Monday, March 26, 2007

Charity begins at home

Today, in an attempt to inject some mystery and suspense in my life, I planted unlabelled daffodil bulbs under the apple trees. Lu puddled around beside me, busy in her own world. Just a few months ago she wouldn't let me be in my own thoughts but now, at two years old, she has her own agenda, scooting back only occassionally for a chat and a hug. So we worked apart but together, in harmony.

My garden gives me great peace and joy (and a fair helping of angst) but fundamentally, it is a gift from me to my family and particularly my girls. It provides food, beauty, education and adventure. It's given Lu a somewhat surprising vocabulary of violence: "squash", "kill", "got 'em", "he's dead". Also, some marginal language: "bugger", "evil bugs", and (embarassingly, and I swear I only said it once), "screw it". Lu's first job was stamping on the slugs, her second was using her special perspective to find bugs and then sqeeeeeeshing them between her fingers. She's very accepting of nature's red tooth and claw.

But here's something I didn't expect. This morning, Lu walked around poking the ground with a stick, leaving little holes everywhere. What was she doing? Making homes for the ladybirds.

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home.
Your house is on fire, your children all gone.
All except one, and that's little Anne.
She's crept under the frying pan.

Gardening helps Lu express her concern and compassion for other beings; could there be a better gift than that?

(Ladybird resettlement scheme, Tasmania)

Eating from the garden: tomatoes, with cheese, under the grill, for breakfast; corn for lunch; more corn and tomato sauce from a Maggie Beer recipe with steak for dinner.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Once upon a time

I am the household's teller of tales, and I can spin a yarn from the flimsiest topic (peppered with laboured metaphors if needs be). Lu has her favourites: how Jasper the dog came to us on an aeroplane and slept his first night on my hair; how we bought a lithograph in Germany; the purchasing of the little green house on Howick Street and our subsequent move to our current home. I'll tell these stories seven, eight, nine times in a row, hitting a rhythm that allows my thoughts to drift elsewhere. I think Lu uses these stories to feel secure in her world and I'm happy to help with that.

We've tried to be very matter of fact about bodies, naming the bits appropriately (and feeling incredibly uncomfortable as we do so: who wants to say 'vuvla' to a two year old when one's own childhood was peppered with "pee pee" and "down there"?). Because of course our bodies are to be owned, they are nothing to be ashamed of. This smug claim has been sorely tested in practice. As I was dressing Lu asked me to tell a story about pubic hair. Well, I'm not that kind of story teller. So where does a mother go from here? For the sake of posterity, here's where:

Once there were some pubic hairs. They went to the supermarket and bought some lollies and chocolate. And then they took them home to Mummy. Mummy was very happy. And that's the end.

I think the story lacks any real emotional resonance and the characterisation is sketchy. Lu, on the other hand, is more than satisfied with it.

Eating from the garden: oven roasted tomatoes on toast and pate for breakfast (posh!); beans in a Dad type stir fry; corn (from the second harvest), beans and tomatoes with snags for dinner, with a chutney made from part of the tomato pyramid; raspberries, apples and cherry tomatoes for snacks.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy Day

I'm typing this to My Friend the Chocolate Cake's "I've got a plan" - hi Ttina, I'm homesick for you today.

Today was a good day, a happy day. We spent the morning riding the mini trains and staring at big, old machinery at a rail exhibition, with Lu in a constant state of joy and disbelief that things could be this good (she's a fan of trains and heavy machinery).

Then, while Dad and Lu munched bananas and read Dr Seuss, Al and I, with Nell in attendance, ate sandwiches and cake by this fountain

under this tree

Not a bad life, really.

Eating from the garden: raspberries and cherry tomatoes before planting out red cabbages; tomatoes, basil and oregano in a Dad-made spag bog straight out of my childhood.

Friday, March 16, 2007


"Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by." (from the Nun's prayer)

Gather ye rosebuds indeed. In the classic phrase, "I did my back in", and I've been lying around for the last ten or so days, sore and stiff and feeling sorry for myself. This is an occupational hazard of mothering, and particularly of mothering to two girls under two. I've never done anything dramatic like juggle babies and flaming torches but my ligaments are stretchy and I've been lazy, lifting with my back and not my knees, carrying on my hip and all those other forbidden behaviours. I am paying with my body and with my wallet; frustrating, as ultrasounds and pressure point manipulations at the physio are not high on my list of cool things to do and buy. Disconcerting too, as I do old people exercises in the pool with the arthritic women and the men with dodgy knees, watching with a leetle bit of jealousy as nubile young couples bob by in each other's arms. When did I go from nubile to decrepit? The (admittedly already thin) veneer of yummy mummy has been stripped from me. I am feeling old.

And frustrated. There's a hill of tomatoes to turn into provisions and I'm itching to get started. Handling - hell, fondling - tomatoes is a sensuous experience. They sit so neatly and heavily in my hand and when I cut them open they are red, red, red right through. Some are pillar box red, others are scarlet, others still are best described as rosy. Put on a black pan with white garlic, green basil and the dull grey of thyme and oregano and those tomatoes glow. Of all the things I grow in the garden, these give me the most joy even though, truth be told, I'm not really a big fan of the tomato as something to eat. It's the aesthetics more than the taste. Both apples and tomatoes have been posited as Adam and Eve's downfall in Eden; I'd put my money on the tomato doing the damage: shiny and sexy, they are not something to refuse politely.

So I'll focus on these and not my back and thank my stars, and the physio, that I'll be back in the kitchen tomorrow.

Eating from the garden: some unidentified apples for snacks. Nothing else as my father has generously flown down to be our domestic drudge; he's a lovely, generous and intelligent man but the cooking is tending to snags and frozen peas (not that there's much wrong with that).

Monday, March 5, 2007

Gather ye rosebuds ...

- or ye blackberries - while ye may. This morning, Lu and I strolled down to the convict cemetary to collect some berries for tonight's dessert but there were few to be had. Two weeks ago the brambles were laden with plump, shiny, multi-faceted nuggets but today most were small or withered and generally uninspiring. Once again I was sorry I didn't make the most of this pleasure while it sat just down the road and around the corner. When we were both about to leave Brisbane (for Canberra and Tas., respectively) , my friend Paul and I were thrilled at the prospect of brambles in our future gardens. They seemed both exotic and nostalgic. But now that I live among them I take them for granted. Saying to Lu, "There'll be no more blackberries this year", shocked me; I can be awfully offhand about things I once valued.

For the first time in a long time I wore a jumper as I drank my morning coffee on the back step. While we were out, Lu picked up an orange leaf to take home to her dad. The soft red of the autumn raspberries are brightening the patch by the back fence. These things don't mark a change in seasons but they do remind me that a change in seasons is coming and soon I'll look back on this summer with longing. Down among the brambles, in her jeans and a sweat shirt, Lu looked like a kid, not a baby. Seeing her there reminded me that when we don't go down the road to pick the berries, I'm not just missing out on fruit for a crumble - other, sweeter things will soon fade with the seasons.

Eating from the garden: tomatoes on toasted sandwiches for lunch; (planning) tomatoes slowly stewed with basil on pasta for dinner; apples - but no blackberries - in a crumble for dessert; raspberries and cherry tomatoes for snacks.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Hen pecked

Just recently I read someone writing about "the maternal clucking of hens", waxing sentimental on the way a few fowl can add to the suburban idyll. And indeed, not so long ago I believed this myself. I believed they were gentle creatures, humbly accepting all scraps from the kitchen and offering guilt-free eggs in return. Then we actually got some chooks. And now I say 'bah humbug' to such fairy tales. Our chooks are the bane of our lives.

They are fussy. They are loud. They are ungrateful and uppity. Our chooks turn away from anything that we ourselves would not eat. Yes, they'll eat some greens but only a limited selection. Kindly woman that I am, each day I trek to the green grocer and buy something, even though I rarely need anything, so that I can ask for a box of scraps without feeling awkward. If the bearded guy from round the corner has already snaffled the good stuff for his guniea pigs I tramp the streets and wooded areas with my big bag, collecting clover and thistles from the verges. This all takes time and can chip away at my dignity and I get not a cluck of thanks.

More embarrasisngly, our chooks are loud, louder than barking dogs. We are waiting for the neighbours to complain to the Council. We wake to their demands for food, we have breakfast to their demands for MORE FOOD. We garden to their complaints about their sub-standard accommodation and their demands for time in the garden and MORE FOOD NOW. We let them out to 'free range', i.e., dig up the flower beds and make sorties on the veggie gardens, and they sit under the kitchen window demanding, yes, MORE FOOD. We dine to their general lament on our awfulness as chook owners. We fall to sleep dreaming of a day when we will be free.

The worst offender is Big Black Chook, the leader of the pack (consisting of Little Black Chook, Nice Brown Chook, Clucky Chook and Other Brown Chook). She is part Mae West, all brassy and bold, leading with an improbably large bust, and part surly teenager, self-obsessed and clinging to the moral high ground. She follows us around, voicing her complaints, until I cry or Al swears (then swears again because he swore in front of the children) and we retreat into the house to debate, yet again, whether the fabulous eggs are worth the heart ache, dustbowl garden and possible hatred of the neighbours.

Sometimes, I swear, if my axe were sharper and my heart colder, there'd be chicken noodle soup for tea.

Eating from the garden: eggs from the girls for breakfast, and included in honey biscuits (baked with Lu); corn for lunch; cherry tomatoes and basil in a pasta sauce with char grilled capsicum and cream; apples for snacks.