In Which A Stranger Makes Me Cry

Sometimes, you just really needed to hear it.

My kids are 5 and 2 right now, and they are both clever little beans, and super active. My son particularly is a little perpetual motion machine, and always has been.* So for the last two years, they’ve been doing swimming lessons as yet-another-way-to-try-to-expend-their-energy-and-keep-them-sufficiently-occupied. Y’all know my schedule tends to be packed so tight I can a) barely breathe and b) never afford catastrophes because they throw MY CAREFUL BALANCE OUT…

…but this is not, actually, a story of something that went wrong. The schedule comment is merely to contextualise, and to note that by the time I hit 6pm on the weekday whereon they have their lesson, I’m frequently a little frazzed. The actual lesson itself is fine (once I get over the almost-requisite being-5-minute-late part), but since I get in the water with the 2-yr-old, it means three swimmer-clad bodies to deal with at 6:30pm when we are all tired, in a crowded public change room where we often have to queue for the kids to use the open showers (though at least this means they don’t need a bath at home, and serves as their weekly hair-wash if I don’t get to it at any other point in the week 😀 😀 #MultiTaskingFTW), and then, because my kids are slooooooooooooooooow and everything is a biiiiiiiiig deeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaal when you are 5 and smart and tired, we usually have to queue for a cubicle so I can also strip off and change while they change, and look, it’s not a problem because we’ve been doing it for 2 years and have our routine down to a fine art (requisite tears x 2 + 2 x optional bonus rounds of tears included**), and it works, and I wouldn’t not do it because they both LOVE swimming (baby especially, who’s been swimming since 14 weeks*** o.O) and they need to learn to swim (this is such a compulsory Australian skill that most primary schools include a course of swimming in their sports curriculum each year), but it’s… a juggle. You know. I don’t mind it, it’s definitely not horrible, but it’s not the most relaxing 25 minutes of my weekly life.

So this week, I was going through all these motions as usual, had queued for a cubicle, and was just ducking in, and another mother came up to me.

I’ll admit, my heart sank a little, because the last time this happened it was a mother very politely and with much embarrassment on her part informing me that my son had been pushing her son into the pool >.<

But this lovely woman, looking – let’s admit – not a whole lot less frazzled than I, leans in close, and goes:

I just wanted to say, I think you do an amazing job.

I blinked, stunned, managed to beam and thank her appropriately, locked myself in my cubicle, put the baby on the fold-down table and instructed my son to set up under it, as usual, and promptly burst into tears.

I hadn’t been feeling especially frazzled this week, not compared to some weeks. And I hadn’t had a bad day at work, and I wasn’t feeling like I was teetering on the edge of sanity like I sometimes am. But I had managed to accidentally hurt Mr 5’s arm as I directed him out of the showering area, and the general frustrations of trying to wash, dry and dress two baby octopuses with Strong Opinions and Independences of their own in a crowded space on a tight schedule is always… well. You know. It is what it is.

And so even though I hadn’t been going, ‘Man, I could really use some encouragement right now’, apparently I still needed it, and it really hit home, and I am so, so grateful to this woman.

The take-home point is this: Modern Western consumer culture particularly sets us up to be in competition with each other – as men, as women, as non-binaries, as teens, as adults, in the workplace, in comparing homes, in our hobbies, in our social media. People who are united, gracious and forgiving of each other, always striving to encourage and lift each other up – these are not the kind of people who are susceptible to advertising, propaganda, consumerist values that drive corporate business. It’s not in the best interest of the people who currently run our society for us to encourage each other.

But we need it. Oh, how we need it. For the sake of our self esteem, our sanity – and, simply, our humanity.

So do something rebellious with your life: Become an encourager.

I bet you’ll be amazing at it <3 <3 <3

 

 

* Like, always. He nearly cracked one of my ribs in utero o.O

** One from Mr 5 at some point because he wasn’t listening to what he was supposed to be doing and got hurt (slipped on the wet floor, bumped his head, got soap in his eyes, take your pick), one from the baby when I wash her hair, and optionally up to another one round each while actually in the change cubicle because Tired and Wet and Getting Changed Is Hard).

*** Initially as a) something to do while Mr then-3 began lessons and b) as a bonding activity with my sister, who was also on maternity leave at the same time 🙂

Random Lunch Recipe: Pear Salad

Because it’s autumn here and this was just the thing for a lovely, sunny, bright and breezy day 🙂

Ingredients (per person)

A large double handful of baby spinach leaves, torn
1 beurre bosc pear (or one with similar soft texture), cubed
50g of soft feta (more or less), crumbled
1T pecans, roughly crushed
1T black cherry vinegar*
1 med-large strawberry
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Finely chop or puree strawberry with vinegar. Let steep. Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients and gently toss. Pour over vinegar, season and consume 🙂

Alternatives

* Good quality balsamic vinegar should be a passable substitute for black cherry vinegar.
Try walnuts instead of pecans, apples instead of pears, or parmesan instead of feta.

Slow Down (Repost)

In a similar vein to the last repost, and again, applicable to a lot more than just writing……..

I was originally going to title this post ‘A New Cure For Writers’ Block’. But really, it’s not a new cure, for either the world in general, or myself. You’ve heard me talk about it before; the cure is simple: listen to your characters.

But it occurs to me that the principle involved has so many more applications, and can be summed up in just one word: listen.

Most of us are not so crash hot at the concept of listening. The fact that it’s a primary skill taught in relationship seminars speaks to this point. Sure, we hear other people talking, and we can repeat back a rough idea of what they’ve said, and we can even respond appropriately, but how often do we actually listen?

Listening is hard. It requires focussing completely on the speaker, clearing your mind of everything but what they’re trying to convey. No wandering off onto tangents of your own, no pondering what you’re going to say next as soon as they finish speaking; just listening.

One of the primary reasons we’re so bad at listening is the kind of world we live in, where minute-long soundbites are six times too long and an article nearing a thousand words is more like an essay. We’re used to doing ten things at once – we call it ‘multi-tasking’, and we’re proud of it.

As I type, I’m also half-watching The Flintstones on tv, I’m chatting to my baby sister via gtalk, I’m discussing puppy care with my husband, looking up a timetable on the school intranet, and uploading photos to my webalbums. I also have my email inbox open, a short story I’m editing, the spreadsheet that reminds me I need to weigh the puppies, and a host of writing related articles to read. Oh yeah, and Twitter.

Is it any wonder, then, that we struggle to really listen?

I mean, seriously. I’m a writer. I know I need to listen to my characters. I know my characters should have personalities that are well-rounded and unique and individual, and that motivate all of their actions. I know this. I know that this requires listening to them, letting them be.

So why am I so bad at doing it? Why, every time I butt my head against another wall in my story, does it take me forever to remember to stop, breathe, relax, listen?

I think there’s a clue in what I said about the kind of society we live in. Our lives are so fast paced, we’re conditioned to believe that everything can happen at the click of a button or the speed of thought. I sit down to write, and I expect that the words will be there, waiting for me – and if they’re not, I get restless, dissatisfied, think I’m doing something wrong.

I procrastinate, because I know it will take me fifteen minutes or so of concentrating on writing for things to start flowing each day, and fifteen minutes seems like a Really Long Time.

But here’s the thing: Creativity takes time.

It takes time for ideas to filter through our mind, for connections to be made, ideas to be formed. It takes time for these things to consolidate, to shape themselves into more than ephemerality, to live.

It takes time.

So I need to remember to give it time. I need to slow down. In the scheme of things, fifteen minutes isn’t that long; and it’s certainly less time than the hours I can fritter away through procrastination otherwise.

Turning off the distractions doesn’t help; if I’m not committed to sitting down and pushing through those fifteen minutes, I’ll find other things to keep me occupied – dishes, dinner, tidying, puppies…

As writers, it’s so tempting to look around and see how much progress other writers are making, and to let that get us down. I need to work faster, I need to work harder……

Well, maybe. But that’s only going to happen if first, I slow down.

On the floor, being still

First of all, go and watch Maggie’s characteristically awesome list of the top ten things that inspire her.

I want to talk about number 5: lying on the floor. Because, you see, last night I had a perfect moment. No, better make that a Perfect Moment, because it was. It was late at night. SmallBoy was asleep in his cot in his room. Husband was watching TV. Most of the lights in the house were off. I’d just had a shower – blastingly hot, because my shoulder had been hurting me off and on all afternoon – and emerged pink-steamed and damp to discover – alack – yes, in fact, a lack – an entire lack of clean clothes awaiting me.

My own fault, of course; I’m not the kind of person who has a maid to lay out clothes for me when I shower 😛

But. I toddled down to the spare room (aka Place Where Laundry Goes to Languish) half-dressed to retrieve the other half of my dressings – down the warm, dim hall, soft carpet squishing under my feet, the murmur of the TV a faint, comforting soundtrack to the adventure. I switched on the light, rummaged for pajamas, and caught a glimpse of my bookshelves. (Because the Room of Laundry Languishment is also the Room of All Books, though not a library, because that is too grand and single-purposed.)

So I stopped. I lay down on the floor, mostly, yes, on the clean piles of washing. I snagged a stuffed polar bear for my pillow, and dragged a handy SmallBoy-blanket from the clean washing to cover me.

And #5: I lay on the floor. And it was brilliant.

And then it was Perfect: Husbical switched off the TV. Scouted for me in the bedroom. Realising my absence, followed the trail of light to the spare room. Stared in bemusement at me sprawled carefree in the clean washing, staring at nothing but shelves full of books.

“Come join me,” I asked him.

He declined, but I insisted, and he – because he is wonderful – relented.

And so I told him. I told him what I was doing there, and why I love my physical books so much.

“I’m looking at photo albums,” I told him. “Only it’s better, because instead of just a photo, you get a whole story.”

He seemed confused.

“I can tell you where I was when I bought nearly every single book on my shelves. I can tell you where I was when I was reading them, and I have whole swags of memories attached to each because of when I read it, where I read it, who I shared it with. It’s just like looking at a photo album, only it’s even better, because instead of a photo that you can really only look at for a minute, you get an entire story that you can read for hours.”

And I wrapped my arm around him, and I showed him. These are the books Mum and Dad bought when I was seven. They wrapped each one individually and it felt like magic. Those ones are high school with my best friend. That series is my middle sister, those books my baby sister. That’s my trip to America to visit the Twinny One. These ones are countless hours of lining up in bookstores, waiting for them to be released. That one’s getting to meet and interview the author at a signing. Those are the first time a friend gifted me a book for helping her with her website; these here the first books my parents bought me as an adult. That one I got as a thank you at school.

So this is me, telling you why I love my books, and why lying on the floor is totally inspiring: my bookshelf is my photo album. And last night, I had a Perfect Moment.

Often, being still with someone you love is all you need to create one.

On Being Reminded

“Their revelations are so true I feel not so much like I’m being taught, as reminded.”

~ Student, on Good Novels, in presentation just now.

 

What a powerful reminder of the purpose of a good story. Reminds me of another quote that I’ve forgotten the source of:

Your job as a writer is simply to remind readers of what they’ve forgotten. Of bringing back to remembrance what was long ago.

Clothing Disposal

It’s funny how once you begin to question what you put in your mouth, on your body, and into your environment, there comes a point where one day it’s just a habit. The other day, I did another big sweep through my clothing – I’m a little sick of the floordrobe, but the primary reason for it is the lack of space to really put everything away. Might as well stay on the floor, right?

So anyway, as much fun as the facebook clothes declutter was last time, where I took pics of all the clothes, posted to FB, and people commented to claim the clothes, it took forever to get all the unwanted clothes out of the house. So this time I just bagged them all up and sent them to the wotsie shop. Charity. Secondhand clothes. You know the place I mean.

But, I still had a small pile of clothes that really weren’t fit for the charity bin, so I was just going to toss them. I was putting away Small Person’s folding earlier today and did some reshuffling of the drawers to fit in his cloth nappies. Dude, the kid has more bibs than hairs on his head. I pulled out all the small ones and tossed them in the ‘small clothes’ box behind his chair, but a couple were manky enough that I figured the fastest means of disposal was the rag bag. I have to keep up the supply of rags to the rag bag, see, or darling husband does things like nabbing good teatowels for the purpose. Or my singlet top. Though granted, that had somehow been mixed up IN the rag bag, so he’s forgiven for that one.

So. I chopped the straps off the bibs to make is super clear that HELLO, THESE ONES ARE THE RAGS, and while I was doing so it occured to me that I could do the same to the clothes I was otherwise going to bin. I picked them up to begin chopping – and stopped. Could I really condemn these clothes, just like that? Some, apparently yes. A bra went in the bin, because no one wants a secondhand bra and they’re not really great rags, but everything else I forced myself to take a second look at.

Pair of pants that are wearing out in the thigh seams? Well, they have to be rags, right? *snipsnip*, off came the legs – and I realised that I was now left with a perfect good pair of brown cut-off shorts, only in need of a hem.

Black knitted 3/4 sleeve top, with a cute keyhole in the back? REALLY didn’t want to toss this one, as i’d only worn it once, but the fabric had broken under one of the arms. probably, I could learn how to darn and fix it – but that’s a little too much effort. So, the sleeves had to come off at least – and after they did, I realised I had a sleeveless tank top, if I could bind up the armholes again. Or, I could buy a little bit of black chiffon or something nice and floaty and make some pretty ruffley cap sleeves for the top.

Ditto the pink turtleneck jumped that’s seen better days and is nearly worn through under the arms – off with the sleeves, and I’m going to investigate about putting in some new ones (or just leaving it sleeveless). I might not keep this one, but at least I’ll have made something nice enough to go to the op shop :o)

A cotton t-shirt that was worn through became a genuine rag, as did a pair of fuzzy socks (snipped through at the heel so Husbands can confirm their rag status!!). Two 3/4 sleeve knitted tops that I love, but that were looking daggy, were slated for the bin, but I realised one of them will probably be okay with some serious depilling, and one, which is luckily white, might actually come good with a bit of a soak in some bleach.

I don’t really have much more of a point to this post, except to say – hey, you know what? Of all the items of clothes I was just going to bin, I actually found a use for all but the bra. And if the sewing works out, I might even have a couple of ‘new’ items of clothing that I’ll actually like wearing :o) Now there’s a happy declutter win! 😀

What To Do When You’re Feeding An Army…

…at home, and you lack the flatware for everyone to eat off. Seriously, guys: this is an AWESOME IDEA. If we hadn’t just had a massive dinnerware set donated to us, I’d totes be doing this next time I needed to feed a bunch of people 😀

(seriously, read the link – it’s cheaper than disposable plates and so insanely clever it almost feels like you’re doing something illegal…)

http://theyearofless.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/day-87-better-than-disposable-dishware.html

My Favourite Face Scrub Ever

Totally random, but I have to share, because I’ve just made up a new batch and it really is awesome. I always intend to use this stuff 2-3 times a week, and in reality end up using it about once a fortnight, if that – but whenever I do, my skin practically glows the next day (I’m a night showerer), so you know.

Also, bonus: it’s DEAD SIMPLE.

Wanna know what’s in my super favouritest face cleanser/scrub ever? Sure, I’ll tell you.

Sugar.

Olive oil.

That’s it. Though sometimes I throw in a spoonful of dried lavendar from the garden, because it smells pretty. And yes, I know, cleaning my face with oil sounds counterintuitive – but it works, and apparently I’m not the only one who does it.

So there you go. Favouritest scrub ever, and all you do it mix the two ingredients together until they form a goopy paste. Good for all skin, not just your face.

<3