Category Archives: Life

so simple

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There is no manual, no one set way to downsize, seize life, focus on what’s important.  But geez, when I read Rohan’s Whole Larder Love blog entry today, I was ready to make him my guru, his website my guide to ‘simple living’.  Read it for yourself.  Just this one post struck me deeply and I cannot explain why.  But I sat at my desk looking out my 6th floor office window reading it on my iPhone at lunch time with tears thickening my eyes.

His words are so much more eloquent than mine, but to summarise, the key words of wisdom for setting out and staying on your path to a simple life are:

  • there will be detractors, ignore them
  • aim for contentment, not happiness
  • nobody and nobody’s life is perfect
  • this is a movement, and we are in it together

So simple.

Sometimes I feel like I am not gaining as much ground on my journey as I would like to. Sometimes I feel like I have made so much progress, but other people’s comments belittle or demean what I am trying to be.  Sometimes I feel I read a hundred blogs a day and become disheartened because everyone else seems to have skills that I’ve missed out on.

But you know what, I do feel like there is something happening. Like I am a little bit of flotsam  in a rising swell.  I have had qualms about blogging, but now I am glad to be a part of this movement, with us all going in the same direction, helping each other along, none of us perfect.

I am glad I am because I get to read posts like Rohan’s and feel like he is speaking to the core of me.

 

on electricity

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I did get the children back home on Saturday night, thankfully, as the waters steadily rose through the night and by Sunday morning, when my neighbour and I waded through several mildly coursing creeks, we found that our road into the valley had started to resemble a 30 m wide raging river.

So Sunday was a bit of an adventure for the kids, and we gossiped and drank milo at our neighbours’ house.  But by 4 pm, our ‘valley lock-in’ turned into a survivalist crash course.  No power means no water, as I am not on town water, and need the pump to get water through the taps.

For meals I toasted bread in the frypan, boiled water for tea (which I desired every 10 minutes for some reason), and made a lot of rice.  Normally I have a stockpile of UHT milk, but had none, and no fresh milk either.  Sunday I had planned to buy food….  We had no fresh fruit and minimal veg.

For entertainment the kids drove me mental with their constant fighting made puppet shows, played spotlight in the lounge, and tidied their bedrooms :).  In the evenings we told ghost stories by torchlight, and R1 was especially good at throwing menacing shadows across the ceiling.

On Monday they started to pong, so I washed their bodies and hair in the sandpit.  I was quite angry with R2 when he dumped sand in the water I was going to wash R1’s hair with, but I suppose he didn’t realise the stresses I was under to provide the barest necessities.

I am pretty sure that we could have had a lovely few days inside with no power, but trying to source water was my biggest worry.  I put a water filter jug out in the rain which provided drinking water for some time, until the damn sun came out…  I had buckets filled with water in the bathroom which we used for hand washing, then toilet flushing.  I collected water from empty planters to boil for washing the dishes.  Today was a gloriously hot sunny day which dried out all the mould which had already started to form, but oh my god I was thirsty.  Thankfully we bathed in the neighbours’ swimming pool, which made all the difference.

I learned some very valuable lessons, and by the time of next year’s floods, I will have installed a tap in the side of my water tank, or a separate water tank for this purpose, and have a generator for the fridge.

But I think I will also leave the kids on the outside with their father, if possible.  It entered my mind that of course, this would be the time of all times that the kids would probably need medical attention, and there was just no way of reaching the outside world, apart from a very long and arduous hike over the hill.  At least down in the suburbs, while they may not have power, they have amenities, roads they can journey along, people they can visit, supermarkets they can shop in, and water that actually comes out of taps.

After the power came back on tonight, my first comment was, ‘what do we do with it?’.  It had only been 48 hours but to all of us in the valley it had seemed like a marathon of back-to-back survivor episodes. I felt an affinity with ‘olden days’ women who made do and got on with the business of making our children stink less.  I soon got over that, though, and embraced my new old life again.

Sunday log

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This was the last week of our summer holidays, as I head back to the office and R1 to vacation care and R2 to his kindy/day care tomorrow.  We had visitors from home, my dad and my teenage half-brother whom the kids adore.  It was also a bloody hot week.

Steps forward

1. Escaping to the air conditioned library, I checked out 4 books which seem to have a theme…

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I soaked them up immediately, reading the first chapter of each and then jumping between books for days.  I have finished No Impact Man and 21st Century Smallholder, but will definitely have to read the latter a few more times.  Reading No Impact Man and seeing the type of lifestyle he led before embarking on his year long experiment at living without environmental impact, I realise that I am already some way along my journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

2. I made jam.  Pretty much, in a nutshell, that is a massive leap forward.  Jam making was the one insurmountable. For nearly a year I read countless books and blogposts regarding jam making, but until today when the kids baulked at the plums from the market because they were too tart, I did not have the courage.  God knows why, because the recipe for plum jam was plums, sugar and water.

So utilising all of my acquired knowledge I jumped in head first.

It seemed like I was doing it right and wrong at the same time.

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I sterilised all of my implements and put a saucer in the freezer for the wrinkle test.  I measured out my ingredients.  (To give you an idea of how huge a leap forward this was for me – I am a grown woman and yet have never ever weighed out ingredients for a recipe before. Truly.) A minute before I had to start the rolling boil the plums were still firm so I mashed them despite the recipe not calling for this action. I conducted the wrinkle test multiple times, beyond the time specified for maximum rolling boil, but the jam still swam on the saucer.

No matter, I poured the runny jam into jars and took photos because I was just so damn proud of myself.IMG_1103

Later I realised I had halved the plums and sugar quantities but not the water.  Oh well, next time.  Because there is definitely going to be a next time. It is so easy!!  (Unless you get it wrong 🙂 )

Step back.

1. This one is dad-related.  He wanted to take the kids shopping for their Christmas gifts, so I met him at a local mega shopping centre.  I hadn’t been there for so long and I seriously had a visceral reaction to it.  My legs hurt after walking around one shop and I realised I was no longer ‘shopping centre fit’ capable of walking all 3 levels for 6 hours at a time.  This was the good part.  Unfortunately, R2 hadn’t lost the art of consumption, and became attached to all sorts of flame wielding plastic men.  I caved in and said he could have them after we couldn’t find a single wooden toy by the third toy shop.

He played with them for all of three minutes before declaring he wanted to collect the ‘whole set’.  My heart broke to see him back on the ‘I want’ merry go round, when we were doing so well off it.

R1 only wanted school shoes, white volleys, as her Christmas present, no matter how much my dad tried to talk her out of it.  But this made me think – am I pushing an unachievable and demoralising asceticism on my children in my own egoistic pursuit of a certain kind of lifestyle?

While these Sunday logs measure my slow incremental weekly progress, my dad’s visit showed just how much my way of living has changed in less than a year.  There were stark contrasts between what we both felt were ‘normal’.  He double plastic bagged every little thing he bought and then ripped the bags open so they were unusable.  He bought a slab of 500ml water bottles which he chilled in the fridge, creating excessive rubbish and consuming energy, when I had a jug of filtered water for drinking.  His first option was buying takeaway when I preferred to use what I had at home.  His suggestion that I poach eggs in a plastic container in the microwave (I felt physically ill at the thought of this).  His inability to be inside a warm home without air conditioning.  Litres of soft drink in the fridge.  Assumptions that I hang out at the shopping centre with the kids.

These all horrified me.  Yet I hadn’t really noticed myself changing so much.

2 years on

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Two years ago, and a bit, my house looked like this after the flood waters had started receding.

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This photo was taken from my top floor bathroom looking down into the backyard and the top of my clothesline.

I didn’t take these photos as I had been home with the kids for my 2 weeks’ holiday.  We lost everything on the ground floor which was mostly kids’ toys, a couch, fridge, and all my stuff in storage.  Upstairs, volunteers had broken in and removed most of the small things, clothing, books, rugs, etc, and some furniture.

After the floods had completely receded they returned most of this, some of it broken, and I came home to a bonfire heap of my worldly possessions in the middle of my lounge room floor.  I admit to spending part of that first day rocking in the foetal position.  But mostly, I got stuck into it.

It was just stuff.  Stuff that I had fretted and worried about for a week over on the other side of the country.  Then fretted a little more when I heard about the volunteers and the idea of, you know, strangers handling my things.

Now I think it may have been post-traumatic stress, but at the time, I thought I had experienced catharsis.  The floods had swept through the house and taken the decision making from me in terms of letting go of excess stuff in my life.  I threw out the broken and water stained, and then asked myself the question of every item left over, whether I would have cared if it had gone in the flood as well.

This resulted in a week of journeys back and forth to the Vinnies, removing the excess from my life.

The upstairs couch had only been water stained but I decided we didn’t need one and that bean bags on the floor would suffice.  So I sold it on ebay for 99c.

Two years on, and you wouldn’t know it.  I have stuff again.  Granted, not furniture, as I am still very slowly buying piece by piece.

I wish I could have held onto some of the insights, though, into how stuff can own me, and cause stress and unhappiness.

Sunday log

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Really really hard to remember the whole week.  I do recall going back to work, but it still seems a little hazy.  So this week’s log is pretty much all about today.

Steps forward.

1. Due to my forced down time this weekend with a still very sore lower back, I managed to get through some creative projects which have been hanging around for…quite a while…  I finally shaped the soap which has been ‘curing’ on my washing machine since October.  It was my first attempt at making soap, one lot with dried sage, the other with cinnamon and oat.  They didn’t quite work out so I think I may have subconsciously abandoned them, until now.  The shavings will make a great liquid hand wash…when I get around to it.  I also finished the dishcloth (Rhonda’s pattern) I began knitting for my Auntie’s Christmas present a month ago.  It is just as well, as I am flying up to see her on Friday.

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2. Besides knitting, I also got in a lot of reading today.  I am re-reading Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Free.  When I first read this book 7 years ago, freedom meant something very very different.  Back then, I needed to be free of the ex-husband.  I have achieved that.  Well in terms of my physical location anyway.  I can trace the origins of my desire for a vege garden back to this book, but it never seemed important or vaguely practicable, until now.  Now my vege garden is the centre of my universe (and the kids).  The best part of picking up this book this week is realising that I am on track to freedom.  I have already started to implement many of Tom’s pieces of advice for achieving freedom, such as not watching tv, not having a credit card or direct debit, using minimal technology and appliances, embracing pain and suffering, and leaving the kids alone to do their own thing.  Next on the list will be learning to play the ukelele, stop voting, and work less and play more.

Step back.

1.  I honestly can’t think of a single step backward this week.  Even having the kids away on holidays, which I thought would be a bad/sad thing, has a silver lining.  I get to eat dark chocolate rum ‘n’ raisin Tim Tams and drink cider before cooking dinner.  Out in the open.  I love being able to ‘out’ my secret mummy behaviour.

Sunday log

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I’ve decided not to cling too rigidly to the days of the week… Monday can be Sunday or any day, at least it feels like that when I’m free from working for the man for a bit.

This week has been like that, days merging into each other, all seemingly the same routine of waking with the kids in my bed, lying in, watching the same DVD twice in a row, then playing with the kids next door, a bit of gardening, lunch somewhere in there, then swimming in the afternoon.

Steps forward.

1. Despite the feeling of sloth, I have been quite productive with my week.  I finally painted a desk I bought on ebay for R1 (which was supposed to be for fourth term homework, but oh well, the new term is not far away).  I also established my new garden beds, with manure and mulch in one, ready for autumn planting in March.  I had to drag the tomato bushes from the centre and they don’t seem too happy with the move… 😦 A bit droopy.

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2. School holiday memories.  My kids have a shorter holiday break than others due to vacation care, etc, but I am trying to instil a sense of normality.  This week of ‘nothingness’ has actually been intended.  I had thought of the theme parks, movies, museum trips, railway workshops, etc route, but they have so much structure in their ordinary lives, I want them to think back to their school holidays and not remember specific day trips, but instead, the feeling of languor, of not having to be anywhere, where they can roll from one activity to the next, without any pressure.

I got the spa clean and working this week and had decided to get rid of it as the filter and heater need replacing, and it didn’t really seem to contribute to the downshifting simplifying life I am trying to achieve.  However, watching the kids splash around with the neighbours and their cousins who were staying, afternoon after afternoon, I have changed my mind.  There could be a sensory memory being made in the chlorine smell and the wet popcorn strewn all over the deck.

Step backward.

1. I took all the kids out for a walk up a country road.  It was almost a ‘step forward’ moment filled with tadpole catching, rockclimbing, etc, but then a dog became attached to the girls and we couldn’t shake it.  It didn’t help that one of the girls was adamant that her mum would let her keep it, and another said that there had been a lost dog sign.  So I let them walk it home.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think this through rationally and there was a bit of a confrontation with the neighbours at the other end, who ended up driving the dog back quite angrily.  I was lectured about being the only ‘responsible adult’ out on the walk.

I was quite gutted by this turn of events and started to question what sort of parent I am.  It is true that my own children will not listen to me and do a single thing that I ask.  When I am told by others that I have to discipline my kids more (yes it does happen), I wonder, how on earth can I be stricter or firmer – how far do I have to go?  I have nothing to enforce what I say to them. If they decide they don’t want to listen then they don’t. And when I tell them to go to their room, they keep coming out.  I cannot lock the doors.  And no matter how loudly I then have to shout, they still refuse.

I feel I am missing essential components from my parenting armoury.

Christmas also happened this week.  I made a mango trifle and set the table for a change.  In the afternoon we swam in our neighbours’ pool when they went out.

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R1 pulling R2 home on her boogie board ‘sleigh’.

Sunday log

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I have not really ‘lived’ a week this past 7 days.  It has been a blur, a rush, an avoidance, anything to get me past the Christmas period, so that I can hit reset, and get back to living my routine life.  The expectation that Christmas is a ‘time out’ from routine has upset the precarious balance I have established to get us through life, and I am overwhelmed by it.  So I have shut down and covered my eyes, because if I can’t see Christmas, then it can’t see me.

Steps forward

1. After purging my week’s stresses re the children’s father to my neighbour on Thursday night after bumping into each other at the shops, I took myself to the Chinese massage parlour for a 20 minute neck, shoulder and back massage which shattered me. It drained and exhausted me. But it brought up whatever I was burying and I feel a little less tired now, days later.

2. We started a new tradition, or maybe just had a great community night last night. My neighbour’s husband was out, so she brought the girls over for pizza.  I had found a new pizza dough recipe which worked, hurrah!  Slightly the worse for wear after one cider, I confessed to my neighbour that I finally had a sense of family – their family was my family now.  Not knowing I had stayed for a massage, she had been worried about me on Thursday when I hadn’t come home from the shops soon after her.  I can’t remember someone looking out for me. When her husband is not home, she looks to the lights on in my house for comfort.

Step backward

1. Any communication with the children’s father. Still.

Sunday log

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Yes I am aware it is Monday, not Sunday.  But I really could not let myself go near the computer last night for fear of what I might write to the children’s father, due to the intense seething rage I was experiencing.

This hasn’t happened for a while, which is why I am counting it as my step back this week. But it only hasn’t happened because we haven’t communicated that much. The moment we do, he says stuff which twists the knife.

So this time, I got a bizarre email congratulating us for the ‘great co-parenting’ we have done by sitting with each other at the children’s Christmas concerts.  This apparently shows that our children are receiving ‘much more care and attention than either of us ever had’.  I had a stay at home mother until I was fourteen years old, home every single day after school for baking, sewing, French lessons, nature walks and ferrying me to skating, diving, guides, ballet or sleepovers.  She helped out with craft and reading at school and baked for the cake stall.

Last week my daughter had to be supervised by the school office lady for 2 hours on breakup day until the after school care opened.  I am wracked with guilt and shame every single moment of my life at the insufficient and inadequate level of parental care and attention my children receive.

I feel crap that I have let him get to me again despite practising compassionate meditation Saturday towards him. And he won’t get it. Even when I do write the email to him letting him know how I feel, he will still say ‘this isn’t as one-sided as you make out’.  So it is only me who suffers, because I can’t shake the rage.  I have been oversensitive all day, and have a twisting anxiety in my chest.

How to let go?

Deep breath.

Steps forward this week:

1. I found some assertiveness to address a problem I had with my supervisor at work this week, and despite an awkward hour or so afterwards, results have been great so far.  And I received positive feedback from my manager which has boosted my self-esteem. I have only been doing my new job for 4 months, and every day is a learning curve.  I work well with positive reinforcement.

2. My dad came to town and had dinner with the kids and me one night, and just the two of us for his birthday the next.  He is at the age now where he is reflecting on his mortality, so every moment we have together,  though few, has its poignancy.  Plus, I am very happy that I finally gave him a present he appeared to enjoy, and it didn’t cost me a cent! I gave him a punnet of tomatoes from the garden and some pickled nasturtium berries.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t take the food home through quarantine, so he had to eat his presents while here.  But I didn’t get the sinking feeling I normally get after he has unwrapped his presents.

This week’s theme has definitely been about my relationships.

Sunday log

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Another week already???

So where am I up to in this creative evolution called life…

Steps forward.

1. I am a mature woman.  I sat beside the children’s father for two evenings’ concerts and made small talk, while he mocked and ridiculed my words for no apparent reason but that he is just not mature enough for the sort of relationship we have, in order for the children to feel loved by both parents, and a little normal like everyone else.

2. I started a few projects. First is my sister’s Christmas present, embroidering a sampler which I hope to get to her by April, and the second a garden project, which did not go wonderfully and I swore a little too much and I have gashed my face on chicken wire, but at least I am turning some long made plans into reality.

Step back.

1. I was bitten by a ‘small black spider’ on the hand last weekend whilst weeding, and thought nothing of it, apart from a strong tingling pain.  By Tuesday I had ulcerations all over the back of my hand and wrist, and am on antibiotics (which I loathe taking) and antihistamines.  The doctor suggested I get someone else to ‘do my garden’ from now on.  Like who??! Besides, this whole life trip I am on right now is inextricably tied to a productive garden.

I’m not sure if this is indeed a ‘step backward’ in relation to the yet to be determined goal, and it vied with many other contenders this week.  Such as the absolute despair over grasshoppers which have destroyed all my herbs and leafy veg, and which cannot be got rid of with ‘companion planting and chili spray’.  See here. Here. And here.

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Or the passive aggressive supervisor who ripped shreds off me Wednesday afternoon for 2 hours because “I’m just having a shitty day”, and then brought me caramel slice Thursday. But no apology.

Looking forward to some positive steps this week.

Christmas present

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Having just come back from the second school Christmas concert in as many evenings, I thought it was about time that I acknowledge it is that time of the year. Like the energy sapping heat that has come up on us, so has Christmas.

I am big on traditions. Most of the time I tell the kids that our rituals have been passed on from generation to generation and woe betide anyone if they are not carried out to the letter, but they are either ones I have made up or some variation on those I had as a child.

One such, of course, is the Christmas tree. And it has to go up on the 1st of December, come what may. Except it went up the 2nd of December this year as that’s when the kids got back from their dad’s.  I can’t get hung up on the rigidity of traditions.  So it went up as close to the first as possible, despite crushing humidity, sweaty faces, broken airconditioning and a very cranky mama.

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Over the past 3 years the collection of handmade Christmas decorations brought home from kindy, etc has grown. Usually, I sort them into three piles: for the tree, family Christmas presents, and ‘filing’ (aka as the bin – how many pages of heavy green texta does one need?).

Apart from a few shop bought ones – just to polish the look – the majority of our decorations reflect the different stages of the kids’ artistry and creativity, and a special tradition invented last year was to go to the craft shop and select an ornament project to make, colour, glue.

These traditions are important in providing continuity for the kids. As I was putting up the tree, I mused to my daughter that this was the second year that we didn’t have to put the playpen around the tree to protect the bottom layers of lights from being mauled by destructive toddlers, and also the sixth year I had put up the tree.  This is also the sixth home that it had lived in.  And hopefully the last for quite a while.

Spending Christmas in a different place each year is not quite the thrill it once was.  In my 20s I spent Christmas in Kathmandu, Dhaka, Bangkok, Casablanca, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth x 2, Warrnambool, and London.  The only tradition was to be somewhere different each year, and to drunkenly phone my mother at 2 am no matter what time zone I was in.

While I loved travel for the experience of different cultures, it is having children which has taught me about interconnectedness.

I figure this photo from the concert tonight is blurry enough to protect everyone’s privacy.

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So proud of my son for even getting on the stage in front of hundreds of parents, he is the one in the middle looking at me.  This was the 4th concert I had seen on that stage.

And the first year of Christmas concerts at the local school.  Santa has come early this year.  This is what it is all about for them!

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