Digging up Mother

My parent’s house will shortly be put on the market.  Father died in February 2013 and clearing out the house has taken much longer than I would have anticipated.  We are almost there (my sisters and I) with some garden rubbish to be disposed of and a few shed items as well.

We will probably manage the sale ourselves and if we can find a willing auctioneer, will sell it via auction.  What this means then is it is time to dig up Mother.  That was the decision I came to this Saturday as I surveyed the house and considered what needed doing next.  I knew that she was under a rose bush and was confident I knew which rose bush.  My sister disagreed however and was sure that it was the adjacent bush.  Perhaps it was.

We have had what seems like weeks of rain and as a result, the clay-based soil in the front garden is damp and heavy.  Cutting through it was hard work.  I circled the rose bush that I favoured, levering out forkfuls of soil as I went.  I repeated the process and then resorted to the shovel to dig out the loosened soil.  Thus I dug a circular trench around the rose, exposing the roots and freeing them from the clay.  Eventually I pulled the bush out, severing some roots in the process but leaving a large bowl-shaped excavation that I continued to work on.

After a while, the soil changed consistency and I reached a layer of greasy clay that looked as though it would have been brilliant for making clay bricks.  It was also incredibly resistant to either fork or spade.  I now had a large and quite deep hole but had not found Mother.  I conceded that perhaps my sister was right and turned my attention to the second bush.  It was only about 12 degrees but even so by this stage, I felt the need to remove my jacket.

I started on the second bush, a bit peeved I had been chatting to the wrong shrub.  There had been those occasions when visiting dad that I had felt the need for a discussion with Mother and had slipped out into the front garden to commune with that rose, filling her in on the events of the day or just having a general chat.  The knowledge that I had misdirected my attention made me feel a bit silly.  I repeated the excavation process I had followed with the first bush and soon had that plant released from the ground as well.  I dug deeper and wider until the second hole was about the same depth as was the first.  I still didn’t find Mother.

I turned my attention to a third bush and divested myself of my jumper, leaving just a thin T-shirt on.  I was puzzled by this stage as my memory of the day on which we buried her did not support the location of the third bush at all but she had to be somewhere and I was starting to doubt the integrity of my recollections.  I repeated the process followed with the first two holes and dug the third hole and removed the bush.  Mother wasn’t there either and by this stage daylight was fading and I was exhausted.  I walked out of the garden 10 centimetres taller from all the claggy clay stuck to the bottom of my shoes, a bit cranky and perplexed by it all.

Today being Sunday, I was back at the house again, tackling some of the fun pre-sale jobs such as cleaning the oven.  My brother-in-law joined us early afternoon and somewhat in mirth when I advised that I could not find Mother, undertook to dig up further roses while at that time I supervised and cut back some rampant vegetation.  He dug up a fourth rose leaving a small neat hole that did not disclose mother.

I thought he needed a broader hole but no matter, he launched himself at another rosebush and dug that one up too.  This was now rose number five.  By this stage, he was feeling the heat and his jacket came off.  I noted a fair amount of huffing and puffing as he struggled with the sticky clay.  With that hole finally excavated, there was still another option (the sixth) and he tackled that rose bush as well.  Somewhat slowly by now and with frequent rests in between.

There was some talk of perhaps leaving her in situ and that maybe we would never find her.  I heard what they were saying but really did not want to leave my mother behind.  When the sixth hole did not yield a result except for yet another bare-rooted rose looking somewhat shocked, I suggested a cup of tea and a bit of a break.  We all needed it by then.

Suitably refreshed, we emerged to widen the last three holes, giving a greater area to investigate. My nephew had also arrived and he manned the digging implements for a while as well.  I watched them using a stabbing motion with a narrow-bladed implement as they chipped at the bottom of their holes – holes that I still didn’t really believe would yield success.

It made me think again about the first hole that I had dug and I asked my B-I-L to use that digger to chip away at the bottom of the first hole.  Chip, chip, chunk, chunk.  He chipped away and then I scrapped out the loose clay with the shovel.  Suddenly there was a flash of colour.  I directed him to it and then I could see that we had found her.  Just 5 cms below the first hole that I dug, she was waiting all along.  It was a relief to know that I had been speaking to the right bush after all.

Mother has now been extracted from the garden, the clay washed off the cream plastic brick, and she is now sitting alongside father in one of the bedrooms.  I am not sure if that is what they would have wanted but for now it will do.  The next resting place is a decision for another day.

It looked like wombats had attacked the front garden.

It looked like wombats had attacked the front garden.

At last, we found Mother.

At last, we found Mother

Sorting the Linen Press

What do you do on a wet and wild weekend?  OK, stay in bed is one option but this morning I have been sorting and tidying the linen press.  Who would believe that there would be favourite sheets that are still retained when thin and see through?  There is a lot of history in that cupboard, and as I put out the various sizes ranging from single through king single, double and queen size – I remember which bed accommodated those sheets and who slept in the bed and when.  There are so many memories associated with each.

I don’t need so many and it is time for the cull.  Not just because I am running out of cupboard space, but because this is part of the process of de-cluttering my life.  It was started over a year ago (see A life in boxes).  These things take longer than expected, particularly when memories and life in general intervenes.  There is a great sense of achievement however when another sector of the house is reviewed and cleared.

My next question is what to do with towels and sheets that are excess to my needs.  Not all are thin and past their use-by date, but beds have changed and so not all of them are needed.  I am not so keen on the suggestion of giving them away for drop-sheets or similar.  Do I drop them into the charity bin, or would the refugee association or other organisation that looks after homeless people find a use for them?  Is it tacky to give away used bed-linen?  Questions to sort out before the end of the day.  I am just so grateful that my circumstances are such that spare sheets are a problem.

Building a Retirement Village

I often think about retirement years, where and how I’ll live and with whom.  I’m not partnered so of course the ‘with whom’ questions might be easy to answer:  I’ll live alone.  That might not always be possible though, and I might not always want it either. 

So what are my options?  I have thrown ideas around in my head for a while and had over-coffee discussions with friends that have given rise to general agreement but have gone nowhere specific.  All of us value our autonomy and independence and want to live an active life for as long as we are able, part of the community still and definitely not located in a closed retirement enclave.  We don’t want to live our lives by the rules that we typically associate with retirement villages.

For this reason, I was interested in the discussion that took place on ABC Radio National this morning on ‘To move or not to move?”


Guests on the program and those who rang in discussed many of those issues that I have cited: the need for control and autonomy; remaining part of the community but living in a supportive environment and having access to the support and facilities that they also required.

It seems that we are all thinking along the same lines.  I love the house that I have built, but I know that it will be too expensive for me to run and maintain in coming years, plus I don’t want to spend all my time working on or maintaining the house.  Ideally, I would develop a solution that is environmentally sensitive and as a consequence cheaper to run and maintain.  Besides the facility that I have now – lots of storage, cleanable surfaces, welcoming character and atmosphere – I would like to build a place also that has those sacred and secret places either inside or outside.  I would like to be able to entertain guests or dare I hope, one day the grandchildren.  My secret indulgent wish is that I could also have a heated lap pool as I love swimming.

There are advantages to looking at a combined development – one that takes you into the future with shared facilities (I’m happy to share the pool), reduced costs, shared maintenance costs and with other like-minded people.  My preference would be for a metropolitan village, as I am a city-based girl.  I like having access to cinemas and cafés and a range of cultural and artistic facilities.  If feasible, I would live in an inner-city location.  That could be achieved with buying up a cluster of houses that back onto each other and demolishing the dividing fences and creating shared areas.

Alternatively, and preferably if one had the financial resources, another option would be to demolish those houses and to start again, with purpose-built housing solutions and a site that was master-planned from the beginning.  Those who were interviewed in the radio program seemed to be taking the rural option, building their village on a green field site close to a town so that they still had access to facilities, but had enough land available to provide each dwelling with some acreage.

They all seemed to have similar ideas.  I liked the provision of gopher tracks so in times of reduced mobility, the residents could ride their gophers to the local town as well as around their ‘village’.  There was talk of communal gardens and shared tradespeople and bulk purchasing, all of which sounds sensible.  Every proposal talked of eco-sensitive design which was going to result in sustainable development and reduced running costs.  One project sensibly talked about a central guest accommodation unit so that there was somewhere for visitors to stay, and meaning that individual houses did not need to be as big.  Something to contemplate although I would still like to have visitors staying with me.

Although frequent mention was made of like-minded people, it was also stressed that the community did not need to be of a homogenous age group and that having interaction with a variety of ages was also important.  That could have be with visitors or local community interaction, or even people of varied age groups living permanently within the community.

I like the concepts that have been discussed here and have been mulling over the options for some time.  I haven’t yet come to grips with how to get other people on board and how to decide on the type of development.  I still have time to play around with the idea.

If others have thoughts along these lines, or know of other retirement communities, I would love to hear about it.



A life in Boxes

De-cluttering (see earlier blog). What a surprise – progress is slow!  Much slower than I anticipated.  I keep getting sidetracked on associated issues, like sorting through boxes of mixed up Lego.  I have re-assembled kits and reconnected the bits with their instructions and boxes.  The balance, I have sorted into colours or like pieces (i.e all the wheels together) and stored them all in cliplok bags.  Once I had done all of this, I was still in a quandary.  Do I keep it, sell it, or give it away?  Some of the bigger kits are worth a couple of hundred dollars on eBay.  In the end, it was stored carefully into large plastic storage boxes and put back into the attic.  Those boxes are along side other boxes containing the train set and similar multi-componented toys.

And so it has been – sort, classify and decide on disposal.  I still have stored in that attic things like boxes of linen and towels, old dinner sets and household bits and pieces that I have always thought that young Donald might use when he leaves home.  I have this underlying concern that as soon as I dispose of these items, they may be required.

I must have around twenty of these boxes in the attic now.  They contain much-loved clothes from earlier decades, each with their own memories.  Perhaps one day I will have granddaughters who will enjoy exploring their contents, and might give those designer labels an airing again. There are boxes of quilting fabrics that I will use one day.  Boxes of other craft items.  Boxes of bedding and quilts – we have had many different bed configurations in the house over the years and have retained the blankets and quilts, even though the beds may have gone.

I also have a large plastic box that is the ‘picnic basket’.  In theory, I can just grab this and go, but I should check its contents and their cleanliness etc before the next trip.  It has plastic plates and cutlery, chopping board, sharp knives, can opener, bottle opener, scissors, tea towel, washing up brush and detergent, tea, coffee, salt, pepper, storage bags and items of this nature.  So handy to have it all together and it just needs checking now and then for currency.

I have all the travel items in the attic as well.  Suitcases and wheelie bags and back-packs and sleeping bags and packing cells.  I love the packing cells that I discovered a few years back.  It makes the organisation of packing so much easier.  Of course these things are not in boxes but are tumbled in their own corner, along side the sporting equipment that is rarely used and in fact hardly ever was.  There are still the tennis racquets and the boogie board and the cricket bats and those sorts of things – just in case.

As I write this, it is apparent to me that I was always equipping our house for a larger family – in my mind there would be children coming and going and ‘doing things’.  The reality was that I only had the one child, and he was very non-sporty and as there were no other children of similar age growing up in our immediate locality, he didn’t do a lot of outdoor stuff either.  It is a warning not to place too much emotional anticipation on the advent of grandchildren.

I also have heaps of financial records, the sort that should be kept for 7 years.  I haven’t addressed them as yet but I am sure that there are some older years now that can be culled.  Stored on those racks (I have heaps of metal shelving racks in the attic as well) is lots of stationery and study notes from various courses over the years.  That could do with critical evaluation.  Many of the notes are probably out of date.

Sounds as though I have kept everything, doesn’t it?  I have still managed to give away a lot of items – furniture, books, clothing, and toys.  Some has gone to friends and some has been disposed of via Freecycle.  There are other items, that I have had for many years, that I have decided to dispose of via auction.  There is a lovely brass art nouveau fire tool set.  I have always loved the lady, but I don’t have a fire and don’t have a use for this item.  It has just been stored in the attic.

Brass Fire Tools

And then there is the antique phone that I have had since around 1980.  It still has the inner workings and my techie brother-in-law tells me that it could be made to work again, in a limited fashion.  Again this has just been sitting in the attic for years and I have to ask myself of what value it is stuck up there.

Antique Pnone

Another item that I will be very pleased to see go to a new home is a Dexter Rocking Chair that was left here by a lodger and never re-claimed.  He had promised someone to french polish it and it has been sitting on my back verandah for around five years.  I feel so sorry for the person who originally owned it as they must have done a lot of work in stripping it but I have no way of knowing who they are or contacting them.

Another aspect to the de-cluttering is sorting out all the stuff left by lodgers.  Mostly this is clothing and shoes, but also electrical items, tools, fishing gear and of course antique rocking chairs.

One task that I was not looking forward to was de-cluttering my computer.  There will still be junk data files lurking in corners but I have deleted a lot of dead software and many folders also that have not been access for a long time.  In part, I had to do this as I am running out of storage space but in part I want to de-clutter before my next computer upgrade.  I felt very virtuous after I had spent the time on this.

So what of my transitional son?  I have received the odd text but I haven’t seen him since my last post.  He was supposed to come home last night (with Daisy) but did not turn up.  Perhaps today.

Living with Other People

I built my house 13 years ago, and for most of that time have had either lodgers or have hosted international students.  Living with other people perpetually in your space can be a challenge,  (just think about some members of your family!) but  it also has given me a steady income stream.  Occasionally I was surviving way below the poverty line, so that income meant that I was able to continue living in our home. I did come close at one stage to taking my son and moving back in with my parents and renting the house out.  The complication with that would be that I would then have jeopardised my eligibility for a government paid parenting allowance, given that I am a solo parent and for many years was ‘under-employed’.

Fortunately my house is big and there is room for everyone.  I tend to spend a lot of time in my office, which is at the front of the house.  Whenever my celebrancy clients visit, they come in the front door and make an abrupt turn into the office.  This means that they do not see the unwashed dishes or general household detritus, nor are they disturbed by TV or whatever.  My son has the attic room upstairs.  This is quite large and there are a couple of beds up there, plus trundles and these days I never quite know how many teenagers are going to be sleeping up there after a big  night out.  Our house seems to be a convenient crash pad, especially as it is only 4 kms from the CBD.  That leaves the other two downstairs bedrooms for the lodgers.

Our HouseThis picture is a couple of years old but this is Avalon, temporary home to many.

The very first lodger arrived shortly after we moved into the house.  At that stage, it was very new – not much in the way of furniture or furnishings and no garden to speak of.  David was a taxi driver, and as I was so naive about the accommodation business, I did not ask him the right questions – like

  • do you work at night and sleep during the day;
  • are you a very light sleeper who complains constantly about the weekend chatter of little boys and their friends;
  • are you more sensitive to mattress quality than the princess and the pea (yes, I bought him a new mattress);
  • are you also a client of social security and doing a bit of financial juggling on the side; and
  • do you have a gambling and therefore a cash flow problem?
We crept around the house every weekend for a year before I bit the bullet and asked David to move out.  It was such a relief to be ourselves on weekends without shushing all the time.  He left me a legacy though.  To help cover up our concrete floors, he gave me a Persian Rug that his girlfriend was throwing out.  Too late I discovered that it was infested with moths and they also ate the edges of another much-loved rug that I had.  At least he had paid up all the money that he owed me.
Next, two women arrived within a week or so of each other.  The first, Sarah, had a four-year-old daughter and told me that she was a vegetarian.  Sometimes the daughter lived with her father and sometimes she stayed with us.  Mother and daughter took over the attic room, as at that stage, young Donald was in a downstairs room, close to mine.  The day she moved in, I was surprised to see Sarah heat and eat four meat pies – surprised in relation to the quantity and also because I thought that meat pies were a strange choice for a vegetarian.
Her behaviour became stranger and more erratic and I got phone calls asking for her under a different name.  Eventually Sarah explained.  She suffered from multiple personality disorder and I never did find out how many women were living upstairs.  One was a teenager and talked on the phone all the time, curled up in a corner of the lounge.  Another couldn’t drive and that was a problem if she surfaced whilst the previous personality was driving the car.  One presumably was a vegetarian but others weren’t.  The only person who was more confused than me was the little girl.  One day I heard her ask ‘Am I Mary 1 or Mary 2?’ which made me very sad.
Another issue that made me sad was that one of the personalities took my bound copy of my thesis, written for my Masters Degree.  I didn’t actually have proof of this, but nobody else had the opportunity and I knew that a couple of the personalities would have been interested in the topic.  I asked her about it of course, but whichever personality was around at the time denied all knowledge of it.  It was a perplexing problem and I had to ask her to leave as well.  For my own sanity.  I gave her plenty of time to find alternative accommodation but she left quickly and  I discovered after a while that she had gone to a women’s refuge and said that she was escaping from an abusive situation.
I was asked by a mutual friend to take on the other woman who arrived at the same time, also with a small daughter.  This child was around two years.  The first night, I was woken at around 3:00 am by Dorinda who begged me to take her to hospital as she was having a heart attack.  I checked her out and noted her symptoms and soon concluded that this young woman who was in her mid twenties was in fact having a panic attack, not a heart attack.  It took me a couple of hours to calm her down and send her back to bed.  I soon discovered that she was a manic depressive, not managing her medication very well and was generally away with the pixies.  I found that I was taking over the care of the little girl who was sadly neglected as Dorinda was in a perpetual emotional and mental fog.
The little girl’s father soon started visiting as well and staying more and more nights in their bedroom.  Not happy with that, and even less happy when I realised that he was accessing my computer and the internet when I was out.  I asked her to find alternative accommodation as well.  It was only after they went that I realised that a key text book that I required for my Microsoft Certification Course was also missing.  The boyfriend was also studying IT. I could not afford to replace this book and without it could not sit the exams.
After this, I thought that I would provide home hosting for international students who were in Australia to undertake English studies.  I contacted an English college and they were very pleased to have me on their books as we live so close to the city and were on a direct bus route to the college.    There followed many students, from Germany, Japan, Korea, France, Brazil, Switzerland and China.  Their ages ranged from 16 to 50 or thereabouts.
 Some were attending high school in Australia and then I assumed the role of parent in the eyes of the school, and had to ensure that they attended regularly in the required uniform and with all homework completed.  I also had to sort out broken hearts, homesickness and cultural misunderstandings.  Sadly some of the Australian kids were not as welcoming as they could have been and the international visitors were often very lonely.
I had to provide accommodation with at least a bed, a desk, a wardrobe and a desk lamp and all meals.  This was a challenge for some of my guests who were not used to Australian food and the fact that we did not have rice as a staple component of most meals.  Some of the short termers (adults) were more demanding.  They required fresh juice daily and came with a list of preferred foods i.e. only chicken breast, no other part of the chicken, only home-made vinaigrette – nothing out of a bottle, etc.  This was not the deal at all.  It was not a hotel, but some of them came from affluent circumstances and were used to having domestic staff at their beck and call.  The Europeans were the most autocratic with their demands, but for outright wealth some of the Chinese and Korean guests topped the class.
Others politely ate whatever I put in front of them and explored their packed lunches with I think a mixture of amazement and bewilderment.  I would experiment with sandwich filllings, combining foods that they would never have thought of on their own.  I baked each week and so put in home-made cakes and biscuits and also of course some fruit.  Two German teenagers who arrived together told me that they had never had anything other than bread and cheese for their lunches and that their parents had never made lunch for them.  They liked exploring their lunch bags each day, though still came home and had big bowls of cereal on walking through the door in the evening.
One Japanese high school student who was a real sweetie, sat up all night on her last night with us, writing letters to my son and myself, expressing with the aid of her dictionary how much she had loved her stay with us.   She said in her letter to me that all her life she had wanted a mum-made lunch and with us that was what she’d had.  She was so shy when she first arrived, asking my permission to go outside, or to do anything really.
 Gradually, she gained more and more confidence and wormed her way into our hearts.
Food was a major interest for her, and everywhere we went, out would come the camera and she would take a photo of what she was about to eat.  I took her to the Central Market for breakfast with the family (a weekly ritual) and pointed out that there were Japanese and Korean stalls.  I thought that she might be homesick for some familiar food.  What did she order?  A cooked breakfast with the lot – bacon, eggs, tomatoes, sausages, mushrooms, toast, etc. all of course recorded for posterity.  The only time that the camera didn’t come out, she was probably too gobsmacked.  I served up a salad, made with some vegies from my Dad’s garden and in her lettuce she found a green caterpillar.  It was a story that she took home with her to the family in Japan.
She was 16 then and is now about 28, and we are still in contact.  The day before she flew out, we took her down to the local beach and managed to entice her into the water for the first time.  She was probably afraid of sharks or something but she had stayed firmly on the sand until then.  She, my son and I all cried when we had to take her to the airport the next day.

Splashing in the shallows

There came a time when I found the home hosting to be too exhausting.  With some wonderful exceptions, most would not do anything around the house – not helping with kitchen duties or anything else.  I had the impression that they had never done this at home and why should they start now?  Being cook, housekeeper and nursemaid got to be a bit tiring.  The crunch came for me when my mother died after an acute period of illness.  I had a Swiss girl (20) and a Chinese girl (18) staying at that time.  When I came home from the hospital that day, I explained that my mother had died and that in the coming week I would have to organise the funeral and that the household operations would be chaotic.  Both were wide-eyed, but neither offered any condolences or made any offer of help, which I assumed was due to lack of sophistication and cultural naivety.
On the day of the funeral, I said that I had no idea when I would be home, but that there were a selection of home-cooked frozen meals in the freezer and that they should make their selection and put them in the microwave/oven.  When I returned home at around 8:30 pm, they were both sitting around pathetically hungry.  Neither had eaten and I had the impression that neither wanted to take responsibility for initiating the process of creating the evening meal as it should be up to someone else.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but made moves to extricate myself from that contractual hosting relationship shortly after that.
To add some balance to this story, a German couple, in Australia as English students, stayed with me for many months and became a part of our family.  They did help in the kitchen and in many other areas and as he came from the building trades, he was always looking for things to fix or do around the house.  He could not sit still, but had to be making himself useful.  He even did some kitchen alterations for me, and quite quickly.  I had been quoted over $3000 to do the work and was told that it would be very complicated.  It took him two days and with minimal material cost.  They returned to Germany but not being happy with the employment situation over there, decided to migrate to Australia.  They have now bought their own house here and are still good friends.
I next simply advertised for lodgers – people who would rent a furnished room but were responsible for their own food arrangements.  Initially, I placed an advertisement in the paper but soon found that a lot of weirdos would get your phone number from the paper and I got a spate of heavy breathers and similar such callers.  Switching to real estate portals or even Gumtree brought much better results.  Each year, Adelaide also hosts various festivals and sometimes I would advise the festival organisers that I had accommodation available.  I always advertised a short-term rental.  If the scenario worked out well, and the lodger wanted to stay longer then I could say yes to that.  Having short-termers though meant that we didn’t have to put up with funny habits for too long.
Staying with us on this basis, we have had two comedians, a lighting technician and an event coordinator, all associated with different festivals.  We have had a hotel manager who had just come from a relationship breakdown and ended up renting one of the rooms for three years and hardly ever slept there, after his heart healed and he found a new relationship.  He never prepared a meal or even made a cup of coffee.  No hassles with that one!  There was a trainee pilot for 6 weeks, an IT Project Manager who flew in from OS for a contract, a LIthuanian backpacker who left us a CD of his favourite Lithuanian songs, and an Iranian man who left after I discovered him at home with a young lady.  She had obviously spent the night with him.  I have no objections to people having a private life, but was disturbed by the fact that she looked to be under the age of consent and even then, seemed young for her age.  When he went, he left behind an antique rocking chair that he was supposed to be renovating.  It has been stripped but is still sitting at my place awaiting the french polishing.  He was doing this as a favour for a friend, a person who no doubt is now very sad at having lost their chair.
On occasions, friends have availed themselves of a short-term place to stay and that has been good too.  Other short-termers have become friends and the connections to our house now reach around the world.
I don’t advertise any more.  I am constantly being asked if I will take on more people who need accommodation.  I have just had a Uni student leave (with some relief on my part), but still have an Irish couple who are very easy and are returning home to Ireland in December.  They have been spending some time in Australia because they can get work here but were unemployed in Ireland.
So, in December, it will be just young Donald, the cats and myself and I think that for a while, this will be good.  I am employed now and earn a reasonable income.  Running the household takes a fair chunk of that income but then having ‘guests’ does come with costs as well.  My water consumption has gone through the roof recently with lots of very long showers and endless cycles through my water-guzzling top-loading washing machine.  When young people sit up all night watching their plasma TV and using various other electrical devices, then the power bill goes through the roof also.  Then there are the breakages that occur, the things that wear out from multiple use, etc. etc.
It seems also that I am still the only one who understands the function of a mop or broom as I am the only one that uses them, whilst the house guests all enjoy their weekends and the Australian sunshine.  If I am going to spend all weekend cleaning, I would prefer it to address what I  have created rather than others.  Probably our guests feel that in return for their weekly rent, which includes outgoings such as electricity, broadband and other utilities, then they should have the freedom to come and go without any other responsibility.    In part also the onus falls on me for not asking for enough help.  It is mentioned in their handbook that gives all the details about the house and the environs but with the busy lives that we all lead, we don’t actually connect very much and I haven’;t pursued it.  When one person is in, the other is out, etc.  Also, in spite of the fact that we have a large house with a couple of living areas, 90% of the lodgers have spent their time in their room when at home and not using the kitchen or the bathroom.  They don’t ever sit out on the back deck or read a book in the garden.  I often wonder if they feel that they need to shut themselves away to retain some private space; and whether my influence is too invasive through the rest of the house.
Whatever, we will wing it alone for a while and it will be so good to have our own space.  I have almost finished the house.  Over the years I have installed solar panels, installed an additional carport and also some rainwater tanks; I have put down flooring and installed light fittings in most rooms and also some window treatments.  I have even bought some new furniture to replace the second hand stuff that I have dragged around for decades.  I have installed an automatic irrigation system and established the garden.  I am about to build a front fence.  In short, I am on the downhill run.
I will have room for the occasional visitor, can streak to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a drink and make as much noise as I want to.  I won’t have to feel apologetic if I have left some dirty dishes in my sink or as is more often the case, my son has.  I think that it will be about time.

Two weddings, the laundry and too much water

Somehow seems to be Friday again.  It was a week on the go.  I tore a calf muscle as a participant in the Corporate Cup.  This is an event that aims to improve corporate fitness over a period of two months.  You sign up to do either the short, medium or long route and it is up to you whether you walk or run the distance.  You wear a bar-coded pass and so your effort is timed.  I was doing nicely on my fortnightly attempts and this week was determined to knock some seconds off my previous time.  I only got about 800 metres into my jog/shuffle though before I felt the twang in my calf and folded in a gasping heap.

I was lucky enough to find a physiotherapist with a free slot later that afternoon.  He said ‘Of course you warmed up and stretched first, didn’t you?’  I think that he already knew that I hadn’t but of course my silence said it all.  How silly can you be, especially as after I completed the previous run, I noted how tight my calf muscles were.  The physio used acupuncture on my calf and this is the first time that I have experienced this treatment.  It hurt a little more than I expected, though not unbearably so.  I was impressed with his holistic approach and might see him about some of my spine and back issues.  I see a chiropractor each fortnight, but it just keeps me functioning rather than results in any improvement.  I am not sure if I am expecting too much or not.

I came home last night to find that the power had gone out during the day and that there had obviously been a power surge.  My VoIP device was not working and my electrically operated irrigation system was working and wouldn’t stop!  I didn’t realise this until it was quite dark outside.  I then had to keep stumbling around the side of the house with my little wind-up torch, trying to get a desired response out of the control box.  Nothing worked though, not even turning it off.  I then focussed on the plumbing aspects and tried to pull the lids off the water control boxes that are sunken in the garden.  I was a little hesitant however as I know that they are often home to redback spiders and I didn’t fancy being bitten.  A friend nearly lost her thumb after such and encounter a couple of years ago.

I fiddled around with it all but couldn’t make much sense of it all in the dark.  Finally I turned the water off at the meter, warning the household that there were no showers or toilet flushings unless the meter was turned back on first.  I filled the electric jug up first though so that hot drinks were assured.  This morning, with the benefit of daylight I explored the plumbing control boxes and found some sort-of tap devices that looked as though they controlled the water flow.  I turned them off and the problem seemed to be fixed.  I put an early morning call into the contractor who initially installed the system and left one and then another message on his answer phone, pleading for help.  Given that it looked as though the matter was sort of under control, I went to work.

This afternoon, I arrived home to a very soggy garden and then realised that I had been mistaken and that the drippers and dripped their little hearts out all day.  It was only then that I realised that there was yet another little trap door, partially concealed.  I pulled up that lid and after rummaging around with gloves and a banister brush, found the master tap and turned it all off.  Yay!!  I put in another call the the ansaphone and still have not heard back from the contractor.  At least the water is turned on for the house though.

Through the week I read a blog called Cakes Tea and Dreams written about the intricacies of doing the laundry and various comments were left by people who actually enjoyed doing the laundry.  I just cannot understand this.  Laundry to me is a senseless chore.  I can sort it and throw it into the machine.  So far so good.  Then to have to take it out and hang it up, sorting it out into my preferred hanging system is a CHORE.  Then of course, it all has to be brought back inside again and sorted and folded.  I end up with little piles of undies and socks sitting in the family room, waiting to be carried off to their little homes in the bedroom drawers, or else taken upstairs in young Donald’s case.  Often, he just gets to the top of the stairs and generally chucks them in the direction of his bed.

There are also those work clothes that have to be ironed and they migrate to the ironing basket.  Sometimes this is tackled during Sunday night TV viewing but I don’t always watch TV and even if I do, I don’t always feel like ironing.  Actually, I never feel like it.  Then the ironing accumulates and I pull out one thing at a time as I need it.  When I do that though, I try to iron one more thing as well, just to keep it all under control.  In general though I hate doing the laundry.  For me it is one of life’s least satisfying tasks.

Having said that, I have just finished organising my laundry.  I took down the old shelf that was ugly and not well installed and have put up a more practical and efficient Elfa shelving system.  I have installed a hanging rail over the laundry trough so that I can hang drip dry items there if I want.  I have all the buckets up off the floor and have installed a rack on the wall from which I can hang various brooms and mops.  I even bought a new ironing board that sits on a trolley on wheels and has racks underneath for folded garments, etc.  I am quite pleased with my laundry, which is surprising for someone who has just said how much they hate the activities that happen in it.

This weekend, I have to weddings to conduct.  The legal word is solemnise, but that is cumbersome and a bit tricky to say.  I immediately think of something else.  I prefer conduct or authorise.  The first wedding will be relatively conventional.  He is in the army and will be wearing his dress uniform.  What has amazed me however is how much alike they both look.  Hair colouring, skin colouring, freckles, face shape, shape of their lips, etc and to answer your next question – no they are not related.  It is definitely a case of likes attract though.  They are also besotted with each other.  I hope that they are very happy.

My next couple are having a pagan-style handfasting, and their ceremony will be a drawn out affair.  This is not because of any ceremonial preference, but because they have not been able to produce their birth certificates to me prior to the ceremony.  The certificates were not ordered in time and although Australia Post is being blamed, I suspect that they were not ordered soon enough either.  I cannot legally conduct the ceremony without sighting birth and divorce certificates as it is important that I am satisfied as to the identities of the parties being married, and also their capacity to marry.  I can still conduct their ceremony on Sunday though and will word it as a betrothal rather than a wedding ceremony.  Later in the week, when all the legal paper work is available, I will conduct a small private ceremony at which they will be legally married.

This couple have more financial, time and health issues to contend with in the lead-up to their wedding and with the bride having to do everything herself, I suspect that time management and organisational matters have been incredibly difficult.  This couple  do not have wide family support, probably because she is much older than the groom and this goes against current conventions.  I will give them the best ceremony that I can however and try to keep any stress in relation to the paper work in the background.  I have the feeling that they need something good to happen in their lives.

I have printed out the paper work for the first wedding, put the PA system on the charger and got my head around what I need to do for the first wedding.  When I get home from that one, there will be a lot of preparation for the second, given that it is reliant on more ritual than usual for a wedding.  Hope the rain stays away.

Bloomin’ Marvellous

My stiff and aching body bears testament to my weekend in the garden.  Partly I have been cleaning and tidying, weeding, sweeping etc and partly planting some new vegies.  I should take some photos to show you all but right now I am too stuffed.

My garden is not really big, so there is not room for those lovely raised garden beds that are a good height for the back, seem to avoid some of the pests like snails, and provide an opportunity for creating a yummy soil mix.  There is a lot of shade as well, due to neighbouring trees and also an elevated fence that a neighbour has just erected.  I am having to be more creative therefore in where I plant things, and am also planting some vegies in the front garden where I am guaranteed of the morning and midday sun.

The snails are a bit of a problem, so I have planted most things inside toilet rolls, pushing the cardboard down into the soil so that the baby leaves can still see the sun but hopefully the snails and slugs are put off.  I put snail bait down as well though.  So far it has been a success, with only one toilet roll decimated by a snail with a poor sense of taste and the smarts to avoid the pellets.

I have been using large pots for the vegies – the carrots are in a trough.  The theory is that I can move them around so that I can find the spot with the right degree of sun.  Progressively, I am getting little racks on wheels so that I can just push the plants around, rather than lift them and cause grief to my back.  I am also going to get more hanging pots, but so far all I have with the vegies is an upside-down hanging tomato planter.  I have seen them for a couple of years in the hardware stores and have been intrigued by the concept.  The tomato plants are inserted roots first into the base of a hanging bag.  The plant(s) grow downwards – no staking required and easy to pick.  Water from the top of the bag.  There are slits in the side of the bag also into which you can insert herbs such as basil or chives, etc.  I haven’t done that yet.  I made sure to use a metal chain and metal hooks for suspending the bag as the whole thing should get fairly heavy as the plants grow.  On the recommendations of the bag supplier, I have planted two tomato plants in the bottom.  As it grows a bit, I will take a photo.

So I have the tomatoes, but also some broccoli where the head is just starting to form, some broad beans, green beans, butter beans, rhubarb, sweet corn, baby spinach, strawberries and Lebanese cucumber.  I have some eggplant seedlings still in an incubator box.  That incubator box has been a source of fascination as I have watched the seeds initially sprout and then grow mature leaves and get to a height at which it was appropriate to plant them out.  I will be so excited to actually harvest the vegies that I have grown in this fashion.  The baby spinach is doing well in a couple of terracotta strawberry planters, which are now on the wheeled trolleys.  I have tried strawberries in these in the past, but they seemed to dry out quickly and also the slugs got to them.  I am leaving the strawberries in pots, but I will transfer them to hanging pots around the perimeter of the deck, once I get all the right gear.

Nearly forgot – I have had some Pak Choy as well, but it went to flower very quickly.  Does not look at all like the picture on the label.  There are still some big leaves though that I will put in this week’s diet vegie soup.  The soup is made with a tinned tomato base and lots of low carb vegies (lots of green and white vegies, except potato) and a little chopped chicken or fish – good for taking to work for lunch.  To add some filler I put in a small amount of brown rice or quinoa.  In some ways, I don’t know why I am bothering with the ‘diet’ soup, as I am sitting here with a glass of red and rice cracker biscuits but I am telling myself that I deserve it.  I am also feeling virtuous as I resisted the urge to buy an ice cream this afternoon.

One could think that I get easily excited over tiny things but noting that I have fruit growing on my young apricot tree sent me into gibbering ecstasy.  I know that with the first fruit on young trees, you are supposed to pull the fruit off and let the tree devote its energy to growing (or something like that) but I simply couldn’t do it.  I thought that it was a minature tree, but looking at the growth I don’t think that it is.  I will just have to keep it contained via pruning.  After noting this little miracle, I checked out the dwarf nectarine and the peach and noted that they both have baby fruit as well.  I had better give them all some more fish emulsion.

Citrus is generally easy to grow, provided there is enough water.  I have a definite lime tree which is in its infancy and another tree which is supposed to be a lime, but looks to be a cross between a lemon and an orange.  It makes beautiful marmalade and is continually laden with fruit.  I sometimes leave containers of fruit on the letterbox for passers-by to take.  I also have two cumquat trees in pots.  I found them a month ago, put out on the footpath with the hard rubbish.  I raced up with my wheelbarrow and snaffled them both.  They each have both blossom and ripe fruit and seem to appreciate the water and fertiliser that I have heaped on both.  I am not sure what I will actually do with them.  I know that brandied cumquats is a traditional recipe though I have never tried it.  Probably makes an interesting marmalade as well.  Maybe sliced, dried and dipped in chocolate would be a tart and tasty treat.

The only established fruit tree that I have is an ancient and not-very-tasty apple.  It would be very old, probably planted around 100 years ago and is one of the two plants that I kept when I demolished the cottage that was originally on my allotment.  The apples are quite sour and not so good for eating.  I mostly use them for apple pies, but a wedding client had a look at the fruit one day and thought that it might be a very old type of cider apple. It certainly is not a variety that is commonly seen today.  Perhaps I will try to make some cider one year.  It is a large tree and has not been adequately pruned for a long time.  I did take the top off a few years ago, but it should have had more work this last winter.  It is in blossom at the moment, and as I was working this weekend, a snowfall of blossom was landing all around me.

The big challenge of the weekend was Ivy.  A neighbour at the back has a HUGE Ivy plant which is in the process of suffocating an old fig tree.  It must have launched a mass of seeds on the breeze, as I have had baby ivy plants coming up all over my back yard – through the lawn, coming up between the pavers and then in the garden beds.  Once it gets hold, it is difficult to control.  I have got most of it out but there is still one corner of the garden bed to tackle.  This is my tropical corner and there are lots of big-leafed ferny things in there, as well as palms and things like that and it will need another day to crawl around through that lot to eradicate it.  I also need to visit this neighbour and have a chat to him about ivy control.  There are a few of us that are being affected by the fallout.

I never feel like going back to work after spending a weekend like this.  It is just so much more satisfying.