Friday, October 2, 2015

Let's Spring Clean the Kitchen and Hallway!

Kitchen: Day One: Oh, the zeal with which I zipped out of bed on Wednesday morning to start cleaning the kitchen! Before I began I removed every single item from the kitchen benches and piled it all onto the dining room table.

It looked like I had moved out.

But now I had an empty slate which I was about to turn into a clean slate. I started up high again - the down lights in the kitchen ceiling have screw-in glass shades with little chains to hold them onto the light fitting, and as I stood on the step-ladder directly underneath them I was showered with tiny dead bug bits, and in one case, a rather large dead cricket. Dubious design for functionality there..

Again, hours of cleaning the fly poop off the ceiling, then the grime from the tops of window frames and the kitchen blinds. Dish washing liquid is excellent for cleaning all of the kitchen - after all, it is designed to remove grease and dirt, a layer of which settles with great tenacity on every kitchen surface. Which is why I have no idea why open shelving in the kitchen is so popular - perhaps only in kitchens where the residents eat out a lot.

My favourite bathroom cleaner paste is brilliant for removing this grime layer from the stainless steel range hood, elsewhere, cupboards and benches require only soapy water and enthusiasm. Now, I have been experimenting recently with not using the dishwasher. I did this by deliberately running out of dishwasher powder, and not renewing it, otherwise it is just too tempting.. if I had had dish washer powder on the premises I would have used the dishwasher in a minute to clean the range hood filters, but as it was, I soaked and rinsed them in hot, soapy water, rinsed them and left them outside in the sunshine to dry. Not as hard as I thought it might be. Really, machines give an illusion of efficiency, but my two hands are quite capable as well...

While I am scrubbing the window frames with a toothbrush I conduct a spirited discussion on feminism with The Girl. Now, I am a feminist to my tippy toes, but in no way do I feel that this precludes a life of comfortable domesticity. In my mind, the feminist discourse provides me with the courage, the tools and the legal authority to say, "I am my own person, no-one owns me, or can make decisions for me, and I will be taking my share of the power and responsibility of being a full citizen in my community." In no way should feminism limit any of the ways in which I want to live my life, including the option to scrub the woodwork with a toothbrush, should that be my choice. I absolutely respect the choice of any woman who doesn't have a penchant for perfectly white woodwork either, or who chooses to pay someone else to keep them white. As long as she pays them a reasonable wage with good conditions..

At this point, I feel the need for a little nap coming on, and accidentally fall asleep over my book on the couch. The Girl boils some eggs for dinner, and makes Eton mess with home made coconut macaroons, home made lemon curd and whipped cream for dessert. She is a treasure, and I really think she should stay home and look after her old mother forever. She, however, is a feminist to her tippy toes, and has plans to be off to make a life on her own terms. Damn that dratted feminist discourse..

Kitchen: Day Two:

I wake up feeling like my freshly spring-cleaned house has just dropped on my head. Some days are like that. It is cold, grey and windy today. My interest in cleaning is less than zero percent, and I am having trouble standing up. I wash the dishes, wash some of the kitchen bench bits and bobs on the table, and put them away. Then I get to the toaster, and crumple at the knees. There is nothing in me that cares whether the toaster is clean, now, or ever. I thump it onto the kitchen bench, scattering crumbs, and go and lie on the couch for the rest of the day and read my book. Luckily I remember to pick up the girls from the airport, and The Girl from work. Rosy kindly makes dinner, Posy unpacks her entire suitcase all over the living room floor, all the better to gleefully show me every single piece of glitter and bling she has spent all her birthday money on whilst Away.

I go to bed with a hot water bottle.

Kitchen and Hallway: Day Three:

Sunshine! I wake up feeling better. Not great, but better. Today I wipe down the fronts of all the cabinets while listening to Radio National. Then I sit in the sun. Then I do some weeding. Sun, dirt, garden, bees. Make everything better. The girls have one of their buddies over. They cook, swing in the hammock, walk the dog, make sushi and fruit salad and brownies and play stupid games.

I dust the light fittings, door frames, ceiling and book case in the hallway, wipe down the walls. I decide that spring cleaning is over for this week. Sometimes I just need to calm down. I can go for weeks and months living with hand prints on the walls. Then suddenly I need to clean the whole house in a matter of days?? It's like I am a mad perfectionist, but only at the full moon with Gemini rising..

Instead I go out in the sun and weed around my courtyard hedges (Chilean guava, yum), feed and mulch them, and fork over and feed some vegie garden space that I will plant up in a couple of weeks. I am still a bit manic, but working in the sun with the dog curled up next to me is very therapeutic.

I am so glad I have spent several days madly cleaning. My future self will love me for it. I am so glad I have stopped for now. I need a week end..

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Let's Spring Clean the Living Rooms!

Do you like my slightly 'Dick and Jane' title? I am going for sprightly, as, let's be honest, spring cleaning needs a really good sell. I worked out while dusting the walls this morning that I have the same number of rooms to clean as there are weekdays over two weeks. So, a room a day. I may go back to work exhausted, but I will be happy, satisfied, and ever so smug.

As always, I have started with the living areas - there is ever the possibility of Life interfering with best laid plans, so starting with the most public, most used, and therefore dirtiest rooms makes sense.

Day One: Living Room

Cleaning always works best starting at the top and working down, so this morning I started with the ladder balanced on top of the coffee table to reach the living room light fixture. Don't tell my mum. The light fixture was, of course, filled with dead bugs and covered in bug poop. I washed it in warm, soapy water, and cleaned fly poop off the ceiling. I sometimes wonder what my fifteen year old self would think if she could see what I am doing with my/her life..

Then I dusted the top of the walls and ceiling where all the spiders make cobwebs, then wander off.. where, I wonder? I have a nifty, telescopic duster thingy which is excellent for this, and also dusting off the top of the curtain pelmets. More perching on the step ladder as I clean fly spots and finger marks off the walls.

Next, it being the end of the fire season, I swept all of the ashes out of the hearth with my lovely art-deco dust pan. All the ashes go in a bucket to be tipped onto the redcurrant and gooseberry bushes later. They love all that ashy goodness. And I get to play at being housemaid. If only there was a footman to flirt with..

Now that the fire has been cleaned out, everything else gets dusted. Then washing the windows. These are the only original windows left in the house, and tend to get mouldy in the winter. Ugh. Nasty. After this I have a cup of tea and take Posy and the dog for a walk in the sunshine. Vitamin D for the housemaid is a necessity.

Now vaccuuming, moving all the furniture and taking all the cushions off the couch. When the children were little they loved this and made forts out of the couch cushions. Posy enjoys all the treasures she finds behind the couches, and I finally discover where the missing thermos lid got to. How did it get behind the couch? How? And how much furniture can we squeeze into the dining room so I can shampoo the carpet later? Note bunting from Posy's birthday party. She won't let me take it down.

Lunch. I am reading Up and Down Stairs, history of the domestic servant in England from medieval to modern times. It is an excellent choice while spring cleaning in the 21st century, because all my jobs pale in comparison to the average day of the average housemaid any time over the last four centuries.

After lunch I take my baby girls to the airport and send them on their way to their dad for three days. It is rather awful seeing them fly away, but an hour later they arrive safe and sound, and I know they will be having a whale of a time. Meanwhile, I have warned The Girl (who stayed back because she is working) that I won't be cooking while the girls are away. We will eat boiled eggs and read books every night.

When I get home I shampoo the carpets with my friend Cindy's carpet cleaner (thanks Cindy, you are a star!) which makes the house smell like wet dog, so then I walk the dog and spend that last hour of sunlight weeding around the orange trees and admiring the beautiful view from the highest point of the garden.

Tonight I will leave the furniture in its state of derangement while the carpet dries, then tomorrow I can put it back, and move on to cleaning the dining room..

Day Two: Dining Room

While Posy isn't here to notice, I sneakily remove the birthday bunting. Today I get to dance on the dining room table. First I start with the cobwebs on the ceiling. The budgies really hate that giant blue duster. Maybe they think it is a giant blue budgie with sinister designs? Then I stand on the table to wash the light fittings, and again with all the fly poop on the ceilings. This is the warmest space in the house, and flies love it (yes, in Tasmania, even the flies need to keep warm). Clearly, there is an issue with flies in the summer here. Our windows aren't designed for fly screens, and anyway, I love opening them straight into the fresh air. Luckily, Benson-the-wonder-puppy adores eating flies, and last summer when he first came to us we had a lot less flies in the house..

My technique with getting any kind of stain off, including fly spots, is this. I only ever use a bucket of warm soapy water (a squirt of dish detergent) for cleaning. Cheap, and just as effective as sprays. First, I wipe over the area to be cleaned, then leave it for a few minutes. When I go back for a second pass, stains generally come off quite easily. The formula for this is: water + soap + time = clean without too much elbow grease.

Next, The Girl helped me to move the first sideboard so that I could clean behind it. Oh, deary, deary me. The detritus and dust and, er, treasures, of at least two years that had accumulated behind that sideboard! Budgie feathers, dirt, oranges that had rolled off the fruit bowl and quietly fossilised, a dozen marbles, lego, pens, almonds and acorns.. but mostly an appalling accumulation of dust. The Girl sensibly remembered several other things she had to do, so that left me to gingerly sort through the debris, vacuum, scrub walls and floor, and wash the windows. My window washer recipe: one spray bottle filled with 45% water, 45% methylated spirits, 10% ammonia. Spray, and dry with an old nappy.

That left only seven more windows to wash before elevenses. But I got to enjoy the pear blossom.

Next, I took down my extensive vase collection from the other side of the dining room, and washed it all. Then I succumbed to spring fever and took the dog for a walk in the sunshine, and had lunch in the sun as well.

After lunch another sideboard to pull out and clean behind. Seriously, those budgies have lost their own body weight in feathers, and they all float gently down behind the sideboard to lodge in very decorative cobwebs. Finally I can put everything back, scrub the table and wipe down the chairs. I will wait to mop all the living area floors at once in a few days when I clean the hallway. So we are done - just in time, as we have to visit the grannies to take them some shelves and eat afternoon tea. The Girl needs to get her millions of driving hours up before she heads off to university next year, which means lots of cups of tea with grandma.

Tonight while we are eating dinner I am gloating over the glorious cleanliness of my living areas, but tomorrow... well, tomorrow I tackle.. the kitchen..

Sunday, September 27, 2015

House and Garden Rescue

Working, way too much, just about sums up the month of September. Appreciating daffodils and tulips, magnolia trees and fruit tree blossom wherever I find it. Loving Spring!

But as of last Friday afternoon at 3 o'clock, it is school holidays. Two weeks! And I am going to spend all of it in the garden:) But hang on, no I can't - the house is a bomb. I have just hung on by my finger nails with the housekeeping over the last few weeks - vacuuming, laundry, food, dishes, bathroom, tidying. That's all I could manage, and it is starting to show. The house needs some love, the garden needs... editing. It's Spring, and every weed known to man is rejoicing.

I could spend two weeks in the hammock reading all the books, but instead I plan to rush about like a whirling dervish and make the house and garden happy. And this will make me happy too. I may, of course, schedule some hammock time as well.

So yesterday I set about rescuing the house from its slightly slummy state. At 9am I was still sitting up in bed, drinking tea and reading my book (a history of domestic service in England. Fascinating), but by 9.15 I was dressed and had put the first load of laundry on. I threw all of the girls' school uniform on to soak, and by 10am had mowed the back lawn.

Meanwhile, the girls were celebrating spring break as well - by 8.30am Posy was in the hammock reading her book, and by 9.30am they were both playing cards, dissolute children that they are. At 10.05am I had laid down the law - if any of the girls' possessions remained in the living area after five minutes, I was going to throw them outside. As I grimly stalked down the hallway with an armful of Posy's belongings at 10.11am they realised I meant business, and scurried about, tidying.

By 10.30 I had vacuumed all the living areas, and by 11am I had emptied the bins, hung out a load of washing, and watered all the pot plants. By 11.30 the dishes were done, benches, stove top and table wiped down, and there were fresh Spring flowers on the table.

Then my friend Cindy dropped in, timing her visit well:) Don't you love it when visitors arrive after you have cleaned up! Not that Cindy would care, of course, but still, it's always nice to show your best face. And she brought lunch! Frankly quite welcome, because in my enthusiasm I had forgotten breakfast. By 12.30pm Rosy had walked, bathed and de-flead the dog, and The Girl got up and made muffins for afternoon tea.

By 1.30pm the dishes were done again, tables and benches wiped again, laundry that had been sitting in the basket for days was folded and put away, and I tidied my bedroom, which had been looking decidedly worse for wear.

Finally, I could escape into the garden for a bit of R&R. Again, as with the house, I feel that garden rescue should start with the most public areas, so started with the garden bed right by the front of the house, and also weeded the gravel path. Word to the wise. Don't put in a gravel path, unless you want to start a plant nursery. Plants self-seed in a gravel path like it is the most expensive seed mix. Honestly, if you want to propagate a difficult plant, just shake the seeds over any old gravel path, and you will have instant success.

At 2.30pm the grannies arrived for afternoon tea. Yes, my parents bought a house, lived with us for a month, and moved in last week! It is a house with the most adorable little garden, with dozens of rose bushes, and hundreds of daffodils, and yes, that may have had a tiny bit of bearing on my wholehearted recommendation of the property.. now I have two gardens to play in:)

After the grannies left, I walked the dog, finished weeding the path, and then realised my clockwork had run down for the day. Served left-overs for dinner, did the dishes again, washed my hair, and was in bed by 8.30pm with my book.

I am loving the holidays! Hard work of a different kind, on my own schedule, out in the sunshine, and at the end of it I forsee a sparkling house and a happy garden.

Posy attempting to avoid chores by pretending to be asleep in the hammock with the dog..

Friday, September 4, 2015

Not Just a Pretty Face


Cherry plums



Spring, and I am already greedily anticipating loads of Summer fruit from my own yard. Spring. It's all about fruit futures:)

Well, ok, the spring blossom is pretty nice too..

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Green and Thrifty

Exploiting passive solar heating on a sunny winter afternoon. Posy is eating fried rice for afternoon tea, and for some reason has filled up an old water bottle with milk.. The dog is just blissfully happy.

Mostly, the green and thrifty things I do day by day are small and boring. But the accumulated effect is that in a thousand tiny ways I manage to live cheaper, slower and more sustainably. So here are some of this week's boring green and thrifty moments.

My winter boots are getting scuffed and unhappy because I wear them every single day at work. I have two pairs that take turns. I hate cold feet, so I wear them with thick black tights and skirts, but no-one can see that inside the boots I am also wearing thick hiking socks, which keep my toes toasty and happy. So the hard-wearing boots deserved some love, and I gave them the full shoe polish treatment. I have discovered that with long boots it is so much easier to polish them while wearing them, brushing and polishing the boot with foot propped up on the bath. My boots are now looking shiny and respectable again, and I am sure they will last longer and keep the rain out more effectively.

I sewed up a tiny hole in my newest op-shop cardigan. To be honest, 'a stitch in time' is one of my least favourite domestic proverbs, but really, I should get more friendly with the mending basket, because if I stitch in time, I save a piece of clothing. If I don't, I lose it, and then, horror! - I have to go and buy more clothes. Aargh! Really, I should just get on and do the rest of the mending..

As per usual I ate left-overs from dinner every day for lunch. Did you know that there are people who refuse to eat left-overs? I cannot understand this. Almost every dinner is even yummier the next day..

Thrifty entertainment: Grandma and Rosy have been busy with their giant 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle this week. After completing two 500 piece puzzles in three days last week they needed more of a challenge. Autumn leaves reflected in a lake. Ha. That slowed them down.

I have been crocheting around squares for my afghan rug again, after staring at it morosely for a month and not doing any. Mum always inspires me to start it again, because she has a special talent for being able to sit and knit quietly in a corner through any family upheaval. So now crocheting has become my new substitute for flapping about pointlessly. Can't decide what to have for dinner? Crochet around a granny square. Arguing with the youngest child again? May as well crochet around a granny square; it may give me Zen-like patience, who knows? The advantage is, if I really can't be bothered doing anything else, and all I want to do is curl up in a corner and wait for the world to go away, at least if I have crocheted around some granny squares I can have had a little crisis AND have been productive, so it's win-win really. And now we know why our grannies resorted to knitting every afternoon at about half past four...

This week I chose a library book at random, because I liked the cover and the title. I rarely do this, but this week I was rewarded with Elegance of the Hedgehog. It is a novel about literature and ideas, with a concierge who is carefully hiding her passion for literature and art, a school girl who has decided there is no point in living and who is planning to stage a dramatic suicide on her thirteenth birthday, and an enigmatic Japanese businessman who moves in on the fourth floor. Translated from the French, and immensely popular in France, I enjoyed it as a week end treat. Must say though, that even though the ending worked beautifully from a literary point of view, from a purely sociological passion to see what happens when world views collide, I would have liked to have seen an alternate ending.. which would of course, have required a sequel or a very long novel, but still..

It is Sunday night, and with a full day at work tomorrow (The Girl and I) or at school (Posy and Rosy), we have left-overs stashed in wee glass bowls for our lunch (The Girl, and I) or ready to pop in the thermos (Rosy), or sushi prepped and rolled (Posy). Grandma and Grandpa will be foraging in the fridge for their lunch, and the dog will look soulful, hoping for tidbits, even though he doesn't eat lunch (so why he resembles a barrel is a complete mystery).

Wishing you a joyful week of thrifty delicious left-overs and satisfying library books. Tell me what you have been up to..

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Living Better With... Gardening by the Moon

Gardening by the moon is something I have always wanted to look into, but never quite got around to. Last month Marlene from our Living Better Group shared some of her books and resources regarding  moon gardening.

The theory is, that as the moon affects tides by its gravity, it also affects other bodies of water - like humans, and plants. Now, in my head, moon gardening was very complicated, and it can be if you want it to be, but it can also be very, very simple. When the moon is waxing (going from thin new moon to fat, full moon) its gravity is essentially drawing the water content of the plant upwards. So this is the phase of the moon when leaves, stem and plant will flourish. So this is an excellent time to plant peas and beans and all flowering plants. When the moon is waning, it is a good time to plant seeds of plants you are growing for their roots - beetroot, carrots etc, because it gives them time to establish their tiny rootlets before the moon is trying to pull them upwards again. For the same reason it is also the perfect time to transplant seedlings. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Isn't it amazing how something you may have regarded as too complex even to think about for so many years, turns out to be so accessible? There may be a lesson there..

Here is the moon gardening calendar that Marlene uses to know exactly the most propitious days of each month to plant each type of seed. Fun fact - the first time I ever realised that moon gardening was not some weird hippy nonsense thought up in the 1960s under the influence of a weird hippy substance, was when I was re-reading Farmer Boy to the children when they were little. I figured if stern Protestant farmers in the 1850s were using moon gardening there probably wasn't much voodoo involved..

Thanks for sharing and widening our gardening horizons Marlene. We are heading towards the full moon on Sunday, so Monday will be an excellent time to start transplanting all those self-sown Spring flower seedlings around the garden. It's good to have a plan. Oh, and as a bonus of thinking about gardening by the moon I have started to pay attention to the phases of the moon. One more facet of nature is intruding daily (nightly) upon my consciousness. I like it.

Please tell me what you know about gardening by the moon. Do you do it? Have I got it completely wrong? It's highly likely. Please let me know:)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Slow Parenting

Slow parenting. Apparently it's a thing. And for once, I am on the cutting edge of a new trend. Have been for the last 21 years in fact. I am the mother who lies on the couch with a good book or mooches around the garden while the children do - whatever it is that they do. I am the mother who reluctantly drives her children around to a small selection of sports and activities and heaves a quiet sigh of relief when they decide to quit and spend their afternoons teaching the dog to knit instead.

Posy teaches the dog to knit. The dog loves learning to knit.

All this time I thought I was being a somewhat inadequate mother. Turns out I could be poster girl for the Slow Parenting movement. There is a person who calls himself a Slow Coach who got himself on Aussie TV last week, trying to calm down some rather uptight, over-scheduled families. Here are these families before their intervention. In the end, two out of those three families weren't at all convinced that having a slow life was something that they valued. The third, however, found that play was better than competition and that killing the screens meant happy family time and better sleep.

To be honest, I have often felt bad about all the things my kids aren't doing. They really aren't terribly Type-A or competitive, for which I am very grateful, because, well, how exhausting would that be? But am I failing them by not encouraging them to be their most amazing selves? But on the other hand, I really like them as they are, hilarious and sweet, and often under-foot, and already effortlessly amazing in so many unexpected ways.

Some of the outstanding quotes from Slow Coach Carl Honore as I frequently paused the show to note:

Raising a child is not product development. It is not project management.

Healthy parenting is about letting your children live their own lives, and not about living your lives through them.

Last term Posy was miserable, stressed and falling into sad puddles of tears at the drop of a hat. I suggested she drop her three extra-curricular activities for a term. Note - these were activities she chose herself, with excellent and lovely teachers and coaches. But on quitting she calmed right down, and banning screens after dinner has helped her sleep like a baby again (well, much better than when she was a baby, actually..). Last year Rosy decided that six hours a week was too much of a commitment to devote to senior ballet, and quit. Now she is doing one, fun hip-hop dance class with no exams or competitions. Instead they come home from school, and bake, or read, or sit in the sun with the dog. They have time to do their homework and have friends over, and dream.

Now clearly, not everyone is as slug-like as our family, and also it is clear that our family will produce no professional athletes or virtuoso musicians. But you know, I do question our society's passion for perfection. Not long ago I was listening to a radio interview with the women's track and field competitor in the 1936 Olympics (yes, there was just one Australian woman that year). All the competitors were amateurs, in that they all held down other jobs, they trained twice a week and competed on Saturdays. "It was such fun," this lovely lady said. Now when was the last time you heard any Olympic athletes mention how much fun they were having?

I do question whether it is better to have your kids in the soccer league, or at the nearest park after school playing soccer with twenty of their best friends. Is it better for a child to be practising desperately for her Grade 6 piano exam, or playing with friends and neighbours and starting a band? The difficulty sometimes is though, that there are no other kids available to play with ours in the park, because they are all busy playing a competitive sport.. We are so preoccupied with certificates and trophies and levels and making the team, and winning, but is that what we want our community to be like? Really?

Here is another cracker of a sound bite from Carl:

Every society ends up with a childhood that reflects the strengths, the weaknesses and the neuroses of that society. 

In our society we are excellent at winning. But is that what we really want for each other, and for our most vulnerable wee souls? I think it is definitely worth having that conversation..

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