Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Come And Meet My Friends

Writing is my passion. I love to transfer the stories floating around in my head onto paper. Most of all I love to introduce other people to the friends in my imagination. So in this post I would like you to meet two of my most favourite characters, Indigo Starsight and Maxaira (ma-ky-ra) Nighthawk.
All credit goes to my friend Catherine. I can't draw half as well as this

Indigo is a martial arts expert and the only daughter of a duke. She is a natural leader and inspires loyalty from all her companions. She started out as my warrior alter ego but soon took on a life of her own.
Another of Catherine's beautiful drawings.

Maxaira Nighthawk was originally introduced to me by my cousin, but Maxaira soon found herself caught up in Indigo's story. She's a natural swords-mistress and a fierce fighter. She's wary of strangers but extremely loyal to her friends.
Maxaira as drawn by my sister Charlotte.

While I'm talking about writing, my friend JT is starting a new story on his writing blog, JT's Tales. He would be thrilled if you would join us as we begin to read his new story.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saints, Confirmation, and Responsors

Sophie came home from Mass with a huge grin on her face. Fr S had said that she could be confirmed
"I'll have to choose a saint," she said thoughtfully. So the rest of the day was spent reading saint books, trying to decide which one she wanted. I watched her as she read, thinking, "It'll take her a while to find one."

But by the time evening came, Sophie's big grin announced that fact that she had something to tell us. At the dinner table she said, "Guess what? I've chosen my saint."
"Who is it?" we all asked.
"St John Vianney," she replied. "He's the patron saint of priests you know."

The next thing of course was to choose a sponsor. I thought this would definitely take her some time to think about. After all, I hadn't decided on my sponsor or my saint until halfway through my preparation. Imagine my surprise when, on coming back from a maths session with my tutor, Sophie rushed up to me, bursting to ask me something.
Duncan and Felicity on their confirmation day

"Will you be my confirmation responsor," she asked me, looking a little anxious in case I should say 'no'.
"Sponsor," I corrected her gently. "Not responsor."
"Oh I always get it wrong," she said airily. "Will you?"

Well, I was surprised and touched. It's been a secret dream of mine for years to be chosen as a sponsor or a god-parent. But I've always been afraid that I wouldn't be good enough. However, I was delighted to be asked and told Sophie so. She smiled from ear to ear before running off to tell Mum I'd accepted.
Me on my confirmation day

Thinking about Sophie's upcoming confirmation reminded me of my own confirmation, six years ago. I remember it quite well, from the jammy dodgers we had while preparing for it, to the time when I asked Felicity, my older sister, to be my sponsor. I especially remember the red velvety dress Mum made me. It was so soft, but very thick. Mum had sewn lots of tiny red beads on the bottom, which looked very pretty, but scratched my legs if I wasn't careful.

I remember Charlotte's confirmation too. We had so much trouble finding a pretty dress that would fit. She was so tiny that few suitable dresses would fit.
Charlotte on her confirmation day

I can just imagine Sophie at her confirmation. She'll look right up into the Bishop's eyes, not afraid of him as I was. Then, after he's confirmed her, she'll give him her biggest, widest, happiest grin of all.

I couldn't find a picture of Callum on his confirmation day

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Short Shakespeareans

"Who's behind the mask?" Gemma-Rose whispers, trying not to interrupt the movie while trying to understand what's going.
It's Benedict," someone else whispers back. "Watch what happens next."
And so we sit in our armchairs, snuggled under our furry blankets, watching our favourite Shakespeare play. Finally, the end credits roll over the screen and we all sigh.

"Well, what did you think of that version?" Mum asks as we pack up from the morning's work and start making lunch.
"Well, it was ok, but I liked Kenneth Branagh's version better," Charlotte says.
Lunch is made, the table and lunch is served while we discuss the differences between the productions, which was more faithful, what made one better than the other, and which characters were played well, or otherwise.

"You know," some puts in later, "Shakespeare's plays were performed for the common people. And they understood it all. Imagine normal people watching it today. They wouldn't understand it half so well."

"I understand it," Gemma-Rose protests.
"But you've been watching and listening to it for years," we explain. "Most people don't study Shakespeare like we do."

It's a pity too. We've always enjoyed reading Shakespeare's plays, making sense of the unusual words as we go. The numerous battered copies of various plays that litter our shelves bears witness to our love of the subject. Unlike most teenagers I know, no one has to force me to read them.

Last September at a homeschooling camp, one of the mothers decided to teach the teenagers a Shakespeare play that they would perform for the rest of the camp. The initial reaction was groans and complaints. I on the other hand was rejoicing. What an opportunity!

Throughout the week we rehearsed the play, an abbreviated version of Macbeth. As the others got into the play I could tell that they were enjoying it. Gone were the bored looks, the murmuring in the corners. Instead it was replaces by enthusiasm and enjoyment. Everyone worked hard, two and a half days isn't very long to prepare a play in.

The performance went well on stage. Behind the scenes we were rushing around like headless chooks, trying to get the right people into position for the next scenes. But despite the jostling, everyone was smiling. At the end, when it was all over, I overheard one of the boys saying, "I really enjoyed that. I hope we can do another one. But a comedy next time."

I believe that Shakespeare is for everyone, not just dusty old scholars sitting in their musty rooms. Anyone can understand and enjoy Shakespeare's plays, no matter what age they are. I mean, if a seven year old can watch them and enjoy them, anyone can.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mighty, Majestic Dragons

Dragons have always held a strange fascination for me. Of all the mighty, majestic, magical, mythological creatures, dragons are my favourite. If there's a book about dragons in our library, chances are that I have read it.

Recently, Charlotte borrowed a book on drawing dragons and other mythological creatures from the library. After eagerly reading it, she declared that I had to read it, it was just so good. So, I picked up the book and buried my head in it.

Although I am definitely not an artist, I like to read drawing books. This one reached out and grabbed me, filling my head with images of the dragons I could create, would create. I was hooked. By the time I reached the last page I knew that I had to at least attempt a picture.

I grabbed the book, a blank sheet of paper, and my pencil, and settled down for an evening of drawing. Carefully I sketched the simple shapes that made up the body. Then I rubbed them out and drew them again. They still weren't right. Several sheets of paper later, I had had enough.

"I told you I can't draw," I told Charlotte crossly. She was sitting nearby, blissfully creating a hairy dragon of her own. It was so infuriating to see her so easily drawing on her own what I couldn't even draw with a step by step instruction book.

I threw my failed pictures out and vowed never to try drawing dragons again. But I reckoned without Charlotte.
"You should really try drawing another dragon," she encouraged me. "You could design all the separate parts before you try drawing the whole dragon."

"Maybe I'll try," I said uncertainly. She fetched me a fresh, clean sheet of paper. I sat at my desk with a sharp pencil in my hand and tried to decide what I would draw. After much thought, and even more flicking through the book for inspiration, I finally decided to draw a dragon's head in 3/4 view. Five minutes later it was a profile shot.

All through the afternoon I worked on my dragon, and on into the evening. Finally, it was finished. The best dragon's head I had ever drawn (not to mention the only one) was sitting in front of me, coloured and all.

I know I will never be an artist. I'm not sure I really want to be. Writing is more my thing. But I do know that if I persevere, I can actually draw something that looks almost right, even if a trained artist might faint at the sight of my picture.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tiny and Toothless

A day in the life of Gemma-Rose.

Gemma-Rose runs up to me and throws her arms around my waist.
“I love you,” she says, and grins her widest grin. I laugh and hug her back. There’s something so attractive about that grin. It’s so whole hearted and joy-filled. Plus the two missing teeth are so cute. How could you not want to hug someone that sweet?

We all scoot round the lake on our scooters. Gemma-Rose lags behind at the end of the line. Even though she’s only seven, she longs to do all the things that we older girls do. Her little legs pump hard, propelling her along faster. Somehow she manages to keep up. Of course, this will never do, and we send her to the head of the column. Now her wide smile appears again as we all follow at her pace. She’s one of the big girls now.

The air is filled with the smell of baking. Who’s in the kitchen, hidden beneath the bench? It’s Gemma-Rose, baking a delicious cake.
“Do you need some help?” I ask her.
“No thanks. I can do it,” she says proudly. “Look, I can even crack the eggs.”

Gemma-Rose sits in an armchair, a cat draped over her lap. Another one sprawls next to her, taking up most of the chair. She’s being pushed off the edge, but she doesn’t mind. Her big, blue eyes glow as she strokes them.
“I love cats,” she says. “But they don’t usually want to sit with me.”

It’s a cold winter evening, and we’re sitting in the family room watching a movie.
“Do you want to share my blanket?” she asks Mum.
“But it’s your blanket,” Mum protests.
“Oh, I don’t mind.” And she throws the blanket over Mum’s lap, cuddling up to her like a large, warm, cat.

It’s bed time. Gemma-Rose is lying in bed, waiting for Mum to come and turn out the light. The door swings open. Mum comes in. As she bends down to kiss Gemma-Rose goodnight, she throws her arms around Mum’s neck.
“I love you,” she whispers in Mum’s ear.
“I love you too,” Mum whispers back. “Goodnight Gemma-Rose.” And she turns out the light.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Medalling Around

Two years ago, Dad went back to uni to study to be a primary school teacher. He was one of the few men on the course, and also one of oldest students. But Dad didn't seem to be bothered by that. He studied hard, often working late in the night to finish an assignment. We hardly saw Dad some days, he was so busy. But all his hard work paid off, and, two years later, he graduated with a Master of Teaching (Primary) degree.

Mum and us girls went to Dad's graduation ceremony. It was great fun seeing Dad in his robes and mortar board. As we sat in the ceremony, we hunted for Dad with our eyes. Finally it was his turn to receive his certificate. We clapped and cheered like crazy.

After that, we were done with the university. After all, Dad had finished his degree, he had a job now, with a class of his own. There was no more need to even think about the uni. Or so we thought.

But then, a couple of months ago, a letter arrived in post for him, from his uni. We were all excited. What could it be? Dad opened it and looked a but shocked, right before he started laughing.
"What is it?" we asked him.
"I'm on the university merit list for finishing in the top ten percent of my intake," he laughed. "Who would have though it?"
We all felt very proud of him. He had done much better than most of the younger students.

Then, only a few weeks later, another letter arrived from the university. Again, we waited with impatience while Dad read the letter. He looked even more shocked than he had the first time.
"I've been awarded a Dean's medal," he finally managed to say.

We were ecstatic. Dad must have done really well. After a bit of research, we found he had finished in the top two percent of his intake.
"It will be presented in a special ceremony in June," Dad read.
Well, we could hardly wait for June to arrive.

Last night, Dad arrived home early from work. He and Mum changed into their smartest clothes, and headed out the door, bound for the presentation ceremony. We all waved them of waited eagerly for them to arrive back home again so we could see his medal.

Later that night, when the three younger girls were all in bed, they finally arrived back home. The first thing I wanted to see was Dad's medal. He handed it to me, all done up in a fancy velvet box. The box felt heavy in my hand, weighed down by the medal inside.

I opened the box and gasped as I saw the huge medal inside. It was about the size of an Olympic medal. It had his name engraved on the front, with the words, 'Dean's Medal', running around the edge. I took it out of its box and turned it over. The name of the university was engraved on the back.

Mum pulled her camera out of its bag.
"We've got to take some photos now," she said.
Dad posed for the photos, his medal in its box in his hand. I stood behind my and smiled. I was so proud of my Dad.

This morning the little girls all clamoured to see Dad's new medal.
"Wow, Charlotte said as she looked at it, which just about summed up what we all felt. Dad hadn't even known there was such a thing as a Dean's Medal before he received the letter. He just wanted to pass the course. Now we're all very proud of him, our Dad the Dean Medallist.
Congratulations Dad!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Experimental Cooking

"I'm so bored of our dinners," Mum said. "We always eat the same things. I have challenge for you girls."
This made us prick up our ears. Challenges are always fun.
"I want you to take our new cookbook and each choose two new recipes to cook."

At once there was a mad scramble for the book, which resulted in us all sitting round the table, the younger girls peering over my shoulder as I flipped the pages. Our mouths watered as we read the titles, and our tummies rumbled as we scrutinised the pictures.

"Well," I said. "What would you like to cook?"
The other three looked at each other blankly. "I don't know," Charlotte finally admitted.
So, I flipped straight back to the start and we went back through. As we went, we noted down names that sounded interesting. By the time we reached the end again, we had compiled a list of twelve dinners. One by one we chose our meals.

"If you make a list of ingredients I'll get them today," Mum offered.
So it was back to the book, pencil at the ready. Many ingredients later, the list was finished.

We could hardly wait for the next day to arrive. We'd be able to start our new meals.
"Who's cooking first?" Mum wanted to know. After a bit of thought, we decided to let Gemma-Rose go first.

Evening arrived and Gemma-Rose ran into the kitchen, excitement written all over her face. I opened the cookbook, and read out the ingredient list. She darted back and forth like a bee, fetching everything to the side.

"Ok," I said. "First you have to cut the ham steaks."
I stood next to her, watching fearfully as she cut her way through the stack of ham steaks.
"Careful," I warned her every ten seconds or so. "Don't cut your fingers off."
She threw me a look of scorn each time, as if to say, "I'm a big girl now. Stop fussing so much."

Finally, much to my relief, the knife work was done. Slowly and carefully she beat eggs, poured cream, stirred things on the stove, and mixed things on the side. Wonderful aromas filled the air. I sniffed it and my stomach rumbled. It smelt so good I wanted to eat it there and then.

Later, we sat at the table. Gemma-Rose watched anxiously as we all took our first bites.
"Is it ok?" she asked.
"Wow, this is really good," Mum said. "You've done really well."

Next time it was Charlotte's go. But this time I wasn't around to help. As I went out the door, I was still giving her instructions, hoping frantically that she would be able to manage. Not long before dinner, Dad and I arrived back home to find another delicious dinner sitting waiting for us. Charlotte was flushed with excitement and hard work.
"You've cooked this to perfection," I said to her. She just grinned back.

Tonight we had another of our new dinners. Charlotte and I cooked for Sophie because she wasn't very well. It smelt so good as it sat cooking on the stove.
"It's rather like a chilli con carne," I observed, as Charlotte pushed it around the pan.
"I know I'm going to like it," she replied.

In fact, everyone liked it. Mum's new recipe book was a great success. We look forward to making more delicious dinners out of it. Who knows? Maybe we'll be able to convince Mum that it's a good idea to dip into the dessert section.