The journey: an ode to talking with strangers

Can I tell you a little story? It’s just a little one, and it’s not about carpet, although it is about being poor, and about the way we see ourselves.

One day, when my big nine-year-old girl was still a little four-year-old-girl in Kindergarten, I  met a man while walking home. It was a Friday, that I remember, because I was on my own  after dropping her at school, and he had a little girl riding on top of his shoulders. She was also at Kindergarten, although in the other class from my daughter. They looked like a nice family, and I found myself wishing strangely that we could be friends, or that our girls could be friends.

That’s not what this story is about though.

The man was a friendly man, and we got in step and soon we started talking. I don’t remember what about so much, or about how the conversation led to the ending it did. It was probably about renovating, because he’d asked me whether I lived around here, and I told him I lived in the house around the corner with the peeling pink paint. I felt bad about that paint. I don’t remember what else we said, but I do remember the feeling though that my little girl was now in Kinder, and that she’d bring her friends home, and I felt ashamed for her that she didn’t have the perfectly painted house-and-garden bedroom that I’d always dreamed for her, or the lovely romp-able back lawn. I felt, that year, that I’d let her down, or in some large cosmic sense, I’d let her future self down by not giving her the beautiful start in life I’d always dreamed for her, my first born, my baby girl.

I didn’t tell the man that. I didn’t tell anybody that.

What the man said to me though, after we’d stopped outside his house, a big old shabby-looking place that I’d often wondered about, was this: “We’ve done a lot to our house, and it’s taken years to get around to some things. I think it’s good though. I think it’s good for the girls to experience the process, and to understand that they can’t just have things done all at once.”

I nodded, and smiled. I didn’t once let on how his words changed my life, and then I walked home.

Five years later, and his little girl and mine are now fast friends. I’ve been to their house numerous times to pick her up from playdates, and seen that inside that shabby, crusty exterior is something truly palatial by my standards. They’ve done most of it themselves, and are still doing it. The last few times I’ve been there the dad has been up on a ladder plastering the ceiling of one of the bedrooms, or laying new floorboards, while the girls play Barbies or craft on the mat in the living room. I love their house I love the amazing journey they’ve had, and the huge amount of effort they’ve done to get it to the standard that it’s at. But what I love most of all is this: it reminds me constantly that it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.

I have not let my daughter down by not providing her the most beautiful house and bedroom to start her life in. I’ve given her the gift of experiencing a journey.

How to Organise a House in Ten Easy Steps

We have carpet!!

Life has returned to something vaguely resembling normal (almost), thank God, because it’s Monday, and I have to work again this week and that always throws my organisational syatems up in the air. But my house looks (mostly) LOVELY, and it’s warm, even in this near-winter, and, yes, quiet too. I love it. I’m incredibly grateful, and yes, all the enormous stress was worth it.

Not only that, my house is CLEAN. And, with a few exceptions (there are still two piles of stuff left to sort out – we used this as an opportunity to do a major purge, and part of that was getting rid of some old and useless furniture that just happened to be sitting around gathering dust, and not necessarily putting back every single thing we owned, but going through it slowly and deciding whether or not it was actually still wanted), organised. Now “clean” and “organised” have been my unattainable goals for a long time now; things I strive for desperately, desperate to have one of those beautiful house-and-garden houses that my friends seem to have. And now I’m doing it! I’m living the DREAM! And there’s not even an Ikea in sight. I know. Crazy, right?

So today, my friends, for all of you who have ever, like me, wanted to live in a perfectly organised home, I’m gonna tell you how I did it. Here goes:

Carpet in my son's room. Isn't it lovely!

Carpet in my son’s room. Isn’t it lovely!

1. Save your money. This is possibly quite obvious, although yes, it’s really REALLY hard. We always put away a small amount of our income, and then we spend it on bills. It’s not quite the same. Eventually I used my tax return money to…

2. Go to America. You heard me. Although, granted, if you actually LIVE in America, you probably need to go somewhere else. But travel. Go stay with a friend you haven’t seen in years. Although…here’s the trick…make sure they’re great housekeepers. I’m serious! See, you can have friends (as I do) who are great housekeepers when you’re at home, but when you visit them you see them sitting drinking coffee at the kitchen table, or relaxing on their couch. When you actually go stay with people you get to see how they do life on a larger scale. And what I learned was this: they clean their houses every morning. Seriously! I KNOW! But you know what? It works! Because the house is already clean, it only takes a few minutes to run through and do it, and then it’s not dirty for the next day when they clean it. Cool, eh? I’ve been trying this. Sometimes I’ve even been succeeding.

3. Kill off your parents. Oh OKAY, I’m not really serious. Winning the lotto will also do it. And NO, before you start wondering, I DID NOT kill my dad. He just up and died, all by himself, heartless thing. BUT, he did leave me all his money (I’m an only child. If you’re not, and you take the title of step number 3 literally you may also need to bump off your siblings. Although if you took me literally you’ve probably not got any kind of sense of humour and it’s not a how-to-clean-your-house blog you need, it’s serious therapy). But Dad died, we inherited more money than we needed to just pay the electricity bill and buy our kids a Happy Meal to celebrate, so we bought carpet. See? Onya Dad. We’d probably still be dreaming about it if it wasn’t for you.

4. Put down carpet. Or, if you’ve already got carpet, put down new carpet. Carpet is great! I haven’t lived in a carpeted house for nearly fifteen years, and I’ve never ever lived in a house with new carpet, so I pretty much think I’m in Heaven right now. Carpeted Heaven. But before we put down the carpet we first needed to…

Lounge room carpet, but the lighting isn't that great. Just ignore the walls.

Lounge room carpet, but the lighting isn’t that great. Just ignore the walls.

5. Get rid of everything in your house. Yes, and I mean EVERYTHING. Putting down carpet is like moving…like moving house and staying in the same spot. It’s win, kinda. My friend Annie who has moved a LOT of times has the most organised house, and she tells me it’s because every time you move house you chuck out the random stuff you accumulate and don’t think about. Moving house makes you ruthless. It made me think “I wish we could move”, even though I like our house, I like where we live, and didn’t want to.  But tada! Carpet is moving-wish granted. And you can’t fudge it with carpet like you do with general cleaning…you know, just kind of pack up around the stuff you’d rather not deal with. You just can’t carpet over old furniture or kids’ puzzles with pieces missing. You either have to chuck them out or store them. And when you’re storing them you think “WHY am I storing this?” and then you chuck it. Or you leave it on the floor to be carpeted over so the new owners can discover it in twenty years’ time…but that’s just weird.

6. Bring back inside only the stuff you need or desperately want to keep. Yes! Leave out all the kids’ kindergarten craft (unless they’re still in kindergarten and they love them). Leave out the ugly bookshelf with the books the kids no longer read. Leave out the mangy wardrobe with the stuff piled on top. Leave out the stuff. Even better, make sure (as we did) that you store everything in SOMEBODY ELSE’S SPACE so you can’t simply leave it in the garage for the next twenty years. Hire a shipping container. Borrow your neighbour’s garage. Just. Don’t. Forget. To. Sort. It.

7. Turn around. Look how nice your house is without all that extra stuff! Roll on the new carpet. Offer up a silent prayer of thanks. Think about your dead parent, and how much they would have loved to see it. Yell at the kids to get their food off the precious new flooring. Roll around some more. Do a cartwheel. Don’t tell anyone, because you’re nearly 40 and you’re really bad at doing cartwheels.

8. Go to America. Okay, that bit doesn’t have much at all to do with keeping your house clean, but gosh it’s a cool place. And you get to hug your friends who taught you how to clean up every morning, but it sure is fun. And, face it, America is awesome. Almost as awesome as carpet.

My 7yo watching TV in our lounge room. See? This is the pile of stuff we still need to sort out. It happens. We'll get there.

My 7yo watching TV in our lounge room. See? This is the pile of stuff we still need to sort out. It happens. We’ll get there.

How about you? Any awesome tips on how to keep a house organized…especially after the novelty of new carpet wears off? I know. It’ll happen eventually. Give me your best tips now, so I can stay organised when it does!

blog post? What blog post?

Arrrrgghh…

There’s carpet going down! My study is empty. My lounge room and bedroom are so full I can’t even get into them.

I’m so tired I can’t even remember basic words like…like…oh you know what I mean.

See ya Monday folks. In the mean time, go be nice to someone who looks stressed and grumpy. If they ask why, tell them you’re doing it for your Tasmanian friend!

A change is as good as a holiday

This is a Christmas-newsletter-type post for anyone who wants to know what’s really going on in our lives right now, and for anyone who (like my dear friend Wanderer) has noticed the random nature of my blog topics of late. I do apologise. Feel free to skip this and come back on Thursday if you prefer, when I’ll (hopefully) have something interesting to say.

Or keep reading…

When my dad died in December last year we inherited a decent sum of money from him. This isn’t something we’d fully been expecting, considering he’d been on a pension since 1985, but stranger things have happened. And no, inheriting a decent sum of money doesn’t really make up for losing my dad, who’d only just moved back to our state after a 20 year absence.

So we’ve got money, and for the first time in our married life we can make choices based on what we want/feel is right, not on our financial limitations. We’re putting down carpet in our house for the first time (yes, believe it, the place gets COLD in winter!), and we’re upgrading the kitchen (if you’ve been here you’d know why. It has issues). We were already in process of purchasing a parcel of land and a garage from our next door neighbours, although the original plan for that was to build a granny flat for Dad, who no longer needs it. Any of you who have ever had to deal with council requirements for things like this in Australia (I can’t comment on elsewhere…hopefully it’s EASIER!) will know how hard it is. And, because we can, and because it feels like the right thing to do, we’re packing up the kids and going on a 2-month family vacation to the US and Canada, where I’ll also get to attend the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference in Indianapolis, and pitch my work to people who may…MAY just be interested in publishing it.

Yay. All this and a holiday to boot. We are blessed, incredibly blessed. We know this. There’s no way we’d complain about anything right now. No. Way.

So, I don’t like to talk about the huge amount of furniture I have to move and the difficulty in throwing things out and wondering whether it’s wrong that I’m adding to landfill with children’s toys I’d meant to fix or find the missing pieces for and now I have to get them out of the house…NOW…because the carpet people are coming. And how we’ll live with all our furniture stuck in a kitchen for a day or two, when there are still children who need school lunches and meals to be cooked…and doing it all again when we rip out the kitchen window, and a few weeks later the kitchen benches and stove for a week, it’ll be too late to worry about landfill then…and I need to book the tickets to the US, but first I need to finalise the dates, and make sure there’s somewhere appropriate for us to stay in each place, and convince the kids that yes, they may all be sharing a queen-size bed for a week, three of them together, and that’s just okay. I don’t want to talk about it because, really, this is seriously first-world rich-people problems, and I’m so grateful to have carpet and so incredibly grateful to have a new kitchen and so UNBELIEVABLY grateful to have a family holiday overseas, let alone the chance to pursue my dream of becoming a published author, and my husband’s dream of stepping into business full-time, and…

It’s all so good. So SO good. So good that I don’t want to even mention how incredibly stressful it all is right now.

We. Will. Get. Through. It. It. Is. ALL. GOOD.

But please forgive me if I drop the ball a little bit sometimes, or if I get a bit random in my blog posts, or take a while to reply. A change is as good as a holiday…change of any sort–including holidays–rates on the stress scale.

I’ll talk to you soon. I promise. I just can’t promise to make a lot of sense!

 

 

 

The Tasmanian Fairy Tale Shop

Shop window with applies and naked plastic childrenSo I went for a walk the other day, and on my way home I walked past this shop. Naked plastic children (headless)…and baskets of apples. Because they go together.

Now I live here. I know what this shop is, and what I’d find if I walked inside. I’m sure you could work it out pretty quickly too. But just for a moment, because it’s fun, let’s imagine…

This is a Fairy Tale Supplies Store. It’s called Anderson&Grimm, and out the back there are axe-sharpening tools and a selection of different types of porridge. There are chairs and beds of different sizes and levels of comfort, a rack of capes for sale in varying shades, from crimson to scarlet, and dog-grooming products. Behind the counter there are sleeping pills, fertilizer, rat poison and anti-frizz hair products.

Because that’s cool.

I’m hoping that the vacant shop next door will soon be taken up by Ms. A. Christie and her display of model trains, 1930s decor, moustache cream, arsenic, fluffy cardigans and a rack of brown suits. With a few cracked mirrors. I’d love that shop.

Dream with me today, my friends. There’s an empty shop near you, tucked away in an obscure little back street that only the locals know about. What would you put in it?

 

The disposable world

Electronic refuse at the local tip

Electronic refuse at the local tip

I remember a day when colour TVs were a luxury that not everybody could afford (granted, there are people who remember when TVs themselves were that kind of unaffordable luxury, but I’m not among them). I remember watching Sesame Street in black and white in 1979 when all of a sudden white smoke started coming out of the black box…into my white lounge room…and a week or so later we had an enormous colour television wrapped in brown laminate, standing on little brown legs in the corner of our lounge room. Full. Glorious. Colour!

I remember walking into a big electrical retailer a few years ago and marveling at the size and scope and sheer range of the beautiful big TVs for sale in there. All of them big, silver and shiny and much, much more fancy than ours. Yet all of them now are here, like in the photo, outside in a row of giant and overflowing skip bins.

This was taken at my local tip a few weeks ago. There are three more tips that I know of in my small city, and there are probably a number more that I’ve never needed to know about as well. I imagine they all have overflowing bins like these. Our tip has a large recycling shop too, including a electronics recycling store (drop it off, fix it up, ship it out). I dropped my microwave off there after it decided to downgrade from full-time work to part-time. There was a sign out the front saying “no more TVs”. So the rest, presumably, are on the tip face itself with all the potato peelings, take-away containers and disposable nappies.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am guilty here too. Our old TV is possibly buried at the bottom of one of those skip bins, and dirty nappies from my three babies are buried up there on the tip-face where they’ll sit for the rest of eternity. I’m not proud of that, but I did what I needed to stay sane and live my life as best I could at the time. And not only that, manufacturers are promoting this too. I could have taken my microwave to the electronics repair place, yes. I didn’t think of it until today. I could afford to buy a new one, so I did.

What makes me sad though is that in all the consumer reviews I read on the best microwaves, every consumer said that they got three years use out of them at most.

I’m not writing this to try and change the world. I can’t. I just wanted to say something, to acknowledge a dirty capitalist truth: we think we live in a disposable world. I wish we didn’t think that.

My next-door neighbour has an old fridge in her garage. I was helping her move it the other day, and asked her if it still worked. She said yes, it just needed to be re-gassed. “It was a good fridge”, she said. “Nobody would want it now, though”. And she’s right. In a few weeks it’ll be on the white-goods pile on the tip-face, a white-mountain monument to our desire for new and shiny and better.

I’ve been pricing new fridges and freezers too. Both of ours are second-hand. The vegetable compartment of our fridge has a chunk of plastic missing, and the freezer is probably thirty years old, with funny brown rust-marks on the door. I’ll advertise them in the local flea market, because they’re still decent enough appliances. I may sell them to some university student too impoverished to shop at Harvey Norman. They may use them, then graduate and move. I hope they’ll sell them on, or give them away. I have to live in hope. It anaesthatises my brain from the reality that my fridge shopping is a few steps down the road from adding to the mountain at the tip.

What about you? Do you struggle to throw things away? Are you a super-recycler, or a must-have-the-newest-thing person? Or, like me, are you somewhere in between, a foot in both camps, wanting the newest, latest, prettiest, but struggling to let go of the old? Do tell!

The Orphan: a short story

This is a little story – a real, fictional, short story – I wrote a few weeks back. Actually it kind of exploded out of me in a strange fit of…umm…literary diahorrea, if I could call it that (you may describe it as that after you read it, but that’s another story!). It’s been a long time since I’ve written any short fiction, and it could probably do with a good edit, but sometimes when these things come out like that the best thing you can do for a while is stare at them and leave them as they are. 

Here it is, anyway. Hope you enjoy it. 

The Orphan

by Megan Sayer (c) 2013

Millicent lived at the Orphanage on Archibald Street, and had lived there since the death of her parents when she was five years old. She loved the grand arches of the doorways and the tall oak doors. She loved the creak of the floors above her as she studied her books and looked at her sewing during the days, and she loved the swoosh sound of the great oak branches on the roof above her as she lay in bed every night. She slept in a room with five other orphans, on a narrow wooden bed with crisp white sheets that were changed every other day by Miss Nancy, the housekeeper; and given porridge in the mornings and sandwiches at noon and pot roast in the evening for supper, with boiled potatoes and vegetables. Millicent loved boiled potatoes and pot roast, and she loved knowing that on Sundays there would be apple strudel for dessert, and for birthdays and adoption days there would be cake. Millicent loved cake.

Millicent loved the Orphanage. She took pride in keeping the crisp white sheets straight on her narrow bed, and swept the dining hall conscientiously every Tuesday evening and Thursday morning, which were her turns. She loved Miss Nancy, and Miss Hattie the cook, and Mrs Cottlebottom, who sat in her office and presided over the doings of the Orphanage at large. Millicent remembered when Mrs Cottlebottom was just new, and Mrs Hanover before that. Millicent had been at the Orphanage longer than anybody, which is maybe why she loved it. The Orphanage was home.

Millicent dreamed though, and in the mornings while she straightened her crisp white sheets, and during the days while she did her bookwork and her sewing, and during the evenings while she bathed and dressed and after dinner on Tuesday evenings while she swept the floor of the dining hall, she dreamed that one day she too would be adopted. Everybody who wants to gets adopted, that’s what Millicent believed. That’s what she’d seen, too. Everybody who wants to gets adopted eventually.

Not everybody wants to though. Everybody knew that, everyone from Miss Cottlebottom right down to the very smallest children. They’d all watched the ones who didn’t want to go, watched as their eyes turn hard on the faces of would-be parents and the frowns come over them, watched as those ones came back after afternoon visits to the park and swore never to go again. They were the ones who’d leave on their own—or sometimes with a friend—and find a job and an apartment and start a new, orphanage-free life of their own. Not Millicent though. She knew in her deepest heart that one day, if she kept dreaming, that one day she’d be adopted.

It was a Thursday morning the day her dream came true. Mrs Cottlebottom sent one of the smaller girls to fetch her up to her office, telling her not to worry about finishing sweeping the dining hall, to come and to come now. Millicent did so. She dropped her broom right where she was standing, hitched up her apron and ran as fast as she was able on trembling legs. She knew before she got there what was about to happen. Being called to Mrs Cottlebottom’s office meant only one thing.

Millicent didn’t expect that her nerves would go out on her at the last minute. She’d never once, in all the times she’d dreamed this moment, imagined that the great dark-oak doors would look so foreboding, or make her feel so small, so unlovely. She knew then, in the seconds it took for her to smooth her hair down with her hand, why it was that some of them didn’t want to go.

Taking a deep breath and an even deeper swallow, Millicent pushed open the door. “You asked for me, Mrs Cottlebottom?”

“Millicent, my dear. Come in!” Mrs Cottlebottoms’s smile was wide and welcoming, as always, and Millicent stepped inside, letting the heavy door swing shut behind her. Mrs Cottlebottom sat behind her desk, as usual, and next to her sat the oldest woman Millicent had ever seen. She was as brown and wrinkled as a sultana, and as skinny as the empty grape stalk that grew it. Her hair was powder-white, and fluffed big like a cloud, although thin enough to see through it all the way to her brown and wrinkly scalp. Her mouth was wide and pink however, and showed a row of teeth so shiny and white they must have been polished with bleach, and above that smile were eyes that glowed like diamonds in the sunshine. Millicent liked her, but found herself too shy to meet her gaze.

“Come in, dear. Sit down.” Mrs Cottlebottom indicated the chair in front of the desk, and Millicent quietly obeyed.  Her mouth felt dry and she could feel her heart beating so loudly in her chest she wondered if the ladies opposite her could actually hear it. They didn’t seem to notice, and Mrs Cottlebottom’s bright voice continued its lullaby of words and information. Millicent studied the sunlight shining through the lace curtain.

“…of course Gertrude will always…” Millicent tuned out again, tuned in to the rhythm of her heart beating, wondered what vegetables there would be with dinner tonight.

“…And don’t forget, my dear, if you ever…” Millicent suddenly realised she would not be there for dinner that night, perhaps not any other night after this either. A fat tear formed in her eye, and she opened her eyes wide, as if to try to suck it back inside.

The old lady, Gertrude, was filling in papers with peculiar spidery handwriting, her gnarled hands gripping the pen in a way that looked completely unnatural to Millicent. This woman was to be her mother. After all her years of dreaming she was finally to be adopted.

A mother of her very own.

A home. A place to belong.

There would be cake for lunch today, maybe even a chocolate one. And today the adoption cake would be for her.

Millicent went to live at Gertrude’s house. It was neat and shiny as a new pin, with polished rails leading upstairs to two bedrooms, side by side, one for Gertrude and one for Millicent. Her new bed was not narrow with crisp white linen, but wide and soft, with a mattress that sank into the middle with a body on it, and hugged that body all the night. Millicent liked it, but she wasn’t sure how much she was allowed to.

She wasn’t sure how much she was allowed to like the new things for dinner, either. Sausages in casserole. Chicken pieces with breadcrumbs on them. Real ice cream, and no apple strudel on Saturdays. Gertrude told her that she didn’t need to sweep the kitchen floor on Tuesday evenings or Thursday mornings like before, but she did anyway. She didn’t know any other way.

Gertrude, in spite of her age—or perhaps because of it—was sprightly and adventuresome. She rose early in the morning and cleaned the already-clean kitchen and polished the already-polished bannisters, then she cooked some porridge for Millicent and herself and set about her day’s activities. She volunteered at a home for unwanted cats on Wednesdays and walked with her ladies’ group on Mondays and Fridays. On Tuesdays she shopped and on Thursdays she cooked. Every morning she asked Millicent to join her, to come with her on whatever activity she had planned for that day, and every day Millicent said no thank you. She preferred to stay home and do her bookwork and her sewing, just as she had always done.

The ache in Millicent grew though. She took herself to bed earlier and earlier each night so as not to have to sit with her mother in silence, companiable or otherwise. She could no longer enjoy the soft hug of the mattress, so she took it off the bed and slept on a blanket over the springs. She could not eat cake, so she feigned illness and left dinner untouched. Then one day she stayed in bed instead of coming downstairs for porridge, and decided she may never come back downstairs at all. Millicent understood finally that she had been in the Orphanage for too many years. Her dreaming for so long of life with a family had not prepared her at all for the reality that one may really show up. Dreams are neat, and neatly contained. Dreams have beginnings and endings. Real life, like family, is a messy affair.

 

Millicent was still in bed at lunch time, when Gertrude came back from her morning at the home for unwanted cats. Millicent heard the creak as the old woman climbed the stairs and turned over in bed, set her face to the wall. She didn’t look up as the old woman sat down gently beside her on the side of the bed, but as the tears began to shake themselves up and out of her gut she began to talk.

“I don’t know how to do it, Gertrude. I don’t know how to do family. I don’t know what the rules are any more. What if I’m doing it wrong?”

Gertrude stroked back Millicent’s white hair from her face, and wiped the tears from Millicent’s wrinkled cheek before taking her adopted daughter’s liver-spotted hand in her own. She’d been in the Orphanage the longest of all, Mrs Cottlebottom had told her. Since she was nearly five years old. Sixty-five years is a long time to live in one place.

“You’re doing just fine, darling,” Gertrude smiled her wide pink smile at Millicent and squeezed her hand in love. “There are no rules.”

No rules. Just love.

Millicent looked up, finally meeting her mother’s gaze. “I waited a long time for you. I always knew you’d come. I didn’t give up believing.”

Gertrude’s eyes shone again like diamonds.

“I came for you, my daughter. Just like you knew I would.  I came for you. All these years.”

No rules. Just love.

Millicent sat up in bed and allowed herself to be encircled in her mother’s embrace. Just love.

No rules.

Gertrude took Millicent’s hand and helped her up out of bed, and the two white-haired women together slid down the polished bannister and went into the kitchen for cake.