Monday, November 24, 2008

Queen Anne's Lace



So the Queen Anne's Lace, planted in a fit of sentimentality for teenage melodrama has flourished. The plants are eight feet high and stand around the garden being battered by most un-summerlike gusts of cold wind. Eight feet sounds awe-inspiring but they've got the roots of a three foot high plant, and so they lean at impossible angles, nearly tipping over into oblivion, tapping my neck and brushing my face as I water the new lavender bushes up near the fig tree.

They are huge, gorgeous, and not at all what I expected - I want more of that in my life.

Poppies


The girls call these ladybird flowers. In my head then, they become mixed up with 'ladybird, ladybird fly away home'; and a German poem about fleeing Memelland , the now-absent homeland of some of my family, my friend Ttina once recited to me; and thoughts not of soldiers in the Flanders fields but of the people who get caught up in the mess of it all. And then I circle back down again, to gratitude that I have a garden for growing flowers, and a family, a place in the world.

I missed Rememberance Day this year; I've missed every date this year. But the poppies in the garden still the minutes and open a small space for empathy and peace. No awkward silence, just thankfulness.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Swing


Our town has fantastic dog parks but the kid parks are not so great. Maybe it's what comes of living in these old towns, where people own huge backyards with trees and space - the need for public swings and slides doesn't seem as pressing. With a few exceptions, the ones that are available to us are near major roads, unfenced, and are scattered with broken glass and discarded smokes from the local toughs' mad Friday night fun.

But up the road, in the area, someone has hitched a swing. A close to perfect swing: a plank on the end of some climbers' ropes, knotted to a high branch in the oak tree. It moves like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, back and forward slowly and serenely, with weight and purpose. The ground drops away so that even the tiniest movement propels a person out over the abyss.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another trip around the sun


Young Eleanor Veatrice-with-a-V is two today. Two years ago she was born, on the night of the season return of The West Wing. I spent the evening standing behind the couch, with pains coming fast, sure that I was not in labour because the book said they were the wrong kind of pains, and I am all about the book learning. And then, when I was hurting every three minutes for about two minutes at a time, Al convinced me to call the labour ward instead of watching a couple of episodes of Scrubs. The midwives thought sooner, rather than later, would be a good idea. Ninety minutes after I got into the car Nell was born in a tub, to the music of Paul Kelly, with Al dozing on a stool, almost out of his mind from fatigue after a day spent chopping trees. And so Al's great fear of delivering his own child in an elevator was avoided. And so Nell-Nell was born. And so it began.

***

Nell-belle, Belly-belle, Best Belle, Sweet Nell, Baby, Little Bird, Dear Love - what a delight you are, what a joy, what a challenge, what a gift.

When you were in my womb I couldn't see you in my mind's eye. You came to us fresh, with nothing expected, and it's been a wonder to watch you grow into the person you are. How could we have made it up before you did? You are a dancer, a singer, a twirler. You drawl. You say 'no' with hurricane force. You love babies and Dora the Explorer (Dodo), Lola (Lolo) and puppies who lick you. You like pink. When we role-play Skippy you choose to be Mark, the ineffectual older brother, and you spend the game riding on horses. You love snakes - every picture you draw is a snake, and one with eyes - you are very clear about the eyes. You eat beaked beans for breakfast and peas for dinner, you can't get enough yoghurt but you're not keen on salami or pickles. You like the yoga balance poses: vriksha-asana and a modified utthita hasta padanghustasana. You cuddle and kiss and push your sister.

We treasure all your details, boring to anyone else, because together they make you our baby/girl Nell. At the end of each day we sit on the couch and share out our memories of you and your sister, and wonder at the delight and hilarity of having you in our lives.

Happy birthday, sweet little one.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I am walking through life and not really thinking about it - I'm not in my head at the moment. So I don't blog, which is fine, but there are things that will slip by, forgotten, when they shouldn't be.

Yesterday we went to the playgroup attached to Lucy's probable school. For the visit, Lucy chose to wear trousers, a long dress, a baby's bonnet in the shape of those old-style pilot helmets, and a white cape. And black patent Mary Janes. Not because she was dressing up, but because she thought this was a look that worked. And it did, because of course, it's not what you wear, it's how you wear it, and Lu brings such a taken for granted confidence and insouciance to her wardrobe choices. Spots, stripes, fluro, a mass of 70's paisley ribbons in her hair - it all looks good.

And now that Nell can open drawers and deal with armholes, she's strolling the same sartorial backroads as her sister: Tuesday's ensemble was a shirt printed with angry fruit from the Mission store ("Buy, buy, buy" - Nell) and a pair of Dora undies worn over tights, like some cracked super-hero.

When I see my girls stroll down the street looking, well, odd, I am so proud. Proud of their confidence, and proud that I can wear the eyebrow raises and smirks of strangers. Doubly, triply proud now that the cool mean girls have started to emerge at Lucy's kinder: all in pink, with curls and those super-cute mini-converse shoes, hanging out down the back near the swings, and missing only a ciggie and detention to complete the look of disaffected youth. Four years old - not even four - and they tell other kids they are disgusting, they don't like their clothes, they won't play with them. I love, love that my kids don't think to judge on the basis of what people are wearing (even as I am horrified that this is even an issue - four years old, for heaven's sake), that they don't judge at all, indeed, and don't care what people think about them. I love they have a confidence I have only recently achieved - tenuously - in my mid-thirties. Of the myriad of things I want for kids, this confidence and delight in themselves is perhaps the one thing I want most.

Last night I told someone I was a little disappointed that my girls refuse point blank to wear the pretty things I see around me, but that's not quite true, because really, I can't imagine having kids who matched their shirts and shorts, who didn't wear togas to Coles, and who pulled on what I chose for them.

And tomorrow, when we go to a fairy fair and I have to explain to the organisers that a lime green cape from a late 1960s bridesmaid ensemble and netting tied around the eyes in the manner of Themis is, in fact, very fairy like, so that my kids get the free ice cream that's promised to all comers who dress like fairies, well, I'll be proud then, too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Snippets

Kris: That guy next door, he intrigues me. He drives home every day, in his work clothes, and then he goes again. What does he do in there? He's not there for very long at all, he doesn't have time to do very much, and every day I see him I wonder what he's doing. What do you think he's doing?

Al: He works at the Coles on Wellington St. He comes home for lunch.


Some days, life in suburbia is a real let down.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Say them aloud

It's not all misanthropic pharmacists ...

We went back to Liffey Falls this past weekend, and visited my favourite nursery on the way. It's in the bush, silent but for the birds, and with the possibility of sighting a wombat in the far reaches, down near the creek.

But mostly I love it for the names of the plants, which read like a list from a book of fairies:

Weaver's delight
Tunbridge buttercup
Bushman's bootlace
Eastern whorled cheeseberry
Creeping dustymiller
Pretty grassflag
Running postman and
Winter beardheath

And for those who prefer to garden in the shadow of the cauldron:

Knobby clubsedge
Swamp fescue
Kidney weed
Shiny swampmat and
Stinkweed

Some days, I garden with words, not plants. Because is there a backyard anywhere that wouldn't be more lovely for some sweet holygrass in the corner?

Friday, October 24, 2008

On the less than stellar service at the pharmacy

I am pissed off, incandescent with rage, speechless ...

I went to the pharmacy to get a prescription filled. As I handed the paper over to the chemist he said, "You keep an eye on those kids, would you". And not in a nice way. Weird, and I shrugged it off. The girls wandered about touching and looking but never opening, never breaking and never running, and I stood beside them, making sure they didn't oh, you know, drink poison or eat soap.

Then this guy came out from behind his counter grabbed Nell and speaking to girls, with his back to me said to them, 'You go sit over there [in a seat next to a pile of cardboard boxes, at the very back of the shop]. It's not place to wander about unsupervised". And not in a nice way.

Well, I was brought up all WASP-y and the cold shoulder, the dirty look are my weapons of choice in times of crisis. But I lost it. I whirled about (and how often do we get to whirl in a chemist?) and went at him: "hands off my kids; how dare you!; how rude!; never once were they unsupervised!; they have opened nothing, broken nothing!; just who on earth do you think you are?; never in all my life ... ". And then I demanded back my prescription and stormed out in such a blaze of righteous fury, I melted the organic honey and beeswax lip balm, with Lucy saying her clear and carrying voice, "He was such a very rude man, Mummy"; my but she does enunciate well when I want her to.

Am still furious.

Really, can I be the very first woman with kids in the shop? Surely women are the key market, what with our taking responsibility for our families' health and loving all that lavender scented crap that lies around these stores. Or has every other woman allowed their children to systematically strip the place down, so that he only now, with me, finally learned his lesson?

Here's another couple of lessons: if you don't want kids touching stuff, don't leave illustrated boxes of chocolate and mint (!!!) face masks lying in a basket on the floor, and don't leave shiny lipstick tubes at kid eye-height, and offer somewhere to chain up the children (preferably with a bowl of water nearby). Stop worrying so much about finger marks on your marked down $5 crap, and stop acting like my kids' fingers are somehow nastier than all those people who walk around using the testers and never buying a thing.

And don't piss off a woman who comes in for birth control pills. Because if I don't get them, I'll have more rugrats and I'll bring them back to your store and let them run amok. And I'll hiss at you as you cower amongst your pills and cheap perfume, "You brought this on yourself, you angry fuck".

And to anyone who reads this and even thinks, "But some children are poorly behaved", let me say this: well, who isn't, sometimes? And also, shove it up your arse.

So, have a nice day, everybody.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sky high

I live with this reality almost every day:



Lu is a climber. She will climb trees, rocks, indoor climbing walls, chain link boundary fences, the top shelf in the linen cupboard, ladders and anything else that offers itself. We are often discussing at just what age she will be allowed on the roof (fourteen and that is final, even if Daddy is up there with her). And Nell, being the younger sister and a big fan of Ucy, climbs too, pulling herself up the same trees, rocks and fences - not as high as Lulu but with just as much skill and determination. They are proud, rightfully so, of their climbing. And so am I.

But I am not a climber. I've never been brave and since my second pregnancy I suffer severe vertigo. The thought of being on a ladder makes me want to topple over backwards. When the girls want to run amok in the library, they pitter patter to the second floor in the gleeful knowledge that I can't follow and will be reduced to standing five steps up from the ground floor, calling at them to Come. Down. Now. (I find this to be not at all effective.) So I stand and watch with a tremor in my heart and oftentimes, my body.

It's not the climbing, it's the falling. And it's not that I won't catch them, it's trying to stand by, not hover with my hands just behind their backs and under their bottoms. It's the letting go.

Talk about a metaphor for motherhood ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pop Quiz



What is Eleanor, aged 1 year and 11 months, saying?

a) Why yes, Mummy, I am happy to do as you request. I love you and respect you.
b) While I acknowledge the legitimacy of your point of view and the wisdom you have gained from many years of experience, I have a different perspective on this particular issue. I hope we can keep the dialogue open and work together to find a mutually acceptable solution.
c) No.
d) NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNO!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New season

My broad beans are higher than the apple trees. I spent so long looking up, watching the tips race to the sky, I missed the beans down below until I stumbled upon them today when I was searching for snails. And so the first of the much anticipated seasonal treats has arrived. Soon there will be tomatoes, corn and basil, peaches and the flood of produce from the garden, where they currently grow quietly stuffed in between the flowers.

Despite my overlooking them, the beans are still small, small enough to avoid the double peeling that stops me making full use of the bushels of beans I collect. I boiled them up and we had them over risotto, with grilled asparagus on the side. Jackie French has written that you'll never feel poor with a vegetable garden filled with luxuries - this was very true tonight.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I leave the op-shop with a tantruming kid under each arm: Nell screams for a baby and Lucy screams for a wedding dress.

Feminist mothering : 0
Patriarchy: 2

Monday, October 6, 2008

The weeding

Once upon a time, our house was owned by someone who knew how to garden. We have curved beds, expensive edging, some 'garden rooms' and other evidence of careful planning. And then in some later era of the pre-us history, a new owner moved in, someone whose planting criteria were ugly, invasive and just plain inappropriate. I have spent four years now arranging for the removal of trees that have ruined our foundations, fallen on the neighbour's house and sent up a forest of suckes that give me welts. I have spent a summer standing on a tin roof dragging some unnamed vine out of the elegant old apricot tree. I have spent a fortune on knee-deep mulch. I have sent Al out with a crowbar to do battle with unwanted and unproductive blackberries and root systems the size of a small city. And this past weekend I dug and burrowed out bulblets of some nasty plant, doing so imperfectly, with a sore back, and knowing that they'll all be back as soon as I put in the tomatoes.

Sifting through the soil and thinking of the forest of sticky-weed I've yet to face, I thought about all those well-meaning de-constructions and re-interpretations of 'weed': a plant out of place, a successful competitor, a too successful competitor, an as-yet un-identified resource, a victim of gardening fashions. Or maybe, a weed is a plant that brings with it a deadened despair; it is a destroyer of weekends, an embitterer of souls.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Alternate realities

Things I thought I would never say #20067:

"Keep you toes out of the biscuit mix, please" [requested while the mixmaster was beating]

****

Lucy constantly demands I play Speed Racer with her. She is Speed, I am a baddie and I do things like throw her out of her bed, beat her up and put her in jail so that she won't be able to compete in the trans-desert/ trans-jungle/ trans-arctic race. Three weeks ago she demanded constant Cinderella role playing; as wicked step-mother I would yell at her and make her do the housework.

Generally speaking I hate role plays but I find these to be cathartic.

Now, a return to an old favourite: Skippy. But whereas in the past I was Skippy to Lu's Sonny (very relaxing - I just clicked my tongue every now and then), now I am Ranger Matt Hammond. This is proving to have great possibilities for psychic space. I am currently graphing wombat migration patterns as Sonny and Flight Ranger Jerry (Nell) save a possum in the backyard.

Al is Mark, the awkward and ineffectual older brother, played by a young man who over-acts and is never quite sure how to hold his body in moments of dramatic tension. This makes me smirk - even when casting decisions are made by a three year old, it's nice to win the lead.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Things I want to remember:

Fifty black cockatoos making their way across the sky above our house. Flying above the suburbs, they sound and look like the product of some weird magic. And now, a gang comes past everyday about 5pm.

Six white cockatoos stripping the last of walnuts off the neighbour's tree, out the back.

Silver eyes, tiny birds I've longed for in my garden, eating pink flowers from the prunus in the front garden.

A bumblebee as long and as fat as the top of my thumb, moving across the broad bean flowers.

All the vulnerability of love and joy in Lucy's face as I agree to play princesses with her.

Nell drinking water from an urn on a grave, in the parish under the care of Josephine Pyecroft.

Nell interjecting 'Yep, yep, yep' in Baa baa black sheep. That flat drawl: I thought she was going to spit and then wish for rain; she's something out of Hanrahan

Lime green euphorbia, blue forget-me-nots and iris, deep pink magnolia flowering together in the front garden as planned.

So many flowers in the garden I run out of vases and give them away.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Babies and rhubarb

I have been feeling odd lately. I think I may be disconcertingly, unexpectedly, happy.

In a different life, when my self was firmly anchored to a PhD, ambition and plenty of booze at the Regatta Hotel (for the locals: pre-bistro - I'm that old), I would turn up Indigo Girls' Closer to Fine* and sing and dance in the candlelight, in a melancholy and joyous release:

And I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a b-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free

I listen to this still, peeling the potatoes as Al and the kids watch Harry and his bucket of dinosaurs down the hall. It's taken me longer than four years but I think I am learning to acknowledge what makes me happy and to embrace these things without apology or interest in the opinions of others - this is quite an achievement in a world of shoulds.

*****

I started this blog to find some space for myself: some time, a community, and mostly - although I didn't know it at the start - some space in my head to figure out who and what I am. Having babies takes us apart and it's hard to put ourselves back together, especially when there are bits missing and things that no longer fit; the instruction manual is out of date and the tools we have aren't always up to the job. Blogging has helped, immensely, in figuring out who I am and how I want to live my life. Blogging and time: writing out my self has wound through 211 posts, two blackberry seasons, the growth of my kids from babies to girls, and now a second windy spring of pink bluster.

A few months ago an erstwhile friend commented that my blog was all 'babies and rhubarb', and it wasn't really his kind of thing. I shrugged at the time but I keep circling back to that flip and mean definition of my hard won self. It's simplistic, of course - there's some feminism and a few veggies in the mix - but he wasn't far wrong: I've appropriated the phrase as a distillation, not a reduction. I don't have a ten word answer to the question of 'who am I?' but I know my self when I see it, and I quite like that self, too. And babies and rhubarb have a big part in this self in its ebbs and the flows; that's to the good: what's the world without love and dessert?

So blogging has been a process of construction, of making sense, of sorting through. It's been liberating, which is a big claim for a string of short paragraphs and some photos, but a true claim nonetheless. But now, I think, it is time for a break.

There are words in my life, drifting about in conversation, plopping on the page as I write for work, but the words for my blog are coiled inside, somewhere between my heart and my belly; they aren't attaching themselves to ideas and floating up onto the screen. I'm off for a little while to tend the babies and rhubarb until the thoughts and words are once again in sync.




* I was going to be embarrassed by this but hell, my music tastes get far daggier than this. And anyway, wasn't this the soundtrack to the lives of millions of searching women in their twenties, if only they'd admit it now?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Worth the wait

Things that have been a long time coming in my life:

* balance
* looking in the mirror and quite liking what I see
* a possibly perfect pair of checked trousers (not tragically hip, not weirdly golf)
* ranunculas

I planted ranunculas four years ago and they were lost to the dogs' digging. Three year ago they just disappeared on the watch of our very funky house sitter - I planted them but they never emerged (two passionfruit vines also went missing - she has no green thumb at all, it seems - and our dog was killed; but she's a lovely, lovely girl). Two years ago the free ranging chooks scratched the shoots away. Last year, it was a free ranging Lu. But this year, caloo callay, I have ranunculas. And they are lovely, like a stripped down peony.


They are easy to grow (when dogs, house sitters, chooks and kids permit) but just so glamorous and gorgeous I can't help but think that really, I am quite the backyard goddess. I shall have to life my game, sartorially speaking: bum cracks and daggy blue jeans are most inappropriate in this company ...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Yesterday it was raining, and cold. I remember a Sunday like that some years ago, spent sitting in front of the fire and drinking tea; now I have two kids who are mad for splashing in puddles and twirling their umbrellas. We kit up and set off, walking the block in the rain.



Once the thrill of the wet starts to fade, the adventures begin. Yesterday it was Snow White but Cinderella is also in vogue at our house. I once wrote that living with a real princess is as testing as sharing space with the Disney kind. Now I have some experience in both and I'm starting to reconsider. And I wonder, where does this come from, and what to do to chase the wenches away?

We live in a sea of pink but we've never actually invited a pop culture princess into our home. That is, until recently when allowing Lucy to chose her yoghurt for kindergarten lead to a six pack of princess themed Nestle vanilla and strawberry milk-based product. We could have - should have? - said no but like parents everywhere we were keen to avoid a meltdown in the dairy aisle and so we forked out for some indoctrination. But I think it must have started earlier - why did she chose that particular option? - possibly around the communal kinder table, or outside in the playground when the pirate boys said girls can only be mermaids. I always assumed that I could through vigilance and firmness protect my kid from inappropriate gendered messages; turns out - yet again - I can't.

I'm tinkering around the edges of some of those messages. Snow White is a girl who is hated for her kindness, not her attractiveness and blah, blah, blah, she lives with the dwarves and plants a garden and manages their financial interests, acting as an agent and selling on the mined jewels and gold. Her post-poisoning salvation comes in the form of a prince but one who is also a doctor, so that at least some motivation comes from medical expertise rather than general heroic maleness. In the end, the doctor-prince, S.W. and the dwarves all live together, with S.W. continuing her role as financial administrator for the guys.

This is okay as far as it goes but the things about kids is, they act as a mirror to our own cracks and inconsistencies. In my story the guy still saves the girl and the day - why not a witch with traditional knowledge, for example? - the girl is still poisoned by a crone (thereby perpetuating all those nasty constructions of older women; and S.W. doesn't just politely say thanks and walk away at the end - she ends up working as an employee in the men's businesses. I bet she does the housework too. And then there's the whole issue of abusive female family members who are demonised and absent and neglectful fathers who don't get judged for failing their kids.

I am caught up in the structures and practices I critique; they shape my thinking about what's possible even as I so carefully try to create new narratives for my girls, in the stories I tell "in [my] head and [my] hands" (Lucy's words) and in their lives. I can de-construct a fairy tale, but as soon after Al moved down to live with me I stopped remembering to pay bills, lost my pin number on any number of occasions and - shamefully - I can't name our bank or our insurers; nor do I know when the rates are due. I make the money in this house but I focus a lot more on the muffins. I pretend this isn't true but of course I have my own fairy tales, and they have nothing to do with poisoned apples and tiaras.

I don't hate myself for this - I've never met a feminist whose walk always matches her talk; try as we do, our possibilities and improbabilities are shaped - sometimes obviously, sometimes secretly - by our gender. My feminist motherhood, probably like all kinds of motherhood, leads me to think carefully about myself as a person and a role model, and this can be confronting and sometimes liberating. And as part of my motherhood, I try to show my kids some of the many different ways they can be women; perhaps these examples come as much in my own failures and oddities as in my strengths.

In the meantime, I have kids who chase after the evil queen and throw a giant apple at her. They beat at monsters with 'ferocious sticks'; they describe themselves as strong and brave; they can't wait to grow up to go to work, have babies, drink beer and chop firewood with a BIG axe. Lucy told me today, "I protect little kids and herbivores. I am a really good girl." And Nell agreed in her flat Aussie drawl: "Yeah."

I have faith that those bloody Disney princesses will never have much resonance beyond the yoghurt lids. I don't really have a strong view on what women should be but if my kids turn out the way they plan, I'll be a very happy mother and a very happy feminist indeed.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Slide night :: lost treasures



My Grammy and her younger sister Eileen. I only wish I were funky enough to carry off shirts like that. But on my good days, I can rock a headscarf.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Still life with lemons

I have a lemon tree and it is bearing fruit. This is the source of more satisfaction than a bald sentence might suggest. When we moved into our house there was no lemon tree, which seemed a mysterious absence given that the yards around my suburb still bear the traces of more productive times, when a veggie garden and some fruit trees were expected; the old and shapeless trees, dripping fruit and dropping it to the ground, glimpsed through back fences, are the most spectacular, juicy evidence of this past. Tantalising evidence too, with all the lemony deliciousness just out of reach and largely ignored and unloved, or at the very least unused by those who don't seem to know their luck.

I'm not sure why our own yard was missing this mainstay of suburban productivity. We live on what was the rich side of the street; maybe those posh folks didn't want to suggest they were peasants in their planting. It might be it was sacrificed to one previous owner's preference for straggling and inappropriately large natives. Possibly the people before us, whom we suspect have family ties to the big names in the state's forestry industry, chopped it down and pulped it. Whatever the reason, we had none of the easy abundance that a lemon tree offers a home.

I planted a tree - a Meyer - in the courtyard at the beginning of last year and have plucked off the blossoms with great self-discipline, in the knowledge that this leads to more impressive yields later on. Further, I manured, watered and trained Lucy to wee on the tree whenever she felt the need for some alfresco relief. And now that she'll only pee on flowers I've been known to stroll out after dark, perch precariously on the raised bed and offer up a little goodness. It's a very peaceful thing, squatting there and staring out over the lights of the suburb, and not without a charge of danger now that we have cut down the trees that once shielded us from the very tidy neighbours' view. All this care is working well: the tree is still small but it's hung with fruit that is bright and gold.

I need a lot of lemons in my life. Not so much for lemonade, which has never really thrilled me. When life sends me lemons I'm more likely to make lemon butter, to eat neat at the open fridge door so as not to dilute the sharp-sweetness (and so as not to share). But I'm more of a person who demands lemons; I don't wait for life to send them to me. I need them to eat with avocado and salt and pepper on toast, with steak, over salads, stirred into spinach with butter and salt, on chips, in icing for biscuits and no nonsense cakes. In my cooking, lemons are as much a seasoning as salt and pepper; anything that tastes really, really good is almost always finished with a lemon.

There are two iconic lemon moments in my cooking, repeated over and over again. The first: making wholewheat pancakes by myself on days of mizzle and drizzle, standing at the stove and looking out at the grey and the wind, eating each one with sugar and lemon as the next one cooks. The second is as yet repeated only in my head and draws from some grim New Zealand family drama, all marital dissolution and pedophilia on a bay in a small beach house a little like this. Before each evening's debauchery, the parents sit in deck chairs on the lawn, next to an enormous lemon tree, reaching out for fruit to squeeze into their gin. Seasonal eating at it's very best, I think, and the driving force behind my own small tree out the back. It's winter now, but the deck chairs are ready.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Yellow



I am walking the dogs a bit later in the morning, and the sun is up earlier. I hear kookaburras, not roosters, and I see these flowers in a front yard down the street. It is golden rule of gardening: Thou Shalt Not Plant Bulbs in a Straight Line. And I'm in agreement - usually. But there's something very cheering in this guard of honour, defending the possibility of loveliness in an otherwise neglected space.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Snow day

Further to Angie's comment on the post, below: I can confirm the blossoms in Hobart are backed by snow on the mountain.






Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yet another indicator of global disaster

The unnamed peach has flowered early this year, I think. I've missed my chance to spray against the leaf curl, and there will be fewer fruits this summer. I'd blame global warming, of course, but that seems somehow churlish: this pink, that blue are perhaps worth a dozen less peaches for the birds to peck at in December.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Slide night :: funky father



This is my Dad in the early 1980s, when he was starting up a Lutheran secondary school in Hamilton, in rural Victoria. He's looking decidedly understated here - some of his ties and shirts were eye-searing; I particularly remember a short sleeve bodyshirt with maroon paisley, taken from his dead father-in-law's wardrobe and worn until all too recently. Also fond memories of a leather jacket that I appropriated and wore with a very funky edge (or so I like to think).

My Dad kept a bottle of cordial at work. He has a sweet tooth but with two hyperactive kids in the family, there was a strict 'no red anything' rule in the house. Dad would have a sneaky shot at work, the way some men take whiskey on the sly.

So this is one half of where my food culture comes from. This is clear from his post, here, on eating, traveling and in the end, family. What the man doesn't mention is that when he travels he is always good for an ice cream or a beer (although suggested, perhaps, in the number of memories that include sweeties of some description). This makes him a most excellent traveling companion; he's not a man to save five dollars and potentially miss out on a good strawberry ice cream or an iconic sausage. (And what is a trip away without an iconic sausage in the mix?)

Dad, Al and I traveled together in Germany a few years ago and save for his driving, which often left me praying or in tears (he's had his cataracts done since then), it was great. He speaks German fluently and can be awfully charming when he wants to be - thus, we stayed in places, heard from people and had meals Al and I could not have negotiated ourselves. The backbone of my black and white photo collection came from this trip and in particular, a small junk shop in the back streets of a town in Thuringer (which does indeed have its own iconic sausage) where Dad regaled the two slightly shifty looking owners with our own family history that includes a flight from the Red Army at the end of WW2; it seemed to be the kind of place where a flight from the Red Army goes down well. I left with two dozen photos from before WW2, indeed, some well before the turn of the 20th century: soldiers, jolly women in overalls and gas masks at what must have been the beginning of the war (too jolly, surely, for what happened later); many sepia steins being clinked in rustic huts; and chillingly, some blurry dark haired children, not blonde like the rest, and I may be jumping to conclusions, but I cannot bear to think of what might have become of them. That last photo is one I look at only rarely and in solitude.

Here is my Dad with some of his own kids, dark and fair (another quiet shirt; can it be my memory is playing tricks on me?):

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Food culture

I must admit, I have a little bit of a literary crush on Michael Pollan - that wry voice, the honesty, his eyes (well, not totally literary) ... and mainly the ways he pulls everyday life apart and puts it back together again. The Omnivore's Dilemma was a staunch and intelligent book, but I've enjoyed In Defense of Food a little more. It's looser, less confronting - more of a chat than a charming lecture. Pollan's argument is that we have lost sight of food, focusing instead on its discrete elements as they are defined (and misunderstood) by scientists and nutritionists; in uncovering the mysteries of food, science has mystified our eating. Under the sway of nutritionism we rely on labels and experts, unable to trust our nose, our taste or our bellies. It's a broad brushstroke kind of an argument, and I do feel it lacks nuance and in particular doesn't adequately acknowledge key structures like class, gender, and movements like slow food and organics (which are also classed and gendered), but I think nutritionism, with its intended and unintended consequences, is one of the defining characteristics of contemporary, Western food culture. Underpinning Pollan's solutions is the reclamation of our traditional food cultures.

So I'm thinking about my own food cultures, and what Al and I are passing on to our kids. Food-wise, we don't come from sophisticated stock. The German side of my family has given me a real love for sauerkraut, wurst and obst-torte. The Irish has been lost - my grandmother was a 1950s hostess with the mostest, all devils on horseback and cream of mushroom soup. In our own childhoods, neither Al nor I knew asparagus, mushrooms or beetroot could be had fresh (aah, the tinned champignon). I have no memory of ever ingesting a vegetable as a child. And yet we've both emerged relatively bonny and eating widely and well; indeed, we both love food. I don't know how this happened to Al (he was allowed to eat as much ice cream as he wanted, for heaven's sake) but - and this will surprise my long-suffering mother, who for years has put up with our 'jokes' about her cooking - I attribute my own excellent eating habits to my parents.

Food as fuel is important, of course, but culture comes from the meanings and practices attached to what we eat and in this, my parents excelled. It's the fodder for dinner party humour now (fodder - food; geddit?) but the food rules and practices I remember gave us a sense that food was something to be shared. It wasn't mysterious and it wasn't external to our family; it was part of the common everyday. We didn't pick this up as kids, and my parents might not have deliberately created that message (Mum, Dad, comments?) but that is what I've taken from my own family's food culture, and it's what I'm now giving the girls.

I still worry about the lack of cosmopolitan fare (although not as much as I did a year ago) but here's the thing: my kids like to cook, they know that food is eaten at the table, together (albeit often sullenly, reluctantly, whiningly), and they know where food comes from and how to make it. Food's not mysterious, it's not good or bad, and it's defined by taste and colour, not lists on a packet. When I grit my teeth as the girls break the shell in with the egg when they help me make a cake, when I pull on the gumboots and step through the dusk and drizzle to grab some greens, when we sit down together at the table, when I take a moment to be truly thankful for what I have received, we are showing the girls that some of our most precious knowledge lies in the mundane.

This is what I tell myself to steel my nerves as the girls yet again sniff the smells in the kitchen and declare them to be delicious, look at the food and declare it to be delicious, and then eat two grains of rice and a pea.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Big plans

There are some parenting moments that have been a long time coming and absolutely worth the wait: the first time my girls wandered into my bedroom together to say 'good morning'; Lucy and Nell playing quietly together with their toy animals; Lucy spontaneously kissing Nell as they hung over the sofa watching Charlie and Lola. The other day I had another big one: planning a garden with my girls.

Figuring out the backyard is getting to be a priority. The privacy went when we cut down the huge trees that destabilised our foundations. The lawn went with the coming of the dogs. The plantings are pretty shabby after drought. And there's more blackberry than you might at first think. When I look out the window my heart sinks at the ugliness of it all. The girls have dubbed a section of the yard 'the tar pit' and it's well named. It's to act.

I've been avoiding the issue. I stick things into the ground so that I can eat or pick them later on but I can't visual things in 3D, or 2D for that matter, and I've got no real sense of how plants will look together, or what will thrive where. So pulling together a space the size of an average suburban yard is daunting. But Lucy is keen. She has the colours chosen: pink, yellow and blue. She's figured out the plantings: sunflowers, geraniums, and daisies. And she's designed the new beds around the cubby house. Nell agrees with it all ('What do you think, Nellie?'; 'Desth'). The absolute confidence and arrogance of a three year, so often the source of my internal screams and gritted teeth ('No Mummy, that's not a P it's a D and it says ssssss'), comes into its own in this scenario. I'm really quite excited.

And if it all looks hellish and nothing works, I'll just blame the kid.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Slide night :: self + flower



For no reason, just to relive those overalls. I'm surprised I've turned out as presentable as I have. And I'm still often to be found with a bunch of flowers in my hand.

Someone I once thought was my friend said to me, "I really like the way you always have flowers in your house. They don't always look nice but you really make the effort". She was mean; we lost touch by mutual consent. But I still have flowers - today, on my desk a bunch of creamy jonquils sits in a vase I bought for 20c. I make an effort to have flowers not because they prettify a room but because they are a moment of stillness and loveliness in sometimes very disappointing days, e.g., today, in which I am sick in bed instead of speaking at a conference in Melbourne and going somewhere interesting for dinner afterwards.

But if I'm lucky maybe Al will have managed to slip some lollies by the kids (who have superpower hearing when it comes to the rustle of a junk food packet). ... Here he is and nope, no joy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008



The Westbury cemetery begins where the town straggles to an end, the last of the blocks - part backyard and part paddock - trailing away to meet a rough road that leads over a hill. There is a cattle grid at the gate and a blue parrot in a thicket. We walk to the old section where things are shrouded with rust and lichen, and stones are often leaning or broken.



The girls love it here. For Nell, the pleasures are simple: space, birds, things to touch, and her family close by. For Lucy, the draw is darker. She is figuring out death, re-writing each ending so that they become a misunderstanding, a long nap or a trip to the shops to buy chicken. She wants to know about the people who sleep here: names, lives, the babies in their cots; mostly, she wants to know about the reunions where people discover that no-one died, and all are with their families again.



That's okay, because it's a nice story, a story I want for myself when I sit at night and miss my Grammy so much the weight of the sadness brings her to me. And the marking of death with its ritual and belief is only the theme that binds together the short stories told in this place. Each headstone suggests a life in two dozen words. And these lives caught together in the family plots tell us about extended families and a time when people stayed close to home. We can read about a history of peace and a history of war. We note, through the growing difference between 'born' and 'deceased' and the declining numbers of children listed the success of public health initiatives. If we were the type who knew about such things we could make a comment on the aesthetics of death, chemistry and ... stuff about plants (clearly we are not). And we are acknowledging an easily forgotten link between ourselves and the place and people we live among. When we go to a cemetery - and we quite often do, as a pleasant outing - we are sharing a lot more than an Addams family vibe.

Al has always joked that if we home school, he'll set the girls up with the 1984 edition of the New Knowledge Encyclopedias (which we do in fact own) and tell them to update alphabetically. But I'd take them to a cemetery and say "Take a look around, have a think, and let me know what you come up with". I'd hope they would have some very interesting things to say.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tickled pink

As a feminist, I don't love pink. I'm uncomfortable with its role as boundary marker between 'boy' and 'girl'. I don't like the way computers, bikes, play cars are splashed with that particular, searing shade to signify something as suitable for the girls. But as a person, I love pink. Not Cartland pink, a sad caricature of the warmth and loveliness. And not the pale pink you find on clothes for baby girls. But a deep, bright, rich pinkish pink - oh that I love.



I wear a bit of pink in subtle and small ways but I work in an industry where grey is considered quite a forward kind of a colour and so I try not to splash it about. But I am happy to stumble across pinkness: serendipity pink, like the flowers above, which sit under the gum tree outside my front gate. Or yesterday morning, sitting with the girls down a lane, in the sun, against the low pink fence of an old pink house. Above us deep pink camellias splashed against the winter blue sky. In our laps sat white boxes with raspberry framboise and a berry and custard brioche; we ate them with wooden spoons. Behind us a small bird, not pink but yellow breasted and blue winged, sang and flitted as Nell and I tried to catch glimpse. We sat in the pink of it all, for a perfect few moments. That kind of pink, I love.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Me! Me ! Meme!

As per request of Zoe at the funky Rivetkitty , the community-minded powerhouse Daisy at Daisy patch and Jillian at the sly and sideways Flyleaf :

The rules:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning

2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

3. At the end of the post, the player tags 5 people and posts their name, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

What was I doing 10 years ago?

Mid-twenties, not a good time. Al and I were living in a sad and bad share house full of passive aggression and side taking. We spent a lot of evenings walking around New Farm to get out of it all. The house is still there: a big old rendered place with a terrace on top of the garage, owned by an Italian family (it's in Hastings St, New Farm). Still, it is the only garden in which I've grown excellent peas, and I first discovered Spanish and lemon thyme, which remain two of my favourite scents. I also had some seriously gorgeous parsley.

What else? I was starting my PhD but without a lot of direction. I went to the gym. I saw movies but didn't read very much. I cooked for the house on Monday nights. I had just returned from a holiday in Thailand and Vietnam. I was kind of rudderless, which was my state of being throughout my twenties. I'm very glad to have moved on.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world (and in this world as well):

Only five? Brie on oat biscuits, mars bar slice, chocolate eclairs, honey joys, Schulte's wurst, from up past Gatton.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:

Olives, hommous + carrot sticks, rice crackers with peanut butter or avocado, lemon and s+p, boiled peanuts (but I haven't had them for years - do people still make them?), BBQ flavoured chips (because no-one makes Atomic tomato anymore).


Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:

Tithe, travel, buy up all the wild spaces in and around my town, look after my family, establish a Montessori school in my suburb.

Five jobs that I have had:

Tutor for NESB primary school kids, waitress, tutor for ATSI tertiary students, phone survey gal, university lecturer.


Three of my habits:

I bite my nails, can never push a drawer completely closed, pull out weeds in other people's gardens.

Five places I have lived:

Hobart, Launceston, Brisbane, Melbourne, Hamilton (in Western Victoria). I regret never having had the guts to go live overseas.

Five things to do today:

Plant scavenged violets under the apple trees, buy some cream, crunch numbers, pick up Lu from kindergarten, keep the fire going. So far, so good.


Five people I want to get to know more about:


Well, in the spirit of Jillian, I dream of finding out about the following:

This guy, who used to manage my favourite cafe, Fresh, and then disappeared, replaced by the current team, under obviously angry circumstances. I didn't see him for four or five years and then three weeks ago I saw him driving an old black ute, pulling out of a driveway two streets away. And then on Saturday I saw him dragging a bag of concrete into the old house I dreamed of buying, up near the land slip areas with an orchard out the back and a copse of old pine trees sighing like the sea. All this time I've wondered, for no good reason, who is he?

Cate Blanchett, whom I saw at the airport last Tuesday, babe in arms and sons circling about, her husband rushing up ahead looking harried and just as rumpled as he appears in all the women's mags. She is so skinny and so white and I want to know, is it hard to be that skinny and that white? Are you always hungry? And where did you get that really great skirt?

The guy down the road from me, who is doing up his house with scavenged materials. He has a neat little veggie patch with lovely citrus trees and a prolific passionfruit vine. He used to own a goat called Jeremy, who loved him and brayed for his return of an evening. I've never seen anyone with the man and I want to ask, are you lonely?

The women in a house across the road from me, who never shuts up her vicious dog that goes for anyone who walks by and will start to bark when he sees someone from the top of the street. I want to know, why won't you shut up your damn dog?

The outdoors adventure couple who live at the corner and who are slowly creating a really lovely garden with a pond and pots of good things to eat. They have the tiniest house in Launceston and I want to know, how do you fit all your stuff in there? And where's the bathroom?

But I don't know if these people have blogs and so I'll ask the following mysterious types to share:

Janine at Lost in reverie (a friend for nine or so years - but what was she doing the year before we met?)
My parents at Grace Hill
Kate at Inner city garden (what do inner city folk have on a to do list on a Wednesday?)
Rach of Grandy and Baa (from Tassie to Sydney - what's the story?)
Ingrid from If .... (she's on a break but what does one snack on in a small Austrian village?)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Picnic

We ate alfresco in the area yesterday. I can take or leave pink milk (banana and raspberry smoothie) and left over pannacotta consumed on a damp log in a thicket but I can't get enough of the seeing my girls turn into sisters, with a world and a love all their own.



Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wine and roses

Back from Melbourne: work and fun. Seeing friends I've not seen for three years, meeting their kids, drinking and talking late into the night, shocked and unsurprised that distance and time can't alter the ease of our connection. And especially, tramping into Tambo's rose paddock, with hundreds of plants in straight lines, snipping armfuls of over-blown, luscious, bold and refined flowers, snipping in the drizzle for half an hour without guilt or cost and then carrying them into the elegant little farmhouse and stuffing vases to stare at, in awe of such abundance and thankful to be part of it. Roses are always best on a kitchen table, to sit by the tea and gossip.

Holidays are a time to drink from the well. I once thought this meant lovely meals in expensive restaurants and shopping in big cities; but really, it's sitting quietly in the lives of old friends, remembering their rhythms and savoring their joy.

****

Yesterday the girls and I went into the garden and picked the first jonquils, which have popped up under the apple trees. Then into the kitchen where Lu and Nell created some elegant arrangements.



And now the smell pulls me back to an oval in the Western District of Victoria in the early 1980s, bounded by thickets of these flowers, discovered by Nicole and me as we rode our bikes around the town.


****

Today Lucy smelled a rose and murmured, transported, "Aaah, it smells like salami. So lovely".

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Speechless

All day long there are words, words, words. My girls talk, and so Tuesday, Thursday and Friday it's chat, chat, chat, mainly about babies, horses, dinosaurs, dragons, kittens and dogs. At work I have the same conversation about the same issues three times a week, I meet people, I write-edit-write-edit-write-edit, and send off a million emails; all my words get used up on things I am paid to say. By the end of each day there are almost no words left; I look for some silence, sitting on the couch and staring at the fire, maybe reading a book. I have all these thoughts swirling but no words to catch them. Sometimes I feel trapped in the quiet but mostly it's okay: some things don't need any words at all.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday morning

This morning was smoggy and grey outside and we spent it sitting by the fire. Nell bumbled and Lu and Al, and then I, began Narnia. After three years of spot, dot, rot, with a little bit of Lynley Dodd and some Seuss to keep us sane, the strong, wry, elegant words of C.S. Lewis are a joy to bat around. And Lu loved it, too: we're already almost through The Magician's Nephew, and the promise of a Lucy, snow and animals that talk in the next book keep her turning the pages.

We can rarely be sure where and when our kids pick up their words but one day of Lewis and 'vanish', 'tea', 'witch' are part of the lexicon. Which is just fine, but I can't wait until 'by gum' and 'I say' enters our our world.

****

And on language, Nell, who has around about twenty or thirty words to her credit can spit out 'yuk' with a clarity and conviction that makes me quail. Combining Nell's 'yuk' and Lucy's drawled and withering 'disgusting', mealtimes are somewhat of a trial at the moment.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Wish fulfillment

Around a couple of corners, up the lane and behind a falling down fence lies a whole yard of what we call 'Santa Clauses'. Were they linked to wishes in childhood, cousin to blowing out candles all in one go, shooting stars, four leaf clovers and the rest? It's a great idea for keeping kids quiet: I remember my friends and I spending hours searching through clover for the elusive leaf and rummaging about for a specially marked flower amongst the yellow "daisies", which were some kind of aggressive weed. Not that I particularly wistful or wishful child - whining was more my thing. Nor did I plan to use my wishes for good - oh, I always claimed I would wish for world peace, to fit in with the other morally hoity-toity girls, but really, my plan was to wish for a million extra wishes and then use them at my leisure. No need for such loop-holes in this backyard.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Today, the girls were at their carer's house and I worked from home. At lunch, Al came by and we went for a short walk, just around the corner and up a lane, so that I could show him a pink room in a house. We held hands and my body remembered itself at twenty-seven, in those lonely and confusing basil-scented days (were my twenties spent in gardens, lonely and confused?): no kids in arms and on shoulders, no prams and strollers, no toys that were Absolutely Necessary when we started out and discarded twenty metres down the road, no pulling dogs, no nappy bags, no work bags, no bus-is-leaving-in-ten-minutes-and-I-think-I-can-make-it-if-I-walk-faster
-but-not-too-fast-there's-nothing-sadder-than-running-for-the-bus-and-
just-missing-it-all-those-people-staring-at-your-sad-mistimed-self, no deadlinedeadlinedeadline, not even an ipod. I felt so light, I was dizzy.

Three hours later I pushed the bloody big pram, bane of my existence, large as a hay cart and just about as manoeuvrable, back home from the carers, laden down with: 2x screaming kids (reasons: 'cold feet', 'tired arm' and 'want yoghurt', and unspecified); 1x nappy bag filled with muddy clothes; 3x socks + 2x pairs of gum boots; 2x under-clothed baby dolls; 2x tupperware containers with half-eaten lunches; 1x plastic bag holding 1x tub Nuttlex and 1x carton soy milk; 1x over-eager labradoodle and 1x lagging greyhound. Two hundred and seventy-three strange and lovely years have passed since my twenties, and I'm not sorry about it, not a bit.

Driving the point home

One of Lucy's favourite stories:

Once upon a time, there was a naughty little girl, who smoked and also liked to light fires; she was a FIRE BUG. One day, she lit a fire at the beach, and all the grasses burned and all the shrubs in the back dunes, and all the trees as well. And the animals had no where to go, they ran away from the fire which burned and burned and burned. And the poor animals had to run to the city because their homes burned, poor things, and they were very sad. And the beach was ruined and people couldn't swim there and people were sad too. But the police caught that naughty firebug and sent her in front of a judge in a COURT OF LAW. The judge said she was very naughty and sent her to jail where there was no telly and no nice food. And serve her right, that naughty firebug.

Our kids pick up all sorts of cues that we are not even aware of. But I feel it is useful to really hammer home important life lessons. Subtlety is for the weak.

This story also makes me realise that even after decades working as a sociologist, I am clearly seduced by a punishment rather than rehabilitation paradigm.

****

Lucy has just been introduced to Struwwelpeter and she loves it. It's falling apart and so she's not allowed to touch - which adds to its mystery and desirability - and in the morning over cornflakes we read about kids getting burned while playing with matches and starving because they won't eat the soup. I've not yet introduced her to the kid who sucks his thumbs and has them cut off by a ruthless scissor-hand creature; as an erstwhile thumbsucker I still find that a little too close to home.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Couldn't give a fig

Sick, again. Al had tonsilitis last weekend and into the beginning of the week; I held on until Friday and am now wallowing in unspecified illness. How is it that no-one has splashed a red cross above our door?

I wandered out into the sun in the back garden yesterday afternoon, to indulge in a little morose drifting about. And there, in the far corner, next to the compost bins, on its small and sorely neglected tree, I came across the last remaining fig. It has escaped the birds, the kids, and the frosts, and was perfectly, sweetly, sexily ripe; purple and pink and pale, pale green; an unexpected gift hanging off the elegant bare branches. Normally, I share my finds with the girls, to encourage them to see the garden as a place of promise and deliciousness, but not when it comes to figs. No-one loves figs as much as I do, and these are my selfish delight, the one bit of garden produce I keep all for myself.

When I first moved down here, I lived in a small terrace house that backed onto a lane. (For the local readers: on Balfour St, the first terrace next to the Sporties hotel.) Two houses down, the yard was filled with massive fig trees, with branches that hung over the fence. When the fig season came I would wander down each morning, collect an armful of ripe fruit and then sit on my deck under the banksia rose and grape vines and gobble the goodies in the cool morning air. Even after we moved, I would sometimes take a walk past the fence at an appropriate time of year and renew my acquaintance with those generous trees.

Driving past the lane the other day, I noticed the trees have been heavily pruned so that there can be no more sharing with the neighbours. Even though the branches will no doubt grow back, and even though I hadn't visited for a couple of years, I felt that one of my special places had been irrevocably altered, and I was washed, inexplicably, in a subtle yearning for those lonely, confusing and fig-filled days.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Slide night :: cold

My brothers: Peter, Robbie, Matthew.



Whatever happened to parkas and big, cone shaped beanies? Whatever happened to daggy kids? Maybe we were always the exception; Dad used to be so embarrassed by some of our looks. I think he was most distressed by Mum patching our jeans with huge red hearts and orange squares; from memory, we thought these trousers were pretty darn cool. Anyway, I look at this photo and begin to understand why my kids never look put together - family history, if not genetics, takes childhood elegance out of my reach.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cold hands, warm heart

I walk the dogs early in the morning, in the dark. Today it was so cold I jogged to get warm. I know I'm not the runner I once was back in my prime, but the greyhound didn't even break into a trot as I pounded along the road; rather insensitive, I thought

***

When I walk the dogs I go by a small cottage. Each morning, a bearded man sits on the verandah in a short sleeved shirt, drinking a cup of tea. Today, for the first time this year, there was ice on the ground. I was waiting on tenterhooks to see - would he be out today? And there he was, drinking his cuppa in a short sleeved shirt, 5.30 am and the temperature less than zero. I was comforted to see the big man with his brew, starting his day regardless of the weather.

***

I was the only person on the bus this morning, until it stopped to pick up a young guy, about sixteen, rumpled in a hoodie and baggy jeans. He was shaking with the cold. As he stood to get off at the Centrelink stop, Paul Kelly's Winter Coat started on my ipod; with that melancholy voice in my ears, the shivering boy seemed so impossibly sad. These kids, sometimes they break my heart.

***

I have poor circulation in my hands - they go white with the cold, no matter how warm the room or how thick the coat. Today, a workmate suggested I get some fingerless gloves. This is very sensible advice but ... I'm not a fingerless glove kind of a gal. Only women with really elegant fingers can wear these gloves and lovely though I am, I've never attained elegance.

Monday, May 19, 2008



When we first started gardening at this house we were shocked by the state of the soil. The back, which is now the veggie garden and orchard, has been leveled with some really nasty fill - largely clay and grey matter (maybe concrete dust?), and the whole area was used as a holding pen for four large, mean dogs, which compacted and poisoned the soil. Even my Dad, who is pretty blase about bad conditions (he's of the 'if you plant it, it will grow' school), made a few shocked remarks. No worms - nothing living at all - and lots of those spirit mixer cans and broken beer bottles.

I've spent the last five years planting green manure and digging it in, collecting free horse poo and our chook droppings and them in, making compost and digging it in, digging trenches for scraps and covering them over, making leaf mould from the leaves I pick up around the neighbourhood and digging it in. We've also mulched with straw, which I don't love because it is an over-wintering hide-out for some bright and prolific sap-suckers, and weeds, which IMHO work much better. There's been way more digging in than pulling out. This makes me sound like a patient and committed gardener; I'm not but I am pig headed and hate being beaten at a task. Things are better now, though it's still a thrill to find a worm and not a beer cap. The soil, rather than the bits of the garden you can see, is my true achievement in this place and I'm very proud that if we ever do leave, we're leaving the land in a much better state than we found it.

Now, plants self-seed increasingly wildly, like the bok choy above (I think it's bok choy - that's the thing with self-seeding: you tend to lose track of what's what). In one pocket, there're enough little plants to make a salad for every night of the week. It's become such a generous piece of land. But still, it's a struggle not to dig it all in. It's a compulsion - yesterday I looked at all those juicy greens and thought, "they look delicious but think how good they'd be for the soil".

I fought it, though, and we had a lovely salad for tea.

Friday, May 16, 2008

TGIF




Last day at a full time job, at least for the next six months or so. I forgot my glasses and left early when my eyes began to hurt. We went to the park. For the next little while, there'll be a lot more sentences like that last one, I'm hoping, and a lot more swinging on swings, kicking through the leaves and a slowing down of my days.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thoughts about words

What I'm thinking of as I gear up to Big Thoughts:

At breakfast:
Lu: What's hommous made of?
Kris: Chickpeas and tahini and lemon juice and garlic all mashed up together.
Lu: What's psydon made of?
Kris: Siden?
Lu (patiently but a little patronisingly, stretching out the word so I can learn it): Psy-don.
Kris: I don't know. Do you know what it's made of?
Lu: Picture frames.
Kris: It doesn't sound very good to eat.
Lu: It's delicious.

****

Lucy can say Pachycephlasaurus and I can't. The student has surpassed the master

****

Isaac Hayes realeased an album in 1969 called Hot Buttered Soul. Today, we live in a sadly ungroovy age.

Things turned out to be different on a Tuesday

Thanks for all the kind words and advice when I was feeling down. Making decisions when we are sick is a bad idea but conversely, I think illness can strip away the veneer of coping and allows us, in our vulnerability, to be more truthful about what we want and what we can have - essentially, it lets us re-think what matters. So there are changes in this household and they were put in place last Tuesday; hey, it'll all be different on Tuesday!

When Al and I had our kids we made a commitment to not having them in child care. This wasn't - and isn't - a reflection on other people's choices; it comes from our own experiences as kids, from our desire to parent our own kids intensively, and it is facilitated by living in a place where it's possible (in theory) to live on one income. But it hasn't quite worked out like that. Some of the unraveling has been easy: Lucy wanted to start going to kinder and we found a really good one, quiet and relaxed, with sofas and yoga, and Lu loves it all. Some changes have been harder: it's clear that living on one income is not possible for us. We have an average size mortgage, no significant petrol or transport costs, a modest lifestyle but still our carefully stored buffer has dwindled to nothing - financially, we can't do what we set out to do. Lots of people do - this is obvious reading all those lovely blogs about parenting and living frugally - but we can't. In the end, we need money in the bank (this is a product of my own childhood experiences) and we like to spend money on some fun things occasionally. Sometimes I am disappointed by this but like most people I'm a product of my culture, and while I can wriggle about in it, it settles on my shoulders and it's hard to shake.

So, we are about to become a two income family, kind of. Al has found The Job, the job he has been looking for since he was seventeen, the job that might finally fit him and make him feel happy to go to work in the morning, and he'll be doing that four days a week. And as for me, well it turns out all those years of working like a man have paid off in some serious long service leave, which my dear and lovely bosses will allow me to take as 2.5 days a week over the course of the next six months, while staying on full pay (don't hate me, please - I am fully aware of just how good my work conditions are). So I get to come back into the realm of the domestic, to regain some knowledge of the routines of our home and the nuances of my kids. Nell doesn't have a lot of words and the words she has aren't clear - Al can understand her and I can't; I want to learn to understand my little one. The girls love to bake and read and play; I want to give them my time to do that. I'll get to pick Lu up from kinder, I'll get to ride the bus with them to the museum with the trains, I'll get to swear under my breath as I push the overladen, hummer-size pram up the hill to our house. And I get to go to work and do the thinking and writing that sustains me in a different way.

This is our way of getting some balance back. More paid work in the household but for me at least, and somewhat counter-intuitively, more space in my days. Al gets a chance to re-engage with an adult world. The girls get happier parents (I never really understood the importance of this until the last few months) and lots more of their mother with very little disruption to their lives. This is not a happy ending because this parenting gig is never going to end. But a hopeful beginning of the next little time in our lives.

These are our choices but they are choices that are bound up in a set of structures: social networks, educational opportunities, class, ethnicity, gender, workplace agreements, local housing markets, government spending priorities. But our particular path is also shaped by luck: I have good, good managers who personally understand the importance of work-life balance; Al happened to meet a person who opened the door to his new employment. It's a reminder that sitting in judgment on other people's choices is an act of ignorance, if for no other reason than we can never be properly aware of the luck and structure that open and close what's available to us.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Slide night :: one wage wardrobes

Here's a photo of my Aunt Leona, my mother, my Nanny and my Grammy. I was thinking about the incomes of these women who raised families on a single wage, but it's not so simple as that. Leona and Nanny married farmers, and as farmers' wives contributed to the household income as much as their husbands did. Grammy married a salary-man turned small business owner; she worked in the shop and raised money through her chickens and eggs. Mum was the only one of these four who was a SAHM not directly bringing in an income, and that was until we kids were in primary school when she went back to work as a librarian. We were poor - not eviction poor but money was tight enough that my parents relied on credit, help from their own parents and a big veggie garden to keep the household going. On one memorable occasion they scraped up spilled rice from the side of the road, and we were picking grit out of the fried rice for about two years. Something to look into, I think: how hard was it for our own parents to make ends meet?; what were their expectations?; and what did they do to make the daily juggling of money a little easier?

Regardless, these women knew how to get maximum colour and pattern for their dollar - a lot of bang for their buck:

I planted a seed

Early on in our lives together Lucy and I spent a lot of time in the garden but lately I've been out there alone. Sometimes Lu will stroll out with some seeds and chuck them about yelling 'Broadcast, broadcast, I'm broadcasting the seeds' but generally gardening has been a solitary past-time, squashed in between naps and nappies, books and pretending to be an attacking Allosaurus. I've assumed that my habit of hammering the point home hard has lead to some strong anti=gardening feeling among the locals.

Today I was out watering and surveying the estate; I looked behind me and there were Lu and Nell, turning over the bricks and very efficiently stamping on the slugs. And this evening, Lu requested rhubarb for dessert. She bent down and jerked out the stalks with perfect form. Then she wandered to the apple tree and pulled off a couple to stew up as well. These are not things you teach a kid - how do you specify the twist of the wrist to loosen an apple and keep the spur, the appropriate force of the yank needed to get the rhubarb stem out at the base? This is stuff you learn without thinking. And now, thanks to the garden, Lu and Nell will never want for slightly tart desserts best served with cream. And is there any greater gift than dessert?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mouse house

There's a mouse in the kitchen and he's not shy, he's militant - a militant mouse. I've seen him three or four times and just then, when getting a drink, I heard a rustle behind the bins. I abandoned the drink.

In different circumstances I'd be looking into another cat around about now. But what with the greyhound, that's not really an option anymore. That dog's very glamorous but now I'm thinking 'What use is she?'. Do greyhounds chase mice? They chase small furry things - maybe I should give it a try.

Al says he's going to put traps out. I'm opposed to this on principle but it's not inconceivable that one day I may need to use the kitchen, and that's not going to happen unless the critter moves on. He's militant, and so he might need more than a friendly suggestion. I think it is time for force - a justified war.

My golly, I'm scared of mice.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I went out into my poor neglected garden on Sunday. It's a forgiving place: sporadic and resentful watering over the summer, little weeding or fertilising, almost no company save for next-door's orange cat who creeps over the fence and mooches about, but still there were sights to see. There's a carpet of self-sown rocket, patches of Asian veggies (also self-sown), and the daffodils, ranunculas and even some freesias are up. There's a sense of loose and relaxed abundance - very Jackie French. It seems my aim has been fulfilled with very little effort on my part.

I planted some flowers, all rooted in my past: stocks, flanders poppies and Queen Anne's lace. The stocks remind me of the annual-heavy gardens I had as a little girl, stocked by a nursery-man whose kids went to the school my Dad established. The poppies are for rememberance, and make me think of uncles and grandfathers who fought overseas. The Queen Anne's lace is exciting - I'd not seen it available before expect in a 'good bug mix' that didn't germinate in the dry summer; I only know of it through one the favourite books of a teenage me, Vita Sackville-West's Family History. Oh, it's the most lush of melodramas: love gained, love lost, death from a broken heart (and possibly an open window). And it has a line: "She hesitated, thinking of the Queen Anne's Lace in the lanes and the dogroses in the hedgerows", which has stayed with me since I read the book when I was 16 (a very impressionable age for love and betrayal and hesitation).

So on Sunday I planted a little bit of my own country lane in a patch that is destined to hold the rather less romantic sounding 'insect attractants'. I may as well seek out a dogrose too. There's something rather lovely in the word.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Wordy

Lu: I think there will be dolls at the Mission store.
Kris: There might be, darling, we'll see.
Lu: There will be.
Kris: Well, soon we will see.
Lu: Please Mum, don't make my sure unsure.


My kid, she's got the knack of words.

***

Things here are changing, we think for the good. Thanks to all for kind words and thoughts.

Monday, April 28, 2008

agley

Yesterday we went to a park where a brass band played in the rotunda and great big dahlias overbalanced in a single bed. It was sunny and cold and reminded me of what winter will be.


It was good to be out of the house after a week of illness. I was down with 'a virus' (thanks $70 doctor visit) with complimentary bacterial throat infection (oh, another $70?, well, sure); Al had the classic tonsillitis, which feels rather less childish than its ice cream and jelly connotations suggest. The girls have been low grade sick for weeks.

The last days have been horrible. It's hard when one party is sick; it's impossible when both parents are down with no-one to step in (my brains dribbled out of my ears after the fourth hour of children's television). But mostly, being ill threw into relief how utterly unhappy we are in our lives at the moment. The girls remain ... oh, difficult. We have almost no money. We can't find cash for a new pair of shoes for Al, let alone to send our kids to a school we feel good about. I work long hours on a professional wage, pay awe inspiring amounts in tax, and yet I have one pair of jeans and they cost $7, and I can't afford to get my hair cut. All the things I love - eating out, yoga, theatre, new books - have gone. It's hardly the underclass and we're not near to eviction or starvation - and I still have my painting - but our buffer has gone. As I've written about before, I've been frugal as a choice but now it's enforced and as much as I wish I could say otherwise, it sucks. It's grinding and boring and worrying.

When we decided to have kids we decided that one of us would stay home with them. We realised we would be taking a financial hit through this choice but that was okay because I really believed that for our family this was the best way, the path to a measured and free childhood for the girls, and a happy and relaxed family for us all. It seems those best laid plans are algey, and we're enduring the annoyances and rather larger sacrifices for not much at all. The girls are patently not happy and nor are we.

At dinner the other night Lucy said, "No-one likes your soup, Mum". I cried. It summed up how everything I've been trying for seems so irrelevant to my kids (yeah, I know, welcome to parenthood); Lucy doesn't want a slow childhood, she wants a pony and swimming lessons and as many dinosaur books and movies as I can fit in her bedroom (Nell, I don't know - she really like tofu and dogs). I feel like a loser: I'm a breadwinner who can't make enough money for my family to live on, a mother whose kids hate her meals, a hippy who wants to buy shoes, and my waist measurement puts me in the high risk category for diabetes.

I'm forgetting what we're trying to do here. ...