25 Apr 2011

I used to have...

These are not the best tomatoes that I have ever grown. They're not the biggest, reddest, or sweetest. Nor are they the most flavoursome. They are, however, the tomatoes that have given me the greatest satisfaction.

These are the first tomatoes that I've picked from our Kitchen Garden since the January floods. Grown on bushes replanted by friends in the first terrible week after the destruction of our home and garden, they now allow me to say once more, "I have a kitchen garden," instead of, "I used to have a kitchen garden."

There are so many things to which I now must say, "I used to have..."

:: I used to have a beautiful home.
:: I used to have a collection of Asian textiles.
:: I used to have beautiful Japanese antique furniture.
:: I used to have a lovely garden filled with flowers and trees.

Before the floods we lived in a home that we had lovingly restored and decorated. We had it just as we liked it - warm, comforting and peaceful. We had book-lined walls, soft, welcoming sofas and carefully selected Asian antique furniture. Our collection of textiles covered beds, sofas and chairs. Piles of woolen blankets were available for snuggling into before the open fire, where we toasted marshmallows and sourdough toast, which we ate dripping with butter and Vegemite. Our life was pretty good.

We loved entertaining. We had a great guest bedroom, and we really enjoyed having friends to stay and making them feel special. We would lounge around on deckchairs by our swimming pool reading books and talking and eating and drinking champagne. We would eat Thai curries and talk until late into the night. I liked that.

We spent our holidays overseas. Japan was our favourite destination, and we spent much of our time purchasing the finishing touches for our home. Japanese pottery, lacquer and textiles. Tableware and soft furnishings. That and eating. We always chose our destinations for their cuisine and aesthetics. Shallow, maybe, but true.

I used to have a life like that. I used to love that life.

It is now fourteen weeks since the flood. People have begin asking us if life is back to normal, of our home looks different with 'all the new furniture'. They ask us how work is going. They clearly have no idea.

So what is our life like post flood? How can I explain to them? How can I explain to you?

First, the house. Before you read any further, take a look around the room that you're sitting in right now. Imagine your own home. Now, imagine that anything that is in the bottom foot or so has been damaged or destroyed. What has gone? What has been destroyed? What would you replace, and what is irreplacable?

In our case, the list of damaged or destroyed includes the following:

:: Kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinets
:: Fridge, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer
:: Tables, chairs, sofas, chairs, coffee tables, cupboards and bookshelves
:: Beds, bedside tables, wardrobes (including all of the fittings in our walk-in-robe)
:: Rugs and fitted carpets and our wooden kitchen floor
:: Laundry and bathroom tiles are cracked and lifting
:: Skirting boards and the bottom foot or so of all the walls
:: The surface of all wooden furniture
:: Most of our photographs, seven filing cabinets of personal memorabilia
:: Most of my textiles
:: Most of Jemimah's toys - dolls clothes, barbie dolls and all the dress-ups

Now imagine how you would go about replacing it. Bear in mind that there is no insurance money, and you still have a mortgage. And then factor in 11 weeks with no income. Where would you start? Think of the plastering, the warped walls, the damaged cabinetry, the floors.

Now think of the holes in the walls letting in locusts, spiders and mice. Don't forget the moulds and the damp and the slugs. Think of the floors all going mouldy each week or so and having to completely clear the room to mop it and cover it with layers of bleach. Imagine the smells. Consider the health hazard.

Now ask us if life is back to normal. Of course it is not!! We have borrowed beds, and Ikea bedside tables instead of our lovingly collected originals. We have donated rugs on marine plywood or rough concrete floors. Our guest room is filled with boxes, only we have to move them each week, or the mould begins to grow.

Sometimes I wonder who I am. I go shopping and pick up the sort of things I was looking at 'BF' - 'Before the Floods'. Then I put them down again. What use is a new set of lovely orange linen table napkins when I don't have a table? Do I really need new sheets when I don't have a bed? What's the point in purchasing two hundred daffodil bulbs when there is nothing else to accompany them? Do I need a Japanese maru obi when I don't have a table to display it on?

I find myself gravitating to magazines like English Country Living, with its cozy comfy traditional English decor instead of the sparse Japanese style magazines I've always prefered, simply, I think, because I need comfort and warmth and security. I find myself crocheting and knitting for the same reason. I find our diets have changed. We are eating more processed foods - white bread instead of sourdoughs and grains; cornflakes instead of homemade muesli, stews and pastas instead of stirfries and grills. Pies, crumbles and puddings. Once again, I can only guess that it is the need for comfort, for familiarity, for warmth.

Our friends planted thirteen tomato bushes in our kitchen garden after the floods, but only two have fruited. February is really a little late for toms in our Central Victorian climate. When the tomatoes began to grow I thought that they wouldn't redden up, but I was wrong. These three are only the beginning - more are on their way. They give me great satisfaction. Once more I can boast that our kitchen garden is producing rocket and coriander and silverbeet and lettuces and cucumbers and tomatoes. Every day I pick leaves of our own plants for salads.

Now I can pick tomatoes again. That feels better than you can ever imagine. It feels normal. And it makes me feel like me. Just for a little while, life is good.

I have a kitchen garden.


  1. My heart breaks for you having a home that is no longer "home".

    I have read up a bit about mould when we had some appearing in an old brick wall around the kitchen stove in our Federation rental. Bleach doesn't always kill it but just fades its colour. It can also leave a residue that feeds a new batch.

    In this very old house we also get mould every wet season on the toilet room walls. I have found using an Enjo bathroom glove keeps it away for 2 seasons and there are no nasty chemical smells to deal with.

    Can I help by sending you one? I hate to think of your family living with those chemicals all the time.

    Best wishes
    Jen in NSW

  2. I'm so so sorry that you are in this predicament, I hope better fortune is just around the corner for you and your family

  3. Heartbreaking, Jeanne ♥
    Remembering that very beautiful guest room (and all your other lovely stuff)with a sad heart.

    (We are all using Oil of Cloves for mould which is threatening to carry the whole town away :-)

  4. Those are the most special tomatoes I have ever seen Jeanne, continuing to pray for you :-)

    Could we buy Jemimah some new Barbie things as a special gift???

  5. Jeanne{{}}

    I was only sharing your story today with my brother, talking about your J and the children of your town. Bro is a youth rep with Vinnie's, currently working with flood affected children in Ipswich. He was describing how the debris is still in their homes and has to be cut and taken out piece by piece. He recently took the children out for the day and it rained, the mums were worried as to how the children reacted to the rain, previously they had gone in shock when it rained again (AF)

  6. I remember "fond" days of using Oil of Cloves on a toothache while at camp. It fixed the pain so well I forgot to see the dentist and ended up getting root canal many years later because the nerve had died.

    Lots of people at camp commented that I smelt like their grandma's house or like apple pie. Not so bad a smell really if it is attached to good memories, unlike your children's memories down the track I am sad to say.

    Best wishes
    Jen in NSW

  7. Hi Jeanne,
    We are sorry everything is so hard. I thank God that He has encouraged you with the tomatoes.
    Our thoughts and prayers continue,

  8. Jeanne, what a moving testimony.
    The tomatoes look gorgeous.
    Much love,

  9. Thanks for sharing this--I think the loss is as much over the beauty you created in your home as much as the actual things; the purposefulness that you put into it all, the time and memories that took all those years to come together. Praying that you will gradually find it coming back together, even if it takes new shapes.

  10. I would eat those tomatoes like apples - one for each of you.

  11. Oh, dear Jeanne! I was in tears by the end of this post. I am so sorry for your loss. Sometimes I feel guilty for complaining about our situation just a little, because there are so many who have it far, far worse. Then I remember that it's OK for us to mourn the loss, though temporary for us (I think!), of our normal life. No, it's not as hard as literally losing everything, including family, like the others in Tohoku, but it's still hard, and not much fun!

    I will continue to hold your family in prayer. And, I'm sure that I will think of you every time I eat a fresh tomato for some time to come! (((hugs)))

  12. You have a new normal. Grieving is normal & necessary. It's not the same but I always stumble when I meet new people & they ask about my siblings because "I used to have" 2 brothers. I guess in a sense I still do but one will never see his son grow up to be a man, or see my girls marry or grow old. I feel rather careless for losing a younger brother, awful for surviving when I am older &[in my mind] far less use to God's kingdom ~ years later, still moments of deep grief ~ & so it is for you. Life moves on but it will always be different now & there will always be those moments when you remember the what ifs & grieve. Tomatoes are a good start. God bless, my love. ♥

  13. Perhaps change your perspective...
    Celebrate that you at least had those material things for a huge part of your life
    Appreciate that you now still have more than so many others
    Materialism does not go with the Christianity you profess does it????????

  14. Very heart breaking Jeanne, I just can't even begin to imagine your home. In the midst of this most difficult situation you are grateful for tomatoes. I love you! xx

  15. I just want to encourage you and reasure you that most of us see the struggle you are going though and are being honest about rather than materialism. Having lived with molds and having permenant health problems from them it is not a matter to be brushed aside and the fact that you have a child makes it so much harder of course she needs a clean healthy home and look around didn't the Lord make the earth so beautiful and didn't He give us creative ideas to make our homes beautiful I pray that you will be give the strength and ability to get rid of the mold, wisdom to keep yourselves healthy and God would bring beautiful things for you to create a home. I know you delight in the lovely things around (flowers, trees, birds, skys, etc) and these things will help you all as you walk the journey to recovery and as you ache you can pray (even if it is as simple as Father you see-the ache in our hearts the loss all around) for the thousands of people eveywhere suffering though nature right now. Sometimes when I have gone though such bad things I see how bad it REALLY must be for others in the same position or worse, without God and although I can not always pray I turn my Heart towards God and it's almost if He prays, my pain becomes a prayer for others. I would suggest putting in a wood fire (conarra type) if possible and keeping it on all the time with some windows open this will help dry out the house and help you have a healthier place to live (as a lover of textiles and japanese things I am so sad to hear of their damage :( it does make us realize how fagile our earthly life is doesn't it) God bless you all keep going forward

  16. Jeanne,

    This is one of your most beautiful posts. It touched my heart. Here I am going through stuff, getting rid of 'stuff' because it's just too much, and you just brought everything in perspective for me. I'm sorry for all of the loss and issues you and your family are dealing with. My hope for you is to see a little bit of positive progress every single day.

    Cindy Bee

  17. I prayed extra for you guys as we've been driving past flood-stage creeks and river. It has rained and rained. Thankfully, it's not to your level. But it does make me stop and pray for you. I can't imagine remaking my life like you are having to.

  18. In some ways we are very much in the same condition - with great loss.

    This is when the real things in life come to the forefront - and we can find beauty in the little things.

    Totally getting you on the change of diet as well. Although this time I want to be more diligent to keep it in check. 10 kilos is too much for me. :o)

    Enjoy the tomatoes~!! And may there be MANY more. :o)

  19. No tomatoes for us yet. We are anxiously awaiting their ripening. God smiled on you today, ,my friend. I'm with Richele. Eat them like apples. (((hugs))))

  20. The tomatoes look great! Enjoy them! I'm at a loss of what to say about all of your loss. I do hope and pray that you can at least start to get your income back very soon.

  21. I understand your loss and it makes me sad but you will get back on your feet, different but good. Your life will always be the "before and after" . Prayers to you and your family that you journey is in His care.


  22. It's been an eye opener for me, having someone I 'know' go through a natural disaster (as I've not experienced this before)! While I don't know WHY you had to go through this, I know that you WILL come through this! Praying for you and your lovely family as always....


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