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.