Thursday, 31 May 2007
Even more wonderful, this morning I had a steam-cleaning firm come in and clean all our carpets. What bliss! My spirits lifted when I arrived home to immaculate carpets. Now, I do try to keep a tidy and clean home, but our carpet seems to bear the brunt of four busy and active young souls (and a mother who waves her hands around, forgetting that she is carrying a cup of coffee). The living room, dining room, stairs and bedrooms all have pale mushroom pink carpet that is a nightmare to keep clean.
The embarrassing part was when the cleaner sighed extravagantly and said, "Well, you do have an awful lot of stains." One by one we went through them; an ignoble family history. "Oh, that was the time master four rubbed toothpaste in the carpet and it was rock-like before I realised." Or, "Yes, someone spilt something large there and then tried to cover their tracks by scrubbing with bright red dishwashing liquid." You get the picture.
This is the view looking out my front door this morning. That plane tree is outside the front fence. Many streets in Melbourne are lined with beautiful old deciduous trees. In summer it is lovely to drive through a tunnel of greenery, and in the autumn the children adore playing in the piles of fallen leaves.
Wednesday, 30 May 2007
This morning my sweet 8 year old son (don't call me sweet, Mum) went off on his first school camp. I use the word 'camp' lightly as they will be staying in cabins with internal bathrooms, full catering, and a dedicated staff employed to entertain them throughout their stay (which is only two nights). Their buses, or should I say, coaches, are air-conditioned with seat belts and little screens for watching movies.
I remember school camps with a mixture of nostalgia and horror. On my first camp I huddled in my little Kmart sleeping bag designed for indoor sleepovers in a tent through temperatures that dipped below zero. Several years later, I had to stand for a fair part of the three hour drive between Sydney and Canberra because one of the three buses had broken down midway. The temperature was over 35 degrees C (higher in the bus) and little girls were fainting -- or pretending to faint -- all over the place.
Grieving as I am for the temporary loss of my little lad (I'm not little either, Mum!) I feel a burst of baking coming on.
Have you ever made homemade vanilla essence? Here is a photo of my essence bottle.
My grandfather was a pharmacist in the days when they ground up and created their own weird and magical potions from scratch. Nearly everyone in our extended family has some little cork-stopped jars, a mortar and pestle, or some flasks like this one, that came from his shop.
I once bought synthetic vanilla and did not realise until I used it to make vanilla custard -- big mistake. Vanilla is easy to make, if you don't like having to buy the little bottles. Just bash a couple of vanilla pods, place them in a jar or flask, cover them with vodka (or other flavourless liquor) and leave for a few days before using. You keep topping up the vodka as you use it up. Please keep on a high shelf as this is not a suitable drink for toddlers!
For the past few years we have had a free supply of vodka as B had a Ukrainian staff member who gave it as gifts. Unfortunately, he has moved to Sydney -- I'll have to find another source.
Tuesday, 29 May 2007
Over summer the vegies withered, the roses refused to bloom, the raspberries became ugly little sticks. Now, I appreciate life is a lot tougher out in the country; I at least can go out and buy things I can't grow.
What frustrates me more than anything is the weather reports. Every morning I check the ABC website and it tells me what percentage chance we have of what amount of rain. Yesterday, for instance, we had a 70 or 80 % chance of 5-10 ml. What happened? No rain. Today we have a 90% chance of 10-20 ml. What is today like? Dry and warm.
Now the Bureau of Meteorology supposedly has advanced computer models dedicated to predicting the weather. Somebody spends millions of dollars on this stuff. So why can't they get it even vaguely right? Or at least not get our hopes up.
Perhaps if they said we had a 1 1/2 % chance of 1 ml of rain (when they expected more), I wouldn't be so disappointed when it didn't come and I'd be thrilled if we got more.
On the other hand, I'd probably berate the weathermen for their poor predicting. I guess they can't win.
And now ... let's introduce the two newest members of our family ... (drumroll) ... Honey and Feather Brown. (cheers, applause)
We bought our newest babies about six weeks ago when they were six week old chicks. They are Pekin bantams and have the loveliest feathery feet; so much prettier than plain old claws.
When Miss 10 and I go out in the garden they come running, knowing that we usually bear tasty morsels for them. The children all love hand-feeding them, although when Master 4 appears they usually run as fast as those little legs will carry them to the nearest hiding spot. He just has to pick them up, and has been known to try to open their beaks to look for their teeth.
I would love to get more bantams one day but we don't have a place for a larger coop -- they currently sleep in a rabbit hutch, although they free-range throughout the day. The next exciting moment will be the first egg. Chooks and worms in a worm farm are really the only pets that earn their keep -- and chooks are ever so much friendlier than worms -- apart from being a whole lot less slimy.
Sunday, 27 May 2007
Saturday, 26 May 2007
Yet every Saturday morning I now chauffeur kids to and then watch them play team sport. The 13 year old plays hockey, Miss 10 does netball, and my younger boys do swimming. Sometimes the two drivers in the house have to be at three different venues in different parts of town at the same time. Ahhhhh! It's even worse when B is away for work.
The good thing about netball is that I get to hear about all the parents' renovations and holidays. I try to be an evil sporting mother and occasionally yell advice to E. She, however, rolls her eyes; she knows that she knows more than I do about netball; even worse, she knows that I know that too.
Anyway, today was a lovely sunny morning and the girls won 11-5. Now I really need a coffee.
Friday, 25 May 2007
Two weeks before Christmas, B suggested we drive to Sydney for Christmas week. My parents' home is a couple of hours north of Sydney at the beach. We knew accommodation would be difficult to find for a family of six so close to Christmas, which falls in the Australian summer, yet amazingly our prayers were answered on my second phone call, and for about half what we expected to pay. The flat we rented was 100 metres from the beach and a short walk from my parents' house.
Despite having seen him in October, I was shocked by the deterioration in Dad's condition. He was so frail, so thin. His skin felt scaly as I stroked his hand in the white hospital ward. His head was cold when I kissed it. I visited several times over the week; we made small talk as he slipped in and out of sleep.
Dad was a highly intelligent man, a doctor and a great thinker. He would only take panadol, knowing the effect morphine would have on his mind.
Sometimes he became serious; his mind was active while his body destroyed itself. He said he could not understand why things had gone wrong; he had done everything the doctors had asked. He said, short of a miracle, my mother would be a widow within three weeks.
Dad had always defined himself as an agnostic. A rational man, he found a literal resurrection impossible to grasp. Yet towards the end he requested chaplains and sought prayer.
On our last day on the coast B and I visited the hospital with all the children. After a time, Dad suggested they go outside; I could stay and assist him with his meal.
Dad struggled to speak. He said he had talked to my brothers and my mother and I was the last. He said he wanted to be "on a straight track" with everyone and asked my forgiveness for any harm he had ever done me. He was so sorry, so sad about the past. He blamed himself for things I had long forgotten. I was not an easy child, and our hot-headed personalities had often clashed. We talked, and I reassured him as best as I might that everything was all right. Crying silently, I told him how much I loved him. Three or four days later Dad became confused and distressed. On January 21 he died.
I learnt more in those minutes about love and grace, compassion, repentance and forgiveness than in a lifetime of sermons, lectures and books.
So many people die suddenly; so many people die hugging grievances. My father, visibly struggling to channel his thoughts and knowing I was returning home, that this was the last time, gave me, and indeed, all of us, the gift of peace.
This year I have decided to improve my skill at both knitting and sewing. My last baby has turned four and I have a little more time, and am a little less sleep deprived, than I have been for most of the last 13 years.
Help: Could someone please tell me why sometimes the paragraph breaks I put in blogger show up on the final post, and sometimes they don't, no matter how many times I re-edit? This is driving me nuts!
Thursday, 24 May 2007
I love how lemon trees fruit and flower at the same time. Here in the south, lemon trees often fruit throughout the winter providing a glorious splash of yellow on a bleak day.
In the kitchen, lemons mean lemon delicious pudding, lemon tart, lemon meringue pie, jars of lemon butter, and fresh fish with a squeeze of lemon.
I find it strange to buy lemons; they are the sort of thing one has for free or not at all. Many Australians have lemon trees in their backyards, even if they grow no other edible plants. During lemon season it is not uncommon to be asked, "Have you any lemons?", before being presented with a bagful.
Last winter our tree produced an enormous amount of fruit. We had only eaten a few, however, when possums attacked and peeled most of the remaining lemons. They left the soggy inner pulp, preferring the skin, it seems. Some friends reported similar incidents, whilst others said their camellias (also winter flowering) had been attacked and their lemons left alone!
An attack of gall wasp last spring, and a hard cutting back to eliminate it, means I only have about fifteen precious lemons this year. Let's hope the possums don't get to them first!
Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Tuesday, 22 May 2007
This sultana grape vine grows along the southern fence behind the vegetable garden. All the grapes are eaten by possums or birds before they ripen, but I have made dolmades from the early summer leaves.
One hot, hot evening in January I found a sad grey nestling lying amongst the withering tomato vines. Its little beak was wide open, gasping for water, and its ribs shuddered in its small body. I looked around, but could not discover its nest. There are no trees close by.
Last week I found the nest, barely three feet above ground, in a curved branch of the vine. The dense summer growth had hidden it from view, but now the vine leaves are browning and falling.
Monday, 21 May 2007
While my summer vegetable harvest was poor this year due to the drought, the autumn greens are doing well. Lots of seeds, scattered two months ago while it was much warmer but very dry, are now starting to germinate.
Tonight we will have spanikopita, or spinach and feta pie, for dinner, although the spinach part will be made of a mixture of rainbow chard and rocket, with some basil for flavouring.
Today my eldest son had hockey training at 7.15 am so he and my husband rose early too. Mostly people don't want to talk much in the very early morning; just eat as they settle gently into wakefulness.
My favourite morning ritual, however, is making the morning coffee. I grind the beans in a small electric grinder and make the coffee in a little stovetop espresso pot. This just makes enough for two small but strong cups. I warm the milk in a glass milk foamer, then pump it until the milk is a rich, dense mat of foam. This we scoop onto our coffee; I like a thick layer of foam, whilst B prefers just milk. The aroma fills the house and seems to awaken the younger children, who soon appear downstairs. I feel relaxed, alert and ready to face a new day.
Sunday, 20 May 2007
The house was not really lost and ten days later we returned home. I am sure it has shrunk in E's perception in the seven years since she was three, yet it is home to us and most of the events in this blog happen here.
Welcome to our red house.