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 parenting-as-a-torrential-downpour...love 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 away...so, 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.