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


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


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.