Thursday, December 17, 2009


I love my bathroom. Once it was small, blue and mouldy (it has now been transformed into the lovely laundry in yesterday's post). It didn't matter how much you cleaned it, it was still small, blue and mouldy. So I didn't really clean it very much and it was impossible to tell. Then The Man, with much help from the children, knocked down two tiny rooms and made one giant bathroom. It is big, beautiful, sunny and shiny. I love it immensely, but it stops being shiny very quickly and you can see every speck of dirt, dust and toothpaste on its gleaming surfaces. The price of all this shininess is daily bathroom cleaning, and I have worked out a cunning plan.

The first problem is the acres of tiles with no shower screen. I have little interest in scrubbing grout, so every morning after the last shower I dry the floor and walls with an old towel. Then I polish the basins and mirror. Every night after Posy's bath I dry it with another old towel. So most of the bathroom gets cleaned every day and the grout doesn't go mouldy, which is all good. Then every week I just have to spray and wipe and mop, and I nearly always have some short helpers to make the time just fly...

So today, not so much to do. Emptied out the cupboards and threw stuff out, put stuff away, cleaned the windows, got a tall helper to clean the exhaust fans for me, and all done. Then I contemplated my awfully long list of 'Things To Do' whilst thoughtfully eating a large number of chocolates...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Chickens and the Cleaning Frenzy

It has already been established that Posy's parents are evil. Among the many harrowing examples of our unreasonableness is our refusal to provide her with a pet. We are not very good at pets. Over the years we have buried a number of guinea pigs and a cat, and flushed many unfortunate fish. So for the time being, we are petless. Posy is making up for this clear dereliction in parental duty by inventing a number of imaginary pets which have a maximum of annoyance value. Her nine imaginary kittens, for instance, accompany her everywhere. We have to keep the car door open for long enough for them all to hop in, and trip over the nine dishes of kitten dinner in the hallway. Last week she had a naughty monkey pet which told her to climb all over the furniture. Recently though, she has found a real pet, which she has named 'Dead Margaret'. Dead Margaret is a bumblebee which is, well, no longer living. Dead Margaret lives in half a scallop shell, and likes to come to breakfast and for little rides in the car. She is losing limbs in an alarming manner, and I am keeping an eye out for a replacement Dead Margaret, just in case. Still, pet situation not really satisfactory from anyone's point of view.

So today I was charmed to host two baby chickens for the day, along with their ten year old 'mother'. They all ran about on the sun drenched lawn under the pear tree, looking very fetching, and the children managed to avoid running just where the chickens were, which was a relief. Then the children lay on the couch and read, with the chickens having little naps on the children's bellies, then they all ran around again, then at five o'clock the chickens and their devoted human mother went home. What perfect pets! I will be now be starting the Blueday Pet Daycare Service. All the fun, no trauma, no vet fees.

But hey, pets schmets. It's Advent, which this year is all about cleaning of course, what else? I am taking a room every day, and cleaning everything in it. I always end up in a giant organisational whirlwind at Christmas, planning ahead not being my thing. Well, this year, while I may not be more organised, at least there will be no dust bunnies. Well, that is the plan, anyhow. Plus, my clean queen sister-in-law is coming. She is a darling and my dear friend, and has seen our house in all sorts of states, but I thought clean and tidy would be a nice change for her. If I can't quite pull that off I'll just make sure I have all the ingredients for Margharitas on hand...

So, first the laundry, because it is one of the few renovated rooms in the house, and small, so easy to clean. This is it in the five minutes between having teetering piles of folded washing obliterating the sunlight. The poor African violet didn't flower this year. I don't think it saw enough sunshine.

I actually enjoyed cleaning this room this morning. For nine years my washing machine was parked next to the back door, on a ricketty wooden floor, and I sorted the washing on the couch or the bed, and of course, I always got distracted and the washing ended up strewn about the living room, or relocated to the floor at bed time. It was very trying, and now I have much to be grateful for. A laundry bench, and a door that closes. I cleaned along the tops of the cupboards, took everything out of the cupboards, cleaned them, and put things back in, washed and mopped all the surfaces, and even washed both sides of the window. It was very satisfying. I love the view from the window, of sunlit lawn, with children frolicking (with chickens today), my new hanging baskets which will soon be bursting with lettuces and cherry tomatoes, and lots of sky. We have very nice sky here in Tas. Fabulous clouds. I have never seen nicer clouds.

Tomorrow, the bathroom.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Missing Gene Update

I have been canvassing the opinions of my favourite clean queens, and here are my highly unscientific findings. No-one I have asked actually owns up to liking cleaning. They just say that they hate mess more than they hate cleaning, and also, that they would rather clean little and often than occasionally tackle an enormous mess. They do stuff like wiping down the oven every time they use it, so they never have to face the appallingly charred remains of the hundred baked dinners that I do whenever I open my oven...

Apparently they suffer from an overwhelming urge to remove anything that conflicts with their inner vision of how a space should look. So, toys in the hallway, dust bunnies under the couch, crumbs on the table, they all have to go before inner harmony can be achieved. I have had some fascinating conversations on this subject with friends this week. I am starting to feel like those women in TV ads who are forever popping up over the fence to recommend washing powder to each other. It sounds like such a sad sally thing to do, forever banging on about housework - I feel like I am disgracing the feminist sisterhood. But I also feel like I have to face reality. I am going to spend much of the rest of my life looking after a house, a garden, a family, and I may as well do it with efficiency and as much grace as I can muster. For the last eighteen years my approach to housekeeping has been mainly: if I ignore it, it might go away. Well, call me a slow learner, but eighteen years is probably enough time to disprove that theory.

I love reading vintage housekeeping manuals that instruct women to regard housekeeping as a career worthy of their highest attention and endeavours. I do have very ambivalent feelings about my place in society. My heart tells me that I am doing the best I can possibly do, being at home with my family, and I am very grateful to have that opportunity, but it is sometimes difficult to sustain a sense of the value of what I do while I am cleaning the kitchen (or failing to clean the kitchen). And regarding housekeeping as a career is just not something that the modern girl does - it is the one area of life taken least seriously by nearly everyone. So for me to take it seriously, and to actually devote myself to its mysteries, well, that is still taking me some effort to get my head around. Still, the conversations I have been having recently about cleaning with those of my acquaintance who are actually good at it, have been fun and insightful, so I am considering them in the light of networking, and I am amazed that in the years of knowing them I have never picked the brains of these lovely clean queens to find out exactly how they do what they do so well. So here are the top tips from discussions this week:

Cleaning the oven as above - wiping it down every time you use it. Who would have thought (obviously not me)?

My clean queen neighbour keeps the sink constantly full of hot, soapy water and washes up whenever she uses anything so she almost never has a full sink of dishes to wash.

Another friend with six children has an empty cupboard in the loungeroom that she scoops clutter into when she has visitors, or needs a clutter free space to drink a glass of wine in at the end of the day (she is also disciplined enough to clean it out afterwards...)

A trip out isn't over until the car is emptied and baskets/bags/lunchboxes etc are emptied, and no one is allowed to watch TV or otherwise escape until this is done!

A phone call is an opportunity to tidy, file, or put a load of washing on.

Chores and household projects need to be scheduled into your diary and treated with the same urgency as dental appointments.

Children can be bribed with chocolate/TV or computer time/trips to the park, to do just about any household chore, especially (for young children) if you are doing something alongside them.

Schedule chore free time into every day otherwise available work will chew up all available time.

These are the gems from this week. I am going to incorporate some straightaway and work on others. Let me know if you have some housework gems of your own...

And a last thought. Today at lunch a dear friend was telling me how excited she was about her newly decluttered and cleaned home office, and then we laughed about how tragic it is that these are the highlights of our week, and then we were just grateful that we had each other as a mutual appreciation club. We truly do need the encouragement and support of the domestic sisterhood.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Missing Gene

It has taken a long time but I have finally worked out why me and mine are all so untidy. We have the wrong genes. I know this sounds suspiciously convenient as an explanation, but bear with me for the reasoning. I have plenty of 'clean queen' friends who are tidy as well as charming, and whose houses all look like they are being photographed every afternoon for Home Beautiful. They seem to be naturally tidy, have married tidy men who like to spend their weekends manicuring the lawn, and give birth to tidy children who come to my house and say things like, 'Did you know there are dirty handprints all over your fridge?' and, 'Why are there toys all over the floor?', not spitefully, you understand, but merely in a helpful spirit of observation and inquiry.

'But how do you know,' I hear you ask, 'that this inclination for tidiness is genetic, and not merely the result of careful training and habitual hard work?' Well, dear reader, it has come to my attention that there are many people who simply cannot abide mess. It makes them nervous and agitated and they cannot sit still until everything in sight is clean. Anything out of place affects them physically, and they can no more walk past a stray object on the floor than fail to stop at a red light. Needless to say, there is no-one living here with any such impulses. For days now I have been walking past a decapitated Barbie head under my wardrobe, vaguely wondering how it got there, and worse, severa days ago Posy came and took the waste paper bin out of my room. 'I need it,' she said solemnly, 'for a project.' I have no idea what she did with it, because it has disappeared completely, but ever since then I have been throwing rubbish on the floor where the bin was, assuming she will bring it back sometime... It was this piece of sluttish behaviour that convinced me once and for all that any state of tidiness I might achieve will only ever be fleeting. I really do have to pay constant attention to stop the house sliding back into a state of entropy. I do appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a clean and pleasant house. It's just that I don't rate them highly compared to about two hundred and fifty six other more interesting things I might be doing instead. So, a cleaning routine approached with academic determination, holding an inner vision of a clean and pleasant home firmly in my mind, and eternal vigilance is my best line of defence against encroaching clutter and appalling filth. I really don't want to end up like the old ladies walled into cottages by piles of newspapers and a lifetime's collection of old clothes and china knick knacks.

But there are consolations. I get to lie on the couch among the glorious confusion that comes on our house by about four in the afternoon. I will be drinking tea and reading 101 Dalmations to the children while the Clean Queens have to vacuum and clean dirty handmarks off the fridge..

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Change of Direction Creeps Upon Me...Or Does It?

When I started this blog, I thought it was going to be about homeschooling, and about education and children, the life we make together. Instead, it has become a housekeeping blog, a development I could not foresee, mainly because housekeeping is one of those things that has historically made me start feeling faint and in need of a cup of tea and a lie down. But who can predict where the winds of life will blow? This past year I have reorganised the house and garden, taken up dusting as a hobby, established routines for daily living, thrown out masses of suddenly unappealing junk and even begun to tackle the mending pile. It is all most unlike me, and at times I am a little startled by this mysterious new self, who mops the bathroom floor, and actually gets jobs done before seven in the morning. The other day a friend suggested that maybe it is like the nesting instinct in pregnancy, the desire to have everything prepared for the advent of a new life, and that maybe some new creative project is just around the corner...

Well, at the moment I think 'not toooo creative', and 'please, not just around the corner'. All this organisation is seriously tiring. I have been following (more or less, mostly less) Jitterbug's vintage housekeeping project. The thing is, she is much better at it than I am, and way more consistent. I have been trying to weigh up the comparison. On the one hand, she has a full time job and has to do all her housekeeping after hours. I am at home all day and can housekeep during work hours, but she has a four room apartment and I have a two storey house and a large garden, and she has only herself to keep house for, and I have six people, four of whom are always home and making messes. Plus I homeschool, but two of my children are very useful and help with the cleaning and cooking. All this is just to obscure the essential point - Jitterbug is working tremendously hard and powering along, and I am working harder than I used to, and just hanging on by my fingernails. The whole organisation thing is only ever twenty four hours away from total chaos. This is what has always exasperated me about housework - its incredibly ephemeral nature. Nothing to proudly stand by and say 'Look what I achieved,' because the results disappear almost as soon as they are completed. Perhaps this accounts for the beautiful craft work that women have always historically produced alonside all the housework, the cooking, the childcare. There at least is something concrete, something to say, 'This is me, I walked this way, I left this thing of beauty...'

Of course, the work that we do does have lasting value, but sometimes it doesn't make itself obvious until many years have passed. Happy children growing into fulfilled adults, memories of a happy childhood, children who know where their food comes from, who know how to cook healthy food that makes them happy, a sense of home being a safe place, a warm shelter, a place of peace and beauty. This is what I am aiming for. Sometimes that boils down to cleaning the toilet, spending far too long in the kitchen and attempting to answer damn fool questions with grace and patience for the hundredth time today.

So this blog started out being about homeschooling, and it turns out it is more about deliberately setting out to create a beautiful life. Which is why I started homeschooling in the first place. So welcome to this nice blog about homeschooling....

Monday, October 5, 2009

Spring Cleaning Happens When... walk around in bare feet for the first time in months and you suddenly think, 'hmmmm, could it be that I haven't mopped the kitchen floor since, well, Autumn?' and all the bare-foot-sticky evidence points to the conclusion that, yes, sadly this may actually be the case.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Editing the Spring Garden

Ten years ago when we moved into this house I was four months pregnant with Rosy. I immediately began to dig up the entire front lawn and put in garden beds instead. I have this unfortunate condition that when I am pregnant I think I am Superwoman, and get over-optimistic ideas about what I can achieve with a new baby. The Man thought I was mad, but I was on a mission. I had a Mr Plumbean moment (My house is me and I am it, my house is where I like to be, and it looks like all my dreams), and planted birches, fruit trees, currant bushes, and a rhubarb patch. Mr Plumbean went out and bought an alligator, but I thought that Neighboorhood Watch might have something to say about that, so I merely went out and pinched plants from all my friends, and threw packets of flower seeds around.
Of course, the inevitable happened. Two babies, one on-line business and ten years of homeschooling later, the garden was a fine example of The Cottage-Style Neglected Look. The trees had all flourished, as had the roses and lavenders grown from cuttings In fact the roses were forming their own Sleeping Beauty Castle Hedge along the fence, good for repelling burglars. The love-in-a-mist and forget-me-nots were putting up a brave fight each spring against the encroaching weed tide, nobly abetted by the kiss-me-quick (I never noticed before what Freudian psychoses my choice of flowers hint at...). Last year I felt I really had to do something, so a gardening friend made lovely paths out of the old red chimney bricks we pulled out of the kitchen, and we mulched everything with seaweed on top of cardboard, which took care of most of the weeds. During the Winter I cut off all the rose bushes level with the top of the picket fence so that pedestrians may once again use the footpath.
This year I have decided, in keeping with my general theme, to declutter the garden beds. Instead of self-sown beauties coming up wherever they please, I have weeded and transplanted so that I now have clumps of plants in the style of the English herbaceous border. It is a very cheap, if labour intensive way to renovate the garden. In a few weeks, when Spring proper arrives, I am hoping to see The Cottage Style, Slightly Optimistic of Rescue Look emerging. In the meantime, I will enjoy the tulips, which I mean to move every year, but haven't yet.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spring Happy

Today I bought the bunch of daffodils, surely the happiest flowers of any season, to brighten up a grey and rainy Spring afternoon. Yesterday I bought the little end table to put next to the couch in the living room, in order to hide the teetering piles of library books that are generally strewn all over the floor. This is my new approach to Tidy. Once you have thrown out everything possible, hide everything else in a cupboard.
Clearly, we are going to need more cupboards.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My New Executive Assistant - Me

I have a minute between admiring Posy's imaginary kittens (there are nine of them - they all have names, and new beautiful dresses every day. With matching shoes) and starting dinner, to report on progress. 6am? Quite dark, actually. To be scrupulously honest I haven't actually been up at the dot of six yet. Ten past, yes, half past, yes, a quarter to seven, yes, and one disastrous day, half past seven. Musn't repeat that one. The most important thing is that I have been up and dressed and breakfasted before the family gets up every day for the past month. It makes such a difference to my day. Sometimes I just sit and gaze vaguely at the sunrise, sometimes I get loads of washing on and open my mail. Sometimes I even put lipstick on, just to present an impression of early morning perkiness (the first time I did that Rosy looked at me suspiciously and said, "Where are you going?"). Some days I even do feel slightly perky, especially if I manage my first cup of tea before Posy starts bellowing. Plus, it's the only time of day that I can be all alone, in the quiet of a sleeping house. Priceless.

I can confidently say that I have successfully nagged and brow beaten my family into clearing up after meals, with a little finishing off and shining up by yours truly. I am a little worried that a shining sink makes me so happy. My next project is to open my mail every day. I hate opening mail (except for nice mail, of course, like presents, and actual hand written letters), and so I cleverly avoid it by throwing it in a drawer. Of course, this does tend to have some administrative drawbacks, so from now on I am going to be positively courageous, and open my mail every morning before there are any four year olds around to 'help'. And then I am going to pay the bills, and file stuff, and write 'notes to self' in my diary. It will be the all new administrative me. All before seven in the morning...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Waking Up With Betsy

When Tom awoke in the morning, Betsy was already dressed. Her hair was combed and she had put on lipstick.
'What time is it?' he asked.
'Good God,' he said. 'Go away. I've another hour to sleep.'
'No you don't,' she said. 'No more rushing for the train.'
'This is the new regime. We're going to have a leisurely breakfast before you go to work.'
'Oh, God!' he said.

The three children came in and stood by the bed staring at him. Their hair was all combed, and they had on freshly ironed clothes. 'Momma got us up early,' Janey said mournfully. 'Are you going to get up too?'

Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, 1955

I do enjoy this novel. It is the story of a marriage - one of those wartime marriages where the wedding was followed by an absence of years, with all its associated trials and stresses. Tom and Betsy are in their 'tired thirties', parents of three young children. Tom is working hard for not enough money, and the family are trapped in a house they hate, and a life not satisfying enough. Betsy's decision to get up early and take control of their family life is somewhat of a catalyst for the many decisions the couple begin to make which lead to them creating a happy future for themselves.

At our house, if I get up any later than 7.05am the entire morning falls apart. Getting one child off to school, three girls up and breakfasted, dressed, washed, house more or less tidied and school work more or less started by 9ish takes every minute. So, of course, human nature being what it is, I sleep until four and a half minutes past seven. Still, whilst loving to sleep, I am beginning to think that if I do a Betsy and get up early and take control, then I will have a minute to breathe. I may be able to go for a walk, or open my mail, or even cook breakfast if I am feeling especially gracious. Or maybe just comb my hair and put on lipstick. I can but try. So, 6am tomorrow morning. Me and Betsy.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Stuff. Who Needs It?

Decluttering continues apace. Every Wednesday morning I pass a Salvation Army bin in my wanderings, and each week for months now I have had at least one, sometimes two shopping bags to donate. Sometimes garbage bags full. And there are bags behind my bedroom door ready for unsuspecting friends who drop by - children's clothes and piles of books. I was very excited when a friend revealed she was pregnant - more opportunity for sharing the joy! It amazes me that I still have stuff at all, but I do. Extraordinary. It all requires close inspection bearing that maxim of William Morris in mind - 'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.'

Coasters? Several sets for wedding presents. I have carted them around for far too many years. And here's the thing. I have never, ever owned a piece of furniture that requires a coaster. Out they go. Beautiful baby albums that I have never filled in, and honestly, never will. Out they go to somebody who is far more devoted to chronicling their child's first year than I ever was! I own seven frying pans, and only ever use three. They will be the next to go. And book lovers! It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bibliophile needs to own every single book she has ever read. Whisper! While it is heart wrenching to see books carried out the door by the carton load, it is sublime to consider a newly organised book shelf, with books only one deep, instead of piled precariously in front of each other, to the constant danger of passing small children. And I think I will probably be able to get through most days without consulting biographies of eighteenth century dramatists, or the entire works of several really dreadful Romantic poets, or The Man's collection of appalling crime thrillers that he reads on planes (and then never reads again). There is always the public library if such an emergency occurs.

And in other news - several months ago I had an ironing basket that contained the ironing, last season's ironing, several homeless cushions, most of the mending, plus a bag of candy canes (I could have sworn, when I made that Christmas Eve mercy dash on Santa's behalf, that I had bought candy canes. Now it turns out I was right). Now I don't even have an ironing basket! I threw out most of the clothes, which were only there because we didn't really want them, staged a marathon ironing effort over three nights with movies, and ever since have just piled up the ironing on the laundry bench, and ironed whenever the pile reaches the bottom of the window sill, which sadly, is about three times a week. Still, no pile, which is a joy. And a very small mending pile, which I am steadily attacking in the evening whenever I am awake enough after dinner.

While I am completely enjoying throwing things away, I'm still not finding any part of me that finds cleaning entertaining. Not even deep down. I am loving the whole clean thing when it happens, but then I also get more correspondingly grumpy when the five people I live with inevitably mess it up again. I am still searching for that Zen-like state where 'doing the dishes while doing the dishes' meets a 'noble acceptance of frightening results of combined creative forces of four year old and nine year old plus three of their friends.'

My challenge for myself this week is to clean up after every meal 'like I was never there'. This is the standard I set for the children when they ask if they can be more than usually 'creative'. They rarely quite get there, but they are getting minimally better as they get older. So this is the plan. After every meal, no one escapes until the dishes are done, table wiped down, food is away, and there is only a feeling of pleasant fullness to indicate that the meal ever happened. The family have been under martial law for several days now, except when I forgot several times, and they escaped. I have found two things so far. One is that the children are more likely to keep the kitchen clean if it is already clean. Two - the joy of walking in to a perfectly clean kitchen in the morning makes getting up seem almost worth it...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Teaching Revelation

It has taken a long while, but I have finally figured out a way to teach our foreign language of choice, French, that keeps everybody happy - cooking classes. What could be more French than cooking classes, and why did I not think of this sooner? For some years I have been conducting occasional French classes along the lines of thoses I had at school - conversation, flashcards, puppets. None of which ever inspired any of the children at all really. We have fun little French soirees every few weeks with my French friend Em and her children, and they are much more successful, as she graciously puts up with us murdering her beautiful language. The Domestic Goddess always cooks something deliciously French for these occasions, and one day when pressed for time, we cooked and practised our French at the same time. Sudden interest! Children diving for the dictionary and our French recipe book to look up cooking terms. The four year old suddenly producing entire French phrases. We talk about the ingredients, and measurements, we ask for things politely, and count and sing as we stir. And nobody is whining at all!

Maybe the difference is changing from passive to active learning; maybe it is not having me as teacher, but all of us as fellow learners; maybe it is because cooking is fun and sitting still being told stuff is not. Whatever, it works, and we all know the definition of true happiness is a half hour with absolutely no whining.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why I Am Now Darning Socks

Many years ago, when my Granny would come and visit me, she would shake her head at the holey socks I always wore, start rummaging around in my sock drawer, and next week would return with a bouquet of freshly darned socks.

'But Grandma', I would say, 'They are only $2 socks. When they wear out I'll just buy more.'
'Well, now you won't have to, dear,' she would reply with a small, satisfied smile, while no doubt secretly appalled in her Depression-era raised soul at the profligate ways of the younger generation.

I remembered her last week as I contemplated the ladder in the toe of Rosy's expensive ballet stockings. I haven't really ever darned anything since Grandma taught me how as a teenager, but decided to try. I don't have a nifty wooden darning mushroom like she did, but The Ever Practical Man suggested the stainless steel coffee tamper that we use with the coffee machine, which worked perfectly, flat on top, rounded at the sides, and beautifully smooth so as not to snag the stocking. Darning really is a very satisfying art. It is really just a fiddly form of weaving as you can see in this incredibly boring but informative video. I used one strand of embroidery thread for Rosy's stockings, which turned them into a work of thrifty domestic art, whilst leaving me slightly cross eyed. Then, totally inspired by my small success, I kept on going. One strand of black embroidery thread for the black dress socks that the men of the house wear to work and school, and some stitches in time to save nine, sewing up all the tiny holes in the girls' socks that I would have previously ignored until they got too large and had to be thrown away.

Suddenly, Grandma's passion for darning began to make sense. It is about cherishing and respecting what you have, whether that is expensive ballet tights or two dollar socks. As I sit in the evening and darn it occurs to me to think about the people being paid a pittance to make these socks in the first place, half a world away, and to wonder if there isn't a better alternative. It makes me wonder, too, how much of our income I am frittering away on 'disposable' cheap socks. And that brings me back to the issue of 'stuff' again. Some months ago I set out to become the queen of clean, but somewhwere along the way it all became a giant exercise in decluttering, because you can't clean clutter. And then I realised just how much stuff we have that we don't need, and then I realised how much stuff we waste, which was a horrifying revelation for someone who thinks she cares about the state of the world we live in. I am now more determined than ever not to let all that 'stuff' in through the door. The more I sit and darn and think, the more I am convinced that the mindless attrition of cheap socks (please substitute your own current bugbear here - plastic happy meal toys, perhaps, or new electric kitchen gadgets)isn't respectful - of ourselves, because we are kidding ourselves if we think new socks are the key to happiness, of the planet, because buying new socks is a colossal waste of resources (and where, I wonder, did I imagine all those old socks went - to a lovely sock retirement farm somewhere? Or was I convinced that elastene is somehow compostable?), or of the people who make the socks in some revolting third world factory, maybe with child labour, maybe with unsafe working conditions, certainly without a reasonable wage. Bad socks! Will be going on the Do Not Buy list.

Darning can become quite a subversive activity. You have been warned.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What Not To Wear (Nearly Everything)

When you are four you suddenly you realise that Other People have been making sartorial decisions for you, and that is Not Right. From now on you will be the boss of What You Wear. And you Will Not wear navy blue or red or brown or any of those icky boy colours. No matter that you mother has a carefully hoarded wardrobe of beautiful hand me down four year old clothes in those precise colours that your older sisters wore without a bleat of protest. You will be Issuing An Edict. No colours will be worn except pink and purple. The occasional denim item will be tolerated if it is frilly, and, preferably, embroidered with beads and buttons. Layers will be worn at all times in order to display favourites to better advantage (and all at once). Stripey and/or pink leggings with skirts preferable at all times to pants, although that one pair of embroidered jeans occasionally acceptable if all else in the wash. No hand knitted jumpers acceptable due to itchiness, no matter whose granny knitted them on her deathbed. Only ankle socks tolerated as all other socks also cause itchiness. Even though it is Winter. In Tasmania. Cute pink boots bought in desperation by your mother rejected as requiring socks longer than ankle socks underneath. Only pink crocs will be worn throughout entire Winter. Comments from ignorant family members likening your appearance to that of a 'tiny feral bag lady' will be treated with the Withering Scorn they so richly deserve.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Autumn as Metaphor

The last leaves of Autumn are floating down, and in a few hours it will be winter. As the trees have been shedding their leaves this season, I have been right there with them, shedding possessions in a decluttering frenzy, breathing in that bright crisp air which is whispering, 'You don't need all these leaves, float them down, let them go.'

Not that a casual visitor would be struck by an atmosphere of minimalism here at Chez Blue Day. Far from it. The entire decor screams, 'Six untidy people live here, and one still tips chocolate milk on the carpet.' We have a ways to go, but the end is in sight. Every time I sweep through the house yet again with garbage bag in hand (family members huddled protectively over their favourite possessions) I manage to find more stuff that we don't need, want or even like. How does it all get here? Nobody seems to know. Stuff just happens. My new mission - to prevent stuff getting in the front door so I don't have to deal with it once it is here.

School holidays again, and our big project is to bake all the chocolate chip cookie recipes and decide once and for all which is the best one. Then we can recycle all the inferior recipes, float them away on the wind, six less pieces of paper baggage to carry in to Winter...

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Usual

The usual day with the four year old: the whining the moaning, the yelling. The laughing. Oh that manic laughter. Then the screaming and kicking on getting into, and then getting out of the car seat. I have to take her away so that the big sisters can have some Time Out from their spitfire sibling. Then the haggling and hassling and wrestling to get her into bed. Then the ten minutes screaming over my poor choice of bedtime stories. At my wits' end I think that surely, by the fourth child I should be better at this. Apparently not. I lie with my face tickling her her neck, so sturdy and strongly assertive, this child, and I whisper ,'I love you, I love you, I love you,' over and over, reminding her, reminding me. And then, as the sobs die away, there is a little whisper in the dark, 'I love you in the morning, I love you when I was born, I love you in the afternoon, I love you in the night...'

Later, a post-it note appears on the laptop:

Dear mummy I love you so much I will cuddle you to deth and kiss you to life love Rosy.

The usual. Shouting and love notes. It could be a lot worse.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An Exercise in Poise

This is Rosy at her ballet class practising 'Exercises in Poise'.

I was paying close attention. I could use some of that.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What Virginia Woolf Didn't Know

While Virginia Woolf proved to everyone's satisfaction that 'a room of one's own' is vital if a woman is to write fiction, what has never been satifactorily examined are the minimum requirements for the writing of a very minor blog.

My trouble in the past has been that every time I have a minute, there is somebody already on the family computer, busily taking over the world (what are manufacturers of computer games thinking? Teenagers don't need any encouragement of their instinctive proclivities for world domination), writing the Great Australian Novel, dressing up Barbie or ordering essential technical widgets from ebay. Mummy writing a blog just doesn't rate on the scale of vital IT activities.

But here I am, finally clicking on the NEW POST tab. The minimum reqirements? A third hand laptop, an armchair in the corner, and ear plugs. A room of my own? Imagine the bliss! Will be happening sometime after the second child leaves home. Until then, a laptop of my very own, and a tiny bit of headspace. Oh, and finding the cord thingy that connects the camera to the computer. That would be nice too.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pink Pills for Pale People

Clearly, I am destined never to clean the kitchen. Oh darn. Never mind, my garden is looking much happier for all the attention it is getting while I procrastinate over cleaning the kitchen. Today, while digging up the scarlet runner bean plants, because I want to plant more red currants instead, I found an old glass medicine bottle, inscribed with these words:

Dr Williams'
Pills for

I have never been more charmed by a gift from the gardening gods. And here I think I can put my finger on what is wrong with the modern pharmaceutical industry. Their product names are way too complex. Pink pills for pale people - this is a product description I can really get my head around. And clearly, once upon a time some quite pale people lived here...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Of The Therapeutic Value of Eating Easter Eggs in Bed

The benefits of my new routine are becoming more apparent every day. This morning, a rainy school-holiday day, I sat up in bed reading, eating Easter eggs and throwing the wrappers on the floor, secure in the knowledge, that come hell or high water, after breakfast I would be tidying them all up. And I needed to eat Easter eggs for breakfast, because, due to the rain, I had declared today The Great Semi-Annual Clothes Sorting Day. This event is both feared and despised by children and their parents alike, as twice each year, at the turn of the season, all the new season's clothes need to be brought out of storage and tried on (aaargh) to see if they still fit. With three girls, (one of whom, thank goodness, has stopped growing), I have a lot of stored clothes. Most of them are under my bed, in cardboard boxes, with the size and season marked on them. After these are sealed up and shoved back under the bed after sorting day, all the other clothes that turn up in the wash, or under beds, or hand-me-downs that are given to us, I throw into a large tin trunk that once belonged to my great-grandmother, and now lives on our front balcony where it makes a fine seat.

So this is the battleplan: first, pull all of the boxes out from under my bed (I will be so pathetically glad when we have cupboards). Posy does this, chugging them along like trains into the loungeroom, and sneezing, because they are covered in a six-month veil of dust. I vacuum the tops of the boxes while Rosy brings in armfuls of clothes from the trunk. Now for the fun. An hour and a half of sorting and trying on. At first this is fun, and Rosy powers through her piles. Then it starts to be not fun, and Posy is a)screaming because she has new clothes that she doesn't want to try on, or b)screaming because Rosy has a new dress/tights/skirt etc and she doesn't (although she did two minutes ago). When it becomes extremely not fun for anybody we stop for lunch.

After lunch we are faced with immense teetering piles of clothes that need to packed back into boxes or into drawers, along with piles of summer clothes from drawers needing to go into boxes as well. I think we need less clothes. Oh yes, we also have large piles of clothes which are too small for the smallest child which are going right out the door. I really love that bit. There is no baby in the family who will ever grow into those clothes. No, I am not the tiniest bit sentimental about that. It is two in the afternoon already, and I never want to see another item of clothing ever again. At this point, my only consolation is that all this thrifty clothes hoarding means that I only need to go buy one single item of clothing for one of my daughters, and we are all sorted for clothes this winter. And then the blessed news that The Boy has miraculously not grown out of his winter school uniform. We shall be able to pay the orthodontic bill after all.

Now the only thing left to do (apart from bribing Rosy to put her winter wardrobe away - luckily there are still Easter eggs left), is to vacuum six months of dust from under my bed and put all the boxes away. By then the rain has stopped, and the glittering garden calls me out. So I spend an hour and a half tramping about in my fetching black gumboots, constructing a very darling little herb garden, using the red bricks that we saved when we pulled our kitchen chimney down last year. I had the idea for this garden this morning in bed while reading gardening books and drinking tea. I was very pleased, because I have not known what to do with this tiny patch of ground, and for nine years it has been an eyesore, filled with whatever self-seeded in it, existing in a rainshadow, sitting right at the entrance of the house. Tomorrow I shall fill it with herbs, and it shall be a joy and a delight forever. All because I was able to sit in bed eating Easter eggs without a care in the world. See? Routine is a wonderful thing...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Well, of course, it was Good Friday on Kitchen Cleaning Day, so I started on Saturday afternoon. I vacuumed, then washed the windows, and that was as far as I got before I started throwing up. Which just goes to prove how unnatural and unhealthy cleaning the kitchen really is. It was all very sad, because I missed Easter Sunday lunch with friends, and only managed a brief glimpse of the little girls hunting for eggs before I had to fall back into bed again.

Now, school holidays, which we were all so in need of. I am loving our new routine, but it really is very tiring for someone as lackadaisical as me. I am very proud of keeping on day after day, and proud of the girls for working so hard. I am loving the Well-Trained Mind books, but the grammar and writing ones are quite repetitive. I realise that this is necessary for absorption of abstract concepts, and really, it's done quite well...but, the girls got very bored going with the same format every week. I am trying to think of ways to make it a bit more fun. We were taking lessons off just before Easter to make cards, or to play a game of Monopoly or one of our endless supply of educational board games, which perked everyone up a lot. And the Domestic Goddess, such a treasure, organised Easter egg decoration this year, in charge of blowing, dyeing and decorating eggs with melted wax crayons. I am so grateful that she is the eldest daughter! I carefully arranged to be somewhere else, doing something relaxing, like the washing.

And now, holidays. I was wondering how it would go, as I had no intention of doing anything more entertaining than cleaning out cupboards. Luckily, we had a tonne of dirt delivered over the back fence by our wonderfully helpful neighbour-with-an-excavator. We intend to put in a lawn over the weekend, but in the meantime, two small girls and all their friends have spent countless hours playing in huge piles of dirt with all the neighbourhood Tonka trucks. I don't let them back in the house once they are in the dirt, but they don't even want to, so I have been serving lunch in the backyard. I allow them back in at bathtime, once they have shed all their clothes at the back door. I am seriously considering having a pile of dirt delivered every school holidays. It is so peaceful and quiet inside.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cleaning? Not so much.

So the story goes - I am nominally following a 1940's inspired cleaning regime. So far, I have three excellently clean bedrooms, which are more or less staying that way, due to frenzied nagging on my part. For the past three weeks I have been meaning to 'thoroughly clean the kitchen on Friday'. Well, the first Friday I just stood in the kitchen and sighed a lot. My kitchen is not very rewarding to clean. It is 'on the waiting list' for renovation. Really, it would have more chance of getting fixed if it was on the waiting list for elective surgery. One day it will be our bedroom. Currently, a large part of it is covered with plywood where we ripped down the chimney in order to renovate the room behind it. That, plus the fact that the oven is still standing on the cupboard just where we ripped it out of the wall, and the fact that all the appliances in the kitchen are connected to extension cords draped artistically along the walls, give it that charming but authentic slum tenement look, so sought after by avant garde kitchen designers everywhere.

So, first week, sighing. The highlight of the second week was discovering that both my refrigerator crisper bins fit in the dishwasher at the same time. Stirring stuff. We now come to the third Friday, where again, I did, well, nothing. In my defence, I have been very conscientious in my morning and evening routines. With the dishes done, the sink gleaming, the table clear, the stovetop shining and the floor swept, the kitchen actually looks looks cleaner than it has done for years, and any further effort seems like gilding the lily. Also, Friday I picked up my fornightly box of organic vegies. I buy a huge box, far too much for us to eat while it is all still fresh, because I really want to be able to eat just from the box, and from our garden.

So, Friday night and Saturday every other week the kithchen resembles a witch's cavern as I chop, dice, stew, double, double toil and trouble through a giant box of fresh produce, occasionally stopping to consult 'Stephanie', world's fattest and most useful cook book, on how to work witchy magic on some tricky vegetable. I have discovered that peeling and chopping pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli and cauliflower, and throwing it in the freezer in icecream containers, still raw, preserves it beautifully, and gives me two weeks of pre-chopped veg, which is marvellous for busy evenings. Cooking 'from the box' has given me a whole new way of planning meals. Instead of planning meals from cook books, or my rather boring stock meal plans, I have to think of ways to use what is in the box and the garden. My theory is that the world's fabulous regional menus all developed out of desperation. 'Aaargh! We have three hundred and forty seven beets in the garden! Quick, make them into a soup and invite all the neighbours!'

This week, a giant bag of beautiful green basil clearly indicated pesto. Serendipitously, I also had a giant bag of walnuts from a friend's walnut farm, so I had the children in a production line, shelling walnuts, stripping leaves off basil and stuffing it in the food processor. We made four big batches of pesto, which I freeze in ice cube trays, then tip into ziploc bags to store in the freezer. Each cube serves one person for a lunch of pasta and pesto - a green and pungent echo on winter days of summer warmth. Skip the parmesan if you are freezing pesto, just add it in lashings as you serve...

We also have about a million tomatoes from the garden, and with a bag of eggplant in the box I made a giant pot of ratatouille, which the children were so excited about. I told them they should be grateful I was broadening their culinary horizons, but I tell them this so often that they kind of blank out while they think up various cunning ways of disposing of it when I am not looking. I am now trying to think of creative things to do with beetroot. The soup idea? Not so popular here.

So, there are my excuses. I think they add up to - I really couldn't be bothered, and then I was too, too busy. This week I shall have to do better with the excuses, or maybe actually clean...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sunny Day

Last week, her own darling Daddy bought Posy her first 'big girl' bike. He put it together for her, took her and her sisters riding at the local ex-railway yards, which have been made over into a trendy museum/university arts department/cafe precinct, and then bought them pink milk at the cafe. This was a total parenting-picture-postcard kind of day, the kind that almost never happens, a 'the weather is beautiful, wish you were here' kind of report, on that sunny day between the two weeks of those sunny days.

Overheard as their Daddy put the new pink and purple bike with purple trainer wheels together out in the courtyard:

Rosy: Now Mummy is the only person without a bike.

Posy: Mummy doesn't need a bike because she is always needing to do jobs.

I heard them through the open laundry window as I was... sorting the washing. I think I need to buy a bike.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Some Days...Are Better Than Others...

Some days are pleasant and everyone is more or less cheerful, nobody screams (much), and no doors get slammed. But other days...

....start with the four year old whining, and end with her screaming. In between there is unpleasantness from children glaring at me from the couch, and unpleasantness right back at them from certain parents...there is mess and rush and dinner that no-one likes, noise and fury at bathtime, dishes stacked to the ceiling,and a terrible feeling of futility...

...and on those days, when I can't imagine why I am doing what I am doing, there is sometimes a moment of grace....

...such as the moment when Posy, all pink pyjamied after her bath, greeted me with an impish grin, her doll clamped to her chest in a tango hold, and said, 'Me and Daisy-dolly is going to cha-cha-CHA!' And she does, leaping and twirling with joy and four year old abandon. And with that gift from my beautiful girl I know I am in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right thing.
Thankyou Posy and Daisy-dolly.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Amazing Like Ma

Every few days a wagon went by, driven by strangers going across the neck of the slough and northward to town, and coming back. Ma said there would be time to get acquainted when the spring work was done. There is no time for visiting in the spring.
Little Town on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I have always read the 'Little House' books and been in awe at the superhuman talents and energy of Ma and Pa as they carved a life for their family in the wilderness. I couldn't imagine how Ma did everything she did without collapsing from exhaustion, and a comparison between her achievements and mine always left me feeling very inadequate. But recent readings of the books with the girls, with an eye to Ma's housekeeping practices have thrown up sentences like the one above, and have helped me to realise just how she did all that housework and cooking and gardening and sewing. She did nothing else. She did no visiting for entire seasons. She never left the house except to go to church. She did not take her girls to school or ballet or piano lessons, or to the orthodontist. She did not go grocery shopping except for twice a year or so. And I am pretty certain she never lay on the couch for an hour reading an Agatha Christie novel. She simply stayed at home and worked.

For the last couple of years I have been coming to much the same conclusion - that to do one thing well, you have to stop doing some other thing. No one is superwoman. There really are only twenty four hours in the day. In the years when I studied, or ran my bookshop, as well as parenting little children and homeschooling, the house didn't get a look in. Last year I finally decided that my priorities were homeschooling, learning to keep house, organising the renovations, and fixing up the garden. So I quit everything else. I still do feel a little guilty that I am doing nothing in my community, but then I am bringing up my children to be responsible citizens, which is an enormous contribution to society. And it won't be forever. A friend asked me the other day whether I felt a little constrained, or under stimulated in my new role as a completely stay-at-home mother, but much to my surprise, I really don't. Mind you, the challenges I am facing are still relatively new (Dusting? What is that?).

So this is my year for Staying Home and Sorting the House and attempting to be domestically amazing like Ma. Although I don't expect miracles. I am still taxi extraordinaire for extra curricular activities, and I am so totally going to continue lying on the couch reading novels.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Doing my bit to stimulate the economy this morning, I passed by one of the numerous Swish Frock Shops that adorn this town, and there was a sign outside:

Ball Gowns. Half Price.

It made me strangely sad. Sign of the times? I have never needed or wanted a ball gown in my life, but I don't want to live in a world where ball gowns are excess to requirements.

Something else that makes me sad - my dear friend Kris has closed down her blog. Kris lives in a glorious confusion of dogs, children, books, and seriously stylish vintage stuff. She has a great eye for the perfect teacup, is creating a happy garden with sunflowers and an artichoke forest, and oh, she can write so that it brings tears to your eyes. But now she has stopped. And yes, we will continue to have great conversations, and jolly teaparties with her sweet girlies, but there is something about reading the considered thoughts and inner vision of another person that is so hard to capture in conversation (especially in conversation when there are four year olds present). I think that is the real appeal of blogging for me - a glimpse, be it never so brief and fleeting under the minutiae of passing thoughts, of the inner life of another person. And such a darling person.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Even Dusted the Walls....

Yesterday I declared a mental health day and cancelled school. The children were thrilled, and ran away to play before I could change my mind. I really wanted some peace and quiet to indulge in my new hobby - cleaning. Yes, it is becoming an obsession. If I didn't know myself better I would worry, but I know my high enthusiasm will wear off soon, and I want to get several things done before that happens. So yesterday, three hours cleaning the girls' room. Oh, it looks beautiful. This week I finally got to the dreaded dressing table, which was covered in months of girl detritus - bobby pins, and treasured rocks, and glittery things, and precious pieces of paper, origami, dead flowers, tiny china figures, manky soaps that look like cup cakes, dead beetles in matchboxes...the girls love their 'stuff'. In fact, they are not one bit interested in funky retro minimalism. They are Victorian to their bric-a-brac loving souls. Instead of an outright agreement we have settled on a kind of unquiet detente. They will be dusting each week, which, I hope, will encourage them towards less clutter. I have bestowed tiny chests of drawers on them (wooden CD drawers) in which they can store all their treasures. Each week when they dust they can swap their treasures around, which will be fun and interesting, won't it girls?

So here is their beautiful warm orange bedroom, their vintage mirror rescued from an old dressing table, their many books, none of which can be rationalised, because they are too, too precious, and the clean and polished tops of their chests of drawers. Happy, happy day.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Washerwoman

I think I'm getting my head around the washing, and the ironing. My previous approach to the washing was to throw the top third of the washing in the basket into the machine whenever I had a 'window'. I felt like I did loads every day. Some days, though, there wasn't a 'window', and then the dirty washing would threaten to take over, and the stuff in the bottom of the basket would start going mouldy and I would threaten to leave home. And the ironing? Well, when I emptied it a few weeks ago, the ironing basket contained ironing (mountains, including most of the out of season clothes), mending, three cushions that didn't have a home, a bag of broken toys, and surprisingly, a bag of Christmas candy canes (I knew I had bought some. Had to dash out at the last minute to save Christmas).

Now, my mother is completely domestically challenged, but she does do washing well. In fact, she can spend all day doing the washing absolutely perfectly. She gets all the washing out of the baskets, puts it all in little piles, washes it (in the twin tub), takes the grey water out to the garden, hangs the washing out, goes out later to check it, turning it upside down to dry more evenly, brings it in, folding it as it goes in the basket to prevent wrinkles, puts it in more little piles, puts it, my mum is the washing expert. I am modelling my washing days on hers. I decided I needed some days off washing, so, two days off, and one day where I only wash sheets. On the other days I empty out the washing basket, make my piles of darks and coloureds, and rags, and teatowels (because who wants to use a tea towel that has been washed with the underpants?). I soak the things that need soaking, and wash them last. I am getting to know the clothes like I didn't before. I am keeping mental notes of stains to treat, buttons to sew on. The clothes are becoming more significant. I feel like I want to care for them properly, like I want to get rid of the ones that are obviously not made properly, and cherish the ones that are. I can see how women who made their own clothes in generations past would have taken such pains with the washing process. Taking care of things, it seems, does make you appreciate them more.

Hanging out washing has always been my favourite domestic chore. Meditative, repetitive, standing and stretching in the sunshine with flappy, sweet smelling washing. What could be better? I also get to visit my vegie garden and talk to birds and neighborhood cats. I am usually dashing out during our homeschooling morning, little sunshiny moments in a crowded day.

So, one chore, out of many, is coming together. The ironing? This week, the ironing basket only contains ironing. My next task is to empty it out completely, and iron on washing nights so I only have a few things to iron at a time, and never have an ironing basket again. One less piece of clutter in the bedroom, one less horizontal surface to dump things on...

Moment of peak efficiency? When I realised I could pack the washing machine with the first load the night before, and and start the day by pressing, well, START. It seems fitting.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Last night The Man found evidence of a Small Furry Friend in our pantry, and I suddenly found the motivation I had been searching for to clean out the entire cupboard, and wipe down all surfaces with eucalyptus oil. And it occured to me that a change has been going on in my brain over the last months. Years ago, when the older children were small, we lived in a wooden house in the forest, with little mice scuttling in and out with impunity. I remeber a friend ringing me and shrieking about a mouse, and how she had thrown out half her food, and was disinfecting madly. I thought about all the meals she had eaten and my house, and decided it would be kinder not to tell her.

But suddenly it seems to me that I would rather not have a mouse in my kitchen. I am not certain this is a change for the better (it isn't for the mouse, anyway), and it also means that I will be changing my gung-ho practice of bringing home purchases from the wholefood shop and slinging them into the back of the cupboard still in their brown paper bags. The Man has always been very rude about my need to keep every single jar that ever gets used in the house 'just in case'. In case I make jam, or my own herbal teas, or in case I ever store anything in something that is not a brown paper bag. Well, that time has now come. For three hours last night I listened to Radio National and took everything out of the cupboard, threw half of it away, because it turns out that brown paper bags are not such effective storage containers after all, and repacked everything else into jars. With labels. Oh, the heady feeling of efficiency and neatness. I know now why housekeepers of yore kept their cupboards locked, with the keys on their belts. Because otherwise someone might have messed with the jars.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

The Domestic Goddess found a cake decorating book at the library, and felt she needed to try to create one. That is the difference between us - I look at cake decorating books and blench, she looks at them and sees a relaxing and creative afternoon. I left it in her hands, although I did hunt online for natural food colouring, which I found here. It is made out of vegetables, and seaweed. The ingredients are actual food. And with just red, yellow and blue, the girls made an extraordinary range of beautiful colours.

So all by herself The Domestic Goddess cooked the cakes (in baked bean cans), organized a trinity of cake decorators, and they went to work in the kitchen for the afternoon, kneading, and cutting and creating, and making a giant mess.

I went to visit the neighbours.

The girls decorated, they even cleaned up, and I am so impressed with the results. Two Rapunzel castles, and one starry extravaganza. These girls have been cooking together since they could see over the kitchen bench. They spent several years making up their own recipes which produced, well, varying results. I still have copies of the recipes they wrote down. Priceless. I am so glad I gritted my teeth so many times and left them to it. They have educated themselves and each other in so many cooking techniques that I only learned as an adult, and some I have never mastered. They cook entire meals at home, and are regularly responsible for their families' baking, as well as these 'special projects'. Together our families have tackled Egyptian, Roman and French feasts. The girls are brave and resourceful, and nothing is scary because they are young, and have never been told that there is anything they cannot do.

Unfortunately they have shown no talent or inclination for cleaning the bathroom...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Class of Two

One day a week I have a splendid swap organized. Rosy's friend comes to us for a day, and Posy goes to her family, and plays with her little sisters. Rosy loves to have extra company, and we always have a nicer lunch. The Domestic Goddess made waffles for us this week! We have once-a-week lessons, Australian History and Old Testament stories, a unit of work from the Steiner curriculum. We have different poems, and are reading a different chapter book, so it is like a parallel universe homeschooling day, where I don't have a four year old, and have twins instead. They are The Inseparables!

This works so well with our structured mornings, and Rosy's friend is naturally studious, and so inspires Rosy to new heights of achievement. I am hoping to arrange something similar for The Domestic Goddess...will have to see how that pans out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Every Single Day...

What homeschoolers like to do more than 'most anything is to find out how other homeschoolers arrange their day. We are a snoopy lot; the reality is, that for most of us, this way of living is so far from 'normal' that it is incredibly comforting to see some frames of reference. So here is my contribution. This is a routine that has developed quite recently, in the last half year that my girls have been home full-time and my son is at school full time. A number of years ago, when all the children were home, we had a much more fluid schedule as I juggled pregnancies, babies, toddlers, older children, and tried to run a bookshop. A dear friend rang on the weekend and asked which method was more successful, schedule or no schedule, and I have to say that I prefer this way, even though it goes against all my natural inclinations. We get so much more done, and the things that the girls want to achieve get planned for, slotted in to the schedule, and actually happen, as opposed to my previous life, where they were merely added to the 'to do' list which was as long as my arm. Still, my life doesn't contain most of the craziness that was there a few years ago either, and this schedule would have to be a lot less ambitious if I had a new baby again or worked from home.

A Day in our Life

6.50am - 8.50am Everybody up, dressed, breakfasted. Much moaning. Windows open, beds turned down to air, teeth brushed, table cleared, dishes done, load of washing on, Boy shooed off to school with almost all of his uniform, sports equipment, bus money, homework etc. Beds made, bedrooms tidied, bathroom vanities wiped down, water mopped off bathroom floor, kitchen table wiped down ready for brilliant academic feats to be performed...

8.50am Everybody shooed outside. We do skipping with the long rope.

9am Morning Circle. This is part of the routine of a Steiner classroom. We all have our own cushion in a circle and recite silly poetry, seasonal poetry, one long poem (The Jumblies, by Edward Lear at the moment), songs and sometimes clapping games to make our brains work. Multiplication tables on Wednesdays, chanted at the top of our voices, just like when I was at school.

9.30am - 10.45am Three short lessons of grammar, maths, reading, French or history. Sometimes necessary to bribe scholars with something really nice for morning tea. Posy and I run around doing washing and cleaning in moments when not needed by other girls. Sometimes Posy watches Playschool so that I can work with one girl or the other. Some days no other housework gets done because Posy needs stories, puzzles, playdough or other mummy attention. Sometimes the sandpit suffices. Two days she spends with other small children in the morning so I pack a lot into those two mornings!

10.45am Morning Tea. Another load of washing for me, and reading the paper.

11am-ish-12.30ish - More involved subjects and projects - writing, history, more French, journals, science (botany at the moment).

To finish, we clean up and I read a chapter aloud from the current novel. Sometimes the girls finish off a drawing while I read.

After lunch is playtime, mad creative time, lying on the bed reading time, playing with friends or sisters time. I generally cook dinner now. Late in the afternoon we do ballet/piano/soccer/ tennis/dentist/doctor/orthodontist/running errands and other madness.

Between 5ish and 5.30ish tidying living areas is on our schedule, but, ahem, we are still working on that one.

After dinner, clearing kitchen, dishes, wiping down kitchen table and stovetop, sweeping floor, cleaning up the bathroom after baths, reading stories, kissing a naughty little four year old face, going back in to take a drink, choose another teddy, move the night light, listen to a loooong story about nothing, adjust the mosquito net so that bats can't get in...finally collapse on the couch with a cup of tea. Oh, wave at husband, persuade son that indeed, homework probably won't kill him, and some nights, do the ironing. Late at night I quietly put away all the things that have crept out of their homes while I had my back turned, trying not to trip over the giant wooden trainline/Lego kingdom/Barbie world that I promised to leave out until tomorrow.

It looks very busy, put down like that, but I don't do everything on those lists, because I have some very useful, nearly grown up children. I also don't do everything there every day, because some days are just like that. But I do enough of them enough of the time that life mainly holds together, and I am not half as stressed as I used to be. There are a couple of hours in the middle of most days that I can spend in the garden, or visiting with friends, or tackling some vital household project like sorting out new season's clothes, or canning tomatoes.

One day a week we go out walking, with the wee girls on bikes, and we take the nature diaries for the older girls to draw in while Posy and I sit on a log and chat about why she is more beautifuller than everybody, and how there is a certain Barbie lip-gloss making kit that she really needs and how the birdies in the trees makes little noises just like this which mean 'Hello, Posy, we're glad you like to visit us under our tree.'

Some days I am tired, tired, tired, but so many days I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the good things in my life, the happy, happy moments, the golden days that I can spend with my family...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Things That Make a Mother Laugh

Yesterday The Domestic Goddess worked as a volunteer at the local 'Actions to Combat Global Warming' Festival.

She got sunburnt.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Many days of silence. Broken computer. Am using son's homework model. Now know why he complains. It is very, very slow. Well, here is the thing. Am really rather bored with the whole cleaning gig. And tired. Have been working harder at housework type activities in the last couple of weeks than have in years. Might be going into decline precipitated by cleaning induced exhaustion. And the really discouraging part? It really isn't very obvious. If I am going to make heroic efforts, especially at something as tedious as cleaning, I like to be noticed. Problem is, we are living in renovation mayhem. In a house that looks like it might be part of a slum clearance project. We still have too much stuff to clean around, and a tribe of short people who also live here regularly plunge all horizontal surfaces into creative chaos. And they are here all the time. For the past two years the girls have been way from home three days a week, and one glorious day each week I was home alone. It was too, too delicious. Imagine a whole day, with the only mess created being a tea cup on the sink. And now they are home all the time. And oh, it is fun to have them home. They are sweethearts. But they make so much mess. I think they have a mandate from their union. And girl mess includes several hundred tiny Barbie accessories, and also CRAFT. The tiny pieces of paper, wrapped in other pieces of paper, stuffed in little cardboard boxes studded with tiny beads...lovingly stuffed into a sock for the dollies' Christmas. Multiply that by the number of dollies and imagine the glue on the table, floors, and walls, and all the tiny pieces of paper that never made it into the box, and then remember that there are three more hours of the afternoon, and that it is indeed possible for five little girls to remove almost everything from a bedroom and relocate it into the sandpit (sorry, desert island), and then decide to wash the Barbies' hair in the bathroom without, it has to be said, washing any of the sand from any of the aforementioned five little girls first, and you may begin to wonder, as I am doing, whether a project to become a model housekeeper is really a good idea at all, under the circumstances....

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Evening at the Farm

I am starting to enjoy my evening tidying routine, as I put things away in the quiet of a sleeping house before bed then set the table for breakfast in the morning. It makes me feel like a real mother somehow...(a feeling that giving birth four times, breastfeeding for a total of eight years and making seven thousand vegemite sandwiches has somehow failed to elicit...go figure).

But I can't bring myself to tidy the tiny farm on the hearth.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Days

The Domestic Goddess knows that there is no occasion which cannot be improved by a cupcake. Hence these chocolate ganache beauties, to celebrate our first morning of lessons. I think that all has gone well so far. I did panic a little when the Domestic Goddess requested more structure in our lessons this year, because I am really not very good at structure. But for my darling girl, I will try anything. So yesterday, we were scheduled to the minute, and amazingly, it worked really well. Today we had a very relaxed morning - I have scheduled a regular history project for late Friday morning, but we haven't done any history yet. So we went swimming instead. Early this morning we headed out for our first nature sketching outing for the year, to one of the jewels of parks that our town is studded with. A perfect warm sunny morning. We had our bird book, and our insect book, and sketched a very fetching little (alas, unidentified) golden beetle, which scuttled endearingly all over Posy while the girls drew it. The Domestic Goddess stalked a family of Native Swamp Hens and drew them as well. It was all very nice, just how I imagined homeschooling would always be... I know now that it nearly always isn't, so I treasure the golden moments.

On the cleaning front - well, Thursday came around again rather quickly. Due to the clutter reduction programme the bedroom floors have never been so clear, so they are now cleaner than they have been, well, ever probably. Vaccuuming the easiest ever. I am now looking at surfaces. Desks, the girls' dressing tables, my bedside table. My goal this week is to be able to dust without breaking anything. That means taking everything off the surfaces, and preventing stuff getting back on. I tend to use bedrooms, especially my own, as places to throw stuff so that the rest of the house looks reasonably tidy. It will be a huge effort to break that handy little habit. Still, I didn't imagine I would be looking at floor in the bedrooms this week either. Floor! It's positively remarkable.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


For many days now I have been surrounded with sheets of paper, scribbled all over with ideas, schedules, book titles and notes about piano lessons and craft groups. School starts tomorrow, and I am trying to timetable my life.

I think I am almost sorted now. I started with a list of subjects and topics, then worked out a daily rhythm that seems to work for us, then slotted the subjects in wherever there was space. The change this year? We are starting with morning chores. We will see how much housework we can tear through in the half hour between 8.30 and 9am.

Our curriculum is based on the wonderfully relaxing and reassuring Well-Trained Mind series by Susan Wise Bauer and her mother, Jessie Wise. Why relaxing? Because their rigorously academic content is completely scripted, while designed to be a conversation between parent and child. It makes me sound as though I know everything. I love it!

And they cover so many subjects. For history, there is Story of the World, a four volume history of the world in stories, with accompanying activity books. Grammar, and usage of the English language is covered in First Language Lessons. Reading in Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading (I also use this for spelling lists), and the recently published Writing With Ease, which promise to help students to erm...write, ease. Love, love, love these books. They take most of the angst out of teaching for me, and that just leaves some gaps where, now all the basics are taken care of, I have the energy to be creative (well, this is the plan). French, with our dear friend Em. A morning for walking and drawing in our nature diaries and pretending to be Beatrix Potter. Experiments with the chemistry set. And, oh, yes, you noticed the omission. Maths. A tutor for The Domestic Goddess. I have struggled through Year 7 maths before with The Boy, and I must say, I did a terrible job at it. A tutor is so much a better plan. It will reduce my stress no end. Rosy's maths is easy. Understanding Maths is the text, with DK workbooks to supplement it. Plus Monopoly. Nothing guaranteed to improve math skills quicker.

Ok, now breathe. At ten to seven tomorrow morning, it all starts again.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Tonight, only tears and prayers for the people of what were the beautiful towns of Central Victoria. Go hug those babies. Nothing else matters, really, does it?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thursday Schmursday

Oh, lordy. It's Thursday, bedroom cleaning day. Unfortunately, today was already booked. Two orthodontic appointments and a four hour blueberry-picking picnic. But there must be the possibility of being able to do housework and have a life, surely. I washed half the sheets and put them back on the beds, vacuumed one bedroom, and dusted my room tonight after the children went to bed. A 1940s housewife would give me maybe 2 out of 10 I'm thinking. Well, at least we can all see the floor in our bedrooms tonight. Let's think glass half full here. Tomorrow I will finish vacuuming and dusting, and maybe next week I will bravely look up on top of the wardrobes to see if anything has died there.

Possibly the difference between me and that legendary 1940's housewife is that at 8 o'clock in the morning I am still wandering about drinking tea. I have been re-reading my grandmother's Pollyanna books, set before and after WWI. She was always bouncing out of bed at 6am, and accomplished wonders in her day, as well as being disgustingly cheery. Perhaps she went to bed earlier as well. Perhaps I am about to become a model citizen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Declutter my world

Decluttering coming on apace here. I often begin to declutter, then it all becomes a tiny bit tedious far too soon. I have so much stuff, and I never get rid of any of it, just in case. I am going to end up as one of those old ladies who can't get out the house because of huge, teetering piles of mouldering newspapers in the hallway. Besides which, we are doing major, scary renovations this year. Half our house has been ripped up, so all our possessions are in half the house. There is nowhere to put almost anything. Another reason to throw lots away. And I have so much stuff, although I think I already mentioned that. But I am not one of these terrible mindless consumers. Oh no. I do not own acres of expensive plastic crap from department stores. I am an ecologically aware hoarder. I own acres of cheap, irresistible vintage crap from op shops, and books. Oh, the books. And the papers. Every piece of paper that my children have ever written on. Photos. Menus. Tickets from Tram Rides I Have Taken. Pieces of string, because you never know when you might need one. It all really has to go. It is going.

I think our success this week is due to boundaries, and a deadline. Thursday is bedroom cleaning day according to my new cleaning regime. So I am only decluttering bedrooms. And the girls are quite enjoying the challenge, although we have to hide all the 'throw out' bags from the four year old, who suddenly becomes passionately attached to anything she sees heading out the door. It is all going into the back of the stationwagon, and when it is too full to enable me to see out of the back window, we take a trip to the op shop and unload it all. It is very, very cathartic. I feel lighter. I feel more energetic. I may actually be getting thinner. I can see the floor in my bedroom, for the first time in months. Who knew housekeeping could be this exciting?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Purposeful Housekeeping

One of the (many) joys I find in living in Tasmania is that the children here return to school much later than their northern counterparts so that I have extra time to get my sorry unorganised self into gear before the beginning of the school year. I think I have the curriculum for my girls more or less organised (more on that later), I am pretty sure The Boy hasn't grown out of his school uniform in the eight weeks or so since he last wore it, but I am absolutely sure that I need to get the house and myself into a state of 'homeschool readiness' before school starts.

I have always been, let us say, a relaxed housekeeper, doing a dab here, a dab there, and pulling my hair out with anxiety every six weeks or so when it all falls apart and I have to devote two full days to housekeeping in order to find the children again ('I swear I had four children.. maybe the missing one is behind this giant stack of dirty washing/unwashed dishes/books I just have to read/Barbie paraphernalia'). At the same time, over the course of a number of years, I have discovered that homeschooling at our house works best with an absolutely strict morning routine, after which the girls can do whatever they like all afternoon. The only problem is that, with terrible planning and lackadaisical housekeeping, we either spend way too long in the morning getting organised to start, or else I find that I have scheduled a dentist's appointment in the middle of the morning, or else the house is in such a mess that I can't find vital books/art equipment/space in which to start a project/a small child..., or I suddenly recall that I have invited someone to lunch and haven't cooked anything yet. It's all very pathetic, and also demoralising to one of my feminist principles, but I absolutely have to learn to keep house, or my life will come crashing down around my ears.

Unfortunately, I also find routine, cleaning house, cooking regularly, or writing down appointments in my diary excruciatingly tedious. I am not a Domestic Goddess. I did, however, find a very entertaining blog whose author is experimenting with war time housekeeping from a 1940's housekeeping manual. This seems as good a way to learn to keep house as any (and goodness, both my grandmothers, who married during WWII were excellent housekeepers). So now I have a plan. I am going to channel my grandmothers and become a housekeeper extraordinaire...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Last Apricot

Every afternoon, after I have hung out the last load of washing for the day, I pick a perfect sun-warmed apricot, and sit on the garden wall to eat it, savouring a moment of solitary, guilty pleasure in my beloved garden all alone. Today, after weeks of depredations by birds, children, and myself, I picked the last apricot. How to celebrate that last load of washing now? I'll have to wait until the first tomato blushes a delicious red...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Toxic Food #2

Yesterday I confessed in the comments that after my self-righteous diatribe about toxic food I ate a packet of M&Ms to sustain me on a long drive, and all I really sustained was a headache. Well, an hour after that I was in bed, nauseous, with heart palpitations, hot flushes and unbelievably itchy, irritated eyes. I was, in fact, a complete wreck. I can only think that, not having eaten anything with food colouring in it for months now, my body went in to total shock at the M&M onslaught. Oh, the humiliation. I always swore never to become a food intolerance bore, but here I am, the mother who brings her own food to children’s birthday parties, and has a complete meltdown after eating a couple of M&Ms.

Anyway, back to my second life as a 1950s housewife in order to avoid serving anything with colourings, preservatives or additives. One last word and I shall be silent on the subject forever. Or at least a week:

Advice for parents with bedwetters:

Colour 102, or tartrazine, is a yellow food colouring which caused years of bedwetting in our house until we identified the culprit and banned it forever. It only took one dose of 102 (a slice of birthday cake, an icy pole, a handful of M&Ms…) and we would have two or three episodes of bedwetting over the course of a week. Is it any wonder I get a tiny bit irritated? For further information, Sue Dengate has great website.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Toxic Food

I am not normally an angry person, but at two o’clock in the morning when I am sitting up with my eight year old daughter who is sobbing because she can’t sleep, then I get very angry indeed. I am angry at the food industry which sees fit to stuff food with toxic additives, and then market it to parents as healthy for our children. I am angry at the government body whose job it is to prevent harmful substances getting in to food in the first place. Just. very. angry.

The problem? A group of chemicals called excitotoxins, which include MSG, aspartame (artificial sweetener), and a natural food colouring, annatto (160b), all of which affect the neural pathways in the brain, interfering with the way the brain sends messages, and causing, get this, brain lesions. Yes, they destroy brain cells irrevocably. And they are in oh, almost all processed food. Do you begin to see why I am angry? All of these chemicals cause poor Rosy to lie awake at night for hours, unable to sleep, because her brain is so wired. As well as insomnia they cause terrible migraines for my husband. And all of my children, up to the age of seven or so, turned nastily aggressive and took to slapping and kicking whenever they ate anything coloured with annatto. The smallest one still does.

At home I bake almost everything we eat, apart from a few products that I know won’t affect anyone, but really, shopping is a minefield. Nearly everything that screams ‘No artificial colourings’ has 160b in it. Well, it is all true – it is natural, but then so are caffeine, guarana and cocaine, none of which I choose to feed to my children either. Aspartame is in almost everything sweet labelled ‘diet’ (can’t say I have ever bought any such thing). Almost everything savoury and highly flavoured has MSG in it in some form. You will find it under numbers 621 and 635. It is also called ‘flavour enhancer’and 'hydrolysed vegetable protein'. It is in chips, soups, pies, ready made meals, sausage rolls, sausages, meat marinades, sauces, 2 minute noodles, all the junk food ever invented, rice crackers – in fact it would be quicker to list the foods it isn’t in. It is only there, of course, because flavour enhancer is cheaper than actual flavour, like herbs, spices, salt etc. Because God forbid there should be actual food in food.

And the really awful thing? While my daughter struggles with insomnia and my husband suffers with migraines, they are not the real victims. It is children with already compromised neural pathways who are really implicated in this commercial outrage – children with autism, schizophrenia, ADHD. And older people with dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Imagine the effect of the ‘crazy chemicals’ in their sensitive brains. In a sense we are lucky. The two sensitive people in our family are like canaries in the mine shaft – they are letting us know that what we are eating is not doing us any good. Much to my consternation I am forced to cook almost everything we eat. I have learnt a lot about food, and about what makes my body feel good. Not surprisingly, if I add a few decent salads to my grandparents’ basic diet of porridge, meat and three veg, and the odd steamed pudding, with a sponge cake for special occasions, we all feel happy and calm. Except after going to children’s birthday parties. When I end up staying up until two in the morning. Which makes me very angry indeed.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Question for Today

Why is it, do you think, that I spent many hours thoughtfully choosing the perfect Christmas presents for my daughters? I considered their stages of development, their likes and loves. I considered ethics, aesthetics and the environment. I even sewed, for goodness sakes. Today, obviously bereft of anything interesting at all to play with, they drew faces on rocks, lovingly made them beds, and have been carrying them around all day, with no regard at all for life or limb, or the bathroom tiles. If only they had told me before Christmas that all they needed was rocks...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

How to Make a Four Year Old Smile When She Has Had Such a Terrible Day That She Started to Put Herself in Time Out to Save Time and Trouble...

You say, 'Yes, of course you can wear your new crocs in the bath.'
And, 'Yes, you can wear them to bed as well.'
And then you kiss that quiet little sleeping face and pray for strength and patience for tomorrow.