prayers?  The toilet was next door to a TAB after all.  Perhaps some woman was plonking my handbag on the counter this very minute saying “Put it all on horse number twelve”?

I went back to Register Man, even though he was in the Zone, swiping groceries through the bleeper at top speed.

“Ummmm,”  I said,  “Has anyone handed in a handbag?”

Register Man shook his head.

“What should I do?”  I said

Register Man didn’t know.  Perhaps I could ask at the other shops?

I joined the queue at the Post Office.  The children wouldn’t stop pulling PostShop merchandise off shelves.

Post Office Lady suggested I go talk to Centre Management.  Centre Management was located at the very far end of the shopping centre.  I heaved a big sigh.

As I dragged my poor pregnant bones and my bored and grumpy children across the shopping centre and up a very long flight of stairs (Annie insisted on counting every step.  There were 43.), I reflected upon what I had lost.  I loved that handbag.  It was really something special.  My sister-in-law bought it for me in New York, and I always thought it the Last Word in handbags.  And all the things I had in it.  My wallet.  My phone.  My keys.  Oh Lord – MY KEYS!  How was I going to get home?  How was I going to pick Matilda up from netball??  How was I going to call her coach???

It was a very white-faced Kate who sidled into the Centre Management Office at the Other End of the Shopping Centre.  I rang the bell and waited.

“I’ve lost my handbag,”  I stammered to the lady who appeared behind the desk.

“Can you describe it for me?”  Desk Lady enquired, not unsympathetically.

“Um, it’s soft red leather, with the loveliest stripy lining in really nice colours…”

Desk Lady triumphantly produced my handbag and then patted my back awkwardly as I fell weeping on her shoulder.  I trekked back to Aldi, still reeling from post-traumatic shock (handbag) and the after-effects of Stockholm syndrome (Ikea).  I approached Register Man.

“Ummmm … I found it!”

Register Man looked uncomfortable.  They had already put most of my groceries back on the shelves.

I stumbled around Aldi for about the fifth time that day, blindly grabbing at groceries and forgetting about half of them (but not, thankfully, the guitar case!).  As I finally completed the transaction I began with Register Man half a lifetime ago, I had a look at my watch.

I was going to be late picking Matilda up from netball.

I handed each child an armful of groceries (we’d forgotten the bags) and we raced towards the car.  Go!  Go!  Go!  Everybody tumbled in and we played Escape from Aldi Carpark.  I don’t think we got a high score.  By the time we pulled up to practice we were twelve minutes late.  I apologized profusely to the coach and to my Birthday Girl.  Matilda smiled brightly at me as she clambered into the car.

“Did you get my library book?”

Abundance

An illustration by Annie of two happy people, arms outstretched

I have been dying to tell you this for so long. But you’re not the absolute last to know – I haven’t told Facebook yet…

A couple of months ago, I went to visit my obstetrician. I like my obstetrician: he’s a reassuring man with a deep voice who exudes calm, warmth and good humour.  He’s been helping me give birth for almost ten years now.  OK, so maybe I did the lion’s share of the work when it came to labour, but he has definitely been a good person to have in my corner.  In my mind, he’s the best baby doctor in Melbourne.  But I wouldn’t tell him that.

Anyway, I was visiting my obstetrician a couple of months ago and – well – it wasn’t a social visit (excited squeal).  I was eagerly anticipating Baby Number Five and very keen to hear that everything was in good order.  Mr Knightley was at work, but he wanted to hear the heartbeat too, so I planned to give him a call so he could listen in when the time came.

After the intial boring stuff (checking blood pressure, reading over blood tests, getting weighed on the rude scales that tell me to ‘GET OFF’ before they calculate my weight), it was time for Doc to play with his ultrasound machine. This is the best bit.  Doc squirts my belly with cold goo and examines the screen as he presses the wand thingy onto my bump.

And then he stops.

And he takes the wand thing off.

“What?”  I say.

Doc just looks at me and tries to frown.  But his eyes are twinkling.

What?!” I demand.

Doc shakes his head solemnly.  His mouth is twitching.  I wonder idly what would happen if I throttle him with the curly cable from his ultrasound machine.

“WHAT.  IS.  IT?”  I enunciate in sheer desperation.

Doc draws a deep breath.  Then he somehow manages to find three words to say.

“There are two.”

It proves impossible to continue the ultrasound for the next few minutes as I can’t stop giggling manaically.  My belly is wobbling all over the place and it makes the pictures all blurry.  Then I call Mr Knightley.

“Are you ready to hear the heartbeat, George?” (That’s Mr Knightley’s first name.  It’s only mentioned once in the whole of Emma, but it’s there if you know where to look.  And did you know that Mr Darcy’s first name is ‘Fitzwilliam’?  No wonder he’s so uptight!  But I digress…)

“Yes.” says Mr Knightley

“Erm…which one would you like to hear first?”  And then I burst into a fresh peal of giggles which makes everything impossible again.  Mr Knightley is laughing too, although I think I also hear him groan “we’re going to need a new car!”.  Doc waits patiently for me to calm down again.

Larger version of earlier illustration by Annie.  Shows caption: "The Twins"

And then I manage to lie still and the three of us listen to two perfect heartbeats.  As I lay there, watching two small babies kick their tiny legs and wave at me, I reflect on God’s sense of humour, his abundant generosity and his rather unnerving faith in me.

Christopher's illustration of me carrying two small babies

This is unpredictable, insane, terrifying, a major challenge – and yet somehow it makes perfect sense.  I can’t explain it.  I have no control at all over this situation, but that’s OK, because I feel in my heart that God does.  And relying on God is something I need to get better at.

A painting by Christopher of "Mum and the Twins"

Now, does anyone know the patron saint for procuring good-quality, second hand, 8-seat people movers?

Busy Fingers #3

I just thought I’d share with you what I did as a card for the two weddings I went to in December.  Both were the sort of weddings where money was the most appropriate gift.  This always feels a little impersonal to me, which is why I like to include some hand-made accompaniment.

I enlisted Matilda’s and Christopher Robin’s help creating the backdrop (I asked them to write the word ‘love’ everywhere), then I crocheted the heart using this neat pattern from Skip to my Lou.

After that, I glued it all together with a co-ordinating button.  I may have become a little obsessed with my hot-glue-gun of late…

crochet heart card

Perhaps not as good as my lopsided cake card, but I like it, just the same!