28 March, 2009

Order is the Shape

"Order is the shape upon which beauty depends" - Pearl S. Buck

"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work" - Flaubert

"Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; from discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity" - Albert Einstein

"Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day." - Simone de Beauvoir

"The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn't simple." - Doris Janzen Longacre

I have things in common with all those quoted here. Like Buck, I am a sinophile, impressed by the work ethic of the villagers. Like Flaubert, I am not easily satisfied with my creations. Like Einstein, I find my religion in the cosmos. Like de Beauvoir, I am a feminist. And like Mrs. Longacre, I find this whole simple living deal anything but simple. In fact, I find it rather draining and grump-making a lot of the time.

You see, it wasn't really an active choice to become a housewife, rather a gradual result of circumstance and happenstance and all their 'stancey brethren. But, there are wonderful things. There is cooking the food we've grown. There is baking the weekly bread. There is improving the value and beauty of our home. There are indeed many good things.

One horrible thing, one thing that drains my Chi and taps my reserves is the utter lack of structure. I'm a fan of structure, order. Expectations lead to motivation which breeds results. This is how I approach even my most creative of endeavors. In my corporate job life had an even pace. Each Thursday, a newsletter was designed. Each Friday, it was distributed. Each month, twenty-some reports were due. Each Monday, weekly web design was done. Though my work was sometimes artistic, often inspired, and regularly entirely concocted out of nothing resembling fact, there was an order to it all.

So, to save myself from the torment de Beauvoir describes, I need some order. I need a routine for the basics of household operation, garden management, and animal husbandry. Without order, this simplified life will begin to look like one very big rock up a very big hill. It's time to organize.

I've read here and there about Household Notebooks, Control Journals, and many other incarnations of the like, but I have no earthly idea which style will help me the most. So, I've started small. I've decided to set up Task Days. Though, I'm still uncertain if I'd rather assign a room per day, or a chore per day...i.e. Bathroom Day vs. Dusting & Mopping Day. It may seem insignificant, but I'm hoping that organizing the tedium will leave more time free for the things I enjoy, like reading, working on my book, going for weekend day trips, and coffee in the city.

What are your tools of the trade? Do you have Post-It Notes everywhere? Are there magnetized To Do lists covering your fridge? Have you carefully constructed a household notebook? Please! Help a girl out and share your organizational successes. Share your failures too. We all enjoy a good bit of shared struggle with our morning coffee or tea, after all. How do you all stay organized?

25 March, 2009

A Walk Through Our Garden

Some days you wake up with thousands of words just itching to spill from your fingertips, and then there are days like today. So how about a tour of what's sowin' and growin' on the Suburban Plot, instead?

Our poor, poor sisters. Some may remember the Three Sisters experiment. Well, two weeks of 45c+ temperatures sent two of our sisters running for colder climes, leaving only the pumpkin behind. Our manic rescue-watering seemed to not only save the pumpkin, but send it on a mad growth spree! Sadly, we got only a few handfuls of green beans, and no corn.

Flying in the face of all expectations, the cauliflower and cabbages have flourished in the heat. No bolting, few bugs, beautiful budding head formations. They are my pride and joy! I can't wait for a winter full of cabbage puddings and fresh, steamed cauli.

This is...The Carrot. Yes, the carrot. All seemed to be going well. Rows upon rows germinated, began to fern out, and then the heatwave struck and took all but this. We have the worst luck with carrots. This was our third attempt. We're giving it one more try but really are quite doubtful.

Now that I have a good recipe for borscht, thanks to my aunt and her collection of Polish cookbooks, these beets will be put to great use! They have done famously and we're really enjoying learning new ways to prepare the red veg. Their neighbors, the leeks, confuse me a bit. I keep wondering if the stalks will thicken more, or if I should harvest now, before planting the autumn batch.

Our peppers (capsicums) have been nearly as prolific as our bumper tomato crop, which was razed just prior to this tour. I'll show off some of the tomato makings another time. We've gotten multiple kilos of peppers which we've harvested both at red and green stages. I adore both flavors, especially raw! And they make a mean red pepper jelly (recipe forthcoming).

We're slowly converting to a semi-dug raised bed system. It just seems a more efficient way to garden, for us. Firstly, we're lazy, so it should help us keep the weeds to a minimum. Secondly, it's just a lot more attractive. We're planning to plant beets, carrots, leeks, spring onions, turnips, and swedes/rutabagas in this bed in an adapted "square foot" method, in semi-clay soil that we've amended with boatloads of purchased compost. Any advice would be welcomed!

So there you have it. The Suburban Plot in all it's early-autumnal splendor. Here's hoping the crops are tasty and the winter seeds sprout strong!

23 March, 2009

Care & Feeding of Too Many Dogs - Pt 2

The first month of Puppydom is a relative slice of mudcake when compared to the second. Before that miraculous 4th week they are nearly 100% reliant on mom for all their wants and needs. After that? It's us they need! What is sometimes a daunting task for someone dealing with only one or two dogs, was cubed for our tribe of nine. Eleven, if you count the humans. Here is how the second month unfolded:

Week 4: Foooood, glorious food! If you think one dog eats a lot, try feeding eight newly toothy puppy mouths and one ravenous weaning mama-dog. Laney was so hungry she began eating whole carrots! At this stage, the pups had tiny little razor teeth and were happy to crunch away on high-protein puppy kibble. We didn't bother with any milk substitutes or supplements. Nor did we wet their food, as they seemed to have no problem chomping and digesting the hard kibble. We let Laney wean as she liked, and her weight dropped rapidly around this time which told us to feed her more, and told her to feed them less! It was also between weeks 3 and 4 that the pups and mom were all given a store-bought worming treatment.

Week 5: Time to be a party animal. We'd been socializing the puppies since birth, really. Neighbors and children, family and friends all dropped by over the weeks to pet and gawk. But by this age, it was very important to make certain they were used to all varieties and sizes of people. Now that all the dogs were eating real food, Laney stopped cleaning up their waste and that left a lovely nightly task of room cleaning and puppy washing for my hard working hubby. The damage bill also skyrocketed around week 5. Hubby remade the guest room with scrap vinyl used to cover the saddened carpet, and fenced the pups in the best he could with old doors, plywood, etc. Their old whelping box was converted into a potty-box and some training was begun! Sometimes they'd still manage to get ahold of the wrong thing and...destruction!

Week 6: Laney had pretty much cut off the mommy buffet at this point. She still allowed the occasional comfort nursing (in fact, she still allows an occasional minute or two) but her milk began drying up and we increased the puppies food to about 4 cups of dry food per day and 500g of "dog roll". For those not in Oz, this is just pressed wet food, sold in the meat section. Canned food would suffice. As for potty training, it's nigh on impossible with eight pups. But we attempted, belatedly, the Misty Method, and it worked to some degree. If we had less pups or had begun earlier we might've had better luck. We also began giving each puppy solo-time with the humans. One or two per night would join us in the living room for individual attention.

Week 7: Advertise, advertise, advertise! Finding good homes for eight dogs is no simple task. Though these pups were so cute that they made it a little bit easier. We placed ads on free boards, pet sites, etc but got nearly all our pups adopted via a paid classified (online only, no print ad). Life pretty much continued as normal, though we increased their exercise with occasional outdoor adventures after their 2nd worming, and lots of tug-of-war using old towels and plenty chasing of tennis balls. Clean-up became all consuming of our time with hubby washing and tidying and me cleaning at least a load of towels per day.

Week 8: This is when the pups began to filter out to their new homes. Jimmy and Junior were the first to go, adopted by hubby's aunt and uncle. By far the most popular, Isca is now living contentedly by the sea, on the York Peninsula. Next went Batman and Robin to a lovely couple wanting exercise buddies. Soon after, Spot became the light of a teen girl's life. Speck was our last adoptee and she is now warming the hearts of a kind couple who lost their longtime doggy-friend, last month. We, of course, kept the best of them all! Born "Pisca" and renamed Emmy, our little gem will begin intensive training once the house is free of other doggy distractions.

The Aftermath: We had exactly eight hours between Speck's departure and Jimmy & Junior's return. Aunt and Uncle had pre-puppy travel plans and we've been playing puppysitters for the last several days. They've been re-dubbed Floyd and Ellie and are far more rambunctious than our runty little Em'. But she has held her own! We get a week-long reprieve before our second round of puppysitting and it will be nice to begin finding a flow with just our two dogs. Emmy will be getting her first shots, another worming, and lots of time outside the puppy dungeon. It will be a whole new adventure for us all!

21 March, 2009

Care & Feeding of Too Many Dogs - Pt 1

For the past three months our lives have been focused on exactly one thing. Puppies. Midwifing puppies, housing puppies, feeding puppies, cleaning puppies. Puppies! We just sent our last pup to it's new, loving home and have received reports back from owners and vets alike that, whatever we did, we did it right. I thought I'd share some details of our puppy-raising experience, stage by stage. This first part of the story covers late pregnancy through the puppies' third week.

Pre-birth: It definitely takes awhile to even realize a dog is in "the family way." There are no easy tests or methods of discovery. You just begin to notice that your dog's belly is getting fatter and fatter, and teats begin to form. Then you start praying for a rare 1-pup litter. In this stage, we made sure Laney got as much food as she could stand, boosting the protein gradually and feeding her on demand. When she began digging in the yard and sniffing around the house, hubby constructed a cardboard nesting box and lined it with towels. Some dogs prefer a quiet out-of-the-way spot, but our dog loves her people and preferred a back corner of the living room for her delivery.

Labor: We left it all up to Laney. After all, nature knows best. For the 24 hours before delivery, she spent a great deal of time pacing and panting, testing out her box and generally going bit stir crazy. Delivery began as a surprise to us both! She birthed the first while standing in the middle of the kitchen. I made certain the pup had a soft landing, then watched to make sure she accepted the puppy. She was a champ! She expertly removed the amniotic sac, cleaned off the little girl and moved her to the whelping box. Over the next ten hours, she birthed seven more little dogs. We kept the room draft-free and watched everyone closely for the next day or two. All the pups nursed well and we couldn't have asked for a more textbook delivery.

Weeks 1 & 2: This is the time to sit back, coo cutely and the little critters. There isn't much else you can do. While we busied ourselves with changing towels and keeping Laney happy, she mothered her pups like a pro. With her watchful permission, we handled the puppies daily, and gently, wanting them to be used to touch as early as possible. Laney's food at this time nearly tripled in volume, aiding in milk production and ensuring she had enough energy to deal with a litter of eight.

Week 3: It was around this time that we moved the whelping box to a spare room. Hubby fashioned a lovely, more permanent whelping box of scrap wood, which allowed Laney more room to nurse and gave us an easier cleaning strategy. I really do recommend cardboard for the birth, though. Many fluids and other slimy things are involved in any birth and it's much easier to simply toss out the original cardboard box. At the end of this third week, all eight puppies began to open their eyes.

Though it was a surprise to us, having adopted an already-pregnant dog, puppy rearing continues to be a very entertaining, rewarding, and often maddening experience. Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Puppydom when I cover weeks four through eight.

19 March, 2009

Permission to Daydream

It's strange what circumstances bring us to a state of reflection. It could be anything, really. Some people find their peace on a country stroll. Others prefer their reverie with foamed milk, two sugars and a biscotti. And still others forget about the entire concept until something reminds them that you don't require permission to daydream.

I'm a member of that last group.

It took three weeks of being "laid up," or under the weather in one way or another for me to find a single hour of meditation. Is anyone preventing me from a moment's peace? Well, perhaps the nine dogs we were raising made it difficult, but there were still hours of my day spent on mindful chores or mindless pastimes, and any one of those ours could have been spared for a chance to breathe. Today, I've found that hour, and I just want to preserve the sensory experience of it, in full.

The weather is warm today, the breeze light and I can hear the occasional chirp of our resident yellow-striped honeyeaters in the yellow-flowered tree outside. The dogs are all sleeping and, perhaps for the first waking moment since our last power failure, the television is off. A dingy white pedestal fan and an equally dingy white fridge are the only mechanical singers in the afternoon choir, and even the cars and neighbors seem to have taken the noontime off. But the smells are what really draw me in. Since morning, a pot of dried chickpeas has been simmering on the stove, exhaling a warm, breaddy aroma that has chased all trace of puppy from the room. Now, with my lunch of yesterday's homemade split pea soup joining the bouquet, my house smells of home and quiet and nourishment. The sights are few: a too-big purple couch, the breakfast dishes still in their morning spots, and a book sits splayed beside me, waiting for me to take it up once more.

I need to do this, more often. I think I need it every day. My books, though numerous, have become dusty with cobwebs of neglect in a year of movement, change, adjustment, and strain. The television, while usually present as a passive chatty friend that helps whittle the hours away, isn't anything particularly special to me. Yet, in the past year, I've rarely let it rest. It's not even the shows that interest me, nor the latest news report. It's simply the presence of voice during daylight hours that keeps the little box flicked on. But what's so bad about silence? I think it's time to rediscover a bit of it.

So, good blogaverse...if, like me, you too have forgotten sounds beyond digital, or your reading has dissolved into nothing but a domino chase of blogs and articles, try to remember that not one of us needs permission to daydream. In truth, we should be asking ourselves forgiveness for putting it off.