I decided to bake today. I thought the scent of spices, apple and vanilla would warm hearts on a rainy weekend. Spices were ground, flour sifted, eggs beaten. Sugar and butter weighed and mixed. I took my time. Concentrating on the small details. Letting my mind be filled with the task at hand.
Sometimes a cake is a metaphor. All that mixing and measuring. The coming together of separate things to create a whole. The batter tasted sweet, with a promise of what was to come.
I feel a million miles away from people I love this week. Cake doesn’t shorten the distance. But it tastes good. It smells good. I can post pictures of it on instagram and pretend my life is one great big old piece of cake. Easy. Lovely. Sugary. Life as cake.
The thing is, cake doesn’t always turn out the way you hope. Sometimes, even with following the method to a tee it doesn’t do what you want it to.
Sometimes, cake doesn’t come out of the tin. You prise and poke, you tap and shake. But nothing happens.
I foolishly thought if I baked a perfect cake, the day would get better. I foolishly thought if I baked the perfect cake, I wouldn’t think about cancer for a while. Turns out cake doesn’t know my wishes. Turns out cake is, after all, just cake.
In my mind the cake would come out of the perfectly prepared tin in one easy, syrupy upside down tap. In my mind I would be posting another picture perfect cake image on instagram. See? The image would say, today is just one big happy cake filled day.
But cake is just ingredients. It’s just flour and sugar, egg, spice, vanilla, butter and milk. It can’t make distance shrink. It doesn’t remove hurt, or missing, or sadness. It didn’t know I needed a perfect cake.
Turns out even crumbled, falling apart baked goods taste just as good as the ones the keep together. It seems even if the cake doesn’t look the way to should, the tears don’t fall.
Nothing has changed. I’m still sad. I still wish I could place cake in a tin and drive to share it with the people I miss most. But I can’t.
The cake may have crumbled. But turns out I didn’t.
Cake. Stupid, delicious, uncooperative cake. Perhaps it is more than the sum of its parts after all.
I haven’t been around much lately. Because, well, life. It is happening as I type.
The days have been a promise of sunshine and warmth. Washing attempting to float in the wind, pegged against its will to the line.
Rhythm escapes me as I run the well worn tracks. Magpies eye me as I pass. The perfect playlist eludes.
Sunshine and freshly cut grass, the signs that spring is here; an itchy combination to the hay fever inclined.
I tried to blog the everyday, the ordinary. But life is not about that right now. So instead, the posts remain undone. Snippets of words come in the half-dream of 3am. I wonder about getting up and writing them down.
For now, life is enough. No less and no more. The words of 3am remain half spoken. For the moment they can lurk. I have no time to catch them.
Today the sounds of Johnny Cash singing One, played in a cafe as I sipped coffee. The man in black. He brought to mind another man in black. And it made me smile. And that? It is enough. Because life. It’s happening while I type.
So, Mothers’ Day. I had a cup of tea in bed, enough bacon for at least three people and was given a cup the size of my head as a gift. I may sip tea out of it forever.
I also went grocery shopping with Hubby and went out for a run. We had cheeses to nibble on for lunch. I opened a bottle of wine. Just like we do each Sunday we are home. Happy and warm in our house.
In the afternoon I watched a movie while the kids were on youtube and Hubby was off bike riding with a mate.
It was the perfectly simple day I wanted.
You see, in the past there have been some less than pleasant Mothers’ Days. No blame, just too much pressure. On me, on the kids, on Hubby. Too much. High expectations. So, this year I said I wanted it to be a perfectly ordinary day. No muss, no fuss.
When asked what I would like for the day I replied nothing, just a normal day. And I meant it.
The pressure to be perfect on a certain day is great. My kids feel it, I feel it, Hubby feels it. Some of my most memorable Mothers’ Days have been the ones where the day has been about other things. Like the year we spent the day cutting down trees with family. When I have taken part in the Mothers Day Classic. This one.
Yesterday Hubby checked in just to be sure I meant what I’d said. Yep. I’d love a cup of tea in bed, but that was it. Besides, I get a cuppa in bed most Sundays. I love weekends at home.
The gift was a surprise. I’d made a throw away line about wanting a huger than huge tea cup. Luckily we have a tea shop a short walk into the village. The saucer is just the right size for two rounds of buttery vegemite toast, which was my Mothers’ Day tea of choice.
I don’t begrudge any other family their Mothers Day. Everyone is different. I am just happy with mine. With my choice.
The day was spent as many other Sundays are. Quietly, with time alone and time together. Because we are family. I won’t say all Mothers’ Days will be like this from now on. Because every year is different. Children grow, circumstances change. Time moves on. But this year, for this family, for this mum, it was the perfectly ordinary day. And that’s how I like it.
Turns out I am perhaps the world’s worst dance mom. I have an accomplice though in the Husband, he’s not all that great a dance mom either.
Recently The Green Eyed Girl was part of a school dance troupe for a local competition. This was our first foray into the dance world. We have up until now escaped. There may have been a reason for this. A very good one.
Being the weekend we were having a slow kind of day. So, it was no surprise that when it was time to leave, there had been no thoughts about food. Not to worry, how long could this thing go for? That right there? That was the first inkling we were novices.
The second inkling was when all the other performers turned up with bags. Because they’d need somewhere for their regular clothes to go while they were in costume. Luckily someone had a spare supermarket bag for our child.
There had been some forethought into the evening. We had one bag of fantails. For three people. For four hours. We managed to purchase a bottle of water and 2 bags of salt and vinegar chips while there. I managed to pass our daughter 3 fantails, as she had to sit in the performers area. So, she was well sustained for her dance.
By the time the dancing started my thoughts had turned to gin. The fantails were all but gone and Hubby and I were calculating how long each dance on the programme would go for; how long between each dance and added ten minutes for interval. The horror when we realised how long the evening would be was written all over our faces.
Turns out interval was twenty minutes. Plus an extra five for good luck.
Audience members treated the event like some kind of über competitive sport in its own right. Yelling out, cheering and clapping with such ferocity I needed to hold Hubby’s hand. The MC even had to remind the crowd to only cheer before the dances, but not during. Tennis crowds had nothing on this lot.
As for recording the evening, we had a camera. On my phone. So we have some blurry shots and think we can make out our child. Kind of hard among a troupe of children, identically dressed, at least half of which have brunette hair in high ponytails.
You’d think that having been parents for 14 years now we’d have things sorted. We’d be organised. We’d have water bottles from home. Spare jumpers. Tissues. That kind of thing. But we don’t.
Turns out we were not alone. We saw at least two other families in the nearest burger joint at 10.30pm having their post dance fair evening meal.
As for the dancing itself, the troupe our daughter was part of won, also receiving a special award for most entertaining. Celebrating with a giant burger and fries late at night may have been less than stellar, but that’s just how this family rolls.
Are you organised? Or like me, just roll with the burgers and late night fries?
There is something to be said for the quiet mixing of ingredients for birthday cakes. Something soothing in the closeness of bent heads while choosing the one.
There is love, in all its schmaltzy glory, stirred into every layer. Be it mother for child, or wife to husband.
Between the beginning of March and the middle of April there are three birthdays in our house. All but mine are this time of year. As the years have passed I have come to love the making of the cakes.
When children were younger, work was full time and sleep was in short supply it was not as pleasant. There were many disasters. A blue banana cake. A melted horse paddock, plastic ponies sinking into the green icing like quicksand.
But now, as children become older, I look forward to the ritual of choosing, making, assembling and ultimately eating the cake. I am not suggesting we should all strive for the perfect cake on the perfect day. I am a realist, and time is not always on my side. But there is comfort in the doing. Beauty in the making and love in the layering.
Sentimental it may be. But making a cake for those I love, adorning it with candles and singing badly before it is cut and shared; there is greatness in it. Not the greatness of legend, but the quiet greatness of family and friends. The untold greatness of home.
And in the words of Donkey… cakes! Everybody likes Cakes!
1. Crêpe, Cointreau and chocolate ganache layer cake.
Today I’m heading to Tasmania with the kids. There is nothing new in this, being as much of our family live there, as do many friends. Hubby is staying home this time. He has deadlines and new work to begin.
We have travelled by plane and the ferry many times. But until this trip I have not taken the ferry without Hubby, or with such a small car.
I am a little excited I have to say.
I grew up on the North West Coast of Tasmania, and while it was not always pleasant, it was always beautiful. As an adult, with a life far removed from the full of anger and hurt teenager I was, I can look on the coast with new eyes.
Part of our trip this time will be down memory lane. I can hear the pained sighs and feel rolling eyes of two adolescent kids from here. But they will survive. I will ply them with local foods as we drive our way down to Hobart.
My tetris skills will be put to the test packing all the gear in a small hatchback while leaving room for three people. There will also no doubt be competition for connectivity to the car stereo. Though as driver I am fairly certain I get to rule over all music choices.
You can guarantee I will be instagramming the whole trip, and we think Stormy will come with us again. So look out for the #stormyintas hashtag.
So, now I begin the packing. I love packing, it begins to build the excitement.
And because I’m off to my other home state, best give you all a home grown Tassie song. This girl has talent, and I’m sure she’ll feature on my road trip playlist.
Sometimes there is so much to say it hurts just thinking about it.
Sometimes the things not said speak loudest.
I may wear my heart on my sleeve, but for now, I’ve covered it in a button down shirt, keeping it safe.
When words seem just not enough, when the inside of my mouth is bruised from biting down hard to stop tears, I wonder what anything is for.
Sometimes a miracle is not the answer. Sometimes the miracle is life itself.
Sometimes I’m not fast enough to outrun myself. And then, just when I think I have, a lyrebird flies past and stops, just at my feet as if to say slow down, there are some things you can not outrun. Hold fast.
Sometimes a song just won’t leave my head, and so I will share it. Because sometime even the songs people say are the happiest have something worthwhile to say.
Earlier this week I was lucky enough to go to the opening of The Chronicles of Narnia Exhibition here in Melbourne. I took with me The Green Eyed Girl and one of her friends. Not your average midweek outing.
There is a small part of me that wants to believe in magic. When the kids were younger it could still be found watching on from the sidelines as they anticipated Santa, wrote letters to fairies and searched through dark windows for signs of Easter Bunny.
It could also be found in books. The suspension of disbelief as words turn to characters, adventures come to life and fantastical worlds unfold. My first encounter with the land of Narnia was as a six year old, having my teacher read from The Magician’s Nephew each day. It was the start of a long yearning to be part of that world. I spent many hours searching wardrobes, on the off chance one would happen to be the doorway to that land. Though I am not sure shutter-doored built-ins in a 1970s brick veneer suburban home really were all that magical. Not from wont of trying.
Imagine then, a typical working week. Imagine sitting in traffic going at a snails pace. A journey doubling in the expected length of time and a clock ticking away from fashionably late to down right rude even contemplating showing up at all late. Picture two excited eleven year old friends, sensing the rising tension from the driver, sitting quietly in the back seat as Melbourne traffic inched forward. A hasty car park, a hurried walking pace and a will that the doors were still open to what we hoped was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Exhibition.
Something happened when we entered the pavilion. There is, it seems, a little bit of magic left after all. The friends pushed through two large wooden doors and found themselves in a wardrobe. In the wardrobe, complete with fur coats. In front of them, a lamppost, surrounded by snow. This is when the excitement really started, for the girls and for me. Instead of seeing the exhibition through my eyes, I saw it through those of two eleven year olds. Costumes from the movies, props, interactive touch screen maps. A chance to lift swords and attempts to lift armour. The right amount of fact and fantasy mixing to create a real sense of magic. My only concern was convincing the girls to leave.
The exhibition is open daily from now until February. Take your children along, and watch for glimpses of magic as you view it through their eyes.
There is a saying in our family. Usually said on a particularly good day. When things are slow. When not much gets done apart from a drawn out lunch, an afternoon snooze or sitting in the sun drinking wine.
In a quiet moment, when appetites are sated, skin is warmed and eyes half closed, ‘I wonder what the poor people are doing’ will be said. Dad’s voice filling the air.
The usual reply, ‘it’s a hard life’ from one of us.
Is there money? None to speak of. But wonder we do.
It’s a hard life.
It is part of the way we get by. Especially when things are hard. Because sometimes things are.
We are rich. In arguments and laughter. In that we love to be together and apart. Miss each other and piss each other off.
We are not perfect. When we argue people in the next galaxy know about it. Children and grandchildren hear more than their share of swearing. They hear a great deal of tear inducing laughter as well. It’s a hard life.
A few years ago my parents came to stay. I had a day off and the kids were at school. We drove into the hills and had a late lunch. We sipped red wine and sat in the sun. As a waitress came to our table Dad spoke, to no one really. ‘I wonder what the poor people are doing.’
The waitress took offence. ‘Well they are all at work getting paid I suspect.’
I wanted to go after her. Explain. How my children had been uprooted from everything and everyone to live in a different state. How my parents worked hard all their lives; how they still did though Dad was past retirement age. That this was a day off for us all. That if she looked, if she listened to the tone not the words she’d have known.
But I didn’t. I had a rare moment of being an adult child alone with my parents. I had a glass of wine and cake. There was sun. School pick up was an hour away.
So I sat. I sipped wine. Ate cake. I wondered what the poor people were doing. It’s a hard life I replied to no one at all.
Earlier this week Hubby and I went to Hamer Hall for the Czech Philharmonic. It was magnificent.
A night out for me means making effort. Taking time to get ready. Wearing my favourite red lipstick. Putting on impossible heels and fine stockings. This night also meant a new lace pencil skirt, my much loved vintage blazer and my husband’s hand to hold.
What I love about going to events like this is the dynamic audience it brings. Elderly couples, partners, families, work colleagues.
Being there with time to spare is the name of the game. Glass of sparkling wine in hand, I like time to watch fellow theatre or concert goers. There is the inevitable celebrity, but it is not them I am watching. It is the everyday people.
Young, old and in between waiting for the polite toned bells and voice to announce doors are open and patrons can now be seated. The poetry of people. The dance of a lobby-full of people moving to their allotted entrance door. Hushed tones and quick final sips of the pre-show or intermission drink.
Theatre going middle class know how to knock back a drink in record time. Intermission is short and cues to the bar long.
What I love as much as the music is the people. The elderly audience members. Some with walking frames, or sticks, others with an arm to hold, slowly walking to their seats. Bent bodies and shuffling feet. The child clutching the ear of a beloved soft rabbit toy. Her father’s head bent low to talk to her. A young couple embracing, oblivious to those around them. I stand, glass in hand among them all. Watching. Listening to the hum of hushed conversation. The fading laughter as friends enter the hall. And there am I. Neither very young or very old. Standing, still able to wear higher then high heels, still straight backed, sucking in my stomach. Taking it all in.
I am alive. My voice says in the quiet of my head. I am alive.
We none of us know how long we are here. But we know when we are alive. When we are able bodied and strong of mind. Not all of us get that. Not all of us manage life to an old age, dressing well and going to the theatre. None of us know what life holds. Plans and dreams unused.
We are thrown curve balls, plans go astray.
Could have, would have, should have.
When I go to the theatre, a concert I am confronted by my own mortality as I watch people young and old. And by that of my family. Terminal and cancer are familiar words to me and mine. But there is no battle for us. No brave fight. There is just life. Lived as best it can be.
There is life.
We go on living, even as we face death in all its guises.
I go on putting on my finest clothes, lacing my fingers with my husband’s and sitting with other patrons. I dance the lobby dance. Drink the intermission drink. Am part of the poetry of people.
Life may not be what we hoped. It may not be what we planned. But it is ours for the taking. It is ours for the giving.
It is ours for the living.
I received tickets to the Czech Philharmonic for a promotional blog post done in July. This post was written in response to my own thoughts. It is neither sponsored nor promotional in intent.