Goodbye

old house

The last afternoon playing in our old house. Felix was very nostalgic about the big tree and took lots of photos of it.

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November garden (45/52)

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Michael is away again this weekend. We went into town yesterday and had some friends over for dinner in the evening. Today the sun was shining but Felix didn’t feel like going anywhere. It was actually really nice not to hop in the car all day. We played lego, changed all the bed sheets, did a craft kit while Antonia had her nap, went outside for a bit in the afternoon, and baked scones at Felix’s insistence after our scrambled eggs for dinner. Work is getting really busy at the moment, and I’ve noticed a certain end of semester fatigue setting in, but after this weekend I feel ready to power through the final through weeks to exams.

Yesterday, Felix mopped the floor for me. The mop was *cough* quite a novelty. Today Antonia let me brush her teeth without screaming the house down. This was quite a novelty, too. I sang a teeth brushing song instead. At the end, I said ‘well done Antonia, high five!’, hoping to distract her from her tiny bit of protest at the end. She beamed, took the tooth brush out of my hand, and gave me a high five. I’ve never done this before – they must do it at barnehage. Felix hopped out of his bath without complaining and they spent the next five minutes high-fiving each other and giggling their heads off, before Antonia insisted on handing out the baby pine cones that Felix and I had collected. It totally made up for Felix’s mini tantrum earlier when he decided that he did want to go out after all once it was too late.

Love. Love. Love.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

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Spring

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It feels a little cheeky, having entirely skipped the winter, but I am marvelling at spring all the same. The bulbs in the park in town are piercing through the earth, nothing can stop them.

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The buds of baby pine cones on our tree are barely visible, but they are there.

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Felix picked handfuls of the old pinecones yesterday as we picnicked in the garden.

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It was the first time we’ve got out there this year. Antonia slept.

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Whitby came to join the party.

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Felix was so pleased when Antonia woke up again, wearing his old red coat. I thought of all our other springs in this place. Baby Felix peering up at blossoms. Toddler Felix helping build the sandbox. Or playing with the pinecones. Three year old Felix cycling round the deck, thinking about the baby inside me, telling me he missed me before he was born. And now there is another spring, a new one, and I am glad.

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Spring

We took these photos last weekend at the fortress. Three days before this, when I had been up there with my grandparents, there was scarcely a hint of green anywhere. Now, a week later, nearly everything is green. Our grass has turned green and grown several inches and almost needs a mow already. Spring always seems to turn up when I’ve just about given up on it, like a wayward lover appearing at your doorstep with flowers, two weeks too late.

And then all of a sudden its as if it’s always been here. It’s so warm and lovely here to day I even had a bounce on the trampoline. This place really seems like a different country once the warmer weather sets in. Too bad we’re off in less than three weeks. But I guess it will be spring in America too!

Neighbours

Here is a brand new pine cone on the tree in our garden. At least that’s what I think it is. I’ve never seen one before. I tried to get a photo of the old wooden ones too, but couldn’t coax the little camera into focussing twice…

Last weekend one of our neighbours wandered over as we were planting seeds in pots. Between our terrible Norwegian and her terrible English, we managed to work out that she is 75, she grew up in our house, and her mother lived here till she died. Her children knew our house as ‘the grandmother house’. Her father planted the big tree.

She told us what sort of tree is was and Michael understood because it’s also called that in German, but it didn’t mean anything to me. It’s a Siberian something-or-other.

I think she told us that the fruit trees in our garden are yellow plums.

She warned us that deer would try to eat our flowers and our herbs. She said they especially like roses. You cannot plant roses here. But she said she has lots of flowers in her garden every year, not yet but soon.

I told her that I come from Australia and I work in a kindergarten.

I realized yet again that my handy stack of Norwegian sentences: ‘Would you like some more?’; ‘Are you finished?’; ‘Come here!’; ‘Don’t do that!’; ‘Mummy’s coming soon’; ‘Can I change your nappy?’; ‘Have you done a poo?’; are not really adequate for social encounters with people older than two years old. I so wanted to talk to her that I lapsed into my dodgy German, which didn’t help anyone.

So. Once the teaching is finished, the Norwegian books are coming out. Really they are.

Tonight another neighbour came to visit but she didn’t stay and chat.

A walk in the woods

We went for a walk in the forest today. You can open our front door, walk for ten minutes or so, and be deep in the woods. This is extremely cool. We walked for about an hour and half today, but if you felt like it, you could go for hours. Next time we’re taking a picnic.

There is something deeply fairytale about the pine forest. The criss-crossing paths. The darkness. The slanted light. I felt like someone in a George MacDonald story. The treetops wooshed in the wind like the sea.

In other news, I am always so deeply exhausted by Friday night that on Saturday I just want to curl in a ball. Planning my classes in the evening after working all day in the barnehage, and then traveling two hours up to the campus in Oslo is starting to take its toll. I am glad there are only three more weeks of teaching. It has gone quite well. It would have gone better if I had more time or lived closer to the university. But I’ve done my best whilst keeping myself relatively sane, so I’m not going to beat myself up about not doing more.

I keep meaning to write some sort of retrospective post. I was going to do it at the end of 2009, but didn’t. And then at the end of March it was a year since I handed in my thesis. And last week, it was three years since I started my blog. But it makes me tired just thinking about listing everything that’s happened in the last year. Actually, I just made a list, but it made me tired just to look at it, so I deleted it. A lot. A lot has happened. Good and bad.

I feel like I’m still walking in the woods, and I can’t see around the next corner. But the moss is nice. And there are little streams.

Many wonderful things

I am in Austria. Very close to Switzerland. If you climb a mountain – or, with much less effort, take a chairlift – you can see into a lake that touches Austria, Germany, Switzerland. I am surrounded by improbable lushness: meadows peppered with dandelions, mountains swathed in patterned cloaks of dark and bright green, the pine trees interspersed with deciduous trees in the first flush of spring. White blossom still flowers in the valleys, but everything is in leaf. Here, May is the most beautiful of all months. Winter is gone and summer is yet to settle, but the air is warm and the green burgeons with promises.

It is strange to think that on Tuesday I was in Adelaide, on Thursday and Friday I was in London, and now I am here. A week of contrasts if ever there was one. It was very sad to leave. It was just so nice to hang out with my family and catch up with my old friends. My brother and my grandparents drove me to the airport, and after a coffee and a very chocolaty raspberry muffin and at least three hugs from each of them, I felt bereft as they walked away. On the plane, I thought – why am I leaving? What am I going back to?

Autumn in the Adelaide Hills.

But as soon as I arrived I knew. Apart from being with M again, which is just brilliant, there is so much to see here! So much to explore and think and dream. I really enjoyed the two days in London. I usually just transit through London, but this time M had organized a two day workshop and they were all staying in the rather lovely Goodenough College, so I got to piggyback. I just loved wandering around all the green squares between the London University buildings, pretending to be Virginia Woolf. I’ve been to that section of London before but never spent much time there. Spring is in full swing and the huge trees are raining down little umbrella-shaped pollen things.

I spent an afternoon in the British Museum. It is all wonderful but I was especially amazed at collections of medieval and Roman rings – how strange to think of the hands that have worn them! And then on Friday evening we wandered around the Tate, which is possibly my favourite art gallery in the world. It’s all been re-hung since I was last there, and there are themed collections: ‘poetry and dream’, ‘energy and process’. I loved the way the words wove between the pictures, and the layout of the rooms made the paintings and sculptures talk to one another.

I started writing this in Austria but actually now I am in Switzerland. M is working here today and we are going back to Norway tonight. I haven’t been there in nearly two months! His parents joined us in Austria and we had a very relaxing couple of days. They made friends with the neighbours. Monica did a brilliant job of combating her fear of heights – she came with us as we drove over a high pass in the mountains (see above), and even went on two chairlifts!

Michael and I each had one beautiful paraglider flight – I was up for more than an hour and could have stayed up much longer if I wished. How strange to be able to work the air currents and drift above the mountain ridges and the trees.

We had a minor disaster yesterday when M tried to launch in a tail wind and didn’t take off in time and flew straight into a clump of trees. Luckily he wasn’t hurt but we spent nearly three hours extracting the glider from the trees! They were about four metres high, so not strong enough to climb but too tall to reach the top of. They were perched on a steep slope in a patch of snow, so there was a lot of sliding around. We even had to chop a couple of them down with a borrowed axe! Anyway, no harm done, and we are rethinking our safety policies…

But all in all, everything is beautiful. My viva is two weeks from today – I wonder if my examiners are reading my thesis yet.

The Beautiful Brotherton

Just to see if I can generate a bit more nostalgia for Leeds in certain readers… Here’s the chestnut tree in front of our red brick terraced English department, looking gorgeous as usual. And here is the beautiful Brotherton Library.

I love love love this library. It has all a library should: marble pillars, high ceilings, parketry floors, natural light. And thousands of books, including obscure Australian journals. It’s perfect just at the moment because the undergraduates haven’t come back yet. Here’s the view from my perch in the Australian literature section.

I had a great four days in Leeds – reading in the library, meeting up with my supervisor, and catching up with lots of lovely ladies with whom I have lived or studied or both over the past five years. And – er – a bit of shopping. Supervisor says thesis is on track to be finished before Christmas (even taking into account my secret and time-consuming plans soon to be revealed). He says it’s been downhill since I was fifteen months in, and all that’s left to do is the last bit of the downhill. Which I imagine will be quite painful none-the-less, but he did a good job at diffusing my terror…

And thank you thank you thank you to my cousin in London who always lets me sleep on his floor, and Vic who let me stay all week.

After boarding two trains, a bus, a plane, a car and a ferry, I’m back in Norway with my favourite person. Bliss.

Goodbye Snow

The snow is gone, but I couldn’t resist sharing my last remaining snow photos. Now there is mist, and soft persistent rain. I do not mind. I think of the shoots and the seeds hiding in the earth, drinking up all the moisture, swelling, waiting. It is not so cold now. The magpies have made very impressive progress with their nest. They work in pairs, in all weathers. Now when they are inside I cannot see them. Wet and misty or icy blue, there is more light every day. Nothing will stop the spring.

Six Months Today

My blog is six months old! How to celebrate? When I began this blog, I walked along the river and thought about light. The ice was cracking and melting on the lakes. These days the lakes glow a curious toothpaste blue, which I suppose means they’re thinking about freezing again. When I began, the trees were bare, and now they are brittle and golden. We lit the fire for the first time this week. When I ride my bike, the cold bites my hands and my throat. Even sitting at my desk, my nose is an ice block by the end of the day. Soon the nights will close in. These northern seasons never cease to fascinate me.

Claire Souter

Fly

Recently I was reminded of the wonderful Australian artist Claire Souter, who used to live in the town where I grew up, Mt Gambier, South Australia. She used to exhibit regularly in the area, and I would run into her work every year at the Penola Festival, where she made a habit of winning the John Shaw Neilson painting prize, and I made a habit of winning the youth sections of the Max Harris Literary Award. She has since moved to Queensland, but she is still painting. Her gallery sounds like a wonderful place – you can read about it, and see many more of her beautiful pictures at her website.

I own the painting pictured above, or one very like it (I have a feeling it has two birds, but it is in Adelaide and I can’t check). It’s from a series called Green 1999, which was based on French lace patterns. I love it because of the layers, the stillness, the movement. It is at once lace and a jewel and a mosaic and a plant and a bird, flying. The green capsules which hover on its surface at once contribute to the sense of flatness and give it extra depth – you feel like you could reach out your hand and pick one up. But how do they stand up like that? There is something enchanted about the painting – it’s like a glimpse into a magical moment captured in skeins of fabric, of glass, of light. I bought it because the bird reminding me of a small dragon I was writing about at the time, who would have been happy there.

My parents own one of her paintings too, but I couldn’t find a picture of it. It’s golden light falling over a table. It’s beautiful. Here is another bird.

Bird and Tigers

And here is the sea:

Newcastle Beach

Souter has also painted several series based on medieval stained glass windows. I love them – the colours, the light, and again, the layers. She works with glazes a lot (very thin layers of paint applied over areas of the canvas) which I think helps her to achieve these effects.

Balance

Glory Vine

Silver Birch

You’re just going to have to go to her website, these few paintings are just a taster. Recently she has been painting the thick rain-forest foliage of her new home. I think there are themes running through these paintings – a fascination with surfaces, with light, with patterns and the natural world. I love the way she layers different surfaces that treat light differently – the autumn leaves and the stained glass windows, the skeins of waves on the beach. And the way she plays with the surface of the paintings – the capsules on the lace, the leaves on the glass, the watermarks on the rain-forest paintings. The word ‘surface’ can sometimes be used disparagingly – as though it is less important than depth. But it is through surfaces that we apprehend the world – our skin is a surface that can touch and feel other surfaces, our eyes apprehend light on the surfaces of objects. Souter paints surfaces with gentleness and delicacy – light rests on them, shines through them, floods around them. Yet again I am reminded of one of my favourite Les Murray poems, ‘Equanimity’:

… a field all foreground, and equally all background,
like a painting of equality. Of infinite detailed extent
like God’s attention. Where nothing is diminished by perspective.

Beautiful Leaves

Leaf 10

Light and Shelter

Paintings and images copyright Claire Souter. Used with permission.

England’s green and pleasant land

Got back to Leeds today. It’s always a bit of an anti-climax, but I’m sure I’ll survive. The train ride from Manchester was beautiful though. Whenever I come back to England from Europe I’m struck by how lovely and how appealingly English England is. Especially so in May, with the fat, fluffy trees like something out of Legoland, the green fields interspersed with bright yellow fields of canola seed, the hedgerows blooming, and the stone walls meandering over the landscape. I seem to have a penchant for national theme tunes at the moment, and I couldn’t help but hum ‘Jerusalem’ as I sped along in the train (in the tunnels in Norway, it was ‘The hall of the mountain king’). The odd birch tree looked rather pale and thin beside the blooming crests of the other trees. I took a photo of the huge chestnut tree outside the English department.

If only the rest of Leeds was so green! This was just before I ducked into the cramped, sweaty student gym to work off some of that German chocolate. My heart wasn’t really in it, though, so when I got home I took a picture of my new socks. These never fail to cheer me up.

Easter

We hired a car over Easter and did two trips down the Swedish coast, one trip to the islands near Fredrikstad, and one trip on the ferry across the fjord into central Norway. Halden is right in the south east corner of Norway, next to Sweden. It was good to finally explore the area further afield than you can reach with a bicycle! We also spent an eminently horrible day trying to look at used cars in Oslo (me in charge of directions, not a good start…). Unfortunately the weather, which had been glorious, turned a bit nasty on us, but it wasn’t too bad.

The rocks on the Swedish coast are amazing. I love bleak landscapes – bare rock and sea and sky. It’s why I love the North York Moors, and the Dales, and the Australian desert. It was fun to get away from the pine trees. Unfortunately it was too windy for ground-handling (paragliding practice where you try to get the glider above your head and keep it there), but that didn’t stop Michael trying, resulting in several frenzied efforts to fold it up again before it blew us away.

And then on Sunday it snowed! You can see it through the windows of our flat. Snow on the spring branches of the tree outside, snow on the riverbank and the rooftops, snow on the little car.