Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tomorrow.. Is Only A Day Away..

Pear tree in early morning fog..

Last night was our last night in our old house. Tonight we are having a fun sleepover at my buddy Jane's house. I have spent today packing every single thing in sight (after having spent the last week packing all the other things). It is extraordinary how you can think you have packed everything in a room, but there is always something that has been forgotten. Then when you find that and pack it and tape up the box, there is another thing, so familiar that you don't even see it, like the calendar on the wall or the squirrel nutcracker on the windowsill. Everyone needs a squirrel nutcracker.

Tomorrow begins with the removalists arriving at the crack of dawn. What ho. So back we will go to clean and get in the way. We left the cats shut in a downstairs room, most indignant, while the dog came on the sleepover with us, and is now snoring in a bean bag. 

Pear tree in sunshine..

I was hoping to share some Really Useful Thoughts on moving house, but all I have is this - when you have eaten all the normal food in the house and there are only pantry staples left, dipping dates into the peanut butter jar sounds disgusting but is actually madly delicious..

Purple flowers at dawn..

Until tomorrow then.

As one of my friends texted to me, "Just keep on swimming.." :)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

It Takes a Village

Enjoying the apple tree for a few days more..

When I rashly decided to move house I was a bit worried, because once upon a time I was married to a most practical efficient man who could make anything happen and for whom 'project management' could have been his middle name.. and now I am not married to him anymore, and instead of Mr Project Management I have.. me. Not quite the same thing really.

It turns out, however, that even someone as vague as me can move house, with the aid of a lot of lists, and a bunch of good friends. Mostly the friends though. Since announcing my move I have had people popping in constantly offering their help. I have had friends turn up to help pack, some turn up with piles of packing cartons. One friend with a new baby is annoyed she can't help, but she has been getting the receptionists at her husband's medical practice to save all their cardboard boxes for me. Other friends are kindly finding new homes for my furniture and bringing utes and trailers to take it away, and my musician friend Karlin is finding new homes for our musical instruments

My very dear friend Jane offered her spare room to store all those unsightly objects and boxes of bits and pieces that I packed up before the open homes (all of which is still there, bless her). Jane will also be hosting us the night before we move so I can wash all the sheets and towels the day before, she is making soup for our dinner the night we move in, and is coming back the next day with trailer and lovely husband to move pot plants, piles of red bricks, firewood and garden implements. They are just the best:)

I begged my stylish next-door neighbour to come and 'style' my house before the photos and open homes. She not only did that with great enthusiasm, but came trailing armfuls of prints, pot plants and cushions to 'zhush' the house, and her very nice husband manhandled out all the furniture that Lisa declared excess to requirements, and stored it under their house until the City Mission van could turn up to take it away.

My good friend Katherine turned up on Friday with her partner's enormous van and we filled it to the brim with things to take to the Salvos, then on to the recycle centre at the tip. That was so much fun - we hadn't been before, and then we 'needed' to visit the tip shop as well, which is enormous and wonderful - well worth a day trip if you live in Launceston! I made Katherine promise that she must drag me out kicking and screaming if I threatened to buy anything, but in the end it was her that bought me a 1953 edition of Agatha Christie's After the Funeral as a house warming present. She told me I wasn't allowed to read it until I had unpacked at the new house. Ha. Rosy very helpfully packed all my books, so this is the only book I have. Do you think I have started reading it yet? Do you?

Remember Margaret's beautiful garden? Well, Margaret's husband John is an amazing man. He is 'retired' but I don't think he ever sits down for longer than it takes to eat one of Margaret's delicious meals. When he isn't building new rooms for Margaret's B&B he scours the local tip for white goods to fix and donate, ditto for bikes that get donated to local kids or refugee groups. He is forever scrounging, building, fixing. This week he will be popping over to pick up my barbeque and various building materials to donate to a group of fishermen mates who are building a shack up at the lakes to take groups of disabled young people to have the opportunity to learn to fish. He will be taking my slightly broken dryer to fix and donate, and is also lending me a pre-loved fridge for the new house until I can find one of my own. Everyone needs a 'John' to move goods through the community and provide a helping hand.

Mum and Dad have been absolute troopers. They turn up every couple of days and help pack and do the dishes and hang out the washing and haul furniture around in a borrowed trailer. There may have been some days when they have thought fondly of the peaceful life they could have been enjoying had they not retired to a town near me..

Rosy has been a star. When she eventually peels herself away from her phone and laptop she busily beavers away for hours. She is excellent at packing, and even cooks dinner.

And Posy? Well, Posy is.. Posy. She did walk the dog yesterday. She has been very busy, as usual. This week alone she has made multitudes of animal figures out of those corn-based packing beads and water. She has made a giant cardboard box fort for sleep overs. She has made bath bombs and green meringues, and yesterday she made lipstick out of red beeswax crayons and coconut oil, then she got out all the make-up and gave me a makeover. "I am sort of going for the Lady Gaga look, Mum," she said, "You'll be surprised." I was surprised.

New rule - Posy has to sit on the couch and watch telly until we leave the house. All the creativity is making my hair go grey(er). Today she has limited her creativity to baking a black and white yin and yang cake. Now I am making her pack, because I am MEAN. She is not convinced she wants to move house any more. She likes this house. She has never lived in any other house. Sometimes I walk into a room and find her sitting in a corner with tears streaming down her face as she says, "Goodbye," to that particular room. Then I feel really mean. I know she will love the new house eventually. But first she has to mourn the loss of this one. As do we all.

Four days to go. I might just make it. But only due to a lot of help from my friends...

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why Did I Think This Was Such A Good Idea?

I keep having vivid and worrying dreams. I am lost in a familiar city - I can almost get to the place I want to go to, but not quite. I am escaping down a fire escape from a tedious meeting and suddenly the stairs disappear in front of me. I am trying to find my way out of a large, decrepit old hotel, and all the exits are blocked by large mahogany sideboards or gift shops with no doors.

My waking life is like my dreams - no one big drama, but dozens of daily small ones. I am beginning to believe that I will never be able to leave, trapped here by all those recalcitrant belongings that just won't go away.. today I discovered another wardrobe that I had forgotten to find a new home for. How do you forget a wardrobe? Well, you know that interior decorating trick where you paint furniture the colour of the walls to make it 'disappear' into the background? It really works.

When I am not plotting to get rid of excess furniture I am refinishing the furniture I already have. Here is the small table I swapped for my large one. This is after the coat of paint stripper was cleaned off. It was semi-effective. Then came lots of sanding. Sanding is tricky because when to stop? It is always possible to shave another layer off until the s.urface becomes matchstick thin.. at some point before then I called it a day

Then, oh, this is almost too embarrassing to write.. I read the instructions on the tin of Danish Oil I was using to finish the table. "Clean up with mineral turpentine," I read. "Well," I thought, "I can be as organised as the next person," so I went and retrieved an empty jar from the recycling, filled it with turps and dipped the paintbrush in.. and instead of taking it out again and drying it on the rag prior to dipping it into the oil, I proceeded to paint the table with turpentine.

I had finished all the legs before I realised what a numpty I had been. Despite several coats of oil I can still see the bits where the oil has refused to absorb due to the liberal coating of turps underneath. Sigh. Still, the top of the table looks magnificent, and feels smooth as silk. For now.

Rosy and I managed to bash two dents in its pristine shining surface just by bringing it inside, so I don't hold out much hope for its continued unblemished glory. But I have a sweet little country table, and I refinished it myself, and I'm very proud:)

I only have one more piece to upcycle. If I can summon up the energy.. what I am loving is moving house and not buying new furniture. Priceless..

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Going Mad With a Paintbrush

It is two weeks minus one day until MOVING DAY. This means I am panicking and writing long lists. As well as packing and getting rid of half the furniture, I have decided to make my life even more difficult by painting much of the furniture I have left. Reason being I am moving to a tiny white cottage, and if I fill it with large dark furniture it will look even tinier. And right now I have a shed to paint in. Our new cottage has a cottage-sized shed. It looks like a small concrete bunker, and will be full of all the things I can't bear to throw away, and will not be convenient for painting in.

The first furniture I painted were these chests of drawers. I bought them many years ago from a nice old man in town who built chests of drawers in his garage every few weeks when he wanted some extra money to go fishing up at the lakes. I thought he would have a coronary when he lifted them into the van. These drawers will definitely outlive him. They have spent the last ten years in the children's room, getting drawn on and scratched and dented.

When I cleaned them out and packed and threw away their contents, I found these labels that Rosy had added when she was about six or seven:

Pancs, Dressers, Singlet, Scurts, Jamqers (jumpers, that's sweaters, pull-overs, jerseys etc for the non-Australians), and undis.

Then she tried a different spelling for Sckerts. Clearly she had quite a number of them.

Jinse. Classic. I kept the labels of course. They may inform clothes distribution at our new location.

There was lots of tedious sanding, then undercoat, then two coats of enamel, but look how darling they are now.

Then I started in on the two big book cases. The Man built these when I was pregnant with The Girl twenty years ago. They are gorgeous, but dreadfully annoying to paint.

And even though I am tucked up cosily in bed I just popped up to take a photo of the finished product.

Yes, it is a white book case.

And here is today's project. This morning my good friend Oscar and his handy teenage son, and the handy teenage son's best buddy came over with a trailer and took away my very large dining table and chairs, and much later on, after several adventures, they returned with their table in exchange, which is very cute and cottagey and rustically battered. I have known this family for nineteen years, and they have had this table all this time, and it has seen many communal meals and cups of tea, and craft projects, and all the adventures of daily life are inscribed across its surface. So I got to work with a paint stripping product I found in the shed. It is a pink goo that I smeared all over the table, left it on while I ate dinner, then came back to scrape the top, and rub the legs with steel wool. It was quite fun really, more effective on the legs than the top of the table. Anyway, tomorrow I will sand and then oil it, and then I might take a wee break, and just do relaxing things like pack boxes.

Moving is vile, and I can't imagine why I thought it would be a good idea, and I still have an overwhelming daily desire to hide under the covers instead of getting up to face the day, but today, for the first time in a good while, I thought that just maybe it all might come together in time..

Sunday, April 3, 2016

From the Library Stacks

Because when you are supposed to be moving house, it's always better to read a book..

Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile appears to be slightly crazy. He is passionate, prejudiced and ranty. He makes up words and ideas with abandon, writes in a disjointed fashion and keeps getting sidetracked by how much he hates bankers, economists and statisticians. And yet, somehow, from the confusion of a completely hyperactive tirade, Taleb spins a compelling case for creating a better world.

I am all about heading towards a better life so I paid as much attention as I could.

Imagine dropping a glass from a table onto the floor. It will shatter. It is fragile. Drop a ball on the floor and it will bounce back unchanged. It is resilient. Imagine a human being jumping onto the floor from a table. Weight bearing exercise is actually good for us, so that drop to the floor should only make us stronger. In this situation we are antifragile - thriving in adversity (although not if it was me. I would likely fall off the table and break an ankle).

Antifragile explores the idea of fragility built into systems, institutions, even individual habits. Taleb's thesis is that modern life has produced much more in the way of fragile systems, and that historically we managed to live in a much more resilient or antifragile society. Globalization with its huge corporations may be efficient, but when they fail, those corporations take so much down with them. Contrast this with the multitude of small local businesses that have traditionally dominated the market place. Yes, many small businesses fail, but when they do they affect only a handful of individuals.

In fact, inefficiency significantly underpins antifragility. Humans have two kidneys and two lungs. We could make do with one of each, and yet two gives us a margin of error. And that margin of error makes us antifragile in many spheres. If I live in a cold climate and rely completely on electric heating from the power company and the power goes out, I am in a pickle. If I add a gas hotplate with extra gas bottles to boil the kettle and fill up the hot water bottles to keep me toasty in my down sleeping bag, then I am resilient. If I add a wood stove with wood that I produce from my own wood lot then I am antifragile in the area of heat production - I am producing heat that costs me nothing, and I am getting warm twice what with all the wood chopping, and getting fitter as well, and possibly able to do brisk business selling firewood during the powercut. In this case I am actually profiting from the disaster which has blindsided the fragile individuals who relied on a large efficient corporation to keep them warm. That is antifragile behaviour.

The example above is one of the ways that I have applied the theory of antifragility to my own life. I am about to move from a large house powered by grid-tied solar and heated with electricity, to a small house heated only by wood. I won't have a wood lot, but I can tell you this - trees are in much greater supply in Tasmania right now than electricity is. We have two sources of electricity in this state, hydro-electric power, and a cable running across Bass Strait which imports coal-fired electricity from Victoria, and exports our hydro-electric power when we have an excess. We produce about 60% of our own power and import the rest. But, oh dear, the too-amazing-to-fail cable across Bass Strait broke. It has so far taken 4 months to find the fault, and will take at least 2 more months to fix. At the same time we have had a record-breaking dry spring and summer. The huge lakes in the centre of Tasmania which feed the hydro-electric dams have shrunk to record lows. It is the perfect storm for Tasmania's electricity production, and now we are going in to winter with less electricity capacity than we have ever had. When I moved to Tasmania 20 years ago, nearly everyone heated their house with wood. These days almost everyone heats with electricity. I feel very much safer moving to a place where I can heat, and at a pinch, cook with wood.

After I finished Antifragile I read Nassim Taleb's most well-known book, Black Swan (I ordered it from the library first, but it turned up later than Antifragile). Europeans had only ever known white swans. If they had been asked to predict, on past observation, what colour swans would be known for into the future, they would have predicted white swans, always white, with absolute confidence. But then Europeans visited Australia and found black swans.. a completely unanticipated and extraordinary flying-in-the-face-of-reason discovery. So too with the events of history, claims Taleb. We are blindsided by the improbable and unknowable with alarming frequency. World wars, the ascent of the internet, 9/11, the GFC - for the average person in the street these anomalies came out of nowhere and had a huge impact on our lives. Taleb is not kind to the art of prediction, which underpins much of the socio-economic activity of modern life. We can predict probabilities, but not unprobabilities, and it is the unprobabablities that have the most impact. How then, can we haul ourselves through a life plagued by uncertainties? I think this may be the most important take home message from both books (which are quite similar in message, though Antifragile is more comprehensive):

This idea that in order to make a decision you need to focus on the consequences (which you can know) rather than the probability (which you can't know) is the central idea of uncertainty. You can build an overall theory of decision making on this idea. All you have to do is mitigate the consequences. 

Black Swan Ch 13

I can't know the probability of Tasmania running out electricity, but I can make sure that I mitigate the consequences of not having enough electricity to do vital things this winter, such as keeping warm and being able to cook. If you live in Tasmania you might want to think about this too...

The Art of Manliness site posted a useful review of Antifragile here, with pictures, which is very helpful. Really, it is much better than this review. Do read it.

And then, for something completely different, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. A children's story for grown-ups. If you were ever captivated by the children's fantasy novels of the sixties and seventies, where our world and the world of magic lived side by side (think Madeleine L'Engle and Susan Cooper) then I believe you will really enjoy this. Neil Gaiman does a more adult and edgy version of the same.

A man returns to his childhood town for a funeral and goes in search of his childhood home, and his childhood friend, Lettie. In doing so he stirs up forgotten memories of a episode of his childhood which catapulted him into the magical world of the farmhouse down the end of the lane.. marvellous storytelling, a wonderful book to read all day at home in bed with the dog when really you should be doing something else completely, such as packing..

Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.

You don't pass or fail at being a person, dear.