Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beating the backyard blues.

We don't have a backyard. And I'm beginning to notice.

Now, first I need to qualify a few things. This is NOT a 'poor me' post. My family and I choose to live where we do, in a flat in an inner-city suburb. There are other potential scenarios and options available to us, but when we examined our priorities after the birth of our first son a few years ago, we opted for proximity to support networks, friends, work and facilities over 'space'. It's absolutely been the best decision. And in worldwide terms, it's quite normal not to have your own backyard, let alone more than one or two rooms to your dwelling. 

Because I know this to be true, part of me really wants to stick at this two-bedroom, no-backyard thing forever, just to prove that it's possible, even preferable, and of course the most sustainable option. Kids growing bigger? Stunt their growth! Another baby? It can sleep in the bath! Visitors? They can have our bed, we'll sleep on the dining table. Oh that's right... we don't have a dining table. Top-and-tail, anyone?

But reality has a way of interrupting my idealism with plenty of 'yeah buts', mostly in the form of two rambunctious children. My kids don't know what they are missing...  but I can see that they thrive in the great outdoors. We have so many parks and facilities nearby... but it would be great if sometimes I could chuck them out of the house and let them play free-range in the dirt without constant supervision. We can buy lovely fresh local produce just up the street... but perhaps my food-phobic William would try something new if he helped to grow it himself. 

Revving up the Christiania on a sunny Winter's day

Anyway, while these issues are up for debate at chez clutterpunk, we're getting on with the business of  having a Claytons* backyard. I have a loose deal with myself that we have to get out at least twice a day, rain or shine. 

Mostly, we visit local parks, walk to the fruit shop or post office, or head to the train station (and sometimes even catch a train for fun!). When it's cold and rainy this requires some preparation:

The $15 waterproof overalls from Aussie Disposals, while outside my ethical clothing pledge, have been a real hit this winter.

We also spend a fair bit of time befriending unsuspecting people with backyards and taking them over. On Monday and Wednesday mornings we often drop in on friends in the area, and in the late afternoon, we have a bit of a rhythm going with a new family nearby, in which we come and tear up their turf in exchange for, um, company? 

And late afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can find us giving the next-door-neighbours' trampoline a workout. I've recently struck a little deal with the lovely, intrepid single-mother-of-three-primary-schoolers next door. She heads out for a run while I let my kids fight hers for the best trampoline-related injuries.

In all of this, one thing is for certain. If I'd never gone without a backyard, I know I wouldn't know how to appreciate one. If and when we do have the privilege, I promise you, it will be cherished.

And now I'm curious. Do YOU have a backyard? Is it big or small? Do you wish you had more or less? Do you use it or neglect it? Do you think owning or renting makes a difference to how you use your outdoor space? 

And most importantly... do you have a trampoline and are you home on Friday?

*Aussie slang for a poor substitute or imitation

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reluctant homage to the granny square.

All the cool kids can crochet. But me, well, I'm just not that into it. Personally I find hexagon paper-piecing  just as portable, meditative, satisfying, life-changing etc etc as all that tying-knots-in-yarn business that everyone is on about. Plus it helps you lose weight.* Yeah, cop that, crochet-lover!

Meanwhile, just to prove that I am not at all bitter-and-twisted about my apparent inability to do anything with hook-and-yarn, and just to assure you that any sarcastic comments I've made about crochet on other blogs are really only light-hearted, I would like to point out that I'm quite pro-granny. So much so that I've been wearing THIS around my neck almost daily for months:

Of course, I didn't make the granny square. But I DID turn it en pointe and hang it on a neck band. Astonishing! Do you need a tutorial?

*Downright lie.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I might like it.

Might, I said. Don't hold me to it.

I think the best description I have for how this quilt is starting to look is... compelling. The sort of thing you are drawn to, the sort of thing you want to look at. 

But of course many ugly, horrible things compel us to stare at them - like car wrecks, and hairy warts on peoples' faces. 

(And looking at that segment above, all I can think is WOW, there are some bad fabric designs around. You should see the ones that didn't make the cut!).

I think perhaps this kind of clashery should really be reserved in the future for a 1" hexagon quilt or smaller. As my hexagon-mad friend Anne recently said to me, 'if you think a fabric is ugly you're just not cutting it small enough'. There is wisdom to be had from Anne (not to mention lovely hexagonal eye-candy on her craft blog). I guess the smaller the pieces, the more blending you can do, the more the eye can be drawn elsewhere.With this large hexagon, any individual ugliness is exhibited in all its glory.

Nonetheless. I might like it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

...and so she baked.

Next time I write a somewhat heavy, warts-and-all post (and don't worry, it won't be any time soon!), I will try to time it NOT to coincide with two weeks of travelling-husband/sick-smalls/defunct-sewing-machine/torrential-rain-induced blogging coma. I'm now experiencing that kind of awkward-pause, lull-in-conversation feeling, and wondering what to say next. Quite apart from having nothing much to show and tell, I'm also still processing the massive response I received in writing about my post-natal depression

To the numerous people who shared their warm, wise, empathetic, thoughtful, insightful, and funny responses, and to those who emailed with personal stories and encouraging words, thank you so much. I'm still working my way through the comments and emails. Spilling my guts on the issues was of course an exercise in catharsis, but I also hoped to connect with others who have had similar experiences, so we can all remember that we are not alone. I'm not. You're not. And doesn't it feel better to know it.

Meanwhile, signs that creativity may yet exist at chez clutterpunk can be spotted, in between the nose- blowing, puddle-jumping and Daddy-shaped-hole-filling.

I've been carrying around these items hopefully:

And lo! Results!

I have completed my towers of ugly, ugly hexagons, with hearty thanks to scrap donations from blogging legends, Cam of CurlyPops and Jodie of RicRac. Now the fun begins, designing the layout of my cot-sized 2" hexagon charm quilt. I've totally embraced the concept of an quilty eyesore that will be loathed by my family for generations, and am eager to get those horrendous scraps pieced side-by-side in the most aesthetically distressing way possible.

Bringing me far more pride is my first loaf of artisan bread from these gurus (spied first at Bountifully). So, so tasty, and satisfying to make. And did you see the bit about FIVE MINUTES? 

Anyway. Awkward silence broken. Blogging resumed. Children improving. Beloved's return approaching. Hexagons towering. Grandparents visiting. Bread baking. New sewing machine awaiting. 

Life is GOOD.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On being a Medicated Mother

It's strange. Not usually one to be lost for words, I have found myself over the last few months writing numerous posts around what I guess I would call 'domestic' themes - parenting issues, meal planning, sustainability, trying to find balance, ethical eating, blah blah blah - and not being able to follow through on any of them. I've been drawn to some thought-provoking posts along similar themes on other blogs, and wanted to join in the conversations, but my own thoughts are still sitting there in Blogger draft, fragmented and incoherent, much like the piles of hexagons awaiting me on the craft table. 

Well I think I've identified the cause of my writer's block. It's my desire to be genuine, and my need to make clear (before I spout any opinions about being a stay-at-home mother) that there is something I haven't mentioned here much which nonetheless exerts a large influence over how I think and act.

You see, I'm a Medicated Mother.

It was only a matter of weeks after the birth of my first child that we started wondering about post-natal depression. It was hard to identify, given that we were in the throes of new parenthood with a babe who wasn't feeding or sleeping at all well. How could we differentiate depression from a 'normal' reaction to the universally massive paradigm shift that is first-time parenthood? 

But as the weeks went by, it became increasingly clear. Never a clucky woman, I'd expected to find motherhood challenging on all sorts of levels. I'd assumed that in having a child, I would be forced to grapple with my inherent selfishness and desire for independence, and that I would at times feel stifled, resentful, bored. Perhaps I would even struggle to love my child. I was not expecting to embrace motherhood with ease or be a natural, earth-mother type. I had therefore given myself permission to go slowly, to feel the tensions, to learn to adapt, and thought in doing so that I was depression-proofing myself.

I think this is partly why I was blindsided by PND. Because for me PND had nothing to do with these things. 

I adored my baby boy, absolutely and utterly. I was ready to do anything for him. And yet, I was in the grip of what felt like a physical and mental breakdown. An overwhelming sense of fear and doom. Physical waves of panic. Inability to do the most simple daily tasks - I couldn't understand how I could possibly feed myself or wash the dishes AND look after this child. Constant negative thoughts, ruminations and obsessions, particularly about my baby boy's feeding and sleeping patterns. Extreme lack of confidence in my abilities (would I ever find it easy to change a nappy? Put my babe down for a nap? Breastfeed in public? Dress myself again?). Insomnia, lying in bed with my heart pounding and mind racing even when my baby was actually sleeping. Paranoia that my husband would leave me. 

William, 4 weeks old

We tried to find the right help but hit brick walls all over the place. It was about eight weeks in when an acquaintance, a kind, firm, ex-maternal health nurse, visited. After listening to everything that I had been thinking, feeling and doing, she said 'my dear, you're really not well. And you don't have to feel this way.' It was then that I started to accept the possibility that what I was experiencing was not just some personal weakness and failing that I had to overcome by myself, but an illness that needed intervention.

The good news? I got intervention in the form of a month-long hospital stay with my baby boy. During our time I settled onto anti-anxiety medication, worked on our mother-baby routines and relationship, and learned many useful strategies - including crafting! - for counteracting and dissipating anxious thoughts and feelings. I responded incredibly well, and incredibly quickly, to medication and care.

My husband will testify that I left that hospital a different person, and barely looked back. The person who came out was far more optimistic, open to new things, and lighter-of-spirit than the one who had gone in. We have often reflected that my PND has been something of a blessing in disguise for our family, forcing us to face head-on some of the big issues surrounding parenthood and its effects on the marriage relationship. Much personal growth came out of the horror - I learned to enjoy my own company, to lower expectations, to be adaptable, to find and create meaning in the small things. I continued on the medication through the gestation and birth of our second son, and experienced no traces of PND.

Justin, Charlie (1 week old), William, Gina

A few months ago I made the mistake of stopping my anti-anxiety medication for a while. I had been taking it for three years straight, and wondered whether it was necessary any more. I guess for a long time I have felt so very normal, and quite distant from that labelled woman of three years ago, the one with PND, the one who went loopy. It was a heavy disappointment to recognise after a month of 'normalcy' that the signs of anxiety were beginning to manifest and spiral all over again, albeit in a more gradual way. 

Although it brought back some feelings of shame and inadequacy, I have chosen to embrace the medication once again. I have certainly grown a heck of a lot in self-understanding and new ways of thinking these last three years, but clearly not enough to dig myself up from the mire of depression without assistance. Whatever broke three years back remains, to some degree, broken. And while this is a blow to my pride, that I cannot cure myself, life with small children is no time to be letting pride get in the way of feeling well.  

Medication does not make me the mother that I am. It does not manipulate my actions or predetermine my reactions. Instead, it gives me the ability to choose; to choose a life-affirming, problem-solving, less self-critical approach to motherhood. Without it, I am swamped by uncontrollable sensations and feel incapable of those choices. In choosing medication, I choose Choice.

I am a Medicated Mother. And I'm ok.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My creative space... all good things come to an end.

My Scrap Management Quilt is finished.

I'm thrilled, because it can now embrace its function as the go-to snuggle quilt on the family couch. But I'm sad, because I really enjoyed each process of making it (apart from the basting). And I'm thrilled, because the Beloved thoroughly approves of this sort of quilty aesthetic and can see that there was method in my madness, as well as madness in my method. But I'm sad, because in my enthusiasm I seem to have stuffed the thread tension on my (newly serviced!) sewing machine beyond redemption and cannot therefore get on with any of the other machine quilting, apron-making and so forth that I'm itching to do. But mostly, I'm thrilled.

Here are some pictures (taken in the glamourous car park behind our unit!).
From a distance:

The front (I ditched the border idea and just made some brown binding to finish):

The back (red-striped ticking, shows the puckers up really well!):

A closer look:

A collage of my favourite little clashy places on the quilt:

Yes, this quilt is certainly 'differnt'. And yet just how I imagined it.

Thank you, creative spacers, for encouraging me along the way with this quilt over these last few months. It's the type of quilt that could've been designed, cut, pieced and finished in a weekend, but instead I've averaged an hour per week on it, because machine-sewing just isn't fitting easily into my world - time, space or technique-wise. Perhaps my sewing machine is telling me something? Oh well, nothing for it but to snuggle up under my new quilt and get on with those ugly hexagons!

Now go and drop by Kirsty's house and let her know how spunky she looks in her slashy vest before you join in with your creative space for the week...