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.
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.
Make last minute Christmas gifts with girls. Because it just isn't Christmas without some last minute gift panics.
Day 3: Last-last minute gift buying. Just because.
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.
Mow and whippersnip lawn. Think about getting goat for Christmas.
Day 2: Clean bathrooms, sweep front verandah, do something with flowers.
Day 1: Encourage children to express their creativity through the medium of Christmas baking.
Swing gently in hammock with book to test for safety of Christmas Day guests.
Later: Listen for tap-tapping of tiny hoofs on roof.
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:)
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son, three girls at home, The Girl (18), Rosy (14), Posy (10). Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much..