Cake! Everybody Loves Cake…

Strolling through the file system this morning, I discovered a photo I’ve never shared with you: the cake I made for the Restoration Day release party.

It was the first time I made an icing other than the plainest of plain (water + icing sugar and a tiny bit of butter). Memory is hazy at this distance, but it might have been buttercream icing. With, as you can see in the photo, the viscera of at least one lemon.

It was delicious. Less delicious was the other photo I happened across: a dead mouse floating in the cats’ water bowl. (Always feed your cat on time.)

Continue & Comment

In Praise of Another Old Technology

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… I love the hand-crank sewing machine, fountain pens and candle-lamp; I love the simple perfection of the stick that is the rimu nostepinne. And, it turns out, I love the typewriter.

writer-1421099_640Proper manual typewriters, that is. None of this pansy give-me-electricity-or-give-me-death stuff. The whole point of the typewriter nowadays is the freedom it gives you: freedom from electricity, software upgrades (or crashes), printers, digital mass surveillance, illegible handwriting, planned obsolescence and blue-light-emitting screens – to name just a few.

And, of course, there’s the sound of typing. Tom Hanks says laptop typing sounds “mousy… cozy and small, like knitting needles creating a pair of socks. [Nothing wrong with knitting socks, Mr Hanks.] Everything you type on a typewriter sounds grand, the words forming in mini-explosions of SHOOK SHOOK SHOOK.”

I’ve been reading the book The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century by Richard Polt, a book packed full of history and helpful advice, along with a horde of fascinating snippets. For instance: the first documented user of a typewriter was a blind Italian countess (back in 1801); you should never use WD40 on a typewriter; and keychopping – the practice of cutting the keys off old typewriters to use for making jewellery – is like “declawing a cat and throwing away the cat.”

L. Frank Baum, 1899
L. Frank Baum, the man behind Oz

There’s also a discussion of different makes and models of typewriters, with mentions of the people who use/d them. Agatha Christie and George Orwell used Remingtons, as did George Bernard Shaw and Margaret Mitchell. e.e. cummings used a Smith-Corona portable (with, one is tempted to speculate, a broken shift). Nick Cave uses an Olivetti; as does Cormac McCarthy, who cannily sold his old one for over a quarter of a million dollars and then replaced it for under $20. Ho Chi Minh used a typewriter known as a Hermes Baby, which doesn’t exactly fit with the revolutionary image.

I myself have a powder-blue Brother De Luxe ultraportable typewriter, which weighs a smidgen over five kilos in its case. It is relatively young, having rolled off the production line in Nagoya in February 1969, and is still in very good working condition. A few days ago I took the outer cladding off to give it a good clean, but that was all it needed, besides perhaps a new ribbon in the near future. I didn’t pick it apart further, because a) I wasn’t entirely confident of my ability to put it back together properly, and b) whoever put those screws in wasn’t messing around (and I have a twisted screwdriver to prove it).

typewriter clean
My desk, mid-operation. Note the convenient disassembly diagram – which may be for another typewriter – and the extracted fluff to the right.

Nonetheless, there is something very capable-feeling about being able to take a machine at least partially apart and then successfully put it back together again (with some assistance from a spare pair of hands and the muscles attached to them). All the more so, as I am not naturally mechanically minded. All I found inside was some gunge and fluff – unlike others who, according to Polt, have found everything from a mummified mouse (minus head) to five hundred dollars to a wasps nest. I don’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved.

The point of a typewriter, of course, is to use it. It is no longer the most efficient way to produce text, but efficiency is seldom a guarantee of quality. Those of you who are au fait with the modern phenomenon known as NaNoWriMo may be interested to know that there is a group who knock out their 50,000 words on typewriters. One, Mike Clemens, says he’s heard the bell at the end of each line likened to a personal word-count cheerleader – and of course it always helps to be able to see your progress stacking up next to you. (On which note, bring back paperweights!)

Honvéd utca 13-15. a volt Külkereskedelmi Minisztérium I. emeleti helyiségében. Fortepan 7676My own plan is to write – or at least draft – a novel or play on this typewriter. Not immediately, since I am at present in the midst of rewriting/edits which are best done on computer, but hopefully in the not too distant future. Because I have at last found another phrase to rival the beauty of piston-filling fountain pen: annotated typescript.

In Which I Learn to FLY

For years I have been labouring (quite literally) under a delusion. I thought I was a naturally tidy person, because having mess around stresses me. And since I knew how to do all the tasks required, I couldn’t figure out why the stressful messful state of things continued.

WeirdTalesv36n1pg068 Shocked Woman

When I was in my early teens, my mother came up with a complex mathematical – er, thingy, which not only ensured that each member of the household had a fair share of the housework, but that each person’s share was largely composed of the work they liked most (or rather, disliked least). Brilliant. Me for cleaning the toilet and cooking the dinner (no, not at the same time); avaunt, ye dreaded dish-washing!

That was some fifteen years ago. I have been an independent alleged-adult for ten years now, and it was only recently I realized that subconsciously I still classify the jobs I really don’t like as “someone else’s problem.”

To be fair, the Caped Gooseberry does a lot of these jobs, such as putting out the rubbish and emptying the compost bin (among other things) – as previously mentioned, my husband is not lazy – but there are nonetheless a good many jobs that aren’t going to happen unless I do them myself.
Those of you considering becoming adults, be warned: pixies do not appear in the night to do the dusting, and dishes do not wash themselves (unless you’re having tea with Merlyn).

Washing Dishes

There is quite a bit of work which goes into running a household, and the less organized you are, the more work it is. Hence my problem. While I knew how to clean, I didn’t necessarily know how to organize. Where to start?

Eventually I swallowed my pride (and my delusions) and admitted that I could use some help. I was never going to be one of those paragons who vacuums herself out the door when she goes on holiday (so as to have everything pristine when she returns), I just wanted the house to become clean and peaceful, and to stay that way with the minimum of conscious effort from myself.

Enter FlyLady, recommended to me by our previous minister. I borrowed her book from the library, and after various re-readings, browsings of the website – and the passage of a couple of years – I decided to actually try it properly, shiny sink and all.

Kitchen sink drain

In order to have some record of the experience, I kept a journal for the month of April, while doing the 31 Beginner BabySteps. These aren’t included in the daily emails, which are mostly advice, encouragement, testimonials and advertising for FlyLady-approved cleaning gear. There are about a dozen a day, although on Day 12 your task is to delete old ones; and on Day 31, to drop down to the FlyLady Lite emails (assuming you feel ready).

The FlyLady system is all about routines: you do the same things over and over again and then you don’t have to think about it, you just do it automatically. This applies to things you do every day, on a particular day of the week, or a particular week of the month. Forming good habits, little by little.

To be honest, I think I needed longer to practice each step of the routine in order to cement it in place, before adding further steps. Some steps I slipped right into – like dressing first thing in the morning – and others are less intuitive and I have to keep reminding myself. Such as, for example, remembering to replace negative self-talk (“I’m lazy! It’s hopeless!”) with positive self-talk (“I can choose what I do, and I can do it!”) – affirmations, the Artist’s Way would call them. Helpfully, all the routines are to be written down as you go, so you have something to refer to.

Edouard John Mentha Lesendes Dienstmädchen in einer Bibliothek

Looking around, those who seem to have the most success with FlyLady are those who adapt the system to suit their culture and circumstances. No need to wipe your sink dry each time you use it, for example, if your tap water isn’t hard and doesn’t leave marks when it dries.

And then there’s the getting dressed to shoes – an intended morale booster, which allows you to step straight out the door if need be. Here in New Zealand, it is normal to ask, on entering a house, whether it’s a “shoes off” house – and many are, mine included. Wearing shoes around the house so you can go out at a moment’s notice is about as weird as carrying your handbag around the house for the same reason. On the other hand, unless it’s high summer (which it seldom is) I wear socks and slippers, because my feet are almost always cold. So that’s “shoes” for me.

There are other minor cultural allowances I had to make as well. Doing laundry all the way from sort to shelve is only possible when the weather co-operates, as the vast majority of New Zealand laundry is dried on lines outside in the sun. This can be frustrating in winter, but on the other hand, you get that lovely fresh-air scent in your laundry, and you don’t have to worry about dryer fires.

New Zealand - Hanging the wash - 9047

But enough of this, I hear you say. Never mind the cultural adjustments, does it actually work? Well, as with most things, you get out as much as you put in, but I’ve never before come across a system which makes it so easy to get started and keep going. Possibly because it insists that you can’t “get behind” – you just start from where you are.

Twice a day you spend a couple of minutes clearing off a place that collects stuff – you know the one – and actually putting the stuff where it belongs, not just dumping it somewhere else. My first target was the top of the chests of drawers in our bedroom, which were generally invisible under thick strata of books, mending, odd clothes, pieces of paper, random oddments – you get the idea. It loomed at me in the darkness as I lay in bed.

I cleared it off in two or three two-minute attacks, and to my great surprise, it has stayed clear. There is a small stack of books in one corner, closest to the bed, with a candle-lamp and matches for late-night reading. At the other end is a decorative bowlful of knitted hats and gloves, winter having arrived in early autumn this year. And that’s it.


Another daily task is to spend fifteen minutes decluttering in the zone of the week (a monthly rotation). The idea is that you can’t really get a room clean until you’ve got all the junk out of it. To my great surprise, I was dusting the windowsills and the skirting board (the skirting board!!!) in the bedroom within the week. And having palpitations at the amount of dust I found, but that’s another story.

To make the long story short, the overwhelming thing about housework is that there is so much of it. Where do you start? How do you possibly find the time and energy for it all? FlyLady proposes an eminently sane answer: you do it a little at a time. Make a routine (it doesn’t have to be hers, the main thing is to have one and stick to it) and just keep going.

I am still working on developing and editing my routines to make sure they work as well for me as possible, but I am cautiously hopeful. I may never be naturally tidy, but that doesn’t mean a clean and tidy peaceful home is not within my reach!