Friday, November 30, 2007

What I ponder when I'm sitting on the bus

Before it transformed into BrisVegas (and well before people forgot that title was ironic) Brisbane was described as a big country town. According to my mum, lots of people used outdoor dunnies up until the early 1970s, and tanks were a taken for granted feature of the architecture. Then tanks were discouraged and then (apparently, I haven't looked it up) forbidden. And then the migration boom happened, and people came to expect inground pools and long showers and multiple, sparkling clean vehicles. And the dams went dry as the weather went wonky and now throughout the suburbs people have pinned up small blue signs on their front gates: "tank water in use".

So I guess in this way, Brisbane's not like my small country town because down there we still rarely think about water even though much of Tas. is in drought. It's a good feeling, seeing those signs which suggest some tiny elements of self-sufficiency creeping back into our lives. But as I sit on the bus and travel to work each morning, people all around (so many people - it's very confronting), zooming by the gardens and streets and suburbs that disguise the drought with their layer of green, I wonder: what will happen to everyone if the water dries up?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Non-political things:: summer comes to the area

Yesterday Dad, the kids and I went to the area to look for seed pods to transform into Christmas decorations. In winter the place looks European, with the bare oak and the daffodils; in summer it is dry with the colours I associate with my childhood Australia - bright blues, dull green and grasses like straw - and it smells of Eucalyptus. I love it, it is my special place, an unexpected find in suburbia.

Al is off with his political mates after a hard, 12 hour day manning the booths. Dad is sitting in front of the telly making rude comments about everyone. I'm here, too nervous to look and blogging. Oh look, I'm blogging with words! Turns out that well runs a little deeper than I realised.

Off to BrisVegas tomorrow for work, with Al and the kids in tow, with hopes of some family time, some time with friends and for Lu and Nell, much swimming and riding in airplanes. Things seem so dark and desperate some days/ weeks/ months and then there's a few nights good sleep, a project completed, a dreaded meeting over and it all becomes a little easier for a while. Though it may be my mood is very dark tomorrow when the results are called.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pretty things:: a surfeit of sweet peas

25 seeds planted in the autumn + a winter of debating over whether to give up on the pathetic and spindly things + water and warmth in the spring = a surfeit of scent and colour and posies in every room in the house for at least a month now.

Sweetpeas give a big bang for your buck.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Purple things:: cabbages in the garden

'Veggie' just doesn't seem to do these cabbages justice. In my alternate life, if I were off somewhere very fancy (the Oscars where I was up for Best Screenplay, for example, or Cannes for the premiere of my much anticipated debut as writer director, "Drought Tolerance", starring Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette and Tim Minchin*) I'd ask some emerging designer to make me a dress modeled on a red cabbage. My cabbages look like haute couture should look - subtly coloured, a bit of a flounce and cunningly structured to look light while never loosing their shape.

Until chopped up and pickled in white wine vinegar and juniper, to be served with good pork sausages. Still, they had a good life.

* (an early birthday present for you, Janine)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Surprising things:: my baby turned one yesterday

We celebrated by watching the heavy machinery at work in town and eating chocolate eclairs, apple turnovers, snowballs and jelly slice from perhaps the only remaining old style bakery in the country. A good time was had by all.

Good things:: taking the girls and the dog swimming in the river

Monday, November 19, 2007

Down time

My dad is down to help with childcare while Al works for the union up to the election. We've been all having our butts kicked by the kids who have reached new levels of challenging behaviour. Dad said something the other day that made me almost cry with relief. He said the girls are difficult kids (and without going in to my own family history, Dad knows a thing or two about difficult kids). I used to think it was a dreadful thing to call kids difficult, to label them with our own perceptions of 'appropriate' behaviour. I thought any troubles with interactions, discipline, etc were the result of family dynamics. I say 'Ha! Get down off your high horse' to that previous, pious self. Golly she was an annoying twit and she's getting her come-uppance now.

It was so good to hear that it's not just me and Al, that it's not just that we're not cut out for this parenthood gig and found out a little too late. We've been able to stop self-flagellating quite so much, knowing it's not just that we somehow don't make the grade. My kids are difficult. My kids are difficult. It doesn't solve any of the problems we're facing, but some days it's enough to keep me going until the blessed 7pm bedtime.

I'm taking a break from writing because I realise that if I continue all there'll be is 'my kids are difficult' written with varying degrees of relief and resentment, and without any resolution. And one day I hope to show the girls this blog, and I don't think my kids need to know how desperate we often feel in the face of their behaviour. Plus, blogs help us notice and make sense of things but I need words to express that noticing, and the words are fast drying up under the 4.50 am wake ups, the constant screams and anger and violence and whinging and disobedience and dangerous behaviour both girls direct against each other and against us. There comes a time when there's not much more to say, when there's just a primal scream of 'make it stop', whirling in my belly and barely blocked from escaping out my throat wwith a violent and ugly force. There's only so many ways I can write my girls are difficult without becoming boring and repetitive and whiney.

So I'm going to stop finding well wrought ways of saying "what the f*** is going on in my life?" and I'll try to figure it in other ways instead. I'm going to post up photos of my garden, of the girls, of the things that make me happy in the interim, and when there are some more interesting words I'll start typing them in again.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Rosa mutabalis

Just recently there have been days when I almost recognise myself. I'm starting to travel a little for work, I'm wearing smart trousers and nice shoes, flicking through powerpoint slides and looking over at people listen to what I say, as if I might know what I'm talking about (crazy!). I've started to stay in hotels in different cities. I've started to talk to important people on teleconferences. These are echoes of an older me who had drive and ambition and a fair(-ish) idea of what I wanted in life. But it's a shell, I'm only passing - all the constituent bits are there, but not the heart, not the soul.


Today I was fitted for new bras - my breast are not, it seems, returning to what they once were - and I looked in the mirror and was shocked at the body I saw. I've had more than my fair share of body issues back in the day but I don't hate my body anymore. But ... I'm not quite sure this is my body. It doesn't look familiar. I am wearing the clothes from my sprog free days but they don't fit the way they once did. The jeans look okay, the shirts cover the relevant bits without straining too hard but there's something slightly off.


I used to practice yoga a lot. A lot. An hour and half of Ashtanga seven days a week. It was utterly part of who I was. I've started back again, just twice a week, and it's amazing what my body remembers, even after such a long break. Sometimes my body, and my self, feel the way they used to. And then we move into shoulder stand and I look up and see my belly and I'm pretty sure someone is playing tricks on me with a crazy mirror.

This motherhood gig is a tricky thing. I can't got back, don't want to go back, but how on earth do I find a way forward?

I used to think maybe motherhood was like a piece of clothing, something I pulled on at the relevant time (great jeans and a funky little shirt, perhaps, casual and fabulous) and shrugged off at other times (business attire for the day; something sexy and elegant for when I became an adult after the girls had gone to bed). But it's not that easy. So then I thought, maybe motherhood is like a jumper that I knit from an old pattern someone passed on to me, using bits of wool from my grandmother's scrapbag in the hallway cupboard. Except it turns out the pattern is kind of old fashioned, and some of it is missing and anyway, I can't knit. And I don't think the answer lies in pulling something on, something exernal to me. I'm trying to recover that core of me, the part that remains the truth even as roles and bodies and ambitions change, but it's hard to remember what that was, hard to figure out where to look for it, hard to believe I ever had that core in the first place.

Tricky, tricky, tricky.


Rosa mutabalis is free flowering, with flowers changing from deep pink to pale yellow and apricot. It grows tall and it's tough, surviving through drought and neglect, but the flowers look like silk. I'm not sure what all this means for me, because I'm tired and sad and my thinking is fuzzy, but there's something about that rose that I cling to on bad days, something that makes me know things will change again and again and again, and that things will be easier one day soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Peace and quiet

Last week, in order to escape the logical consequences of Nell refusing to have her morning sleep (ie meltdown in suburbia), my Dad and I took the girls to Woolmers, the remnants of a once huge estate. It's quite a remarkable place. The house consists of a neo-Georgian annexe awkwardly attached to the original humble, and to my mind more elegant homestead, surrounded by the outbuildings used in its previous incarnation as sheep station and then large scale apple farm. Through the quirks of the family's residential and building choices, and by virtue of the fact the place was kept on down the line, the insides remain intact, tracking the changing styles and growing (and declining) wealth of the Archers.

The house is remarkable but I really like the outdoors - an open air museum where kids can run far and wide, where swifts swoop through broken windows, and where it's always quiet even then busloads of tourists arrive to see the buildings and visit the rose garden. The smell of it reminds me of my childhood - the heat on the ground and the scent of particular types of weeds drags me back to age eight again, running with my brothers through the paddocks.

Mostly, though, I am intrigued by the tidiness of the place. This is true for the grounds and gardens - well mowed and well tended - and for the history. I've taken the guided tour a few times, and the eventual decline and then end of this branch of the family tree tends to be presented as a bit of a tragedy. It's not something I weep over (generations of privilege supported by slave labour and dispossession - surely the family had a good run) but it is fascinating to look at the photos of boating parties and see the elegant gowns.

Woolmers is a bit like Tassie itself in this way, a veneer of beauty and ease built on exploitation (see for example, forestry practices). A friend was looking at houses to buy and she came across shackles, mortared into the walls of the cellar, used to hold the unfortunates who misbehaved - it's that kind of place, you live with the history even as you are seduced to forget it. I'm someone who mostly lives my life without being overly aware of what came before me, but the disjunction between the manifest and the latent stops me short and makes me think again of what it means to live in this place.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Slow food

I love the idea of the slow food movement. Celebrating the history and taste and context of food - it's a mindful and thankful act. But I do sometimes wonder how many people actually prepare some of those slow foods. Planting and tending takes time, it's true, and the husbandry takes decades, centuries even, but I'll not under-estimate the time it takes to cook broad beans. It's a fiddly process. The picking takes time as I fumble about the over-planted plot, trying not to break the stems. Then, being go-ahead culinary types, we'd never dream of just podding the beans - it's double peeled or it's nothing. So I sit podding - a lovely past-time out in the courtyard with my baby girl helping

but not something to do when there's an hour before dinner and nothing's done. And then I briefly boil and peel them again again. Mixed in with lamb and apricot and couscous, they are divine - a vibrant, sixties pistachio, and smooth the sweet and a little bit nutty. There's a real sense of accomplishment in cooking with broad beans - hours of work, bushels of beans and two handfuls of deliciousness to savour.

Dad and I took the girls to Woolmers (an old estate built of government favours and convict labour) the other day, and I had a serious case of garden envy when I saw these:

My broad beans come from seeds I've saved for years from a now forgotten variety, and I had decided to rely on my own efforts for seeds from now on, but oh, these are too lovely and jewel bright to exclude from the garden because of some dull principle.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dirty work

I didn't start gardening in pursuit of death and destruction but there's a fair bit of that at our house, organic though we are. Indeed, organic makes it more obvious. We don't lay out some pellets, hoping the undesirables will munch them and then retire to a private death. Each morning I feed the chooks and then turn over pavers and bricks, squashing the slugs that continue to congregate despite my best efforts and picking off the snails to feed to the chooks. I keep an eye out for sap suckers too, and squish them beneath my fingers. Each day starts in an orgy of innards. People talk about gardeners' connection with nature - well, mine's all over the bottom of my boots.

Even the generative tasks are messy. After lunch today I painstakingly picked the compost worms out of the old bathtub and into their new, store bought worm farm. I'm a messy digger and planter too, and when Lucy ends up watering the seedlings in, as she invariably does, I'm damp and a little cold. I rather like the idea of looking fabulous, in a big hat and tailored kit, when I'm out among the plants, but the best I hope for is no bum crack at critical moments.

Lu, who used to be a great little helper, is backing away from gardening. She doesn't really like the feel of dirt and she's scared of the snails and bugs ("they might bite me, Mummy"), she who used to be ruthless in her crushing of them. She's still keen on anything worm related, but even the strawberries, once her most anticipated garden pleasure, are out of favour because they sometimes have dirt on them. Currently, Lu is happiest lolling on the sofa watching Skippy and reading, looking for all the world like a teenager shrunk in the wash.

Nell, on the other hand, is embracing her time outside.

Dirt, muck, it's all good now that I let her wander at will. But usually, she stays pretty close to my side, figuring out how to do it all. The other day she sat beside me, turning over each brick around the bed of sweet peas and bok choy, and pressing her index finger down hard, just like I do to squish a particularly common type of small, white slug. So good to see her embracing the essence of gardening at our house.

Who would guess this is the face of a killer?

Friday, November 9, 2007

The spider and the fuki-yols

Lucy loves, loves, loves stories. Every meal time, any moment of downtime she pipes up, "Mummy, can you tell me a story?" Goldilocks, and the Three Pigs are her favourites, although Al's lesser known Loxi Gold (about the baby bear and a mother from the Parents and Friends Association) and the cheeky puppy (who eats a cake and goes too far) are also in demand. It drives us crazy, telling these stories fifteen, sixteen times a day. And of course, we have fallen in the trap of making them ever more detailed in the hope of keeping ourselves amused, and Lucy then wants the more detailed version and so a boring 3 minutes is turninginto a boring 6 minutes for the teller. Thus, it's been great to have Grandad along, with his welcome contributions of the princess and the Pea, Rosie Red Cap, the musicians of Bremen and the Pied Piper. But even he is starting to grit his teeth over describing just how dirty the princess really was.

We tell the stories to help Lu with her vocab and to encourage her imagination. But being high minded can be a right pain in the arse. I do sometimes wonder if Lu asks for these stories to see if this will be the time Mummy breaks down and bangs her head against the table in frustration. But no - it turns out,she's been learning about narrative. And now, she's pinned it.

So I write the following to remember just how incandescently proud I was when this morning Lu said to me, "Mummy, do you want to hear a story?", sat in her chair, and started in the traditional way ...

"Once upon a time there was a spider. The person came along and the spider bit her. Then she went along and found another spider and it was friendly and they were happy.

There was a fuki-yol*, and they bit a person. Then the person went away and there were more fuki-yols and they were friendly. And they went home and the house was white and purple and sprinkly. And the rain stopped and it was a nice day and there was a rainbow. And that's the end of the story.

Right Mum, I'm off now. Bye-bye."

Note, if you will, the marrying of a linear narrative with multiple subject positionings, the tension between the protagonists, the final reconciliation, the roller coaster of emotions, the symbolism within the happy ending.

I will boldly state, in the most annoying way, that my kid is amazing.

* Upon asking, I discovered a fuki-yol looks like a dragonfly.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

shining through

Things here aren't easy at the moment. No disasters but day upon day of niggles and annoyances, a lot of trudging through, a lot of waiting until 2007 ends. Some months are like that. I came home after a particularly not nice day at work and went into the garden and, peering into the broad beans, wondering if I had the energy to double peel them, I saw this:

And I was reminded why being in the garden always, always makes me feel so much better.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Lots of pats

Lucy has been thinking about death since the guy down the road told her his cat, Himilay, died. I didn't know this until she told me her story about death: when things die, they are very sad because they can never see us again but they are happy because they are with their Mummy who gives them lots of pats and cuddles. That's Lu's take on one of the great mysteries of our human condition. I like it.

I told Lu Puss was dead when she wondered why he wasn't at the back door on Saturday morning. She curled in a ball, cried, told me the story of death and cried a little bit more. Then she said "Is there bacon for breakfast?". There was, and the storm passed. Later, I told Lu that Puss could now eat on the table (verboten in our home) and she was so scandalized and tickled, she completely forgot the 'dead' part of the topic under discussion. She hasn't mentioned Puss since.

But here's the thing. She now lugs around the cat carrier, and inside she's placed a sterling silver hip flask (who knows where we got it from - we're not really a sneaky nip kind of a family), the lid separate from the vessel. She she tells me she is looking after Himilay and Lala (Himilay's surviving mate) and no one is to touch them. The connections are obvious in the broad sense but the details - the specific meanings for Lu - are obscure. It's one of those times when I am struck by the complexity and mystery of my children, and reminded that they possess depths I will never visit.


Thanks to all for your kind words - they were very much like lots of pats. We were lucky to have Puss for so long, and to be able to give him a passing that was not distressing; he was lucky to have a family who loved and cared for him for so long and with such generosity. I'm very much aware of this as I read all the ads in the newspapers trying to find new homes for animals, and when I see those sad, sad RSPCA spots on telly. I'm hoping that one day I will happen across a new animal who needs a place to belong and who will fit into our home.

Friday, November 2, 2007

My old man

Today, I asked the vet to euthanize Orange Cat (more familiarly known as Puss and Old Man). He was sixteen and in the final stages of renal failure. It was absolutely the right decision and this absolutely makes me no less sad.

Old Man has lived with me for longer than Al has. I picked him up from the uni vet. where he had been an injured stray the lecturers used in training up students. People cried when they said good-bye to him, and it soon became obvious why. He was a loving and friendly and boofy kind of a guy. Puss was an alpha male in his day, huge and strong and absolutely unafraid of all comers. He was a hunter, and many times embarrassed me by dragging in dazed wild-life during dinner parties, or stashing a dead possum under a housemate's bed. He offered up snakes and rats as tokens of his deep affection for me.

And that affection was the core of who he was. He was free with his favours and wherever I lived he was familiar with the neighbours and regular passers-by. He sat outside on the street, soliciting pats, and made home visits to help himself to any food on offer (or there for the taking). But he was loyal and always came home each evening to sit by the fire or on my lap, to warm my bed for me and awake, staring into my eyes with his head on my pillow. Even when I betrayed him by re-introducing Al ('that fellow who won't let me sleep in the bed') into the household, followed by two dogs ('What the ?!!?) and then some kids (you've got to be kidding!), he put up with it all with a begrudging grace. Plus, he knocked on the door when he wanted to be let in - that's really cool.

Pets are part of the dynamics of each household - things already feel different, opening the back door and remembering Puss won't stroll up demanding something from me. Puss and our dog Jasper are integral parts of the way our family shows love and has fun, and it's very sad that we have to find new ways of doing these things.

I'll miss the old fellow; I already do.