Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When Home is... Not an Old Desk

I spent half-an-hour fighting with a piece of furniture this morning. I never thought I could feel so angry with an inanimate object but when I stood with the intention of going to get a hammer to smash open the stuck drawer I realised the battle was over and I had to walk away.

This desk has been with Stuart and me throughout our entire relationship. It was his childhood desk and before that belonged to one of his uncles. It’s not an heirloom piece with the veneer increasingly chipping away, the ink stains and the many engravings Stuart made with a compass when he was 13. When both uncles visited a couple of years ago they spotted it.

‘What are you doing with that old thing?’ said one.

‘I can’t believe Germaine has let you keep it,’ said the other.

We laughed. It is awful but until now has been very practical.

It can fit into small spaces: hallways in previous apartments and a room barely two metres wide in this house. Fitting perfectly under the window in our study / laundry / utility room it has always been a piece of furniture we keep meaning to replace but never get around to.

Not any longer. The relationship is definitely over now. I could deal with the shabby appearance but I can’t deal with its unpredictability.

Last week I couldn’t find my Dictaphone even though I knew it was in the drawer. I had to leave the house with a notepad instead to interview Paula Cowan, the owner of environmentally-friendly cleaning and personal care products, Solution Living. She was very patient with my stilted questions as I wrote down everything she said.

The next day I found the Dictaphone, right at the back of the drawer, under crepe paper. I have no idea how crepe paper got in there and what it was ever used for.

Anyway, I had no such concerns this morning of finding my Dictaphone on my way out to interview author of Eating for Two and cookbook editor Kathleen Gandy. Sadly, the drawer had other ideas. It was completely jammed shut and no amount of pulling, rattling and screaming at the stupid thing would open it. It can’t be the crepe paper as I’ve thrown that away.

Just like I’m planning to throw away something else... I may miss the Smurf wrapping paper Stuart lined his drawers with when he was 10, but as I can’t open them anymore it doesn’t really matter.


On the upside, my note-taking skills are improving and I will be posting the interviews with Paula and Kathleen soon. Once I find a desk.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When Home is... Old Plates

It started when we dug up a broken piece of a plate in the back garden late last year. The pale blue floral pattern captivated me and I couldn’t help but wonder which owner it belonged to. It looked old, the pattern delicate, but surely it wasn’t a plate of John and Elizabeth Liddell’s?

Or was it? After all, they had seven children back in the 1890s so I imagine there were many broken plates over the many years they lived here. The kitchen/scullery would have been out the back, near where we dug up this piece of china, but who knows.

It could just as easily been from the owners who lived here in the 1990s and, from what I can work out from old plans, added the back living / kitchen room. After our recent renovation I have realised how many bits of rubbish – nails, screws, cigarette butts – can inadvertently end up buried under the rose bushes and gardenias... Yet, I like to think of this broken plate as a link from the present back to where it all began. The first family who called this house home.

When I found this bit of china I had already been thinking that we needed new dinner plates. Ours were all white and increasingly becoming chipped and crazed. I hadn’t been able to decide on the style of dinner set I wanted but now I knew.

While it was pure fantasy to try and find the exact match for this dug up piece of china, I knew I wanted old, English style plates and serving bowls.

It didn’t take long to start my new collection... finding a couple of blue and white china plates at the markets one weekend, some green ones at the same market another weekend. And once you start a collection it’s hard to stop really, isn’t it?

Collections run in our family and when my mother turned 40 she decided that for her party she would ask everyone to bring a plate. Not a plate of food but a plate. A plate of her friend’s choice, she would display on the lounge room wall. I think some of her friends were dubious, worried about whether they would find one she would like, one that would match the others but that wasn’t the point.

It had to be a plate her friend loved. Perhaps it was one they already owned or one they found at a garage sale or junk shop. That way it would become a plate representing that person. Instead of a wall of photos of her closest friends, she would have a wall of plates.

What none of us anticipated was how much those plates would come to act like photos. It’s amazing what a pattern, colour choice and age of a plate can tell you about someone’s personality. To this day I can stand in front of those plates and know the story behind each one.

It’s these stories behind objects that make them feel so precious. When I brought home a stack of old, slightly crazed, square dessert plates with a faded gold border and little green flowers painted around the sides a few months ago, I washed them and left them to dry on the side of the sink.

While talking to my sister on the phone, I noticed the children kept coming perilously close to them. Our conversation was punctuated with me shouting across the room ‘Watch those plates!’

My sister laughed, wondering how much I had paid for them to make me so nervous.But it wasn’t the fact they cost me $1.50 each (!) that made me nervous. It was the fact that I was already attaching myself to the story behind them; the morning spent fossicking at the market and finding them stacked unlovingly in a plastic tub was just the beginning of our life together. I was already imaging the future meals with friends and family when they would make their appearance. But what about the life they already had?

How did they end up as someone’s rubbish when once they would have looked quite grand? They may have been a part of someone’s wedding china. China only brought out for Christmas or birthdays for a family long, long ago.

A family like the family who first lived here.

And now a family like ours.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When Home is... not so secret

Have you ever reflected on your life thus far and not been surprised, as though there was a predestined plan you have actually known all along?

I know there are many times in life when you don’t want to be where you’re at – whether it’s your physical or emotional home – but there are other moments in life when everything just seems to fall into place; when you feel content and know that everything is as it should be.

I’ve been thinking about those moments a lot over the rainy long-weekend after reading a particularly insightful and eloquent post from author Rebecca Woolf on her blog Girl's Gone Child.

Rebecca began her blog in 2005 after the birth of her first child, Archer. Hers has been quite a journey to find home: falling pregnant and marrying her partner after only knowing each other for a matter of months meant adjusting to marriage and motherhood at the same time. There were many ups and downs, which she chronicles with humour, wisdom and insightfulness, before the birth of their second child, a daughter Fable.

Now she is pregnant with twin girls. A place she could hardly have imagined to be seven years ago. Or could she?
“...suddenly everything felt so completely right. Like overhearing a secret you already kind of knew, heard somewhere before.”

Have you ever ‘overheard a secret you already kind of knew’? While I have never thought of these moments in this way before, it expresses so perfectly such life changing moments you know deep down you’re meant to make.

There have been three such moments for me:

I was only 19 when I met Stuart. I know, ridiculously young, but anyway. We became friends first and while I didn’t know where our friendship would lead I had the strongest feeling that he would always be in my life. Not necessarily my life but somewhere on the periphery, always. It was the oddest sensation, one I have never had since, at a time when university friendships and flirtations came and went regularly.

Years later when we came to inspect this house, it felt like ours from the moment I walked inside. Even though, on paper, it wasn’t the house I was looking for. I was sure we had already found that house, around the corner.

Here I was, with the man who I thought would be an acquaintance forever, living in a house I loved but didn’t think I wanted, with a little girl and baby boy by my side. The two children I always imagined we would have living in a house the perfect size for the four of us.

The previous owners moved because they were having a third baby. Stuart laughed, ‘that will never be our problem’ he said to the real estate agent. So sure we were complete.

Then one day, a couple of years later I was driving along with Lily and Ned giggling in the backseat. A moment of contentment until a little voice in my head interrupted and spoke very loudly.

‘We’re not all here yet.’

Surely we were?

But those secrets you accidentally overhear do come true it seems. And when they do you truly know you’ve arrived home.

Click here to read more about Rebecca’s life at Girl's Gone Child.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When home is... mindless housework

Or should this title be ‘mindfulness housework’? I have always struggled with housework. I think my teenage arguments with my mother were always about the state of my bedroom and more specifically making my bed. I have the bed making under control these days but my mother still can’t help but sweep my kitchen floor whenever she visits.

I have no problem dealing with filling the pantry or washing machine, keeping the kitchen tidy, folding the washing and putting it away but for some reason I have always found scrubbing the bathroom, vacuuming and cleaning the floors... overwhelming.

The more I talk to friends, I realise I am not alone. One friend recently told me that she volunteers at school as a way of avoiding doing housework, another tells me that her mother offered to look after her daughter for the day so she could ‘do something about her house’. My mother hasn’t gone that far... yet.

I think my problem with housework lies with my looking at the bigger picture rather than the detail. What’s the point of sweeping the kitchen floor after breakfast when we still have lunch and dinner to get through? And what’s the point of sweeping up after dinner when it will be covered in cereal again by 7am?

Lily learnt this lesson first hand on the weekend. There is a tree right outside our house that is dropping all its autumn leaves. The yellow leaves on the driveway and pavement look very pretty but seeing the ‘mess’ had been upsetting Lily all week. Finally, on Sunday morning, armed with a broom and her father, she went out to sweep all the leaves up. In the afternoon, on our way out to the park she proudly showed us how tidy the driveway now looked. ‘So much better after all that sweeping’ she said.

On returning from the park, however, there had been a strong breeze and – surprise surprise – many more leaves had fallen.

She was shocked. ‘What was the point of all that sweeping if the leaves are just going to keep falling and ruin my work.’

So true, so true.

BUT, that night while reading the wonderful Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren by Sarah Napthali, something shifted for me. Sarah interviews a woman about housework:

‘I wish all the world’s problems were as simple as housework because with housework you get a result. Compared to really difficult world problems or even problems with our children’s behaviour, the solutions for housework are very immediate. I have this whole load of dirty dishes: I wash them and here they all are clean.’

So, instead of resenting the work because I’m too busy thinking about how quickly I will be faced with the same task again, I should enjoy the moment of achievement.
Shouldn’t I?!

After all, life really is made up of the little moments. Here and now.


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