The last light of the day on the longest night of the year for us in the South. I welcome the dark months. They draw us in to the fires on our hearths, the little twinkly lights and lanterns that we light to keep up our spirits in the big dark. We turn inward and deep down, put ourselves to bed early, read and ponder and gather our thoughts and our strength for the bright months ahead as the earth begins its long journey back to the sun.
This evening I stood outside and watched the light fade. In my city cottage I heard the dull roar of traffic as the city began to empty and all the workers rushed hither and thither back to their warm homes and dinner and light. For a moment I saw all of us humans rushing around like little ants, madly building up our wildly teetering castle of civilisation, while just above us the wide spaces of the sky slowly turn from season to season, as civilisations rise and fall and cities crumble and humans pass away like a mist dissolves in the sunlight.
We have such illusions of grandeur, us tiny humans, as we weave blankets and tents and houses and skyscrapers and rocket ships of technology and wealth and safety and security, but it is all a dream. We have little twinkling lights in the darkness, and that is all.
I think it is good to remember that we are really not that important. We have each other, we have a day in the sun, we have a dark night, we are grateful to be here on the good earth. It is enough.
Birch twigs are wonderfully flammable fire starters.
In green and thrifty news this week I collected silver birch twigs that came down in the last winter gale on the side of the road. I am finding them extremely flammable fire starters. I often walk home with the dog and a large bouquet of birch twigs.
For the past few weeks I have been making extra dinner to.. feed the dog. It occurred to me that dog food per kilogram is more expensive than many of our meals. I read a library book a couple of years ago about home made dog food, which pointed out, reasonably enough, that dogs have been eating human leftovers for millenia, and that pet food has only been a thing for fifty years or so.
I went to a salvage place and found two gorgeous cedar four-panel doors for Builder Matt to chop in half to make two sets of French doors for my back verandah and the little office he is building (when I say 'chop in half' I mean, do excellent craftsman-type magic to make old doors look like something gorgeous from a French farmhouse..). Will add 'after' photos when they are installed, when I have painted all the back wall and architraves. While at the salvage yard I also found an old lock which matches the door beautifully, and even had a key that worked! I love using old things again.
When I ran out of dishwashing detergent I used laundry detergent to tide me over to shopping day. I wouldn't entirely recommend this, but it did the job. Sort of.
I made chickweed pesto out of chickweed from the garden and sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are my pick for all pesto recipes as they are the cheapest of all the nuts and seeds.
I have stayed completely within the grocery budget this week, which is a miracle, due to my not-as-it-turns-out particularly novel system of budgeting with actual cash. I have so many kindred spirits in this system here at Blueday:) I love that I can see the cash dwindling in front of my very eyes, and when the children want more treats I just show them the sad, empty purse with a few lonely little coins jangling at the bottom. Then they go and bake cake instead. I am not sure this plan is going to be at all good for our waistlines.
This morning my neighbour from up the road brought down a bag of Jenny Craig frozen 'treats'. I know, I know. His partner works for Jenny Craig, his freezer was full of them, and he was going to throw them out so he could stash an entire salmon in the freezer instead. Sensible man. Anyway, he thought he would check with us before he threw them in the bin.. because, you know, we say yes to everything:) So now Posy is happy with a freezer full of processed food and I am trying to make myself not read the ingredient labels..
More loaves of sourdough. It is getting better every time I try it. It is so satisfying! I received a very excited email from friend and reader Fran recently about the sourdough she had made from my recipe plus the starter I gave her. She included these gorgeous photos taken by her partner Steve. It looks amazing!
Eating from the garden: kale, silverbeet, beetroot leaves, lettuce, Cape gooseberries, tarragon, sage, parsley, lemons, spring onions. From other people's gardens: rhubarb, limes. From the shed: garlic.
Weeds: chickweed, onion weed (three-cornered leek). Onion weed is a good substitute for spring onions. Although I don't know why you would need a substitute for spring onions as they grow like, well, weeds..
Vegie garden featuring giant, triffid-like spring onions which will go to seed in spring after which I will have approximately seventeen thousand spring-onion plants.
Tell me about your green and thrifty moments this week..
Hockey child baking cakes amongst the deplorable kitchen mess
This is a tiny conversation in one of the outer galaxies of the internet, but I want it to be a truly useful one, both for me and all who read. We have been discussing in the comments recently about the difference between the face we present to the world, especially on social media, and the dark, ashamed place that we often really inhabit. Can I tell you how much I love the conversations that happen in the comments? So many kind, wise, brave, thoughtful, vulnerable people. I have some rather unconnected but themed thoughts about a few of the insecurities that perfect lives on social media generate for me. The game: I think that those of us who are women are especially vulnerable to this kind of insidious comparison game. Clearly, everyone except ourselves is living pretty much the perfect life, and the proof? There it all is out there on social media. We are too clever to know that this is true, but somewhere in the depths of our souls, we believe it, because we are convinced that actually, everyone out there has it all together except us. We are the middle-aged lost people who feel that despite decades of parenting and work, and managing to pay the electric bill, that somehow we have failed to adult. But at the same time we don't really want to adult, because it just doesn't seem like that much fun. Myself: It is excruciatingly uncomfortable for me to expose myself 'out loud'. I think a lot of us grew up in a space where we were encouraged to put our shiny happy faces on for others to see. I have done the same for my children, and regret it now. But they are tough and brave and luckily ignore a lot of what I do and say. I have spent a lot of my adult life learning how to be sociable. I am quite good at it as long as I don't have to sustain it for long. I quickly get out of my depth, and sustaining relationships is tricky. I rely on the kindness of friends, often, to keep relationships going because I am not that great at following up, answering the phone, emails or texts or actually wanting to leave the house. I am even not that good at doing this with my adult children. Although better at it with them than with anyone else (short break in transmission while I call my girl). And my poor mother mostly has to call me, although I am always pleased to hear from her. It's not you, Mum, it's me. I joined Facebook several months ago, but haven't been able to sustain it. All those people saying witty or even just nice things about other people on a daily basis.. and confidently putting it all out there in a format that I can't even begin to decipher. I think I can confidently say I am pretty much a fail at Facebook... but then I roll my eyes at myself, because all the people seem to manage it and run all their creative projects and change the world. And many do it so well with honesty and bravery and vulnerability a well. And here I am walking the dog. Parenting: I am consistently at sea about parenting. I have four very different children and think it is unfair that just as I get used to working out how to deal with one child, then I have to turn around and work out completely different ways of relating to another one. Much as this seems an odd thing to say, I love being a single parent. I am a much nicer person now I am not unhappy and emotionally holding my breath all the time. But still, mess and trauma and shouty voices and slammed doors and anxieties and troubles and ill health, too much driving children about, and even worse, teaching children to drive, and concern about studies and schools and worry about adult children and their concerns and difficulties and all the cleaning, such as it is, and all the cooking, such as it is.. sometimes I feel like I am drowning. And yet.. sometimes also I discover that the children are propping me up as well. They have made me stronger and wiser and taught me empathy and conflict resolution as well as turning me into a shouty, whiny haggard person. No, actually, I did that to myself. They just provided the perfect excuse. Here on Blueday I do not discuss my children's journeys, because their paths are their own. Sometimes I post a photo or a conversation with their permission. If I don't mention them it is not because I don't want to share the difficulties of parenting with you, it is because I can't do it without co-opting their stories. We are normal, middle-class citizens with an average load of difficulties and challenges. I would really like to try to find a way to discuss some of the down times if I can do it without exposing my kiddos to the internet. Where is the real?: Do you know what intrigues me about modern fiction? It can be soul-searingly honest, dark, gritty. It bares the hidden corners of modern life, which I think is admirable, if sometimes quite difficult to read. But you would hardly know that any of these dark corners even existed if you relied on social media for your version of reality. Often people reveal their problems, but only after they have triumphed over them and have a really useful solution to offer. See my last post for a classic text-book example of this. There is nothing wrong with offering useful solutions to life's many dilemmas, of course. But what about when there aren't solutions? What about the demons we battle over and over and over, and realistically know that we will continue to do so for the rest of our lives? It is good sometimes, to hear about these. Good to know that yes, they happen and no, we are not alone. And it's not even the big things, often, that we want to know about, but the tiny, annoying things, the mosquito problems that torment us every day. And there, my dears, is where I can be so, so useful. I have in recent times given up caring particularly about all sorts of things that used to worry me terribly, like grey hair and foraging on public roadsides. Well, now I may as well go one step further and share all the abject foolishness of the ways I fail on a daily basis. It will no doubt be very therapeutic. The Stoics would be all over this. In Stoicism you focus on the things that you can change for the better about your life. The areas of life that you can't change you completely dismiss from your list of things to worry about. What Other People Think About You is very high on the list of things that you can't change. So why worry? Well, I will see what I can do.. The photos: And finally, to address the carefully curated photos of my house that I love to post here. Well, I love them because I can almost convince myself that I am living that dream. It also comforts me a little because I can point to that and say, hey, there's me. And it's true for a tiny slice of my life, but not a lot of it. So... because life is never all one thing or all the opposite, I will be forcing myself to share more photos of the mess on the bench around the fresh sourdough loaf. But sometimes I will just go for the beautiful shot, because I like it. And also the happy thought, the uplifting platitude, because life really isn't all about our failures either; sometimes it is about glorious, everyday wonder. The end: This feels like the most incoherent and badly structured piece of writing I have ever sent out into the world, but in the spirit of getting over my perfectionism, I'll put it out there. Along with a photo of the never-ending dishes. Tell me all about the conversations you really want to have. Be as anonymous as you like. This is, after all, the internet:)
For many years I have been regularly over-spending on the grocery budget. This has not mattered all that much as there has mostly been a generous amount of padding in other parts of the budget which has absorbed it. However, now I am living on a tiny income, and although I can still afford some extras, it means eating (literally) into my capital to exceed said tiny income. I really want to keep that for say, mending the house if bits of it fall down rather than frittering it away on groceries. I have resorted to a very handy, very basic method of accounting for grocery expenditure - I get it out of the bank in cash every week and keep it in a separate purse. This way I can't overspend. Well, I did for a couple of weeks, taking cash out of my other purse, but then I had to pay it back from next week's grocery money, which means this week I have about a third of the weekly grocery budget to spend.
What I am discovering is how very easy it is to over-spend. What I am finding useful about this approach is how careful and thoughtful I have to be about food, and how very little waste there will be, out of necessity rather than ethics! Necessity is somehow more compelling.. it is also truly the mother of invention. One of the big spendy items in our food budget has been buying things when people come to visit. This week we have had a family dinner which required producing a vegan dessert, and there was also going to include a dairy and gluten-free afternoon tea, but that was cancelled at the last minute. We also had friends over for dinner. These are the occasions when I would go out and buy because it would feel a bit hard to whip something up from what was on hand. But I managed all of those situations this week! I made a vegan apple cake with chia coconut pudding to go with, Rosy cooked up a chickpea and cabbage spicy thingy for the visitors, which was delicious and went perfectly with the home-grown purple potato spicy thingy that our lovely friends brought over, and I have one packet of gluten free crackers in the cupboard that I was going to serve with all the vegie sticks plus kale pesto from the garden for my gluten-free friend, but now will get time to practice that first which is probably just as well.
Again, we have had food turning up at our doorstep or free for the taking. Paul brought over a giant savoy cabbage last week that he couldn't use, that we have used up finally in the spicy cabbage concoction. Rosy has been making guacamole from avocados, and much to Posy's embarrassment I picked up an extra avocado from the car park at hockey, where clearly it had fallen out of some long-departed car. Posy is going to cease accompanying me anywhere, but the slightly bruised avo made extra guacamole to go with the spicy cabbage, win, win. The apples for the apple cake were the very last of the foraged road-side apples. Matt the builder brought me some of his home-made natural ferment apple cider which is very yum and Paul left us half a loaf of sourdough because he made two loaves. My dinner friends brought me some limes from their tree. Food also leaves the house - I took sourdough bread and pumpkin soup to a friend who has just moved into a new house, lemons up the road to the neighbour, vegie soup to Paul.
I have been very proud of the children. They have a habit of complaining that there is no food in the house, when it is actually full of food, just not easily consumed-with-no-effort food. This makes me feel bad and then I go out and buy snacks, which also makes me feel bad as they are inevitably wrapped in plastic, and full of undesirable ingredients from some far-flung part of the planet. This week Rosy has made roasted spicy chickpeas and kidney beans to snack on and made guacamole to dip crackers and vegies in. She spent an hour the other night cracking a bowl of our autumn foraged walnuts. Posy made chocolate syrup for chocolate milk and has been eating what is put in front of her, more-or-less without complaint. She even cut up some green beans to snack on.. so proud!
I have run out of my favourite rooibos tea because the wholefood shop is between shipments, so I have been working through the dozens of varieties still languishing here in the kitchen. I have gone through all the chai and vanilla tea, am now drinking one cup of black tea a day and then I am on to the herbal teas. So. many. herbal. teas. I am just going to put this out there - white tea with elderflower and apricot is nasty. Why is it that herbal teas smell so good, and then mostly taste the same, which is Not Nice? The only really drinkable herbal teas in my opinion are the old plain ones. Peppermint. Lemon and ginger. Chamomile. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to dispose of the elderflower and apricot short of sneaking it into the compost?
So I am happy to date with my new plan of staying within the grocery budget, plus, as an added bonus, I am finding again and again that boundaries, limitations and straight-up necessity are truly a magical path straight to the heart of creativity and finding new ways to do things. I love it!
It's winter and here I am in the garden in the rain. Reasons I love winter:
Lighting the fire and gazing at it for hours.
Putting all the blankets on the bed. Flannelette sheets. Waking up in the morning under layers of heavy blankets inside a cocoon of fluffy sheets.
Stomping through the bush in big boots and my rain coat.
Pink sunsets and dawns. Dawns that happen at a reasonable time of the day for appreciating.
These are all sterling qualities of winter. But the absolutely best part of winter is not feeling compelled to:
Wear a bra.
Shower every day.
Alongside my ongoing lack of interest in wearing make up or dyeing my hair, this means that winter is the season that just lets me be me. Thanks, winter.
I have thought long and deep about my last post, and the wonderful, thought-provoking and honest comments that followed it. I love, love, love you community of readers who drop by here and read and add your wisdom and questions and reveal your vulnerabilities. I feel really very honoured to be a part of a conversation with many people who I feel are kindred spirits, quite apart from the generous and kind support I have unfailingly received here over the years.
I have realised that what I look for in the spaces around me is not neatness, but Art. I don't mind disorder, as long as it has artistic merit. When you told me about your hard-working kitchens in the comments of the last post, I could imagine the pleasure of being in each one amongst all the food and home-made bread and the preserves and piles of vegies from the garden, the seeds and the books. That is all good mess. The mess that drives me a bit insane is plastic bags and food wrappers and technology - I have changed internet providers and ditched my unused home phone this week so I had a whole collection of cords and phones and modems sitting in my dining room doing my head in. Now that they are gone and I am looking at bowls of walnuts instead I feel much calmer.
My solution, as per last week, is to get rid of all the things I find aesthetically unpleasing. Then all the messes will be ones that don't bother me. But it goes further. It is not just a sense of beauty I am looking for, but the kind of beauty. It is the beauty of things that are useful, but also make your heart sing. It is the beauty of tools that have been made with care and handled over and over again, the muddled glory of an artist's studio or a wood worker's shed or piles of garden pots or boxes of seeds. Cupboards full of sewing materials, fishing tackle or pots of jam. Who has read the Brambly Hedge children's books that are about mice living in the hedgerow? Their houses are full of Things and Mess but they are irresistible. They live in hard-working spaces filled with useful things that are beautiful because they are hand made.
From the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem. Rose petal jam mess.
While it may seem a tiny bit insane to base how I want to live on scenes from children's books, I feel I could do much worse, and anyway, it doesn't hurt anyone, makes me happy, plus, it's good for the planet to live like the mice in Brambly Hedge. Everything they own you can buy from an op-shop, and they forage for all their food - very low food miles - and make everything themselves.
Jill Barklem's desk. The nicest kind of clutter.
Places that I am drawn to are studios, workshops and working kitchens - places where you can see that real things are being made. I do like space and light, but I have decided that minimalism is not for me. I will keep removing things from my spaces until what I have left is the functional and the beautiful and it is easy to find what I want without anything falling on my head. I think it would be ideal to know what I own and where everything is. It would be ideal not to buy anything without giving a great deal of thought to when and why and how I would use it, whether I can borrow it instead of owning it, and where it will live when it comes home with me.
We live in a world where the acquisition of things is disastrously easy, and naturally there has been a backlash against this physical clutter, by making Things the enemy, to be gotten rid of completely in order to be spiritually pure. But Things aren't the enemy. The means of production of Things is the enemy. We can have Things, and make them, and use tools to make them and create beauty all around us if we do it slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, and on a small scale. We can turn our houses back into hubs of creativity instead of being black holes of consumption.
I feel like I have strayed from the point here, which was housework. I think if I change the way I see the purpose of the house, then housework assumes a different level of importance. Yes, see how Zen this is, the middle path. Clutter and minimalism are two sides of one coin. Minimalism is a rejection of the crazy consumption of modern life, but it doesn't offer a new way of living, just less consumption. What I believe could be a more useful path is to change the way we use our houses - to create, to make, to work. If our houses are workshops instead of exhibition spaces, then housework becomes a different beast. It is more practical and utilitarian. Our houses then become all about what we produce rather than what they look like.
This is a rather convoluted post, but remember - I am an Ideas Person. I really can work much better if I have an Idea to work by. All my days recently have flown by in a bit of a fog as I work out my over-arching Philosophy of Life to live by. Expect a manifesto any day now. Meanwhile, today I dusted and swept and tidied with my hands while my brain busied itself working on the meaning of life. So, you know, progress...
"Mother, dearest, if the kitchen was tidier it would be so much more aesthetically pleasing." This was Posy's contribution to my morning today. And this from a child who literally has to wade through piles of clothing to get to her bed..
I am 47 years old and I still can't keep the kitchen tidy. I have, over the years, developed many elaborate and cunning plans and routines to keep my house tidy and clean. You can see the result up above on the Housekeeping page. These have been useful in that they are generally all that stand between me and the housekeeping apocalypse. I feel bad every time I look at that page, which is almost never, because I worry that it might look like I am an organised person who actually keeps the house clean. I am not. I sort of keep the house clean, mostly by remembering that it is Tuesday and I am supposed to be cleaning the bathroom, and I really ought to because I didn't do it last week. I haven't dusted for three weeks and I can't remember the last time I mopped the kitchen floor. I do like a sparkly clean and tidy house, but I don't really need it to be clean. I am pretty sure that germs are good for us in some way. You know, dirt and studies of microbiomes or something like that. I do keep our living areas tidy by sternly growling at the children periodically about removing their hockey socks from the lounge room floor, and by firmly removing everything from the dining room table nearly every single day..
..but the kitchen.. well, it works hard. There is very little bench space and what there is usually has Important Things on it, like whole cabbages for sauerkraut and bags of spring onions to plant and oranges that I can't think where to put, and all the mail from last month, and jars. So many jars. I have a problem with jars. I can't get rid of them because they May Come In Handy, so I hide them under my bed and Paul trips over them in the middle of the night when he comes to stay and scares the cat.
You may be wondering where I am going with all this, and is there a point? Well, there wasn't, but there might be. If I have tried hard all my adult life to be tidy and haven't managed it by now, then maybe it is time to stop fighting. I do have a tolerance for a certain level of mess - you know, somewhere slightly below lived-in but above actual squalor. It occurs to me that if everything I own is something I just love, then it won't bother me to see it lying about untidily. Posy kept bringing me autumn leaves a few weeks ago and I piled them onto the sideboard. They were still here until I added them to my autumn leaf mulch the other day, and it didn't bother me at all to have an untidy heap of autumn leaves in my house, because they were so pretty. Maybe if I throw away everything I don't like, then I will be left with a mess that is aesthetically pleasing.
First step would be throwing out every single thing in my plastics cupboard, then never letting anything with a plastic wrapper into my house ever again. That would be very satisfying. It would also require the superior organisational skills of someone who was capable, say, of cleaning the kitchen. And, you might ask, why not clean the kitchen instead of spending three quarters of an hour writing a blog post about it? Good question, I might reply. It is because thinking about cleaning the kitchen and coming up with a better way to achieve a clean kitchen are far more interesting than actually cleaning it.. because I am an Ideas Person. It would, of course, be more convenient to be an Ideas Person if I had Staff.
The floor-next-to-the-other-side-of-the-door mess.
Lacking staff, as the children are uncooperative and the cat just ignores me, I will have to resolve this issue myself. I think I will dispose of everything I don't like. This, combined with my resolve not to buy anything, will make my house very bare, which will make me even more happy. As I get older I get less and less attached to things, and more attached to space and light. What a joy it will be to have less extraneous objects hanging about, requiring me to look after them. Well, I will talk to you later then, after I have removed all the ugly and annoying things..
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son (The Boy), one grown up daughter (The Girl), two girls at home, Rosy (17) and Posy (13). Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much.. and now extra frugal adventures with Partner Paul..