Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Cosy Corner

We packed a picnic basket, loaded the kids into the station wagon, and headed to one of our favourite beaches to celebrate my beloved's birthday on Sunday. The wind was gusting across the bay so we nabbed a table under the peppermint trees.  The baby slept in the car while his brothers made roads through the leaves with their trucks. We ate cheese and drank ginger beer and rested amongst the tree trunks.


When Quinn woke up we walked along the shore, past the fishermen's camp, to where freshwater springs seep through the dark sands, cutting a path to the sea. While it is always protected in the shelter of the peppermints, it is this warm elbow of the bay, where fishing boats shelter in the lee of the islands, that gives Cosy Corner its name. Lewis made a dam while his dad dozed on the warm rocks, out of the wind.

I first camped at Cosy Corner the night before arriving in Albany eleven years ago to find a home. It was the first time I had used my new hiking tent, bought in my final days working at an outdoor gear shop while I finished my degree. I had just graduated from university and was moving south to take up a cadetship at a regional newspaper. The world awaited. I dreamed of overseas postings, or at the very least moving east. I found a cottage by the sea and started work, tabulating sports results and the shipping news and filing at least five stories each day.

One day a wide-eyed boy came knocking on my door. An old friend from university, he was now teaching in a tiny town just beyond the mountains that rise out of the flat plains of the Great Southern. He took me to see a band at the pub and two weeks later asked me to marry him.

We always knew that this was where we would raise our family. So it seems the right name for this blog. Our cosy corner, snug between the trees and the wide blue sea.

Life in the Hen House

I took my four-year-old to a poultry auction on the weekend to buy some new chooks for our henhouse. He has a natural affinity with animals, this boy, and I often find him wandering around the garden with a gecko cradled in his hands. Some days I wake from a nap with my baby and find him missing from the house. He is invariably down at the henhouse, his second home, where he is thinking of sleeping now that he has a new chicken to love.

Her name is Lemony - because she is a lemon chicken, or at least close to the colour of one. She has already joined us for breakfast and a birthday tea party at the dining table and likes to perch of the side of his bowl to share his cereal or cake crumbs.

Lemony is a seven-week-old Pekin pullet. We also have a mother hen and her little girl chick, Crown and Blueberry, both Pekins. But Crown saves all her mother love for Blueberry and little Lemony gets pecked if she gets in their way. Two Araucanas, with faces only their mothers could love, complete our new flock. Madame Pompadour and Bluebeard are already laying and leave one shiny new blue egg nestled in the straw for Darcy to collect each day.

It has been a month since our old girls were taken and it is so good to see life in the garden again. I felt bereft after losing our chooks. I love them for the eggs and manure they provide in exchange for the scrapings from our plates, for the life they bring to the garden and the soil, but most of all for their company. With the hen house empty I found few reasons worth wandering down the hill into the garden, which grew parched and dry and neglected. The worm farm groaned under the weight of kitchen scraps. But since our new girls have settled in I have been busy raking up dry leaves and making compost, harvesting vegetables and planting new seedlings. I have even watered the lawn, after more than a month without rain.

And we are eating eggs again. Eggs from the farm, after a visit from Nana. Eggs from a neighbour, laid with love. And blue eggs, once we have collected enough for an omlette.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Nappy free

Living under the Karri trees is magical in summer. Waking to birdsong and listening to the wind tossed canopy sussurating like the sea. Walking through dappled sunshine with dry leaves crackling underfoot and the air scented with salt-tinged eucalyptus - the smell of holiday. But come winter the sun forsakes our hillside home and the forest is dark and dripping.

Last winter was long and wet and cold. It was our first winter living back on the south coast since having children and life suddenly seemed to centre around laundry - the washing and more importantly the drying of it. Bamboo and hemp nappies which had snap-dried in Perth's endless sunshine needed constant tending and turning in front of the fire to coax dry before our baby's bottom needed them once more.

So it was with open arms and bare bottoms that we welcomed summer back to the forest. Summer means long days on the beach running free with a hat and a smile. It means golden afternoons playing in the garden; water fights; running through sprinklers and pulling on the same pair of boardies day after day. I was determined to ditch those nappies before the rains started again.

With school back in and not quite so many boys tearing around our house I have been able to find the rhythm Quinn and I had lost when we moved here from the little cottage where he was born. That gentle communication without words between mother and child that had seemed impossible to hold onto with so many competing needs clamouring for my attention. The synchronicity that had dried up with so much space, and a toilet door which kept swinging shut on my five-month-old baby's tender head.

The ease, convenience and comfort of disposables have helped modern babies remain happily in nappies until well into toddlerhood, and everyone says to take your cues from the child when it comes to toilet training. But if a baby is never allowed to experience the sun on their naked skin nor given the opportunity to toilet freely, then they are not going to start asking for anything different until they have some pretty stellar language skills. And often the older they are the more tightly they cling to the nappy as their last bastion of babyhood.

None of my boys have worn nappies beyond 20-months, and it has been gentle communication and praise combined with overwhelming delight at their own cleverness that got them there. I read Ingrid Bauer's inspiring book on natural infant hygiene when I was pregnant with my second son, and have used elimination communication to some extent with all my boys.

We went camping along the coast on the weekend and for the first time were able to take along a potty instead of a nappy-bag. He sits on it so proudly, and carries it to the toilet to empty it himself. We all stop to clap and cheer every time.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Huckleberry Finn

I love children's fiction. Reading it with my children, or reading it alone. We were halfway through our second lap of the Famous Five series when we took a detour through the Deep South with Tom Sawyer and found a new literary hero. We followed him up with Huckleberry Finn but the going got a bit heavy for my six-year-old and he jumped off the raft to build his own instead.

Using the left-over pieces of ply-board from our hen house roof and some timber off-cuts they found lying around the yard, father and son managed to use every power tool in the shed to cut, plane, drill and assemble their very own raft and paddle. A test float in the inlet found it was somewhat lacking in buoyancy, so Lewis stuck polystyrene packaging over the bottom of the raft and painted flames over the top using his watercolours.

We took it down to the channel on the weekend for its official launch. While the inlet's passage to the sea is open for a few months each summer the water runs clear and blue through the channel under the peppermint trees. Children swing from ropes looped around the trees' weathered old limbs into the deeper water near the crumbling banks, and toddlers splash around their parents' legs in the shallows. On Sunday the sky turned steely grey. The relentless summer winds had filled the sandbar's narrow mouth with pure white sand and stilled the waters' flow. So we had the channel to ourselves and Lewis could imagine himself alone on the wide open waters of the Mississippi. 

I finished the book alone last night and lay it aside for a few years along with the tales of piracy and adventure which have proved a little overwhelming for my boy's imagination. They are classics of boyhood which I never chanced to read as a girl. Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island - tales of shipwreck and discovery. I am looking forward to revisiting them when he is ready. But I would say Huckleberry Finn still captured his heart, even if Tom Sawyer remains his hero.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Living Waters

Summer holidays for me are usually all about going to the beach every day, camping in the shade of the peppermint trees and eating peaches and watermelon with the juice dribbling over salty suntanned skin. And while we had nearly two glorious months of doing just that, for two weeks I also stepped outside my role as beach mother, leaving the boys to swim and splash at the shore while I headed off each day to complete a Permaculture Design Certificate up on the hill at Living Waters.

Living Waters, a 60 acre property which is being developed into an eco-village high above the town of Denmark, is mostly still covered with Jarrah, Karri and Tingle trees. Natural springs bubble up from beneath the rich brown earth and are pumped to the houses and vegetable gardens dotted through the forest. I could not touch the sea but I could see the deep blue glint of the Southern Ocean as I sat on the balcony of our classroom and gazed across the folds of the Nullaki peninsula to West Cape Howe, the most southerly point of Western Australia.

I had wanted to study permaculture for years and now, before we became land-owners once more, seemed like the right time to hone my gardening and design skills. But I came away from that fortnight of learning with so much more than I had imagined - my head full of botanical knowledge; sustainable design concepts; how to make biodynamic compost; save and store heirloom seeds; slaughter and skin a rooster.



After six and a half years of being a stay-at-home mother it felt so liberating to wave goodbye to my family each morning and share my days with people to whom the world of mothers and children is completely foreign. People who would never cross paths with me as I shuttle children to school and peg out laundry with a toddler clinging to my ankles. And coming home to a house full of happy children and a home-cooked meal at the end of each day felt like the ultimate reward.

Living Waters is a ramshackle place, where the permaculture principles of reusing and recycling materials with multiple uses translates into piles of washing machines and composting toilets dotted through the bush, waiting to be given a new life as they slowly rust back into the landscape. It challenged my need for neatness and order in the same way that mothering does nearly every day. At its heart, permaculture is such a fluid, organic system. It demands a certain degree of disorder, of mess. Don't over design is one of the central principles, and one that I find hard to follow.


Back home in our own patch of forest I am already putting my new-found knowledge to the test and finding that some things just don't work in a suburban setting. The local dogs dug the decomposing chicken carcasses out of my freshly built compost heap and spread the stench across our backyard. Next time I will dig a hole. I am starting to recognise the limitations of living amongst the trees - where even a good sunny patch of earth is criss-crossed with the extensive root networks of heavy feeding Karris happy to steal the nutrients from my scant few tomatoes and zucchinis.  I am now feeling better equipped to choose a good patch of earth to call home and plant a garden.



But perhaps the best thing I took away from my two week mothering sabbatical was a fresh perspective on our lives. Stepping away from the role of stay-at-home mother messed up our family dynamic and forced us into new roles for the first time. We were all changed by the experience, and for the better. It strengthened our relationships with each other and gave us fresh enthusiasm for the life we are creating for ourselves here. Coming home I felt like I was falling in love with my family all over again.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Back to school

For as long as I can remember my life has followed the seasons of the school year and the circadian clock of the school day. I am married to a teacher, so school holidays are family time and the end of each term is counted down with great anticipation. But I don't really feel like the year has begun until school is back in and I can find my rhythm at home with the little ones.

We spent the last few days of holidays this week baking lunchbox treats, labeling hundreds of pencils, and worrying whether the year twos would run out of glue before the end of term one.

I spent the first day of school yesterday at the kindy, getting Darcy settled into life at the "big school". Lewis wanted to ride his big, new (second-hand) bike so I strapped the little ones into the trailer and ran alongside him halfway to school before realising I had left all of the school stationery sitting on the bed at home. There was nothing for it but to turn around and run home again. It turned our 3km journey into a 5km one, but we made it to school on the siren, found the class lists, shepherded Lewis into his new classroom and scooted off to kindy for a morning of playdough, glittery-fish and nursery rhymes. 

With two of my boys at school for at least part of the week and my baby sleeping soundly through the middle of each day I feel like there is some creative space opening up for me again at last. Space to write, to gather my thoughts and delve into other worlds. Which is what this place is all about really.