Thursday, 31 January 2008

Ridiculous picture of the week

Here, Berry catches up on the latest national news.

But really – it's hard to feel too torn up about plunging markets and dirty politics when you're wearing yellow cupcake pyjamas.


Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Cleaning a letterpress

I was told that to clean an old letterpress, you need fine-grade steel wool, drill bits of various sizes, a bristle brush, 3-in-1, WD-40, kerosene, 30-weight oil and old rags.

I've discovered the other things you need: a whole lot of time, and a Dad.

I took a good stab at the first stages, although getting around the machine can be a bit tricky now I'm most of the way through my second trimester.

First I brushed at least a decade's worth of dirt and grit off the machine with a pan brush. Then I did it again. It was particularly stubborn dirt because it was "glued" in place with all the oil that's required to run the press and keep it from rusting.

Next: the air compressor. When Nathan and his dad bought that noisy monster I thought there was no way I'd ever need it. I was wrong. It's fabulous for blasting dirt and grime out of places that can't be reached with a brush. I went over the press a couple of times with that and was pretty pleased.

Then I started hunting out the oil holes. Letterpresses have more oil holes than you can poke a stick at, and before you can run one that's been idle for a while, you have to find all the holes (many of which are in mysterious and inaccessible places), clean them out with a drill bit and a Q-tip, and then put in a couple of drops of 3-in-1. It's a long process.

I was partway through the oil-hole mission when Mum and Dad arrived from Australia. If I'd known what a letterpress-restoring powerhouse my Dad could be, I might've been tempted to let him handle the whole job.

Actually, he did. We made a couple of runs to Home Depot and Lowes to get extra supplies Dad knew we'd need, and then he went to work.

I wouldn't let just anyone take a stab at fixing the letterpress. It's more than a century old, huge, heavy and dangerous – and despite its bulk it can be ruined. But Dad's spent the best part of his life restoring vintage cars to their former glory. He really knows his way around expensive and complicated old machines.

Well, Dad took over the letterpress corner and was basically unstoppable. One day when I have more time and memory-power, I'll try to make a list of the countless things he did. For now, I'll just go with the old picture's-worth- a-thousand-words... when Dad arrived, the letterpress looked like that (see picture above). Even before he was finished with it, it looked like this (below).

And it worked.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

A Real Australian Christmas

Writing about our Australian Christmas-in-January made me wonder when we'll get to show Berry a real Australian Christmas.

Then I wondered how on Earth I'd explain the particular version of Australian Christmas we had during our childhood (light on presents, heavy on family, big on chaos) to all the Americans. Where to begin?

Happily, my clever sister in South Africa has already written about it. And since I much prefer her writing to mine, I'm pinching the whole lot and posting it here. Read on...


“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we never had to eat?” It’s a question my maternal grandma has often asked, and you will understand the question if you know the circumstances that formed it.

In the 1950s, my English grandma was living on a small, red-dirt island off the coast of Queensland, Australia. She and my granddad had resigned young and poor from driving the Bible Society van around the country, and now tended a farm, growing potatoes and tomatoes and avocados. One of my grandma’s tasks was to try and conjure food for them and their six children and the frequent guests and passers-by they collected. Stocks were meager enough that a can of “nutmeat” cut eight-ways on a Sunday was a treat, and the children regularly resorted to eating pigweed from the paddock, or catching and cooking a goanna. That is some background for the feast we had every Christmas of my childhood.

Christmas evening is light and warm in Queensland, and my grandparents’ mainland house-up-on-stilts was always full. The six children brought their offspring, including five cousins from a northern island (where my uncle was translating the bible into an obscure indigenous language) and, if we were lucky, my aunt’s missionary family from Thailand. My mother had not married a missionary, but a motorbike-riding, church-rejecting car mechanic. Often the 20-minute, argument-filled drive to Christmas dinner evoked from my father the story of how Granddad long ago took him “for a walk under the frangipani tree”, to explain that he was “not their first choice for Jane”. For all his grumbling, I think he was quite proud that he was not the first choice.

At Grandma’s, the feast and the presents were always delayed by some or other entertainment, giving rise to varying levels of embarrassment. My older cousin once took half an hour to organize all 20 cousins into a semi-musical performance of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Another year, I famously reneged (in cowardice) on my commitment to do a trampoline dance routine. And as teenagers with boyfriends in tow, we were mortally humiliated when three aunts insisted on leading everyone in a round, singing a raucous song about a goose.

Entertainment endured, there were presents from under a decorated she-oak sapling. Each family gave presents to every person, so the quantity was probably greater than quality. I once received a single hair elastic, and two years running my grandma gave me books explaining how babies are made, one by analogy with a hamster family. I had the good grace to protest the second one loudly and publicly.

Then my grandfather would say grace in his favourite hymn voice, chin against chest. Sometimes, an aunt would launch into a sung grace, such that we in the “un-churched” family would have to do our best to guess at the words in order to sing along.

Finally there was food, the highlight for all of us, having inherited a hunger gene. The spread was the same every year: barbecued chickens (not on our grill, they were “barbecued” at the supermarket); ham slices; potato salad; tinned beetroot; tinned corn; tinned pineapple rings; and coleslaw with raisins. “Ready-made” spelled “gourmet” in our books, so there was never so much as a chicken wing left over. For dessert, several blue cans of pudding were opened and heated, accompanied by shop-bought custard, and green jelly.

A banquet fit for a woman who wished we never had to eat!


Thursday, 24 January 2008

Australian Christmas

This time, Christmas ended in a waltz with monkey instead of a tantrum. In the toddler world, this spells success.

Berry had a two-fer Christmas this year – one with her Grandpa and Tine on Christmas Day, and another, which we called "Australian Christmas" when my parents arrived from Australia this month.

She got a Dora The Explorer Driving Adventure Van which (oh no!) sings and plays music, and several other presents which had been hidden away after she threw an excitement-overload tantrum on Christmas Day. We followed that up with an Australian-style Christmas dinner: chicken, potato salad and beetroot (I made mum bring a can from home) followed by plum pudding and custard. If I wasn't a civilised grown-up, I would've eaten the whole plum pudding by myself.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Everyone loves a parade

Marching bands and Mardi Gras Indians, wild dancing and tipsy girls with beads – Berry's first parade had it all.

Berry "danced" in her stroller (well, the top half of her danced) and she got a decent dose of French Quarter craziness.

If we all get over these colds, we'll take her to some real Mardi Gras parades Uptown. Laissez les bon temps rouler....

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Geaux Tigers!

Berry and I are deeply grateful that Ohio State lost the BCS national championship game. If LSU hadn't won, Nathan might've had a nervous breakdown.

Nathan's never met a sport he didn't love, but he's particularly passionate about college football. Unbeknownst to them, Nathan has been 'coaching' the LSU Tigers through our television screen for several years. He just wouldn't have coped if they'd let him down – especially playing "at home" (sort of) in the Dome.

We went to New Orleans on the weekend so he could "get the atmosphere", and so that Berry could give LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey a few tips before the big game.

She didn't mind that he was a cardboard cut-out – he had balloons, and that's all that counts.

Monday, 7 January 2008

It's a.....

This morning we asked, "Berry, would you like a baby?"
"Yes," she said.
"Would you like a baby girl?"
"Would you like a baby boy?"

So we're not sure exactly what she's expecting, but thanks to the high-res ultrasound this afternoon, we now know that we're expecting a boy.

Ta-daaa! A box set.

Love and Letterpress

Usually when I tell someone I've bought a letterpress they'll say, "Awesome!" and then, "...what is a letterpress, exactly?"

If you click here, you'll see the mini-documentary on letterpress that still gives me chills. The first 10 seconds tipped me from "I'd like to have a letterpress" to "I must have a letterpress or I'll surely die".

The documentary is type-focused and doesn't show the actual machine that I own (a Chandler & Price Old Style), but it's wonderful, and fascinating, and well worth watching. I promise there are no diagrams.

Right. I'm off to clean more "historical grime" off my press.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Letterpress Saga: Part Four

It wasn't as hair-raising this time.

On New Year's Day, Nathan suddenly decided it was time to get my century-old Chandler & Price Old Style platen press out of storage, where it's been snoozing in climate-controlled comfort since our move from Seattle, and into our garage.

He called a few tow-truck/wrecker companies before he found a guy willing to tackle the job. We learned from bitter (and terrifying) experience that you need a forklift or a tow truck to get this monster from one level to another. We've also learned not to tackle it alone.

This time Nathan and John-the-tow-truck-guy used a pallet jack to get it on the back of the truck and used ratchet straps to tie it ten ways to the bed. Then we held our breath all the way from D'Iberville to our house, with Nathan saying helpful things like "It's gonna come off this corner for sure" and "There it goes".

At home, they strapped the press base to the pallet jack, raised the bed and used the winch to inch the press down to the garage. I was holding my breath, but not having conniptions like last time.

It's now safe and sound in my soon-to-be letterpress workshop in the back half of our garage, ready for its grand makeover. There's a lot of work ahead involving drill bits, oil holes, 3-in-1, fine-grade steel wool and WD-40, and no doubt some silent swearing.

It'll be worth it though. I've dreamed of this forever.