Monday, 28 July 2014

The Red Horse Hair Sofa

Horse by Feliciano Guimaraes(CC by 2.0)

In my grandmother’s spare bedroom, there was a red horse hair sofa.
Red horse hair sofa…For some reason, these words fascinate me. As I toss them over and over in my mind, I can actually see that sofa. I can feel it. It’s hard and rough and overstuffed.

But was there really a horse hair sofa in my grandmother's second bedroom? Are sofas even made from horse hair? Perhaps my memory is playing tricks.

The other day when the words ‘red horse hair sofa’ popped into my head yet again, I decided to do some googling. Horse hair sofas do exist. Perhaps my grandmother did indeed have one. But I am not really sure.

When I was about 6 years old, I had a day’s holiday from school. I spent that free day at home with my mother and 2 younger sisters. We watched the horse racing on TV. Before each race my mother and I chose the horse we thought would win. Our choices were based solely on name. “Angel Eyes, that’s my horse,” I said, with a dreamy look in my own eye. My mother and I would sit side-by-side, cheering our horses towards the finish line. It didn’t matter if they lost. There was always another race. We could try again.

On that same day, I remember my mother giving me some money. I walked up to the local shop all by myself. I felt very grown up. What did I buy? I don’t recall.

But I do remember what happened when I went back to school the next day.

“Where were you yesterday?” my teacher asked.

My eyebrows shot downwards. A frown appeared on my face. I didn't understand. Wasn’t yesterday a holiday? Weren’t all the school children at home? They weren't. My mother and I had got into a muddle. The holiday was still a week away. Not that I told my teacher about our mistake. It seems, even at that young age, I knew how to get myself out of an awkward situation. I lied: “I was sick.” The teacher never found out I’d enjoyed a wonderful day horse racing with my mother.

I look back in time and wonder how accurate my memory is. My mother doesn’t like horse racing. Would she have let a 6 year old girl walk up to the shops alone? It seems highly unlikely. But I can picture everything so clearly. I suppose I could ask my mother but have you ever noticed how memories can differ from person to person?

“That’s not how it happened!” she might say, shaking her head firmly.

“But I'm certain I'm right,” I could reply.

Horse hair sofas, horse racing… wonderful stories dancing inside my head. I don’t know if they are true or not, but somehow they are part of me. They must fit into the story of my life somewhere.

I could make them fit in a fictional way. Don’t you think a red horse hair sofa and a day of horse racing belong in one of my stories?

Auntie Jenny and Celeste are sitting side-by-side on the sofa, in front of the TV. It's a red overstuffed sofa. Celeste runs her fingers over it. It feels hard and scratchy.

“This sofa used to belong to Nanna,” says Auntie Jenny. “It’s stuffed with real horse hair.”

Celeste’s eyes open wide. “A red horse hair sofa,” she says, rolling the words around her tongue. She frowns. “Not real horse hair?”

Auntie Jenny doesn’t answer. She doesn't even hear Celeste’s question. She is looking at the TV screen. “Celeste! They’re bringing out the horses for the next race. Which one do you think’s going to win? Choose your horse!”

“Angel Eyes,” says Celeste quickly. “Isn’t that a beautiful name? Which horse do you want?”

Auntie Jenny doesn’t hesitate either. “Slippery Dip! Isn’t that a fun name?”

The horses are racing. Auntie Jenny and Celeste cling to the edge of the red horse hair sofa. They hardly dare breathe. Which horse will win?...

 Do you have childhood memories you sometimes ponder, wondering how true they really are?

Talking of Auntie Jenny and Celeste, if you are interested in my children's novel, The Angels of Angel Creek, it should be available for purchase in a few days' time!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

My Secret Identity

B'elton John by SuperFantastic 

Most people think I’m just ‘Andy’s wife’ or ‘Imogen’s mother’ or the woman with lots of kids. When I go out, I don’t attract much attention. Perhaps everyone thinks I have a very ordinary life. But they're wrong. I don't.
I close my front door on the world. I look right and then I look left. Is anyone looking? I whip out my computer. I slam my glasses onto my nose. I toss back my superhero cape. I flex my fingers. Then I start typing.

I’m Sue the Blogger and Sue the Writer. I have a secret identity. And nobody knows.

Except for Mr G who lives down the road.

One day my son Callum says, “I saw Mr G today. He’s going to leave a DVD about quitting sugar in our mailbox, next time he walks by.”

I think about this for a moment. “How does Mr G know we’ve given up eating sugar?”

Callum shrugs his shoulders. “Does he read your blog? Did he read your post about the Christmas pudding collection?”

Did Mr G read the following words in my post Another Christmas Pudding Collection?

Then one day as I was standing at the check-out at Big W I glanced to my left, and there was this book staring at me: I Quit Sugar. It was shouting, “Read me! Read me!” I didn’t want to read it. I was doing my best to ignore it, but then I noticed it was on special. I can’t resist a bargain. I bought the book and took it home. But I didn’t read it. I said to my daughters, “Have a look at this book. Find out if sugar is bad for us.” That was a mistake.

I know all my words are floating out there in public where anyone can read them. My blogs are very easy to find. All you have to do is google my name. But Mr G wouldn’t have had any reason to do that, would he? So how did he find out my secret?

The DVD lands in my mailbox: Sugar v Fat, a BBC documentary. It looks interesting. I must remember to thank Mr G the next time I see him.

My opportunity soon arrives. I’m walking along our road, on my way to the village store, when Mr G drives past. He winds down his window and I say, “Thank you for the DVD.”

“I read your post about the Christmas pudding.”

“You did? How did you find my blog?” I ask.

“Oh, I was googling something to do with cars, and one of your posts turned up in the search results. It was one of your posts about Callum and his cars.”

My secret life isn’t as secret as I thought. Oh my! I shall have to be more careful about what I write. What if I write something I shouldn’t? What if the wrong person reads it?

Do you remember my dead body story, There’s a Dead Body near Our Running Track?  I was going to write a sequel to that story. I was going to mention the name of a notorious criminal. Oh! It’s just as well I didn’t. What if he had read my post? I might have ended up as a dead body. I could have become a bad smell. I might have prevented my family from enjoying their runs down the bush tracks. I shudder. This blogging business is more dangerous than I thought.

It could also be dangerous writing about my neighbours. I must remember never to do that. Oh my! Too late. I’ve just remembered something. I did write about someone living close to me. I wrote about Mr G! I put him into one of my children’s stories. He’s been published. Mr G is in my new book The Angels of Abbey Creek. Should I think about moving house? Quickly?

Perhaps Mr G won’t mind being in my book. His character is rather nice, and he's not really him. I just borrowed a trait or two. Or maybe Mr G will never find out. Perhaps he doesn’t read my blog any more. He might not even know I’ve just published my first children’s novel..

But Mr G, if you are reading…

I watched the DVD. It was very interesting. And yes, I know I haven’t yet returned it. Next time one of the girls takes our puppy Nora for a walk, I’ll get her to pop it into your mailbox. Thank you for lending it to me. You are very kind!

Do you lead a secret life behind closed doors? Have you ever been found out? And do you like Christmas pudding? I do!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Clean Amina and the Brand New Washing Up Brush

Amina was clean. There is no better word to describe her. Her children were clean too. I am sure her husband was also in immaculate order. Not a hair out of place. Not a button unbuttoned. Not a shoe unshined. Of course, Amina’s house was perfectly clean as well.

I met Amina at a mothers’ and children’s group many years ago. She had two little girls with tightly braided hair, and scrubbed clean faces. One was called Allison and the other was Nicki, though according to Amina, she should have had another name altogether. “I wanted to call her Sage but my husband wouldn’t agree.”

Amina and I used to see quite a lot of each other. I don’t know why. I am not like Amina at all. I'm surprised she liked me. I probably frustrated her immensely. Why did she risk her health eating at my house? At the end of each day, I didn’t hoist all the chairs upon the kitchen table and mop the floors. I never wore disposable gloves when handling food. Disinfectant? Amina might have bought bottles and bottles of it. I never did.

One day Amina gave me a little present: a new washing up brush. I hadn’t noticed how dirty and worn my old brush was until she handed me the new one, with its full complement of white, straight, stiff bristles.  “How thoughtful, Amina,” I said, turning slightly red. “No one has ever given me a washing up brush as a gift before.”

Amina had a passion for cooking. For religious reasons she was a vegetarian. I decided to become a vegetarian too. I don’t know why. But Amina must have approved of my change of diet. She kindly shared all her recipes with me. I learnt how to make vegetarian chicken nuggets and vegetarian meatballs and best of all, deep-fried creamed corn balls. Oh yes, these were delicious. We made lots of them.

When my eldest two children were baptised, I invited a number of friends and family to join us for a post-baptismal celebration. Amina volunteered to help me with the cooking. Not only did she mould mountains of corn balls with her gloved fingers, she also lent me a pile of decorative serving dishes to display them on. I hadn’t invited Amina and her family to the baptism. They didn’t share our faith. They didn’t believe in infant baptism. But did that matter? They could still come along to the ceremony, couldn’t they? As Amina was mopping my kitchen floor, at the end of our cooking session, I said, “Would you like to join us on Sunday?” Amina smiled and accepted my invitation. But she didn’t turn up. I thought she’d changed her mind. She just forgot to come.

One evening, Amina invited my husband Andy and me to dinner. She invited a few of her church friends too. We arrived on time. We had a box of chocolates for our hostess and a bottle of wine to share. We didn’t at first understand the odd looks everyone gave us. Then Amina’s husband handed the wine back to us, saying in a low voice, “You might like to drink that at home.” We turned a little red. No meat and no alcohol. We had a lot to learn.

Despite our differences, Amina and I were close friends for four years. We even kept in contact for a few months after we moved house. One day I received a letter from her:  “Sage has started school.” Sage? I thought her daughters were called Allison and Nicki. (I'd forgotten the disagreement-over-names conversation.)

Apparently, one day Amina had said, "Your father wouldn't let me call you Sage," and her eldest daughter had replied, “I like the name Sage. I don't want to be called Nicki any more." Two against one.  So Nicki became Sage. I wonder what her father called her.

It’s been years since I last saw or even thought about Amina. Her name only popped into my head because of a new washing up brush. I was washing the breakfast dishes yesterday morning and noticed a brand new brush rubbing shoulders with our three old and worn ones. “Who bought this new brush?” I asked, as I tossed one of the old ones into the garbage bin. (I couldn’t bear to part with all three.) No one shouted, “It was me!” so I haven’t yet solved that mystery. Well, it wasn't Amina this time.

The more I think about Amina, the more I want to put her into a novel. Don’t you think she’d make a great character in a story? But would Amina recognise herself from my description? I wonder. We never see ourselves as others see us. Now I’m wondering… How would Amina describe me?

Have you ever put a friend into a novel? Perhaps you've also been given a washing up brush as a gift. And is it okay to change a child's name? I wonder what you think.

Virgil gets a Bath, by Justin Baeder(CC by 2.0)

Amina didn't have a cat. But if she had one, I bet she would have bathed it every day.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Finger of God Points at Bob Blogosphere

Bob Blogosphere is a fictional character. If you'd like to hear the beginning of his story, please read my post Me? I'm Elvis' Wife.

This story is for Anabelle who writes at the blog, Written by the Finger of God.

I hear a knock and when I open my front door, I see a man slouched against the wall, his head hanging low. It’s Bob Blogosphere.

“Bob!” I say.

He raises his head and I notice his pale face. There’s dark circles under his eyes, and a deep line etched on his forehead. 

“Bob!” I repeat. “Come in.” 

Bob, the most famous man in the blogosphere, shuffles over the threshold, without saying a word. He drops carelessly into an armchair. After looking at his feet for a moment - I notice he’s wearing odd socks - he raises his eyes and they meet mine. Is that fear I see?

“Is anything the matter, Bob? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Not a ghost,” says Bob. “It’s worse. I've seen God. I saw His finger. It was pointing straight at me.” He gulps. “God said, ‘Take Anabelle to Mass.' So I did."


“Yes, Anabelle… that blogging friend of yours. We went to a shrine and there were pews and statues and crucifixes…And I found myself saying all kinds of religious things.” Bob shivers.

I don’t understand. “Anabelle’s a great person. And Mass is good. Why are you so upset?” Before Bob can answer, I add, "Actually Bob, I can't imagine you in a church talking about faith stuff. Are you sure you weren't dreaming?"

"Of course I was dreaming!" says Bob, his voice rising. "I'm not religious!" 

Then his voice softens, and a small smile appears on his face. "I felt comfortable and at home in that church... so peaceful. I knew exactly what to do and say." Then his voice changes again. His words tumble out in a rush: "Of course, crazy things like that happen in dreams."

"I wonder why you had such a strange dream, Bob."

"It was a prefigurement, a foreshadowing of something that's about to happen!" Bob's voice is rising again. He stands up and begins pacing up and down the room. "I've just been invited to a Catholic wedding. I have to enter a church. I need to look calm and cool, just like I did in my dream." He sighs. 

"Bob, don't worry. You can go inside a church without knowing what to do. Everyone will be very friendly. No one will stare at you.

Not stare at Bob? That was the wrong thing to say. 

"Of course everyone will stare!" Bob turns towards me, his eyes flashing. "I'm Bob Blogosphere. People expect me to know everything. I'm perfect, you see. And there’ll be reporters at the wedding with cameras. My performance inside the church will be beamed all around the world. Everyone will see me.”

“Performance? Won’t the cameras be too busy filming the bride and groom?”

Bob suddenly stands tall. He tucks in his shirt and raises his nose into the air. “Oh no! No one will be interested in them. They’re not famous… like me!”

“So what’s all this got to do with me, Bob?”

“Well, you know about this faith stuff. You’re Catholic aren’t you? You can give me some lessons, tell me what to do.”

I hide a smile behind my hand. Bob wants me to tell him about faith stuff?

“Of course, you can’t tell anyone. It has to be our secret.”

“If I help you, will you write an article about my blog for the Blogosphere News?”

Bob waves my question away. I sigh.

  • Will I give Bob lessons on the Catholic faith?
  • Will he believe what I tell him?
  • Will he appear calm and cool at the wedding?
  • Will he impress the reporters?
  • Will anyone notice the bride and groom?
Stay tuned to find out!

Friday, 30 May 2014

How I Became a Catholic Writer, Made Great Friends and Got an Award

When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. When no one was around, I’d scribble my stories on loose sheets of paper which I kept in a cardboard grocery box at the bottom of my wardrobe, half-hidden by my hanging clothes. Every night after I'd snuggled down in my bed, I’d compose more stories in my head. My tales were often about big families, remarkably like The Brady Bunch. Of course, my stories were fantastic. I knew one day they’d be published. Readers would beg me to write more. A TV station was going to turn them into a series, just like The Brady Bunch.

I grew up and became a scientist. I don’t really know why. I don’t like science. Then I became a mother which I do like. Actually I love it. 

One day we found out our 6th child wasn’t going to live after birth. I can't tell that story in a few words so I'll just say... Thomas was born and for a whole day I had my own Brady Bunch family: 3 girls and 3 boys. Then our baby died, and about a week later, I started writing. Some time later, I had a book. I called it Grief, Love and Hope. It is Thomas' book. It tells his story. And so I became an author. A Catholic one, for how can you write about such things as death and make sense of the whole experience without mentioning God?

A Catholic writer? As a child I wanted to be a writer but I never imagined being a Catholic one. (I didn't even know what a Catholic was in those days.) I wanted to write big family stories. I'm doing that and I like it. Do you know what else I like? I like how I’ve met so many beautiful people through my writing. At the top of the line is Nancy. Nancy is forever encouraging me, both as a friend and as a writer. And now she has given me a Catholic Writer’s Award.

Melanie Jean Juneau created the award. This is what she says about it:


You know what? I think I can do that! Usually I am hopeless with awards and rules. But not today.

I’d like to pass this award onto Anabelle (if she doesn't already have one.) 

Anabelle’s sense of humour shines through her writing. So does her Catholic faith. I enjoy all her posts though I should avoid her book reviews like the plague. You see, Anabelle is the cause of me buying far too many books ‘I have to read’. It was just as well, I’d already bought a copy of Jennifer Fulwiler’s book Something Other Than God before I read Anabelle's review of that book. You haven’t read that post? Oh do go and enjoy it! I haven't told you about Anabelle's shoes. She is a queen of shoes. I always think of her when I'm shoe shopping. And we share a love of Mary. Our blogs are hers.

Anabelle blogs at Written by the Finger of God. If you love good Catholic writing, books, smiling and shoes hop over right away and enjoy!

Thank you Nancy for nominating me, and thank you Melanie for creating such an encouraging award for Catholic writers.

Melanie blogs at Joy of Nine

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Talking about Myself Again

Susie knocks on my door. She says, “Sue, I've nominated you for a Liebster Award. You can get the details at this page on my blog: The View from the Top of the Ladder.”

I reply, “Oh wow! Thank you Susie. What a surprise!”

“To get your award, you have to tell me 11 facts about yourself.”

“Come on in,” I say. “I’ll fill the kettle and we'll have some coffee, while I tell you about myself.” But what will I say? What haven’t I already told everyone? I think and I think but my mind remains blank. But then I remember Susie is a new friend. I met her and her fabulous blog during the recent A – Z challenge. Maybe Susie doesn’t know much about me. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if I repeat myself.

So I make two mugs of coffee and this is what I tell Susie about myself.

  1. I’ve been married to Andy for nearly 31 years which must mean I’m getting older though I don’t feel like I am. Somehow my outside no longer matches my inside.
  2. I have 7 living children. My son Thomas died when he was one day old, and I also lost 7 other babies due to miscarriage. This means I know a little bit about grief, love and hope. Hey! That would make a good title for a book. 
  3. I’m homeschooling my children. (Four have grown up and moved onto other things). Actually we’re unschoolers which means different things to different people. Perhaps I’m weird and irresponsible. More likely I am very blessed and receiving a wonderful education.
  4. I live in Australia in a small village, which suits me just fine. I’m a homebody, a bit of an introvert. I like the quiet life. So does my family which is just as well because nothing much happens around here. Oh that’s not quite true! The other day we walked past our parish church just as the coffin of someone very famous (but unknown to us) was being carried out to the hearse. A lone piper piped and a drummer drummed. Famous people were among the mourners… Perhaps I should tell that story properly another day.
  5. I’m a runner. I used to run before I had children. Three years ago, I thought about that wonderful I-can-run-forever feeling. I wanted to feel it again. I decided I’d become a runner once more. What I’d forgotten was the pain I’d have to endure before I could run more than a few metres without gasping for air. But I persevered. If I can run, anyone can. So if you've thought about running, but haven't yet laced up your running shoes, what are you waiting for? ... Oh my! This post will be long if I don’t hurry up. A few quick facts…
  6. I have red hair.
  7. I am short (155cms).
  8. I hate gardening even though I have a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in botany.
  9. I can’t sing.
  10. I might learn to sing. My daughter Imogen has offered to give me some lessons.
  11. I love to write. You didn't know that, did you?
  12. Oh and I always seem to break the rules.

 "Now you have to answer a few of my questions," says Susie...

What was the last thing that made you laugh?
I forget. Probably something someone said while we were eating dinner last night. We have lots of funny conversations. We're a bit weird.

What's one thing that irks you?
I hate it when I visit someone and the phone rings, and my host or hostess disappears for hours to have a private conversation, while i sit wondering what to do.

About how long do you think can you stand on one foot?
30 seconds.

Time yourself. How long did you actually stand on one foot?
2 minutes and 54 seconds

What would you want for your last meal?
I’d prefer to receive Holy Communion one last time instead of a meal. But chocolate might be the easiest thing to swallow if I have to appear brave and eat something.

What's something that you would not regret about having missed doing?
I keep reading this sentence and my mind goes blank. I’ll regret letting my coffee go cold so I shall move onto the next question.

What's one thing that scares you, but you do it anyway? 
Public speaking used to scare me, but I did it anyway. The thought of making a video of myself used to scare me, but I did it anyway. I can't think of anything I'm doing at the moment that scares me. I have discovered that most things aren’t as scary as I sometimes imagine.

What's something fun that you would like to do right now?
I feel like sipping a glass of red wine and chatting to a few good friends over a delicious meal. I haven’t done that for a while.

Would you rather be an eagle, crow, or parakeet?
Could I be a superb fairy wren instead?

If you could be a sitcom character, who would you be?
I don’t watch TV so I don’t know any current sitcom characters. When I was a child I wanted to be Marcia Brady from the Brady Bunch.

Who rules -- Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett, or Jo March?
Jane Eyre. I cried so much when I first read this book as a child.

Now I’m supposed to write 11 questions of my own and pass on this award to other bloggers. But… I never go by the rules so I’m not going to do that bit. This means I won’t get my Leibster award but that’s okay. I have enjoyed answering Susie’s questions anyway, and being nominated is good enough.

So I have come to the end of my post. “Were those answers okay, Susie?" Was that a nod I saw. I hope so.

Please visit Susie’s blog, The View from the Top of the Ladder. You won't be disappointed. Susie is a fabulous storyteller. You will enjoy her tales immensely.

Thank you for the award nomination, Susie!

Image: Of course that's Marcia Brady on the left.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Zipping to the Finish

Blogging from A - Z about clothes...

At lunch time on Christmas Eve, I suddenly decided I’d sew my youngest daughter a Christmas dress. Gemma-Rose beamed when I told her. Christmas Day was only hours away. Soon she’d be wearing an unexpected brand new dress.

We drove into town to buy some supplies, and Gemma-Rose chose some pretty green and pink flowered fabric. I found a zipper and some matching thread. I had everything I needed.

I spent all afternoon pinning and cutting and sewing. Every now and then Gemma-Rose popped her head around the door to see how I was going: “Will you finish my dress in time?” I nodded. All was going well.

Now I’m not very good at inserting zippers. I knew this would be the hardest part of making the dress. But for once, the zipper went in perfectly first go. No problems at all. About 7 pm, I ironed the dress and shouted, “Gemma-Rose! I’ve finished. Come and try it on.”

Gemma-Rose inserted her head into the dress, and then pulled it down over her body. She zipped up the zipper before twirling around, so I could see it from all sides. The dress fitted perfectly. She smiled widely. So did I. The dress was a success.

And here I am zipping up the zipper on this blogging challenge. Has my challenge gone as perfectly as my sewing? Well, not quite. There were a few times I almost gave up on the challenge. There are some stories I’m happier with than others. Was my challenge a success? Yes! I learnt a lot along the way. It was fun to experiment with a few posts. And I did make it to the end!

This year I wrote my posts around a theme: clothes. The stories didn’t turn out quite as I had anticipated. I was going to write about 26 different items of clothing, but my clothing stories went in a different direction. Writing is like that at times. Unexpected things happen.

I didn't pre-write any of my posts. I wrote and published them as I went. I guess it would have been much easier if I'd had all my stories written before April began. (I didn't realise that was allowed!) Then again, it wouldn't have been so much of a challenge!

I enjoyed meeting some new bloggers this month. I found a few kindred spirits. I enjoyed commenting on other blogs and exchanging comments here with new friends. Of course, I am also grateful to my old friends, who stopped by to encourage me along with kind comments.

Thank you everyone!

And now the challenge is over. April is over. So what’s next? 

A birthday cake and a special dinner, I think.

So are you glad the challenge is all zipped up? And what about zippers? Are you any good at sewing them into clothes?