Category Archives: Chores

The Shopping List

A pen and a notepad went everywhere with Mum, and there were numerous ones amongst the house. In the kitchen, on the bench and on the fridge; by the phone; on the coffee table in the lounge; next to the computer; by her bed.

Lists were daily, weekly, seasonally, yearly. They covered cleaning, meals, shopping, To-Do, To-Buy, To-Make.

The first list I remember Mum teaching me – however inadvertently, like all her best lessons – was the Shopping List.

I remember her leaning on the kitchen bench, checking the cupboard and writing. Checking the fridge and writing. Checking the pantry and writing. She would send us kids to check the bathroom. And she would ask us what we wanted that week – this would sometimes and sometimes not get added to the list. If we asked for a new pen, we might have some success – but if we asked for Fruit Loop cereal – we nearly always missed out.

The Shopping List was written in three columns. The first was pantry and cupboard items – and would always start with bread and cereal, followed by any other items we needed. The middle column was fresh items – and it always started with milk and margarine, and continued to fruit and vegetables. The last column was toiletries and cleaning products. At the bottom right would be the list of meat – this was separate because generally this came from the butcher, not the supermarket.

Whomever went shopping with Mum – it didn’t matter which one of us kids, and nor how old we were – had the job of crossing off the list. I think I learnt to read by this method. Mum would push the trolley and as she loaded another item, she would say – ‘Did you cross off tinned tomatoes?’ or ‘Don’t forget to cross off carrots’. As we got older and could read a little more fluently, we would reciprocate: ‘Did you get gravy?’ or ‘Don’t forget the toothpaste’.

When times were tight, Mum also carried a calculator and added up as she went. This was always her job. But when we reached the checkout – it was our turn to add it up. We would each have to guess how much the groceries were this week. There was no prize here – just the personal satisfaction that you had beaten the others by getting closest to the actual amount.

Mum paid in cash – out of the budget envelopes she carried in her purse. I remember the awkwardness of miscalculating and having to put items back. But I also remember the joy at getting a milky way thrown into the trolley on good days too.

Online shopping has of course changed the way we can shop now. You can save your ‘trolley’ and add up as you go. There are now fridges with internet screens and apps to scan your barcodes when you empty a packet of peas. But nothing will ever beat the simply pen and notepad stuck on the fridge, or the very simply three column shopping list. It’s how I do it. Why? It’s how I was taught, of course.

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Bored (aka Board) Games

Mum – we’re bored.
Go find something to do then.
But there’s nothing to do.
Go outside. Read a book. Play a board game. Or else I will find something for you to do.

Well we didn’t want that. That meant chores.

So we’d almost always end up playing a board game. Monopoly. Scrabble. Boggle. Cluedo. They were the standards. We’d play on the floor, with cushions. And more often than not, after about 15 minutes of playing, Mum would bring us a snack – acknowledging we had made a good decision.

Board games were fun – but they also taught us how to share, to take turns, to be competitive, to win gracefully and to accept defeat with dignity.

Sure – they created arguments. Like the Christmas we fought hard during a session of The Game of Life. So hard in fact, that as a result – a new house rule was instilled by Mum. For the rest of the Christmas holidays each time we interacted with someone Mum would make us say: ‘I love you, I’m glad you’re here.’ Every time. It became a joke eventually – but it did help give us some perspective. We never did play Game of Life again though. That was tainted forever.

But mostly these games gave us our best Playing moments. I remember the marathon Monopoly sessions, using books to hide our Cludeo sheets and building mammoth dominio stacks.

These were the best family moments. No separate sessions on computers, phones, etc in separate bedrooms – we would all be in the one room, playing a game together.

Bored? Play a Board Game. How long since you last sat down and played a game with your family?

Setting the Table

Dinner was nearly always at the table. Breakfast rarely was, and lunch only occasionally. But dinner – almost always. The only exception was having hot chips on a rug on the floor if we arrived home late. Or if we had visitors, and the adults sat at the table and us kids were relegated to the rug on the floor. But even that rug had precision – it had etiquette. There were expectations about how to set the rug and the table.

I remember being very young and carrying plates to the table. I remember the moment Mum let me carry a glass to the table, and when she let me carry two – one in each hand. I must have only been about four.

We always started with a tablecloth or placemats of some sort. We also always had napkins – even if they were just squares of paper towel folded in half. We did have cloth napkins and napkin rings with our initials on too. But sometimes a slice of pizza works best with a paper towel napkin.

There would be cutlery – and not just a fork – the whole kit and caboodle: fork, knife and a spoon for pudding. Yes, we ate pudding most nights – generally fruit and custard, ice-cream or a baked dessert like apple crumble or rice pudding. Sometimes just bread and jam. Not a gigantic bowl – we’re talking a small spoon of ice cream and a couple of pieces of fruit.

There would be a jug of water and glasses.

And often a centre-piece – it might just be a candle, it might be a flower from outside in a little bit of water. It might just be an ornament. But we would have something in the middle of the table.

Lastly – condiments. Salt, pepper, tomato sauce, hot sauce, mustard, olive oil, vinegar.

These were The Basics.

This is how we sat down to eat dinner. As a family. Perhaps it sounds strange now because one of the saddest things some families have absent-mindedly misplaced – is the Family Dinner.

To set the table, is to set your intention. To set your family a place to come together and share a meal – to break bread, to talk and listen. To set the table is one ritual I am glad Mum instilled in all of us.

Does it still sound formal? It wasn’t. It was normal.

Ironing

You really must do the ironing. And you must tidy the linen press. Fold the towels this way, so that the fold is on the visible side. It’s neater that way. If you’ve got some, pop some lavender in there. Smile – you’ve done a good job.

Mum ironed all our clothes, table linens and doilies. She even ironed tea towels and dish cloths.

When my father left, and money was tight – this is how Mum earned some extra cash. It seems not everyone loved ironing as much as my Mum.

She ironed by the hour, not by the basket. A basket of shirts is faster than a basket of fiddly baby outfits, she would say. Smart woman my Mum.

Make Your Bed – Everyday.

Yes. EVERYday.

And this doesn’t mean just pulling up the doona. This means taking the time to straighten the bottom sheet, tucking it back in where it has wriggled free overnight. Puff up the pillows, lining them up against the bedhead neatly. Folding down (using your hand as a guide) the top sheet and then tucking it in (yes, another crucial bit here – a second sheet is not optional). Fluff the doona, then sweep your hands down it – smoothing out any wrinkles as you go. Remember too, to stand back and admire your good work once done.

linen - theprettyblogdotcom

At the end of a long day, as you pull back the covers on your bed – it will make you smile to think you have a nice, crinkle-free bed to get into. Sleep will come easier. So do it – everyday.

Wash, Dry and Put Away, Clear and Stack

When there were 3 of us left at home, Mum made a roster and stuck it to the fridge. There were three different jobs:
– wash
– dry up and put away
– clear and stack

This roster lasted us many years. We hoped for Clear and Stack – the easiest job. We hated Dry Up and Put Away – it took the longest.

But as Mum always said, the best conversations happen while you’re doing another chore.

So each night, two of us were forced to spend time together in the kitchen. And although it is only now we admit it, we had our best conversations. I remember helping my little brother with his love life and my little sister with a bullying teacher. I remember them making me laugh when I was stressed out about exams.

Mum would pretend to be watching TV, but really she would be listening and smiling on the inside.

It was exactly what we all needed.

Spring Cleaning

Lovely day again. I did the washing – changed the beds, etc. Also cleaned out the kitchen drawers and the pantry.

– Diary, Tuesday 15th August 1989

Winter is almost over and time to spring clean. I like spring cleaning. I did a few windows yesterdays, but the outside ones are a problem.

– Diary, Thursday 24th August 1989

I tidied up all the area behind our gates today… There is actually cement paths underneath all that grass.

– Diary, Wednesday 30th August 1989

We have had some great weather. Spring has finally sprung.

– Diary, Tuesday 5th September 1989

The first few days of sunshine would trigger a restlessness in Mum. Lists would be written, plans would be made. And the cleaning would begin.

It would start slowly – sheets, towels, linens washed and ironed and put away. Then the floors, kitchen and pantry. Then the windows and the garden.

When we were older, and could help Mum – this period would all be squashed into one weekend: Bathurst weekend. Mum always watched the race on Sunday, and she could only do that once Spring Cleaning had been finished. It meant a full day of cleaning – all hands on deck – on the Saturday.

This is a tradition which we will carry on – we all get a little restless around Bathurst weekend. After all, there are lists to write, plans to make…