Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Psst tea towel swappers

I'm busily planning a print extravaganza this coming weekend, how are you going? I see some people are right onto it (and here and here and here and here and here and here) ...if you've done a post adn I missed it please feel free to link to it in the comments section. I'm loving seeing everyone's work!

There's only a week and a half to go before you need to mail your swaps out so good luck. And remember if you are heading into troubled waters on the deadline please let people know in advance so they aren't waiting by the post box. So cruel.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

in other news

I'm doing a fairly crap job at maintaining my electronic life, and while I am sure this will improve, it might take a while. There's fun on the horizon! Craft camp and a girl's weekend in Sydney and teaching and cool stuff.

In the meantime I will be upfront about the purchase of new shoes - prompted largely by the embarrassment of wearing shoes to work that clashed fairly horribly with my clothing.

I realise I have 2 pairs of shoes good enough for work on a summer day - one is light natural leather, the other red and both look wrong with terracotta. So it was time to reintroduce black. Bought from the very fist shoe shop I went into, located next door to Wil's dancing class and I love them. I'm nothing if not pragmatic.

I am still sometimes taking pics of my clothing when I get my act together, and do continue to like the homemade outfits best (details over on flickr). Have not been the slightest bit tempted to buy or even look at clothing!

And also?

My kids are still gorgeous. Just saying.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

a post in which I have no pressing issues

Gosh it's been a while since I blogged because I had the time, rather than blogged because something really important needed to be said. The loss of digital TV and the gaining of day light saving has essentially freed up my evenings and now that we are getting back to some semblance of normality I find myself with evenings again.

It's not been a conscious decision but I'm really struggling to find anything on TV I want to watch, which is absolutely brilliant. The knitting is suffering a bit, but a small price to pay for the continued progress on getting things sorted, reading her fearful symmetry, and not waking up to the kitchen from hell every morning. I've even started to plan out a few creative ventures.

The difference isn't just time, it's a deliberately slower pace. When I made the decision last year not to increase my weekly allotment of time in at the spanner works, despite Wil's greater allotment of time at child care, I did have some residual guilt. On a rational level I don't think I should have that guilt, what I am doing makes sense in many ways (including financially when you factor in the other work I can do when I am not set in an office routine all the time). But I did feel that guilt and it is at least in part a product of choosing a different way. Even to myself I feel a continual need to justify it.

But let's be honest about what fills so many of those child free, work free hours - today it included being present at child care while Wil had his birthday cake and celebrations. I chatted to his carers and a few other mums and had a little time watching from the sidelines while he played and interacted in that way I so rarely see - when I'm not his point of reference. I then had a chance to shop at the really good green grocer (the one that's not quite so close to home), the super cheap middle eastern food wholesaler and the excellent (and super cheap) butcher next door. I got inspired about a few special meals, bought some exciting ingredients and planned some delicious and fairly healthy family meals. I came home and prepared the makings of the evening meal and bagged up and froze the makings of a few more. I cleaned out and restocked the fridge, did a bit of pantry clean up and organising, washed dishes, paid a few bills, picked up a few toys and made it down to school in time to say hello to a few people before I collected Amy. With dinner well under control I was able to talk to Amy when she got home, which was lucky because she's having a pre-teenager phase at the moment where she lurches from aggressive and surly one minute to teary and tragic the next, throwing herself at couches and beds with exaggerated melodrama and grief and dealing with that is really best done when one is not in a hurry. In the end we played some cards while she ate approximately half her body weight in stewed nectarines (home made of course) and shook in fear from the frequent very loud thunder overhead. And since both dinner and Amy were under control I was able to ring D to say not to worry about getting Wil on the bike in the rain (I even offered to pick him up from work, but he turned me down) and Amy and I drove off in the down pour to get him, stopping for a while so Amy could play with all the little kids, before we came home. A bit of play time, some last minute foods assemblage and there was even space for D and I to walk around the garden in the rain and contemplate water tanks and the like before we ate our salad nicoise and the kids stripped off to go and run around the wet garden. After that there was left over birthday cake (home made of course) and I tossed a big boned shoulder of lamb in to marinate overnight for slow cooking tomorrow. There was time for stories and clearing the table and peaceful goodnights, all in a reasonable timeframe.

It's easy to think that this is normal, ordinary and unremarkable, but the truth is that for working mums this is not the way things usually are. Juggling, multi tasking, cutting corners, making compromises, paying a premium, choosing for convenience and feeling constantly under pressure and in a rush is what constitutes normal. Split second timing, shattered nerves, bad days, fractious relationships and exhaustion creeping in at every turn.

And as we were eating dinner I started to say to D that I achieved nothing today, and it wasn't like I wasted time or read magazines or had a long lunch or chatted on the phone. But of course, of course!, today I achieved exactly what I wanted to achieve. A day in which what needed to get done got done, in which I didn't feel the need to yell or feel uneasy about at least half a dozen of the 'choices' I exercised. A day in which there was time to laugh with the kids, talk through problems, do something to make someone else's day easier, make and eat good food, clean up the mess without feeling resentful and get on top of the domestic burden for the coming days. And that's plenty for one day.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

one, two, three, is the magic number

Dearest Wil

My funny, happy, joyous little soul.

It's hard to believe you are already three, but harder still to imagine all those years I lived before you came along. What did I used to think about in those moments when I was lost in thought and something funny made me smile, before I was thinking about something you said or did this morning?

The decision to have a second child was a difficult one for me, full of angst and worry, fear and confusion. The absolute opposite to the pure and compelling drive I had felt for so many years before Amy came along. So it always strikes me as typically perverse of the universe to grant me the privilege of a second chance at parenting and thrust me into a relationship which, while not without its hardships, never feels the slightest bit complicated.

Writing birthday posts for your children is always hard - and generally pretty boring for readers I am sure - but perhaps one day you'll come here looking for answers Wil, and whatever the future holds in store for us I want you to know that here and now I feel grateful in a hundred ways for what you have bought to my life. Grateful to know you, grateful for the contours you have created in me.

A profound appreciation for the here and now, the obvious, the simple, the pure uncomplicated joy that is the way you see the world. You've made me a better parent, given me confidence, made me more peaceful and patient, at least some of the time. You never fail to make me smile and generally make redundant my tendency to over think everything. As a little boy you have made me appreciate ever so much more what men are all about.

I love that when you are feeling unhappy an olive can remedy pretty much any ill.

I love that the first thing you ask for in the morning (without fail) is your packet lightening mcqueen.

I love that after pretty much anything anyone says you feel the need to add me too!

I love the way you line your cars up and when you say you can't come to the table yet because you are parking.

I love the way you say YAY! whenever I explain to you what we're doing next.

I love the way you tell everyone on the tram exactly what's going on in your head, point out all the landmarks and then smile and look away and then look back. You're just reeling them in and they are loving it!

I love that you have milo and wheatbix for breakfast every single morning when I can't keep track from hour to hour of what your sister says she utterly detests and what she now adores.

I love that you think your sister is the coolest person on the planet and when she's not around you walk around saying where my sister? where my sister gone?
I love that you love everyone and yet still enjoy your own company.

I love that you are so like your dad and yet not at all - you are your own man.

I love the way you demand extra cuddles at bed time but tell me to leave if I look like settling in.

I love that even though change and spontaneity are not really your thing, you go with it anyway.

I love that you told the other mums waiting around at school pick up time today that you are one two three! And now you are a mechanic but you don't have an office and offices are for grown ups. And that you think engines are beautiful.

The love list is endless. The longer I sit here the more things I can think up that make me smile. I don't know what your magic is, but I've seen you work it on other people as well as me, and no one (aside from that really crabby lady in the shoe shop today) seems to escape your spell. To me you are sunshine.

Happy birthday sweet thing.

Monday, 8 February 2010

in the swing

First day back in the office took some getting used to. A short commute that seems to take a very long time in an overly crowded tram. But a chance to knit and catch up on the podcasts.

A lot of hellos and telling the same stories over and over about where I've been and what I've been doing. Knowing a lot of people think I am incredibly lucky while others think I am crazy. How simple other people's lives can seem when you don't know much about them.

Suffice to say that reality is all around now and normal life is sneaking back in and grabbing hold. I am enjoying it.

At last I have found the camera cables and the desk space and the head space to upload the photos taken over the last 10 days. I've failed on my kids daily photo assignment, but I will press on because a very incomplete set is still better than what I would be doing without the challenge. Somehow, with the light and the lifestyle we have at home, the camera just doesn't seem to jump into my hands like it used to.

I've also been doing a pretty half arsed job on the what I wore today challenge. I've decided I might move the whole descriptive bit over to flickr, I have been taking a few photos but the time to write up all the details seems overwhelming, so I might try and do my best without taking up all the blogging time.

In other news, just as I got over my hump of tenant anger, D has finally gotten in touch with his. This is the result of both new discoveries (the CD player doesn't work, and the iPod only plays in Mono, a hunk of window frame missing on the lovely chunky hardwood in the extension, the insect colony living in the dead dust buster, the black ooze from the bins that stained all the paving, the mystery of the severely shortened blind cord on one window...) but also what happens when at the end of a week at work you come home to do stuff and be at home. And find your home just isn't what it was. So perhaps we won't be free as quickly as I'd hoped.

[And just to help you maintain your rage here's a wee pic I took of the really impressive yoghurt the tenants left me - nice work huh?

And this little collection of hardened shrunk bean bag balls we ripped from the inside of the bean bag

Order is almost completely restored to the office/studio (I just don't know what to call that space?). A few micro systems to put in place but the big picture is taken care of and I am excited about moving on from cleaning up to actually getting some stuff done. And as predicted, almost instantly I felt the flow on effects elsewhere in our world. We're not there yet, but we're on our way.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

in the warm embrace


It is really good to be back home - that's not just a simon and garfunkle line. And back home on the blog too where people are supportive and sympathetic about current events. Thanks, really. And especially to all the local readers who feel like they are just around the corner and who seem excited by the possibility of real life time together. I feel so loved!

And just so you all know, because really I don't want to go on and on about all this shit - the sooner I move on the better I say - I will be deducting some money from the bond to cover the main items I think are indisputably lost, damaged and broken. There isn't that many, but enough for the costs to be more than I am prepared to simply rack up to lessons learned through experience. I will also be passing on the cost of the garden work and the electrician and the timber finish required to restore the table after we sand it back to get rid of all the drawing. I'll also be holding back the rest of the bond until all the outstanding bills are paid, just in case. And when they come to collect their belongings they have stored here (with permission) I will be passing on all the stuff they left here (without permission).

I won't charge them for extra cleaning or any of the many smaller items or disputed items because basically I just can't be fagged with all the emotional torment of arguing about it. And because, being really honest with myself, I don't want money so much as I want my excitement about homecoming back, I want my faith in strangers back, I want my time back and I want my feeling of trust back. More horrible emails and arguments will contribute to those things not one bit so I think I will call it a day. Unless something else big and horrible pops up.

I guess part of writing this down is to remember and for others to share the experience of entering into arrangements on faith. I don't want the lesson to be never do it because a world in which the starting premise is that everyone is an arsehole who'll get you if you let them is a sad and depressing world to live in. Bad shit happens, but it doesn't happen all the time or even most of the time and choosing to assume the best is not a bad bet odds wise.

But we could have (and should have) taken better precautions at the start, like having a more detailed contractual agreement that makes as few assumptions as possible and which explains the consequences of not following the terms and maybe even agreeing on how you'll decide stuff should a dispute arise. We could also put in place some things to take away as many grey areas as possible like contracting out stuff (like gardening and bond cleaning) to a third party or at least making clear that this will be done and who will pay if things aren't left in good condition, having a full inventory of the stuff in the house and conducting an inspection mid way through the term of rental.

And I am also working on trying hard not to fret about all this stuff too much. In the same way that things sometimes work out really well, sometimes that work out less well. On the karmic balance sheet perhaps we were owed some shit, I don't know, but what's happened has happened and if we've been through the wringer then it's time to be philosophical about that and not be so precious. Today as I drove all about in the rain (I know! In the rain! In Melbourne! On my own! I even parallel parked!!) buying new saucepans and lasagne dishes (lasagne tonight yay!) and other bits of stuff I just kept thinking let this be the end of it.

So now I am turning my mind to the unpacking and sorting tasks I expected to have spent the last week on, before I got sidetracked into the grieving and then ever so swiftly the everyday mess. While I have managed to get most stuff more or less in the right room in the house, most of the rooms are more or less a disaster. The kitchen is functional but not the well oiled machine I like and the bathroom/laundry is simply a weigh station for all the dirty things.

The real disaster, and the one I feel is preventing me from thinking straight or getting traction on re establishing regular life in its proper guise is the complete lack of order in my office/craft room/studio. While some may laugh at the level of organisation I like in my work space, the reality is that external order is a precursor to internal order for me - if I don't know where to look for things or have those little cues I am pretty much useless. I like things to be stored with like things (and right where you use them) and I have boxes packed up where the stash is mixed with office things like sticky tape and camera cords and note books and this gives me the absolute willies.

Go ahead laugh, I know what you're thinking. But in my defence I am generally a pretty efficient person, I get a bit done with my time and I swear a lot of it comes down to good storage and systems. If you aren't wasting time looking for things or walking about going to get things you can squeeze more good stuff into the day. All this is absolutely true - but I need enough time to invest up front to get the stuff in the right place and in the right configuration to start with and so far I just can't seem to get the critical mass of time or thought to get the ball rolling. I know it's only a week and all, but I really hate being in this flux. Not being able to find stuff makes me all jittery and confused.

So that's next. Get my systems, paperwork and supplies in order. Make a work space. Create my files. Find a new accountant for last year's tax (anyone?). Get the stash sorted. Fill those shelves. Move some furniture. I'm not quite a dog pissing in the corners but close enough.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

gee it's great to be back home, home is where I want to beeeee

hello home
hello neighbours, lovely friendly talk in the street share a beer lend me a band aid and pool our take away neighbours
hello friends, lovely friendly talk on the phone visiting sharing take away friends
hello lovely school right in our street
hello lovely child care centre where everyone is excited to see us
hello so so much smaller house
hello stuff
hello stash
hello family, airport picking up shopping buying calling thoughtful just close by family
hello new dog next door (who woke me up this morning)
hello Melbourne summer weather at its finest
hello backyard with grass and trees and plums - so much green!
hello compost (oh it feels good not to be chucking fruit and veg scraps in the garbage!)
hello calling a small plastic bucket the pool
hello 27 loads of washing
hello not being able to find anything (including the floor and beds) in the chaos of unpacking
hello finding things left in odd places
hello returned bond from the scary uptight agents - HA! we did it!! we rock!!!
hello great big mess left by our tenants*
hello great big deck where we can eat dinner outside amongst the greenery
hello daylight saving, oh how we love love love you
hello waking up to the first number 6 instead of 5
hello unpacking stacking sorting putting away
hello crumbling kitchen floors
hello way too much to do
hello trams
hello unearthed relics that make me smile and remember
hello chiropractor
hello traffic
hello home delivery take away food
hello real pizza tasting pizza
hello Marg the check out chick who hugged me and said welcome home and where's my boy?
hello Rena the green grocer who hugged me and said welcome home and where's Amy?
hello 3.30 school finish time. That's more like it!
hello getting organised
hello great big bed
hello indoor/outdoor living
hello noise
hello streetlights shining in the windows
hello obscured sky
hello energy efficient digitally temperature controlled instant gas hot water
hello flies
hello Mangala creative dance classes for 3 year old boys who usually just bash stuff with trucks
hello little tiny (screen, not overall dimensions) definitely not digital TV
hello squeaky floorboards
hello view to the street where people walk past all the time and sometimes even wave
hello normal mess
hello regular life

* I don't wish to go on about this endlessly, but really twitter and facebook just aren't enough to unload the bitter disappointment I feel about having my home left in such a state by careless, thoughtless tenants. I know it could have been much much worse (they paid their bills and didn't slash the couch or torch the place or open an illegal brothel on the premises so that every time I answer the phone some guy wants to book an hour with Candy or that cute chick with the extra toes) and I am trying to factor in all the things that are making me look at this in the most negative possible light - the incredible lengths we went to in the house we rented to restore it to pristine condition before we left and meet the shockingly high expectations set by the agents, the fact that our house is a run down shack in comparison to where we have been living, inevitable wear and tear (it's not like I am counting the numerous broken glasses or plates or expecting the windows to be washed), inevitable differences in viewpoints about what's reasonable, my monumental exhaustion etc. But that just isn't enough to explain away what's happened here and let this be a lesson to you all if you are considering letting others into your home. Next time I will
  1. make it a condition of rental that they have a regular professional gardener, even when they say they are happy to look after the garden and mow the lawn and cut back the voracious grape vine and not let the fruit from the trees drop and rot on the ground. Then I won't have to organise for someone (thank you Kate!) to come in and work for 2 days and generate the most enormous pile of green waste you ever saw and then have to find a way to dispose of said green waste. And it is not like I expected perfection, or that those 2 days gave me a garden even as neat as the one I left, it just dealt with the basic critical problems.
  2. specify a full bond clean by a professional cleaner so I don't have to justify why I didn't spell out that it was their responsibility to remove cobwebs and dead flies from shelves, mouldy yoghurt and fruit and vegetables from the fridge and cupboards, spot clean the grots off the couch, not clean the BBQ with a wire brush and then not oil it so the whole thing rusts up, not leave dirty washing in the washer and dirty sheets on the bed, not leave dust bunnies the size of dinner plates under the beds, not put away dishes in the cupboards that still have food stuck to them, not leave the carcass of a dead bird slowly rotting away in a tub of rainwater in the backyard.
  3. specify that the bit in the contract that says it is the "tenant's responsibility to replace items broken through accident, neglect or misuse or repair damage from accident, neglect or misuse" means the tenants can't (a) leave a list and pile of broken stuff on the bench and say they didn't know what to do about it (because stainless steel saucepans, cake tins, pyrex lasagne dishes and oven trays are not mysterious and difficult to find objects), (b) put broken stuff back in the cupboards and on shelves and pretend they didn't know it was broken (because spring form cake tins that don't close aren't any use to anyone and glasses with whopping big cracks in them are kind of dangerous), (c) say electrical items 'just stopped working' and they don't know why when the item is clearly visibly melted and burnt (I can't even work out how you do that to a kettle, let alone claim you didn't notice) or just not tell us when electrical items no longer work (what happened to that dust buster is a mystery to us all but I know it involved the inside of the filter being coated in once wet and now dried food that was never cleaned off), (d) smash wall switches and expect me to organise an electrician and stay home to wait around for them to come, (e) let their children draw on furniture with black texta and ball point pen and not get the marks off or have them removed, (f) dispute the cost of replacing and repairing stuff if they haven't bothered to do it themselves and consider themselves bloody lucky if I don't charge them an hourly rate as befitting their own personal shopper (g) let a bird in the house, let it fly around in the loft, shit everywhere and not clean it up, (h) have stuff simply disappear and feign ignorance (whether that be plastic plates featuring Amy's art work or now discontinued hideously expensive Japanese style tupperware storage and serving boxes or any number of other things we haven't even worked out we're missing yet - next time? an inventory I guess) (i) place beanbags or other meltable items in front of heaters, let them melt (leaving large clump of hard melted polystyrene stuck to inside of beanbag fabric) and then not mention it (until one sits down and gets a hard lump of plastic up the coit).
  4. have a clause that says refill the gas bottle on the BBQ when you take it from full to empty. Clearly the this is how and where to refill it instructions were not obvious enough.
  5. have a clause that says tenants should check first (that's what regular email contact is all about) whether we want cast off stuff before leaving it in our house, just in case we might want it or might want to organise to take the old toys, old bike, broken lamps, books etc to the op shop for them.
  6. spell out that tenants are required to follow Council guidelines in relation to garbage collection and that 2 separate verbal briefings and a printed publication on this not overly complicated system constitutes a reasonable level of guidance. Furthermore should tenants elect, despite advice to the contrary, to use the Council garden waste bins as giant compost buckets they will be responsible for the removal of 6month old maggot infested utterly putrid food scraps plastered therein, and the removal of the additional rubbish piled on top of bins that prevent bins from being emptied at all. I misunderstood is neither a credible nor sufficient excuse.
I think that covers most of it, well most of what we have found so far. And it should be said that a good deal of what's so wrong about this picture (I mean, aside from all the stuff that I just said) is that I am now living in a kind of paranoid state of not knowing what will reveal itself next. More rotten food stashed away somewhere? Something else gone missing? Another appliance than no longer works? An essay scrawled in texta on the back of the couch? A dead body in the compost bin? A neighbour who will never speak to me again?

The tenants are shocked that I'm shocked and put all this down to minor differences in lifestyle and culture, a few misunderstandings and nothing that $1.75 in compensation won't fix. They think I am being unreasonable and trying to profit from them and I oscillate between wondering if I am being excessively harsh to wondering if they aren't off somewhere (like prime seats at the Australian open or flying first class to Australia's top tourist destinations) laughing their heads off at how well they screwed us. Or living in some parallel universe in which they really do think they have done the right thing when clearly they are in major reality deficit.

I am not at all sure how to tally up the damage, itemise the bond deductions and simply move on. I also have to decide what kind of feedback I will leave on the website we used to find them and how to balance reasonable disclosure for any future landlords with just wanting to put the whole thing in the past with my revenge fantasies and wanting to believe that this has all just been a horrible misunderstanding. I do want to believe that this isn't malicious and I don't want to be slagging people off, but I also don't want anyone else to return to their home to find weeks of nightmarish discoveries and many many hours of inconvenience and heartache while they repair the messes that have been left behind.

All I can say is it is bloody lucky everything else about the homecoming has been so excellent, otherwise I may seriously gone off.