Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Jo and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

This is the view from my front window. usually there are hills, then distant mountains. This week we can see as far as the next block..

Alright, maybe it wasn't that bad, but a good, therapeutic whinge never hurt anyone. This week has been defined by smoke. A pall of it hangs over the state. 80 bushfires around Tasmania, mostly far out in the bush away from property and people, but hundreds of thousands of acres have burned, and the smoke shrouds the sun, which casts an eerie light, and we are breathing smoke, peering through smoke to drive, all our washing smells like smoke, and all of our houses, because you can't keep the windows closed forever. It is hot and dry, hotter and dryer than it has ever been, and it feels like we are living in the apocalypse. If there are zombies out there, we would never know, because they could sneak up under cover of the smoke screen and we would never see them..

Tasmanian dams are down to record lows all over the state and water restrictions have begun. Driving through farm country is so sad, because there is no grass. I don't know what the animals are eating. I mowed the 'lawn' the other day, and was enveloped in a cloud of dust because the 'lawn' now consists of bare dirt with a patchy dead grass thatch covering and an occasional persistent weed. This is all something I might expect were I living on the edge of the outback, eking out a living on marginal desert farmland, but I moved to Tasmania for the green and the rain and the pretty roses. This year, the mainland summer moved south. Ugh.

Living in the heat and the persistent smoke haze has made me rather depressed about the weather of the future. I told my children I was so very sorry that my generation had finished off the job of ruining the planet for them. No wonder Chinese tourists are so excited to come to Australia and see blue skies. They live in this kind of smog all the time, man-made, from the factories that churn out our 'stuff'. This just makes me so much more determined not to buy more stuff, because why should our need for cheap, pretty baubles mean that a very large slice of the world's population doesn't get to see the blue sky on a daily basis?

When I haven't been moping around suffering from SAD (Smoke Affective Disorder) or praying for rain, I have been assisting The Girl in the enormous task of packing up her entire life into cardboard cartons to send her off to university in a city far away from me. This has been sad and hilarious at once. The Girl has kept every piece of paper she ever wrote on since she learned to write at the age of four. Also every autumn leaf, feather, sewing and art project has been treasured. While I was busy filling the recycling bin she was reading me snippets from the dictionary of the new language she invented, age nine. There were only four words filed under 'N', one of which was the word for niche/alcove. Because that is one of the first words you would need to include in a new language..

So, all her things are donated, recycled, thrown away, or fitted into six cardboard cartons and two suitcases. I am very proud of her. It is hard to whittle away all those concrete reminders of her past. But today we had a party for her, and she was laughing away at all the memories she shares with one of her best buddies who has shared every life experience with her since they were two years old. The memories are all there in their heads and hearts, and can never be burnt up, flooded out, or eaten up by moth or rust..

It is rather melancholy imagining life here without her, as we count the days she has left with us. But she is heading to an exciting new life and is happy, so we will be happy too. We WILL be happy..

Friday morning I woke up and decided my house is too big, and I want to move. In a couple of weeks we will wake up and find ourselves as a family of three rattling around like peas in a giant house with five bedrooms, two living areas and a study. So I now I have another large logistical problem to obsess about. Because, why not? I accidentally got onto the internet and found a very tiny house which I am rather drawn to and the wee girls absolutely adore.. oops..

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Green and Thrifty

This week I have saved electricity by not doing the vacuuming:)

The children came home after their week away and made me buy enormous amounts of food to feed them, but while they were away I only bought a litre of milk. Oh, and a block of chilli chocolate.

Yesterday, a friend who is going away for a few days brought over a bag full of kale and zucchinis from his garden. I was quite relieved, because I was about to go out and BUY zucchinis, which feels so wrong. Zucchini is not a vegetable that one buys, it is a vegetable which desperate gardeners press on you, and are who are terribly grateful when you say, why yes, you would be delighted to take half a dozen giant marrows off their hands. "Really?" they ask incredulously, "Are you quite sure?"

Usually I have my own giant zucchini problems, but this year my (quite old) zucchini seeds failed to germinate, and I have been meaning to replant for about three months now, and finally got to it this morning. It may be too late, and I may have missed the 2016 zucchini boat, but garden experiments are always entertaining, and if it fails, I am happy to accept each and every zucchini that got away..

Last year I planted cucumber seeds, one of which came up and produced all of two cucumbers. This year, one of those rogue 2015 cucumbers came up in the pot in which they failed to germinate last year. It sat and sulked all year and came up in late spring! I now have the first ripe cucumber from that vine. I know it is from that batch, because I accidentally bought seeds for round stripey cucumbers. Which look like tiny watermelons, but taste like cucumbers. Odd but good.

Every day I eat my boiled egg for breakfast then wander around the garden to find 'breakfast dessert'. Peaches, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, cherry plums. All the early morning goodness (getting up early means I beat the children to the best fruit. I am not really a model mother).

After procrastinating for a couple of months I asked The Girl to not allow me to eat dinner until I had potted up a collection of cuttings that have been busy growing roots in glasses of water on the kitchen bench. She diligently refused me dinner until I complied - took all of five minutes. Procrastination - why is it such a thing??

The girls and I want to learn to sew from a pattern, so we ordered a dress pattern from our local fabric shop recently, and I found a 100% cotton doona cover at the op-shop for us to practice on. This is the week's project. I have a sewing friend who lives a block away. If we get into trouble she will come and rescue us while I hold her adorable newborn baby. I guarantee we will get into trouble! This is our latest effort to learn how to make something that we usually buy.

Here is a photo I took earlier in the year:

The Boy has a very dear friend who he met many years ago when both their mad mothers were homeschooling them. Our values continue to be in alignment - when he came over to see The Boy he left his hat on the table, and I was delighted to see that he had patched it. He is a no-waste eco-warrior! I see a lot of angst about how so much is wrong with young people these days, but the young people I know are quietly getting on with grace and determination to make the world a better place.

Tell me about your green and thrifty projects, and your young eco-warriors.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Two Books From the Library Stacks

First of all, let's talk about the library. This will be a short  but heartfelt ode.

The library is my very favourite public institution. Probably hospitals and schools are more necessary, but the library makes me happiest. Without the library I would be quite poor and my house would have books falling out of the windows and spilling out of the doors. The library gives me free words. I am in love with the library.

This week the library gave me two wonderful books. I think they are wonderful. Books that really take my fancy are often unappreciated by other people. But there are authors out there who are clearly fellow citizens of my secret world. Here are two of them.

No One Is Here Except All of Us

A tiny isolated Jewish village in Rumania discovers the terrible truth of Hitler's Jewish purges when a stranger washes up on their riverbank. The villagers take an extraordinary action on hearing this news. They decide to remake the world, their little world, and start again from Day One of Creation.

To me this seems like such an eminently sensible course of action. I frequently want to start the world all over again. So this becomes the story of Creation, a world within the world. It is a novel about the power of story, it is a magical dreamscape of purpose and the possibility of intent.

Inevitably, worlds collide. But story, as the way we make and remake our world, is what gives meaning to the lives of the villagers and gives them strength to carry on.

I was up until midnight finishing this novel. It is often dark and disturbing, but filled with love and light as well. Lyrical, magical, a fable turned into a novel.

I chose it for its irresistible title and the captivating cover. I love the way the words try to hide among the birch trunks..

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

It is 1799 when Jacob de Zoet arrives in the Japanese port trading city of Dejima. This is a walled city, the only part of Japan open to foreigners, and leased by the Dutch East India Company. Jacob will work here as a clerk and try to make his fortune so that he can go home to Holland and marry his sweetheart. But Fate has other plans for him. He falls in love with a midwife, the only woman in Japan permitted to study with the Dutch doctor in Dejima. Through his encounters with the midwife and his interpreter de Zoet becomes an instrument in an intricate and dark game of Dutch and Japanese politics and religion.

The two things that drew me to this novel was the wonderful, visceral language - it is easy to live in the world of this novel, which is so extraordinarily detailed in its research - and its characters which are very human. I live in a world full of flawed characters, and I want to meet them in novels too, want to see how they tick, what makes them do what they do. People watching is endlessly captivating. Moral ambiguity? It is what we are faced with every day. I want to know how other people meet it and weave their failings into their lives, as well as their successes.

As a bonus, the text is woven through with sentences and images that read like haiku. Love a bit of lyrical in my bed time reading...

What treasures have you found at the library recently?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hot, Hot, Hot

Hot dog

34C (93F) here in the shade yesterday, an excellent day to try out my new solar dryer!

Cake cooler trays with wire food cloches

The thermometer tells me 50C/122F in the sun. Those apricots are really cooking!

Apart from a couple of phone calls, I spent the day in utter blissful silence. I walked the dog, then watered the garden in the morning, to prepare it for the difficult day ahead, and then went over and watered my neighbour's pot plants while they are away for a few days.

My neighbour, Lisa, is effortlessly stylish, and this is her succulent collection.

Then I did cool, indoor jobs. I crushed all the dried oregano from the garden, which has been drying on trays on the dining room sideboard, for, oh, about two months now!

I did all my bookwork and got my accounts up to date. Boring but necessary.

I sorted through a suitcase of Important Pieces of Paper, and recycled much of it. Chuckled over the cards my children have made for me over the years (didn't recycle them, of course!). Found some cards and photos that I liked, so arranged them in the kitchen.

 My Grandma Muriel in the early 1920s as an adorable fairy.

My Grandma Hazel, same era, as a flower girl. Oh, those sausage ringlets!

Rushed in and out picking more apricots all through the day, as they seemed to ripen between morning and evening yesterday, in the unaccustomed heat. I had to pick them, or they would just have dropped to the ground (or on the washing..). Many splattered to the pavement, even so, so there was another fun job.. But here is the pay off - glorious dried essence of apricot.

Morsels of dried goodness from the dehydrator.

This weather is so extreme for Launceston. We generally get two or three days over 32C (90F) per year, usually in February. Typical Launceston summer weather hovers around 25C (77F). We are all sweltering in the unaccustomed heat and our gardens are wilting in the dry.

Still, all of the insulation we packed into this house when we renovated is having its effect. Our upstairs indoor temperature hovered at around 27C (80F) in the hottest part of the day, with all the windows and blinds shut, which is quite bearable, but even then there is relief. Our house is built into a hill:

The inner room downstairs is a living room/guest room with a sofa bed. The children have sleepovers down there and play their rowdy computer games with the door shut, but it is a divine retreat in the summer. I shut the doors of the north east facing rooms in front of it, and the inner living room is a cool cave, with a constant summer temperature of about 20C (70F). So I lay on the couch with the dog snoring gently away next to me, and finished my library book. Then I sorted through all my bookmarked 'favourites'.. there are so many fascinating diversions on the web, and I have bookmarked them all. I have been diverting myself with with this collection of family photographs from the US in the 40s and 50s. Each photo is captioned with a reminiscence by the photographer. Absolutely fascinating. The recollections are so detailed, the photographs so beautiful, the couple so beguiling.. this is the first bookmark of the folder I have labelled 'Good Reads', and so far I have been reading it for two days. The sorting project may take some time...

How are you dealing thriftily with the heat or the cold at this extreme time of year (or the bush fires, or the floods, or the cyclones...)

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Beginning

The beginning..

This is the first of the summer fruit crop which will take over my kitchen bench until well into May. The first of our apricots, and these dark, glossy cherry plums from our neighbours. Yesterday I ate the first ripe peach for lunch, and now there are dozens of apricots ready. Our own yellow cherry plums are just ripening, and here is the very first ripe tomato..ta da!

This is a very dark photo taken at 9pm, but you can see the exotic stripes of the Tigerella tomato.

All this fruit, and no children to eat it! I have halved a bunch of apricots and popped them in the dryer. In the past I have always stewed excess apricots, but do you know what? No-one here likes stewed apricots. Stewing doesn't do that glorious apricot flavour any favours at all. But I keep stewing apricots because, well, that's what you do with an apricot glut.. isn't it? The Man's mum was a good country housewife, and she stewed a year's worth of apricots every summer, and froze them in the giant chest freezer in the laundry, and there was always, always stewed apricots and custard for dessert. I think that was where I got the idea stuck in my head that Apricots Must Be Stewed.

This year one of my little projects is to stop and rethink the Things I Always Do. Some of those things are good and useful, some of them are just mental ruts I have slipped into. There is a whole world of wonderful I may be missing due to convenient mental ruts. Stewed apricots is one of those mental ruts. So dried apricots it is this year. Advantages - no cooking, no added sugar. Plus, eating half-dried apricots, still moist and slightly drippy turns out to be one of the gastronomic highlights of my life. Also, the house is perfumed with the fragrance of sweetly dehydrating apricots, which is the very essence of apricot. Disadvantages - my dehydrator is on the small side. Every few hours I bunch up the half-dried apricots (only sampling one or two.. or three) to make room for more fresh ones. I am wondering how to rig up a temporary solar dryer. I am thinking cookie cooler trays with those wire cloches made for keeping flies off food, set up in the hottest part of the courtyard.. I will try that in the morning, unless anyone out there has any other good ideas?

For some reason, twelve years ago I thought it would be a good idea to plant an apricot tree between the fence and the clothesline...

So now I have apricots draped over the washing. When the apricots finish I will need to do some serious pruning.

In other news, the cat hates me. He does not like his Cone of Shame, nor his twice daily antibiotics for the giant ragged tear in his ear. He is now regretting that brief but glorious encounter with the obnoxiously rude cat down the street who definitely had it coming to him..

I hate you. I hate you all.. you will regret this..

Today I popped into the op-shop, and brought some things home with me, of course.

A pile of linen..

..and a selection of homewares for The Girl, who will soon be moving far, far away to study:(

But the best part of the day was when I went to visit the brand new baby of one of my very dear friends. His tiny squished-up face, his miniature hands, the solid fragility of his tiny body, the wonderful expressions that flitted across his sleeping face. I tried to bring him home with me, but was stopped at the door..

The best things in life are free, and the best free things in life are Other People's Babies. Adorable squishiness and absolutely no consequences:)

Are you having adventures in the kitchen at the beginning of the preserving season, or enjoying some priceless free moments that may or may not include brand new babies? Tell me about them. It is eerily quiet around here..

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Highly Risky Behaviour

The chair Lucinda sat in...

Imagine, if you will, the difficulties of explaining to your eleven year old daughter that a stranger who you met on the internet is coming over to visit. She is appalled and outraged, even after I explain that Lucinda and I have been corresponding over a number of years, that I know her real name and occupation and that truly, she is a bona fide all round good person. And also, that she, Posy, is absolutely right to be shocked at my behaviour, and that she, Posy, must never, never talk to strangers on the internet, well, not before the age of 44, anyway.

There was an uneasy detente that lasted until about three seconds after Posy met Lucinda. Lucinda is petite, elegant, and (currently) has hair the colour of maple leaves in the Autumn. She is also irresistible to children, and Posy is now her number one fan. I'm not sure if it was the presents ("All second-hand, I promise, had a clean out at home, LOOK, in a reusable canvas bag even!"), or the fact that she keeps no less than four lipsticks in her handbag, or that she glows with enthusiasm about every topic she embarks on, or that she knows how to effortlessly engage children in conversation, but Posy was hooked.

And how lovely to be able to chat to someone whose words I have been reading for years. I am hoping to catch up with Lucinda again at the end of her holiday. Honestly, she is a force of nature, whizzing around our little island with all the verve and energy I so clearly lack. She will return having seen more of Tasmania than I have. I am trying to get her to up sticks and move here, a strategy I try out on everyone I like. It is a cunning plan to avoid having to travel anywhere else, and fill Tasmania to the brim with all my favourite people. Currently I am tempting her with our low, low house prices..

This morning, my own babies left to travel for a week with their dad. If you have never stood at an airport window and watched your babies fly away, don't worry, you will one day, and it is an awful, heart-dropping moment, even if they are only going for a week. However, an hour later they arrived safely at their destination, and I have only to endure the agonies of knowing they are driving interstate, and flying  again, before I have (most of) my chicks back under my wing again. Do you ever have the urge to roll up your children in cotton-wool and pop them into a nice, safe little box at the back of the wardrobe where nothing bad can ever happen to them? I do, and must sternly resist it. They shall go out into the world and make terrible mistakes and do crazy risky things and follow their stars wherever that may lead them.. and I shan't do a thing to stop them. It's just terrifying, this parenting gig, isn't it?

Meanwhile, I am home alone. I must admit, nagging anxiety re the children apart, I have had the most wonderfully relaxing day:

This was my afternoon nap.

Soon I am going to take everything out of the fridge and decide how to eat it all up this week. I have not done the grocery shopping this week, because I need to eat everything that I bought at the market on the weekend, forgetting that I would be home alone. So, lots of vegies. And some rice. I am thinking of cooking up a large vegetarian curry and eating it all week. Just think, no cooking for days...

Now, Lucinda was complaining that none of the (two? Three?) photos of me on the blog look anything like me. Well, I can't help it if I change into a completely different person in photos. It may be my supernatural powers. Anyway, this morning I tried taking photos of myself, which was actually quite difficult. It turns out I have short arms. These are the ones that looked the least insane, and something like what I see in the mirror (to explain my difficulty, I don't own a smart phone, so am using my actual camera, and cannot see what I am photographing. Highly entertaining for the dog):

This is sort-of-normal-me

This is the disbelieving look I give the children when they tell me they have vaccuumed their rooms, and also the face I make after fifteen or so attempts at taking my own photo, only five of which contain all of my face. 

Updated to add: Lucinda's version of our blind date is hilarious, and very lovely and complimentary. I especially liked this sentence: "And so much for her not liking shopping – she had on a lovely dress, sandals and toes nails painted to match her sandals. "

Dress (the one above) - 5 years old at least, from Target. Sandals - hand-me-downs from Rosy, whose feet obligingly grew two sizes bigger than mine. Toenails - painted by Posy, who did indeed choose from among her fifty nail polishes to match my only pair of coloured sandals (pink, for the record).

Monday, January 4, 2016

Review of Monday

Rosy's photo of a spring onion going to seed.

I was contemplating reviewing the year of 2015, but there was quite a lot of it, most of which I have forgotten. Then I thought, maybe I could review 2016 so far, but again, a blur. So I have settled on reviewing today, which I am fairly certain is Monday.

State of the garden: weeds. It is very perplexing. Driest summer for years, but the weeds are flourishing. I am thinking of giving up the fight and cultivating a lovely weed garden instead. I could have delicate drifts of milk thistle, sunny massed colour bursts of dandelions, and stands of nightshade for their striking black berries..

State of children and animals: Children: All accounted for. Eat a lot. Make a lot of mess. Are going to visit their dad for a week. Friends have been asking, "But what will you do?" And I look at them strangely and answer, "Whatever I want, of course!"

Cats and dog have been having what is known as a Let's-get-into-fights-and-develop-mysterious-allergies week, because then they get to go to the vet, which they love, and it is so much fun for everyone else as well.

Chicken coop. Still sadly empty due to my lack of proactive-ness re sourcing any actual chickens. At least the chicken run is filling up with tasty and nutritious weeds which the future chickens will very much appreciate when they finally arrive.

State of administrative organisation: Ha. I finally 'encouraged' The Boy to fill in a vital form and took it and him to the Medicare office, only to be told that all of their computers were down, and we should come back maybe the day after tomorrow. I despise technology. Except that which makes anaesthetics work. I am very much in favour of that.

State of housekeeping: Ha. Lego all over the floor. Children baking and making things. And packing. And painting. Christmas is still with us. I am considering leaving the Christmas tree up until December. That would be cheerful and festive, right?

State of morale: Fraying. On the Medicare trip I also went to the hardware shop to get um, technical things to join hoses to taps. But, oh, then I accidentally wandered through the plant section, and oops, two came home with me. I am not, in any way proof against impulse buying yet. At least, not anywhere where there are plants or books..

State of anticipation: High. Lucinda is coming to visit tomorrow. We will drink tea under the pear tree and admire the weed garden and the Lego strewn floor under the Christmas tree, and it will be wonderful to finally meet the friend who has been kind and generally wise and hilarious over the last few years on her blog and mine.