Wednesday, 30 September 2015

LIFE IS A THEATRE

Hello hello dear MB, 

This morning I found myself experiencing all at once the last few chapters of an excellent book and an email to say that your latest post was there waiting for me and another email with the announcement of a dear friend's first pregnancy. All those things together! And I realised that I was experiencing the very definition of excitement. And all with me still in my nightie. 
Excitement does happen in my nightie of course. But this was of a different variety.

Your email couldn't have come at a better time though: I'm prone to feeling a little bereft at the end of a great book, and so I saved reading your post until after I'd finished the book, to help me through. That worked thank you.

How did the biscuit hunt go? Did you find them and eat them and were they everything the photo suggested they would be? On Monday I made Belgian Biscuits and they have been devoured in an enthusiastic fashion and so tomorrow I will make caramel slice and see what takers I have for that. I wonder if a small person will help me.

I loved hearing about Oman. I felt nervous imagining being swept into a fever of rays though (did you know a group of rays is called a fever? I googled it. I appreciate Google deeply). Did you not feel nervous about that? I would have squealed and kicked and got myself into quite the metaphoric fever. But you laughed! It sounds like you were calm and cool about your predicament? 
And the ice-cream in Oman: is it better than Tiptop? What was your chosen flavour? In Italy I always chose cantaloupe or rum and raisin.

We had ice creams today too. It had been a hard hour and we were in need. Arlo had lain down on the floor of Farmers and tried to got to sleep after the shock of having a blood test. Short of a sweet cup of tea, ice-cream seemed like the best answer. We were in Farmers buying him a much desired Spiderman suit to congratulate him on his strength and bravery, but even that couldn't cut through his genetic inclination to need to faint around blood. 
Ben and I have passed on all sorts of interesting quirks to our children. The awkwardness around blood comes from him. The angry temper that all three have is definitely mine. Lets wait and see if their hair goes grey at 25.

There was a beautiful moment in the blood test saga that I must tell you about: Arlo's big brothers had been left in the waiting room while Arlo and I went in to have the sample taken. The big needle in his little arm caused Arlo to let out a long and loud wail of fear, hurt and indignation. When his brothers heard this they leaped out of their chairs and barged into the cubicle demanding to know what was happening to their brother. I felt so touched that they would race to rescue him. Those moments must be when it pays off having big brothers. There is a rent-a-crowd-ness to three growing boys and there is safety in numbers. What were your experiences of this growing up?


I embrace the fact that more and more, parenting them becomes a show I get to enjoy watching. If I use a stage show as a metaphor for their lives, I could say that there is a decrease in my script-writing duties (I don't mean I'm totally out of the script writing team though, not by a long shot) and at the same time an increase in my role as supportive and encouraging audience. The role of front row audience member is massive in parenting I think. Watching and supporting and encouraging and clapping, with a fair share of honest-as-I-can-make-it-without-crushing-them feedback. When my personal mood affects my parenting and I become nothing more than a nasty heckler, then it's time to slip out to the foyer for a breath of fresh air I find.

I think my theatre metaphor has been inspired by last week being production week at school and Joe having a starring role. He brought the house (and my heart) down with his rendition of Othello: 

"O beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." 

His voice travelled right around the hall and settled on people's shoulders. Some small children giggled with the nerve of it, and when he finished there was a roar of applause.  
On the walk home he said to me "Someone I didn't even know came and said well done to me". And rightly so.

Now it's time for me to ask you something: I want to know if my ongoing talk about those three Brown boys sits okay with you? This time for you away from your boys is surely the very hardest time of all and I wither at the thought that my talk of my own three boys burns more than it warms. When you said that you longed for my sort of laziness I realised  that my talk of laziness-post-kids probably did little more than make you feel like your ribs had been poked. I'm sorry for that. This is the first time that I've let my need to check whether I've said the wrong thing creep into our blog, but I know it won't be the last; it's a can't-let-goer for me. I hope you feel you can answer me honestly.

We're nearing the end of the first week of the holidays here. Due to a change of plans around going to Auckland and Arlo being sick we've ended up with time on our hands knocking around the house. Arlo has taken to napping in the afternoons in some sunny spot. Joe and Jesse have taken to playing together in a friendly fashion (less fighting and more team work). I have rested my bones by sitting for long periods reading a book. It is fitting for a reading recovery teacher to recover herself through reading I think. Don't you? 

I do look forward to hearing how your role as secretary goes at the sailing club. I have filled that position on the kindergarten committee from time to time. It involves the challenges of listening more than talking and not going off in a daydream. I had to put a concerted effort into mastering the skills required. If you end up with a uniform, please post a picture. And I laughed thinking about your play-me-something-I'll-hate club. What fun and how agonising all rolled into one. I felt close to losing the good opinion of a dear friend recently when I confessed to listening to more than my share of Maroon 5. He was appalled. Not without reason.

Next week I am going to write about friendship and goodwill. I'm going to consider my thoughts until then. As with you not wanting to open the dam, I don't want to set to print an unconsidered opinion that then becomes the truth of the situation. Ben's and my friendship and goodwill is wrapped around a lot of human faults and differences in personal style. It's as simple and as complicated as knotted balls of wool.

Talk soon dear friend.
With love,
Rachel xx


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

MORE AND MORE

Dear Rachel,

Yes, there are so many types of writing and it's funny how they bring different degrees of pleasure. I write a heck of a lot for my work - reports, emails, agendas, minutes, lists and stuff but none of it really is a form of expression. A sozzled Belgian this evening asked if I would take on the role of secretary at the Sailing Club. I said I would if we could change the name to 'executive guy' rather than secretary and that I wanted a uniform. Our first meeting is in two and a half weeks. There had better be a beer or two in it. I've said it before, that your writing seems to listen rather than talk and I think you are very clever for being able to do that.

I like the looping song thing although I have started to play a game with a friend who comes over from time to time whereby we try to choose music which we think the other person would not enjoy listening to. So, frigsample, I might play some Alien Ant Farm while they search out James Blunt. It's childish but gives us something to laugh about and there is usually lots of moaning. Your story about the ex who only phoned drunk is a sad one. Sad for him that he couldn't bring himself to phone while clear and maybe sad for you, at the time, that you were hoping for more from him that he could give. As is almost always the case - it turned out for good, bless you.

That cake you  made looks fabulous. I do envy people who have skills which can be used for helping others and cake building has to be one of the noblest. Tomorrow I will walk from one side of our campus to the other simply to find an office housing cookies. Cookies which appeared in a photo I was sent on facebook tonight  by a colleague. Said colleague (and yourself) keep this planet spinning. Your laziness is different from my laziness. I long for yours.

Can you tell me more about friendship and goodwill? Why are they important? What do they look like in you? In Ben?

I made it to Oman and had a glorious time.  I dragged my blow up boat 11km around a couple of bays. I also tried swimming. I probably swam about 1km all up but I was distracted by my own laughing as I kept being washed ashore to join the squads of supper plate sized rays with tails as long as 40cm rulers. It was amusing to me that I was so bad at something I thought I'd be okay at. Still, sunburn was avoided and that evening I ate lamb around a BBQ with people I hadn't seen for a long time. A Moroccan guy greeted me with kisses on the cheek, through his beard. It was a hoot and the ice creams I brought for the children were deliciously good.

I've been so busy at work this past week as you know but very happy. As well meeting and typing and grumping around the place, I have seen bridges mended and heavy sacks lightened. This weekend there is  a short kayaking trip being run, so I'll join.  There will be beer and steaks to follow.
To be honest I have had a lot on my mind recently but I am struggling to articulate it here, now. I feel guarded and as if starting to write about some of my thoughts would open a dam, a door. In the course of a five hour lunch, coffee and milkshake event with a friend last weekend, we talked about spending time alone. I said that I do all that I can to keep busy, connected and active. There is no appeal to this guy to meditate or sit or be still. I never do it. I move, I think, I connect. My friend said they could comfortably spend three days alone with snacks and a sunhat. How?

Rachel, thanks for listening. Your life sounds such fun and I appreciate the way you share a slice of it here.

Michael




Tuesday, 22 September 2015

IT'S IN THE TITLE

Hello dear MB,

That was another lovely post from you; thank you. This process of writing and reading and writing is bringing me a lot of pleasure and reminding me of all the things I used to love about blog writing before I gave it away to write essays instead. I'm enjoying the process of thinking about what you've written, the gathering and jotting down of those thoughts, and then the work that goes into putting the thoughts into sentences that in some way sound like my voice. It's important that it's my voice so that you can easily know who it's from.
It has also reminded me how much I love a good letter. I love the news, and the conversation, and the talk about food and weather and children and music. You write a good letter.

Now: who are these people that are too cool for Coldplay?!? Not cool enough more like it. 
We hung out a couple of times in London with a South African guy who was in a band working the pub circuit. He and his band had been sharing gigs with another band. Both were quite talented and both had hoped they might be able to get a recording contract.  When we met him, the other band had just got their big break and got that much desired record deal. That band was Coldplay.

I have the same habit as you of overdoing music. Sometimes it's albums I overdo, but more often it's just a single song. This is the one I went to town on last week. I couldn't leave it alone. It's old but it's good and it has a line in it that I love. We talked about Pearl Jam being good at a love song didn't we? I feel it's fair to say that David Gray is quite good at a love song too. 

Why do you only call me when you're high? is a great name for song. Arctic Monkeys must have been pleased with that when they thought it up. The Housemartins greatest hits album is called  Now that's what I call quite good. What do you think of that for a title? It's always made me smile and I like the way I can use it in my day-in-day-out talking and see if anyone murmurs "Housemartins" when I say it. There aren't enough of those moments.

What about great book titles? I've always liked If you liked school you'll love work (Irvine Welsh). I haven't even read it (have you?) but I love the title. 

Anyway, that Arctic Monkeys title brings to mind an ex boyfriend I had almost a million years ago who only called me when he was drunk. I really wanted him to phone me sober and tell me he wanted me back. It never happened and it seemed such a shame at the time but looking back now it was a blessing of the very clearest kind.

This week I am TIRED. Deep tiredness that makes me turn off the alarm and go instantly back to sleep. Tiredness that prevents me seeing straight beyond 10pm and makes me feel on the verge of tears, but only in a vague sort of way. A feeling that I'm too tired to put my finger on. It's a difficult place to find myself in because I count on my good energy and positivity to get me through… well, through everything. Still, it's the last week of term. It will pass and next week I'll rest my bones a bit.

Last week was a big week for me. Mum came back from the UK and it was my brother's 50th birthday dinner (we were hosting) and my dear and beloved friend Mary was getting married and I was on wedding cake making duties. I wrote myself a to-do list for the week and it had 50 items on it. An A4 page full of tiny neat writing, detailing what was required to make it through the week, effectively executing each of the events planned. Some things were marked with stars, indicating their importance; and each thing has been neatly crossed off now. That's satisfying I must say.

I had never made a wedding cake before. In the deepest throes of it I swore I would never make one again. But even as I said it I was mentally composing a list of things I would need to remember for next time. (Next time! Always the optimist.)
Here is my list. I think it would make a good poster. When I was at primary school we used to have to make posters about things. I could get back into poster making.
My poster would say:
YOU CAN DO IT! (because I worried incessantly that I couldn't)
REMEMBER: MUD CAKES ARE GREAT KEEPERS! (I knew this, but I kept worrying that they were going to go stale between when I'd baked them and the wedding. I actually lost sleep over it).
RULE OF THUMB: TWO LAYERS OF ICING THE NIGHT BEFORE; ONE ON THE DAY. That was a thing that I learnt. I want to remember that for next time.
YOU'RE ON TO A WINNER: CAKES ALWAYS LOOK GREAT IN PHOTOS! And as that's the only way anyone can remember them anyway, I was in luck really.
Here is a photo:
Before you ask: no I didn't make those robots.
And it's just not in me to take credit for something I didn't do.
You see - it looks great! And all the hard work was worth it you know, people said nice things about the cake, and it tasted delicious, and it was for Mary, for whom I would pretty much do anything. Mary is the friend of mine that is actually too cool and too smart for me, but who likes me anyway. If she wants cake I will make her cake.

The day after the cake was a Sunday and I decided to have a lazy day involving not very much. When I say not very much though, I did prepare all meals, do three loads of washing, organize birthday presents and drop off and pick up at birthday parties. In between all of that I spent a bit of time with my children. Possibly the only lazy thing I did was not checking Joe's trouser pockets for tissues before I put them in the machine, and that didn't really pay off for me. Lazy pre-kids days and lazy post-kids days are two quite different things.

You wrote in your last post  'I have had your paragraphs on work crushes on my mind this week'. I keep misreading that and thinking you've written 'I have a crush on your paragraphs'. There's something very flattering about that, even if you didn't say it. 
And you're right you know, I think a lot of us are only an argument and a few beers away from a mistake. Ben said to me about Nitagate that while it was fun and flattering, he knew it would be a risky idea to go out to any work drinks that she might be at. Alcohol makes safe things dangerous, and dangerous things seem safe. 
When I look at Ben I chant these three things: Friendship and goodwill. In sickness and in health. The crunchy with the smooth. 
Ben is a man that I can count on. 

You're off to Oman this weekend. Do you make a lot of Oman/No man jokes when you visit? I wouldn't be able to resist. Me, I'm off to the vege markets and a first birthday party. There will be cake, and while Lizard says that love is not a word for food, I would say that I love cake. And I do believe I could love a pet pig and pork at the same time.

Lots of love to you.
Rachel xx

Saturday, 19 September 2015

JUST RIGHT

Dear Rachel,

It's good to know there are others who really do like Coldplay. Some people are too cool for them and that bothers me a little. I have a habit of putting music on a loop until I have driven myself nuts. Presently Why do you only call me when you're high by the Arctic Monkeys is getting some good ear time, along with a few of the best from the White Stripes. That sexy couple know how to write tunes. 

I've been running quite a lot recently which puzzles some people (we currently have night time lows in the late twenties) yet refreshes me. In this heat and humidity and over the distances I am knocking out, I must admit to getting rather sweaty despite wearing cooling shirts and special shorts.  I finish my distance and cross the road to my apartment building feeling uncomfortable and as I ride the lift up to the top floor where my (sweet as) flat is, I argue with myself about what needs doing first. I need a drink, a pee, to check my messages, disrobe and wash (big time). What usually happens is that I do all at once and I end up with the shower running and me sitting on the John, Wee Willie Winkie style (one sock off and one sock on), with a glass of milk in my left hand  and my phone in t'other.  You know, and stuff.

I do have a  superpower, in fact.  Such being the capacity to be grumpy and rude to people all the time and yet still get invited to join social situations. It's the best of both worlds. Did I tell you about my friend's super power? He always has time for people. Always. Always. He is remarkably busy at work but you would never know. He always has time for people. He is funny, quirky, talented and as he informed me on Thursday (when he stopped me on the street to give me a lift to the mall) wears custom made business shirts due to the extraordinary length of his arms. What's more, his name is Michael and he is from Canada. To be so open and giving to others, I've decided, is a superpower (super empowering).

I have had your paragraphs on work crushes on my mind this week. I've seen them, I've had them, I've received them. It made me happy to know that Ben and yourself could talk about them. That shows great maturity. I have long said that many of us (not specifically including yous in this) are just an argument and a couple of beers away from doing something we never thought we would. Our relationships are all we really have as humans. The story of Carl Benz's wife is one of the most gorgeous there is. I'll dig it out when I'm not at Costa on my Vaio. Our connections (what I call relationships sometimes) can also cause a depth of worry you'd never read about in a Hallmark card. I've felt squashed the past couple of weeks but thanks to a string of messages, a promise of coffee and a catch up, my heart is chirping again. It was a messy period. We all got stung. I had to read a text from a friend who said they thought I never wanted to speak to them again when, truth be known, I (wish I) could talk with them all day. All night (less talking, mind...), all morning, all lunchtime.  I had just brought this person a new book, online, to show I still cared - then received the knuckle sandwich on my phone. We're meeting up soon and we will look at each other and smile again. I will make sure of it.

Kayaking yesterday left me happy as there was a group of us slowly drifting up the inlet to what is known as the haunted house. We all laughed and got sunkissed together before landing back at the sailing club for beer and steaks. It's how I like to spend my life. Eating, drinking, being kissed, hearing jokes, in my swimming's togs and without any need to know the time. The happiness overshadowed the fact I learnt my phone is not splashproof.  I BBQed my steaks perfectly and drunk just the right amount of beer. I sat for hours with Irish storytellers who plastered a smile on me which remains to this very day.

You should know that the manager in this cafe I'm in is called Rachel and she looks after me, plying me with cake vouchers and wifi.

I hope you have had a lovely weekend, enjoying the company of others and a bottle or two.

Let's keep this conversation going.

Michael




Tuesday, 15 September 2015

GOOD WILL AND FRIENDSHIP

Hello dear MB,

I know you said that you were planning on being less nice to people, but the letter you wrote me was one of the nicest letters I've ever received and if that's what you mean by 'growing your kindness' then I think you're nailing it dear friend. It was the kind of letter that made me keep going back to reread it and I found myself nodding a lot in agreement and having imaginary conversations with you in my head about all your different points.

One of the things that people in therapy do is that they get to a point where they can pretty much predict what their therapist would say about any given situation. Their therapist becomes the voice in their head. With my little reading people I try to do the same thing. I want them to hear me saying "Make your reading sound like talking" or "Does that make sense? Can you say that?" and then I want them to act on those things they've heard me say without me ever having to utter a word. I want them to hear me every time they pick a book up, until my voice is their voice, and then eventually they don't need to hear those directions any more.

So when I read your words about your fractured friendships I could hear my therapist's voice telling me how things are never black and white. How happenings are to do with what we think they're to do with, and also to do with a whole lot of other things as well. I'm sorry to hear that those two friendships have gone west, but I bet my bottom dollar that those friends (at first I typed fiends. I should have left it there for dramatic effect) are as much to blame as you. Might a little bit of time put you all in a place where things can either be discussed or left to rest? Might stubbornness and apathy turn out to be a much needed cooling off period? At any rate, please don't blame yourself for your half without taking stock of the whole picture. My therapist always tells me that I'm just not powerful enough for everything to be my fault.

I was forced to look at Ben through new glasses last week (this is Nitagate I'm discussing now). I happened to notice on his Facebook page a post from a woman asking him how work was going and posting a holiday pic of some beautiful place. I'm always asking him who fancies him at work; he's very handsome and he works with a lot of boring bankers so it stands to reason that there must be someone (or someones) who think he's a dish. He always says 'No one' and I always say 'Whaaaaat, you're so spunky, there has to be someone!'
After seeing this post I suggested to him that without a doubt the postee fancied him and he said yes, she did, but she was gone from the bank now. He reminded me who she was: the woman who had been having a fling with the older married man at work. The pretty one I'd met at the park that time when I was huffing and puffing after running 7kms and she hadn't broken a sweat after running 20. 
Ben hadn't done anything wrong. Neither had Nita. She'd just fancied him and he'd known it and not really minded. I wasn't finding out about an affair. There were no strained conversations or tears of hurt between us. He told me shamelessly because he had nothing to be ashamed of.  It was just that I looked at him and realized that nothing is completely safe. You could lose somebody you don't want to lose just because someone else decides they want them. This woman was so pretty and so much younger than me and  I was forced to confront the fact that I'm relying on the attractiveness of an intelligent mind, on 15 years of love and great depths of goodwill to get us through. Is that enough? (It's hard to tell as while Ben is the most loyal man in the world he is also simply terrible at saying anything reassuring or comforting.) I am left to presume that for now it's enough. It will have to be enough Michael - it's all I've got in my arsenal.


You're right about Arlo - he has a soft spot as big as a wedding pavlova and he kisses me and hugs me and loves me fiercely a lot of the time. I love him right back. And I'm with you about Skype: kissing and hugging and fierce love are so much harder to achieve through that medium. Anyone who tells you differently needs a time out. Skype is better the no Skype but holding hands is better than video calls. 

If you could have a superpower what would it be? Ben would like to be able to read people's minds - not to find out their secrets but rather to be able to figure out exactly what they're saying to him and why. My chosen superpower would be to be able to make other people's sadnesses go away. I would make you and your boys be in the same place. I would magic away the brutalness of missing.

Last time I wrote I forgot to mention the John Butler Trio song that you posted the link to. I had never heard it before, and the best treat was that it was instant love. I only had to listen to it once to immediately download it and listen to it 20 times.  It took me to a place that shimmers right on the edges of my memory. A place where when I try to catch sight of it, it disappears. Do you know what I mean? I feel like maybe it's somewhere I was when I was about 17 but that might be because that's where you sit in my memory.

This last week I've been listening to some old Guns'n'Roses, and some Coldplay and a little bit of David Gray. Here is a favorite of mine; I couldn't chose a total favorite by Coldplay - there are too many and they're too good, but there's some beauty in this one.


At our local supermarket there are TVs with music videos playing on them. That is one of my favorite parts of  the supermarket shop - seeing what's coming next on those screens. I didn't go to the supermarket today so I'm out of the loop regarding what played on those screens, but I did go out without a coat on today and I didn't pay the price, so I'm in the loop as far as warmth and sunshine are concerned. My feelings reflected the weather. And Grandma came home from her exciting adventure around the world and delighted Arlo beyond compare with her presence and presents. He said 'Thank you Grandma" many times. It wasn't enough to stop a tantrum at teatime but he was open to negotiations and you can't ask for more than that.

At the weekend you'll probably write back to this. I'll be looking forward to it. And then on Tuesday I'll write back to you. It seems like that's how this thing is gonna roll.

Sending you much love,
Rachel xx

Saturday, 12 September 2015

DEEP BREATHS

Dear Rachel,

It is typical that you would start your letters kindly. Thank you. I decided this week that from now on I will be less nice to people because it causes too many problems, but if I can find ways to grow my kindnesses then I'd be more on track.

The sensation of missing someone is, I reckon, brutal. I miss people right now. I miss my sons. People say that 'Skype is great' and I politely nod. It's not as great as being body-slammed at short notice by a seven year old genetically similar rockstar. Or the peace that comes from cuddling cheek to cheek with a nine year old so sweet and remarkable that the world is his and he doesn't even know it yet. Skype is ok at best.

I have never met your father so it is nice to hear you speak about him. He is at that inevitable time in his life which we give little thought until it rolls around and then we think of little else. My mind is on you all. Your retelling of seeing the Dunedin snow was heartwarming. Snow is just gorgeous. It comes with its issues but it is truly wonderful and those countries who don't have the pleasure, don't have the pleasure. 

It sounds like Arlo is a strong boy with so much to give. I bet he has a side so soft as well. It's a tremendous blessing to have children who need a little extra understanding because their box is too small or the wrong shape. I have two of these. It's a gift from the universe to be one of the few people who can read them - who can talk to them with just our eyes, or a handful of fingers through their hair. The moments of misunderstanding are there too but when the connections are made (like a foot in a sock) (like when you have a moment simply watching them ride a slide) I believe that might be love. 

The fractions in my friendships are still pummeling me. Not so much because I have lost two friends, but because I thought I was better at being a friend than I obviously am. It's not that they let me down (although they did) but that I didn't rise up, take the high road, fight for them, refuse to let go. I composed a text to one of them requesting we go for a coffee over the weekend but I didn't have the balls to send it. This is someone whom I have shared many hot drinks, jokes, secrets over the past year. We would smile when we saw each other. We are now a pile of crumbs at Pigeon Park. Truth is, I am saddened. Disheartened that I didn't even try to work it out. Dejected that they didn't call, either. It's a heavy coat, this stubbornness and apathy.

I really enjoyed the exchanges I had with a girl I met while drinking grapefruit and somekindofberry juice today. We've been to a few of the same countries and she is more than thirty years old. I made a dangerously weird joke which she laughed at even more than I did in my head as I prepared it. She kept her (possibly soft, certainly smooth) dark hair in a pony and saved her smile for my best jokes. She waved when she left and I couldn't help but notice her shorts. We'll need another meeting if we are to discuss milk although it's unlikely she's now blogging about the boy she sat by for a babble.

Transformers were wonderful toys. They sort of made the impossible possible. We may well have had one or two. My time was taken up skateboarding and even transformers would have played second fiddle. They are rather captivating and a fine example of a creative mind used for good. 

Nitagate sounds like something I'd like to hear about. I'll make no effort to work out what it is. I'd like to come in fresh with this one. 

I plan to both kayak and run tomorrow as the weather is marginally cooler and I should be able to get away from work by four. The kayaking is murder. It hurts and I am disastrously slow. If it weren't for the egrets and the low, pink sun there would be little to redeem it to me. 

Keep in touch and enjoy those dear people you live with.

Michael












Tuesday, 8 September 2015

HEAD LIKE AN IN-TRAY

Hello dear MB, 

Thank you for your last post which was such a treat to receive and read. Each one from you is. It's not news when I tell you that I have always been a fan of your writing, but how that plays out now is that when these posts from you arrive online and start with 'Dear Rachel' I feel a sense of disbelief right alongside the excitement of reading them. 

My favourite line from your last post was about you and your boys missing each other like wartime sweethearts. I went away from my boys for three nights and three days last week and I too was missed while I was away, but not needed particularly I don't think. The greeting at the airport was full of big squeezing hugs though and many voices at once and I was glad to be back with them. 

I laughed thinking about your brother asking if you had a weather app on your phone. I can see that checking a weather app might seem like precious time poorly spent for you at the moment. I, on the other hand, have two weather apps. One is the Met Service app which I almost never check despite it being highly informative and often quite accurate. I find my needs are better met by checking the Ben Brown weather app. How it goes is that when I'm getting my clothes organised for the next morning I ask him what the weather forecast is and he looks at me and says "Do you want me to check it?" (in a tone of voice that clearly indicates that he KNOWS I have the Met Service app on my phone and therefore why don't I check it myself?) to which I reply "Yes thanks, that would be great". And so he checks it and tells me what to expect weather wise and I choose my clothes accordingly and he goes back to his book and doesn't stay mad at me. I have more to say on the importance of friendship and goodwill but I will do that another time.

As you know, my three days and nights away were to go down to Dunedin to visit my Dad. It was a confusing time for me because he seemed better than the last time I had seen him (I was expecting him to be worse) and while he confirmed he was better his wife insisted he was worse. I came away confused and I will need to think on the whole thing more before I try to put it into words.

Before I started blog writing I imagined that blogs would be just the place to iron out thoughts on any problems. But no. More often I have discovered that not everything is mine to discuss, and that the bigger the problem the less me trying to tidy it up by writing about it in a semi-public forum seems to help. Or more accurately, it is beyond my capabilities to do so: I can't sum up when I'm in the middle of it all.

Anyway, on Sunday in Dunedin it snowed. Only little snow flakes, nothing that settled, but it was pretty and I stopped for some time and watched those little flakes drift past the window. I like the view out the window of the room I stay in. It's the sort of room where you can leave the curtains open and not have to worry about your modesty or anyone else's sensibilities. 
I took this photo but I couldn't capture the snowflakes. 
I just thought you'd like to hear about that snow. I thought of you at the time.

I'm sorry to hear about your week of cracked friendships. I've found the safety in old friends is that when they misbehave in all their usual tried and true ways you can shrug it off and say "that's so typically them". Sometimes you can even nip it in the bud if you know some tricks for what makes them tick. With newer friends, or ones that you don't know inside out, when they behave in ways you weren't expecting it causes the lay of the land (and everything you know about them) to shift and then it all has to resettle. It's not my favourite feeling.

I have had a week that has been full to the brim with things that have filled my head. I usually have quite an efficient system for dealing with problems. It goes something along the lines of... 
Problem in ---> Consider problem ---> Identify possible solutions ---> Action solutions ---> Problem solved ---> Move on. 
This weeks load hasn't been so easy and my mind has been like an overflowing in-tray. 

Let me tell you about Arlo: he is one of the things that has been on my mind this week. 
Five facts about Arlo: 
1) He is a sausage. 
2) He is missing Grandma and it shows. 
3) The rules don't apply to Arlo. For example sometimes after he's flushed the toilet he marches out of the bathroom calling "I'm not washing my hands Mummy!" as if he's issuing a challenge to me to try and make him.
4) He cusses (today I heard him say shut up. I suspect he was talking to me. And when people annoy him he tells them they're a baby in the butt. I don't know what that means but I just found out Ben had always thought he was saying "You've got a baby up your butt." No wonder he was offended). 
5) Arlo only wants to do what Arlo wants to do. 

With Grandma away in the UK Arlo has been having to go to his caregiver twice a week rather than the once he had previously been going. He has kept telling me that he doesn't want to go. I have kept sending him. Now I've found out that he has been showing her he doesn't want to be there by misbehaving and not listening to her and wetting his pants and all those other things small people do to try and express themselves. And so she's made the call that it's not working and pulled the pin. Oh dear. I spoke with her about it yesterday afternoon and it was an awkward (but okay) conversation loaded with things left unsaid. She agreed to have him for two days this week while I make other arrangements. As I cuddled him last night I said "You'll be a good boy at Carrie's this week won't you Arlo?" and he replied "I don't know yet." He met me half way by still being bossy but not wetting his pants.

I did have a nice lunch with him today after I picked him up. Hot chips by the water. He threw a chip to a seagull and 14 others miraculously materialised out of nowhere. That surprised us both. Here's a shot for posterity that I took...
The chips were gone by then but the sea gulls were still there.

That reminds me that I heard my tui friends again on my short walk home from work today. They were calling to each other from one camellia tree to the next and while one of them could only be heard and not seen, the other was sitting on a low branch, tootling, and he was gloriously fat like a pudding. It must have been a good winter for him.

Were you into Transformers when you were knee-high, or maybe even a bit bigger. I didn't know that Arlo was into them, but I think he's watched them on TV with his big brothers. At any rate a bright yellow car drove past us today and he said "Look. It's Bumblebee." Pre three sons I would have presumed he meant the buzzing variety.

Next time I write I need to tell you about what I am calling 'Nita-gate'. It's the term I've given to a discovery I made recently and a conversation I had with Ben which turned out to be one of those shifting of the sand moments that make you re-examine the things you take for granted. 
Rereading that paragraph, I may have talked it up too much. But I'll leave it how I've said it and talk with you about it next time.

I'm wishing you a week worth photographing. A week of fun and good things and beer drinking.

With love,
Rachel xx




Saturday, 5 September 2015

THERE'S ONLY FORWARDS

Dear Rachel,

The chattiness and balance in your letters hit the spot.

My brother asked me once if I had a weather app on my phone and I gave him a look, spat my tea and posted  him a smile handsome. It rained here 3 or 4 days last year. Otherwise fine. You and your family would like it. It's warm and easy.

Sticks are funny things and somehow have more than two ends. Despite turning and flipping them, the wrong end, as if magnetically, seems to end up held. I agree that there is happiness in connecting with people. Things happened this past week which bruised me. The simplest description of what occurred is that a couple of important friendships were fractured. Not chipped but cracked (like chapped lips). We let each other down and it stank and drained the jokes from our text messages.

Your happiness seems tied up in the closeness of your family which surely is a sparkling joy. My sons and I speak a few times each week and the most touching part of our chats, for me, is the way Ben calls out 'Hello Daddy' before my picture is even up on the screen and he has two jokes and three magic tricks prepared in advance. I love the way Jonah pops in and out of the conversation as he chuckles around the sofas juggling soft toys. We're just goofing off together for a few minutes, forgetting that I am absent and pretending that we are not missing each other like wartime sweethearts.

It's an individual matter and sadly happiness is elusive to too many too often.

Your tale of mindfulness is very funny! The knock on effect of a single act of being startled is a lesson to us all. I am glad you remained in your skin.

I continue to drink full fat milk each and every day. I'm not too bothered by the opinions, regarding milk, of people who drink less milk than I. The chances of me having a hot date with milk and questions about Nippy's are trim.

The other day we were talking about music. John Butler Trio's music is not for everyone but he has written some tunes which are magical. Spring to come uplifts, even if you don't know you need it as it finds that place we hide our sadness.

Last week, I met a couple. They are terrific. Tim and I are similar in that we have the tongues of sailors and enjoy cold beer. We spent hours cussing and burping just last night. There are plans to pick it up again soon. Tim is from Bristol and his wife is from Russia. Against the odds, there are many wonderful people in my circles, People who laugh, drink, play and connect with me, pressing many of the bits us humans need touched. I am delighted.

Coffee with a couple of friends is calling me now, in fact. It's been nice to chat.

Safe travels back to Wellington.

Michael

* I'd like to talk 'fathers' with you at some stage.



Tuesday, 1 September 2015

PROJECT HAPPINESS

Hello dear Michael,

I wonder how the sun has been shining where you are (in my imagination it shines brilliantly day in and day out) and if you have been out for a paddle of late. You posted that photo on Facebook and then I consulted a map and took to wondering if it was the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Sea you were paddling on? I would love to dip my toes in the Arabian Sea and these letters back and forth make me wish there was something that needed to be hand delivered.

You asked me about happiness. This is surely worth a whole letter's worth of replying! I've been treading a path for as long as I can remember of trying to understand myself as best I possibly can. My work in this area is never done and I suspect this is for a number of reasons: one is a forest for the trees issue. Another is that I'm prone to changing without letting myself know I'm doing so. And yet another is that I can convince myself of quite anything, so sometimes I end up with the wrong end of the stick. Despite these things, I persevere, and I think as I get older I find myself more and more holding the right end of the stick, changing less rapidly, and standing in not so densely packed areas of the forest (if that makes sense!)

One of the things that I've loved contemplating, and love to hear that you're contemplating, is what makes me happy. And gosh, where do I start? (Probably by saying that I hope you don't regret asking me. I can sense that I'm about to take the long route around answering). 
I've discovered that there are a lot of things that I do out of habit, impulse or necessity that add nothing to my happiness. Facebook is the perfect example. How wonderful that all those people I know are in the same place, (and it's a great thing, without it I never would have reconnected with you) but it often feels like a party that I don't need to turn up to. Recently I have found some ways of connecting with people more closely (this blog is one of them) that make me happier.
My quick temper works against my happiness at every turn. I have been endeavoring of late to switch it off and am pleased to report some small successes in this area.
My iPhone makes my life so much easier and I wouldn't be without it, but it doesn't make me happy because I resent it for the hours I waste on it. 
I love the feeling of getting into bed, but sleep doesn't make me happy as it seems like a dreadful waste of time. What’s more, I am perpetually tired because the hours I most enjoy are first thing in the morning and late at night; I simply can't choose between them. Breakfast makes me happy, dinner not so much. Lunch is an almighty pain. 
I love the afterglow of a run, and to some extent the actual process, but I hate trying to get myself out the door. And I resent the time I waste mooching around in my running gear once I'm home. I blame myself for that.
I can't think of anything that makes me happier than connecting through words.

There are small things that make me catch my breath with happiness: the feel of Arlo's hand in mine when we walk. Hearing my sons’ voices at school as they pass by my reading recovery room at playtime. Watching people eating and enjoying the things I've baked. A good compliment. Talking in bed at 2am. The feel of Ben's hand up my nighty (can I say that?!?) (I'm going to say it anyway). I don't know if oversharing makes me happy, but I certainly go ahead and do it anyway.
  
There is a great New York author who wrote a book about a happiness project she spent a year completing. I learnt many and bountiful things from her and I quote her all the time. The biggest thing she taught me is to be Rachel. That involves accepting that the things I like are the things I like, even if other people don't. And also accepting that some things I think I should like, I'm never going to. Here's a good example: I would like to be a cool skiing type, but for two reasons I never will be. One is that I hate to be cold, and two: I never willingly put myself in the line of injury. That's entirely different from you though isn't it? Cold hands and grazed elbows will never stop you grabbing your skateboard and heading off outside. My dislike of being cold makes me a very indoorsy person here in Wellington.

Another example of being Rachel involves knowing that I feel a need to be useful. It also involves accepting that I love to do geeky stuff like knitting and crocheting and making stuff.  Put that together and I find myself at my happiest when a task is productive and creative. In that way baking works better for me than colouring in, even though colouring in can be quite irresistible and it's quite the latest thing to promote mindfulness apparently.

Mindfulness almost caused me to have a heart attack the other day. I was walking home from work and the sky was heavy with low cloud lying like a fluffy mattress across the sky. I noticed first the beautiful light that it was creating, and how the neighbors pink magnolia stood out against the grey background. I noticed the air was completely still and heavy and when a tui started to call out loudly to its friend I realised that that was the only sound I could hear. I was completely surrounded and engaged by the grey and the pink and the still and the birdsong and then a lady slammed her car door outside the kindergarten and I almost jumped out of my skin! Frights and expletives always go hand in hand for me and this time it was JESUS!! Which in turn gave the door-slaming lady a fright. So then I just pretended nothing had happened and wandered inside and made a decision to be a bit more careful of where I get up to that mindfulness bizzo.

I approve of your milk drinking ways MB (maybe you could drink a half litre for my Jesse who can no longer stomach it). The people that have judged you on it have missed an opportunity to sit down with you and chat about homogenized vs trim, milk requirements in tea and coffee and which flavor of Nippy's iced milk is the best. Without a doubt (in my mind at least) it's coffee. Maybe you could discuss these issues with the hot girl when you finally get to take her out for a beverage. the Nippy's question will find out what she's really made of.

With love to you,
Rachel xx

PS: I forgot to add a picture last time. I'll remedy that here and now.  
PPS: And I have thought of one more thing that makes me happy. This blog. It is just the right ratio of challenge to reward and it keeps me thinking. Thank you.