An Ordinary Day

Well, maybe not so ordinary. I’ve just spent almost three weeks relieving in a local school library, and when I work all my routines go out the window. All I do is go to work, come home and get ready for the next day. So now I’ve finished that block I’m focused on writing, publishing some posts, exercising, practicing mindfulness… AND tidying, cleaning, vacuuming, gardening… catching up on long overdue paperwork….

You get the idea. I had breakfast sitting in the sun on the front verandah, making lists, with all my different colured textas and pens. Arrows, asterisks, underlinings, highlightings….What would be the best use of my time? How can I make sure I get the most important things done? What are the priorities?

Eventually I decide that I’ll feel best if my home is clean and tidy; chaos is unsettling and clean floors are a pleasure. Somehow, deciding this gives me permission to just get on and stop worrying about wasting time.

the calm of clouds in a blue sky.

the calm of clouds in a blue sky.

It’s a beautiful day. Sunny, warm, still, blue; small clouds decorate the sky. This town is set in a ring of hills, but not buried in a valley. It has the best skyscapes and since I’ve been here I keep driving out of town to take sky photos.

There’s washing on the line. I’ve finally planted the struggling peppermint geranium cutting –  it may still survive. It’s been sitting in water on the window sill for?? weeks? months? and I’ve kept promising myself that I’ll plant it today, but then, there’s always those priorities… But now, it’s planted!

the pleasure of washing, drying in the sun.

the pleasure of washing, drying in the sun.

I’ve sprayed the aphids on the roses with soapy water. And I’ve sat in the sun drinking cups of tea, chatting with my neighbours. I confess, I’ve also spent some time gazing at the sky, watching birds, checking out the way the gum looks against the blue of the sky… in other words, daydreaming and simply being glad I’m alive.

The vacuuming isn’t done, nor is the house tidy but I feel relaxed and happy. Of course the question still remains: how do I manage to do what needs to be done and also those things that are the most important?  I read other writers who juggle the demands of caring for a child while earning a living as full-time writers. I am in awe of their discipline. I’ve recently read a TED blog about a woman who was bed-ridden with chronic pain and chose to work as a TED translator during that time. There are plenty of role models of people who achieve in spite of the odds.

A pretty end to a pretty day.

A pretty end to a pretty day.

But today, I will revel in my freedom.

Solar Day!


they arrive.

they arrive.

It has finally arrived! After months of worrying over quotes, driving people to distraction with endless questions, bombarding one of my brothers for information and trying the endless patience of my co-house owner …I settled on the supplier (yes, in consultation with my co) and accepted their quote for installing solar. Then, it was waiting for the installation.The original panels were no longer being made…postpone the day…then…It was raining! postpone the day…then…other people had to be done first…postpone the day…then…The weather forecast for Friday was for rain and storms! Would it happen?

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

The men arrived. Looked rainy. Nail biting. Work began. And continued…slowly, or so it seemed to a waiting woman who had been saving her washing, the ironing, the vacuuming…(some people who know me well, might ask “what’s new?”). They worked. Tedious business, this. Very hot, especially in the roof cavity, they say. And they worked. I go out, come home, still working. Even hotter. Four-thirty, and yes, the panels are on, but the micro-inverters are yet to be connected and no, they are sorry, but that won’t happen today. My house looks like it has solar, and it will, but the washing still waits.

Suit the house, don't they?

Suit the house, don’t they?

Maybe tomorrow? But it doesn’t matter! It will happen and this household will be less dependent on the use of fossil fuel, which has always been the aim. The release last week of the IPCC report makes the use of alternative sources of energy ever more crucial. I haven’t wanted  solar simply to save money on my energy bills and I don’t think we will save much initially. But I have worried about the state of our planet for a long time. I remember sitting in the  movie theatre after watching “An Inconvenient Truth”, not able to leave. I was crying too much. There really wasn’t anything new in the film, it was the sight of our blue planet suspended in space. I loved her fiercely and I hadn’t realised how much. I love this earth; I love all the bits; I want to see as much of her as I can; I love her creatures; the glimpse of a whale is joy and delight; the thought of polar bears starving to death because of what we have done I find almost unbearable.

What if they were gone forever?

What if they were gone forever?

Because it isn’t just about us. Yes, the report contains dire statements about Australia- more extreme heat, more bushfires, more storms and severe floods. Think of the suffering of the animals every time there is a bushfire, every drought, every heatwave. I remember Stephen Fry in the series “Last Chance to See” a BBC 2009 production, filming rare and endangered species. I was moved to tears when Stephen bottle feeds a baby rhino and declares to the camera “Now I can die”. I feel I am not doing nearly enough. I still drive a car. We will grow as much of our food as we possibly can and we will share what we have with our neighbours. I will work to create community here where I am. I am learning to live frugally and simply. BUT…

Five minutes from my front door. I am grateful every day.

Five minutes from my front door. I am grateful every day.

We have a beautiful home, let’s do whatever it takes. After all, changes in our lifestyle can’t hurt us and may make all the difference!

My garden diary.

The beginnings before the drought hit.

The beginnings before the drought hit.

the drought hits.

the drought hits.

My first garden post! Yay! It’s one of our aims is to be as self-sufficient as we can, so the garden is a high priority. Besides, I love gardening, it feeds my soul.

But making any garden here needs hard work, time and patience and then more hard work and more hard work. It’s easy to get overwhelmed:

We’ve had drought and extreme heat for many months. Around the town even well-established plants have been dying. I’ve been glad I haven’t starting  planting, especially since water restrictions came in.

There’s the old bones of a garden that was planted thirty plus years ago when the house was built. So there are old and tired hydrangeas, clumps of agapanthus and straggly daisies, all struggling and clinging to life. The previous owners were not gardeners so it’s long neglected. Needs a lot of loving!

But, the big obstacles, apart from the weather, are the way the garden was set up.

Strong black plastic was put over all the beds to kill the weeds. It killed the weeds but also cooked any living organism in the soil. The plastic’s now  tangled in the roots of the old plants. I don’t know how we’ll get rid of it.

In many places, someone has spread gravel over the plastic on the bed and on the few plastic-free beds, thickly. So the soil is full of gravel.  Getting the picture?

But that’s not all. The next- door garden is even older and more neglected than this one. It has had a big area of the backyard cultivated, I’d guess, for vegies. It’s become a wonderful place for sticky beaks (farmer’s friends) to flourish. They are such splendid seed spreaders this garden has its own crop. Pull them out then the crop next-door seeds and we are re-infested.

I don’t mean to complain, but rather to set the scene so you can picture the garden and share its progress. I’ve had time to watch sun and shade and get some ideas about where to plant. I can see abundance in my mind- flowers, herbs, vegies, fruit trees…a pond for frogs, birds…why have lawn?

Emma Goldman said” I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds round my neck.” Happiness is going out  picking  what you need for the meal and the flowers for the table.

The other evening, hand watering some pot plants, the gift of

one, small, perfect, green frog.

One small, perfect, green frog

One small, perfect, green frog

Living simply and sustainably

this beautiful earth

this beautiful earth

How to stay cool in summer? How to be warm in winter? Our new home, new to us anyway, is sited poorly and has only one air-conditioner in the family room so cooling and heating can be a challenge.

I’m finding I can live without air-conditioning in the summer -most rooms have ceiling fans. Seems ridiculous to be thinking about heating in this hot, hot, dry summer we’re having , but I’ve been worrying at the options since last winter in this house. I was living as simply and sustainably as I could and I froze.

After many months we are about to have an air-conditioner installed in the lounge room and solar panels put on the roof-  very exciting.

I spent the winter months asking people what heating they used. Here in the country, almost universally, the answer was a wood fire or stove.

Now I had a pot belly stove in my last house and used it at first. But coming home from work to a cold house, chopping wood, cleaning out the ashes, carrying the wood upstairs, lighting the fire and waiting for the house to warm…I have limited energy and am prone to viruses. I found I resorted to an electric heater quite often. Besides, you can’t turn a wood stove down! Once it’s hot…it’s often too hot and I don’t like sleeping too warm. I’d phone friends and tell them I had all the doors and windows open.

Now, I am ten years older. Realistically, I know I wouldn’t handle the effort of maintaining a wood fire.

Here on the coast where so many people have wood fires, the amount of available wood is becoming scarcer. We are using up animal habitats.  Personally I can’t get past the fact too, that respiratory related problems due to smoke inhalation is the major cause of infant mortality in the developing world. Although Australia is not a developing country I don’t want to add to a world problem. This is my choice and I understand it’s not for everyone.

In my previous house I put on gas. Being a city girl I had the notion that gas was the cheapest and most efficient. Here in the country, there’s no gas pipeline, it’s bottled gas. Not cheap! Besides, I’m nervous of gas. So that leaves air-conditioning and solar energy.

I’d like batteries to store the excess energy on those days of abundant sunshine, but I don’t think it’s possible to use batteries and stay connected to the grid- something I haven’t researched. I’m not ready to go “off the grid.”

What have I learnt through this process? I’ve learnt that I find it much more difficult to make choices when I’m using some of my small financial capital. There’s less room for error.  Even more crucial has been knowing that the choices affect the state of this planet.

Will I use air-conditioning on those cloudy, cold days when the panels don’t generate enough energy? I don’t know, but I do know that I care passionately about climate change and am committed to living sustainably and simply.

Everyone needs to belong

Building a life in a new place takes energy and courage and sometimes I’m tempted to give up. I don’t like walking down a street where no one recognises me, knowing I have to start all over again.  I need to feel safe and secure and I need to feel I belong somewhere.

Yesterday I visited my old neighbours, that is, my neighbours where I used to live. The swans were on the lake, the people in my house, well, it’s theirs now, were feeding the king parrots, the beaches looked wonderful and my garden… I know it’s no longer my garden, but I started it from nothing and loved and cherished it. It was my first home and my first real garden, in a wonderful place, with wonderful neighbours.

Deb, my neighbour, values her family more than anything else and she has adopted me as her big sister. For me, this is  priceless.  I don’t have children and  I can feel my lack of a “normal” family intensely. It doesn’t take much for me to tumble into a hole of self pity- “I’m all alone, when I am old no one will visit me, I don’t have the big family get togethers with my children and grandchildren I dreamed of, I don’t belong anywhere…” I know I’m loved, but most of my friends do live far away, as do my brothers , sisters , nieces and nephews. Christmas especially, can be a time of feeling sorry for myself.

One of my friends used to say that when he died there would only be about five people at his funeral and they wouldn’t know each other. At that time I used to walk my dogs through Waverley Cemetery (Sydney) and reading the headstones would plunge me into self pity. I would think that when I died, no one would come to my funeral because they wouldn’t know I’d died (too many moves, too many jobs, too many scattered friends) and I had nothing to put on my headstone! I was no one’s dearly loved wife or mother or grandmother… So, I asked my friends “Can I say ‘dearly loved friend  of’…”and of course they said I could. Now I have a list of people to be contacted when I die and I can walk through a cemetery  with equanimity. My headstone will show I did belong somewhere.

My aim  to create a  network here where I live is a priority. I’m passionate about the need to create community; for everybody to feel loved and valued; to have a place where they belong; to have that sense of knowing that there are people they can call on if they need; that they are not all alone.

A wise friend once reminded me to reach out, rather than fall in a hole. Or, to remember the words of St Francis:

“Make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow your love;

“…grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love;…”

The kindness of strangers and my undying gratitude. Number 1

IMG_0020 I’ve just come back from the vets, after taking Bear the cat to have his flea treatment applied. Last year I lived in a rented flat, I’d sold one house, not yet bought another, and had a persistent problem with fleas. The previous tenant had both dogs and cats. Moving here, we seemed to have brought them with us. Bear is a big cat. He hates any of the flea treatments and can smell them as soon as they’re opened. I suspect he recognizes the shape, he’s quite clever. Open one and he takes off. I can’t hold him and apply the treatment. I end up scratched and bitten and Bear ends up cranky and still flea ridden. Early in the year I had a friend staying with me and a flea leaping on his leg was the absolute last straw. In desperation I rang the local vets. ( only just moved, tired and stressed) How much would they charge to apply the treatment for me? Answer: nothing, as long as I bought the treatment from them. “Bring him up,” they said,” and we’ll do it.” So up we went. As I was thanking them profusely, I started crying. Well, everyone started apologizing for upsetting me, although you’d think that veterinary surgeries are places where you often see tears. “No,” I reassured them, “I’m not distressed, I’m crying because I’m so happy!” and another flood of tears. Result: One happy, relieved and grateful woman; one calm, flea-free cat; one happy friend and a flea-free home.

And here I am, living in the country

As someone once said to me “it doesn’t matter where you start, you’ll always get to where you need.”

So, here goes!

Some years ago ,I fled to my mother’s, who still lived in the village where I grew up, to put some space between the man I loved and myself. We needed some distance to lick our wounds and give ourselves time to see whether we had a future.
I ended up with a job and a mortgage and have stayed without ever really making a choice to stay.  Continual illness and large chunks of time off work  meant I have lived in constant anxiety about not being able to keep up the mortgage payments and becoming homeless.

.. It’s a long story. Eventually I sold my house, left my job and  bought this house with one of my friends- a large house in a small, country town. The main street still has a shop (more a shed), for irrigation things and the rural supplies shop has hay bales and farm bits in the window. Window display is clearly not a selling point. I hear cows mooing at night. There’s a sheep in the backyard a few houses along.

Six months after moving into this house, I’m still living in chaos. Boxes line the hall, books are stacked downstairs and I spend too much time searching for a piece of paper I had five minutes ago.

My friend has never lived in the country and she prefers inner-city; she is truly an urban dweller as was I.  But we are mortgage free! And we have some space where we can grow vegies, live a simpler life, put solar panels on the roof and contribute to our community.

Renting in Sydney, I couldn’t see how I could ever buy. I feared being a bag lady. Buying with a friend has risks. It’s a challenge. But it means I don’t always have to put out the garbage. If one of us is ill, we have someone to drive us to the doctor, make the chicken soup…And, we are sharing resources rather than  gobbling up so many of the earth’s resources.  A couple of times I’ve thought I might have been getting sick- my first thought? It didn’t matter. I don’t have a mortgage. My friend and I are two of the lucky ones. We can only give it a go!