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.

Bread and Cheese

I haven’t explained so far that I am visiting my very old friend Lucy in Amsterdam. She and I first met when we were both living and working in Alice Springs, more years ago than I care to admit and we have been long distance friends ever since. I am accompanied by my brother-in-law, Dermot. Dermot was the husband of my sister who died and is mentioned in previous posts.
This is a healing trip for us both.

Yesterday was spent wandering around Amsterdam. Dermot and I explored the lanes and alleyways and walked past the small dark coffee shops and the sex museum and similar establishments. The weather was crisp, but no where near as cold as what I had expected. I think that wearing a hat and minimising heat loss through the scalp helped.

We were talking a lot and so didn’t really walk anywhere with a sense of purpose – just went where our feet lead us. The only thing that I needed to buy was a pair of snow boots and I found some cheap plastic fur-lined boots for E20.00. Although the suitcase is quite full, I should be able to squash these in somehow.

We walked past so many wonderful looking cheese shops, with the rounds of cheese stacked in pyramids, and surrounded by fridges of various cream and other cheeses. I absolutely love the cream cheese with ginger. The ginger is a tasty counter foil to the creaminess of the cheese. The visual assault on the senses was matched by the bread shops, that were stacked with so many different types of bread loaves, rolls and sticks and there there were the bins of pastries and other baked goods. Often there seemed to be a golden glow in these shops, so perhaps the lighting was chosen very carefully to make then seem warm and inviting.

Kamikaze bicycles presented a bit of a challenge. They came from every direction and wove all over the road and paths. They had an assumed right to be wherever they wanted to be, and the small scooters as well. We seemed to be continually jumping out of the way, with our confusion compounded by the fact that instinctively we looked in the wrong direction for oncoming traffic. There were lots of people on foot as well of course. Thinking about the bread and cheese shops, I wondered about the weight of the Dutch people, but they are no where near as fat as Australians have become. Perhaps it is because of all the walking and bike riding. Also I did not see a prevalence of sugar-filled soft drinks such as are increasingly consumed in Australia and I expect that this would also be a relevant factor.

Residential apartments are situated all through the city centre and people seem not to use blinds and curtains through the day. This gave us the opportunity to look in as we passed, observing the steep perilous stairs to upper levels, and their collections of furniture and memorabilia. It gave a fascinating snapshot as we passed. I revelled in the role of voyeur.

Dermot was not staying with Lucy and myself but was instead ensconced in a bed and breakfast on a barge moored on one of the canals. After walking and walking we retreated to the wheelhouse of his barge and sat there with a bottle of single malt smokey whiskey, watching the activity from both the boats on the canal and the other barge-dwellers who were moored around us. We marvelled at the expertise of the barge skippers who so neatly manoeuvred their vessels around corners and other craft. From time to time, the barge cat came to pear at us, not game to come any close but intrigued enough to watch us anyway.

In the evening, the three of us had dinner at Pont 13, a restaurant housed in a large barge that in a previous life was used as a ferry. To get there we had to walk some distance to the canal, catch a ferry and then walk again. This was just as well, as it was an enormous meal. Dermot and I started with antipasti vegetarian and seafood platters, and they would have served as a main meal by themselves. It was a refreshing change to some of the meals that we have recently been served in Australia, which have been all attitude and little substance – at great cost of course. Even the meal of Brussels Sprouts was delicious!

The different thing about the restaurant though was the big black dog that wandered between the tables, no doubt hoping for a tasty tidbit, and the black and white rabbit that was in a cage in a corner. (It was a pet, not the next evening’s meal.)

Dermot has departed for Oslo early this morning and I will follow tomorrow. Lucy and I have just had our breakfast of bread and cheese before getting ourselves organised before perhaps making a bike ride to a neighbouring village. We have yet to decide.

Amsterdam

It seemed to take forever to get here, from one characterless airport to another.  Singapore Airport (Changi) would have to be the pits, especially with too much time to kill between connecting flights.  It was so expensive and full of ‘designer’ boutiques, i.e. Gucci, Prada, etc.

The flight from Singapore to Frankfurt was marred by a trio of Swiss people in the seats in front who insisted on leaving their seats fully reclined for the entire journey.  It made the travelling so uncomfortable for those of us in the seats behind and we ended up in a big verbal stoush.  I don’t usually get into verbal affrays with people, but the arrogance of these fellow travellers quite upset me – the view that I will do what I want and too bad if it adversely affects you.  When seats are jammed so closely together these days, it is really quite rude to recline you seat back as far as it goes, particularly if those behind are attempting to eat a meal.  I recline mine a little for resting, but would not impose myself so much on those seated behind.

Enough of that whinge.  On reaching Frankfurt, my travelling companion and I realised that we only had one hour before our flight to Amsterdam.  There was a walk of at least 1.5 kms through the terminal buildings, plus a couple of queues in relation to security and passport cheques.  The security check was the slowest that I have ever seen.  Each bag was xrayed and studied for some minutes before proceeding to the next.  Because my shoes have a metal trim, I took them off to avoid any dramas but I still set off the alarm (phone in pocket) and has the most detailed (and solemn) frisking to which I have ever been subjected.  We finally got to our boarding gate 5 minutes before take-off was due, and were relieved that we were allowed on the flight.  We were especially thrilled on arriving in Amsterdam today to see that our bags had also arrived.  I was expecting that they would be flying, rudderless and homeless around Europe.  Untrusting me!

As we approached Amsterdam on top of the clouds, dawn was just breaking.  The vibrant pinks and oranges at that crept over the horizon and tickled the clouds was quite beautiful.  When we broke through the cloud layer, it was still dark underneath.  What looked so amazing though were acres of glass houses, all illuminated with golden lights. They looked so bright. I took a photo, but don’t have the resources at the moment with which to upload it.

Dogs and cigarette butts are the first things that hit you about Amsterdam.  There were dogs accompanying their owners in the airport terminal, and the minute that you step out the door of the building, you are picking your way through a carpet of butts.  They stink too.  Nobody bothers about putting a butt in the bin – it is obviously not part of the local culture.

It is winter here of course and so quite chilly, but there is no wind today  meaning that the temperature is not as icey as it might otherwise be.  Everything is just grey.  The view from the train windows was full of lots of apartment blocks, all looking like lego blocks, but very utilitarian.  They looked dismal places to live and have none of the character of the central and older parts of Amsterdam.

We had to catch a ferry from along side the Central Railway station to get to the area of Amsterdam in which we are staying.  I was surprised  when the ferry drew up to the landing area, and discharged a mass of people not just on foot, but many of them on Bicycles and motor scooters.  The ferries, which are free to use, are not very big and so everyone is jammed in tightly and they are built to accommodate the bikes and scooters also.  It seems a very sensible approach.

Having just had a very Dutch meal of bread and cheese and ham, I can feel that exhaustion and lack of sleep are catching up with me.  Time for a kip.

Not drowning, waving!

I haven’t been seen on the surface of this pond for a month now.  I haven’t gone under, just been incredibly busy with a range of family and work issues.  Issues surrounding my sister and organising her memorial dinner and the fund-raising for a scholarship in her name took a lot of coordinating and mental focus as well.  I am glad that first anniversary is over.

There has also been massive gardening, yard maintenance, domestic spring cleaning, having acute bronchitis for a week, doing lots of tax stuff and somehow just being busy.  Sounds very boring – partly was and partly was absorbing.  Working a 40 hour week as well takes it out of you and some nights I just want to veg out.  I need to do some maintenance on my retail book website tonight also (www.bookaholics.com.au) so this evening will disappear in a blur as well.

I have been feeling so guilty with not keeping up my regular writing activities though as it is a commitment that I made to myself.  I shall return shortly.  Promise.

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Today’s thought‘We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.’  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The Healing Powers of a G & T

As I wrote in my previous post, Monday was the first anniversary of the death of my younger sister.  As one would expect, it was a roller coaster of a day.  I was fine until the first person said ‘And how are you?’

As I struggled to find the words that indicated I was fine, it soon became clear that I was not.  It was a bit of a wet response there for a while as a heap of bottled up emotion overwhelmed me.  It was tiring and exhausting and took me by surprise a bit.  I went up to the cemetery later than planned and it coincided with a visit by my brother-in-law and two of my sister’s colleagues.  My sister was partial to a celebratory gin and tonic, so in my backpack was a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, Tonic and several glasses.  I also took some music.

It was drizzling lightly when I arrived, but that was OK.  It was drizzling and mizzling a year ago as well.  We exchanged our greetings and admired the flowers and roses and one of them remarked that what we really needed now was a G&T.  I made her turn around and whilst they had been talking I had got myself set-up on the adjoining marble slab.  A stiff drink all round, and the mood lightened considerably.  We talked and we laughed and reminisced and admired the view and drank another, this time pouring a little on the grave as well for her benefit.  Why should she miss out on the party?  All the while, the operatic tones of Andreas Bocelli soared out across the valley.

A dear neighbour and family friend is not resting not far away, so I picked a bunch of wild flowers and rampaging freesias  (it’s that sort of cemetery) and delivered them to her grave also.  There was yet another neighbour a few plots away who had a tremendous collection of coloured pencils and used to keep me entertained for hours as a pre-schooler.  I had a chat to her as well.  All in all, it was a comforting visit.

I would not have described myself as a cemetery visitor, feeling that there was little solace in a collection of marble and tumbled headstones and faded plastic flowers.  The setting of this cemetery makes all the difference though.  It is in the Hills, and has a strong character of its own, with many unusual plantings, and different grave decorations.   It’s a companionable place and one that feels appropriate to visit.  We had a bit of a discussion about what to do with her grave, now that it has had a year to settle.  Probably it will have a surround of sandstone built with an infill of soil in order that we can plant a garden of some sort.  A bench seat will be inset at the bottom end, so that there will be somewhere to sit, besides on the adjacent marble slab.  He plot is on the side of a hill, so by the time the grave surrounds are build, the foot end will probably be raised about 60 cms to bring it up level with the head end.  The seat will be set into this elevation.

October does not sound the best of months for my family, but today is the anniversary of the death of our mother.  That was eight years ago now, so it was more a day of reflection rather than mourning.  She was always one for a coffee and cake though so when I met a friend at a beach-side cafe this morning, I had a coffee and slice of cake for mum.

It probably sounds silly, but my remaining sisters and I have been holding our breath around our father this month.  He has recently been diagnosed with asbestosis, and healthwise things have been a bit of a struggle.  There are only a few days left of the month though and in spite of the challenges, Dad is determined and stubborn.  He will be around for a while yet.

Exasperation

Received a letter from Donald’s school yesterday to say that he has been withdrawn from one of his Year 12 subjects due to lack of attendance.  He has submitted assignments but has not maintained the required attendance.  This happened some months ago also (same subject) and I talked the teacher into taking him back.  I thought that he was attending classes now but clearly that wasn’t the case.

I am so cross, as for the sake of sitting through only a handful of classes, he has blown a year’s study.   I have done my bit for him in relation to this subject so if he wants to salvage the situation it is now up to him.  When I asked him for an explanation, he said he thought that as long as he submitted his work (all past the due dates of course) then he could get away without attending the classes, which he found too boring.  Der!!!  Like regulations don’t apply to him!  I doubt that he will get around to approaching his teacher as he doesn’t really stir himself in these situations, and always has an excuse as to why the teacher was unreasonable and probably wouldn’t listen to him anyway.  I hope that he surprises me though.

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Three days later.  I left this post in draft form as I have had such a busy week.  Came home tonight to find another letter from the school, referring to inadequate attendance for another subject – one which he is supposed to enjoy.  Daisy also attends this class and I thought that they were both attending together – the one subject for which they were maintaining attendance.  Just as well he is at work tonight as I would probably say things that I might regret later.

I am torn on treatment of this issue.  One view is to just let him crash and burn.  Donald must learn his own lessons and then figure out how to extricate himself from the bog hole in which he finds himself.  Another part of me says that this simply is not good enough and he needs to man up and learn some self-discipline and develop some moral fibre and backbone.  He is so feckless.  I should make him finish the last term of school and attend every day that he should (how I would do that I don’t quite know).

I have tried very hard not to be a helicopter parent, though probably out of frustration at his continual lack of progress over the years, I have helped him out more than I should.  That means he hasn’t confronted consequences enough.  When we discuss the implications of his actions (or inaction) Donald has a tendency not to accept what I say and to only believe in his own truths, even though they are based on heresay or his own limited experience and un-researched opinion.

As an implication for me (a sole parent) I must support him longer when he repeats school, accepting the resultant financial cost.  There has also been the time and input requirement as I have monitored deadlines, edited assignments and encouraged, pushed and cajoled.  Now we are facing another year of this process.  Ideally, he would have finished Year 12 and would be embarking on a character-forming Gap Year, as he is not ready for any form of post-secondary study.

I am experiencing frustration at the sheer stupidity of it – for the sake of a few hours sitting in class, he has blown a whole year’s worth of study.  If I express these opinions of course, then I am imposing my views or expectations on him and making his life miserable.  At least I give him something to complain to Daisy about.

Donald has totally embraced Daisy and her needs.  His life has been adapted around hers and she seems to fill a basic need that he has to be needed and to be supportive.  I know that this is understandable for a young person on the cusp of adulthood but it appears to me that he is subjugating his needs for hers.

It makes me start to ask questions of myself.  Has our two-person family unit left a gaping hole in his life and emotional well-being?  If Donald had grown up with two parents, would he have had more self-assurance and confidence in himself?  Would he have developed more emotional resilience?  These are impossible questions for me to answer, but they lurk at me through sleepless nights.