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I am an artist, designer and the creative force behind A Patch Of Heaven. No one is quite sure what crazy idea I will come up with next

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ancestral Expectations.

I know a family encumbered with posh ancestors.
I met the ancestors in the form of oil paintings. They stared  with arrogant eyes and sneering lips out of gilded frames on the crowded walls of a small room. A whole castle’s worth of portraits.
“Aren’t they awful” said my friend.
“We keep them shut up here so they can’t ruin the atmosphere of our home. I don’t want the children to get nightmares. We would get rid of them but my mother-in-law insists the eldest son must have them. They may be works of art but what is the point of having them if they weren’t good people.”
I could understand her reasoning.
 However I was still rather impressed. The tenements of Edinburgh are not big on ancestral portraits and my own ancestral portraits amounted to a 4” x 6” photocopy banged into a Warehouse frame. It hung above my bed and was of my Scottish Nana and her family when she was a child.
 Without posh pictures we had to make-do and pass on a less tangible inheritance. You could tell our alleged good breeding not by the diamonds around our necks but by the diamond shaped cushions on the sofa. Ancient niceness decreed it more genteel to arrange square cushions on their points. This gem of wisdom and the necessity of a piano, descends the generational staircase. The scepter of learning the piano falling heavily on the first born child.
     As the eldest my mother was provided with a curly grained honky-tonk piano. She may have been born in New Zealand but ancestry decreed she thump one two three, one two three, Westphalia Waltz and it’s cousins an hour every afternoon.
As the firstborn grandchild I was sent to piano lessons at age nine. I never wanted to play the piano. I was fascinated with the guitar which I encountered on my first day of school. I remember my teacher strumming and singing Seeker’s songs   while I sat on the scratchy floor mat. I thought the shape of the curvy wooden body with its taut strings and smooth hole was almost as beautiful as the long white boots of the little girl next to me.
 Never did a dog go to the vet more reluctantly than I went to piano lessons every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.
Mrs. Smith was an uptight perfectionist whose sole interest in music revolved around processing kids through the Royal School of Music examinations.
All joy and lightness died at the door of Mrs. Smith house.
I  sat rigidly on a stiff little piano stool repetitively counting,
"one and a, two and a."
 while poking nervously at ivory railway sleepers.

 Mrs. Smith sitting at the far end of the piano would write disheartening comments about my performance in a small hateful note book.
Spasmodically she would roll her eyes to the back of her head underneath almost closed eyelids. Her eyelashes quivering over white slits in a manner that strongly suggested a lack of enjoyment over the sounds she was hearing.

Sometimes when her mother-in-law was not available to babysit, the three year old daughter would turn my solo into a duet and slap away on the tinkley notes. I could tell my teacher found it an improvement but I would have rolled my eyes and quivered my lashes if I dared.
 My standard four school teacher said we were lucky to have no worries at our stage of life.
“What do you know?” I thought darkly. “ YOU don’t have Mrs. Smith and Music lessons this afternoon.”
After a hundred years of twice weekly torture I was plunking out a few stilted little classical tunes on the inherited honky-tonk. A grade three piano certificate was enough to placate the family honour and buy my release.  Fortunately tradition didn’t expect  musical competence.
The day I quit music I tipped all the cushions onto their flat bottoms and swapped 88 formal keys for the 6 informal strings  of the guitar.
 The ancestors would have been shocked with how quickly I mastered the four chords necessary to bash out most tunes.
Mrs. Smith would have shuddered at the rollicking bluegrass rhythms.
And ALL of them would have been appalled at the tune
“Pa went to sleep and the hogs et him.”
But it was light and joyful and best of all authentically ME.
I’m glad I’m not encumbered by posh ancestors.
Pianos and cushions have been enough for me to overcome.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Johnson Jenetics.

I have recently been pondering on genetics.
Not the grand scale genetics of Plato and Nazi Germany regarding society; but the small scale genetics of Merideth and Johnson regarding me.
The Merideths on my mother’s side, all speak and spell like dictionaries and have an author hidden somewhere in the skeletal closet.
The Johnsons however are artistic with gifted hands and spell with creative freeform.
In the early days of their courtship my mother was impressed with my father’s ability to make beautiful things with his hands.
She was equally impressed with his letters steeped in words she had never seen before.
 After fifty years of marriage my mother is still impressed with Dad’s ability to make beautiful things but deals with all correspondence.
 As their first born and the fusion of the Merideth-Johnson genetics I am a Dyslexic Writer/ Artist.
This makes me a writer who draws flowers in the margin and uses words I don’t have a hope of locating in the dictionary.
Although my computer Hitler and I share a “it’s complicated” relationship, I do rely on his spelling advice. The familiar wavy red line is so comforting. It reassures me all the lineless words are o.k. (At least for Americans or English, depending which version of spell check he’s using.)
If I go a couple of paragraphs without seeing THE LINE, I get nervous and type something deliberately wrong just to check Hitler is still alert.
I have even learnt how to seek out his haughty “do you mean………?” box. Usually I do mean, unless it is a French word or one that starts with pn, kn or ph.
Recently I had a visit from relatives on The Johnson side.
“I see you have THE GENE” said my aunty reverently when she saw my whimsical wooden dolls.
“There is a lot of THE GENE in the family”
“My father had it,”
“My brothers had it,”
“My daughter has it,”
“But I,” (regretfully) “never got it, I can spell and have a logical mind.”
(A sure sign she missed it.)
We sympathized with her.
In spite of limitations it’s a great thing to be a Dislexsick, Artistick, righter.

P.S. Hitler has just informed me Merideth is spelt Meredith. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Consolidating Bread Dough.

I am not a one project at a time person. Usually I like at least eight.
There is the small portable hand work for sitting in Accident and Emergency with the kid who poked the Camellia bud up their nose.
There is the big bulky hand quilting for winter evenings in front of a D.V.D. and small cotton stitcheries for hot summer afternoons.
 I machine piece when estrogen is high, and viciously ram stuffing into dolls legs on P.M.S days.
I paint dolls faces when I’m feeling meticulous and rip fabric strips when I’m slap-dash.
I make patterns when I’m in the drawing mood, and write instructions in the writing mood.
Whatever the season, whatever the mood, however small the fragment of time, I have the perfect project for it, and all goes merrily along until like bread dough silently rising in the crock pot, I have SIXTY FOUR  unfinished  projects not including the ongoing project of the four children. (True story.)
My father used to say that for success in war or life,
“You must advance and then consolidate.”
Advance- the start of sixty four projects is fun.
Consolidation- the finish of sixty four projects is not so fun. In fact it is downright boring and a grind. You have to restrain yourself from any new fun stuff until you punch through to the euphoria of completion.
The glow I got out of finishing sixty four projects could have flood lit the World Cup Rugby games and generated heap of energy to start a whole new set of projects.
Unfortunately I noticed recently that the bread dough has been rapidly rising again………..sigh.
Time to clean out the back of the wardrobe and under the bed…………tomorrow,
 I’ve just got time to start one more doll.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Not Santa.
On the night Santa was supposed to come down the chimney, a rat came up the wall.
Ruth has told all our friends the parents were up at 3 am because they wanted their presents early.
That is a lie, her father had already opened the family Christmas present the day before.
On a normal socks-and-tie Christmas, Ian is very restrained. This year however, we had rolled six individual presents into one family present ~ a 32 inch LCD screen, (bought on Sale.) He had been keen all week to crack open the big flat box behind the couch. But unaided by any other family member I had successfully opposed this violation. Successful that is, until December the 24th   when Ian whipped the screen out of the box during a wife-hanging-out-the-washing moment. When I discovered him standing among cardboard, polystyrene and plastic wrap like a naughty boy, he was totally unrepentant, He further fell by watching another present on the first present. So it was not presents (Ian had opened most of them) but the rat that got us up.
For a week I had noticed a peculiar smell in the pantry. After much detective sniffing, searching and cleaning I still couldn’t find the source of the smell. The day before Ian violated the box we found the problem; a hole in the floor behind a shelving unit and signs of a rat tunneling into the wall. We removed all food, sprinkled poison around and pushed back the shelves.
In the darkest part of the night I lay in a bed horribly close to the pantry wall and listened to hideous squeaking and thumping noises. I awoke Big Game-Hunter-of-Large-Screens to deal with the crisis. But like all the cats I have owned, he was useless. He cowered low in the bed and pretended he couldn’t hear anything, (a practice he perfected when the kids were bawling babies.) I had a distressing night visualizing a poisoned rat dying in agony.
The next morning I got Number-One-Son to investigate behind the shelves. I had expected to have to pay him a hefty bribe to look. But I erred judging the male psyche by the female mind. He was KEEN and no payment was necessary Furthermore he would use the vacuum cleaner and suck all 152 babies out of the gigantic nest in the wall. (The nest and babies had increased exponentially in my mind during the night.) It was an anticlimax to discover no rat and no babies.
We put all the tins and bottles back in the pantry but kept out all soft packaged food.
At 3 am the next morning, I heard loud un-Santa noises again. This time it was not a dying rat in my mind but a vigorous healthy animal .and the hole in the wall was increasing to cavernous proportions. The mighty screen hunter emboldened by the previous afternoon’s success, not only heard the noise, but baited a trap with peanut butter by the light of the open fridge.
We lay in bed stiffly waiting for the action.
At 4 am we heard the trap go off, followed by some alarming thumping noises. Ian disappeared and I cowered as much bigger noises shook the house.
At 4.15 am He returned triumphant with a dead rat, broken broom and a shattered trap.

At 4.30 he covered the hole in the floor with the top of a baked bean can and nailed it down.
 At 5 am I snuggled peacefully back into bed and cuddled my man. He was better than a cat after all.
I thought about all those wee hour Christmases I’ve endured from my kids (including the midnight feast in the ceiling one.) It was very satisfying to overhear them complaining bitterly of the parents who wrecked their sleep by noisily waiting for Santa.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A White Christmas?

It is mid December and I am afraid we might be going to get the Southern Hemisphere White Christmas none of us have been dreaming of.
It has been raining for a week and our cottage perched on the ridge of Mount Tiger is enveloped in white mist rising from the valley below.
At first, I was worried the dirty grey clouds gathering might bypass my garden. Now I am thinking they are like visitors who have out stayed their welcome.
I have smelly damp washing stacking up in piles, my drier is broken, mud is being trekked inside and my garden is in danger of going moldy with blight.
It is getting depressing.
The chickens are depressed.
They started off scratching jauntily in the rain looking for floating worms. After a prolonged soaking an interesting change occurred in their appearance. Half of them developed shrunken heads and enlarged Elizabethan collars, while the other half sported bushy Punk-Rocker hair styles and skinny necks.  
 Normally at 6 30am they are lined up by the gate demanding their breakfast, but none of them got out of bed this morning.
Even the neighbors’ water tank got depressed with the excessive water. It had a nervous brake-down and collapsed with a sonic boom and a 3o,ooo liter tsunami that hurled tree roots and debris down the hillside.
It is now the eighth day of rain and no sign of let up.
In spite of rising cabin fever and a few spots of frayed temper,  
(noticeably mine), we are trying to keep up the Christmas spirit.
 During a drought of half an hour, the kids managed to fell and dry (I’m not sure how), a small Pine tree. It is stuffed in the corner awaiting lights and surrounded by presents shrouded in ingenious home-made wrapping paper. I particularly like the blue Telecom paper bag salvaged from the dustbin and gussied up with a large red fabric bow.
There is a glaring, white, damp light penetrating the window. John is busy trying to draw a mud snowman and Paul is composing a song about dreaming of a brown Christmas.
At least it is warm and I don’t have to water my fruit trees.
Personally, I ‘m dreaming of a bright green Christmas;
Regardless of your Hemisphere and the colour of your Christmas, the Hamilton’s of a Patch of Heaven hope you have a blessed one.    

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wrestling with Hitler.

Those of you who know me will realize it is a BIG thing to see words penned by me on the computer.
The computer and I have a toxic relationship.
I would rather have nothing to do with him at all.
However, (in spite of appearances) I do live in the 21st century , so cheered on by my kids but with rubber heel marks, I am slightly entering the electronic world.
Last week I learnt how to turn on the computer, find my own emails and turn off the computer. It was a major milestone and a big strain. In the previous system the kids pulled up my emails and sent them off. During the gap between these two activities I and the computer wrestled. I find him rude and obnoxious the way he constantly buts in with unwanted suggestions and comments in large boxes all over my work. Each one of these invasive boxes provoke noisy outbursts of frustration from my innermost depths and someone kindly comes running to rescue me.
After one such explosion Ruth said
“Mum I think you need to bond with the computer. I think you need to name it.”
So now I am typing on Hitler.
We still do not get along.
 He is still popping up obnoxious boxes.
I am still yelling for the kids in frustration.
I have a long way to go to win this war but ( oh the power of it) I know how to shut him down!

Friday, December 9, 2011


Crafts have been on the back burner lately.
 I’ve been in the garden big time- digging, weeding and landscaping.

  So it was a particular treat to be invited on a special Christmas mystery crawl of caf├ęs, restaurants and shops with ‘atmosphere’ with four lovely crafty ladies.

I put on a dress, new beaded top I had never worn before, make-up and pearls. I even remembered to take off my gumboots (Something I nearly didn’t the other day I went to town) and put on high heels. I felt elegant without my customary baggy jeans and hole in the elbow gardening jumper.

The day was filled with lots of laughter, yummy food and warm emotions. Suzanne who organized it, loaded the time with gifts, chocolate, patchwork, antiques and picturesque coastal views. It was so refreshing I almost forgot that I had a sixteen year old son in my life.
I had started the day wondering if I was wasting my time with all this endless kitset and pattern making- this compulsive drive to make struggling little businesses. This need to dream up imaginary quilt classes and doll retreats.

In the morning I was ,
A shop with no customers,
A teacher with no students,
A writer with no readers,
A speaker with no audience,
A dreamer with an ailing dream.

In the evening I was,
A shop with 4 customers,
A teacher with 4 students,  
A writer with 4 readers,
A speaker with 4 listeners,
A dreamer with lots of ideas and the world as a possibility.

Friends who believe in you give you a gift of wind under your wings and encourage growth better than compost on roses.

Thank you my friends.