Monday, December 31, 2007

My summer holiday

Just before Christmas, Mum, Dad, Al, the girls and I went down to Bicheno, a small town on the east coast of Tasmania, and Freycinet National Park, for a few days by the beach. I remembered just how lovely it is to live here.

But the beach holiday in Tas. is a different experience to those I'm used to. Growing up, summers were spent in Queensland, where there is heat and surf and bikinis. I miss jumping in the water without fear my bits will drop off in the cold, but there is something very free about visiting beaches here, which are often really wilderness areas that just happen to be next the ocean. All the sexual energy and lethargy, the bikinis and posing and judgments have no place on the sand; there's an intimacy and an expansiveness as we tear about, the only beings in sight.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Going out with a whimper

In the face of the overwhelming productivity of our zucchinis (and I'll hear no 'I told you so's, thank you very much) I've started making zucchini loaf. It is delicious. But it's a somewhat prosaic end for something called costa romanseque. It's such a sophisticated name, so glamorous but authentic, the name of a swarthy heart-throb. Those fruits were surely expecting to end their days on a grill, next to sardines, eaten with a spritz of lemon under a pergola overlooking the blue, blue Mediterranean. Instead, they're grated and stirred into one of the most 80s suburban of all baked treats.


Lucy has discovered the newspaper. She sits at the breakfast table, baby latte to hand, and asks us to tell her the stories about the police and car crashes and drownings and landslides and the arrival of a scrub python at the local wildlife park. She's got a well defined appreciation of the dramatic and we all find it a relief from telling Rapunzel and the Pied Piper of Hamelin ad nauseuam.

Lu also has a strong aesthetic, it turns out. She looked at me today, pushed her toast away and whined, "I don't like blueberry jam, it's too blue". Feminist mothers can complain about Disney princesses all we like - they're not as annoying as a real one in the house.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our Christmas

... was full of good things.

Good things to eat. On Christmas Eve, our traditional time of celebration: oysters, salty and buxom, like Jane Russell; salmon terrine; olives and pepperberries and artichokes. And on Christmas Day: beef cooked blue; potato salad with gherkins; crisp salad; good bread.

Good things to drink. Bay of Fires Pinot Noir Chardonnay; raspberry syrup in soda water and the bubbly.

Good things to see. A Christmas tree looking just the way I've always wanted one to look - sparkly and modest and maybe even elegant (maybe); my girls reveling in time with Meema and Grandad.

Good time. No work (no thought of work), no deadlines, no lists, no email. Hours in the garden, tidying and replenishing. Waking up yesterday and then again today with absolutely nothing planned, nothing expected of the day. Napping when I want to, feeling my body clock tick-tock back into its own proper time and feeling so much better for it. Remembering the way the hours drip slowly by when there's no push and no pull, just the lazy currents of time at home with my family.

But the spirit of Christmas? Two huge lollipops in the Christmas stockings - all artificial, teeth rotting, mood disordering joy for my girls. There's been a lot of talk about hand made Christmas on the blogs I read but in our house, the ship's well and truly sailed on that idea.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bright Christmas

I do love Christmas. The origins are somewhat lost in many of my own traditions and delights but there's a such a strong sense of thanksgiving in my approach - all this goodness and love; perhaps it's a bit like Thanksgiving in the U.S. My family's a nice group of people and we've got no real difficulties in our lives (touch wood) and so there's much cause for celebration.

And I love a Christmas tree and the decorations. But all the bits associated in my mind with a white Christmas - the cotton wool snow, the spray-on ice, the reindeers - don't resonate or appeal. I love the glare, the heat, the golds and sharp sky blues of my Australian Christmas. So I've been thinking about decorations that reflect this in a not-too-kitsch way. I'm also a little sensitive to where the baubles and bling are made - it seems a little too Dickensian or Grinch-like to get my sparkle from a free trade zone filled with little kids and peasants breathing in lead based paint. But when fair prices are paid Christmas decorations are awfully pricey and I like a lot; I like the tree to be laden with pretty things which can quickly turn into an expensive proposition when people aren't being exploited.

And so, despite a long history of being Not At All Crafty, I made my own out of gumnuts and glitter. I can't believe I did it, and that they turned out so beautifully - I must have been channeling Amanda Soule. They don't look quite so gorgeous on the photos here but you probably need to view them through the eyes of immense pride, and that particular program can't be downloaded. But I don't care; handmade: what a buzz.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

White Christmas

The trees with papery bark, just down the road, are covered in this. Not icicles, but fluffy flowers.


The vacation message is enabled on email, the phone is forwarded through to reception, the office is cleaned out and drinks have been had by the river: I am officially on leave until the New Year. I feel giddy with the freedom of it all.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sweet Nell

One (of the admittedly many) things I find challenging in mothering two kids is the competing demands on my attention. Neither Nell nor Lu want to share me with the other and so any interaction with one almost always gets cut short by the other. I'm sympathetic to both: before Nell, Lu was the sole recipient of our almost continual regard and adoration; with Lu on the scene, Nell has to work hard to make herself heard, to get what she desires. We're doing our best to make sure both get equal airtime and special time with each of us, but it's a challenge. I find it particularly hard because I'm away all day - there's an hour in the morning and about two in the evening and even that time is broken up by getting ready for work and cooking dinner. I hear people say it's about quality not quantity but the amount of time is important too, especially for my little kids for whom quality only means 'being with Mum'.

This weekend's been really nice because Al and Lu are in Melbourne, taking in the sights and meeting up with old friends and their kids. I miss them - I'm not a fan of breaking up the unit for even a short period of time - but it's been delightful to spend quality and quantity time with Nellie, doing the things we both enjoy: eating as many raspberries and peaches as we can possibly fit in our bellies; strolling into town to buy books for presents and chutney from the markets for Xmas day; playing with the dog; and lolling about the house.

I love my kids because they are my kids - that chemical connection started when I held them the very first time - but the more precious bond, to me, is the one that grows as we come to know and appreciate each other. Usually, the only Nell-MumMum specific time is the first ten minutes of every morning, when Nell wakes up and we snuggle in bed together. This is very intimate and smoochy but too short to really get to know each other. What's been great these last two days is learning or more deeply appreciating some Nell specific things. To wit:

* Nell can pack away five peaches before breakfast;
* Nell has a modest outie belly-button which pops up like a pompom on a beanie when she eats her fill;
* When she's finished a task to her satisfaction, Nell slaps her belly and then rests her hands there, sitting like one of those fat happy buddha statues;
* Nell practices things - she went up and down the stairs today for half and hour, getting faster and faster and more and more pleased with herself;
* She loves her Jasper-dog;
* She really enjoys picking clothes off the floor and stacking them up on a bed (I know, I'm so lucky!);
* She's a really bossy kid, even with only about ten words and most of them starting with 'b'.

In short, she's quite the perfect Nell for me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Finding ways to fix the big problems

We eat a lot of pasta at our house - it's a quick meal I can make in the half hour window between getting home at 5 pm and facing the ravenous hoardes at 5.30, after the daily episode of Skippy has been viewed and discussed. We also eat a lot of zucchini, in season - deep down, despite all evidence, I still believe we might not see the summer through if we don't have at least three plants in the garden; it's seasonal eating at it's most oppressive and we don't even look at another zuke until the next summer swings around.

And so it has, and the first zucchinis were harvested today. They were costa romanseco, which I planted for the name. I'm liking them. The bush is compact and the fruit will give you a few days grace before they morph into baseball bats. This is a nice change from the Black Jack in particular, which is a staple of our summer garden, creeping and sprawling all over the paths, and whose fruit transforms into something the size of a submarine if I dare take a break to drink my morning coffee. But these new ones are spiky - they prick like thistles. Caveat emptor and all that, but why don't seed catalogues mention this? - the yellow ones we planted last year were untouchable without gloves. Or is this a my garden specific problem?

But all solved by peeling them and tossing them in a saucepan with garlic, spring onions, bacon, parsley, salt and pepper and cream, which I let thicken. I sprayed the lot with lemon to cut the richness and Nell and I gobbled it down with skinny pasta. Quite delightful, and a happy way to begin the months of gobbling the seasonal veggies.

I say it again - it's going to be a good summer.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Counting the cost

I have a sneaky suspicion I've said this before but ...

I'm not sure my garden saves us money. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is a drain on the budget. When I visit frugal living sites I read people singing the praises of gardens as a way of feeding the budget-conscious family; Digger's Seeds offers a special deal to health card holders, offering enough seeds to feed a family for a year for a very small sum (the sociologist in me notes that health card holder = renter = someone who might not have the freedom to dig up their landlord's neglected roses, but it's a nice idea).

But for us the sums don't add up. There's the cost of improving some pretty gutless soil, especially before the compost bins and free manure source happened. There's the cost of the seeds which, though minimal in terms of dollars per unit, soon adds up when you're looking at multiple varieties for diversity. Plus, we still have to buy a lot of food - self-sufficiency isn't possible when someone works and the other one has two tiny kiddies to care for - a garden for self-sufficiency requires time we don't have, especially as we are still setting up the system. And there's the cost of labour - I do the garden work and the time spent tending the seedlings could be used to grow my career, which will provide more potatoes in the long run. Plus, my daily rate for freelance work is large enough that my brain is always going to be worth more than what I stick into and pull out of the ground - I'd be better off sitting at the desk each night tapping away than I ever will be trying save thousands on organic lettuce (hi, Phil, if you're here reading despite the focus on rhubarb and babies).

I'm aware that each person, each group, has set of things it's okay to spend money on, and a list of things that are definitely trashy - consumption is, after all, not only how we keep up with the Joneses but how we differentiate ourselves from them, how we make a claim to moral as well as social superiority. I think organic gardening, just like eating 'healthy' is an arena in which this can play out. It's nice to pat myself on the back for doing something so worthy as saving seed (read: saving the world) and just as nice to be a little shocked at the number of people who eat at Hungry Jacks and garden with pebble mix from Bunnings.

Today, while watering in the evening, looking around at my domain with all its heritage varieties, and doing a sketchy calculation of amount of money we've poured into the plot, I was reminded of the comments of David Brooks in Bobos in Paradise
I get the feeling that organic gardening can be a bit like spending thousands on a slate shower or an aga cooker: it's just fine because it's so very authentic, in a way that all that money going on high heels and designer jeans just never can be.

But of course it's not just that - how painful (how much more painful?) I would be if it was. That garden gives me sanity, it lets me feel like I'm contributing to my family's wellbeing by feeding them food I have control over. It's a place where the unloved species of my neighbourhood are once again loves. Plus, it's what I like to do, and as hobbies go, it's still on the cheap side.

Also, gardening is a way in which I can leave my place a little better than I left it. When we came, the ground was more dog sh*t and sand than it was soil, there were no birds, and the beds were planted with UDL cans. Now, it's an oasis in the street, a place of richness and productivity. At the risk of sounding unbearably worthy, I'm well aware of our luxury in purchasing a home and in having a garden to plant as we will, regardless of cost. There's a responsibility that comes with such good fortune, I think, to make sure we not only protect but nurture the things we've been given. I've been given a garden - sometimes one more item on a long and crushing list of things to do, sometimes a joy and a delight - and it's only respectful that I treat it right.


And of course, there's lot of free things to join the scrap garden (thanks, Victoria, for that beautiful phrase). The borage from the now built-over wild space up the hill and down the dale is blue, blue, blue

and these - what are they? - are the very essence, the heart, the idea of pink.

And they didn't cost a thing.

No news is good news

After the horrors of last week's attack on Christmas it's a relief to hear some good news. Today's Examiner headline

North's Rhubarb Supply Boom

Go North. YEAH!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

True romance

Two of my workmates are falling in lurve. They are doing it secretly but because I'm good at spotting these things I've noticed their special self-satisfied glow, an unexplained trip where they just happened to be going to the same place at the same time, a cryptic aside after a raucous party. And because I'm a shocking gossip and a dreadful bully I wangled confirmation out of A Person Who Shall Remain Unidentified.

I'm a little jealous. I recognise the signs but I've forgotten what it feels like - the tingly, exciting, anything can happen joy, when work becomes a place of anticipation and stolen glances. Sure, I know it will all end in tears by the photocopier and the careful mapping of safe routes out of the building but in the meantime, gosh!, they're revelling in that shiny sexual thrill and the risks of newly minted intimacy.

Most days I stick to the party line that the love Al and I share after 14 years and two kids and a mortgage and two dogs and a cat and multiple moves and some break ups and infinite farts on the sofa and the leaving of dirty hankies on the drinks cabinet and used floss on the bathroom bench (I know - we're disgusting) and the buying of tampons and snarky comments about who does more housework is a deeper and more fulfilling love. But this morning, after walking to work listening to the type of love songs that tell of anticipation and desire, and seeing the Secret Couple get out of a shared car and make their way into the building by separate entrances (oh, I see all - my office looks over the carpark), I kind of want to step out of this life, just for a day, and into my other life where all that romance is possible again.

Then again, how hard is it to find a man who'll let his own coffee go to lukewarm while he looks after the girls so that I can leave the house without buttery handprints all over my shirt? Now that's romance.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thinking big

Around our house, we do a lot of putting things in vases. These collections are never remarkably beautiful, elegant or grand but I do like a bit of outside inside. I have done since I was a child and many of my clearest memories are built around flowers: the tiny seaside daisies from my Grammy's house in Toowoomba; camelias and petunias in the houseswap house in Melbourne; the stretches of jonquils by an old oval when we lived in Hamilton; the the startingly bright marigolds from our time on the property outside that same town; azaleas in the house in Brisbane where my parents still live. Well, let's just say I've never met a flower I didn't like and didn't want to pick and bring inside to look at. Even now as I type in the office there's a big bunch of purloined sky blue and lavendar hydrangas sitting on my desk.

So it's been lovely to see Lu has started 'arranging'. We pick bits and pieces, I fill a vase with water and then she squats and thoughtfully places each stem, one by one. But whereas I put flowers in a vase Lu has bigger aims:

Kris: Those flowers look so beautiful, darling.
Lu: These are not flowlows, Mummy. I am putting trees into a forest. I am making a forest.

Heaven knows, we need a bit more of that down this way. I like the way this kid thinks.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Breaking news

My area has its fair share of news events - the Beaconsfield mine rescue and the pulp mill are the most recent proud claims to fame. But today, the local news headlines suggest we'll soon have an influx of big name journos from the mainland:

Christmas shame: City tree attacked

The horror, the horror! It's almost as chilling as my all time favourite, spotted soon after I moved here:

Motorcycle accident: one hurt

It's perhaps no wonder I only read the paper to find cheap hay bales and to laugh at the dreadful names in the birth announcements (Kaytlinn - oh gawd!)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Peachy keen

Lucy measures her summers in berries but for me, the season is marked by the pinking of the peaches. They are warm, dripping and sticky, and all the more sweet for having been plucked from the beaks of the rapacious birds who peck at every fruit four days before they are perfectly ripe. I never buy a peach in the fruit store - they are such pale and hard imitations of what I savour in the garden in the quiet of the morning.

And so I was happy when walked out in the garden after a week away and saw this:

Three weeks to go, I estimate, and looking far more seasonal than faux snow and flashing Christmas lights. I think it will be a very good Christmas, irrespective of what's under the tree