Saturday, September 20, 2014

Decluttering Principles

So this week I am going to begin a whole house declutter and spring clean. The spring sunshine is beaming in to the house showing up grimy corners, tired piles of paperwork, abandoned craft projects and trails of bobby pins. This is rather an ambitious project, and the kind of thing I generally start, then abandon due to the pressing siren calls of the spring garden or other vital necessities like reading the paper or talking to the cat. Hence publishing my intentions here, because I have found that you, lovely readers, are all immensely encouraging, and also good at nagging, and I would love to have you help me accomplish my mission. I of course, would also do the same for any of you:)

I have a few key principles that I follow when I declutter, because I know my weaknesses all too well. I get bored easily. I get distracted easily. And even if I manage to heroically stay on task I am invariably interrupted by some well-timed 'emergency'. These are my strategies:

Pick the low hanging fruit first: Clutter you can see is so much more satisfying to deal with than invisible clutter in cupboards. It is emergency clutter. If a room is cleared of all visual clutter, it looks lovely and is easy to live in. Clutter in cupboards can then be dealt with a shelf at a time. Which leads to..

Clear a small area at a time: It can take less than twenty minutes to clear away all the unnecessary detritus from a tabletop, desk, sideboard, bookshelf or single cupboard shelf. You can do it while you chat to your mum on the phone, or while your daughter tells you interminably about everything she has learned about sedimentary rocks that day at school.

Don't create more piles: Decluttering books will tell you to declutter with three boxes - one for donating, one for rubbish, one for keeping. If I did that I'd just have a bunch of random boxes of stuff sitting around, because I would never come back to it. If I am keeping something, I take it to its new home right away. If I can't find an exact home (maybe in a room that hasn't been sorted out yet) I put it with other similar objects somewhere so I can rehome them later. This takes longer and feels more inefficient, but it pays off when you get interrupted by suddenly needing to cook dinner or pick up children from hockey ('Good lord, is that the time?'), because everything is already put away. Rubbish can go straight in the bin or recycling, donation bag goes straight out to the car. And there is no evidence that you have ever been decluttering at all. Except for the lovely, lovely surfaces.

Do not let more stuff in the house: I find the fact that I have to continually declutter slightly immoral. All this 'stuff' that is leaving the house in bin bags is the product of somebody's imagination and labour, is made using precious and dwindling resources, and cost us time and money. Our life energy and our children's future is bound up in that shocking volume of 'stuff'. It is worth soul-searching and the exercising of considerable ingenuity to evaluate the genuine necessity of bringing more 'stuff' into the house in the first place.

Tell me your thoughts on decluttering - is it cathartic? Do you live a fairly minimalist lifestyle, or are you overwhelmed with too many possessions? Is it possible to live in a creative space with the stuff that you love, which is at the same time cosy and organised?

Here is a woman who has done just that, an artist who lives a simple life in a tiny space but hasn't sacrificed her creative spirit to bare-bones minimalism.

I am still juggling my ideas about stuff, about things that I love, things that I want, things that I need. I think that right now in this spring decluttering project, it is all about divesting my life of those things that I don't love, want or need, so I will more clearly be able to see my way forward with what is left..

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Brilliant Career

Just tricking, I do not have a brilliant career. I am a 43 year old single mother with not a single career in sight. And how, you might ask, does a woman get to the middle of life in this day and age without a proper job? Gather round children, and I will tell you.

When I was in Year 11 at school our career advisor took us to the offices of the local newspaper to scope out careers in journalism. It was night time, the offices were bright and bustling, and everyone everywhere was peddling words. I thought I had found my spiritual home.

But somehow, after school I vaguely drifted off to university and studied English Literature for four years. I enjoyed this immensely. I learned how to think critically, a skill which has stood me in great stead all my life. I learned how to write without frilly adjectives (ha, that didn't stick, did it?). It was all very entertaining, and broadening for the mind for someone who had grown up as a missionary kid. I met The Man, and we got married, because as Good Baptists, that's what you have to do if you are going to take a relationship to the next level. About four minutes after I graduated, I got pregnant.

The Man got a job in Broken Hill, so we moved to the desert and bought a tiny miner's cottage. I volunteered as an adult literacy tutor and reluctantly learned how to cook. The Man took a job in Adelaide and we had baby Number Two. It was very hot in Adelaide that summer so we decided on a whim to move to Tasmania. We wanted to live in a mud brick house in the forest. So we did. Did you know that Tasmanian forests are full of leeches and snakes?

We moved to the suburbs which are mercifully free of nasty bugs and reptiles, and I went back to university to do a Masters of Teaching. A year into this, oops! Baby Number Three. By this time I was home schooling children and rather glad not to be studying. Endless domesticity was doing my head in a bit, so I started an independent on-line children's bookshop for homeschooling parents. This was a joy in that I got to read and review lots of wonderful books and talk to lovely people about the books they needed, but I was absolutely pants at the business side, which was a problem, as it was actually a business, a fact that frequently escaped me. Eventually I moved that 'business' on, but am so pleased that it is still run all these years later by lovely homeschool parents.

In the end, most of the children wanted to go to school, and I decided that being home alone at the merciless whims of Posy would be bad for her character and mine, so they all went to school. Being unable to leave well alone, I volunteered at Posy's school extensively.  In fact, by the second year I had volunteered so much that I was offered some Teacher Assistant work. I now do Teacher Assistant relief work with the Kinder kids whenever I am needed. Which means I get to play with four year olds and get paid for it. Which I think is pretty fun. In a couple of years when Posy is old enough to be home alone for half an hour or so after school, I could do the same thing at other schools. I find relief work suits me wonderfully, because I get to work with lots of different amazing teachers and kids, and do new things all the time. I have a very short attention span, so new is good. This week the office manager rang me to see if I could do relief work in the school office. I just laughed, and asked her how brave she was feeling. But today I did it, and hardly cut anyone off at all on the terrifying phone system, and no doubt caused absolute mayhem with all the school admin systems, but had a ball pretending to be one of the lovely office ladies and dealing with scraped knees and blood noses and lost bus money. I mean seriously, school admin is gloriously messy and unpredictable, and again, so much fun.

To be honest, I don't really consider any of this to be a real job, because it feels a bit like play acting. I put on my boots and a dress and pretend to be a grown up. I don't do it often enough for it to get boring, and when I am there I have a ball. All care taken, but no responsibility! That is the wondrous nature of relief work:) And really, it is ten times easier than all those years I was home alone with small children. But though what I am doing is fun, it is not all that I want to do.

So now, I am contemplating a future which will involve more paid work of some description. I still have children, and I want to be home with them when they are home, and The Man wants that too, and is happy to support me to do that. But I want to work too, and use my brain and try new things. But what? I have about twelve ideas a week, none of which I have acted on so far, because I generally haven't thought them through at all well. I don't think I actually really want a brilliant career. I want to patchwork together a good and satisfying life from a collection of fun little jobs that make me happy. I have thought of going back to uni again so I can be a 'proper' teacher, but I think that what I am doing now is all the fun bits of teaching without the painful bits. And if I was a teacher I couldn't be doing all the other things I want to do. I think about gardening and writing and making things and helping people and I want to do them all, so that is my plan as of this moment. Ok, you are right, that isn't a plan at all, more of an idea. I am all about ideas. Sometimes I even implement one or two.

Here is my question for today - if you could do anything you want to do, completely disregarding ideas of remuneration and social status and what you actually trained for, if any quirky little interest in your life could be expanded into a part time hobby job, what would you do? Or have you taken this to the next level and actually done it? Please tell us all about it. I want some inspiration!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Real Reasons We Are Overwhelmed by Housework

Every day readers arrive at the Blue Day site looking for help with the house work. Many have desperately typed 'overwhelmed with housework' into Google, and ended up here. It leads the way to a housekeeping routine that is not theoretical, but based on what I actually do (more or less, often less) each week. I think it is rather useful and keeps the place ticking along nicely. However, it isn't quite enough, is it? Useful housekeeping routines abound, but there have been times in my life, where like my readers, I have been absolutely overwhelmed by housework as well. It doesn't seem sensible, does it? Housework is basically a collection of rather repetitive tasks that aren't difficult to learn, and aren't particularly physically demanding for the average person. They are, beyond question, off the scale of tedious towards mind-numbingly boring, depending on your level of tolerance for such things. But that doesn't explain why so many people, including me, have found a clean and tidy house so difficult to achieve.

Here are the places I have found myself in throughout my life when the housework has been overwhelming:

New babies and small children: Chaos, chaos, chaos. Oh, my goodness, is there no end to all the sick and the poop and the crying and the snot and the sleepless nights and the MESS! Well, there is, eventually, but that's not much use in the middle of it all. This is a time for survival, with occasional bursts of unreasonable joy when tickling tiny toes. Sleep when your baby is sleeping, do not use that time to catch up on housework. Mummy-lying-down time is essential. If you can, do the housework with the baby in its little baby seat, watching and learning (you can never start too young..). Toddlers will slow down housework considerably, but try to remember - you are home with your toddler for a reason. Slow down with her. Take two hours to fold washing and do the vacuuming together. There is absolutely nothing more valuable to her educational development and her relationship with you than to count socks and arrange the underwear by colour. Put old socks on your hands and hers and dance to loud music while dusting. You will no doubt go stir crazy whilst doing all this, so make that music REALLY loud.

If you are reading this and pregnant, forget painting the baby's room, it won't care. Take a look around your house and get rid of everything you don't absolutely love RIGHT NOW. Make sure you have cupboard space for everything that is left. Look at all that stuff you have collected for the baby. Get rid of at least half of it. Send all the toys to the charity shop. Babies don't need toys, they need you and a wooden spoon to chew on and cardboard tubes from the paper towel roll to wave around and hoot into. Look around your house again. Is there anything on the floor at all other than furniture? Would a sergeant-major be happy with the state of your cupboards? NOW you are ready to have that baby. I so wish someone had told me this before I had children!

Too late? Already have a baby and a toddler and stuff everywhere? Whenever grandma/your best friend/your sister offers to help, hand over the baby and set about accomplishing the above. It will do so much more for your peace of mind than a movie or candle-lit dinner. If the house is easily tidied, it always looks great, and you can skimp on cleaning. Clutter always looks messy, even if the house is clean. Does the whole decluttering project seem too overwhelming? Don't worry, next week I will be starting my own whole-house decluttering project, and everyone can join in.

Sub-Par Health: When I am healthy I bounce out of bed like a six year old (well, I do if I don't have to get up before 8am. Before that I sigh a tiny bit, but perk up after the first cuppa). I am generally cheerful, swear a bit about cleaning the bathroom again, find most things about my life intriguing, and am excited about new adventures. The times in my life that I have not been healthy I have felt like life was grey, I had no energy, the thought of cleaning the bathroom made me want to weep, and I wanted to climb under the covers and never leave the house again. Last year I discovered I had ridiculously low iron levels which had been causing me to feel tired and draggy for years. I didn't actually realise how awful I had been feeling until I felt better! So if you feel tired and draggy, if something is not quite right, if you are miserable and depressed, please go and see your GP, and ask her about iron levels (a very common women's problem), and probably she will test your thyroid as well, and give you a thorough once over, because probably you haven't actually been to the doctor yourself for a check up for years, have you?

Take away message: Tired, draggy, depressed, weepy, life-is-grey... this is not normal. It is not how life is meant to be. Go and get everything tested. If it all comes back normal, then start to look at your diet, and think about exercise. I know, I know, you've heard it all before. I am not normally into either diet or exercise, but I joined a gym last year, have started walking more, and quit sugar, while adding actual vegetables and wonderful healthy fats (butter, mmm). Lifting weights (quite tiny ones so far, I must add!) has completely sorted out those middle-aged niggly aches and pains, quitting my six cups of tea a day habit has raised my iron levels (rooibos tea has saved the day there), not eating sugar means I have lots of extra minerals being absorbed, and all of those things combined makes for a happy camper who still thinks housework is tedious, but doesn't find it overwhelming anymore.

Of course, if you are sick, and this is your daily reality, then you are in a hard place indeed regarding housework. The best thing I can offer is the advice to new parents. Declutter, declutter, simplify, simplify. Take every offer of help to get 'stuff' out of the way, which will reduce the cleaning workload, and the worry, and part of the burden, which will hopefully impact positively on your health. If you are healthy and know someone who isn't, take them dinner, and ask if they need a hand unloading their stuff and taking things to the charity shop.

Escaping from Pain: Sometimes in my life I have not been overwhelmed by housework so much as just overwhelmed. Sometimes life sends stuff at us that is just hard. Sometimes we might not even want to acknowledge that stuff, even to ourselves, so we look around at the mess we are in, at the housework that is not getting done because we are so consumed by other hard stuff, and think, 'If I can just get the house sorted and clean and pretty like every single other person in the world seems to be able to do, then maybe all this other misery will go away and we can be the Brady Bunch, and every area of my life will be Pinterest worthy, and then I will be happy.'

We human beings don't like to face pain. Why would we? It is hard, and most of us have a highly developed 'flight' instinct. It is very easy for many of us to push unpleasant emotions away, and pretend they are not happening. Unhappy marriage? Constant anxiety about high needs children and their uncertain futures? Complex and dark issues left over from childhood? Difficult and seemingly unsolvable family issues? Many of us self-medicate these problems away from our conscious lives so we don't have to deal with them. Brene Brown, in her brilliant scholarly but vulnerable book The Gifts of Imperfection calls this 'numbing behaviour'. We recognise it when it is done with alcohol and drugs, but what about those of us who 'take the edge off' with compulsive facebook time, comfort eating, extreme busyness (joining the committee of every group we ever belong to, and becoming indispensable), shopping, or in my case, comfort reading. I have recently come to recognise that when I am hiding in my bed in the middle of the day rereading the same old Agatha Christie novel for the nineteenth time, it's not because I want to know 'whodunnit', it's because I am craving the comfort of an ordered world where I know what happens next and everything will be alright at the end.

Sometimes we can be so successful at our smokescreen 'numbing' activities of choice that we don't really recognise that there is a whole underlying layer of misery and anxiety just under our daily life. We know we are unhappy, restless and unsatisfied, but we don't know why. Then we look around our house at the mess caused by being busy, compulsive shopping, spending time on the internet or watching TV, and we decide that it is the housework that is overwhelming.

The cure for this existential malaise is not a better housework routine, or more determination. It is recognising our mindless, desperate daily addictions for what they are. It is fearfully, but with enormous bravery, quieting down and listening to what that tiny still voice at our centre is saying. It is fearfully, but with enormous bravery, telling another human being about the fears, the anxieties, the dark places, the uncertainties, the unhappiness. That is the first step of the immensely hard task of becoming a whole and honest person, and that, my dear friends, is the first step towards happiness. Once you are happy and healthy, keeping house ceases to be overwhelming, and resumes its rightful place in the order of the universe as a tedious necessity with the pleasant consequences of comfort and peace.

Sometimes, of course, the hard stuff that life throws at us is not at all hidden. Sometimes it is the bleeding obvious. Birth, death, sickness, grief. Life happens. For this last year I have spent many hours of most days lying on my bed looking at the ceiling, or howling in corners as I contemplated the dissolution of my marriage. I did the bare minimum of housework, and counted the day a success if I made dinner. The children got a reasonable amount of exercise walking to the shop to buy packets of fish fingers, and I managed to keep on top of the washing if not the ironing (I am convinced that school jumpers were invented to hide the fact that Bad Mothers don't iron school shirts).

Again, the reason that the house isn't in too bad a shape now that I am recovering a bit of a spring in my step is that several years ago, I threw out most of our stuff, and fiercely guard the front door to make sure no more gets in. It is worth repeating this one true fact about housekeeping. A tidy house looks clean, even when it isn't. A messy, cluttered house always looks a bit grimy, even if it is perfectly clean. So let's not waste our precious life energy cleaning a cluttered house. Stuff is overwhelming many of our houses. It is making us poor, and wrecking the planet. It also makes difficult times in our lives so much more difficult, frustrating and overwhelming.

Unfortunately, stuff follows my children like rats followed the Pied Piper. I haven't been as diligent as I would like to be this year about keeping spaces clear and continuing to shuffle stuff straight back out the door. Therefore next week I am going to start a multi-week House Clearance project, working through every area of the house so we can all breathe easy again. For those who are already nicely organised I am going to add the particular cleaning jobs that my own house is crying out for, which may make your house happy too.

So join me next week to fight the good fight, until we are all in a place where although we may be overwhelmed by many things, life being what it is, at least we won't be overwhelmed by the housework.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Unexpected Thrills of Shopping Seconhand

This week I bought a budgie cage from Gumtree for Posy's birthday. From a man who is quite the jolly vendor.

Turns out, I could have bought one for exactly the same price at the pet shop. So, life lesson for this week: it pays to research before buying secondhand. However, I prevented one more budgie cage from being manufactured or sent to landfill, and I got to meet John the comic, which was more fun than going to Pet Barn. Also, on the way home I visited an op shop in a part of town I never get to. Often, op shops seem a tad overpriced to me, but this one is brilliant. Everything is very reasonably priced, and I found such treasure (for Launceston locals, it was the Mission shop in Prospect. Give them time to restock after I cleaned them out).

First, a plaid wool blanket ($4) to keep me warm while reading on my bed. I washed this on the wool cycle in my front loader this week, and dried it on the line. It smells of lavender oil and sunshine now, and is doing sterling service encouraging me to be idle:)

Cheerful pure cotton sheets for Posy ($2.50 each).

Next, my children enjoy breaking and chipping drinking glasses. I think it is a hobby. Anyway, most of our collection was Nutino glasses (Nutella ripoff) which I am not buying anymore due to our household sugar ban. I absolutely love these French and Turkish cafe-style glasses (20c each) which are thick and sturdy, and hopefully less likely to succumb to the vicissitudes of everyday life at Chez Blueday.

I also found these milkshake glasses, ($1 each) which exactly match two we already own. I am planning cheap and healthy home-made milk shakes this summer, made with this brilliant, cheap and delicious home made chocolate syrup (ok, yes. There is rather a lot of sugar in this. But, it is a once-a-week treat. Sugary treats now consist of one treat, one dessert, and one batch of baking per week, as a balancing act between mummy's dietary fanaticism, and a normal childhood..)

Four white side plates (20c each). See note above. The children like to crash these together while unpacking the dishwasher. I only ever buy white, or blue-and-white crockery so that everything always matches. Because, yes, I am a control freak.

Adorable spotty bowl for Rosy to keep all her hair bands in (50c). I saw this exact bowl in Target last year, and desperately wanted to buy it for her, but just couldn't bring myself to, due to giant warehouse rage. I feel smugly vindicated. Putting this away for Christmas.

I also found a book my mum wants for 20c, and a copy of The Shipping News, a book I have wanted to read since I watched the movie a few years ago (love, love both).

So, very happy about my charity shop haul, and even though I was ripped off by Gumtree John, I more than recouped the cost of the budgie cage by savings at the Mission shop. You know, I am someone who hates shopping. I hate fitting it into a day where I could otherwise be gardening, visiting friends or reading a book. Many years ago when we were on a strict budget, I shopped charity shops for all the kids' clothes and lots of our furniture, but that went out the window as The Man began to earn more. It became so convenient just to drive to Target, pick up whatever I wanted with very little thought or pain, whilst pushing down those worrisome thoughts about the impact this habit was having on the state of the planet, let alone the terrible waste of so much of The Man's life energy that was being turned into money just so I could buy another lamp..

And yet I convinced myself that the Target habit was easier, that it's really inconvenient to shop second hand, traipsing from charity shop to garage sale to Gumtree pick up. However, I have had a lot of fun this week, hunting for treasure, meeting Crazy John. It adds a little adventuresome flavour to life to do something different, to not get what you expect, but maybe find something else you need, or something that delights you that you had no idea you even yearned for.

I read this Leunig poem to the girls this week, and I think it captures the left-of-field, surprising nature of second hand shopping:

God give us rain when we expect sun.
Give us music when we expect trouble.
Give us tears when we expect breakfast.
Give us dreams when we expect a storm.
Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.
God play with us, turn us sideways and around.

from A Common Prayer

Maybe the unexpectedness of shopping away from the big box stores will make me braver, more resourceful, more willing to laugh in the face of soulless convenience, more creative, more human.

But let's not get carried away. Not being in control makes me a bit anxious and grumpy. At least as anxious and grumpy as I am when parking in one of those multi-storey car parks.. which maybe I will never have to do again.. because op shops don't tend to have them..

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Brave New World

I was once married to a very practical Man. He is an engineer, and he can do anything from tiling a bathroom, building a cubby house, putting in a staircase, to doing the wiring for a whole house. He can solve all the computer problems, fix the plumbing and change a tire. Due to his ridiculously over-the-top excellence at All Things Manly I tended not to even think about how the house worked. That was all The Man’s province. When things broke, I put them on The List, and waited for them magically to become fixed.

This is not to say that I don’t have my own areas of expertise. I concentrated on those things I am good at, or had to become good at due to necessity, such as baby whispering, cooking dinner every night, grocery shopping on a budget, reading aloud and growing tomatoes and daffodils.

Now, of course, our carefully maintained system is not going to work anymore. The Man is a good soul, and perfectly ready to help out, but is not often here. The list of things that I am going to need to become good at due to necessity has grown enormously. Since The Boy left home, the girls and I have had to put the bins out ourselves. I know, shock, horror. Also, we had to work out how to make the lawn mower mow (since this debacle The Man kindly bought us an electric mower with a push button start. Mowing the lawn has now become one of my favourite jobs).

When I first contemplated life as a solo home owner (which will soon be my new status), I was rather overwhelmed. There are so many bits that can break, fall off and cease to function in a house. I am not a practical person. I am not someone who does things, so much as someone who thinks about doing things, and how lovely it will all be when it is done. Start explaining to me how something actually works, and my mind starts going, ‘La, la, la..’ Start drawing diagrams and I begin to feel a desperate urge to have a little nap.

Slowly though, I have begun to tentatively feel a little excited about the idea of my house. This is now my little kingdom. There are bits that need painting (again), there are flourishing ecosystems growing in the gutters, there are bushes that grew into trees and need to be removed. I suddenly feel a keen sense of responsibility to not let it fall into a sad state of disrepair. Once, that was The Man’s job, something I didn’t really even think about, and now, it is my baby and I must look after it.

But of course, that is easier said than done for someone whose greatest technological achievement to date is recording movies on the Tivo (even then I need help when the guide tells me it is going to clip my other program. What to do? What to do? How on earth will I ever get to watch a whole movie when all the children leave home?). My first big test came last week when the pool cleaner stopped working. The pool vacuum cleaner, affectionately known as Creepy, stopped creeping and just sat there sullenly, refusing to clean away a winter’s worth of leaves and detritus. Well, who could blame him? It is not the varied and fulfilling career he had dreamed of. How to inspire him to get back to work? First I panicked, then I coaxed, and offered Creepy a pay rise. Nothing. Then I sighed and set about trying to be logical. There was nothing blocking Creepy’s prodigious mouth, all his bits were appropriately joined together, the filter wasn’t full of leaves. At this point I had to brave the pool shed and look at the pump. This is a big step. There are machines in there that go ‘ping’, with digital readouts for technical things that require a manual to decipher. But mercy be, the pump thingy was blocked. I managed to undo the lid without much swearing, and take out several days’ worth of munched up leaves. Creepy quit his strike action, and I learned to check the pump regularly for detritus during the end of winter clean up.

I am feeling quite pleased with myself at this evidence that I am not completely incapable of solving a problem that is not homework- or housework-related. Sure, it is tiny on the scale of Things That Can Go Wrong, but optimism is another of my hidden powers. Deep down, I am always convinced that Everything Will Be Fine.

Although yesterday when the water heater broke (probably from exhaustion), and we were left with the option of lukewarm showers or staying dirty, I decided that even optimism has its limits, and called the Lovely Plumber.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Granny Squares

Two weeks ago my lovely mum and dad came to visit. They pottered about, drank lots of coffee, did puzzles with the children, took everyone out for giant ice creams, hummed a lot (my dad), and crocheted without cease (my mum). And this (the crocheting) was what I had been waiting for. You see, a year ago, my lovely parents came to visit, at which time my mum taught me how to crochet granny squares.

Living in such a chilly locality, winter is much more bearable with throw rugs on the sofa to snuggle into. A couple of years ago I bought throw rugs from Target The Department Store Which Shall Not Be Named, and these rugs, which I don't even really like, are falling apart, unravelling, and resisting all attempts to mend them. So last year I pulled out the crate with all the wool in it that I have saved for/from various projects over the years, and chose some lovely, natural real wool in calm and warming neutral hues, and mum taught me how to make granny squares. I made five. Then mum left. I then proceeded to not crochet a single stitch over the next year.

So when mum came back, we had a refresher course, and all the girls sat around, crocheting feverishly, because it turns out that granny squares are kind of addictive. I even turned out another two over the course of two hockey games on Saturday morning. And here is a thing I discovered about craft. It is a great conversation starter. A couple of hockey mums who I knew only to say hello to were intrigued enough at what we were doing to increase our acquaintance status to friendly conversation status. Nice. Thank you nana craft. See, those nanas know what they're doing when they knit on buses. Networking.

What I love about granny squares so far:

They are small and portable. Unlike knitting a throw rug, these little honeys fit in a handbag.
They provide a sense of accomplishment. I can finish one in an hour. I know I need to make about 500 more, but it's like crossing items off a list, which we all know is very satisfying.
They only require tiny amounts of wool. Each round, or square is a different shade of brown, grey or cream. This means I can buy any tiny little ball of wool at op shops, or find half balls or bits and pieces at garage sales or left overs from friends' projects and it will all look like it is part of The Plan. In fact most of the wool I have so far is from one of those huge, hand-knitted jumpers made of hand-spun wool that make you look like an actual llama when you wear one. I found this one at an op-shop years ago, and unravelled it and rolled it into balls, because I had convinced myself I was going to knit a whole farm-yard of animals for the children. I knitted some chickens then got inexplicably tired. I now have lots of cream and light brown balls, but have run out of grey and dark brown, so will have to go prospecting for more.
They are addictive. 'Just one more round,' I tell myself at bedtime, time to cook dinner, time to clean the bathroom etc. This is possibly the only way I can actually finish this project, because I am not naturally a 'finisher'. I am generally more of a 'starter' and then a 'languisher'.

So I need back-up here. Do you think that maybe you could gently nag me every couple of weeks to keep me on track? Perhaps I could keep a running 'square tally'.  So far there are 17 squares, a knitted headband and a duck feather in my basket.

Wish me 'duck'.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Real Thrifty

Do you want to see something that makes me really cross? Say you are flying over a city, about to land, and you fly over this lovely suburb with its trees and houses and backyards. I love thinking about all the families in their houses, living their lives, cooking dinner, yelling at their kids to do their homework, and here I am, flying over their heads. Spooky. This is not the bit that makes me cross. 

This is. This is the other bit you fly over on your way to the airport, and this here, these giant, giant warehouses, are full of all the ticky tacky crap that the people in those houses up above (that is, you and me) need, to fill up our houses and backyards and sheds and storage units. And all of this stuff is made in China and brought here on giant cargo ships, and our government feels it is just so important that they get those cargoes of toasters and lamps and flat-pack end tables here in a timely manner, that those cargo ships are allowed to take a short cut through the Great Barrier Reef, because, lordy, what could go wrong? And then all the lamps get packed into giant trucks and trucked through the night on giant freeways, then repacked into giant warehouses so that we can go to Target and buy a $20 lamp to put on our end table, until in a few years it begins to look Not Quite Right, at which time we'll pop it on the curb on hard rubbish day, and go back to Target and buy a new lamp, because, hey, there is always a new lamp. There is, it appears, an inexhaustible supply of new lamps. Each season, at a Target near you.

I have a lamp from Target. It was half price in a clearance sale. I am nothing if not thrifty.

Isn't it quite cute? It is a little bit French provincial, next to the little bit reproduction classical Roman urns, which came from one of those nice shops full of things that look like they came from France. But of course, they both came from China in a giant container on a cargo ship, and my French Provincial decor is a fake pastiche that just hints at how I might really want to be living my life, you know, in a tiny but tasteful manor in a pocket-sized patch of forest with quite a modest moat really, and a walled potager with lots of espaliered fruit trees, and really, just a teeny conservatory with grapes trained under the glass ceiling, and... where was I? 

But really, it's all just a big fake. Our tastefully arranged middle-class lives are pre-made for us on factory assembly lines in China.

I have a dream, not a great big noble one, like MLK, but a smaller, more personal one. I don't want to fill my life with stuff that doesn't mean anything real. I don't want to buy stuff that is made out of other stuff that is wrecking the earth in various ways, that travels around in giant cargo ships threatening fragile marine ecosystems, and requiring acres of bug-ugly warehousing to store. I don't want to live in a world that is that ugly. When I moved here to the lovely town of Launceston in beautiful Tasmania eighteen years ago, cows and sheep grazed around the airport. Now the paddocks around the airport are an industrial estate with no actual manufacturing, just giant warehouses, full of lamps, presumably.

What I want is a life where, if I feel I need a lamp, I can a) find or buy one of the millions of lamps already in existence that have been tossed aside in the quest for a more hipster lamp, or b) find an actual craftsperson who can make me the most beautiful lamp I and they can imagine, and I will save up for a whole year for that lamp, and will treasure it forever and pass it down to my children and their children. Or maybe I could c) make one myself. Most unlikely.

I am beginning to see that 'thrifty' is not buying trinkets at half price that are cheap for me, but really cost the earth. 'Thrifty' is making the very most of what I have, being careful with the good things the earth has given us, not being greedy.

The things on that end table that have actual meaning to me are the little glass vase, chosen by one of Posy's good buddies from an op shop for her 5th birthday, and the ceramic pot pourri bowl, made by hand in the highlands of New Guinea, where I grew up, and given to me by my mum.

These are my stories. Reproduction classical Roman urns from China? Not so much. I am thinking about the world I want for my kids. It includes meaningful work for creative people, which is all of us. Can I avoid contributing to an economy which wants us all to be automatons during working hours, and mindless consumers in our time off? I'd like to. I expect it will be annoyingly inconvenient. Stay Posted.
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