Monday, April 30, 2007


Could you spread that manure onto the side bed? Thanks.


Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday Al. It's not been a great day so far: a 5.30 am start; multiple and public tantrums during your birthday lunch; lending me the money to pay for that lunch; baby spit on your new jeans; and now you're out walking the baby and I'm pretty sure you're about it get caught in the rain. And not even a card from your thoughtless and poorly organised wife. You had pretty low expectations, I know, but I think that by working as a team the girls and I have managed to undercut them.

So it might be time to say "I hope the day gets better", and I hope the year does as well. Our family is blessed by your kindness, your patience and your gentle soul. You're funny and smart and each day with you is a pleasure. Plus, you're looking pretty good for a man of your years.

Happy birthday from us all


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Small pleasures

A big day in the garden, doing things that needed to be done three weeks ago. Dead beans pulled up and trashed, chicken coop cleaned, the bed for the broad beans prepped and horse manure collected from our source on the edge of town. At the stables Lu wandered around stroking the horses and stating she would ride one home. Her interest has shown no signs of abating, which is disappointing as we were hoping for a less expense hobby - reading cheap books from thrift stores or perhaps mending. I fear Lu will have to be content with pony rides at the local market for quite some time to come.

It's always such a relief to get to 7.30 when both girls are (usually) down for the night. Tonight, it'll be an old Hitchcock movie, as much Stone's green ginger wine as I can swallow and comfort food made from sugar and lard. It'll be an empty kind of a time, however, with West Wing now gone from the telly. Still, with the beginning of cold nights we've started to light the fire and it's a calming thing, to stare into the flames and fiddle with the wood.

This is the first time in years we've had a fire. Previously we've relied on the hydro but it's an expensive way of heating and wood's working out cheaper. Environmentally, wood fires are a problem where we live. Walking out in the morning, the smell of wood smoke is welcoming but it's accompanied by an inversion layer which looks romantic but causes a lot of asthma around here. Indeed, houses are sold as being 'above the smog line', and cost extra for it; we can't afford such a luxury.

As a rule we try to minimise our ecological footprint and make a difference in all the usual mild mannered ways. The fires do prick our conscience. But aside from the cost factor there's also the thrill. Both Al and I have spent most of our lives in Queensland, where a little fan heater is all that's required, and that only rarely. So wood heating is quite exotic and just a little romantic (admittedly in a very cliched way). It is one of a suite of things that still make me smile after five years in this part of the world: daffodils, snowdrops and tulips; raspberries in the gardens and blackberries down the street; fabulous scarves and funky knitted hats. These weren't part of my life until recently; as an avid reader of mid-century British children's literature, I have felt their absence bitterly.

In this spirit I'm revisiting the question of roses in my garden. I planted some a few years back but the aphids, black spot and general ugliness of the plants lead me to give them away. Al and I keep dancing around the possibility of one day moving back north where roses just don't do well, and I wonder if I will regret not taking the chance when I had it. Like my friend Tambo, I like roses best in the house, not on the bush. But to have them in the house, or more specifically to have the ones I like in the house, I'm going to have to make room and time for some bushes. Space has opened up now that we have regretfully removed some old trees that were causing cracks in our walls. We can't face the extra work of more annuals or veggies and so roses it may well be. Al's not a fan of flowers but he rather fancies the idea of an ironic "Aussie" bed of Mary McKillops, Ian Thorpes, Sir Dons and the like. I worry this might be ironic in the way a tyre swan out the front is ironic - i.e. it may well be, but that doesn't make it right. But if we go ahead, the roses will be gaudy and vulgar. I'm aware of the value placed on the form and subtlety by those who claim some taste in these matters but I have realised I like my roses big and bright and smelling like lollies. If the flowers are not as big as my head and smelling like musk sticks, I can't really see the point.

Eating from the garden: greens in yet another stir fry (this time with beef, tofu, shitaake mushrooms and carrots); walnuts, pelted into our courtyard by the naughty boy over the back fence, in carrot and apple muffins - thanks, naughty boy!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Purple shoes

I've been wearing Chuck Taylors (and now their Oxfam substitutes) for well over a decade (and using the word decade is making me feel just a tiny bit old). My first pair were a lush, emerald green, bought in Melbourne with my dear friend Ttina, and through the years I've bought them bright. I wear a lot of black and grey as a thin - well, largely transparent - veneer of sophistication and taste, but I let my garish preferences explode on my feet. My favourite shoes were a happy purple. Their time in their limelight was truncated when one night they fell victim to my then puppy Jasper and, chewed at the heel, they became gardening shoes. Chucks aren't made for such harsh treatment and they soon faded and flopped and were relegated to the garage, where they slept unloved until Al found them as he cleaned the garage in yet another of our attempts to control our life through controlling our stuff.

Looking at those shoes made me happy. They were the last pair I bought before the kids reshaped the ways I saw myself, and our mortgage and one income status put limits on my spending. Today, getting ready for a walk after another morning of a screaming baby, I pulled them in an attempt to feel girlish again. And, despite their sad state, they almost almost worked.

As my friend and I walked our dogs by the river we talked over the same issues we discuss every week: the limits of motherhood and its possibilities; the erosion of a sense of self and the development of a new identity; how great sleep is; why is it so hard to live on one wage? The talk was no big deal - these are my topics of conversation with all my close friends - but it was just kind of weird to be saying these things wearing these shoes from my very different past. I had no idea, when I bought these purple shoes, that not too many years later, this is where I'd be: down by the river, on an autumn day, missing my girls after just an hour of their absence.

Plus, Jasper, he's not so fat!

Eating from the garden: eggs, parsley and chives, just like yesterday; and tonight, more Chinese greens in a tofu and lychee stir fry.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just a bit of fun, really

Lately, I've been thinking about this garden's role in my life. It can bring great satisfaction as I feed my family or spend time with Lu pottering about. But it also brings frustration and worry. I sat on my haunches (core muscles tightened, mindful of posture), weeding the cabbages and swearing quietly at the effects of the incursions of moths, slugs and snails and sundry other bug types. Again and again I worked through how to save the crops and the quandry of the timing of the green manure (before or after the Brisbane trip?; lupins or rye?; here, there or here and there?). I worried about the jobs that need to be done: corn stalks to be mulched, lucerne to be composted, slugs to be hunted and squashed, seeds to be collected, on and on and on. Plus, I want to get out and womble around, finding pine cones and twigs for the fire (Al laughs at these efforts but he's never needed to chop kindling in five degrees and sleet; pine cones save work in the long run, I'm thinking). There are days - many days - when the to do's overshadow the joys of this place.

But it's all a bit silly, really. As meaningful and valuable as my garden is, it is a luxury, a hobby, and most definitely a choice. It's good to have the excess tomatoes chutneyed but we won't develop scurvy if those jars are empty. I allowed zucchinis to grow to frightening proportions and hid the evidence in the compost heap rather than chop them up and be thankful they could feed us for so many meals. Really, if the cabbages fail the only damage is to my pride, and I'm better for a few of those beatings. My worries add a little suburban spice to a very comfortable life. After all, we all need trials to make a story out of.

I'm trying to be mindful of my good fortune, particularly today, on Anzac day. I'm a teary kind of a person, and the marches and ceremonies and the sad, sad bugles make me cry. I cry because I am so sorry so many people - not just Australians - have been caught in the maelstrom of war. And I cry from a full heart as I think of how lucky I am. My childhood rang with my father's gruff "You don't know how lucky you are" as he countered our complaints about the deep injustices of childhood (lollies only once a week!; bed at 8pm!; wearing a singlet!) but by golly, he was right. I garden because I want to, not because I'm digging for victory. I don't need to rip up the flower beds and plant potatoes. I don't wait on a crop knowing it will tip the balance between health and hunger for me and my girls. And most importantly today, I know where my husband is, I know he's safe and I'm not dreading word that he isn't.

So I'd like to acknowledge the people in my family who not so long ago faced a very different life: Grandad, who was never quite the same after the war, and Grammy and Mum who lived with this; Uncle Pat, whose dead friends marched along with him on his benders, and Aunty Eileen, who served and lived with Pat's pain; Uncles Billy and Hugh, who worked in munitions. As I gardened today I thought also of my father's family, who as German immigrants were saved from WW1 internment only by their necessary farming. I also think of the other branch of my father's family, on the other side of the world, who became refugees as the Red Army advanced and whose gardens and houses and homeland no longer exist.

The stories of my family are little histories, each unique and each standing for the larger events we read in books and watch on SBS documentaries when there's nothing else on. They have allowed me to transcend my own privilege and enter, briefly and imperfectly, into the fear and pain of others' lives, and this is a humbling gift. Tough times and tough people. Although, really, not that tough - just ordinary folks like me. And I'm thankful that so far in my life - and I hope, always in my life - the garden's just a bit of fun.

Eating - thankfully - from the garden: chives, parsley and the girls' eggs, uninspiringly scrambled; pak choy, steamed with sesame and soy sauces and rice wine vinegar, accompanying chicken and pumpkin laksa. Plus, rhubarb to eat with cream while falling just a little more in love with Alan Brough(?) on Spicks and Specks tonight.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sometimes parenting kicks my arse

Over the last few days I've been thinking about intimacy and how it is enacted in my life. I had planned to write something tonight. But this evening Al started a new job and my girls synchronized meltdowns. At the end of bedtime hell I took a few swigs of Stone's Green Ginger Wine straight from the bottle, to soothe my nerves. Now I'm going to stare mindlessly at the telly.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ouch, again

On Saturday morning, way too early, I reached over to lift my baby Nell, thinking as I did 'This is a really bad idea'. And so it was. Something went pop and I've spent the last days either hobbling or lying down, and resentfully bemoaning my foolishness while Al once again stepped into the breach. Turns out that the absence of any strength in my back is nicely complemented by the absence of any strength in my abs. I am nothing but marshmallow in my middle.

My physio asked me (kindly) why I was so careless, and I only shrugged. The answer is so simple and not simple at all. I can't quite believe this is my body. Three years ago I was slim, strong and limber. I was tough. My body hung together. I didn't have to be careful because nothing was beyond the capabilities of that body. Just as I can't quite recognise the tired and creased face that stares back from the mirror, I can't accept this present body is mine. I think to myself my body has let me down but I'm beginning to learn it's my mind that's misbehaving and I - and my family - keep paying the price of its folly.

So I'm telling myself this time, I've learned my lesson. Maybe I'll now bend with my knees, work on my core strength, eat right, excercise sensibly and Do The Right Things. Maybe this time I'll learn to take care.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Last week, struggling under the first of the unit's simultaneous colds of the season, I stepped into the garden to cheer myself. And there among the sad, brown beans sat a colony of brand new bugs. I'm not sure what they are but they're garish, spotty, and they've got fluoro blood when they're squashed under my Thumb of Wrath - anything that tacky has got to be bad. But instead of doing something about them I stalked backed to the house in sniffling and snotty disgust.

The uninspiring site of the planned invasion

I garden organically and these aren't the first set of bugs that have tried to colonise the back. I'm getting kind of sick of their company and, as the thrill of the moral high ground starts to fade, I'm getting kind of sick of the whole organic thing as well. On bad days I feel the there's an awful lot of romanticism scattered like stardust about the literature. It might be desirable to 'share' with nature, knowing there's enough for all, but in my sad experience the birds, bugs, slugs and snails will eat everything, and without a single word of apology. I've had trees laden with apricots and taken about three, all green, because that's all the fruit that's been left to me. Slugs are best disposed by a gory tramp around a garden in the dark, and apparently gardeners can break the codling moth breeding cycle if they check the cycle of the moon and hunt at night. Call me old fashioned, but in my world night's for sleeping (and feeding, and settling babies, and feeding again). Apparently the proliferation of bugs is a matter of garden hygiene; am I to be called a slattern because my mulching leads to the unforeseen consequence of bug eggs and hidey holes? And has planting dill among the cabbages ever confused the moths? So I ask myself as I feed the worm farm, turn the compost, dig in organic matter, collect the snails for the chooks, and a hundred other do-it-the-right way tasks, "why do I bother?"

It's been a challenge to come up with an answer that satisfied me. I guess partly I'm a sucker for a pretty face and some curly hair - each time I watch that earthy Josh on Gardening Australia I renew my commitment to organics. Plus, Pete Cundell does it this way and he's 80, so maybe it's worth it in the long run and I’ll be a spry national treasure as a reward for my efforts. There’s the immediate dangers of poisons: the only time I've used snail bait my dog Jasper, then just a puppy, jumped the fence, ate it and almost died; growing up Lutheran I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a judgement for my sinning ways. And I do like a challenge - gardening organically is an intellectual as well as a physical task, and both dimensions are important to me. Sometimes something good happens: the lady birds I so casually mentioned a few posts back were a long time coming but such a thrill to see their dotty selves in my garden after three years of trying to put things to rights.

There's something else going on as well. Previous owners mistreated this lot and when we bought it, it was a wasteland, irrespective of the big trees and a stunted looking peach. Our garden archaeology turns up broken stubbies and cans of Bundy and Coke. Any part of the soil not intensively nursed by me has no body, no structure and nothing at all living in it. I've never lived in a place where the sight of a worm is an occasion for comment but here it's taken us four years to lure them back into our boundaries. I feel sad that such a beautiful house on such a generous plot - so much larger than anything sub-divided today - could be held in such disdain. I feel we have been blessed to have found this home, particularly when I think of so many people struggling with high house prices and tight rental markets, and my thanks is partly expressed by my stewardship of the little bit of land on which my family lives. I feel - and in this I'm romanticising, I know, I know - that organic methods are designed to develop a partnership with my environment (even though more often than not I'm a junior partner), they are not aimed at domination and getting things only my way. This seems the least I can do given my garden’s sad past.

Stewardship is important to me as a mother. 'Think globally, act locally' may be kind of naff in times when mortgage rates and Aussie values dominate political debate but I try to do the best I can with what I can. I live in a State where my concern for my children's wellbeing, and the health and aesthetics of my world, is marginalised and subjugated to the forestry industry; where some small communities quite often need to boil their water before drinking it; and where regulatory processes can be quite publicly and shamelessly opted out of - with government facilitation - when enough money and influence is at stake. I protest in all the polite ways but last weekend I sat under a tree, listening to anger and hope at a public rally against a pulp mill to be sited up river, and I felt powerless and despairing. It may be that my garden can't really be organic in the time and place where I live but in trying, I'm holding on to my belief that I can make a difference. And even if I can't I'm showing my girls that we are lucky enough to have the choice to leave our place a nicer than when we came to it, and that sometimes what matters is that you try, not that you succeed. Then again, maybe I’m just pissing into the wind.

Either way, I’m back out tomorrow, squishing bugs between my finger and thumb. I hope they appreciate their right-on deaths.

Good organics, inside

and out

On a separate matter: an innocent victim of our lack of sleep. We took our labradoodle Jasper to the vet for his annual check up, only to have him officially designated “fat”. We’re sitting on the couch instead of walking the dog, and the poor fellow is bearing the public shame. No more bacon treats and many more hikes in the forest, that’s his lot.

Eating from the garden: beautifully scrambled eggs with chives for breakfast; apples for snacks; the last of the corn with crab and noodles in a Chinese-esque soup, with steamed bok choy and choy sum (the high point of the eating week).

Thursday, April 5, 2007


Autumn down here is beautiful this year, with cool mornings - just chilly enough for a cuddle to feel good - and clear, clean days, sun shining and sometimes a breeze to cool me down as I prune the fruit trees. It's beautiful but the edge of my enjoyment is blunted through being tired, tired, tired. Two kids, three breast feeds in the night, and Nell's early morning play time are taking their toll. Lu has been a champion sleeper since she was about eight months old and I'd forgotten the dragging, nagging need for sleep that comes along with new babies. In the last week I have: stepped into the bath fully clothed; started to walk out of the pool change rooms without any clothes; forgotten the words to "Twinkle, twinkle little star"; cut, bumped and scraped myself in dozens of different ways and places; and let go this blog in favour of staring into space and reading secondhand Miss Marple mysteries (forgetting the characters, the ending and once, the murder as soon as my eyes have left the words). It's a good thing I'm not planning to operate heavy machinery.

Perhaps the hardest part is the the loss of my own, already very limited time. The girls' routines don't match up and so my first moments to myself come at 7.30 at night. Then, there are no conversations about bumps, diggers, babies and trains, no child clinging to me, no meals to make, dogs to walk or tantrums to ignore. But I'm needing to go to bed at about 8.30 pm and so I've got a window of an hour in which to do something just for me (Al just doesn't get a look in anymore). With back to work looming six weeks down the track, I'm planning on some me time in February 2009. Should be fun.