Thursday, April 1, 2010

Because not enough people are telling women what to do.

30 Things Every Woman Should Quit Doing By 30

Lists like that enervate me. Does anyone feel empowered by reading a laundry list of all the things that women do wrong when they hit that Tragic Age™?

I've come up with my own list of what it would make me happy to see every woman do or feel by the time she is thirty years old:

  1. Eradicate the word "should" from her vocabulary.
  2. Throw her own birthday party, and call out those close to her who forget it, and not in a forgiving, gentle way. And refuse to take responsibility for her partner remembering everyone's birthday, too.
  3. Look at herself in the mirror and think, "I'm darned sexy".
  4. Have a partner who says the same thing to her - all the time.
  5. Share her bed with whoever she likes, be it a partner, a baby, all her kids, the dogs, a teddy, or just her own lone, comfortable self.
  6. Celebrate every relationship she's ever had, with no regrets.
  7. Laugh at the ways she's like her parents, but continue to reject the values they have which she doesn't share.
  8. No longer be subject to male privilege in just about every facet of her life, or be called a lesbian or a man hater when she calls a jerk who happens to be a man, a jerk.
  9. Learn to shake the dust off her feet and not feel like she has to be polite to people who made her life miserable for any amount of time, at any point in her life.
  10. Be treated with respect by the health professionals who have access to her girlie bits.
  11. Be joyous in her skin, regardless of how dry or wrinkled it is.
  12. Be forgiving of herself when she makes a twit of herself, and be forgiving of others too.
  13. Explore her emotional reactions to people in all sorts of spheres, without shame.
  14. Be confident she knows enough to run her life competently.
  15. Celebrate if she has a parent she is close enough to, or who is still alive, to be called "mummy" or "daddy".
  16. Celebrate her siblings, and find others to be close enough to if she doesn't have any.
  17. Be immune from people expecting her to look a certain way before she can get by.
  18. Know that the pay disparity and superannuation disparity will be resolved so that she will no longer earn so much less than men in the same role and have so much less to retire on.
  19. Not be expected to be the rock on which a man can build his life, or be sneered at if she fails to play the role of the damsel in need.
  20. Cease sticking at things because of guilt or duty and nothing else.
  21. Use every human interaction, in person or online, to make the world a better place.
  22. Never feel like she has to put out because a guy picked up the tab.
  23. Celebrate the life she has, and the lives of those around her.
  24. Expect people to love her and treat her with respect, whether it's her birthday or just plain Tuesday.
  25. Be surrounded by people who validate her broken heart, and smile when she learns to smile again.
  26. Never be looked down on or judged again by someone because of a number on the scale.
  27. Not be dragged into classist ideologies about "cheap" or "classy" but live according to her principles and with dignity.
  28. Be prepared to take risks, with a hefty back up plan.
  29. Be able to look at motherhood, either for herself or her predecessors, with honesty and generosity, rather than the overhyped expectations put on mothers today. And if she's got kids, quit blaming herself for all their issues.
  30. Remember that people of all ages have a wonderful perspective on the world.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The name of my blog says it all

Why are we still having this conversation?

The subject matter - balancing life and work and kids and leisure and all the rest of it - is a universal issue, which affects men and women alike. The article itself admits,
According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 47 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men often or always feel rushed or pressed for time. It's even higher for two-parent families with young children; 67 per cent of mothers and 61 per cent of fathers feel frequently or constantly rushed, though the bureau doesn't specify whether they're working or not.
The difference is under ten percent, which one might even believe surprisingly even, given that women still generally bear the lion's share of the homekeeping and childrearing burden, regardless of their employment status.

And yet, the lead for the article says,
Job plus kids plus house plus spouse - is the modern woman's dream of having it all really a nightmare?
The article then goes on to describe some women in very family-unfriendly employment who found themselves unable to balance what they felt they needed to do with their families, and their careers. Meetings, holidays, out of hours demands... it made it impossible for them to feel happy and they felt that they weren't performing either role well.

Here's a surprise - when you work in a job that is unfriendly to family dynamics, where days are long, holidays are few and interruptions to private life are endemic, it is going to impact on how you parent your children. This applies to fathers and mothers, pretty much equally.

So why is this framed as a maternal issue, so fraught for the women who "want it all"?

I'll tell you why.

It's because we as a society have fetishised our fantasy of ideal Motherhood to the detriment of fatherhood and the mother's personhood. When a woman becomes a mother, society demands that she shed her unique qualities as an individual and begin to fit a narrow stereotype. From the first time you are called "Mum" by your pre-natal healthcare provider, you assume this mantle of Mother, and it will never leave you. (I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing.)

And what Mothers are required to be is: self sacrificing; self effacing; focused on their children; prepared to settle; lacking ambition. Fathers are expected to be these things too - but not to the exclusion of their individuality and the lives (generally) that they were living prior to having children.

So, in the article, we have Jane, and Tim, both of whom were initially stay at home parents, but who both decided in their individual families that it didn't suit them. Now they both work part time.

Tim and his partner Kate are both working part time and caring for the children together. Tim is described as "helping" with childcare.

But Jane, who works part time, is described as "juggling". Tim's quote is about how his colleagues at work perceive him. Jane's entails the impact of her lifestyle on her child - albeit a relatively positive one regarding how well traveled he is.

The article talks about the next generation of girls who will be mothers in years to come:
''Teenage girls … (are) telling us everything is becoming more important,'' researcher Betsey Stevenson told CNN. ''They're telling us that being a good child, being a good parent when they grow up, being a leader in their community, being a good employee, all of these things have become more important and what it's costing them is time for leisure.''
So just whose expectations are we dealing with, here? Generations of women with an entitlement problem, who are selfishly aiming to stuff their lives full of everything they want, and hang the consequences.... or are we looking at generations of women who are consistently being asked to clear a bar that men are rarely even asked to take a run at? Are women really trying to have it all, or seeking some kind of ever-retreating acceptance for whatever activities they have in their lives, be it motherhood, work, hobbies or as a spouse?

And how are these ridiculous expectations and uneven burdens supposed to lead to anything but guilt?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thank you, Mr Rat.

I wasn't going to post this, because primarily I was concerned that if I did, no-one would come around to dinner ever again.

In the interest of breaking the conspiracy of silence of grotty housekeepers everywhere (the silence that keeps us grotties from realising that half the population is at least as grotty as we are) I decided to be honest, however. I can only hope that the wardens don't read this and demand an immediate inspection of the vicarage.

We've been cooking up a storm at home this week - being broke always forces us to eat better, falling back on our kitchen resources and concentrating on producing the best possible food with the goods we have. We should pretend we are poor all the time. But, I digress.

Inspired by my domestic frenzy, Stompy decided to cook a date fudge slice. The result was beautiful and sat to cool on the bench. I went to bed early without doing my usual kitchen rounds, and didn't realise that the darned thing sat out on the bench all night... and when we got up in the morning, a delicate tracery of cocoa powder and icing sugar, spread from the top of the nibbled cake to up and down the wall, revealed that a rodent of uncertain and hopefully only mouselike dimensions had been enjoying the fruits of her labours.

Amidst squeals of "ewww" and "gross," we hurled the contaminated fudge in the bin, disinfected the bench top, baked a new batch of brownies, and then cruelly baited a mouse trap with a piece of the new brownie (since the rodent clearly had a taste for it), and left it on the bench top overnight.

Last night, just after midnight, I was prowling up and down the hallway with a heavy and sleepless Tom squirming in my arms, when I heard a clatter from the kitchen. It was either Toxic Teen raiding the kitchen... or the mouse! I put Tom in his cot, stood outside the closed kitchen door, and listened, afraid to open it. If the mouse had been caught, then I had the moral obligation to dispose of its probably still-twitching body. I could pretend I hadn't heard a thing and then go back to bed... but my scruples about letting Clarebear discover the mouse carnage got the better of me, and I opened the door and turned on the light.

The mousetrap had been set off, indeed. And there, scuttling across the top of the stove, glaring at me as it made for the shadows, was a grey, ghastly, gigantic RAT.

I turned off the light, slammed the door and stared wide eyed into the darkness. My dilemma had now increased. Should I open the door again and see where the wretched thing with its fat, sleek body had gone? Should I try to whack it with a broom and risk it tearing up my leg and biting my chin or something? Should I do what I felt inclined to do, stamp up and down and shriek and shudder and make gibberish noises?

I gathered myself and instead did what any sane person would do, and I tiptoed down to our bedroom, mindful of Beloved's tired state as he lay there snoring gently, and bellowed, "THERE'S A GIANT RAT IN THE KITCHEN!!!!"

To his credit Beloved didn't curse (much), but got up, surveyed the useless mousetrap and the resultant blood smear on the wall (more shuddering and gibberish ensued from me as I thought about how maybe his whiskers had been ripped out) and set a rat trap after cleaning off the bench, baiting it with yet more brownie. We retired to bed, where my mind was otherwise occupied by the ever wakeful Tom, who clearly had heard the call of Mr Rat and wanted to get up and play with it.

The next morning, the rat had been back and demolished the rest of the brownie on the mousetrap (which Beloved had not removed, but which I could not criticise him for after I had shrieked him out of his slumber at midnight) but the rat trap was untouched. Clever Mr Rat. By the time I got out of bed, Beloved had bleached everything and the kitchen was shining like a new pin.

Except for the pantry.

We have a wonderful pantry, in our old farm-style kitchen. Wall to wall shelving, and just enough room for our huge fridge. While the rest of my home has been gradually becoming uncluttered, however, the pantry has been one of those areas where sometimes I just have to close the door. It's not that it's been dirty, it's just that there's been so much stuff in there that I wouldn't have any idea just what sort of state it was in, really. And the cluttered shelves have just sat there in their grimly disorganised sort of way, chastising me every time I went to get the milk.

Well, Mr Rat had decided for me that this situation had to be remedied. The traps weren't working, as he was clearly a superior type of smarty-rat, and I needed to make sure that there wasn't anything in there making him feel that it was worth risking life, limb and whiskers to continue to have ratty raves in my kitchen at night. I hardly dared entertain the fear that perhaps it was a Mrs Rat, with the attendant equally sleepless Baby Rats keeping her up all night behind the flour bin. (Shudder, gibber.)

I girded my loins, sent Tom to daycare for the day, and set to with a bucket of hot soapy water, garbage bags and grim determination.

There was no evidence of a Ratty Residence, much to my relief, but I did find a half open packet of dried noodles that I swear has followed me around from the last four house moves, never being touched. I also found four half opened packets of linguine (and all my shopping trips of the past twelve months where I've asked Beloved, "how are we for long pasta?" flashed into my mind), no fewer than six tins of pineapple (we never eat tinned pineapple), five tins of beetroot (although to be fair, two of the tins of baby beets are for a salad I'd planned for tonight), and packets of half used spices that I remember buying when Toxic Teen was in nappies that I would never dream of using but for some reason had left to sit as some kind of archaeological record at the back of the spice rack.

We also have probably the largest unintentional collection of food dyes, hundreds-and-thousands, cachous and writing icing tubes in the Southern Hemisphere, thanks to my immutable believe that We Don't Have Any Of Those So We'd Better Pick Some Up.

I threw out everything that had been opened and not sealed in a container, including the open packets of linguine (so now I know we're all out of long pasta!) and cleaned out every corner, nook and cranny.

Once I had finished (see the results below), I took that big black plastic rubbish bag out to the bin, and, having forgotten Mr Rat and having rendered my pantry shudder-proof, the weight off my shoulders was literal and figurative. Now I want to go and bake, just for the novelty of not having to scrabble for a single thing. I am also able to start a pantry inventory, and I know that if we ran out of money, I could feed the family for a week out of what I have in there right now, as long as they were in the mood for pineapple.

I've not been able to go out for the bike ride I wanted to do today, but I've got a horrible job done, and I have Mr Rat to thank for it. If you'd like to come and receive your reward, Mr Rat, I've got a piece of brownie laced with ratsak with your name on it....


Thursday, January 14, 2010

The System For Sanity

I am not writing this post because I am any kind of domestic goddess. Anyone who has visited my home will attest to the fact that not only am I not even a minor deity in the homemaking department, I might even qualify as the anti-Christ of domestic organisation from time to time. I'm writing because I have been inspired by other blogs where people have described how they have Got Themselves Together.

The catalyst to change the disorganisation of my home was mostly my anxiety issues. I just didn't need to keep worrying about silly things like lost bills and school notes and whether or not the vegetables in the crisper were edible. I needed more peace and calm in my life, and part of that meant taking control of my surroundings.

Also, what I'm describing below is how I do things when things are working well for me. If I am not sleeping well or I'm having a relapse of depression or pain, things slide. The benefit of largely living this way, however, is that the climb back out of the mess isn't as arduous when things were pretty organised to begin with.


I'm sure by now everyone has heard of Flylady. I don't follow Flylady so much as pilfer a few ideas. I find her approach sexist in that a) it doesn't take into account that the "stressed home executive" might also be a "stressed office executive". She also assumes that not only will the woman of the house be the primary homemaker, but will have all authority and control over the homemaking.

That said, the Home Control Journal has become very important to me. Even if I don't put my MITs (most important tasks) down in it every day, just seeing that polka-dotted folder gets my head in the right space to set my goals for the day. Essential to the Flylady method is the idea of routines. Morning routines and evening routines begin and end the day in a positive and productive frame of mind. The morning routine includes, among other things, getting up and dressed right down to your shoes, giving the bathroom a wipe over (including the loo) when you use the it, and basically starting the day as you mean to go on. Morning routines however assume a certain amount of sleep in the preceding hours - this routine may be neglected depending on how well Tom has done the night before!

The evening routine includes getting your clothes ready for the day before. This has saved me an immense amount of time and worry. I can't remember how many times I've been late for work because I couldn't decide what to wear. The evening routine also means I start each day ahead in that the mess from the lounge room the night before isn't facing me in the morning. The dishes are all clean - no catching up to do before the next day's activities commence.

The other thing that I have picked up from Flylady (besides a groaning inbox) is the knowledge that I can do anything for fifteen minutes. Can't tackle the entire pantry? That's okay - how much of that shelf can I clear and clean in fifteen minutes? Do that over a week and an insurmountable job is gradually whittled away.

Never Waste a Walk

I very rarely leave a room empty handed. This method, combined with the Do It Now (see below) means that little jobs remain little jobs and don't build up to a gigantic chore like Tidying Up The Lounge Room. If I'm going out to the kitchen, I'll take out with me whatever papers or magazines for recycling or cups for washing or rubbish for chucking. If I'm leaving the bathroom, I'll take any dirty towels or face washers, or empty the bin on my way out. If I'm leaving the bedrooms, I'll take some washing with me out to the laundry. You get the picture.

Do It Now

I try not to say, "I really must get around to doing that," nowadays. Now, when I see a grotty mark on a wall or some slime on a fridge shelf or a cupboard that requires tidying a bit, I just do it. It generally takes only as much time to do the thing, as it does to think about how I'll do it later, and when. Again, chronic pain can make tasks like this difficult, but it's good for my soul.

Meal Planning

Of the things we do differently now, meal planning has perhaps made the greatest difference to our health, happiness and budget. Each week, I plan the meal menus for the days ahead. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes I trawl through recipe sites or treat myself to a Good Taste magazine to get inspiration. I like to try new things. Then I go through the fridge and freezer and see what we already have, and clean out the old leftovers and dodgy vegies. In winter we will sometimes have "fridge soup" - where everything (within reason) gets chucked in a pot and cooked to death.

I put the menu plan in a folder so that everyone can refer to it, because I'm not the only one who cooks in this house.

I put everything we need in a list in my iPhone, and we stick to the list.

The benefits of meal planning are:
  • Less waste
  • More time (less time spent worrying and doing last minute shopping)
  • The peace of knowing what is for dinner the next night and knowing that we have everything for it
  • Incentive to cook. When you take all of the above into account, there is less temptation to buy takeaway.

I write things like this, and I post the odd photograph of my home. If I know that people are watching, I'm more inclined to be diligent.

So, every day, the things that happen around this house (not necessarily by me) are:
  • Beds are made.
  • Dishwasher is empty/loaded, dishes in the sink done
  • Washing is done
  • Bathroom is cleaned
  • Bins are emptied
  • Floors are swept, the kitchen mopped, and the carpeted areas vacuumed
  • Lounge area is tidied of toys, books, dishes and other detritus
Once a week-ish (less in a bad time!):
  • Sheets are changed
  • Things are dusted
  • A cupboard, somewhere, will be cleared out
  • I'll see to what paperwork I have
Once a month:
  • All the bills are paid
  • The front porch is swept and the outside area tidied up
  • I'll purge some clothes from someone's wardrobe
I'd like to add things like "cleaning the kickboards/doors," "tidying out the shed," "Cleaning the cars inside and outside," and "inventorying the pantry" but I'm not that far down the track yet!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why I hate summer cooking

I hate cooking in the summer. I use my stove a lot, I bake a lot, I like slow cooked things, and my salad repertoire has previously consisted of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, capsicum, and, if I'm adventurous, cheese. I cook really well. I salad really, really badly.

At Christmas time, I had two of the most delicious salads I have ever eaten, and they have in the couple of weeks following become my new favourite dishes, and will feature heavily in my summer food repertoire from now on.

The first is a beetroot and fennel salad with a pistachio and hazelnut dukka. It sounds complicated (and the recipe that my brother in law gave me has some exotic ingredients, such as pomegranate molasses which, despite the nice cheap product I just linked you to, I could only source from Simon Johnson Grocers for $37! Uh, no thank you.

I have dumbed it down so that I can make it quickly and easily.

  • canned baby beets - 1 can per 3 people works.
  • baby fennel 
  • mint leaves
  • continental parsley
  • good quality feta cheese
  • natural yoghurt
  • little handful pistachios
  • little handful hazelnuts
  • shake of cumin seeds

  • Finely slice the baby fennel.
  • Drain the beets.
  • Wash and chop the mint and parsley, don't worry about making it too fine.
  • Mix these ingredients in a bowl. Take time to smell the lovely sharpness of the mint and sweetness of the beets, with the tangy aniseed of the fennel subtly overlaying it all.
  • Crumble the feta over the salad, and toss very lightly again.
  • Put a smear of yoghurt on a nice serving plate.
  • Tumble the salad on top of the yoghurt.
  • Crush the cumin seeds and nuts with a mortar and pestle. (The recipe says to toast them golden after, but I can't be bothered. You can add salt and pepper too but I haven't bothered.)
  • Sprinkle the dukka over the top of the salad and serve. Yum.

Now, the second salad is even easier and very tasty. I don't have a photo of it, however. It's a sweet potato salad with a red curry dressing.

  • Sweet potato (I do two large ones for a salad big enough for our family)
  • Can of light coconut cream
  • 1 tspn red curry paste
  • Crispy fried noodles (such as Chang's)
  • Fresh coriander (aka cilantro)

  • Peel and cube (about 1 inch cubes) sweet potato, and boil or steam until tender. Don't overcook!
  • Mix the curry paste and the coconut milk, and pour over the sweet potato.
  • Rinse and chop the coriander, and mix it with the dressed sweet potato.
  • Just before serving, mix through the crunchy noodles.

In which I pretend to be Good At Stuff

Today I packed away all the Christmas stuff (a few days late, but Epiphany came at an awkward time).

For the first ten years or so of married life, my "clearing up after Christmas" routine has consisted of hurling everything into one of those striped carry bags, chucking it in the shed without looking, and hoping for the best. This has of course led to my collection of Christmas angels being chipped and de-winged, and spiders making a home in my nativity scenes. Not good. I also had to buy new Christmas stuff each year to replace the unloved ruined stuff.

So, two years ago, I was inspired by one of those OCD cleaning blogs I torture myself with to Do Things Differently.

I went out and bought myself a few packets of tissue paper, I kept the little gift baggies that people are increasingly using rather than wrapping things, and I kept all of the boxes that things came in. I also bought a huge bin that everything would fit in. I wrapped, packed, padded and folded everything up, and it all fitted in the big bin, and with a smug sigh, I popped it in its new spider free home into the shed. This year when it came time to put up the Christmas decorations, out came the bin, and we all had fun unwrapping and decorating, and everything was in pristine condition. All the lights were fine, and nothing was broken. It was revolutionary!

The only thing that didn't work was those little chains of plasticky stuff with bells on. They always tangle and this year was no exception. So I got smart when I packed away today. I grabbed sturdy Christmas cards, and I wrapped those nasty chains around the cards, and popped them in a Christmas stocking for storage. So next year I will report whether or not it worked and those pesky chains were tangle free.

Oh, and here is the Christmas star we used this year. Clare made it for us.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Adventures from Jane's kitchen

Nothing fancy today, but I felt like sharing some pictures from today's baking. I had some squooshy bananas that I could bear to let go to waste, so I decided to make banana bread. I have yet to find a really good reliable banana bread recipe, so feel free to share yours if you have one. I haven't tasted this one yet, as I'm saving it for when my sister and her beau come around for afternoon tea. It's really, really easy to make though.


Mash up four ripe bananas and add an egg, 1/3 cup oil and a teaspoon of vanilla essence (or half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, which I always use.) The recipe says to do them separately but I don't see why.

Try not to trip over the baby who is playing with bits and bobs on the floor.

Put 1 1/2 cups plain flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/3 cup caster sugar in another large bowl. Mix them together. I never bother sifting anything and I don't think it makes any appreciable difference.

Add the wet stuff to the dry stuff and mix with a spoon until just combined.

Put the batter in a loaf pan lined with silicon paper. This way you don't have to grease anything! Then put it in the oven for 50 minutes or so at 180 degrees (which is about 350 F).

Let it sit for a few minutes before turning onto a rack to cool.

While I had the oven on, Beloved decided to use the opportunity to bake some bread. We have a big tub of multigrain bread flour we dip into when we can be bothered. We used to bake our own bread all the time but it has fallen by the wayside.




Proving second time in the tin. We bought professional bakers' tins for our bread, and they are worth the investment.