For many years, embroiled in the welter of child-raising and relentless domesticity I was quite grumpy about the fact that Certain Men would do anything rather than change a nappy, take a toddler away for a couple of hours or clean the bathroom. "But you're so good at it," a Certain Man would say as he wandered off to tile a floor for three hours or so.
It wasn't until The Man left that I realised just how gender-specific the roles had been at our place. I never put out the bins or mowed the lawn. I had never used a cordless drill. I generally didn't even change a light bulb. In my mind I excused my lack of manly talents with the line, "but he's so good at all of that." Also I didn't want to mow the lawn, because who does? But then, he didn't want to clean the bathroom, because who does?
But over the last couple of years I have begun to tease out the pattern of our lives. Firstly we had very gender-specific roles because our parents did. We swore we would not end up blindly reflecting the lives of our parents, but that is exactly what we did. We became parents very young (we were both twenty two) and before long we were living their lives. He was out working to support his young family, I was home bringing up little children. We needed to conserve our small income so I did the bits that could be done with small children at heel - cooking, mending, home schooling, gardening, and he did all the bits that couldn't be done with a baby strapped to the chest - chopping firewood, gutting and rebuilding our bargain fixer-upper. There is nothing wrong with this pattern - it is very efficient and has been used for millenia because it works.
But like many modern families we had wanted something different. He had planned to be more involved with bringing up the children, we had planned to be partners in our daily lives, but then, we weren't. It was much easier to just coast along in out traditional gender roles. And once we were on different tracks it was so much easier to drift apart. He became more career oriented, I was completely family focussed. Again, none of this was wrong - he needed to concentrate on career because I wasn't earning, and I needed to focus on the family because he wasn't there on a daily basis. Both of us conceded that this was necessary. But it felt wrong to me. It wasn't what we had planned or wanted, but we couldn't stop for long enough to work out how to do things differently. Or we felt we couldn't.
In hindsight we had options, but all of them involved self-reflection and talking about how we felt (not our strong suits). If we had been determined I could have helped him build the house and we could have shared the child care. Then he could have been closer to the children and I could have become a far more practical person than I am now. As it was both of us became resentful trapped in our roles alone but didn't want to rock the boat because it seemed there was no alternative. And truly, The Man was much better at building a house, and I was much more calm and patient with the children. But I have just realised the true reason for that.
It takes thousands of hours to truly master a craft. At first you are really bad at it, and then you slowly get better by doing it over and over and over again. When we are young we are used to being really incompetent at all sorts of things as we start learning how to live. Then we become good at a bunch of things, mostly the things we have a bit of natural talent in, but sometimes just things we have to do. After we get good at a range of things it becomes unbearable to have to go back to being an incompetent beginner again. Plus, our perfectionist culture doesn't tend to reward adult failure.
The Man, who is an engineer, always liked tinkering around with tools, although he had never actually built anything until he started experimenting with making furniture for us out of wooden pallets and off-cuts, and then rebuilding our house. Natural interest plus talent plus necessity plus endless repetition made him an expert and should the bottom ever fall out of the engineering market he will be able to make an excellent living as general handyman.
I, on the other hand, possessed a useful pair of boobs that was the only thing that shut our first colicky baby up. Plus there were some equally useful hormones which attached me to the baby like duct tape. I have put in my thousands of hours of child wrangling, also read every parenting manual on the planet, and now, although small children aren't my natural forte interest-wise, I make a pleasant living hanging out with five-year-olds, because believe me, I know five-year-olds by now.
For me, unhandy as I am, the art of building was arcane and mysterious and 'impossible' for me to learn. For The Man, dealing with temper tantrums was overwhelming and exhausting. And yet, had we been humble enough to ask for help and guidance from each other, we could have learned. We would have learnt new skills, we could have learnt to be patient with each other, we would have become partners in parenting and building a house and life together. Instead we both felt trapped in lives that weren't quite right.
Now, I am not saying that we could have saved our marriage and that life would have been rosy had we chosen that different path - I just don't know. I think our differences lay deeper and were more intractable than that. I don't have regrets about the paths our lives have taken. The Man has a new partner who is a kind and positive influence on the children's lives, and I am happier than I have ever been, if still a little terrified of power tools. I do regret taking the safe and easy road though, and I am determined to take a more thoughtful, maybe more difficult, but certainly more rewarding route in the future.
I have discovered that I can indeed mow the lawn, although I have now given that up as I bought a new house with no lawn at all, and gave away the lawn mower. I can also take out the bins and change a light bulb, and today I used the cordless drill! The Boy showed me how it works when he was home at Christmas time, and today I charged up the battery and actually used it to drill some holes to add an extra shelf to the old sets of shelves I am currently using as a kitchen dresser. So far that takes the range of tools I know how to use to three. I can sand with the electric sander, drill a hole, and wield an adjustable wrench for a myriad of purposes. Very proud! Mind you, this man built an entire hobbit house with three tools (chainsaw, hammer and chisel) so I figure I'm just about there..
I am happy that my girls are getting to see a mum who is capable of having a go at most things, and willing to be very, very incompetent as I work out how to do very basic home improvements. I am also very happy to be at a stage in my life where I can look back at my many failures and say, "Oh well, I tried really hard and my intentions were good.. and that's what matters."
Posy and I are celebrating the winter solstice with terrible, terrible Man Colds. Living in a male-free household it behoves us to take up the slack in all things manly - in this case having a worse cold than anyone has ever had in the history of humanity. Probably the flu. Probably we will die. Actually, I can't speak at all except in a whisper, which I can raise to a pathetic croak in an emergency, like calling in sick to work today.
Today we have slept the day away, happy to be safe and warm out of the wind and the rain (always more satisfying to be ill in bad weather), with a brief foray out into the very fresh air to bring in more wood for the fire.
Apart from two panadol at midnight last night when I couldn't sleep due to sore sinuses I have resisted the urge for drugs (none of which 'treat' the cold, merely alleviate the symptoms), and stayed with old fashioned and gentle remedies from the kitchen and garden.
This potion is from my friend Sharon, herbalist and nurse.
Two long lemon skin strips, peeled with a vegie peeler.
One cinnamon stick.
One knob of fresh ginger.
Several sprigs fresh thyme (excellent for loosening mucous. Good for coughs).
Several sage leaves (wonderful for soothing sore throats).
Pop in infuser, pour over boiling water and sip all day. One infuser full of herbs lasts me all day. I store it on the window sill between doses.
Ice, 1 tablespoon chia seeds (we soak these in water overnight), 1 large cucumber, 1 lemon, 1/2 green apple, 2 celery stalks, handful coriander (we substitute parsley), 3cm knob ginger and turmeric (no fresh turmeric in our kitchen), 1 cup coconut water (we use about a third of that, due to my, er, thrifty gene, and add extra water). Whiz up in blender. Make sure the lid is on properly. Rosy didn't. Once.
Now, if you are not a green smoothie enthusiast you will be looking at this and thinking, "But that is green sludge." And yes, indeed it is. But it is green sludge that is very good for you and very easy to digest when your immune system is busy doing other things. It is magnificently refreshing, and also when you have a man-cold you can't even taste how healthy it is. I chug down several small glasses over the course of a delicate day.
As I write Rosy is home from hockey practice and making chicken soup with the stock I providentially made a few days ago, and tonight I will dose myself with a steam inhalation laced with the eye-watering sinus goodness of eucalyptus oil. None of these things will likely cure me, but all of them will add to my health and happiness, instead of merely suppressing some useful biological functions as over-the-counter medications do, and they are green and thrifty as well. Win, win!
Please tell me your home remedies for a really dreadful man-cold. We need everything you've got!
When we moved to our new house we left behind our dryer, dishwasher, microwave and TV. We are reducing, simplifying and powering down. I never really enjoyed living in the twenty-first century, and I have realised recently that actually, I don't have to if I don't want to. When I was a child I read Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables and the Billabong books and thought, "That's how I want to live," but then I grew up and it felt like rather an impractical fantasy. But now I am forty-five and life is uncertain and I have decided I can and will live exactly however I want to.
And what I want to do is to live in a way that won't make other people miserable. That so many people half a world away are living miserable lives so that I can have convenience and stuff seems very wrong. And the fact the habitats all over the world are being destroyed and our planet's climate is changing for the same reason is outrageous.
So my question to myself and my girls is this: How can we live a rich and fulfilling life using as few resources as possible?
It shouldn't actually be that hard. As I look around I see a natural world just full to overflowing with bounty, if only we could see it and use it and share it. And there is a world of 'stuff' out there that nobody wants because it is not new and shiny, but is perfect for wombles like me. There are artists and crafters making marvellous things that are not the product of making anyone miserable. Also, there are so many resources that are not 'things'. Like friends and sharing and the knowledge in people's heads, and making music and how snuggling on the couch with a small black dog can make such a difference at the end of a hard day.
Of course, I don't live in the nineteenth century on a prairie or on Prince Edward Island or on a large Australian cattle property. I live in a small cottage with a small garden in the middle of a small city. It's all about small with me. I can't be self-sufficient, and don't want to be. I want to live as most of us humans do, as part of a non-intentional community of the neighbours that happen to be around at the time, plus a network of friends and family, in whatever town or suburb we find ourselves in. Many of us want to live the 'good life' in some distant dreamy future in some perfect setting, but I am pretty sure the good life is available right where we live with whoever we live with. I want to find out if that is the case anyway. I think often we get on a treadmill of living mindlessly according to the culture we are part of and can't imagine that it is possible to live any other way. But it is. It must be, because we can't keep on living the way we are.
I have come some way along the path to thinking about living differently and ethically but I want to see how far I can go down that road. Still, convenience is convenience, and I often need a nudge away from the easy and towards adventure.That's where you-all are so important to me. You, my blog people, are one of my best resources for change, due to your wisdom, experience, great ideas and general loveliness and I am looking forward to some excellent conversations with you on creating a happy, ethical life.
Tell me about the life you want to live and how you would like to get there...
Our rivers are still raging madly even though the flood waters have abated. There are many heart breaking stories emerging, but here are two heart warming ones:
A farmer returned to his property as the floods went down, devastated at the loss of his stock. As he opened his front door six calves came clattering down the stairs looking for breakfast. Somehow they had gained access to the house during the floods and had been sheltering in the upstairs bedrooms. The farmer was overjoyed to find that they had survived... (hopefully that joy sustained him as he cleaned the bedrooms..)
A woman had to leave her property in such a hurry that there was no time to save her beloved chickens. She kayaked in to her house the next day to find her wet, bedraggled chickens perched on top of the barbecue, inches above the water. She tucked the chickens into the kayak and ferried them to safety.
I heard both these stories on ABC local radio. This government-sponsored station provides a local service Australia-wide, and is what we all rely on in times of trouble. Weather warnings, road closures, notice of evacuations for bush fires or floods - the ABC is always there when we need local information in an emergency. Plus, they have excellent gardening talk-back..
After some fresh air, Rosy went off to the snow (such as it is) with a friend, and Posy and I had a picnic - in the lounge room.
This was Posy's brilliant idea. She made a fantastic Caesar salad, with incredibly crunchy croutons that she whipped up out of the last crust of bread in the house.
Excellent things about picnics at home:
Close proximity to cushions when the floor gets too hard.
Excellent tea-making facilities available.
Quite a short trek to the toilets.
Never cancelled due to inclement weather.
Picnics at home. It's a 'yes' from me. Try one at your place. Oh, unless your dog is much more obedient than ours, the pooch will need to have some 'me' time behind closed doors. There is bacon in that salad..
PS Darling Wordpress blogging friends. Check your spam folders. I have been banished from Wordpressland again.. (was it something I said??)
Remember how I spent a lot of the summer worrying about Tasmania's drought? Well, now there are unprecedented floods sweeping our poor, benighted state. The next suburb over slopes down to the river, and all afternoon parents streamed into the school office to collect their children as they were evacuated from their houses on the river flats.
Thankfully our cottage is high on the hill, and thankfully I did some actual forward planning last week (unusual for me) and brought in wheelbarrow loads of wood and stacked it up in the storm porch so I don't have to wrestle with the elements to keep warm.
Our picnic last week was such a success (that picnic spot is currently under water) that we decided to go on another adventure this Saturday. We knew that a week of rain would begin in the evening, and we decided that some fresh air for everyone was in order. This time we took some friends and all our dogs. We drove several kilometres up-river from last week's destination, to a nature reserve. We lit a fire and made smores (Australian readers - Granita biscuits and dark Lindt chocolate make a lovely smore to go with your toasted marshmallow).
Again, there are 'proper' walks to take in the area, on paths, with signs and the occasional hand rail, but no, the children went off-pisteagain, this time with three dogs all running in different directions. At one point, while hunting for one lost dog and a couple of missing children, we all converged on a cliff far above the river, looking out over this enchanted landscape:
Now, I have walked the official paths in this reserve for fifteen years without ever stumbling across this stunning view. One of the eleven year olds gasped, "It's like a fantasy world in a book!" and the other one said, "It's like we are in Lord of the Rings!"
Again it feels like the universe is calling, "Stray off the beaten path.. see what you can find.."
What we actually found was a glimpse of a supremely happy beagle bouncing from rock to rock down a neighbouring cliff like a mountain goat, and we all straggled after him waving and yelling. Later, on the way home said beagle threw up half a dead wallaby he had been happily chewing when we found him (a long dead wallaby). And later, Rosy found a giant, swollen leech attached to her leg. Adventures have their ups and downs..
On Sunday I nobly allowed Posy to host a house warming tea party for her friends.
We used the granny tea cups. I cut the roses that are still madly blooming in the garden, even though it is winter.
And Posy made chocolate butterfly cakes all by herself. All the adventures.
Getting back to doing all those things I normally do is making me feel more at home. So it has been a week of returning to green and thrifty. It's been a while, but good to begin some small, absorbing thrifty projects again.
A couple of weeks ago my mum brought me apples from her tree, and on our moving day Rosy and her friends picked some apples from our trees to bring to our new house. This week I stewed the last, sad ones with some rhubarb, which also came from mum's garden. I must repeat again my oft-repeated best rhubarb tip because it is so brilliant: add a quarter teaspoon bicarb soda (baking soda) to the pan when cooking rhubarb. The soda neutralises the acid in the rhubarb somewhat, which means you need to add much less sugar.
Today my new neighbour ran across the road to bring me a bag of brussels sprouts because they get a vegetable box, and don't like sprouts. Did you know I have a secret super power? People bring me things. Even people I have just met, or sometimes people I have never met. It is odd but good. Now I feel confident to take a pair of pink glitter gumboots over to her daughter, being as she seems to be of the excellent 'swap things among neighbours' fraternity (I can't think why, in all the decluttering I do all the time, I still have a pair of pink glitter gumboots to fit a five year old. And I even moved them to the new house..).
My mum brought me a bag of pine cones as fire starters. She has been collecting them on her walks. I brought an armful of river driftwood home from our week end picnic for the same purpose.
I have been picking rosemary, parsley and rhubarb from my new garden, and the last of the lettuce and some beets from the pots I moved from the old house. Food from the garden is the homiest thing I know. Except a fire. That is good too. I have worked out how to keep the fire crackling along all day. I wish I could tell you I spent the weekend with the wood-splitting axe splitting all my own wood, but I didn't, I stimulated the local economy and got a nice man to come and do it for me. I now have a shed full of perfect small logs just the right size to fit in my perfect small wood heater. Tonight I am experimenting to see if I can keep the fire going all night. Will report in the morning.
This morning: No luck with keeping the fire going overnight, despite filling it full when I went to bed and turning the vents to their lowest setting. Then, in my bedtime reading (one of the Miss Read novels, published in the 50s) I found this sentence:
March that year was one of the coldest that Fairacre had ever known. The nights were bitter, and cottage fires were kept in overnight with generous top-sprinkling of small coal dampened with tea leaves, and stirred into comforting life first thing the next morning.
Then I dredged from my memory the word 'smoor' which I must have also read in a novel, because where else do I learn anything? This is what I found:
Vbl.n. smooring, a ritual damping down of the domestic fire at night, once common in the Highlands in Catholic districts, Gael. smaladh an teine. Also attrib.Sc. 1900 A. CarmichaelCarmina Gadetica I. 234: The ceremony of smooring the fire . . . is performed with loving care. The embers are evenly spread on the hearth — which is generally in the middle of the floor — and formed into a circle. This circle is then divided into three equal sections, a small boss being left in the middle. A peat is laid between each section, each peat touching the boss. The first peat is laid down in name of the God of Life, the second in name of the God of Peace, the third in name of the God of Grace. The circle is then covered over with ashes sufficient to subdue but not to extinguish the fire, in name of the Three of Light.
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..