Wednesday, August 20, 2014

At Home With Mother

                                                                                                                         Image from the Graphics Fairy

Will you believe it, my house is dirty again? Once I had this very depressing vision of my housekeeping life - that there was a conveyor belt leading in through the front door and out the back door, with food, stuff and dirt coming endlessly in at the front door, and leaving the back door as sewage, garbage and vacuum cleaner fluff. And this cycle is JUST SO endless, particularly in the case of food requiring processing, and clean clothes that turn into dirty clothes in the blink of an eye.

I believe that there are people in this world who find cooking for their families a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. I am not one of those people. My reaction to the next meal is one of quiet panic, along the lines of, 'Oh dear God, they all want to eat AGAIN?' I once knew a woman who had four children under three, who popped them all into the play pen and cooked for relaxation. This seemed completely insane to me, because whenever my children leave me alone for more than two minutes I head straight for my book, and I am waiting for the the children to leave home solely for the reason that then I can exist on toast and apples forever, and never cook again.

It seems unfair to me that there are people who are born loving to do things with their hands. They cook, they sew, they build houses or telescopes, or, like the Home Economics teacher at the girls' school, make the Eiffel Tower out of gingerbread. What incredibly useful people they are. I have two children who do indeed cook and paint and knit for relaxation. And two that don't. Last week Rosy knitted herself a head band, and Posy wanted one too. She started knitting, and got bored after about three rows. Last night Rosy asked if Posy minded if she did some, so Rosy happily knitted and listened as I read Posy her bedtime book chapter, while Posy bounced around like the energizer bunny, bothered the cat, and lay on the floor with her legs in the air, because she can.

The difference between Rosy and Posy is that Posy thinks knitting is a nice idea, while Rosy actually does it. I think cooking and housekeeping are nice ideas, and sincerely WANT to be able to do both with enthusiasm, but can always find something more interesting to think about and distract me. I have lots of good ideas, but I need staff to carry them out.

So here I am, not particularly practical, not feeling the joy of cooking, or cleaning, or painting, or sewing or any other domestic skill, yet not only existing as a perpetual housewife, but also increasingly convicted of the idea that a return to domesticity, not just for the housewife, but for all of us, is one of the few sensible ways forward in a world that is running itself into the ground via over-consumption in every sphere.

But let’s not pretend that it’s all frilly aprons and trilling with bluebirds over the housework here on the home front. Mostly it is a grim battle with ennui and cobwebs, and fighting with veg and the vacuum cleaner, while attempting to persuade the fourteen year old that helping in the garden is fun.

I have no actual solution to this problem in any way. There are tiny things that I have found that help, a bit:

Getting rid of almost everything. Ooh, it feels so good not to be cleaning or mending or worrying about things that I don’t even need or like. Let’s face it, cleaning the things I absolutely love is irritating enough. Also, I find if I only own beautiful things that I love, they don’t look so messy and annoying when left lying around.

Making very, very detailed lists of things to do. I adore crossing things off lists. I will actually do quite tediously boring jobs, just so I can cross them off a list. The more tedious the job, the more steps I add to my list so it feels like progress is happening. For instance, cleaning the bathroom – getting out the cleaning things is definitely a step forward, right? Tick. See, it’s nearly done already..

Only expect to complete tiny increments of projects every day. This may seem like quite a self-defeatist attitude (especially if you watch those evil telly programs where entire houses get renovated in a week end. These only have one single goal, and that is to make you feel so unsatisfied with your own home that you will run out and buy thousands of dollars’ worth of DIY products at Bunnings). But seriously, there is nothing to combat grievous self-loathing at the end of the day better than to be able to look back and say, ‘I planted six parsley plants today.’ (which I did). I have a grand plan for my Spring garden, which once I would have tried to achieve in a weekend, driving myself and my whole family insane. Instead I having been setting myself tiny goals that just require fifteen minutes each time. Rip out the dying winter veg and pop it in the compost (that took two days), dig in fertiliser and gypsum. Transplant parsley seedlings. That brings us to today. Tick. Sometimes I just dig out and fertilise one pot. Or plant out two pots. Or bribe a child to help me dig out some compost from the bottom of a compost bin. This is a much more sane way to achieve anything than a crazy marathon that is exhausting for everyone and means you have to neglect every other aspect of family life.

I think in those crazy renovation and gardening and cooking shows we have taken the worst aspects of modern life – competition, perfectionism, an insane work ethic - and applied it to the few remaining areas of life that are really all about pottering, making mistakes, bodging, and slowly creating something beautiful. Speed and cut-throat brilliance require huge inputs of money and materials, and energy and stress. Pottering is gentle to the soul, family life, and the planet. Pottering means if it takes a couple of weeks to source a gently used zip, a ball of wool, a piece of wood, a plant cutting, well, it does. And in the mean time, we can spend another week making another part of the project beautiful (or reading some more good books). Let's all slow down.

Let go of perfectionism. Somehow, I am both a perfectionist, and rather practically inept. This makes me quite irritable. Also, although I have no real desire to cook or clean anything, when I do, it is supposed to be perfect. If it isn't, I get a bit shouty. Perfectionism, it seems to me, is very much linked to fear. Fear of letting go, fear of being unable to control outcomes, a failure of trust. Perfectionism is about keeping up appearances; the opposite of perfectionism is being able to say, 'I like who I am right now. I am enough.' This one, I am still working on. 

It is kind of linked to the point above. A project slowly realised in fifteen minute increments still gets done. I will have a Spring garden this year. A bit later. It didn't all get done in a week end. I cannot say proudly, 'I renovated my whole front garden in a week end.' There are very few bragging rights in, 'I dug a hole.' 'I swept the path.' But it is slow and gentle and kind to my family. I did not go and buy a bunch of pretty plants from Bunnings. The garden does not look picture perfect. It is full of bits of plant dug up from the rest of the garden, or from friends' gardens. It all looks a bit woeful right now. But given time and patience, it will be beautiful.

Let's refuse to be defined by our housekeeping standards, what we serve for dinner, or how elegant the furniture is.

Let's all tell the perfectionist gremlin to go and live with the Joneses, if it likes them so much..

Meanwhile, I'll just pop another load of washing on. Tick.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Green and Thrifty

Tasmanian Native Pepper Berry

This week, oh lordy, I got the sewing machine out. I know, such a bold, and possibly misguided step. It has been years since I used the sewing machine, but Rosy came home with ripped sports shorts, and you just can't imagine how ridiculously expensive a new pair of regulation school uniform sports shorts are. Luckily, it had ripped up a hem, so I just zipped along and fixed it in no time. Well, I say no time. First, I had to remember how to thread the wretched machine, then I had to get out the manual to remind me how to thread a bobbin, then I had to swear at the bobbin a tiny bit, and then I zipped through the sewing. And while I had the machine out I sewed up the zip in the bottom of Posy's sport track pants. They have that zip at the bottom of the leg to make them easy to get on and off over sneakers - a thing Posy never does, so how the zip broke I will never know. For months she has been going to school with the zip held in with a safety pin. Imagine, as a lazy mother, how marvellously grateful I am to the inventor of the safety pin. Thank you Mr Walter Hunt, benefactor of ballet mothers and persons responsible for the maintenance of school uniforms everywhere.

Anyways, two pieces of school uniform mended, and I was on a roll. Then I sewed up Rosy's blazer pocket. It required hand sewing, attaching the pocket to the coat without catching the lining, and has since fallen apart twice. Hmm, epic fail for hand sewing. I will have to be tougher and use double thread this time. I have always considered sewing an arcane science which need have nothing to do with me. My thoughts are that if I don't bother sewing, it won't bother me. BUT, not sewing equals buying more clothes. And apart from the cost, new clothes are part of a very wasteful and inequitable industry. And I do hate clothes shopping. So mending it must be. Sewing is unfortunately a very green and thrifty enterprise. Hence I forsee more sewing in my future. Sigh. I expect it will be awfully good for my character development.

In other news I pulled everything out of the bathroom cupboards and cabinets, gasped at the amount of STUFF that was in a very small space, and threw a lot of it out. What I have this week is a collection of tiny bottles of shampoo from hotels that The Man has brought home, and a pile of various sample products of creams and potions in little packets from who knows where. This week I am using them all up, and vowing not to let any more into the house, ever.

Our no-sugar diet is having a positive effect on the grocery budget. Not buying cereal, fruit juice or muesli bars has made an appreciable difference. We are obviously using and buying less sugar, but also buying more fruit and veg, nuts and yoghurt. I am not sure how it is that we are not spending more, but I am not complaining. Rosy's new breakfast is local oats with local yoghurt, and decidedly non-local bananas. Posy eats brose - oats and milk (with a spoonful of honey. Yes it's a sugar, but it's not hidden sugar, it's sugar I can see, and it's no more than a spoonful a day. Well, when I'm looking, that is). I stewed a big pot of cheap apples this week, and The Girl has been eating stewed apple and yoghurt for breakfast. My breakfast is a boiled egg and a piece of fruit. While The Man has been here he has been eating porridge. I feel so much better seeing my family eating oats than cornflakes.

Harvested from the garden this week - warrigal greens, a tiny amount of lettuce, bay leaves, rosemary, lemons. And Tasmanian native pepper berries. I bribed Posy to come out in the garden with me to pick them, so we could have a mother/daughter bonding moment. We all know how that sort of thing ends. Luckily, she didn't throw the tub of berries as she stomped off, so I saved them, stripped the rest of the bush and dried them in the dehydrator. This week we will be eating our own home grown black pepper:)

Tell me about your thrifty green moments this week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Snow Pea Miracle!

Well, I told you you would be the first to know if Posy ever ate a vegetable at school. I know you have been on tenterhooks:) The Man is home for a few days, and yesterday morning he asked Posy if she could choose any vegetable to put in her lunchbox, what would it be? Amazingly, I have never thought to ask her this, just offered her whatever is available on hand. Her choice was... snow peas. Yes, the most out of season, outrageously expensive vegie at the supermarket. Seriously, I think she does this on purpose.

So I remortgaged the house, bought some snow peas and popped them in the lunch box this morning ('Oh goody,' says Rosy, 'Snow peas!' And proceeds to liberally add the vegetable gold into her daily collection of vegie slices). And the moment of truth, my first question when Posy came home from school, 'Did you eat the snow peas?' 'Well, yah,' she says nonchalantly, as if she ate vegies at school every day of her life. Praise be! My daughter may not die of scurvy after all!

This made me scurry outside to check on the progress of our own snow peas. Hmm, may be a little while before I can supply demand. To be on the safe side, I am increasing our snow pea square footage as of today. Of course, being August, it is on the chilly side to germinate seeds, but here is the secret to fast pea germination - soak them in lukewarm water for 24 hours or so before planting, or as long as it takes until the pea just begins to sprout. Then plant them, sprout side down (it is a root), water them once, after which you don't have to water them again until you see them sprout. Peas like very rich soil, lots of compost buried in a trench below the planting holes. They also like a sweet soil, so add a sprinkling of lime, and hopefully, this means lots of lovely fat snow peas for Posy.

Traditional English gardening lore says plant peas when the daffodils are blooming. Well, there are daffodils popping up all over Tasmania, so now is the time. If you want an Australian twist, plant peas when the first wattle starts blooming, which is also now. Enjoy the wattle and the daffodils and go plant peas everyone:)

Of course, by the time the peas are ready, they will be so last week, and Posy will be demanding cherry tomatoes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The No-Vegie Blues..

Our (mostly) sugar-free eating plan is becoming the new normal. We have settled on one dessert and one batch of baking per week to 'leaven' our sugar-free days. This gives the children a sweet treat a couple of days a week in their lunch boxes, and even so, we are reducing the sugar in our usual recipes because they are starting to taste too sweet.

This week Rosy made a batch of Muesli Bar Cookies but decided not to cook them. Instead she rolled them into balls and covered them in coconut. SO yummy.

We also may have purchased a packet of marshmallows to make hot chocolate when we go up to the snow in the next couple of days with Daddy.. there may also be a large block of chocolate accompanying us. So clearly we are not being fanatical about sugar-free. But I do feel that we are moving towards sugar-as-a-treat rather than sugar-every-day.

I still have to find a way to get more vegies into Posy. And she has narrowed down her fruit choices to oranges, and tinned pineapple. She is as stubborn as the day is long, that child. Every night at dinner she is expected to eat one bite of everything on her plate. Last night she ate all her chicken, potato and peas, choked down one tiny piece of roast carrot, gagging and crying, and ate two pea-sized pieces of pumpkin. Whenever we have stew with onion in it, she spends most of dinner time carefully picking out the pieces of onion and draping them around the edge of her plate.

This is what she does at the table instead of eating:

Now I do have to say that all of the other children had food aversions at the same age, and they all eat everything now, but Posy has just taken it to a new level. And she still won't take fruit to school. I drool over all those 'lunch box ideas' websites, with boxes full of fresh fruit and vegie snacks, thinking, 'I could do that!' (and I do. For Rosy) But Posy won't have a bar of it. What to do, what to do?

Meanwhile, although Posy often only has pop corn and seaweed crackers for snacks in her lunch box because she refuses to take anything else, at least she isn't overdosing on sugar, and had I been tempted to slip in a little sweet something 'to fill her up', this chart I found yesterday would have soon put a stop to that.

The Sugar Content in Common Foods post is a little scary. Bearing in mind that the WHO guidelines recommend no more than 3-4 teaspoons of sugar for a child each day, a serving of any one of these foods would be an entire day's worth of sugar for Posy. The gram-to-teaspoons chart for sugar is an excellent tool for working out how much sugar per serve a food has, from the information on the nutrition panel on the packet. I just did this exercise with the last packet of muesli bars left in the cupboard, and the tub of Cadbury's hot chocolate I bought to take up to the snow. Each has around 12g of sugar per serving, which equals 3 teaspoons of sugar. So a child can have one muesli bar OR cup of hot chocolate a day, and NO OTHER SUGAR at all, and they will have reached their sugar limit. I am not even going to think about that packet of marshmallows....

Now I am not doing this to beat myself up, or make anyone else feel bad. I know that our whole family has been eating a lot more sugar than is good for us for most days of our lives. I suspect that much of our modern burden of chronic disease is linked to sugar consumption. I can't fix that by feeling guilty, but just by being aware that there is a problem - that is the beginning of change.

So here's to plain buttered popcorn in lunch boxes, and believe me, the day carrot sticks get added, there will be general rejoicing, and you will all be the first to know:)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pegging Away

Over the past couple of weeks I have been watching Meet the Amish with the girls. Five Amish teenagers travel to the UK to experience the lives of four different families of teenagers in Britain. The show contrasts and compares the traditional Amish life with the lives of contemporary British teenagers. There are many worthy philosophical discussions we could be having about ideas explored by this very intriguing show, but today we are going to talk about sock hangers. Yes, that useful plastic doodad up above, the one with all the socks pegged to it.

I find these incredibly useful, they save lots of space on the line outside or in. My girls seem to wear a lot of socks. I used to have two sock hangers, which I bought a couple of years ago from a $2 shop. The first one broke last year, the remaining one is losing its pegs, and last week Rosy broke the hanger part, so I can't use it outside anymore or it blows off the line. Now the easy thing to do would be to go to the $2 shop and buy two more... BUT non-recyclable plastic doodads made from a non-renewable resource by someone who was certainly not being paid a living wage, causing who-knows-what pollution and transported half way around the world so I can hang up my socks? I just can't do it anymore, it makes me feel sick to think that every time I buy a plastic doodad I am literally buying a world that I don't want to live in. But I still want to hang up my socks.

So, imagine my joy when I saw sock hangers on the verandah of an Amish house in Meet the Amish, with two little blonde poppets sporting terrible haircuts bringing in the washing with the aid of their little red wagon (yes, apparently Amish boys do help with the housework. When they aren't ploughing something). These sock hangers were fabric-covered wire coat hangers with pegs suspended underneath. Hard to visualise? Luckily the interwebs have come to the rescue, thus:

Now, being the non-sewer that I am, I have considered doing this but just tying on the pegs. But I think they would slide around. I think that unattractive fabric cover is actually functional. I also found this on pinterest with a wooden hanger and eyelet screws, very vintage. So somehow our socks will get hung, hopefully by repurposing something I already own. Send me your clever suggestions:)

And to end, a little wash day treat that I found while hunting for Amish sock hanging solutions. 237 linear feet of washing twice a week? I would use a shopping trolley too..

Edited to add: My mum always reads my blog, although she never comments. This afternoon she sent a text which read: Dear Jo, you know you can peg socks straight onto a coat hanger? Love Mum

There you go. When in doubt, ask your mum.

This is such a brilliant solution. No sewing, no faffing, just reusing all the wire coat hangers I already own. That is a life time's supply of sock hangers, right there in the wardrobe. Thanks Mum:)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Putting One Foot in Front of the Other..

This is the post I haven't been looking forward to writing. It's so much easier to write about buttons and scones, so much harder to write about scary things such as.. separation. The Man and I have been separated for some time now, with a view to divorce.

It has been a little terrifying, rather exhausting time. The Man and I are not really good at emotions, but we were determined to address all the issues we had previously been determined not to address. We wanted to break up the partnership, but not the family. We wanted to be able to live together at least some of the time. So we have spent the year 'emoting'. Twenty three years' worth. It's like peeling an onion, always another layer.

It has not been all bad. All those things we always tried to teach the children, we are finally learning to do ourselves. Using our words. Talking about our feelings. Being honest. OK, so we are still not really brilliant at those things, maybe a C plus. But we are on our way to being very good buddies again, which is maybe the way it should have remained all those years ago. We were nineteen and twenty when we got married, and neither of us knew the first thing about how to not wreck a relationship. So we did.

However, we don't regret those years. They made us who we are, and they gave us the best gifts life can give, four amazing human beings who wouldn't be here otherwise, and who we are endlessly privileged to know.

And so that we can still be a family from time to time, when The Man is in the state he lives downstairs. He mends what needs fixing, helps with the homework, does the dishes, plays canasta, takes everyone out for pizza, then hops back on a plane again and flies away. During the school holidays we all went to visit him in Brisbane, played on the beach, went to Seaworld to see dolphins and giant turtles (I believe there is a rule that you have to do that once in a life time), and ate sushi under a giant sausage tree in the botanic gardens. I was enchanted to discover that there is such a thing as a sausage tree. The world conspires to make me happy even when I have to get on a plane and fly somewhere, which is both against my principles, and definitely against nature.

What are we doing? Muddling through. Trying to do the best we can with what we have. Trying to be kind to each other. Being a family who is always there for each other. Trying something new because the old way wasn't working. Keeping on going. Sewing on buttons and making scones, and emailing Daddy in Edinburgh. Or Shanghai. Discovering again the kindness of friends. Putting one foot in front of the other. Showing up.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Green and Thrifty

This one I call 'Decorating With Weeds'. The ivy and the rosemary are both plotting to overtake the driveway. When I stand on the front steps I can feel them looking at me. In a considering kind of way... so I rip them up by the roots and  decorate the house with them. No plant plots at me and gets away with it. 

In the green and thrifty category this week, wait for it, I .... sewed on a button. I know, I work so hard at being an eco warrior. BUT, sewing on this button, a job that I have been putting off for weeks now, increased Rosy's stock of school shirts from two to three, which means no more emergency late night washes and tumble dries when she runs out of school uniform. A win for make do and mend, and also for the button jar, which nearly always comes through. Whenever I have to throw out an unsalvageable piece of clothing, I always cut off the buttons. And then generally Posy uses them for 'craft'. But sometimes there is a suitable one left over.

On the cooking front, I have been experimenting with sugar-free baking. Today, at Posy's request, I made blueberry scones, using the last of the frozen PYO blueberries from last summer. Scones traditionally contain no sugar, but then you eat them with jam and cream. In ours, the blueberries contained enough of a hint of sweetness, so we ate them hot with butter. Posy, her friend, her friend's sister, her friend's mum, Rosy, The Girl and myself all declared them a winner. Unfortunately we have now run out of blueberries until January, but a vote was taken to try date scones next week.

On advice from lovely commenters Judy and Miss Maudy from the last post, I made some granola without sugar. I used this recipe of The Girl's, which has always been successful and highly sweet. I left out the golden syrup and brown sugar, and increased the coconut oil to 3Tbs, and guess what? It is fantastic. It doesn't clump together without the sugar, and instead of a sweet hit, it is buttery/salty/nutty/datey (that would be from the dates I suppose). You know, without that knockout blast of sweet that is in so many daily foods, I think I am beginning to actually TASTE a lot of subtle notes in foods that I didn't really notice before..

My green and thrifty triumph in the kitchen this week has been to ban all processed cereals from the breakfast cupboard. The children ate the last of the rice bubbles and cornflakes and then I declared I wasn't buying any more. Firstly because they are highly processed, and not nutritious, second because they are so tasteless the children always add honey to them anyway, third, because they are ridiculously expensive for what is essentially a nutritional filler. Now the cereal containers are all filled with porridge oats, rice and lentils. I also moved the jars of ingredients for granola into the breakfast cupboard so it looks like there is actually something to eat in there. Incidentally Posy wept and raged for two days at this further instance of her mother's inhumanity and general evilness, but I ignored her.

Posy's new favourite breakfast, when she actually consents to eat something, is an egg pancake - an egg whisked up with cream, poured into a frying pan that is sizzling with a knob of butter, and left to set for a minute, then flipped. It is essentially scrambled eggs that haven't been scrambled. In fact, that is how it came to be a 'thing' in our house. Mummy set out to scramble an egg and got slightly distracted. 'Oops, sorry darling, your scrambled eggs... aren't. Oooh, look, Mummy made you a lovely egg pancake.'

In other news, the sun has been shining all week, and I have dried all the washing outside, including three sets of sheets and all the towels. Freezing sunshine. Takes two days on the line to dry, and comes in smelling of cold AND sunshine. Not sure how that is possible, and quite likely I am imagining it, but it makes me happy not to have a houseful of draped laundry. And saved three loads of tumble drying, because I still haven't worked out how to dry sheets inside when it is raining.

I made arrangements to car pool hockey practice with another family. So I will only have to freeze half to death at practice once a fortnight now. Unfortunately there is still some child-engendered expectation that I be present at all the games. Sigh.

Oh, and I know you'll love this one. Today, for the first time ever, I walked to the gym. Yes, outrageous I know. Took me six minutes. I cringe every time I drive to the gym. It is so wrong on every level. In my defence, my gym buddy and I usually arrive at the gym at six in the morning, when it is dark, and have to be home post-haste afterwards to get the children out of bed for school. However, gym hour has now been officially moved to the middle of the day, and so now I can add 14 minutes a day of brisk walking to all that weightlifting (yes, I know that maths doesn't add up, well spotted, but walking home it is all up hill. And I am a bit tired..)

Then, oh the shame, this is my could-do-better confession. While I was on a roll with timing things, I timed my shower. Twenty minutes of lovely, lovely hot water. I realise this is BAD. VERY BAD. Not only will I deplete the world of its limited hot water resources, but I will get very wrinkly. Or wrinklier, as Posy would no doubt point out. Being as I never venture into actual sunshine, I have to conclude that all current wrinkles stem from my hot water habit. But hot water is so lovely, and cures most ills of the mind, body and soul. And there are no children arguing near me in the shower. In fact, the only drawback to showers that I can think of, apart from the skin damage of course, is that you can't read under one. But you can declaim poetry loudly. Should you want to. Still, all very bad, and must do better. So next week I ought to be able to report an improvement. Maybe 19 minutes? Updates to follow.

Over to you, my lovelies. Tell me about the highs and lows of your thrifty green week.

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