Half her age

In just under a week’s time I will not be able to say, as I have been able to do for the past 2 months, that I am half the age of my beloved grandmother Oma.  On 8 March she will turn 95, and the neat mathematical division between us will cease to exist.

It occurred to me recently that she became a grandmother at the age I am now, and that astonishing thought lead me to reflect on the differences in our two lives. In fact it’s almost impossible to comprehend just how different our lives have been, but I thought I would give it a crack, as we go back to a point a week before Oma’s 47th birthday.

Oma Me
In March 1963, Oma is about to turn 47. In March 2011 I have been 47 for 2 months.
She and her family are immigrants – or postwar migrants as they were called then. Along with her husband and family, she became an Australian citizen soon after arriving in 1951. I was born in Western Australia and am an Australian citizen by birth.
She has been married for 19 years, and was 27 when she married the love of her life, who was 3 years older than her. I have been married for 15 years, and was 28 when I met the love of my life, who is 12 years older than me. He has been married twice before.
Her oldest daughter is 18, soon to be 19, and will be married in just over a year. 

Her second daughter, like her older sister, was born in Holland and is two months away from her 18th birthday. She is also one month away from becoming pregnant, five months away from getting married and 10 months away from having me. The fun-loving, dashing, father-to-be from the church youth group has been her boyfriend for four years. He is also an immigrant from a Ten Pound Pom family, and is welcomed into the family.

Her third child and only boy, born in Indonesia, is 13 and a half.

Her fourth child, another daughter, is 8 and the only child born in Australia.

My oldest son is 9, and my youngest son is 6. Both were born in Perth.
She lives with her family in an old, crumbling limestone cottage right on the banks of the Canning River in Perth. Although a great river playground for the kids, and having a large plot of land to grow vegetables and keep chooks, every year the river floods the house and gardens and it is not easy for her to maintain. Life is hard. I live in sturdy suburban brick home on Perth’s coastal strip which provides all the comforts of the 21st Century. Although a great playground for the kids, and having a large plot of land to grow vegetables and keep chooks, we chose to use most of it for a pool and outdoor entertaining area. It is easy to maintain. Life is good.
She is the black sheep of the family, having not only married ‘lower’ to a teacher but also been the only one in her family to make the big move to Australia via Indonesia after the horrors of WWII. Both she and her husband experienced things in occupied Holland that they do not talk about. I am the ‘only sheep’ (loosely speaking; another story) of the family, and have married a tradesman.  I have never experienced war in my country and have never had reason to leave it.
She is the only one of her five siblings without a university degree, although she has college qualifications in Home Economics.  She is a full time housewife.

Her husband works as a teacher.

I have a university degree, and am currently studying part-time at postgraduate level. I work casual contracts to supplment our income.

My husband works as a middle manager for a company that services the mining industry.

She grows her own vegetables and raises chooks which help sustain the vegetarian household. 

She makes and sews clothes and manchester for the household.

I manage to keep a few herbs, a struggling lemon tree, abandoned compost systems and dreams of vegie patches better maintained. I eat meat. 

I can sew a button and trouser hem, and dream of seams better maintained.

Although not her first language, she speaks English at home to help the children fit in to school. Thanks to her schooling, she can also read, write and speak French and German. I speak English, and can understand conversational Dutch but not speak it. I understand conversational Italian and did a six-week introduction to French course once.
I think she misses her family in Holland, but is proud of what she has achieved in her new life in Australia. She finds the time to write to her siblings and parents, and is planning a holiday to go back and see them. I have visited her family in Holland, and am proud that I have Dutch heritage in my life. I struggle to find the time to stay in touch with my family around Australia, although I have many more ways of doing so than Oma ever did, and have planned a holiday to see some of them soon.
Although she doesn’t know it, she is about to become a grandmother. And what a grandmother she will be. Lucky me. I know I will not be a grandmother for a number of years. When and if the time comes, if I can be even half the grandmother she has been, the grandkids will be lucky indeed.

Happy birthday Oma x

My Top 10 lists

You either love ’em or you hate ’em, but Top 10 lists are popular these days, so here are my top 1o lists:

  1. The shopping list – an eternal favourite, never quite complete, which you never quite know until you get home without the milk/lentils/Vegemite/castor sugar. However, disappointment and frustration can somewhat be mitigated by using just gorgeous shopping list stationery. Two of my favourites – Remo’s fridge magnet and pad with helpful memory prompter (right), and, from the 1980s, Sandra Boynton’s clever little ‘Chopin Liszt’ (couldn’t find an image anywhere!)
  2. The Christmas present list – begun in earnest about September, edited and reviewed about November 30, and then scribbled and rewritten frantically on 23 December, just to make sure. Try not to add a $ column; I used to, but have now abandoned it as I just get depressesd.
  3. The Christmas card list – this one’s just come back into vogue as a reaction to the separation of church and state good ol’ fashioned card writing from the online social media circus that allows us to say “Merry Christmas”- and in only 15 characters too, enough left over to tweet a link to my blog with the remaining 125 and upload a pic of the Christmas tree on Facebook and did you see The Digital Story of the Nativity on YouTube it was really cool and Tumblr’s the one to watch — where was I?? Oh yes, getting out my pen and writing cards to the special people on this list who may only hear from me once a year, but it’s Christmas,  goddammit, and we’re all full of love and my thoughts are with them; that is, if I have their address, and extra time after the present shopping. So don’t take it personally if you haven’t received a card, it’s early days in a Back to the Future kinda way.
  4. The dreaded ‘To Do’ list – oh, my notebooks are full of them. It’s a subset of its own: there’s the renovation to-do list, the cleaning to-do list, and the work to-do lists (blog post lists, chargeable hours lists, tax document lists); even the gardening to-do list, which seems a bit silly as you’re not going to have your notebook outside to check items off the list with mulch-encrusted gloves.  But this is a real one from a clean-up a few years ago – and notice the diagonal line, a healthy sign of list completion!
  5. The New Year’s resolutions list – the last one seen was as recently as 2009.  Most of it is still waiting to be achieved. Achieving my new year’s resolutions is going to be one of my new year’s resolutions … next year.
  6. The calendar list – this is a fairly new arrival on the scene, for all those busy parents who now not only have the option of individual columns for each family member, but can also make lists within the columns with nifty little stickers that say things like, “Piano,” “Dentist” and “Play date”. They never seem to have stickers for “Euphonium,” “Gynaecologist” or “Big night out” so you can see who they’re pitching at. I received one of these as a present this year (although I confess I’ve been buying them for the past couple of years) and, by coincidence, it’s a Boyton calendar. With stickers. And a fifth column, which I like to call ‘Other’.
  7. The holiday list – now divided into four columns to ensure all parties of the household are accounted for, although the kids pretty much need the same things which wastes a column, unless you use that now-vacant column to put in all the things that are for the whole family – like iPods and toilet paper.
  8. The ‘just in case’ list. This is not a favourite of mine.  This is the list you make when you have to remember details just in case they a) are needed for future medical purposes, b) are needed for future insurance purposes or c) are needed for future legal purposes, possibly as a result of the outcomes of a) or b).  I have one of these too, from a particularly nasty time in 2009 that involved four hospitals, three ambulances, an RFDS flight and a great potential for the unintentional spread of misinformation. So I recorded everything according to who was affected and treated over a 30-day period. Don’t call me OCD – but at the time I would have answered to “that anxious, stressed-out and exhausted mum over there”.
  9. The wish list! This is a real thing in our house now, thanks to my friend Julie. How many times throughout the year do you see or hear about something and think “I’d love that for Christmas”, or your child/spouse/ significant employer says “I’ve always wanted one of those”.  Well, when you/they do, nip over to the printout you’ve stuck on the fridge/filing cabinet with the handy table courtesy of MS Word and write it on the wish list! Then, come little or big Johnny’s birthday six months later, or at Christmas, you nip back to the list and see that he wanted a Star Wars: the Force Unleashed DS game, or Bluetooth, or hopefully something under $200. Problem solved!
  10. Rounding out the top 10 list is this top 10 list because, frankly, I didn’t think I’d be able to find 10 lists I use and can demonstrate. But I have. And that’s a bit revealing.  Hmm, there’s an idea for a list: top 10 things I’ve revealed about myself on this blog …

[And I’ve just thought of two more: the Santa List for True Believers, coming soon on Brownie Talk; and the, ahem, To All The Men I’ve Loved Before list, Julio Iglesias style.  I’m not the only one, right?]

Flowery language and a funeral

My beloved nanna died in England in May, aged 92.  She was still living independently, and was unfortunately robbed on her doorstep by a bastard pretending to be a charity collector.  During the event she was either pushed or fell somehow with the shock of having her purse snatched and ended up in hospital – all 4’11” of her – and never recovered.

Her weeks of living hell in the English NHS with an undiagnosed fractured femur, recurrent UTIs, dehydration and totally inappropriate care is another story; suffice it to say it was a tragic end to a long and extraordinary life which produced my father and a failed attempt to settle in Australia as a 10 pound Pom family in the early 60s.  I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to surprise her in England in 2007 for her 90th birthday and the lovely five days spent with her and my Aunty and other family members to celebrate the milestone.

So when the call came from my Aunty to advise the inevitable, which I was prepared for, it took a day or two to realise that I should send flowers.  I rang the florist I’ve used before for interstate and international deliveries and was greeted by a friendly, though befuddled, woman – “now, where’s that pen?”  I explained what I needed, and that I’d looked online and found what I was after.  She really just needed to take the message, confirm the price, and take my payment.

After giving my credit card details, I asked her to read back the message, just to be sure, to which she replied, “Oh! My shorthand’s not the best, um okay, here we go …”  To her credit, the only bit she got wrong was saying “to all of you” instead of “to you all” but I let her get away with it – because the meaning was not altered.  But at about this point my fragile emotional state was at near-shatter vibrational levels.

Note to florists: your business is about emotion!  When you are 10,000 miles away from someone and want to convey your feelings, ‘saying it with flowers’ does also include words but they’ve got to be right!  When I hang up, you can’t join the dots between what you thought I said and what you’ll say I said!  This is my Aunty Wendy you’re dealing with!

Anyway, the flowers arrived, my Aunty loved them, the funeral happened, and life (and death) goes on.  Words matter.  RIP Phyllis Mary Margrain.

The inner weather girl got angry

Apparently the Dutch have a fascination for weather.  So my girlfriend told me once, and she reckoned it was because if you lived in a country that’s at risk of being submerged every time it gets a decent bit of rain, you’d want to check the weather pretty regularly too. She based her theory on being married to a Dutch man who is interested in weather, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy.

However, being half Dutch, I find there’s a bit of truth to be had from that sweeping generalisation.  I had a brief ‘Eureka’ moment when she said it because it sort of helped explain my lifelong interest in weather. 

As a child, staying at Oma and Opa’s (my Dutch grandparents) during the holidays on the south coast of WA, heaven forbid if you even breathed loudly during the weather section on the ABC TV news.   Sometimes it was just better to try and hold your breath and creep out of the lounge room so you could think without being scolded.

Their predictable habit became a useful communication tool as I grew older, because now if I want to call Oma I wait until 7.31pm.  It used to be a dead cert I’d get her and she could then talk authoritatively about the weather to ‘break the ice’.  I say ‘used to’ because now, at 94 and with wireless TV audio direct to her hearing aids (yes!) it’s not so certain.  Mind you, she’s also got the digital desktop weather station alongside the crochet hooks and sidoku, so she still knows what temperature it is any time of the day or night. Just in case.

Moving on, during high school in geography classes I learnt some of the more formal parts of weather, which sort of helped explain the physics behind the ‘Dutchiness’ interest in weather. I say sort of because, I mean, really:

Fast forward 20 years or so, and I found myself at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation working for Local Radio in a regional studio – the serious domain of serious weather.  I did so enjoy reading the coastal waters forecasts *sigh*.  Now that I look back at it, that’s when I knew that a little weeny part of my cerebellum had personally and professionally fused.

And of course I was in the Pilbara, where cyclones are a real weather threat for six months of the year, when it’s not fricken hot for the other six months – note large dark red pimple on the north-west coast of WA which is where I’m talking about.

 Broadcasting for prolonged periods of time under pressure, in a studio itself shaking and howling with the wind and the community relying on your ability to communicate information, is a serious responsibility – and one that remains up the top of the ‘Life Experiences Top Ten’ so far.

Which brings me, in a long and roundabout way, to a few weeks ago when Perth experienced one of its nastiest storms in recent times.  Where I live wasn’t affected badly, and I’m grateful.  Bearing this in mind, last week the weather bureau issued a severe weather warning for the metropolitan area because another storm was imminent.  In their advice they said no hail was expected (as per the freak storm), and no road weather alert was issued either. But they were obviously being cautious because Perthites were jittery.

Imagine my surprise then when I turned up to uni for my 5-9pm lectures, after having driven over an hour in drizzle-affected panicky traffic, to find my classes cancelled due to the weather.

Somehow 40-odd years of weather loving, cyclone experiencing, anti-weather-gang-mentality (I just made that up) indignation rose to the surface. 

I mean, come ON!  You call that a storm?  This is the kind of storm I’m used to, when palm trees blow sideways and you can’t hear yourself think for the wind, and you finally see just why there are no roof gutters on Pilbara houses, because they couldn’t support the weight of rainfall.

Grrr.  As a Dutch person would say in the Pilbara, “Word taai, prinses.”

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, enjoy Bik Runga’s lovely song, Listening for the weather, which, not surprisingly, used to be on the ABC playlist!

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The Lexicons of Blondie and Brownie

Being the only mother in the world to think her children are incredibly talented, insightful and amusing, I feel it’s my public duty to share some of their stuff, thereby ruining my determination to not be a mummy blog.  Just temporarily, mind you, and only when the genius of my loins produce the goods, like this:

Brownie: “Mummy, you need a new memory card for your brain so you can remember more things.”

You can visit the Brownie talk and Blondie talk tabs to get individual serves from both.

Blondie is 9 years old; Brownie is his 6 year old brother.


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