Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Sewing Box



I am loving the late afternoon sunlight pouring into my hallway this week. A few days ago we had the old yellow glass in our front door replaced with clear, and now it is light and warm, and I can see every speck of dust on that hall table.

Whilst putting away the pile of stuff that had mysteriously materialised on my bedroom chair the other day, I discovered The Mending Pile. It was lurking under the unwrapped birthday presents for my niece and sister-in-law, and just north of the Go Straight To The Dry Cleaners Do Not Pass Go Pile. One of the reasons I don't like mending is that I have a sewing drawer. Every pin, needle, piece of elastic, cotton reel and safety pin I've ever owned lives in there, it's all wrapped around everything else, and I can never find the needles until I impale myself on one. So, in the spirit of procrastination, and because even sorting is more fun than mending, I dumped out the whole drawer, and Rosy and I sorted it out during Downton Abbey.

During the week I had been inspired by a fellow ballet Mum. She was sewing about a million tulle blossoms onto a tutu, and she had a beautiful old wooden box with her sewing things in. 'Wait,' I thought, 'I  have a beautiful wooden box. It sits on my hall table, and has nothing in it.' A cunning plan was formulating in my mind. This lovely wooden box belonged to my grandparents, and I brought it home with me when my grandpa died last year. It is the biggest one in the photo above. The other two I bought at Oxfam in the days when I still bought things because I still had empty horizontal surfaces. The tiny one contains our rechargeable batteries, the middle one, eclectic pieces of tat. Rosy's job was to unwind all the tangled up thread and pack it into the middle box. Here it is, a lovely thread rainbow.



And below is the nice old wooden box, which contained the first aid kit at my grandparents' house for many, many years. The label on the blue paper lining reads Birk's Homeopathic Chemist, Rundle St, Adelaide. It is highly likely that it was the family homeopathic medicine chest of one my sets of great-grandparents, as nobody in that family ever threw anything away. Now it holds all the bits and bobs I will need to tackle any mending task, including grandma's thread scissors and darning mushroom, and the teddy-bear-shaped felt pincushion Rosy made me when she was five.





The old sewing drawer still has all the bits of elastic and safety pins that I know I will need one day, and when I do, I won't cut off my fingers with the sewing scissors trying to get to them. It does give me immense satisfaction to have another tiny corner of the house organised, and I love to have my things in containers that are beautiful and useful, and in this case, a link to the past as well, to the line of grandmothers who administered first aid, and darned stockings.

So last night, having run out of excuses, I sat down with my lovely sewing box and darned those school tights, four pairs, all with holes in the toes. And this afternoon Rosy came home and demonstrated my complete incompetence, toe poking out the end of the mend. Darned stockings!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Just One of Those Days, and How Not to Declutter

Some days are like that... so this morning when I got up the cat had been sick. Then, when that was sorted and I was sitting bleary-eyed  with my first cup of tea of the day, Posy sidled up to me, gazed at me with those big baby blues, and said, 'Mama, when you were a little girl, did you ever imagine you would reach the age of forty one?'

Clearly I looked as though I was about to shuffle off this mortal coil..

And the house, well, it was filthy, though for once not entirely due to my slatternly ways. We have had builders in. Now, don't get me wrong, I love having builders in. Mainly because they build things. In this case, window and door frames, and they also hung doors, so that downstairs, which was very open plan indeed, with arctic draughts whistling up the staircase, is now decently enclosed, which will help along our project to save electricity immensely, and also make using the downstairs bathroom a less nerve racking experience.

But the trouble with builders, however nice they are (and ours are lovely), is that they descend like barbarian hordes, make an enormous amount of noise and mess, and then leave in a cloud of dust. So today was all about removing dust from every surface and mopping, mopping.

While the builders were here this week, and making more and awful noise than I could believe possible (it was raining, so they had to use the downstairs unfinished room as a workshop to rip up all the wood for window frames etc), I kept running next door to seek sanctuary and cups of tea, but eventually I ran out of neighbours to bother, so locked myself in my bedroom at the other end of the house and started cleaning out cupboards. It still amazes me, that although I have ridden myself of so much stuff over the last couple of years, it still manages to accumulate in the backs of cupboards. Most of it, by now, is stuff that I actually want, but it has been thrown in a cupboard for want of a proper storage space. And thanks to the noisiness of builders I cleaned out the art cupboard, the last of the home schooling supplies, and redistributed them in drawers around the house, which gave me some more lovely wardrobe space, ruthlessly thinned out my clothes again, and wondered how twenty seven items had surreptiously made their way onto my bedroom chair.

And it was while I was doing this that I realised how the standard decluttering advice is a trap for the naturally disorganised. Most advice includes the need for bins/bags/piles for rubbish/ recycling/ charity donations/ reorganising, but what happens in reality is that seven minutes into the job, the phone rings, or a child falls out of a tree, and by the time that has been sorted it is time to cook the dinner, pick up someone from soccer, help build a science project out of balloons and juice bottles by tomorrow.... and the next time you return to your decluttering site its volume has actually increased because the bins/bags/piles of stuff have invited more clutter, and the whole depressing cycle starts all over again. Which is why I have developed a much more inefficient but more effective solution.

I never make a pile. Piles are the enemy of effective sorting. They are just Moving Stuff Around. The only effective way I have found to deal with mess is to only handle an item once. If the item on the top of the pile is a piece of paper, I decide what to do with it, and walk it to its new destination, rubbish or recycling bin, or filing cabinet, or receptacle for precious pieces of paper. If it requires action, I do it, transferring dates into my diary, writing a cheque. If it requires more thought than that I put it into my 'inbox' in the hall table drawer, and heaven help it if it ends up there, where paper goes to die. If the item is going to be donated, I take it out to the car and put it into the bag that always seems to be there. The Man calls our van The Mobile Op Shop, but he doesn't realise it is always a different bag. It goes off to be dropped off every week, and replaced with a new one. Actually, these days it does sometimes take weeks to fill up a bag.  And if the item in question needs to go and live somewhere else in the house, I take it there, maybe staying to rearrange a drawer to fit it in.

This is all very inefficient, and sometimes I might get through only a couple of items before the phone rings, child falls out of tree etc, but at least those thing are gone, sorted, never have to be looked at again, and there are no piles of Things mocking me later.. they do mock, you know. Piles are mean.

In other news, I have completely failed to cook breakfast again. Pancakes were literally a flash in the pan. I am using the builders as my excuse. They arrive at dawn and start asking questions about bannister brackets, then making ear splitting sawing noises, and it makes me jittery. They have gone now, so maybe I will be able to devote some headspace to early morning cooking. Maybe.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Breakfast for the Masses

I do not have morning children. Every morning at seven o'clock my babies greet the world with wailing and gnashing of teeth. And when faced with the prospect of actually eating food at that hour, they are inconsolable. 'There is nothing nice to eat,' they wail. 'We're not having breakfast.'

Thus begins the daily tussle of wills, me trying to get them out of the house with full bellies, them determined that no evil breakfast will pass their lips. They have a choice of porridge, cereal, toast, yoghurt, fruit. What is their problem? I have had one slice of wholemeal toast with vegemite and a cup of tea for breakfast my entire adult life. The Boy, who clearly has similar genes, has eaten five weetbix every morning since he was about twelve. Before that, he ate two. The Girl and The Man ring the changes between the above choices with no complaints, but the wee girls just won't play the game.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading my old homeschooling friend Jen's Blog, and she had published a weekly menu with cooked breakfasts. Outrageous, I thought, nothing wrong with vegemite and toast. Then another friend, Monique, commented the other day about her fried fruit porridge breakfast. Now this is the woman who is travelling around Australia in a caravan with three little girls. And they are cooking breakfast! I felt I might be running out of excuses. Then yesterday morning Posy tearfully begged for pancakes. She felt that she might be able to choke down breakfast if it was pancakes...

So at seven o'clock this morning I was frying pancakes and two girls sort of bounced out of bed. There was no crying, and even a couple of smiles. And I quite liked it too. The family ate breakfast around the table, with placemats, and homegrown lemons in wedges, and sugar and cream. Usually, the little girls sit at the breakfast bar, crying and whingeing while I slap sandwiches together at the bench. This felt altogether more civilised than our normal morning routine. Tomorrow, I think we'll have apple crumble with blueberries.

The TV ban is still in place. Posy has been home from school for an hour. She made paper cones for her popcorn snack. The table is covered in popcorn, paper and sticky tape. She is about to put some oil and water in a glass to see if oil and water really does mix...

Monday, May 21, 2012

TV or Not TV



There are days and weeks in our household when the TV is on far too much. Now I am not a TV-hating Luddite. How can anyone possibly do the ironing without watching Grand Designs or Downton Abbey?
 

We all have a show or two that we really like, but sometimes the sheer baby-sitting convenience of wonderful children's television means that TV-creep starts to happen. The favourite show turns into four or five favourite shows, and suddenly the time between home time and dinner has been completely eaten up by ...nothing. That is the depressing thing about serial TV watching. Hours later you realise that time has turned to dust and there is nothing to show for it. And it makes children cranky. There is something about action, creativity, even arguing with your sister, that lets energy flow out and be drawn back in again, but passive TV watching turns our children into their own evil twins. But it is still so tempting. The peace, the quiet, the tidiness of children who are watching TV...

But after a spectacular tantrum before dinner the other night we decided that enough must be enough. No more peace and quiet in this house. We already have a TV ban in place before school, and after dinner until the little girls are both in bed (homework hours), but now after school and anytime after 9am on a weekend morning we will suffer noise and chaos and mess, but hopefully not as many cranky tantrums over nothing. The funny thing is, that after the initial whining while the girls were suffering withdrawal symptoms yesterday when their electronic drug was removed, they immediately found things to do which kept them happy for hours. There was a slight hiccup when I declared that the ipod, ipad and gameboy were also banned, but then Rosy got out her birthday painting kit and has produced two masterpieces on mini canvases, and Posy has been building card castles with surprising patience. She has also made two treasure maps which had to be drenched in tea, then baked with the dinner to give them that authentic olde worlde look, created word searches which I had to fill in, read us all jokes ad nauseum, then started a game where she dressed up in my coat and had Rosy tow her up and down the hallway on her back. My coat will never be the same again. I have read two books aloud, helped make a home movie, and had help cooking dinner. I have broken up several fights and emptied precious treasures out of the vacuum cleaner when I had help with the housework. It is only Monday afternoon.


You do see why I like TV.





Saturday, May 19, 2012

An Autumn Birthday Tea Party


Because tea parties are deliciously fun even when your age begins with a ....four....and is then also followed by another number. I am loving school. It means I get to have a party with my friends without inviting the children. But don't feel too bad for them. They came home and ate up all the cake, and then I had another party with them later, and they got to eat even more cake.

In the spirit of not accumulating more possessions I asked The Girl to bake for my party as my birthday present. She has recently added biscotti to the long list of yummy things she bakes, and she also made some truly marvellous fig and macadamia fudge.

The Man bought me new compost bins: recycled plastic, Australian made, from our local hardware, my favourite kind of shopping. And The Boy, for my present, spent two hours forking all the compost from my old compost bin, a hulking monster made out of pallets, into the new ones. He is a star. I now have a wheelbarrow full of finished compost for the garden, and lots of new compost brewing. I am one happy, older gardener. Oh, and The Boy chopped up the pallets from the old compost bin so we can use it for firewood. Waste not, want not and no new net possessions there.

Happy Birthday to me....


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cooking, Cooking..


The bulk cooking project continues. Afternoons after school the girls get out the recipe books for an hour's recreational cooking, look at the oven, sigh, then put the books away again. I am SO mean. They have decided that we will be cooking Thursday and Saturday afternoons, because they are free then, and on other days they pore over recipe books, making plans. I do feel rather lucky to have a teenager who orders Traditional Cakes and Puddings from the library, and asks me which one I would like for Mother's Day. It is also a wonder that we are not all enormously fat.

As you can see from above, cheese is a staple ingredient in my cooking. I am a very, very plain cook. I rotate fifteen or so dishes that everyone mostly likes, and sometimes one of the children, or occasionally me, tries something new, and if we like it, we add it to the repertoire. I like big one-pot stews and casseroles, very 1970's, and serve them with lashings of veg, or salad. It is not Masterchef, but it is achievable, and served with love. I think I will be writing the cookbook 50 Ways With Minced Beef. Last week's effort with the mince was lasagne turned cottage pie, this week's was a potato slice-topped hotpot, which, with the addition of frozen corn to the sauce turned into a casserole topped with macaroni cheese, which serendipitously used up left-over cooked pasta. The basis of all of these is the bolognese sauce, blessings on whoever invented it. At our place it changes week by week, depending on what we have on hand. It always has onion and garlic, it mostly has a couple of carrots and celery sticks whizzed up in the food processor. I saute all of these ingredients as long and slowly as possible. Last week it had the addition of a shredded zucchini gifted by a friend (the actual conversation went, 'Please, PLEASE take a zucchini..'), this week I whizzed up what are surely the last few tomatoes from the garden with some of our frozen basil, next week I have a bunch of peeled frozen broccoli stems to puree and add. I also add a handful of red lentils which boil down to invisible in the tomato sauce. So a giant pan of this sauce bubbling away every week makes meals that wouldn't win any cooking contests, but contain vegies, are wonderfully comforting on a cold night, and all the children like them, which makes them magic and golden in my book.

Th other dish is cooked pasta, shredded cooked chicken, salami, sundried tomato, and wilted warrigal greens from the garden, all mixed together with cheese and cream. Because dairy products are important, right? My favourite, probably over-used, seccret ingredient in the topping of all casseroles, underneath the cheese, is flavoured breadcrumbs. Whenever there are breadcrusts that no-one has eaten I store them in the freezer till needed, then blitz them in the food processor with oil, salt, a random spice mixture from the pantry, and something green from the garden (rosemary, parsley, basil, oregano). I store that back in the freezer and use it on top of everything that isn't dessert. It's brilliant for crumbing fish or chicken or potato and vegie patties, and just makes everything crunchy and delicious, especially if you add cheese. Mmmmm, cheese..

Ok, and now a failure, well not a failure so much as a glitch. Last week's cottage pie was.....delicious. BUT, although it sat on the benchtop all day, and then went into the microwave for fifteen minutes or so, and then had its top toasted under the grill, it was still frozen in the middle. In the end we had to scoop servings from around the edge and microwave them again until they were piping hot. So, lesson learned. Freeze dinners in shallow dishes. And always add cheese.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Mini Farm




The mini-farm is doing its thing, with baby peas (which are my favourite of all baby vegetables. Irresistibly cute) and lettuces mostly. Posy and I were planting out carrot seeds a month or so ago, because I was trying to use up all the old seed packets in my stash. These were way past their plant-by date, and none germinated, so I planted lettuce over the top. Then last week, a lone carrot seedling popped up, so in the tub above I am growing lettuce, peas and one carrot. It is hardly self sufficiency, although I am pretty close to self-sufficient in lettuce. I only have to buy the odd one when there is a planting gap due to vagueness on my part. I have worked out that we need two large pots of lettuce going at one time to keep us in salads, three in Winter, so I rotate greens among all my large pots, lettuce, parsley, baby spinach, peas, all year round, and keep all the pots topped up with compost and well-fed with seaweed extract and fish emulsion.

I love the profligacy of lettuce. I always let the most luscious looking lettuce bolt to seed, then sprinkle the seeds amongst all the pots, then thin by eating them in salads. Fresh seed has an incredible germination rate compared to saved or bought seed, and there are often hundreds of tiny ones popping up all over, in the garden, between paving stones. Like baby clothes, I am always amazed that there is still a market for seeds. There must be billions of pieces of hardly worn newborn baby clothes stashed in cupboards all over the world. I think there should be a moratorium on their manufacture for a few years until they are all worn out. Similarly, seeds ripen and blow about for free by the million billion, there for the taking. It would be criminal for me to buy new ones when every season I could theoretically collect and replant about a thousand lettuce plants. Sometimes I am tempted beyond what I can bear at the nursery though. Like baby clothes, fat little seedlings are so adorable. That is why it is safer for me just not to go shopping. I'll go sprinkle some more seeds around the garden..

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blue and Golden Day

Yesterday was a blue and golden Autumn day, so I walked in the park while Rosy did ballet. There were swift parrots being, well, swift, topknot doves wittering and egrets (I think they were egrets - skinny, grey, long beaks, can't find my bird book) chuntering contentedly together in the long grass. It was a lovely, happy sunny walk, all by myself. A rare treat.

And then I went shopping. I know, I don't go shopping anymore but this was an expedition months in the planning. I have a twenty one year old ironing board, given to us for our wedding by a great aunt, or possibly a second cousin. It is wearing quite well, but the cover was last renewed about twelve years ago when my darling mother-in-law made a new one for me. She was a good country housewife, so everything she made was double and triple reinforced, but eventually even that gave up the ghost, and I was ironing on a cover with holes in it, which was very dispiriting. I briefly thought about making one - how hard could it be, right? But I am a sad sally when it comes to sewing. All the women in my life who could sew have died - my grannies, my mother-in-law. I feel I missed a great opportunity there, because any of them would have loved to have taught me, but it wasn't a skill I was remotely interested in aquiring then.

So I have to endure The Look when, as today, I popped into ballet to ask the gathered ballet mums another stupid question about how to do something extremely basic to make Rosy's latest ballet costume fit her. They are very kind and helpful, and haven't failed me yet, but when I ask yet another daft question they give patient little sighs, before answering in the sort of voice one normally reserves for explaining obvious concepts to six year olds.

So I decided against the world of pain that sewing involves for me, and found the perfect ironing board cover, then waited. I knew it would go on sale eventually, and yesterday was the day. I came home with my fifty-percent-off ironing board cover. The Man thinks I'm mad, but I enjoy my little games, and see  retail price as a challenge to overcome...

Anyway, I spent the evening happily ironing on my new hole-free ironing board, while watching Peter Ustinov twirl his moustaches as Hercule Poirot in an old Agatha Christie adaptation. Priceless.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Not Popping Out to the Shops

A couple of years ago we were in the midst of the most disruptive phase of the World's Longest Renovation. Six of us were living in about a third of the house, there was no storage anywhere, literally nowhere even to put another thing on the floor. I love looking down our beautiful clear hallway now, because I still have very clear memories of the floor and walls being stacked with every book we owned, several pieces of furniture, and all of the children's clothes in plastic crates. That was the year I became an Extreme Declutterer. Everything I didn't absolutely love, went. OK, so I didn't absolutely love the vegetable peeler, or that plastic caddy that the sink brushes live in, but they are very useful, so I let them stay. I was brutal. You know how they say you only wear ten percent of your wardrobe? I threw out the other ninety percent. I got rid of  books which was like giving away the children (well, no, not really, let's not get carried away. It was hard though). I gave away wedding presents, off loaded furniture that was not quite right and ruthlessly thinned out the toys, the games, the art supplies and the thousand other items that I had hitherto believed necessary to my existence. I don't think I have regretted a single item that went out my front door. It was very liberating.

The most exciting thing about the entire project is that none of that stuff has come back. I was a little worried at first, that when I gained more house space, stuff would creep back in. In my mind, stuff had a kind of menacing quality about it, like triffids, or wolves at the gate. Then it occurred to me that in order for stuff to invade, I would have to let it in, and that even before that, I would have to actively go out and get it. So I stopped going out to the shops. I have absolutely no self control in a shop, and things just call to me with their wicked siren songs. For months and months I didn't go in to any shops at all, except to buy food, and tedious renovating items like taps and light fittings, and the odd pair of shoes for the children. And by the time I was forced to go into actual interesting shops because there were holes in the sheets and all the coffee mugs had chips in, the spell was broken. Things in shops are just things, they won't solve problems or make dreams come true. I am finally able to look at a covetable pretty thing and appreciate it and not want to take it home. I even see interesting books in op shops and think, 'Oh, I'll look for that in the library.' It's not about the price, it's about not continuing the endless treadmill of consumption. It's about not purchasing on impulse, but taking weeks to contemplate and plan exactly what I want and need, then the joy of finding the exact thing after further weeks of searching, and the satisfaction of having what I need and no more. In fact, now I think about it, I am turning into a Nanna prematurely. Luckily I have time for afternoon naps, because I won't be popping out to the shops..

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gaping Holes

Due to the phenomenal success of my weekend bulk cooking experiment I now have time hanging on my hands. Last night at five o'clock I went to bother visit my neighbour to drop off a newspaper and pick up a child, and was able to sit and enjoy the experience of watching her cook, and feeling rather smug. It's actually a wonder I have any friends at all, really.

So today, in all my spare time, I am turning my thoughts to heating. We like a warm house here at Chez Blueday, and I'm not sure I can achieve a 20% reduction in our heating bill, but we will try. Actually, I just remembered that we had insulation put in the roof FINALLY last September (yes, just after winter, very clever), only twelve years after we moved in. This is not because we have philosophical objections to roof insulation, just that every inch of electrical cable in the house had to be replaced, and it was a long, slow, very expensive business. Some of it was the original (now perished) rubber coated cabling from 1930 when the house was built. Oh, and we also kept pulling ceilings down during the renovation, which made insulation rather pointless. So we have never been through a winter with insulation. Last year we also enclosed our verandah, and it is now our dining room, and installed double-glazed windows all along the front wall, and every time we had a wall down (frequently) we insulated it before we put it up again, so really, the house is a lot better insulated than it ever was.

However, there are gaping holes (literally) in all this marvellousness.We are still renovating three rooms downstairs, and there is a teeny, tiny two square metre hole still open to the under-house crawl space. There is also a broken window letting a gale in, and a cat flap taped permanently open in the downstairs door, because we have a clever cat and a stupid cat, and the stupid cat can't work out how a cat flap works, so he sits next to it and whines loudly to be let in or out, usually at two in the morning. Taping it open was a brilliant solution during the summer, but now it feels like a decision that needs a little work. All this would not be such a problem, except that there are no doors downstairs yet (we really do live in a hovel), so the gale blows right upstairs, and I can feel it eddying around my feet as I type in the super well-insulated dining room.

A quick house tour reveals a gap under the back door that shows daylight through, ditto front door. An open window in the laundry (don't shut that door because the kittly litter trays are in there), plus the tilers have left the downstairs bathroom window open to dry the tile grout. Which would probably be more effective if it wasn't raining. Hence the gale. Oh, and The Boy has also left his bedroom window open downstairs before leaving the house. I nag him all the time about airing out his vile teenage boy bedroom, and now he is finally doing it, two days after I turn the heating on... in the rain.

Plan of action: turn the heater off. Clearly I am heating the entire street. Shut all the windows, haul the slipper basket down from the back porch closet, because I think that's where I stored the door snakes. Try to genetically modify the cat to increase its brain power..

I am thinking there is plenty of room for improvement here. The tilers keep leaving the door open, as well as the window, but they will go away tomorrow, leaving a sparkling new bathroom, happy, happy day.. soon the carpenter will arrive, and will no doubt constantly leave the door open too, but hopefully will also install window frames, new windows and also doors, can you imagine. So, net gain.

Subject: heating               
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