I was so pleased when Christmas was over, not because I didn't like Christmas - it was lovely and Christmassy and jolly and there was all the 'Ho ho ho' and tinsel and trappings that are supposed to accompany the holiday, but as soon as it was over I was thrilled to stop faffing about with the wrapping and jollity, and get stuck into digging and arranging my new vegie garden.
I have never actually had a proper vegie garden, just strips of space clawed back from the lawn here and there, and lots of pots, but inspiration hit a couple of months ago. Up above you can see the children's old cubby house. One day it will be a chicken house, and all the space next to it will be the chicken yard, and I will have beautiful permanent raised beds in the sunniest part of the lawn. Until that fair day dawns, however, I have dug up what was once the children's old sandpit, and a fair whack of lawn as well, and claimed it as my own to grow wonderful lush vegies.
I started before Christmas, when Benson-the-Naughty-Puppy started mysteriously disappearing through a locked gate, and past a fence which is taller than me, and without a chink in it larger than a kitten could get through. Until one day I saw him chasing the cat. The cat leaped up on the four-foot high compost bin and flew over the top of the fence, and, ears flapping madly, Benson-the-Flying-Wonder-Dog followed suit.
Heart sinking, I knew the day had finally come to empty the giant, full-to-the brim compost bins, a task I had been putting off for at least a month, as I kept trying to cram more in the top. It took all day, and a million trips in the wheelbarrow, but I moved the entire, smelly collection over to the other side of the house, back into the bins far, far away from any fence. Benson is not pleased to be trapped in the backyard, but I had a huge load of freshly cured compost (two years old, an excellent vintage) which I dumped where the old sand pit had been, and then planned to expand my vegie empire another few feet or so, past the edge of the old sandpit, and into the lawn.
But was stymied by a very blunt spade which wouldn't cut through the grass. I sharpened the spade with a file from The Man's shed, and it was surprisingly effective. So effective that on Boxing Day, when I had a whole day on my own while The Man took the children out for a picnic, I managed to slice straight through a (quite small) water pipe, and started a (quite small) flood. By an extraordinary coincidence, I for once managed to have an emergency when The Man was actually in the state, and by another extraordinary coincidence, the exact joiners we needed were there in the shed, and it took about five minutes to fix. Now I know how to fix water pipes:)
For the last two days there have been absolutely no dramas, just a lot of hauling around bricks (left over from when we pulled down two chimneys several years ago. I knew those bricks would come in handy..), and digging bricks in to make four beds for crop rotation purposes. This would have been excellent for working off all the Christmas baking, except that I keep eating more of it..
Then tonight I had the bright idea of digging in the contents of the bokashi bin under the laundry sink. Bokashi is a compost system quite useful for townhouses and apartments, all sealed in a bucket, no smells etc, which uses a fermented grain to 'pickle' the compost contents. When the bucket is full, you leave it to continue 'pickling' somewhere (under the laundry sink for instance), while you fill up bucket number two. Then you empty bucket number one by digging it into... the vegie garden? Under some fruit trees? At your mum's place, or in your allotment presumably, if you live in an apartment? Anyway, my bokashi sat under the laundry sink for about a year. I had bought the bins several years ago in a phase when I thought I had to buy everything in all the 'green' catalogues to save the planet. I know better now but I have the buckets, so use them in a desultory way. Anyway, yes, a year under the sink.
'Aha!' I thought, 'I will use that pesky bokashi in the vegie garden, and my pumpkins will be the size of beach balls.' I can tell you now, that even after a year, bokashi is on the fragrant side. I buried it diligently, and then remembered The Dog! Aaargh! Benson-the-Keen-Nosed-Hound sniffed out the wonderful aroma of well-rotted food stuffs from the other end of the house, and hasn't been able to leave the vegie patch alone ever since. I tremble for a) the baby butternuts I just planted, kindly donated by a friend who had an excellent germination rate, and b) for the carpets if Benson manages to dig up the bokashi.
Sigh. I didn't imagine that digging a vegie garden would involve quite this much drama. Vegies in pots are starting to look so EASY.
But I have an actual, real vegie garden. I am so excited:) I will now hop into bed with my garden manuals and plan the ultimate crop rotation..
Well, it is truly summer holidays. The last child has now finished school and is in the back garden with a handful of friends. I am not sure what they are playing, but Posy is yelling, 'Minions! Follow me!' so everything is normal.
It has just occurred to me that it is nearly Christmas, and as usual we have our good friends coming over for lunch, and some serious post-Christmas lunch lolling while the children bounce around in the pool. And in honour of the occasion I have decided to undertake several jobs to make the house and garden sparkle (well, maybe emit an intermittent twinkle, at the very least). I'm not quite sure why I feel I need to embark upon this project, as the friends in question see my house and garden several times a week in all its everyday chaos and grime, but you know, Christmas, season of unrealistic expectations and all that, so here's The Plan - A Week Before Christmas:
Day 7: Faff about, play with the children, eat licorice allsorts and jersey caramels, read books - DONE
Day 6: Vacuum and mop everywhere. NB I already vacuum several times a week, but mopping? Hmm, when was the last time I mopped? You will recall that I recommend mopping once a week in my housekeeping routine? Well, that was more optimistic than prescriptive, shall we say.. in fact, today I had some trouble finding the cloth thing that goes on my Swiffer-type mop. It has been a while. When we renovated I carefully chose floors that didn't show the dirt. Anyway - DONE
Pull all the dead lettuce and pea plants out of the pots in the courtyard. We will eat Christmas lunch outside if the weather is clement (not always a given in Tasmania - one year it hailed..), so dead plants not such a Christmas decorator statement - DONE
Day 5: Clean out fridge to make room for enormous amounts of food friends will bring on Christmas Day. We are all sticklers for over-catering which means no-one has to cook for the next three days, an excellent Christmas tradition. Next few days will see us eating all left overs and using up all those jars of condiments with a half-inch of chutney etc lurking forlornly at the back of the fridge - DONE, although everytime I use left-overs to make a meal, I end up with more left-overs.
Bribe child to work way around house with spray bottle, cleaning fingerprints and associated grime from walls and light switches.
Day 4: Make red currant sauce and lemon cordial. Huge downside of Christmas in summer - peak gardening season at Christmas time. So inconvenient - DONE
Make last minute Christmas gifts with girls. Because it just isn't Christmas without some last minute gift panics - DONE
Day 3: Last-last minute gift buying. Just because - DONE, good lord, please remind me to organise Christmas by November next year.
Spread compost over new garden bed I dug out of the lawn last week. Try to make it look less like a freshly dug grave, because that's just not very festive.
Weed under orange trees next to pool - DONE
Mow and whippersnip lawn. Think about getting goat for Christmas - Update: My brother 'bought' me a goat for Christmas, so that is sorted. Apparently I will have to fly to Africa if I want to borrow it to do the lawn though. Tiny bit inconvenient bro.
Day 2: Clean bathrooms - DONE, sweep front verandah, do something with flowers.
Day 1: Encourage children to express their creativity through the medium of Christmas baking - DONE
Swing gently in hammock with book to test for safety of Christmas Day guests.
Later: Listen for tap-tapping of tiny hoofs on roof.
Christmas Eve morning up-date: Well, a number of things on the list are done, a number of things not on the list are done, a number of things on the list aren't done. I think that covers it, and I am totally fine with that outcome.
I will leave you with a Christmas tableau: The dog chasing the cat round and round the Christmas tree with enormous glee (the dog, that is, the cat, not so much) until the dog becomes inextricably tangled in Christmas baubles and fairy lights, and the cat makes good his escape, while the dog barks frantically, and twinkles.
Happy Christmas, all:)
Please tell me about your last-week-before-Christmas lists. I did so appreciate your harrowing tales of Christmas mayhem in the last post:)
We left the house for half an hour. We left Benson-the-sad-eyed-puppy inside because it was raining. We came back to find the roof eaten off Rosy's gingerbread house and Benson-the-house-wrecker on a sugar high.
Benson-the-naughty-dog is now snuggled up in bed with Rosy, helping her read her book. He is clearly forgiven.
My lap-top is dead. I am communicating with you courtesy of the kindness of my children. Luckily they are quite, quite kind.
Time to walk the bad dog and make some more gingerbread. Hope you manage to enjoy your various festive enterprises without untoward domestic incidents.
PS One of our lovely blog friends, Libi of Farewell Hackney Hipsters recently produced the most gorgeous and delicious baby, the adorable Arlo, and has written a fab post on breastfeeding this week. Could one of you lovely wordpress bloggers please pop over to visit Libi and ask her to retrieve my comments from her spam folder because I would hate for her to think that I have been ignoring her and her sweet babe:) Also, scroll down a few posts to see her freecycled and upcycled tiny vintage London kitchen. Gorgeous:)
Oh, my goodness, what a week. First there was the budgie, who looks quite adorable in florals. She is a baby, six weeks old, and was extremely friendly, hopping onto our hands and perching on our shoulders like a tiny pirate budgie. Her cage was a bower of delicious bottle brush branches and excess kale leaves, she had bird baths in the bathroom sink every day and she appeared to have made friends with the cat. As of yesterday though, she has decided that she doesn't like us, won't hop onto our hands, and if we take her out of her cage, scrabbles desperately to climb back into it again. I suspect a) the cats, or b) the hordes of ten year old girls who have possibly loved her not wisely but too well. Her cage is now permanently hung out of cat range, and we are patiently (well, some of us are) holding our hands in the cage with some seed, waiting for her to love us again (the great lesson of parenthood - bribery, bribery, bribery...).
And then, last night our fence finally became dog proof, and today, we have a lovely, lovely puppy. Now I am not a dog person. BUT Benson is a lovely boy, with eyebrows and a white tip to his tail and velvety ears. I am still not a dog person, but I am now a Benson person. We have been walking him every day that he has been staying at the RSPCA, and he has grown on me. He also lies on his cushion curled up like a saucer, which is rather fetching, and rather a relief, because until we got him home today, we had never seen any evidence that he could actually sit down. We are going to get very fit, apparently.
So far we are taking the advice from the RSPCA and keeping the cats away from the dog for now, but it is like a military operation. They will no doubt meet quite soon, not from any deliberate intent, or under supervision, but due to sheer carelessness on our behalf. That will be exciting.
In other news, my parents are also visiting, but so far they have been very well behaved, and only require the occasional treat and a few walks to keep them happy.
Hi Mum, is it OK to vacuum the sheets instead of washing them?
Letter #1 to the RSPCA:
Dear RSPCA people,
I know you mean well, but please stop putting pictures of cute puppies on your website. The constant whining and pleading that fills the house is making me tired, and also, we don't have a fence on one side of the house because the builder has been 'busy' for nine months, so we can't possibly get a dog.
Thank you for your co-operation in this matter,
Letter #2 to the RSPCA:
Dear RSPCA people,
Well, that wasn't fair, was it, posting that photo of the dog with the eyebrows? You knew I couldn't withstand the pleading, but you did it anyway, and you knew all about the fence situation, but you made me do it, driving the girls to the pound, 'just to look'. Oh, yes, all that innocent advertising about 'all creatures great and small' indeed, but WHAT ABOUT THE MOTHERS?
Yes, you know, the one who will end up doing all the work. I have a very bad feeling about this, and I am blaming you.
The Mother Who Will Be Doing All The Work
Text #1 to Builder:
I know you are extremely busy, but there is a puppy emergency, and we need a fence ASAP or the poor puppy will be trapped at the pound, and there are children who are pining.. Thx
Text #2 to Builder:
I know that it has just recently been Armistice Day, and I realise that you are keen to share your love of military history, and I concede that it is very educational, but I must insist that your transformation of my back yard into a replica of a WWI battlefield is possibly a misplaced enthusiasm. The children are now quite conversant with the slit trench, the redoubt, and the excellent reconstruction of the battle at Hill 60, and I would request that you return it to a state more resembling a suburban backyard than a campaign in the Somme. Thx.
Hello my lovelies. You may have noticed there have been no decluttering and cleaning updates. There is a reason for that - no decluttering or cleaning has been happening, you know, apart from normal bog-standard vaccuuming etc. Instead, I have been distracting myself from a looming existential crisis by re-reading all Dorothy Sayer's detective novels, a Terry Pratchett I hadn't read yet, borrowed from a friend, and an adorable series I discovered at the library (I couldn't resist the titles) by Alan Bradley. If you like Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Peter Wimsey and Inspector Hemingway, you will love Flavia de Luce. Set in post-war Britain, 11 year old Flavia is obsessed with Chemistry, principally poisons, and bicycles serenely around the tiny village of Bishop's Lacey, competently solving local crimes, which annoys the local police inspector no end. She possesses a vague aristocratic father, two deliciously evil sisters who are my favourite characters in the series, and is in cahoots with her father's competent man-servant, who is irresistibly reminiscent of Bunter in the Peter Wimsey novels. Such an entertaining way to avoid reality...
Which is what I am really doing, because, ye gods, reality is terrifying. Here I am, and for twenty three years, all of my adult life, I have been a particular person, married, with kids, and that is who I have been, wife, stay-at-home mum. No complaints or regrets - I am so glad I have been able to watch my kids grow up.. and now, although my life is still inextricably entwined with theirs, the other half of my identity - wife - is gone. And you know, no regrets there either. I have spent quite a long time feeling crushed by a huge burden of guilt, regret and fear of the future, but now I'm done with that (well, I say this now, but of course, those particular emotions tend to return to haunt us at inconvenient moments..). However, that enormous bustling empire that occupied the 'Wife' section of the mental map of my personal universe, is now a void. It is eerily quiet. It is a heart of darkness, waiting..
It has taken some time, I must admit, to gently, or not-so-gently dismantle that empire. It did not go down without a fight. For twenty three years that particular continent has been the scene of such triumphs, such spectacular failures, extraordinary experiments, epic battles, quiet contentment, fear, wars, rumours of wars, joy, hope, resentment, dark conspiracies and, finally, the decline and fall and quiet march into the dark. For some time the empire didn't realise it was dead, and like the sad remnants of other dying empires, still kept trying to administrate territories over which it had no jurisdiction.
It has been the disentangling of those last areas of disputed territories which have been the trickiest, that blurred border between 'Wife' and 'Mother'. That area where 'Wife' may have been, somewhat unwisely in retrospect, micro-managing the relationship between the Dad and his kids. It is a fine line. It is a very easy, rookie mistake to make. It is much harder to let go, and trust that the Dad in question (who is a fine, kind, loving Dad), will go on and have fine, kind, loving relationships with his kids, without (gasp) the constant advice, interference and beneficent nagging of his well-meaning ex-wife. The trouble is, you see, that 'Mother knows best'. I don't know why more people can't see that I would actually be the perfect candidate for Leader of the Universe, because I am clearly always right.
But, by exercising careful self-control, I am beginning to let go the need to control everyone in my family for their own good, which leaves, of course, that big, black void of emptiness where the myriad concerns, anxieties and other manifestations of much of my mental energy was once located. I can understand why newly single people rebound into new relationships as quickly as they can. It is quite terrifying contemplating that empty space. Because do you know what? That space could be filled with anything. I could let it be filled up by the children, but I feel they occupy quite enough of my headspace as it is. I could fill it up with another man, or a demanding occupation, or I could use it to study Italian Renaissance poetry or small engine and appliance maintenance.
Or I could journey into the heart of that dark continent and explore what is already there. Existential malaise indeed. Who exactly am I, bereft of half the identity that has defined me for half my life?
You see why I am reading detective novels? It is all so much simpler when somebody else decides whodunnit and all the loose ends are neatly tied up.
To tell the truth I am getting a little bored with decluttering and spring cleaning. But no matter. We are not doing this because it is fun, we are doing it because clean and tidy is worth more to us than the fleeting pleasures of lolling in the garden with a good book. Hang on, is it really? Well, let's just say, we will be so absolutely pleased and smug as we loll in the garden with a good book while also knowing we are unlikely to contract a respiratory disease from the mould spores in the bathroom. Also, we will be able to find that pesky last umbrella when it comes on to rain and we have one chapter to go. Yay us.
So this week - the bathroom. Bathroom cupboards are appalling places for clutter to accumulate, almost all of it absolute rubbish, because we all use up products and throw the bottle back in the cupboard. We also collect samples and tiny bottles which proliferate and possibly breed under the sink. And what about those other products that seemed like a good idea at the time, but really weren't, and have been languishing since 2004 because we spent good money on them and can't bear to throw them out?
The solution to all of this is a) a bin bag, and b) a steely determination not to let any of this back in our house. Truth is I use about five make-up products and three skin care products. The girls might use a couple more. We buy the same shampoo week in, week out, and really, what we would appreciate more than endless choice, is a lovely clear space where we can find everything we want early in the morning without tipping everything out of the cabinet to get to it.
Luckily, a couple of months ago I cleared out a couple of years' worth of disgusting detritus, so this week I will only need to go decluttering lite. The laundry, however, is another prospect altogether. Ugh. It is full of messy things that I have just dumped there, plus lots of containers of mostly used up laundry liquid etc, that have been 'draining' for about two weeks now (think all that laundry liquid is at the bottom yet?) It will require a major overhaul. Also, between the laundry and the bathroom is what we call the 'back porch', but it is basically a mudroom that our back door opens out of. It houses an old wardrobe full of coats, hats, dirty shoes, umbrellas and shopping bags. There are baskets of hot water bottles, spare light globes and string on top of the wardrobe, and also an army of noxious spray cans to kill every bug known to man, because The Man is not a nature lover. Ants, spiders and flies make him very cross. All of this needs some attention. When The Boy was young I knitted him a fabulous gnome hat. Recently he went to a 'Bad Hat' party, and thought the gnome hat would be perfect, completely disregarding my delicate snowflake feelings. Anyway, I was doubtful he would even find the hat, but there it was, at the bottom of the hat basket in back porch closet, not having been moved in the fourteen or so years since he last wore it. So I think it be Time.
Now cleaning. Mainly the bathroom ceiling. Mould. And dead bugs. I think I will offer Rosy significant bribes to climb the ladder and solve that problem for me. Plus, the laundry window is also pretty mouldy. Should do something about that.
That all might keep me out of trouble this week. After that, I think I will consider myself done, and start concentrating on finishing planting the garden and considering Christmas.
Tell me about your cleaning and decluttering adventures this week..
Ok, so first we have the Not Green and Thrifty section to get out of the way. This morning I emptied all the dead food out of the fridge. Oh dear, oh dear. Report card reads 'Could do better'. Note to self. Just stop buying cauliflower. No-one will eat it, no matter what you do to it.
Chopped up a big bunch of spinach from the school vegie garden into the lasagne - and, while we are on that subject, during my nana nap this afternoon I had a sudden vision of how to make bechamel sauce in the blender. This is how I always make custard, so I thought I would try it with white sauce as well. Worked like a dream (well, it would all have been much better if I hadn't dropped the flour container on the floor and had to do significant sweeping). So I put in the milk (600ml), melted the butter (60g), added that, then the flour (60g) and whizzed it all up in the blender, then whisked it in the saucepan as per usual, adding grated cheese (handful), nutmeg, pepper and salt at the end. It was much quicker than making a roux, and I imagine it wouldn't be as likely to go lumpy either. So, cooking experiment success story. Although it has just occurred to me that it makes more dishes. I love the dish washer.
In the last two weeks I have been given two cartons of eggs (thank you Karlin and Cindy), so we are enjoying our home laid breakfasts:
Gorgeous nana crockery from the op shop.
I have discovered there is nothing more fun than to dip asparagus spears in a soft boiled egg while reading murder mysteries at breakfast time. The easiest way to have the egg and asparagus ready at the same moment is to pop the asparagus into the egg water when it starts boiling. They will both be ready two and a half minutes later.
The weather here in balmy Tasmania is absolutely freezing. I am sure it is snowing on our nearest mountain right now. It is sleeting here. The vegie garden is hanging on, but kind of sulking a bit. I don't blame it. We are trying to be very good and wear all the layers instead of turning on the heaters, and I hope we are winning at the battle to save electricity. Our tumble dryer broke a couple of months ago. I haven't replaced it, because with only four people living here now it is possible to dry all our washing inside. Although really, I generally just hang it outside anyway and cross my fingers. The great thing about our weather is that there are usually enough breaks between rain to dry washing. So far, from a combination of luck and planning there have always been dry school uniforms, although the girls have had to wear their school socks twice on a number of occasions. I tell them hardship is good for character development:)
The reward for walking to the gym this week has been adorable fat pink crab apple buds. I have also actually walked into town a couple of times and not died, so that was good. I also got to appreciate the giant chestnut trees in the parks, with their elegant white candle flowers. Love, love. While I was walking I casually broke off a few geranium cuttings that were poking through front fences. I popped them into a glass of water on the kitchen bench, and so far have only one growing roots. But one free plant is better than none, non?
I have declared this week Rhododendron Appreciation Week, because they are at their glorious peak at the moment, veritable cascades of blossom in parks and gardens. My favourites are the white with pale pink edges. Monday is a public holiday, and I have planned to meet up with friends in a local park which has an entire hill covered with rhododendrons. We shall eat home baked goodies and stroll around the rhododendron forest appreciating them with enthusiasm.
Being thrifty is so easy if you love gardens. You get to walk everywhere and appreciate lovely gardens, a grand day out is appreciating gardens in beautiful free public parks, you get to share plants with friends and make whole new plants out of tiny twigs from people's front gardens, because nature doesn't ask you to pay for any of her bounty. Today I picked a salad of self-sown lettuce, which has been feeding us for about two months now. I also picked rocket which has been self-seeding between paving stones, and added self-sown parsley, and new little broad bean and snow pea leaves, which I grew from saved seed. Thank you nature. Keep it up:)
Painting is one of the world's most boring occupations. When I was painting walls and ceilings during an earlier part of the renovations, my daily thankful prayer was, 'I am so grateful I don't have to paint for a living.' Some people tell me they find painting relaxing and meditative. Well, they are clearly more evolved than I am. I find painting repetitive and irritating. So some kind patron saint of Easily Irritated DIY Practitioners must have led me to the audiobook section at the library last week, where I picked up Cheryl Strayed's Wild. Thirteen wonderful hours of beautifully distracting prose, a memoir woven seamlessly through the story of an arduous summer-long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in California and Oregon.
Now you must know that hiking, carrying a heavy back pack, getting sweaty, nature as it involves bugs and most other wildlife, putting up tents and other by-products of camping are all anathema to me, but listening to someone else's experience of being exhausted and sweaty and terrified of mountain lions was wonderfully therapeutic over my weekend of painting; it made wielding a paintbrush and getting a slightly sore painting arm seem quite relaxing in comparison.
I first came across Cheryl Strayed's writing via her Dear Sugar columns several months ago. Dear Sugar was an agony aunt column, with no holds barred. Strayed is that unusual person who does not hide or avoid or cover up pain. She heads straight into it, straight to the heart of the person she is writing to every time. She has come through oceans of her own pain, swum through it, almost drowned in it, but come through to landfall, and her Dear Sugar letters are extraordinary love letters to many sad and broken hearts.
Which made me pick up Wild, eager to read about the life of this big hearted person. And there it all is in its painful honesty, a life and the walk of a lifetime, all woven into each other to create what becomes almost an epic tale, one of the old hero tales, or a pilgrimage. The author walks the trail for a hundred days. overwhelmed by the task she has set herself, but also overwhelmed by the pain of her past. She writes so simply, but direct to the heart. Rosy came in to the study over the week end to find me sobbing with my head in my arms, while holding the paint brush at arm's length so I wouldn't get paint in my hair.
'Mum, what's wrong?' she asked in alarm.
'The h-h-horse DIED,' I wailed. Rosy gave me that special look she saves just for me and my endless peculiarities, patted my shoulder and went to get me a cup of tea. She is a good girl, and should live long in the land (by the way, I haven't spoiled the plot for you. The horse was always going to die, but I defy you not to cry about it anyway).
There is much pain and loss and fear and anger in this memoir. But it is a very hopeful book. My favourite sentence is the last, as the author compares her life to the fish in the river at the end of her trek, fish slipping away just under the surface of the river, impossible to catch or grasp or possess. Her life is:
Like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be.
I just love this line. In a world of self-improvement, I will hug this thought to me. How wild it is to just let my life be what it is and will be. And I will admit it, as a tiny bit of a perfectionist and being rather fond of being in control, I am both challenged and comforted by that thought. I have no idea where that will take me, but believe me, you will read about it here:)
When The Man and I separated we were at the end of a twelve year renovation. Within a whisker of everything being completely finished. All that needed to be done was to install an efficient heating system, and build some shelves in the tiny ground-floor study. The Man had been meaning to build those shelves for, oh, maybe a year. But his stressful job and our stressful relationship kind of got in the way. Eventually, as everything irrevocably fell apart, we realised that The Man was never going to build those shelves, so I had a joinery firm we had used before come and measure up to do the job.
The nice young man came and asked me what I wanted, and I told him. Then I forgot all about it and he went away for three months because they 'had a lot of jobs on' as these firms inexplicably always seem to do when you want them. Then the shelves turned up in a van the other morning, and another nice young man started putting them up.
I popped downstairs after about half an hour to see how things were going. Now this is the point where I should have looked at the monstrosity he had put up on my wall, when it was held in by a mere half dozen screws, and shrieked, 'Good God, that is hideous. Take it down right now and put up the simple shelves I thought I asked for.'
Instead of which I squeaked, 'Oh yes, that looks so good,' and went back upstairs and kicked the wall. Truth is, I suffer from Over-the-Top Politeness Syndrome. Think Hugh Grant, but female, and less charming, and more like a prim librarian. I do not make fusses. I hate to hurt peoples' feelings. I am crippled by a sense of social awkwardness where I am afraid I might offend a stranger. I am the person who says, 'Sorry,' when someone else steps on my toes.
I was incapable of sending that poor young man back to his workshop with an unwanted, hideous set of shelves because he must have worked SO hard to make them. So I just let him put them up, and I will hate them forever and grin and bear it, because that is also what I do. Because clearly it was my fault. I must have said 'yes' when the nice young man proposed this monstrosity because I often say 'yes' to tradies, just to make them go away. In fact, I said 'yes' to the vision in my head where there were more shelves, narrower and closer together, but we only ever talked about it, and I never saw a visual representation. I am a very visual person. I should NEVER say 'yes' to something I have only heard about, with measurements I somehow agreed to without seeing what they would look like..
Aargh, I am so very spineless, with not a determined, predatory bone in my body. By the time the nice young man had spent some hours hammering fillers into the side of the shelves to jam them between the walls, and nicely puttied up the screw holes and filled all the cracks around the edge, it was Too Late to stop being a jellyfish. I waved off the nice young man and glumly started under-coating the hateful shelves, absolutely furious at myself for not being able to make a decent A-grade fuss about things I am not happy about.
I have stared down the beastly things for two days now as I paint them. If this were a novel or a movie, this would be the moment that I would take a sledge hammer to them, crash them down and build the shelves I want with my own two bare hands. This is not a novel or a movie. I have reluctantly conceded that the shelves look marginally better now they are white rather than dreadful MDF brown. I cannot stand the thought of the mess, the cost and the fuss of ripping them down and getting something else put in its place. The tiny traitorous thought has occurred to me that being so incredibly large and over-engineered, I can store every single homeless item in the house on those shelves. Practicality has won over indignation. But the indignation is still there. Every time I look at those shelves a tiny flame of indignation is fanned. I will not always be a jellyfish. I will find out what I really want. I will ask for it very clearly. And if I don't get it, I will absolutely, positively almost certainly say, 'Excuse me, um, there seems to be a, um problem with this thingy that, but, well yes, it seems it is not quite what I um.... want. After all. Sorry.'
I will be like Arthur Dent after he has worked up a real head of steam. I will be Unstoppable!!
The hideous bank of shelves which look like they belong in an accountant's office. Actually, they do look marginally better now they are painted white.
The simple plank shelves on the other side of the room which I like. I thought I had asked for more of the same on the other wall, only longer and thinner, but clearly not... I also took the opportunity to paint some baskets white while I had the paint out.
The best thing about my study is the view. It is the only room in the house which looks out at the garden from ground level.
Artichokes and bottlebrush and the pink flowers my mother calls kiss-me-quick. Their official name is centrathus ruber, but that is boring.
All the cups of tea, lined up in prim librarian style. The girls keep bringing them down to me. I think they are worried about the constant, slightly mad muttering coming from inside the study..
You may have noticed that there was no decluttering going on at Chez Blueday last week. This is because I worked for four days and was exhausted. I must admit, put like that, it doesn't look terribly exhausting, but I don't think I have ever worked four days in a row outside the house ever, and I got halfway through a post on Monday night and fell asleep! And I certainly did nothing around the house other than basic tidying, laundry and dinner. I am very impressed at the work all you full time working mums do, especially those who sometimes have the energy to write to us all at night as well.
I have been watching old episodes of Kirstie's Vintage Home recently while doing the ironing. And something I have noticed is that while all the decorative touches she adds and creates are lovely, really, the significant difference happens when those rooms are decluttered. It is not just a matter of moving things around and storing them more efficiently, it is the fact that a good three quarters of the stuff in those rooms is gone by the end of the make-over, that creates an end result which is so peaceful and inviting. Not only more peaceful and inviting though, also more adult. A living room that is very cluttered really has the look of a teenager's bedroom. It is as if the things in the room are more powerful than the person who owns them. This is a feeling I have often had, especially in the years when my house was dreadfully cluttered. I was completely overwhelmed by my 'stuff', which meant I had effectively handed over my power to a bunch of inanimate objects. A clear, calm, deliberately arranged room sends a powerful signal - I am in charge here, and my things are here because I have chosen them, not because they have just cluttered themselves all over the place.
In one of the episodes I watched, a couple had a very cluttered house, but a very clear idea of the aesthetic they were after - 60s retro. It turned out that they had quite a lot of lovely pieces of 60s furniture, and that they were also very knowledgeable and competent at buying good pieces secondhand. At the beginning of the show though, in their living room cluttered with baby gear and daily detritus, they looked terribly helpless, and you couldn't see that they had any aesthetic at all. It was literally hidden under the clutter. What decluttering revealed was a confident and knowledgeable young couple with an adult room which showcased their talent for design.
Two or so years ago we had our whole living room and dining room gutted and rebuilt to add double glazed windows, insulation, new floors and less walls. We lived for a whole winter with the master bedroom as our only living space. It was quite... cosy. When the day came that we could finally move into our 'new' spaces, I only moved about a third of the 'stuff' back into the rooms that had originally been there. It was about then that I started my 'war on stuff' as well, so very little now lives in either room. They are not large rooms, so having very little in them except furniture makes them quite calm spaces to be in (well, let's be honest, a lot of daily nagging needs to go on to achieve this outcome. I have hopes that it will be only, oh, five more years or so before the nagging becomes internalised, and the shoes, hairbrushes, craft-work, tea cups and toast plates all magically find their own way back out of these spaces).
Now, I would really like to add some more Kirstie-style decorative touches these rooms - especially one large bare wall in the living room, but the fact that it is a lovely clear and calm space after I have whipped around and tidied every morning, and plumped the cushions, well, that makes me happy. The only things that are stored in this room are invisible. Magazines, DVDs, CDs, all tucked away in the coffee table and the cupboard. My sister-in-law taught me the value of lamp-light for a living room, so every evening I close the curtains and light two lamps. The soft light is very calming. I noticed when the children were small that soft lighting after dinner, and no TV, helped them settle ready for bed. That is not what always happened in our household - but when it did, bedtime was much pleasanter! Even now, the ten year old is much calmer when we have soft lights and music and a story instead of the overhead light and television. It is also an excellent way for adults to relax and wind down. Soft lights and no visual stimulation tell our brains that it is time for sleeping. Maybe this is why I am usually in bed by 9.30pm. Or maybe that is my inner nana!
So, jobs for the living room this week:
Sweep the ashes out of the fire place for summer.
Take all the covers off the couch to wash them. I have never done this. I hope I don't shrink them! I had all the cushions made with zips when the couch was re-upholstered, but I have never been brave enough to unzip them. I was going to have the couch cleaned, but maybe I can do it myself...
Um, I think that is it. Oh, there is a pile of magazines on the ottoman that I keep meaning to give to a friend. Must do that.
Jobs for dining room:
I have some lovely old wooden file drawers from The Man's work next to our dining table. They are our craft drawers, filled with all the children's art supplies. We always do art at the table, which means it has to be cleared away before the next meal. This is vital. Once we had an art area in another room. We used to be able to close the door on art mess. That was a big mistake. Only having craft where we must confront its messiness three times a day is a lifesaver! We put away a lot more consistently now. However, these drawers are becoming over-stuffed, and a lot of them don't even shut properly any more. It is time to reorganise them. I will get Posy to help me. She loves rearranging things. Then maybe we can have fun making Christmas craft. Ha ha. I wrote the words 'fun' and 'craft' in the same sentence. Don't worry, fun crafts will likely never feature on this blog again:)
Another job that confronts me in the dining room is the surface of the dining table. A few weeks ago Posy had a hissy fit about an art project, and threw it across the table in a rage, spattering acrylic paint everywhere. Now the surface of the table is covered in a fine splatter of paint that won't come off. There are also numerous scratches, paint stains from previous art projects, dents and various mysterious stains that could be anything, up to and including blood. I am not quite sure how to tackle this problem. I could refinish both the table and the coffee table, which has similar issues. I actually can do this, but would have to take them outside, and it would take days. Maybe when The Girl finishes exams it could be a mother-daughter bonding project. I expect she will be thrilled about that. Meanwhile I think I may have to reframe the table as 'rustic' and 'well-loved'. Unless anyone has a magic acrylic paint removal recipe?
Who would like to join me in making the living room and dining room presentable for the holiday season (or in Australia, just in time for the children to come home for the summer holidays and mess it all up again for six weeks..).
Oh, and here is my very best tip for making the dining room look organised. Push the dining room chairs in neatly. Or nag someone else to. Makes all the difference. Ditto plumping cushions in the living room, and folding the blankets neatly. My floors are a disgusting sight right this minute, but I'm hoping anyone who visits will only notice the splendidly plumped cushions!!
Monday: Did any of you ever read What Katy Did when you were a child? Do you remember the part where Katy finds her little brother's diary and reads it out as entertainment on their picnic? Most of his entries read - Forgit what did. Describes my week exactly. So, Monday - Forgit what did.
Tuesday: Forgit what did.
Wednesday: Even though my dementia is increasing by the day, you will be happy to know I can remember what I did today. I cleaned out the fire place for summer. Hurrah! This morning I visited a giant wholesale supermarket for the first time. I believe it must be the place that supplies a lot of the local cafes and restaurants. Enormous catering packs of all sorts of unlikely products such as giant tins of pineapple slices and the most enormous bucket of Vegiemite you have ever seen. Well, in between stocking up on giant packs of choc bits I found one of those old fashioned wooden banister brushes with the black bristles. They used to be made of horse tail hair or something, but this one was coconut fibres. It is absolutely marvellous, and I used it to brush out the fire place, feeling exactly like a Victorian house maid. I have so much fun some days, it just kills me.
Anyway, after I did my chimney sweep impression I pulled all the covers off the couch and put them through a delicate wash cycle with eucalyptus oil in the fabric softener compartment. I had my heart in my mouth, and all fingers and toes crossed, because who knew if I would shrink the covers and never be able to get them on the cushions again? They dried beautifully in the sunshine, and I brought them in just in time for Posy to get home from school to help me with the zips. It looked like a close thing there several times, but we finally got the covers on, and now I have ABSOLUTELY banned anyone from eating anything on the couch ever. That lasted for half an hour until I found Posy eating toast on it and watching telly. Which she will not be doing again in a hurry, I assure you.
Thursday: Washed all the cushion covers today. As I was hanging them on the line I noticed that one of my nice linen ones had a label which said 'Dry Clean Only'. Eeek! However it all ended well, without shrinkage or other disaster, so don't believe everything you read. I have a bit of a collection of duck feather cushions - SO wonderfully fat and heavy and satisfying to plump! A couple were a lucky op shop find, the other two quite expensive. I took them outside and gave them a good bashing, to release a winter's worth of dust into the backyard. They really needed that. I also washed the couch throws and vacuumed under all the couches. Oh my goodness, it has been some weeks months since I did that. On the bright side I found Posy's favourite missing sock (only Posy would have favourite socks. There has been much drama about its missingness. Now that it's found, I bet it won't be the favourite any more..).
Friday: Have completely ignored all spring cleaning duties. Yesterday had some shelves put in the study, and am determined to finish painting them this weekend. Not helped by a student-free day at school today, Posy and her Gang of Three who can cause more mess and havoc than any children I have ever met, with a sleepover thrown in. Aargh! A pox on the Department of Education!
It is quite early on a Saturday morning. I haven't had much sleep. During the night I dreamed that I found a lump in my breast. When I woke up at an ungodly hour, of course I found a lump in my breast. I sent a text to The Man, who is currently in China, so he could prepare himself for single parenthood. Because clearly I was about to die. After some hours of mentally rehearsing touching deathbed scenes, I realised that what I had was more of a ridge than a lump. And actually, there was a similar one on the other side. Aargh! Two lumps. Then it occurred to me that maybe what I was feeling was possibly a muscle. I have, after all, been lifting (quite small) weights in the gym for months. I sent a further text to The Man: Possible alternative diagnosis - an actual muscle. Middle aged woman goes to doctor to be told she has a muscle. Surprise all round.
Of course I will go to the doctor. Of course she will tell me I am fine, but sensible to have checked. Of course..
Today is The Boy's 21st birthday party. That dear little baby, who was always happy, but saw no reason to go to sleep. Ever. And now he's all grown up. Still always happy. Sleeps more now. Still as crazy as he ever was. On his list of things to do this morning is Buy Kerosene. There are going to be friends juggling fire sticks at the party. What could go wrong? Some time ago The Boy decided to juggle with steak knives. He sent me a photo of the blood. Silly boy, I could have sworn I told him not to juggle with steak knives. Didn't I? Or did I skip that instruction?
I have been nagging him for months to do his tax. I told him yesterday now he is a grown-up there are No Excuses. Several weeks ago he asked me to write a book for teenagers leaving home. He said there were so many things he had no idea about. Like the first time he paid his electricity bill, he stood there holding the bill, with no idea what to do with it. Should he recycle it? Or keep it? Why would he keep it? Was it important?
Well, of course I was up for that. I knew exactly how it should start. 'Do not juggle with steak knives' would be my first piece of sage advice to the young and confused, followed by 'Do your tax'. But then, before my magnum opus was even properly begun, I found the exact book he was after. It has already been written, by a pert and charming young redheaded snippet of a journalist. Curses. There goes my writing career before it even started. Still, it is a wonderful book. Any of you with young adult children, order it right away for them for Christmas.
It is called Adulting (How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps) by Kelly Williams Brown. Kelly Williams Brown is an annoyingly accomplished and engaging writer. Her book covers cooking, cleaning, and filing bills. She also gives useful advice on appropriate behaviour and dress codes at work as well as important tips on how not to kill houseplants. The chapters on friendships and relationships though, are absolute gold, and the real reason we all need to go and buy this book immediately for every young person we know. With this book in hand I feel I could have navigated the treacherous shoals of my rocky teenage social life, university years, and young adulthood much more gracefully and with more confidence and integrity than I did at the time. I loved this book. There is also a blog which includes some of the material from the book, and more useful life advice. Yes, you may thank me now for sorting Christmas presents for all your nieces and nephews/god children/grandchildren, and every 18th and 21st you ever go to from now on. You're very welcome.
I will now be popping out to the gym to work on that muscle.
Updated to add fire juggling photos. None of which, I am pleased to say, feature The Boy:)
My green and thrifty adventures this week have been all about the garden and the kitchen. Which is not a surprise. The necessity of eating every day makes garden-and-kitchen the most obvious place for making huge savings. It's all a matter of planting a little of something, often, then eating what you grow, wasting nothing, then putting all the non-edible bits back into the garden. This sounds simple, but is actually fairly complex and demanding, as many seemingly simple things are. But probably quite definitely worth it:)
Popped up to the pool with the kettle - as you do. No, I wasn't planning an afternoon tea pool party, although that idea certainly has its merits. I was actually planning an all out assault on certain persistent weeds in the retaining wall there. I plugged in the kettle at the pool deck, repeatedly filled and boiled it, then poured it on the dock and dandelion weeds whose roots go down between the bricks in the retaining wall, and refuse to die. Ha. That learned 'em. They won't try that trick again in a hurry. When I wasn't waging war on weeds I fed the orange trees up by the pool with two bags of delicious straw chicken bedding that my lovely gym buddy gave me. Best. Gift. Ever. Will make my hungry oranges happy, and biodegrade in no time. Brilliant present, requires no dusting! Am hoping for many more similar gifts:) Also added sheep poo for extra goodness. Sheep poo was the only thing I bought at the recent school fair. It actually doesn't provide much extra nutrition to plants, but is the most marvellous soil conditioner, especially for my clay soil.
It has been cool and rainy this week, which is excellent weather for transplanting, as the poor plants and seedlings get a good start with the rain, and no heat-induced transplant shock. Who has seen the gardening hint regarding planting the bunches of spring onions that you buy at the shops? Well, this week I had a go - used the tops of the onions, planted out the bottoms. Let's see how that works out. Has anyone else tried this?
Baby peas, baby parsley, wonky spring onions
Although I have tried many home made and natural cleaning products, I have always had to resort to nasty chemicals for the oven, because I wait for about a year between cleanings, despite my best intentions. Well, this weekend, I finally found a way to clean my oven successfully using lemons and baking soda. And lots of elbow grease.
When I started getting email reminders for this year's school fair, it occurred to me that I still had unidentified chunks of frozen lamb from last year's school fair, when I bought a side of lamb all at once to be thrifty. I am pretty sure that year-old frozen lamb won't kill us. At least it hasn't yet, but I did make a resolution to cook the remaining lamb chunks ASAP. So I thought I would share my fail-proof recipe for Mystery Freezer Meat. I made up this recipe because my family didn't really like any of the slow cooker recipes I tried. Not enough flavour, and vegies that taste blah at the end of all that cooking, so my solution was to invent a slow cooker base recipe, which I cook up with a big chunk of any cheap meat, then freeze and reheat with fresh vegies and spices at dinner time:
Best Ever Slow Cooker Base
Throw into the slow cooker:
1kg (2 lbs) of any cheap stewing meat. Fatty is fine, and makes it lovely and tender, just pop it straight in. A whole chicken also works well.
2 chopped onions
2 to 4 minced or chopped garlic cloves
2 heaped tsps dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 bottles tomato passata (680gm or 24oz each)
Cook on low for 8 hrs (I always start it on high until it boils, then turn down to low).
Once the meat falls apart when poked with a fork, turn it off and cool it down. When it is cool I pull apart the meat and fish out any bones, cartilage and fat. The I pop it into the fridge overnight. The next day I skim off any fat, and freeze in dinner-size portions. This amount makes about four dinners for our family of four.
When I want to serve I add salt, spices and vegies.
For Chili con Carne I add chili, coriander and cumin plus kidney beans, and serve with corn, salsa and sour cream.
For a classic stew, sauteed mushrooms and steamed or roasted pumpkin and carrot served with mashed potato.
Chunks of roasted zucchini, tomato and red pepper for a vaguely Italian inspired dish served over pasta or cous cous.
Whatever else your imagination suggests..
What fun thrifty projects have you undertaken this week? Any kitchen and garden adventures?
Last week in my bedroom I had a lot of decluttering to do, but very little cleaning. This week is the opposite. LOTS of cleaning, very little to declutter. Two years ago when we renovated I moved from a large kitchen with walk-in pantry (which is now my bedroom with walk-in dressing room) to a small kitchen with standard corner pantry cupboard. Quite a big loss you might think. But what did I gain? Sunshine! A wonderful view! A kitchen integrated with the rest of the living area. Company while I cook. All worth it. I also discovered that I didn't need lots of the kitchen stuff I had been hanging on to, and can't remember what I got rid of, though it was quite a lot.
I think we all have a lot of 'stuff' in our kitchens that we don't need. Our grandmothers all cooked every meal from scratch and preserved food from their gardens with a fraction of the gadgets and storage space that we all have now. Think of the cupboard space in an average 1950s or even 1970s home compared to our kitchens today. What are we hanging onto that perhaps we don't really need?
Having said that, I am not volunteering to going back to beating up cakes with a wooden spoon. On the other hand, I have a small, cheap hand-held electric beater, not a giant, expensive Kitchen-Aid, gorgeous though they are. For each of us there may be a different set of gadgets that we love and use every day, and others that maybe we keep 'just in case'. Maybe it's a bread machine or a juicer or fifty extra tupperware containers or a cup cake stand that is getting in between chaos and a sane, calm, ordered space. A very dear friend of mine hates to throw away plastic take away containers, because that would be such a waste. When I helped her clean out her kitchen last year they were taking up a whole cupboard! In my case I have said 'No' to the Thermomix and the Kitchen-Aid and the bread machine, and 'Yes' to the blender and food processor I already own, and making bread by hand, which I find very therapeutic. It all comes down to our individual kitchens and habits. How much space do we have (this is a reality we generally can't change) and what are our habits and needs (these can change if we want it enough)?
Anyway, I have accepted the reality that I cannot fit anything else into my kitchen without removing something already there, and I am quite happy with that, because I can't think of anything I need to cook or store that I can't currently manage, so all good:) Actually, having said that, I could stand to remove a couple of things from my baking and cookware drawers, because the key to a calm kitchen, or any kind of storage, is a margin of space for inefficient packing. A couple of my deep drawers are so full that they require very dedicated stacking, which means they don't shut when the children unpack the dish washer. This is clearly unacceptable:) So well, yes, a little decluttering is in order.
But principally this week - cleaning. Theoretically I clean one wall of the kitchen each week. But practically, these last few months I have been skipping the deep clean and just wiping surfaces before returning to howling in a dark corner. Now I have mostly quit howling, I am noticing the months of ground-in grime. And much as procrastinating is one of my best talents, the satisfaction of a sparkly clean kitchen is profound, as is the wonderful seratonin hit of vigorous exercise in a sunny kitchen to the accompaniment of rather loud music. Well, I am hoping for all of that anyway:)
So tasks for this week:
Cleaning the fronts of all the cabinets, including the high ones I always skip (we had cupboards built up to the ceiling to get extra storage and no dust traps).
Cleaning the rangehood, including the filters.
Cleaning the microwave and oven (aargh!).
Cleaning out the fridge and freezer.
Oh dear, the bin cupboard.
Clean the dishwasher.
Make sure there isn't any unused food in the pantry (rhetorical - I know there is!) Come up with a plan to use it.
Anything else? Clean the appliances on the bench.
Vacuum and wipe out the drawers.
Will I get through all of this? Possibly not, but anything that I manage will be an improvement:)
Monday: Did all my Monday jobs, then had a nana nap and faffed about, feeling broody and miserable with my cold. Am not a fun person to be around with a cold. Finally at 10pm was about to drag my sorry self to bed, but couldn't bear to not be able to report a tiny bit of progress to you all - so cleaned the microwave. Teeny tiny baby steps:)
Tuesday: Similar to Monday. I cleaned the bathroom, napped, then started in on my cleaning jobs at the relatively early hour of 8.30pm. Climbed up on my step ladder and washed the fronts of all the high cabinets. I am really going to have to get a wriggle on over the next few days! I might even have to contemplate starting to clean before dinner.
Wednesday: Medical appointments, visitors, children.
Thursday: Feeling blah about unrelenting march of iron levels towards bottom of chart. More medical tests imminent. Visit friends for mental health boost. Bath.
Friday: Ok, we CAN clean the kitchen, can't we? I climbed up on the step ladder to clean the stainless steel range hood with my excellent home made bathroom paste, only to be met with the message 'Posy was here' inscribed in the greasy, dusty film that covered it. Thank you Posy, my housekeeping conscience. Why, you may ask, was 10 year old Posy high enough to be able to leave a message above my line of sight? My guess would be she was standing on a high stool raiding the chocolate I keep out of her reach. Until now..
And here, my friends, is my tip of the day. Which you are probably already doing anyway. A couple of months ago a friend was visiting after I had spent a good half hour cleaning the range hood filters laboriously in the kitchen sink. 'You know you can put them in the dishwasher?' she said nonchalantly. Ha. Well, today I can confirm that, yes, it is indeed possible to wash filters in the dishwasher. Hooray! Happy days! I may be the last person to discover this, but just in case I am only the second-last person to find out, I offer this tip to you, my lovelies, to use as you will.
Saturday and Sunday: Aargh, the state of the oven has been haunting me. Usually (read 'once a year') I clean the oven using the most toxic chemicals in spray can known to man, because nothing else will shift the baked-on gunk. But this weekend would be different. Armed with several oven cleaning recipes using no more than lemons and baking soda, I would be green and clean. First I liberally wiped the inside of the oven with my bathroom paste (see above). Then I heated the oven. When it was good and hot (200C, 390F) I poured boiling water into a pan of cut-up lemons, popped the pan in the oven, and left it all to cook for 20 mins. Turned off the oven without opening the door and let it all cool down to merely warm. When I took the pan out it looked like this:
All that brown gunge had dripped into the pan from the roof of the oven. Mmm. Now imagine steel wool and 20 mins or so of hard scrubbing, using extra baking soda on the baked-on lava-like formations on the oven door. It was a great workout. It did not bear much resemblance to the instructions in my old housekeeping manual which blithely advised me that I would be able to wipe out the oven with a soft cloth. Ha. Still, perhaps previous generations cleaned their ovens more than once a year.
Ok, so now my oven is quite reasonably clean, though not exactly ex-factory pristine, I am wondering if it is possible to wipe it out when I have used it? Possible yes, but probable? Hmmm...
Thank you, as always for your company and comments. They keep me cleaning and decluttering with verve if not 100% efficiency. You will have realised by now that I have not accomplished everything on my list - but you know what, the kitchen is WAY cleaner than it was last week, so I am counting this week as a win:)
There are two types of cooking: the first is when you find a nice recipe and go out and procure the ingredients for it. The second is when you pull a whole bunch of nearly dead ingredients out of the fridge, stack them on the kitchen bench, and wildly cast around for something to do with them all as they are going off before your very eyes...
Today's cooking session was of the latter variety. What I had to work with was: some limp celery and an elderly cauliflower. That became cauliflower soup. A chicken carcass became chicken noodle soup. Some left-over rice became fried rice, which is a miracle food in my book, because it is the one food Posy will always eat. Sure enough, she turned up with a buddy just as I had finished cooking it, and they ate it for lunch. I made naan bread to go with the soup, and The Girl whipped up a chocolate self-saucing pudding, so we are all set for weekend food, and the fridge is much tidier.
I have ad awful cold id the head. I have been dripping copiously into one of The Man's large hankies, and popping out to pick sage leaves from the garden every few hours. Here is my pretty green sage tea. It tastes... well...like sage. But I think it is making my throat better.
If I were to implicitly believe my herb book, in addition to its antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties, my sage tea would be curing my: tonsillitis, bronchitis, TB, arthritis, gout and 'women's problems' (that would be all of my problems, I guess). It will also calm my heart and delay the ageing process due to its antioxidant properties. Go sage. Edited to add: Forgot to note - sage tea is a big no-no if you are pregnant, but excellent after giving birth (helps contract the uterus) and excellent for menopause, as highly estrogenic. If you are pregnant, do not drink any herbal teas unless you know they are safe for pregnancy:)
While I was out picking sage, I noticed the oregano was at peak lushness, so I picked a whole bunch of that to dry. Most herbs are better fresh, or made into herb butter and frozen, but I really like dried oregano. And I find if I pick it now, it isn't covered in white fly as it will be in a few weeks. I know, extra protein, but I am happy with today's vegan option.
You want more green and thrifty? Well, here's one The Girl prepared earlier. One of her dear friends has a birthday, and The Girl made her a hamper of mug, book, and special teas, because she is that kind of kindred spirit friend. The Girl packaged up the teas in lovely bags with home made labels, painted a beautiful card:
And gift-wrapped it in a shoe box with knotted-string-and-button detail. Mmm, perfect.
It is school holidays and very low key at the moment. Rosy has spent days lying in the hammock and reading in her pyjamas after spending the first part of the week with her friends at the beach. I am thrilled that Posy has discovered some local buddies who live on the same block, so that they can visit each other without having to cross the road. They spend so much time with each other, whizzing up and down the streets on their scooters, in and out of each others' houses. It is very relaxing for all the parents, because none of us have a bored ten year old girl under our feet. Mostly I only know they are here because I look out the back door and see legs dangling down out of the pear tree. And there is the shrieking of course. But generally it is muffled. Anyway, mostly it is all very calm and cruisy, and they are painting, playing board games, scooting and constructing complicated pulley arrangements with rope and baskets in the tree.
Happy Spring Days! Tell me about your thrifty projects this week..
Well, it is school holidays here in Tasmania, which makes it a perfect week for the children to declutter their own bedrooms. To add an extra fillip of motivation I have bribed the girls with the promise of an expedition for tea and cakes upon successful completion of this project. As the holidays are two weeks long, I have extended the deadline for them. Fifteen minutes of decluttering and tidying and emptying cupboards per day may do the trick. Well, at least it will improve the situation immensely. Surely?
As for me, I will just spend the one week on my room, because otherwise I will be on this decluttering project until Christmas. I don't know about you, but I tend to use my room as a dumping ground for various unclassifiable piles of things that I need to do something about at some unnamed future date. Currently I have Posy's outgrown school uniforms to give way or sell, a bunch of Posy's dolls that she doesn't want anymore that I can't bring myself to just take to the op shop (Mummy sentimentalism..), a stack of pictures that I haven't hung yet since the renovations happened, a pile of clothes that I can't decide whether I want to keep or not.. you know how it goes. Also, the tops of the cupboards in my dressing room are decorated with tubs of computer accessories, bags of gift wrapping, children's art supplies and other detritus that doesn't belong to me. And really, who knows what is lurking in the depths of the wardrobes?
I have an idea that I would like a space that is an expression of me, rather than a Useful Place to Store Odd Things. It may take a while to find out what it is that I really want in my room, but there is quite a lot that I know I don't want in there. Again, I will be updating during the week. I will start with sorting the piles on the floor, proceed to the Unidentified Objects on top of my wardrobes, and finish with forays into the dark depths of the cupboards. Oh my. Then I will spring clean. Luckily the weather is vile this week, excellent for staying in and sorting out.
Monday: Today I merely clutched at my aching head and repeatedly asked myself why I had said 'yes' to the giant weekend sleepover. Also spent some thankful hours in a quiet theatre watching Rosy's ballet competitions, which was quite tedious, but at least no-one was squealing, crying, or making a mess.
Tuesday: Here is what I am starting with:
Today's washing all over the bed. Somebody should fold that and put it away.
..and Chair Two:
When I inherited these chairs from my Granny I fondly imagined all the hours I would spend sitting and reading in them. Well, I have done that, but generally only after tipping a pile of clothes off them first. I can understand why the Japanese invented rooms where you pack away the bed everyday and decorate merely with a vase of ikebana. It removes the temptation to drape 'stuff' on every horizontal surface. Must. put. clothes. away. Actually, none of these are my daily clothes. I do put them away. They are all piles of clothes I need to mend, give away, children's clothes to take up to the shed for next season, etc etc. At least the cat enjoys sleeping on them.
Update: It took half an hour to tidy and put everything away, including the washing. I haven't actually resolved any of the piles as such. Just moved them. I still have a pile of school uniform, a pile of Posy's outgrown clothes, a pile of dolls, and a pile of books to take to the secondhand bookshop. It is really a pile of errands. I will try to get through it all this week and find deserving homes for everything. Oh, and see that lovely skirt up above? It is a very nice Italian tweed skirt that I bought for $5 from the Red Cross shop two weeks ago. It has been languishing there because I haven't tried it on yet. Because I just hate trying on clothes. So today I finally did, and it fits perfectly. This increases my winter work wardrobe to four outfits, which is nice for everyone who has to see me in the same thing every day:) Yes, I know everyone else in the country has moved on to summer outfits, but this is Tasmania. We get summer between January and March. Sometimes.
Wednesday: Posy's room is a repository for treasure of many different kinds. It has been the children's room since we moved in here fifteen years ago. First it was The Boy and The Girl sharing, then The Girl and Rosy, then all the girls, then Rosy and Posy, now just Posy. Very little has been removed from the room in that time, and going through it is like an archeological dig, slowly peeling back the layers.
Today we set the timer for fifteen minutes and I had to drag Posy in kicking and screaming. But then we couldn't stop, 'Oh wow, here is my yoyo/slinky/down ball/book light. Thanks for making me clean up Mum!' Now there is a sentence I never thought I would hear coming from the lips of any of my children. We filled up the recycling bin with mountains of paper. Glory be, Posy feels that she is finally able to let go of half-coloured ten-year-old colouring books that she inherited from her sisters. We sorted through eighteen years' worth of dolls' clothes. Oh my. It is very hard to get rid of dolls' clothes that your eighteen year old sewed as a six year old, but where do you draw the line with precious memories? I can't keep everything forever. And The Girl will always be the same person who sewed dolls' clothes at six. That part of her is within her forever, and I don't need an artefact to preserve that moment.
I also climbed up to take things off the top of my wardrobe, but it was too hard, so I put them back again. There is always tomorrow.
Thursday: So tomorrow came, and I managed to avoid all forms of decluttering until 7.30pm, when the children were all playing canasta with The Man, who is home for a few days. No, I lie, earlier in the day I pulled a shoebox from the top of the wardrobe which proved to be full of photos, which I spent an hour going through. I got them out again at dinner, and we all walked down memory lane again for a while. Such adorable baby children I had! So easy to get distracted when decluttering!
So here is the mess I had to contend with: Wardrobe One
And Wardrobe Two:
Having slept on the problem of what to do with all the mess on the tops of the wardrobes, I went up to the shed and hauled down an old trunk. I bought it many years ago when The Girl was a baby and we lived in Port Adelaide. I used to potter down the esplanade which was lined with second hand shops, and bring back treasures balanced precariously on the big old English pram, with The Boy trotting alongside and complaining.
Anyway, I have decided to store everything that is archive material (photos, cards made by my children, the box full of paintings and hilarious stories written by my genius children) into the trunks. Done. Also stored a large bag of Christmas themed cards and gift tags in there, along with the Christmas crackers I bought on sale last year.
I threw out most of the old paint, because it was, well, old, and saved some good paint to give to friends with small children. Then I realised that most of the rest of the stuff on top of the wardrobes was stored there while we were renovating and had absolutely no storage space in the rest of the house. Now we do. And yet, out of sheer habit I have been climbing on a wobbly step stool every time anyone wants gift wrapping, or when I need my boots, which I store in their boxes. I have been needlessly risking a broken wrist for over a year now, just because I was used to it!
I found a spot for the boots in the wradrobe. Gift wrapping and the bag full of useful bags were sent downstairs to the study, along with a tub full of possibly useful computer-related accessories. Maybe I will sort them when I get to decluttering the study. Maybe. So, now the wardrobes look like this:
Yes, I know that trunk is painted blue. It was the 90s. Remember how the 90s were all about blue and yellow? And ducks? It takes me a while to catch up with interior decoration trends. One day I will paint it white, or French Grey or something. Or I will just leave it until blue comes back and then I will be totally On Trend once more:)
Most boring photo ever. Isn't it wonderful? Now that I am not distracted by the annoying clutter, it occurs to me that there are two bare lightbulbs adorning the room. Ah well, decluttering first, decorating later. I am not superwoman.
Friday: Today I opened the wardrobe doors. It was entirely on the cards that I would be writing to you from Narnia this evening, but, silly me, these are Ikea wardrobes, and the most I could hope for was a magical trip to Sweden. That didn't eventuate either, but there was a miracle after all - clean and organised clothes storage.
I must say, that with all the downsides and miseries of separating this year, it makes me feel a little guilty to be quite so gleeful about all the extra storage space I now have. The Man has left a few of his clothes here until he has a permanent other home, and those that didn't fit in the small wardrobe downstairs were all in their original drawers and hanging spaces, until today, when I rationalised them into a very small space indeed, and spread out my clothes luxuriously. I took the opportunity to weed out pieces that I don't absolutely love (quote from Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones, 'Only buy clothes that make you do a happy dance,' or in the case of decluttering, only keep clothes that make you want to do a happy dance when you wear them.)
I pulled out a number of strange items that had no business cluttering up my wardrobe - piles of mending, piles of Posy's outgrown clothes to move along, piles of bits and pieces that I clearly intended to send to the op shop but never quite got that far. There are now bags waiting in the back of the car to leave the property, and the clothes in the wardrobe are hanging, rather than being squashed in on top of clutter piles.
I am so happy. I did imagine that these weeks of organising the house were going to be dreadfully tedious and boring, and I am quite sure my life looks extremely boring to the casual observer, or blog reader:) but I must say I feel enormously chuffed with myself having accomplished what feels like so much, but really, without expending much extra energy at all, just doing a little each day. More life lessons.
Saturday: There are really no significant cleaning jobs to do in the bedroom, so a nice day off - except for one annoying job. I have been meaning to scrape the builders stickers off the 'new' window for, oh, two years now. So today was the day. Four minutes. Two years!!
And today, the only thing I had to clear off the bed was the cat..
So how about you? Bedroom an oasis of tranquility? Or will you join me in sending some of that stuff to a better place?
The green and thrifty adventures at Chez Blueday continue apace.
Walking to the gym continues to be a wonderful interlude in my day. I walk through an avenue of ornamental pear trees which are currently in bloom. Every single garden in my neighbourhood is bristling with daffodils, magnolia trees, blossoming pink plum trees, camellias and rhododendrons. If I was whizzing past in my car, I would miss all this floriferous deliciousness, sunshine and life-enhancing exercise. What's not to love?
I'm considering other destinations I could reach on foot. It takes all of twenty minutes to reach the centre of town from my front door (there are hills though...whine, whine). Farmers' market, twenty five minutes or so. And you know, I am so whiny and lazy, that even though I love my short gym walk, and never want to drive it again, I still think walking into town will be hard. Please take me to task in the comments, and tell me to get out of my car and into the Great Outdoors.
Ok, problem of social etiqutte here that I need advice on: this winter I ran out of black socks without holes in them. I only had two pairs to start with, but now they are both languishing in the mending pile, with no action on that front. The helper elves haven't visited. So then I reclaimed some yummy thick bamboo socks from Rosy that I bought for her for school camp. They are wonderfully warm, but too thick to wear with nice shoes, so then I purloined some of The Man's. He has several dozen pairs of socks between two states, and I'm sure he won't miss a couple of pairs. They are a bit big, but who is going to notice or care? They are black socks worn with black shoes and long pants, ie invisible.
Then I was inspired to stop using tissues and start using hankies like a proper nana (thanks for the motivation Lucinda). Problem is, I own delicately embroidered nana hankies, inherited from nanas, which aren't really useful for actually blowing a nose. So I revisited The Man's wardrobe downstairs and sequestered several of his numerous man hankies as well, and can now blow my nose in capacious comfort, without consuming trees or hurting my nose on embroidery. Now, this is my awkward social problem, and I need to canvass opinion on this - it is totally normal to steal underwear from one's ex-husband, isn't it? Good, just checking.
Last night I had enormous fun making toothpaste and sunscreen at Tanya's Living Better Group. Can you imagine that? Toothpaste and sunscreen, those mysterious concoctions that are magically manufactured in plastic tubes, by some mysterious alchemical process in far away factories, can actually be whipped up by ordinary folk in kitchens with forks and whisks, with not a glass retort or white lab coat in sight. I will be road testing these concoctions over the coming weeks, and will be able to provide a review of their effectiveness in the fullness of time (I am not sure quite how to evaluate the toothpaste, other than on taste. How do I rate its effectiveness in anything less than a five year dental health study with a separate control group?). You can find the recipes on Lisa's facebook page. She ran a wonderful workshop for us, and is a mine of information on all sorts of things I never imagined it was possible to make myself.
I have also been pottering away with my decluttering project which has been relatively painless so far, which is why I started with the hallway! Today I have been cleaning walls and decobwebbing ceilings. This wraps up Week One of what promises to be quite the multi-week project. Frances has been busy decluttering this week as well, and as always manages to be practical and philosophical. I have been enjoying reading her decluttering diaries.
Thrifty garden tip of the week - I have been anxiously watching over some baby tomato plants that popped up in the garden recently, just a little too soon for safety in an uncertain Tasmanian spring, and sure enough about a week and a half ago there was a snap frost. How to protect the tomato babies? I have read about horticultural fleece in overseas gardening books, but never seen it for sale here, so I improvised - with teddy bear stuffing, popped over the top of the seedlings, skewered into place with wooden skewers. The baby tomatoes survived, and now I have a bag of teddy bear stuffing in my gardening cupboard.
Eating out of the garden this week: lettuce, lemons, the first oregano of the season, parsley, rhubarb, garlic chives. Planted: snow peas in the school garden. Cheerful chaos!
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son (The Boy), one grown up daughter (The Girl), two girls at home, Rosy (17) and Posy (13). Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much..