Building Our Bed: Part 1

Finally an end to the destruction is in sight and construction is beginning!

Well, as I write this there has been (and continues to be) an ongoing struggle with our drawers, involving a bunch of unforgiving, push-to-open, drawer runners.

But…we have installed our bed.

This involved a 12mm piece of ply for the bedhead, an insert into the window, glued and screwed into place.  We built a frame for the top of this piece to hold it all straight and carpeted the inside to keep things nice and soft. The ply will be veneered with rosewood and a rosewood shelf installed on top.

I am trying to convince Henry to paint the insides of the drawers in bright turquoise, fuschia, blue and yellow – don’t you think that will look amazing!? He is not sold. Yet.

It seems very appropriate that we made this first. It is our bedhead, but it is also Henry’s guitar cabinet. Music is important to Henry and therefore it is important to me and therefore it is important to our family. So, guitar cabinet, item one: check.

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Henry built a base for our mattress, which is designed to lift up on gas struts so that we can access the storage behind the drawers and under the bed. He is contemplating a shelf in that space which raises with the bed allowing us to simply slide things out. I can’t believe I haven’t yet got a photo of the bed, but that will come once the drawers are in – that will definitely demand a celebratory picture – ’till then you’ll have to wait.

2013 7 22 Building Bed0008We did this work late into a night, when Henry was on a roll and not prepared to stop for sleep, even though it was super cold it was nice to wonder around his dads shed with no kids to worry about. For some reason I just love looking around this shed. I’ve taken photos of it for a past blog and it was one of my more enjoyable photography projects.  I love taking photos of interesting objects, object that are usually glossed over and not really seen for the beauty they hold. From the way the grease has collected on a well-worn handle, or the pile of shavings around a vice or the bucket of metal shards and the well ordered sequence of tools and bits and bobs. This stuff fills me with content. There is surety about building things, these big European made machines are made to be of use and it is a privilege to know the person who can use them like an artist. His son also can use them and it is one thing that makes me proud to be that sons wife. This kind of usefulness is somewhat a dying art in the West, it’s presence is a rarity, so I consider myself lucky.

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Keeping Kids Busy

These last few weeks I’ve felt like a piece of elastic stretched between two incompatible opposites: a child’s world and the world of power tools and sharp, pointy and fragile things.

In between helping build I run to check on children or set them up with some game or other which will keep them busy for a few minutes.

We’ve built a cubby house under a tree where they happily and imaginatively hang out together, set up a playground using things around the yard, encourage lots of sand-pit, collecting and dirt-digging play, but by far the best game we’ve come up with is The Expedition.

Here’s how it goes:

1. Draw a map

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2. Make some ‘treasure’. I put two teaspoons into a ‘treasure chest’ which they found in their sandpit then hid two fruit & jelly cups in their cubby house. 2013 7 22 Kids Playing00042013 7 22 Kids Playing00022013 7 22 Kids Playing0003

3. Hand the map over to the kids

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4. Off they go!

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Large House vs Small House

Most of you following this blog will know that we are making the shift from a small rental house to an un petite bus-house. A bus-house with an uber generous 23 square metres of living space on board.

Australia has one of the largest house sizes in the world with free standing house sizes sitting at about 243m2.  With an average of only 2.66 people living in these large houses that leaves a lot of free space.

While the UK has a very small house size (at an average of 76m2). That popular program Grand Designs often raises the hopeless case of their upper-middle-class renovators and self builders in finding those ‘hard to find’ bits of land for their dream houses, these people manage, in increasingly creative ways, to fill vacant blocks with floors and walls and rooves. These vacuous spaces are then relegated to housing just a couple of bodies on a regular basis.

In an increasingly populated world people seem to continue to want their own space.

Australia has a lot of space and I guess that is why our homes are bigger, but to what end?

What is the use of these large expanses of dead space (dead as in: they do not grow anything and in order to liven them up certain elements must be introduced such as air conditioning and electric light).  They are often devoid of people from at least 8am to 6pm.  What is the point of all these vast, empty buildings?

The point is that with more space you can buy more stuff. You can build more cupboards to fit more things. You can clear a wall to hang that flat screen television of epic proportions. You can have a second lounge suite, a comfy living-in one and a more presentable entertaining one. You can have a breakfast table where the family gather, scruffy and disheveled, in the wee small hours of the morning and also an elegant dining area where those waking breakfasters would never dare spill their morning cereal.

For some strange reason we feel the need for all these different spaces, all these different things. Interior decorating magazines convince us that we should have them.  Advertisers sell us their products, which we gullibly start believing we need. We add clothes, makeup, perfume, shoes, coffee mugs, cushions, linen, kitchen gadgets, gimmicky toys and tools of every persuasion. If we’re smart we might remove some of the old stuff along the way, but still we consume. It is a known fact, we consume up to our income level. If we have money we spend it – that is what it is made for after all – even if we save it we do eventually spend it.

I have been resisting these compulsive spending urges since knowing we were drastically reducing our house size.

In a home this tiny every little object matters and every square centimetre of storage must be seized upon. The ‘bedrooms’ are only as large as they need to be. Both kids have a private space, their bunks, which equal about 2 square metres each, with room enough only to sit. Every part of the bus is shared, except for the drivers seat, we have only one table with enough room only for us four, and there is one lounge.  Our living space however will be huge. It will be the great Australian outdoors. In this bus the outdoors are very close. I was sitting in it yesterday while the rain poured down and it felt very much like I was sitting inside a waterfall. It was beautiful and sensory and I relish that kind of living.

Downsizing does not feel cramped or like a negative lifestyle shift. It is better! It is better than living where we were. With a cut in living space comes a closeness to the outdoors and a reduction in things that we never really needed in the first place.  Cutting down on space, and ergo things, should not scare anyone. It is quite liberating.

A big benefit of renovating a very small area is the way in which we can inject quality into it.  Rather than a big kitchen, for example, we can have a well designed, well made kitchen with a high standard of materials.

This last point is very important to me in my quest for a sustainable life. Ultimately a sustainable life is not fast or big or full of things or expensive, but it is a life of excellence. That is the strength of sustainable living.

I would be rather interested to see the trend of housing in Australia in the future. I wonder if a nomadic lifestyle, like ours, might become more popular as house prices continue to soar, I hope people will learn to live in smaller spaces, leaving more room to live outside.

The Old Schoolhouse Cafe

Off the Olympic Highway into Young there dwells The Old Schoolhouse Cafe which runs from the grounds of…Young’s old school house.

It is a very cute building. I think the toilets are in the old stables, it has that kind of vibe to it. To get there you turn off the highway where a blackboard sign points you in.  It is not in any kind of shopping district and I would not have known about it if my Sister-In-Law did not take me here. A bit off the beaten track.

To enter the building you walk up a few steps into the courtyard which, while fairly barren in Winter, I am told lights up in the Spring – and I can believe it.  The warm brickwork wraps you up in coziness and the children’s chalk drawings on the courtyard pavement only enhance the familiarity of the place. I like a place where you do not have to tip toe around – although inside it is another matter. Even though they invite the likes of children’s parties and have a room set aside for it there are fragile objects all around.  This too is nice, however and I spent a bit of time while drinking my tea distracted by the red, yellow and floral tea sets.

It was only a bit disappointing that they had nothing to serve a gluten-freebee like myself.  I was assured the Semolina, Orange and Almond cake would be okay, a clear indication that the wait staff knew nothing about being wheat/gluten free.  Tea would have to do.

Though the rooms were nice and the staff were very friendly my favourite part of this cafe was the grounds on which it sat. The old school desks for sale lent an air of antiquity to the place and chalk and a blackboard invited children, and adults – why not, to play and get comfy in the surroundings. There was little preciousness here.  Generally buildings which have stood for several decades can handle a bit of frolicking and I for one really appreciate being allowed to interact with my surroundings.

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No Impact Man

I just watched the No Impact Man documentary on ABC iView (if you’re in Australia I recommend you watch it now!).His year long experiment is actually something I would really love to try and I want to live as close to that no/low impact lifestyle as I can my whole life.

I am inspired and encouraged that others are trying to live like this. Normal, 21st Century people, not just ‘crazy hippies’.

http://noimpactman.typepad.com/

Even though traveling around on a bus doesn’t seem like a step toward low impact living, in many ways it is.

We will be living off of solar energy, be hopefully composting all of our waste and potentially using bio diesel and we are driving in the direction of our own bit of earth to start growing things in!

I would like to get our waste down too and perhaps by frequenting farmers markets as we go around we will be able to do that. With a fully functioning kitchen there should be no reason we couldn’t do that just as well as settled folk.

Canberra’s Arboretum

When we were last in Canberra we went twice to the National Arboretum, which is fast becoming one of Canberra’s star attractions.  It was conceived of and established during Jon Stanhope’s time at Canberra’s helm following the 2003 Bushfires. Arguably, it was his governments greatest achievement.  Policy comes and goes and changes, but trees tend to hang around for a bit longer. Generally. We hope.

Apart from the many tree plots within the park which showcase a variety of trees from around the globe, there is an outstanding visitors building. I love this building because it is full of elegantly curving wood and is spacious and airy.

I love wood.

I love wood when it’s in a living tree.

So I love the Arboretum. Or, I love what it is growing into.

Pod Playground. That is the new kids area next to the visitors centre.  It is, hands down, the best playground I’ve been to or at least taken my kids to. It is not completely adult friendly – which is what makes it totally amazing for kids. It takes the kids up into the sky, away from the adults below, through kid-sized tunnels and acorn rooms and down a couple of steep slides.

The Banksia seed pod rooms house dingy-dongy things for kids to bang on. It again is kid friendly rather than adult friendly with doors only so high. Perfect.

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Slow steps forwards

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We have taken two steps backwards and another forwards.  For some reason – we think it might be some latent paint stripper, which somehow made it through the paint prepping stage – the paint in a few areas blistered and came off.

But, if there’s anything I’ve learnt from Grand Designs it is that building projects come with inherent setbacks, additional costs and continual time delays.

So when I look at our project and am overwhelmed by all the many details that will need starting and completing before we can finally move in and call it home, I remember all those people who have felt the same and broadcast these feelings to the world through this and other such programs. Thanks you people.

If we do fail – which we won’t – I can also remember: “If you never fail at something you were never doing anything interesting.”

It’s all an experiment

My dad is getting older (no surprises there) and we are having some great discussions these days all about life.  I love the conclusions he is coming to.

Some people seem to go through life and become more and more convinced that what they believe is damn well 100% right and that’s all there is to it (the blinkers slowly close in over the years), other people live and all they really learn is that they really know very little at all.  I like this latter kind the best and that is what seems to be happening to dad and I…the more we learn the less we know.

We talked about parenting. There are stacks and stacks of books and books and seminars and classes and methods about how to parent. I have friends whose parenting styles are as different as pigs and bricks.

It’s rather mind boggling and utterly confusing.

There are so many empirical methods with spruikers calling their own methods the one and only from ‘to smack or not to smack’, ‘to cloth diaper or disposable diaper or even to just free-ball it’, ‘to homeschool or private/public school’ and parents agonize over all these little decisions which eventually add up to a life – their precious child’s life! It’s a big deal. And everyone is out there trying to drag parents through their own doors.

But, you know what: the problem offers its own conclusion. There is so much information out there. There are so many different ways of going at it that basically it all boils down to this: Everyone does it differently and raising children is all a big experiment every time around.  Infinitesimal variability exists, so why bother over analysing.

From going through the methods (well, just those I’ve managed to get around to) in all their muddy detail I can’t settle on just one.  Basically I like this approach: Be as well informed as you can be then just throw the books out the window and do the best you can.

Ultimately that is what we will all have ended up doing. No person will ever parent perfectly (though some delude themselves), and all we can do is simply ‘the best we can’ and then after that we can only admit that we’ve made mistakes and let our children run off and make their own mistakes.

That. Is life.

That brings me to something else I’ve been thinking about and that is that the most important thing for a parent to say to their children (I think it may be as important as ‘I love you’ – because it does in fact demonstrate love.) is: I’m sorry.

‘I’m sorry’ is a perfect little phrase that sums up so much: I’m human too, I make mistakes, I think you are important enough for me to be humble about my failings to, I love you, you’re great and deserve better. That kind of stuff.

And that is the conclusive way to parent your kids.

Making time

Coming back every now and then has its drawbacks.  While the commute is not too far for a few days stay it is too far for a day trip and I am finding unwelcome limitations to our time spent here.  The most major is the effect it has on relationships.  We have been here for five days and have seen three groups of very important people, some family and a treasured Great-Nonna, have bumped into a couple of good people unexpectedly, one of whom I especially wanted to see but did not have the time to schedule something with and have also managed to squeeze in a date and visit the markets, the likes of which are not seen in Young.

But there is still a long list of people remaining unseen. People who will remain unseen until our next visit in a month, at least.

It is more than frustrating.

I am trying to come up with good solutions.  These people this visit. Those people the next. Keep it rotating and fresh. But it’s not possible to be fair to all, and if people fall through the cracks of a tight schedule one just has to let go.

We also didn’t manage to visit Tidbinbilla, something I was ever so keen to do.

It’s a lesson in life, isn’t it.  We are limited creatures living in limited time in a limited space.

I guess I’ll just have to put up with that.

Shots from Above

 

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We’ve had warm sunny days, icy nights, foggy mornings, rainy afternoons. Have been snuggling up, growing antsy, becoming frustrated, playing music, writing stories, drawing pictures, scraping paint, drilling off rivets, cleaning up – many times over, and being torn in two.

If home is where the heart is my home is both here and in Canberra, and so I’m waiting for the reconciliation, which is coming in a few days.  I had a near meltdown yesterday and the best thing to do is give myself space and stop putting the pressure on. Sometimes one woman can just not do everything. The most pressure I get is the pressure I put on myself.  The pressure to have a clean house, to power down on the bus, to feed everyone, to engage the children, to be putting time into and succeeding at all the things I want to do myself. Letting go of those ambitions can be the hardest. It almost seems as if I would be letting go of myself.

What’s the antidote to this, people?

Maybe I think it could be about enjoying the process. The process of life. And taking note of the detail, like the way the colours play out on a table covered with pencil shavings and pencils, or the steam coming off a pot of porridge, or the pattern created from cut fruit, or the light shining through green glass, or children eating their peas, or my son wearing a fake mo.

And photography is so great at forcing me to recognise and appreciate the small details…though I don’t always like the way it pushes me into spectatorship. Sometimes spectating brings objectivity, so I suppose all things in balance is a good thing.

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I’m meaning to take some photos around here of the houses. As I drive I find myself distracted by the absolute hodge podge of buildings. There are federation style building interspersed with el cheapo weather board. Solid, aging brick and restored relics.  I love the absolute variety and the lack of  cookie cutter housing plantations that happen in larger cities.