Wednesday, December 30, 2009

another kid from Stoke

It was the 1970s. A concrete building in Stoke, where we traipsed in, children of a long tradition of religious adherence. Our parents, or mothers if only one, had listened through the Latin Mass, attended Catholic schools, married nice boys (or girls) and carried on the faith.

Of course it would be tempting to think that this concrete building, perhaps a contender for the least aesthetically beautiful church in town (particularly when you consider that beauty is allowed in Roman Catholicism), represented a challenge to those used to something more gorgeous. Yet in New Zealand, many many people worshipped in shanties and small wooden buildings unless they were in the centre of the larger cities, and I struggle to imagine the nineteenth century churches of rural and working class Ireland as places of physical grandeur.

The old timers talk of the beauty of the Latin Mass. Nobody talks about the buildings that I have noticed. The tradition was of belief through word and ritual, of faith and frankly, a lot of doing what you were told to.

People a bit older than me (relative springety chicken of the 1970s) talk of the stultifying uniformity of life in 1960s New Zealand. The late 1970s in Stoke wasn't a lot different. I grew up in a safe and loving home with meals on the table at regular times, stories at bedtime, Mum at home sewing and cleaning (and and and of course, but I didn't notice much as you don't), Dad riding his bike to the freezing works where the work was at least a little bit related to the farming life he had enjoyed until they moved to the city for the children. We played outside in our decent-sized kiwi backyard and learnt to garden and compost without thinking of it as anything special. Our grandparents had a farm and so we got to play in really big open spaces there in the holidays. There was a playground round the corner which we were taken to and once I was seven I started Brownies. We got colour television when I was six and I think the year before that, a stereo with ABBA as the first cassette tape we owned.

For all the conformity which the Catholic Church outwardly promotes, it was at Mass that I got a taste of something different. We used to sit up the front and Mum would answer my questions about the symbols on the altar. Incense was only on particular occasions but the smell I loved was as the candles were extinguished at the end of Mass, while we sang the last hymn. It was in the sermons that we were challenged to lead a different life, that ideas were put forward and analysed. I remember hymns such as Go Tell Everyone and the intoxicating and romantic stories of saints in the children's library. I think it was Bernadette of Lourdes who was so poor that they put newspaper between the sheets to keep warm. Then she saw Mary. It was the detail about being so poor which I remember most.

Like most of the children from the congregation at Stoke in the 1970s, I don't attend Mass regularly now. Like many others with historical links to the Catholic Church, I question much about the hierarchical structure of the church and the absence of radical action relative to the words of Jesus. Most of us stopped attending church anywhere. Many are angry and atheist and some found God in a formal Protestant setting, statistically likely to be one of the fundamentalist churches of rising popularity.

Although it is an inconsistent gift, I do have a startling memory for names and experiences from my childhood. Which is why I can remember well my First Communion, spilling the water as I carried it to the front, wearing a white dress and veil for the one and only time (I wore red to my wedding, nothing covering my face), only a couple of names from that class but including a boy whose mother's face I can just recall.

It's great to see that the social justice stuff rubbed off on another kid from Stoke. Bryce Edwards has written an excellent series of blogposts analysing class and identity politics in New Zealand over the past 3-4 decades. I highly recommend that every New Zealander reads them.

Monday, December 28, 2009

computer now willing to talk to camera...

Looking down on Woodstock, Westland 2009.
Hoki Bridge & River.

On the beach, Hokitika.

On the beach with Batman, in my new skirt.

Seeing red. Sunflowers climbing up slowly. Large gaps in the punga raised bed ready for some more planting.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

blog without pictures

again. This time it is my computer, an aged and temperamental piece of plastic which we nurture and endure because there are no funds for a replacement and so many other things on the funds list ahead of it that it isn't really on the list. Last week it accepted my camera no problem. Yesterday and today, no way.

So that's a bugger because I wanted to show pictures of our new red hot fence which Favourite Handyman painted on Christmas Day afternoon while I had a sleep. [yes. I agree. Very very very wonderful. I am keeping him on. Forever.]

And a bugger because I wanted to show a picture of my new skirt which I finished yesterday. I've worked out how to have my sewing machine set up so I can flip between computer and sewing machine with ease and that has speeded up sewing progress quite a bit. What has really whoompahed it up though is FH looking after the children while I sew in daylight hours. I'm half way through turning an op-shop skirt made of floral cotton from an extremely fattening elastic waist number into a light and flippy wrap around skirt. Of course my own very real tummy still sticks out, but the additional bunching, by no one's estimation ever necessary, will be gone.

There are some more projects in the pipeline, awaiting both time and patience, and also a trip to the shops on Tuesday for appropriate thread. The children have both requested sewing for them, but as they have so many clothes that I have to cull from their drawers to fit in the Christmas gifts, they can wait quite a lot longer. I got given tea towels and paper napkins for Christmas so I have room in my drawers and wardrobe for lots of new clothes. At this stage, none of the sewing will involve purchased fabric. I still have a great and wonderful fabric stash from my friend Susan who left town this time last year and also a number of op-shop finds awaiting alteration or even transformation.

Today we went on a mystery trip. I had just the haziest notion of where the Woodstock pub was and fancied a trip somewhere new. We headed south through mist and rain and the effect was really and truly magical. We could see well enough to drive but not much further and eventually we turned off up the Rimu-Woodstock Road and drove through country totally new to us. When you live in a small town bordered by sea on one side and largely impenetrable mountains on the other, this is quite exciting. After a while we found the Mananui tram track, a beautiful walking track made from the remains of the tram track used for logging the West Coast's precious, gorgeous native trees. We walked along it for a while until the sounds of hungry children were too shrill to ignore. We're going back again soon with a big picnic and we'll do the whole walk then.

Then we drove on and found Rimu, kind of out of nowhere, and then the Rimu-Woodstock heritage trail and after all this interesting gorgeousness it turned out that the Woodstock pub was closed which upset my children a great deal as we have brought them up so badly that where other children beg for an ice cream, mine ask to go to the pub. So back on to Hokitika which seemed so plain and unadventurous after our beautiful hidden valley find. Still, fish and chips on the beach is the best part of Hoki and we enjoyed that.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Red hot summer

Never mind the lurgy, or Fionn's asthma, or not going camping for Christmas after all due to points a and b.

Today I bought a pail of 'Resene Red Hot' paint which is going to light up the fence in our side garden like a fireworks sparkle. I have coveted a truly, deeply, intensely red fence or wall for some time and now I have a husband ready to make it happen.


Time to go to bed and kick the last vestiges of lurgy. I have a husband who is going to make me eggs and hollandaise for breakfast and the lounge is full of presents for the children and Favourite Handyman also made us a wonderful headboard out of rimu and macrocarpa (entirely recycled from gifted wood as friends have left town) AND I'm getting a red fence. Must be Christmas or something equally wonderful.

Hope you all find something to love in tomorrow.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

gardening in a bog

It's rained for a huge part of December. The humidity and sudden changes in temperature have wrought their toll on my boy and we are on the second night of asthma watch. Tenting on Tuesday is looking distinctly less likely. The vegetables seem to cope with the rain much better than the fruit. Below is my celery gone to seed and now so heavy it has toppled over. The cabbages nearby are testament to one big learning this season - it doesn't matter how cabbages we grow, we still don't actually eat much cabbage. I've thought of making sauerkraut but haven't done anything with that thought. You can see the marigolds just in bud if you look closely at the foreground.

I think this second photo might be evidence of the cottage garden potager look I fancied from the organic magazines when I first started creating my garden three years ago. The strawberries have survived from last year so strongly I haven't the heart to pull them out. I found two lovely lush ripe ones today which had both escaped the eyes of the birds and the scourge of botrytis - mould but such a much better word I think. The borage has brought the bees in and is now decorating the other plants with beautiful blue dropped flowers. The rocket ran to seed but I am hoping the seed will bring up more rocket when the weather suits better (it is the changing which is sending so much to seed I think). The leeks are my attempt at autumn/winter planning and in the background the celery and rhubarb are growing nicely.
Ah. The tomatoes. It was going to be so wonderful growing them under the lean-to. Then the hose broke completely in winter and the tap fell off the wall so it still works but when I fill the watering can, it does tend to swivel and squirt all over my clothes. Watering seems so bizarre when the rest of the garden is under water but you can see the consequences of my neglect below. The ones in larger pots are coping but not those which I haven't even transplanted into decent sized growing containers. Next time I play round with growing in covered situations, I will invest in a better set up and some kind of trickle irrigation hose.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Paying for child and house care

I remember vividly many revelations as I got 'into' feminism in my student days. I remember learning about how the closer teaching got to mothering, the less it was paid. At that time, secondary school teachers got paid more than primary school teachers and the pay in under five centres was pitiful. I knew women who really wanted to work in the preschool sector but trained for teaching older children because the pay wasn't really liveable. Not to support a family anyway.

I've read journalism probing some of the issues around educated middle class women employing someone else to clean their toilet. I cleaned myself as a student for a good employer and appreciated the work.

I babysat for various families from 14 onwards and in my twenties pulled out of working for one family who wanted extensive day care for two very small children in their home for two thirds of the then minimum wage.

I don't have to pay for my friend C to clean. I don't have to pay for her or anyone else to babysit. I could clean my house myself. My husband and children could clean it. I could manage without going out to work and thus not pay for any childcare. We could choose not to go out at night without the children.

I could use babysitting swaps and often my friends and I do just that. It's a brilliant way of ensuring really high quality childcare from experienced parents who know my children well and also cementing community networks. We don't need to rely on a cash economy to leave the house without children.

But let's look at the situation where people do pay for house and care work. There are a lot of people out there, and in my face to face experience they are women, who consider themselves feminists and lefties and yet who treat people who do intimate work for them like shit. Earlier this week we decided to go out for a treat, just us two adults in this house who are married to each other and who spend most of our time with the short people. We'd been given a voucher for a restaurant and were looking forward to it. I asked C if I she would babysit for us instead of cleaning that week. The babysitting would come to more time and money but I knew that I couldn't justify both. (I wouldn't have cancelled C's cleaning money if the babysitting wasn't also going to her)

I collected C from her house and on the way I told her that I was increasing my hours at work from February so from then I would have weekly cleaning for her instead of fortnightly if she wanted it. C was pleased and I was shocked when she explained why work from me is so valuable to her. I knew she had extensive family responsibilities and extremely scant financial resources. But what about the other women and their choices to treat her so shabbily? What about the woman who twice recently hasn't been home when C has gone to clean and thus C hasn't been able to work but has had to fork out for petrol to drive the 20+km round trip? What about the woman who asked C to clean twice a week but on short notice often cancels the work and that week left the house locked and C had another wasted petrol trip for no work.

I don't consider I pay a lot for babysitting in my own home of an evening - not quite the minimum wage in fact. This is in a small town where wages are low across the board. I expect I would be paying more again in a larger town or city. I provide dinner and transport. But I am shocked by one acquaintance who thinks I pay way too much and wants me to keep quiet round her neck of the woods. She pays less than $8 per hour for care of 3 children for casual babysitting.

These are not big multinational corporate ogres. These are ordinary women, in other respects very nice people.

I know I would risk my life for my children. I know I despise cleaning. Is it really too much to ask that we all value these jobs enough to provide respectable and reliable pay? I write this not because I think I found three women who are unique but because I suspect it of being a common attitude of alleged sisterhood but actual disrespect.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

green & growing

The punga raised bed today. I kept the photo side on because I like the slightly surreal effect. Lovely healthy kale here whereas seedlings planted at the same time elsewhere are quite scrawny still.
My jerusalem artichokes heading skywards.
I would love to know the name of this flower, if anyone can help.

Nasturtiums scrambling over the fence. I would like things scrambling over fences rioting with colour everywhere. Apart from convulvulus that is.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coming together

I've finished work for the year. Favourite Handyman has finished work for the year. We've done the adults' work Christmas party, the Christmas in the Park council party, the kids' Christmas party put on by my work, the end of year school concert, multiple extra end of year functions to do with work, an early Christmas lunch with my parents and now tonight we have done Fionn's birthday party.

Phew. The party was great - I loved seeing all the kids have so much fun and the local holiday park with its jumping pillow and go carts and huge barbecue was the perfect venue. I was a bit stressed getting ready for it but that's blasted mothering genes for you - FH was much more relaxed.

Tomorrow is Fionn's last day of school. Things are about to slow down dramatically and I am very ready for that.

I do know there is something on on the 25th and for the sake of my children and my unwell grandparents, I will get in the spirit on the day. I have yet to write a story for FH's young nieces and I have some more calendars to make and send. My next plan is to book a few days in a remote camping ground (thinking Quinneys Bush) in the leadup to the 25th where we can chill out away from suburban madness. Then we will carry on to Nelson, stock up on more milk and bread and tinned fish and then head for a small camping ground near my grandparents in Marlborough (which I have also yet to book).

I'm still sewing up Lyra's jacket. I've only got to finish attaching the hood. Maybe I will do some
sewing after that. Maybe I'll just drink Guinness and read books every night instead.

The garden is largely lolloping along without me. There was so much mess in the garage that I didn't notice we still have some peastraw which is a shame as the weeding load is higher this year in the absence of sufficient mulch. It is bizzarre seeing the tomatoes wilt under the lean-to when elsewhere is all bog. I need to get into a regular watering groove.

I bought some liver at the butcher's today. A bit optimistic that I might make pate tonight after the big party and it is supposed to be used very fresh. I'm trying it because it is supposed to be a nutritional powerhouse. Maybe tomorrow.

My favourite achievement today: star shaped biscuits with black icing and hundreds and thousands. One totally gorgeous boy told me the stars were his favourite thing out of the food. Unprompted.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tour and Charter's last bus

Two days ago the last Tour & Charter buses ran. This is a local company ruined by the Ministry of Education running national tenders for school bus services and giving the contract to global giant and anti union company, Ritchies (Stagecoach in the UK, not sure of their local names elsewhere). First Wyldes in Runanga closed. The drivers there had great relationships with the young people. They were local men and women and knew the families of the kids. School bus runs are the bread and butter of bus companies here and they can't survive without them.

Why did Tour & Charter get to keep the Cobden run for 2009? They kept it because Ritchies didn't want it. Lots of Cobden high school kids aren't quite far enough away to qualify for free transport and thus have to pay. Cobden is one of the poorest areas in the Grey District and parents aren't running their children to school in late model Four Wheel Drives there. Yet in a climate where it buckets down with rain on regular occasion, catching a bus to school from Cobden was the best way of ensuring children got to school. Tour & Charter always let the kids pay as they went. So you could catch the bus only on wet days or on the days when your relatives or neighbours were unable to help.

Ritchies have none of this. If you need to catch the bus to or from school even one way, one day per week and you are too close to school for funding, then you have to pay $100 per term, up front. I do wonder what the changes in Cobden will mean for school attendance rates in the rainy season (um, that is all year round here). Over on the leafier side of the Grey District, I have a friends whose primary school aged children are 300 metres too close to their school to qualify for free travel. The only way to get to school is to cycle down State Highway 6, alongside thundering milk tankers and huge logging trucks. It's not a goer for even the toughest and bravest of parents. So for my friend with three children at her local primary, she doesn't find $300 per term, she drives them in her car. Government intiatives to reduce carbon emissions my big bottom.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

But first, some wine

Did I mention I am being well behaved this Christmas? I haven't sworn nearly as much as usual and while I'd prefer the whole thing was less intense and that I wasn't organising a seventh birthday party at the same time and negotiating work dos and people leaving town forever and an early Christmas lunch with my parents who we won't be with at Christmas itself, this year so far I have not rolled into a ball on my bed and wished fiercely, truly, intensely that I could cancel Christmas. Neither have I cried. Though it is only December 9 which is hardly the home straight just yet.

Today I collected some calendars (three, for each lot of grandparents and for my brother in Perth) and some greeting cards, all personalised with a photo of my children on their bikes, looking like lovely kiwi kids in summer time. No doubt if I was patient I could make them myself and not pay lots at the kodak shop but I am not patient and some of those three groups never ever get anything from us so let's not get too fussy right now.

Tonight I shopped for the ingredients to make panforte to go inside the classy posh shop bscuit tin I bought for my parents. Then I remembered to shop for a wine/cheese/olive selection for the best childminder in the world since I got in a strop with the scarf plan and canned it. Then I thought about making panforte on Wednesday evening and knew I needed some help. So I got some wine for me.

So far, there is bread in the oven (will it work after being spread over three days? I'll know at breakfast) and there is cooked kidney beans in the fridge ready for some vegetarian virtue some time in the near future. Maybe tomorrow night before the school concert, the concert which for some reason Favourite Handyman is unenthusiastic about. Who would have thought? Such quality entertainment as 170 children singing songs from ABBA, a waiata and maybe a skit. All that spread over at least two hours with a finale from the big wigs at the school in which they all say thankyou until we cry with boredom.

Now I'm on my second glass of wine and I think the panforte can wait for another day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Scenes from our street

Of course it is overcast - it will probably rain quite soon. But it is also lush and has both an openness and a moodiness which I love. That's the Tasman Sea at the end of our street.

Monday, December 7, 2009


I kept two children alive. The neighbours have lovely pungas which I look at over breakfast. Some of them are mamaku which have black trunks and are particularly gorgeous.
Playground. Library. Bookshop where I found invitations for the forthcoming birthday party which I began organising today. I mislaid Brighid but knew she wasn't far away as I could smell nappy pong and I was quite confident it was not emanating from the well dressed adult who was in my view.

I did a lot of laundry. Washed it, dried it, brought it off the line. No folding and putting away so far.

We looked for another Alfie book here.

We looked for another Alfie book here. We like Shirley Hughes and Alfie. Brighid tells me she loves Mum, Dad, Fionn and Annie Rose.

I made pesto from assorted flavoursome greens in the garden. Had it on chicken for dinner.

Made hummous.

Drained and added more milk to my kefir. Wondered if this would be the week where I finally send Gilly some kefir. Put red kidney beans on to soak. This backfires sometimes as the rest of the week gets busier. We'll see. I also added water and rye to my sourdough starter and put it back in the fridge by accident and later rescued it and now it awaits the next stage so we can have fresh bread tomorrow morning.

I wonder if this is what Virginia Woolf had in mind when she contemplated a room of ones own?

Friday, December 4, 2009

More and more garden pics

Coriander going to seed. Still useful for its seed and very pretty along the way. I am increasingly putting coriander in the shade to reduce the bolting likelihood as the leaves are what I want at the moment.
' Roses love garlic' according to companion planting lore. This rose needs something to climb.

The temporary chook run is also covering the blackcurrants in a bid to protect from birds. Sparrows will still be able to get in, I suspect, but not blackbirds.

Garlic, either a zucchini or a pumpkin, borage and florence fennel.

These flowers were given to me as bulbs last year after I admired them in a friend's garden. Neither of us know what they are called though.

More garden pics

The Poultry Palace Mark II.
Maori potatoes in the foreground with huge almost flowering celery just behind.

My prize cabbage.

The punga raised bed. Everyone needs one. Close to the kitchen, sheltered from wind and frost. Sorrel in the centre front, with marigolds, lettuce, kale, rocket, beetroot and peas around it. Sunflowers and canna lilies creeping up the fence behind it.

I have a new camera and I can work it!

Hence garden photo time... This is my oldest garden plot (three years) and I've added a l;ot of mushroom compost in lieu of fallowing it to green manure this year. The spinach and lettuces are enjoying their diet. The red in the front is actually orange marigold. This is my boy Fionn's garden. I'm loving the anzac poppies and also the contrast with the white chrysanthemums.
One of my artichokes. Native NZ flax in the background.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I've mislaid my wool needle. Not that I've looked as hard as I could for it. I also can't get the ironing board out to press the baby coat pieces as I have a headache. I often have a headache at the thought of getting the iron out and so far I've had one every night this week.

In the meantime, I've made a doll's outfit from bright orange and fluffy blue wool for Brighid's Christmas present. Knitting dolls' clothes is proving a good way of trying out and practising shaping and pattern techniques. I made the skirt and top with minimal sewing up but that minimal bit has of course not been done.

Then I went into the wool shop in town and wondered if I could find a small project to make something for my beloved childminder for Christmas. Do you see how well behaved I am trying to be about Christmas? I came away with some sorrento yarn and 7mm needles to make a lacy type scarf. A few rows in, on my second attempt, I thought maybe I would make it for Mum instead. Though she doesn't have much in blue these days to match it to. I should know - I've been through her wardrobe in painstaking detail earlier this year as she sought feedback on her various 'bargain' purchases in sales at posh shops.

Soon after, I slipped my hold on one needle and two stitches came loose and undid and due to the very holey and loose nature of the weave it was nearly impossible to fix. I pulled it all off and will use it for something else. It was slow knitting because of the type of yarn and the big needles meeting thin yarn. I could see I could get miles in and still have the slipped needle disaster.

So maybe I won't do knitting for more Christmas presents. I do need to get some completion on the (yes a: sewing up knitted items and) b: the various sewing projects which are started in this room. Not to mention the lovely man's soft green checked (think gingham type small check) shirt I got at the Sallies the other day which will look fabulous when I have altered it for me...

Anyway, my headache. No ironing tonight. I might have the energy to set up my NEW camera, finally PAID off, though. Very exciting. Should be a blog with photos within a few days.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Meaningful ritual or oppressive hierarchy?

Last week I was pondering the role of ritual in giving us a sense of living meaningful lives and having worth alone and in our communities. I attended the march out parade of young men and women who have completed the year long Mawhera Services Academy programme and I was really proud to have known them all, to see them utterly, shakingly nervous minutes before the beginning and then they all performed perfectly. The graduation began with a powhiri and then ran according to military tradition, with many shouted commands in a rehearsed drill, brass band music, military dignities and speeches. I saw these boys and girls at the beginning of the year and I know their histories of struggle. Almost none of them fitted well into a traditional school environment. To see our community witness and celebrate their achievements last Thursday was also to see these young adults know they have worth and futures. I loved it.

It also got me thinking about rituals. I have little patience for people who claim that Maori have culture and Pakeha do not. Maori have fought damn hard to resurrect their traditions and get them respected throughout New Zealand's formal and informal institutions. Pakeha society (white settler New Zealand) was formed from the mid nineteenth century and drawn from cultures in the British Isles already undergoing rapid change due to the industrial revolution. Historians differ on exactly how religious New Zealand settlers were, but nobody is claiming that allegiance to institutional religious belief reigned in every household (or tent or hotel).

But for many New Zealanders, religious traditions made or make up a significant part of their world view. I grew up going to Mass with Mum and my siblings every Sunday (Dad only converted quite recently). Not merely most Sundays, but every single Sunday without fail. Now I can see that the exposure to Bible readings and sermons gave me things to think about which were aimed slightly above me as I grew up and that that was a good thing, on the whole. The whole social justice aspect of Catholicism has long appealed and I am not angry that I was exposed to Catholicism as a child. In a boring suburban existence, the incense, the symbolism, the almost magical stories of children who became saints (St Franics of Assisi, Stoke, Nelson - great children's library if you are into romantic stories of children finding God and changing their life and becoming saints) were a exotic windows into a less banal world.

Therein lies the rub. Like most of my peers, I don't attend Mass on a regular basis. Once a year would be typical, maybe twice. I rejected the ritual and traditions associated with regular Mass going because I found the hierarchical structure of the Church unhelpful and inappropriate. I found the sexism which permeates every weave of the fabric of Church life unacceptable and unhelpful. Today when I go on occasion I always come away frustrated with the sermon's focus on Catholic dogma, preached to a largely well-dressed well-fed congregation, while poverty and disaster (and global warming and tsunamis and financial markets' abuse of ordinary people and so on) reign outside the doors.

So I've taken the social justice aspects of Catholicism and created my own path, supported along the way by many wonderful people. The ritual thing is beautiful though and I saw it in a rosy glow for a while last week, thinking that Catholic schools can offer much to kids adrift amongst commercial crap.

But why did I reject so much that came with the rituals of Roman Catholicism? Err well, a post which a friend linked to on facebook today (I love having a US friend on facebook linking to interesting articles in the New York Times) - an article by an arch conservative Catholic writer Kenneth Wolfe, reminded me quite quickly. Wolfe intones against a man called Bugnini who is credited with much of the reforms known broadly as Vatican II. Here is an excerpt:

Pope John Paul II continued the liberalizations of Mass, allowing females to
serve in place of altar boys and to permit unordained men and women to
distribute communion in the hands of standing recipients. Even conservative
organizations like Opus Dei adopted the liberal liturgical reforms.
Bugnini may have finally met his match in Benedict XVI, a noted liturgist
himself who is no fan of the past 40 years of change. Chanting Latin, wearing
antique vestments and distributing communion only on the tongues (rather than
into the hands) of kneeling Catholics, Benedict has slowly reversed the
innovations of his predecessors.

None of this has to do with reflecting on how to live like Jesus. It is all hierarchical tosh. I loved going into churches in Ireland, parent of New Zealand Catholicism far more clearly than Rome is. I used to light candles for my relatives back home and feel a sense of connection between my life in New Zealand and this place on the other side of the world. But St Peters in Rome left me cold. The wealth of the poor all over the world sent there for privileged men to feel important.

In times of economic scarcity, fundamentalist religion becomes increasingly attractive. People find succour in absolutes and in a sense of a life beyond this earthly one, a reward for earthly suffering, dare I suggest even a way for the poor and respectable to feel better than the less devout Joneses. This article on the apparitions at Knock demonstrates, amongst other things, that when the Celtic Tiger loses its magic, the magic of the Virgin in Blue becomes ever more appealing.

There is a part of me which is disappinted that my children barely know the rituals and stories of Catholicism, the swirling pretty skirts on Sunday morning and the families of many handsome boys to admire during communion. And the little book of reflection to use before confession (never brought out again after I asked what masturbation was) and the singing and the sense of connection with other Catholic kids in a largely Protestant/fundamentalist/irreligious town. But I am also very clear that if a price has to be paid so I do not start out teaching my children to revere a hypocritical, steeply hierarchical, sexist and corrupt institution, and that price is being apart from the ritualistic world of Catholic communion, then we will pay that price.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Soothing my grumpy soul with gardening...

After the thunder storm, the rain abated, just as Favourite Handyman was putting the children to bed. Oh beautiful window of opportunity...

I pulled out some of the huge seeding parsley and potted up tiny parsley seedlings from underneath the umbrella. When you pull out a large parsley plant, you can smell the relationship to carrot - there is a distinctive sweet, earthy smell very similar to carrots.

I planted dahlias (hopefully not too late). All of them are divided tubers from a huge one I dug out in winter. It had not been divided for many years.

I transplanted one tomato into a bigger pot and two chillis into medium pots. The tomatoes have flower buds now.

I pulled out more errant yams and fed some sorrel to the chooks.

I enjoyed my evening session in the garden more than words can express.

Inside, I have finished the knitting for the baby coat and now only have to sew it up (yes there is a little procrastination on the sewing up front). I am nearly finished knitting a doll's skirt out of scraps of wool. I will knit a matching top for the same doll and then sew the rest - faster surely. Though given I can knit and surf the net at the same time which I certainly can't do with the sewing machine, sometimes the knitting wins out. The clothes are my daughter's Christmas present. Oh, see how well behaved I am trying to be about Christmas this year.

I had a go at making mayonnaise tonight which worked out okay. Thanks for your tips Nikki.

Nothing more to report - I would like to be reading more, but I can't read and knit and surf the net at the same time, or read and do the dishes or read and fold washing or or or...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Once upon a time

I had aspirations as a non-punitive mother. I longed to have a baby and once those periods finally stopped coming and I started vomiting, I spent many a long hour choosing pregnancy and parenting books in earnest London bookshops. It is not hugely surprising that this baby planning thing took place largely in my head, as the physical manifestations had me bent over a loo or a doubled plastic supermarket bag much of every morning and on lucky days in the afternoon as well. Head stuff was comparatively attractive.

Oh how I hated Gina Ford and her baby routines. I also despised the medicalised model of childbirth and enrolled myself in various classes at Janet Balaskas' Active Birth Centre in North London. That involved a fair few trains as we didn't live anywhere remotely as fashionable and potentially unmedicalised as north London. Most incredibly for me now, I even read books and articles about people who raise/d their children without saying 'no'.

Which turns out to be like being alive without breathing in my case. Often I say 'no' to my children before I even open my eyes in the morning.

So I don't whack her (or the first-born either, but as he is asleep right now, he seems pretty angelic) which I suppose is evidence of some kind of boundary on my part. I don't not whack her because of the law, for goodness sake, I decided not to whack my kids long before that because how else was I to raise pacifists who wouldn't take us all to war if I taught them to solve problems with violence?

Ah yes. I'm one of those. Insert your own words here___________.

But right now, as it is 135 minutes since I put her to bed, as I hear her banging some object like a drum against the door I have just closed to stop her running out and round the house for the 56th time this evening, right now I know for certain that those no to 'no' people are both wrong and also, if they ever read this blog in search of some procrastination fodder while they let their little darlings find themselves in their own special non-combative way, could find themselves satisfied that people who say no to their children before they even open their eyes in the morning, also don't get a decent evening's child-free rest. Or not tonight anyway.

Monday, November 23, 2009

knitting, hand mirror

I am appreciating knitting more and more. Right now as I try and fit in a few rows as many times in the day as I can, hoping to make a lovely parcel up for Lyra as soon as possible, I'm noticing the power of knitting for reflective time.

In some ways knitting takes absolutely ages. In an age where I can pick up a ready made jersey or fleece from the charity shops the Warehouse or many other shops for a few dollars and five minutes of my time, the time involved in making a jersey is e-nor-mous. The number of hours involved in Lyra's wee jacket are the gift I want to give to my friend who is so far away, but they also seem faintly ridiculous at times. I am delighted that when I was cold and in need of practical gardening warmth not long ago, I walked into the Sallies and found what I wanted easily and for just a few bucks. I'm wearing one of the two fleecy finds right now.

In other ways knitting is undemanding and gives a sense of achievement when there are other things I care about a lot but cannot control foremost in my mind. I've done about 30 rows of the hood today, alongside cleaning the dining room, making brownies, making meat loaf, feeding the chooks, tending to toddler wounds and collecting poo - Brighid currently fancies herself as a dog in her toileting patterns as far as I can work out. The knitting is tangible and lasting while tomorrow everyone will be hungry again, need to poo again and already the children have begun to recolonise the dining room with toys and projects.

After a gap of too long, I bought the Guardian Weekly in the weekend. The feeling of brainfood is wonderful. I really enjoyed the review by Kathryn Hughes of Amanda Vickery's book Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. I've been having a wee google of Amanda Vickery since and wish we lived in a university town with a university library again... Mostly permaculture and the sound of the sea and being mostly at home with the children and making bread and blah blah is enough. Mostly. Hughes on Vickery's latest book:

But perhaps the most important chapter in this book is the one that tries
to understand female craft work. Late 20th-century feminists saw such
fiddly productions as a symbol of female repression. Other scholars have
tried to see subtle subversion stitched into these activities. Vickery
argues that we have lost the ability to read all those handmade quilts laboured
over by women who could have afforded to buy the finished thing. The fact
that so many of these items have survived suggests that they were valued, not
just by the maker but by her family and heirs. We should at least try to
understand that they were executed with pride and pleasure.

Vickery wrote an article on the bluestockings and art which I enjoyed here.

I've been reading and enjoying this kiwi feminist blog - the Hand Mirror. I think it's time I sharpened up my feminist thoughts. Not long ago I was reading a blog I have often frequented this year and that day was all about making your own dishwashing liquid and dreams of washing the dishes with daughters-in-law wearing dresses. It was a pivotal moment as I realised I did not want to go down this path. I've been doing the frugal simple living thing but I am not about to do the traditional female roles boxes and expecting that from the next generation. NO!

I will still be gardening and cooking and knitting and sewing but I'm also getting ready for a bit more outside the home work, a bit more focus on literature and learning. I've been noticing some scary things in our town on the expectations of girls front and I want more for me and for Brighid.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday food

On Saturday I only went into the kitchen for glasses of water. Favourite Handyman made eggs for breakfast, fed us sandwiches for lunch and bought fish and chips for dinner.

On Sunday Favourite Handyman made eggs for breakfast and did the dishes afterwards. My rest was now sufficient to contemplate a little cooking. I made pasta with bacon and tumeric and garden greens for lunch and kumara curry (also with bacon and spinach from the garden) for dinner. I made pesto using almost all of our coriander and basil. Coriander pesto is good for detoxing metals, or mercury at least, out of the body. It also tastes great. I didn't have enough of either herb to make a singular pesto.

I made the first part of a sourdough loaf and have it in the fridge for finishing tomorrow. I experimented with a slow rise focaccia and that has come out well. I made hummous because hummous is vital for a week not spent eating cheese.

I have discovered macadamia nuts. As part of my nutritional fight against arthritis, Laskme is keen on me eating nut butters with celery. No peanut butter fan, I thought I would try macadamia nuts. Even Sally Fallon (the woman who surely crossed Catholicism with food to bring an incredible list of dietary dangers to the crazed like me who bother to read her) thinks macadamia nuts are good. Of course she says something about soaking them to prevent danger of ever eating anything without hours of preparation but never mind that. So for $13.80 I could buy a small jar of organic macadamia nut butter, made right here in New Zealand. Spot that virtue. At that price it is hard to know whether it is good or bad to like it. But I do. It is kind of sweet and tastes divine if you put a spoonful in a bowl and dip your celery stick into it as you munch while mucking around on the computer.

I also made popcorn. Why not? Butter on everyone's fingers as they wander throughout the house afterwards. Can't tell too much because of the pre-existing mess.

I am developing a liking for a little sorrel. Useful as I seem to have grown a good crop of the stuff.

Yesterday I ate the first strawberry. Divine. The netting over the raised strawberry bed seems perfect thus far.

Brighid picked red roses and red flanders poppies today. Without permission, indeed directly against my expressed wishes. Compliance obviously runs in our genes. But we do now have red roses in the flower jar on the kitchen windowsill and I have two gorgeous red poppies by my keyboard, looking like expensive, exquisite crushed silk.

Still knitting as much as possible. Onto the hood now. It's looking much better now that I can see the shape of the jacket.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sparkly skirts and local literature

I've been busy lately, and feel like I'm fitting in little bits of lots of things and only getting a small number right through to completion so far. I am getting some very long projects at work through to successful completion and I'm satisfied (and a bit exhausted) with that.

Last weekend Fionn went to a sixth birthday party and so I made a pink sequinned sparkly skirt for the effervescent Kate. Brighid wanted one too so I did an unlined one for her. They are both a bit wonky, but nevertheless look great - it's not about the sewing but about the swirly sparkly pinkness.

My treasured friend Marion in London has had a baby girl called Lyra. I still haven't finished the jacket for her but I am knitting as much as possible and loving the way facebook means I can see pictures of this newborn wonder from across the globe, only hours after she was born. I am up to the yoke on the jacket now, and then only have the hood to go. I came across a technique I didn't know but my trusty Readers Digest guide (well Mum's actually) taught me well.

We are eating from the garden every day but I'm not getting out to do much planting or weeding or mounding of potatoes at all. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow...

Last week we went to the book launch for Paul Maunder's book Tornado. I am loving reading the stories and thrilled with the inspiration it has given my six year old son, who is now writing poems and stories and talking about publishing them. They aren't children's stories but the very act of going to the launch and realising he has a friend who both publishes stories and throws a mean paper plane down our hallway in competitions has had quite an effect.

I've been reading and changing foods, the odd potion and fitting in some swimming as I've had some return of the demon arthritis. One consequence is looking again at the oils I consume. I've generally steered clear of soy and canola oils for a long time but they slip in easily when pre-made foods are involved. I realise I 100% have to make my own pesto if I want to avoid canola and ditto for mayonnaise. I have done pesto plenty before (though that was before I broke the food processor) but mayo will be a new project. Might muck around with garlic aioli this weekend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Immoral EPMU

Local mine workers, members of the EPMU, are out on strike in sympathy for their North Island comrades. Though maybe 'comrades' stopped being the appropriate word a long time ago. You or I may or may not sympathise with the actual union demands, but there is something much worse going on and it isn't making the media.

Recently I learnt, directly from an EPMU member, that members working for subcontractors to Solid Energy are on strike and thus losing pay, but as sub contractors, HAVE NOT BEEN GIVEN AN OPPORTUNITY TO VOTE ON THE STRIKE ACTION. In a nutshell, they are paying union fees to EPMU and getting no democratic voice. Totally immoral.


Unions like the EPMU may not like the modern world of subcontracting, but right now they are being the bully guys every bit as much as the capitalist bosses in my view.

Seems like in the past unions have often been slow to embrace female workers, workers of colour, gay and lesbian workers and now the new pariah is the miner risking his health and toiling long days under the ground who managed to get his or her job through a subcontractor rather than directly through the parent company whose employees the union privileges.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gaylene Preston working class hero

I am currently reading Her Life's Work: Conversations with five New Zealand Women by Deborah Shepherd. It is a totally wonderful book and I am loving every page of it. Thank you Grey District Library. This morning I read the section on Gaylene Preston, a woman who before I only knew a little bit about. I loved her film on Hone Tuwhare and her War Stories. I have lots more of her to see yet.

Anyway Gaylene comes from Greymouth. She is born in the same year as my mother and took a different path. She is in many ways like other women who strode out in that era whose lives inspired me as a young feminist. What I took as inspiration when I chose very willingly to stay home almost all the time with my kids is another matter. Back to Gaylene.

Hard to choose which bits to quote. You really should read the book. All of it. All of you. Here's one bit:

By 1947, when I'm born, this little country was beginning to fast track a
middle class, an educated middle class, and the standard of living is
rising. I was put into a primary school system that was forward
thinking. It was a child-based system designed by the progressive Dr
Clarence Beeby (1902-1998) who was our director of education from
1940. Big paint brushes were thrust into our chubby fingers
and we were educated for free to the end of our university.

No wonder we had a generation gap. We were the luckiest generation
you could possibly imagine. My mother left school at 13, my father at
10. My mother walked from Blaketown to Cobden, which is a long way to go
in the cold if you've got bare feet, to help her mother clean Cobden
School. The work they did, the physical work, was never-ending and then
they educated their children way beyond their own capacity. And that's how
it was for an entire generation. p. 210-11

Walking from Blaketown to Cobden in bare feet. This is my town. The one I live in now anyway. I cried reading bits of this just from the emotion of seeing these stories in print and seeing what Gaylene Preston has done to get the stories of ordinary people on screen. I remember reading one of Maurice Gee's novels where he describes an area on the way to Richmond. It is actually a section of land which looks radically different now with the new motorway but which was once owned by my maternal forbears many generations back where they made cider so I presume they also grew apples. I had a similar very emotive response to seeing a small part of my world in a book and a really good book at that then.

Gaylene Preston has done about a million wonderful things and links in to some other heroes of mine like Sonja Davies with her film Bread and Roses. I need to get hold of that film - I certainly loved the book. The book Her Life's work is having the effect of me wanting to get out and read lots more by these women - I can't believe I haven't read any of Anne Salmond's work before and fingers crossed our local library has at least some of her books. Here's another quote from the Gaylene Preston interview. Deborah Shepard's question is the part in bold.

Do you think women are in a better place today? Is it a
better world for young women?

I actually feel that our young women have been rendered unconscious because
they haven't had to fight for equality. They haven't had to fight for
equal pay and equal opportunity. They didn't have to fight for the right
to be free of sexual role definition. They haven't had to struggle with
the narrow range of job options for women - the teaching, nursing and
secretarial jobs. The possibilities have been truly, radically
broadened. Young women today grow up knowing that 'women can do

But they've been able to have it all without thinking and are living in a
world that is full of celebrity-focused media slush, their headds full of
romantic notions about lurve and shopping. This generation knows how
to shop. They've been born into an era that assumes the fight has been won
although it is actually only partly won. So it's much harder for them in
some ways.

Oh golly you wonderful woman Gaylene Preston, articulating all this for me. Because I have been feeling it, and frustrated by it, and watching the gains I saw in the staunchly feminist women who taught me at high school gliding around like an oil spill which is shortly to be eradicated when I look at the scene in our high schools, here and overseas.

I should go back to my physical world, where I can hear Brighid complaining and the others are fixing the plastic shelter for the poultry palace and I'm still in my pyjamas and the washing machine isn't on yet ... But I am so much the richer for reading this book, for the strength of what women can do with families and their passions rather than one excluding the other. It is the reminder of a world of possibilities that I needed right now. Not because life is bad, quite the contrary, but because sometimes I lose sight of the view beyond the fence and it it is good to open my eyes a little wider.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Livingstone daisies

I love them. Just bought and planted another punnet's worth. Those psychedelic pink ones are particularly appealing. The very cool picture is, of course, not mine, but one I found on a google search. I am making progress on my camera layby though.

Also planted out what I think are marigolds from the Italian stall in the Wood (Nelson). I mounded my maori potatoes and weeded out lots of unwanted yams. Also planted out more lettuce from the garden shop plus repotted some of my own lettuces which I grew from seed. They are not quite ready for the big wide world of the open garden where the blackbirds and slugs love to feast, so they can get a little bigger in bigger pots first. I repotted six sungold tomatoes and planted out another cucurbit. Is that the correct generic name? I sowed zucchini, squash and pumpkin seeds in the same tray and now they are indistinguishable. I would like to be able to know the zucchinis from the pumpkins and next year I will do a little more careful labelling.

On kitchen strike. Until further notice.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Beneficial neighbours

Councils live to regulate, or so it seems. But we've got something much better going with our neighbours. When we needed to rebuild our chook run, our neighbours offered that we could build it against our shared fence. This has resulted in a much tidier poultry palace and saved us money in terms of the far wall of the construction. Today our neighbours shared with us their laughter at one getting out and sitting atop the fence when we were on holiday (I seem to have identified and fixed that gap since) and also said that since the chooks have been against the fence, they no longer have any problems with slugs eating their delphiniums. They have been feeding the chooks sometimes through the fence and love the company of the clucking chooks when they are working in their (very beautiful) garden.

Communication and sharing between neighbours - much better than endless council regulations.

In other garden news, I've pulled the last of the seeding silverbeet out and gifted it to the chooks. I'm leaving the celery to go to seed but the borage can stay in its messy spot until the celery has flowers for the bees.

Earlier in the week I bought punnets of beetroot, lacinato kale and coriander. They are now in the ground and filling the gaps where I didn't sow seeds in sufficient time. We are eating salad greens from the garden almost every night now.

I've started to plant out my pumpkins and zucchinis - slowly, just one a day and tonight's one I put a cloche over the top of it. Mostly to protect it from the blackbirds but also any inclement weather. I found some Maori potatoes from last year and cooked and ate a few, then mounded up the remainder.

Hurray for tinned baked beans. Perfect for a Friday night when funds for fish and chips are too low. The eleventh commandment in my house is that Sandra shalt not cook on Friday night.

Monday, October 26, 2009

hippie? hippie.

I've just convinced Favourite Handyman to do some dishes and sat myself down with a cracker topped with kefir and a cup of nettle tea. There is grey showing through my hair as I've given up dyeing it - carcinogens and feminism. I'm wearing home made pyjama bottoms made from thrifted fabric, a t-shirt from the Farmers closing down sale almost four years ago and a sleeveless fleece which I found at the Sallies earlier this month. On the floor beside me is my peggy square knitting, made of undyed brown wool and then bobbly green/red/yellow variegated wool from a cardigan which my daughter outgrew and I then unravelled to reuse. Further to the corner of the study await my next books: Three Ages of Women and The NZ Woolcraft Book.

This morning I planted out my Giant Russian sunflowers and repotted lots (but not all) of my tomatoes plus my biggest basil. Most of the tomatoes are staying inside for a fortnight more, but I put a couple out under the lean to. I had planned some more gardening but then the children came and found me.

I've just pulled three loaves of bread out of the oven. They are all white loaves bar the wholemeal in the sourdough starter. No doubt Fionn will be pleased but I prefer at least some wholemeal in my bread. I rang Terrace Farms tonight and ordered 20kg of organic flour but I will be on supermarket flour for the next fortnight until the order is milled and couriered to me.

I have managed to jimmy up the mechanism on my manual mincer. So it is back to the mortar and pestle as the food processor broke even before the mincer. I made a little bit of pesto (mixed leaves of parsley, rocket, coriander and basil which may be a mixed success) and then I had had enough. The hummous can wait until tomorrow.

This morning I made muffins - proper chocolate, the kind with brown the whole way through. Or that is what Fionn considers proper chocolate muffins. I put some mashed banana in but didn't manage to sneak brazil nuts in like I often do. Brazil nuts = selenium.

In the morning I will fashion lots of work and school lunch food out of today's kitchen projects, corral everyone into their allotted Tuesday morning places and then turn into a paid working woman. You would still be able to see the hippie hair but the nettle tea will be out of sight and my clothes will be black and purple.

And not pyjamas.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

family reunion

We headed off to Blenheim on Friday afternoon. Fish and chips and slides and swings at Murchison then we drove through the Wairau Valley as dusk fell. There were rain clouds ahead and then on top of us and the valley was beautiful in this half light framed by mountains. Usually we drive through in bleaching sunlight and the miles and miles of monoculture grapes, tanalised posts leaching toxins into the water table, sprays and other resource hungry inpouts all to put a product on the tables of the rich all get me furious.

By 9pm we were in Blenheim and I didn't much care where stayed so long as I could find my bed soon. We found a reasonably priced motel and the children slumbered. Up with the birds at 5.45am, they didn't find similarly excited parents.

After breakfast we had some spare time before visiting hours at the hospital. Fionn and I wandered through the car boot sale and I loved being in a more multicultural setting than our home town currently offers. The music from a group of Pacific Island (possibly Vanuatu) men was impressive, coming from singing, some guitars, a stick of wood and an instrument made of a string attached to a big box with a piece of wood. I think they are in Marlborough to work on the vineyards. My family variously sought out new lives in New Zealand from Ireland, Cornwall, Alton (Hampshire, England) and Scotland. Favourite Handyman and I loved loved loved our five years in London. I also love seeing other people out here learning and living in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Our world should be the oyster of all who are keen, not just the rich.

Up at the hospital, my parents were also visiting Grandma. I've got a little arthritis-like feeling in my hands at the moment, just in the place where Grandma's knuckles are huge and have been in pain for years. They are the least of her worries right now as she contends with fractures in her back and a (crushed I think) vertabrae. I sat on the floor where I could have my own kids in my lap when they wanted easily and looked up at the woman who I have been visiting since my earliest memories. This is the woman who until this current hospital stay drove the long trip to Nelson alone (she is 83) for specialist appointments without a second thought. She has raised five children, run a household and helped with farm work for more than six decades. The other awareness I came to sitting there, with Mum just behind me, was that I will be in hospital visiting my own mother one day, just as my Mum is now. I'm lucky to have so many people around me right now.

Once we found our cabin in Pelorus, then it was time to head to the big rellie session. Grandad, my parents, lots of uncles and aunts, cousins and my cousins' children. That was lovely, especially to see the children having so much fun together. The older children found sticks and went on pig hunts and my daughter found a plastic bike and careered down steep hills. Again and again and again. Grandad slipped away early on - he is also unwell and so missed the photo session.

This morning I left the children with FH and drove to Grandad's. I didn't want to go without saying goodbye. I am so glad I did. I grew up hanging around Grandad whenever I visited, watching him in his workshop, accompanying him on plumbing jobs, learning to milk the cows, feeding out hay and grubbing ragwort. Now I take the children with me and I never talk to Grandad on my own for more than a minute or two until today.

On the way back, I stopped at a roadside stall called Pelorus Peasants and bought a wee souvenir - a seedling of the pumpkin 'ironbark triamble'.

Through to Nelson and I stopped at my favourite tiny suburban stall in The Wood and bought marigold seedlings and some red peppers and an aubergine. We all checked out the Nelson Museum which is so wonderful and sophisticated.

A play at the flying fox playground at Wakefield and then we were off back to the Coast. Twice we had to change route just before home because of accidents and I am so grateful that we are all alive.

Back home there were some new arrivals:
1. first Flanders poppy out.
2. seedlings through in the windowsill of either pumpkins or zucchinis.
3. more purple irises.
4. more chrysanthemums, more nasturtiums, bigger lettuces, water down in the chook run, more germinated silverbeet and lettuce, the celery starting to run to seed. It was obviously good weather here.

I am going to let the celery run to seed and provide more food for the bees. Tomorrow I need to do a LOT of work in the garden. Besides all that weeding and wood stacking, I need to make MORE garden! I need more space for pumpkins, potatoes and zucchinis. Plus I need to repot heaps of tomato seedlings, mostly not for planting outside just yet but for some more food and to get bigger in the next 2-3 weeks. Oh and plant out sunflowers.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I've had a superb weekend, best for a long time. Why? Because my brother came to visit us, all the way from Perth, Western Australia. The children and their uncle quickly formed a mutual adoration bond and there will be talk of Uncle Pete for a long time to come.

Quake in your slime slugs - Uncle Pete left heaps of DB export in the fridge and some of it is going to entice you to drown in it. Maybe the slugs will die drunk and happy but the main thing is that they die. We got the last of the whitebait from 2008 out of the freezer for Pete and it was lovely to have such a delicious food (500g whitebait mixed with one egg and quickly fried and then served with lemon and pepper - none of this padding it out with flour nonsense) served with our own eggs and home made bread.

Today I made something called country apple cake which the children asked for more of. Such a request baking-wise always counts as the pinnacle of success round here. Tonight I baked more sourdough bread. Andrew Whitley's cromarty cob recipe (which is on this or my old blog - Sandra in the garden - somewhere I'm sure) makes excellent sandwich bread. I use tins as you can fit more in the oven this way and get a better shape for school/work lunches.

Moved some sunflowers outside today. They will have to do well under the lean-to - there is no way I would remember to bring the plants in and out each morning and night for the proper hardening off technique. They are giant russians which I didn't get to seedling stage last year. Properly tall sunflowers - very exciting.

Gardening roundup:
Vegetables in the garden (some growing, some currently producing): some Maori potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, leeks, lettuces of various kinds, miners lettuce, various asian greens, rocket, beetroot, garlic, celery, globe artichokes, florence fennel, jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, lemon.

Herbs in the garden: coriander, Italian giant parsley, chives, garlic chives, marjoram, oregano, English winter thyme, lemon thyme, French summer thyme, sage, curry plant, feverfew, comfrey, bay trees,

Flowers in the garden: roses (pink, red, white and yellow), gladioli, marigolds, livingstone daisies, red poppies, chysanthemums, dianthus, pansies, irises, bluebells, one tulip still going, fuchsias.

Seeds in a tray or pots in or outside the house: sunflowers, lettuce, silverbeet, basil, coriander, pumpkin, squash, zucchini, basil, coriander, beans, tomatoes (sungold and tigerella), chillies, celery.

Friday, October 16, 2009

good and bad

1. Us knitters of Wetville are busily knitting peggy squares to turn into a blanket to send to Samoa for tsunami hit people who no longer have blankets. My lovely friend Nina has also organised a whip round of clothing and toiletries and linen and bedding and a local courier has gifted the delivery cost to get it to Lower Hutt to go on a container at the end of the month. I even knitted on the sideline of the boy's swimming lesson today.

1. Nasty council. We have a wonderful swimming school here in Wetville where the leader tries to make lessons as affordable as possible and sets it up as pay as you go and you don't pay if you are away sick (or any other kind of away). But now the council are muscling in and today I discoverd I have to find a term's worth of fees all at once and suddenly attendance has dropped because lots of people can't find that kind of money all at once and next year the council are taking the whole thing over and want more revenue from it. In low income coastal town like ours, this spells an awful lot of children not learning to swim and upping their drowning risk.

2. We are going to get a piano. My very very kind parents are letting me have the family piano and Mum got a quote to get it over from their place to ours and offered that they would pay up front and I could repay over few months. I am super excited. Now I know why I got our daughter out of our bedroom - so that there is room to put the piano where the children's bunks were. Our lounge is a shade too small and probably too hot on winter evenings.

3. The clematis has flowers. I also have marigold flowers and for dinner had a home grown salad of tatsoi, another nameless asian green, pak choi and various kinds of lettuce. Yesterday I repotted some tomatoes and sewed seeds of pumpkin, squash and zucchini, plus one echincea seed, some beans and lots of coriander. I used these peat circles which you soak and then they grow into a cylinder and you put the seed in the top. Then you put the whole thing in the ground later on. An unnecessarily expensive way of growing things but Fionn was keen and sometimes I indulge my offspring. Sometimes an icecream, sometimes a special kind of gardening pot.

4. I have been sewing, but not much since I started knitting for Samoa. My party skirt is over half made.

5. The solo parenting stint while Fh was off tramping went well. Even better, it is now over.

6. Not a lot of experimentation in the kitchen lately. I've got a cromarty cob mixture in the hot water cupboard as I type, making the production sourdough part. I'm going to alter the rise times and method to hopefully get it ready for baking in the morning. Following the instructions has worked very well in the past with this recipe and now is time to see how flexible it can be. I do hope and plan on it being more successful than the chocolate cake which Fionn and I made earlier in the week. Altering three ingredients plus the method of mixing the ingredients together is a little too much altering.

7. I had some gorgeous rhubarb cake at coffee group today and Ruth kindly gave me the recipe to take home. It is from a playcentre recipe book, though I don't remember better details than that.

8. Writers' group was a great evening on Wednesday with another new and talented writer joining us and last month's new person sharing some wonderful writing and enticing stories with us also. I'm still writing far too much stuff on bad motherhood. I live it, I write it, I guess. Some time I hope to grow out of bad motherhood. But since Wednesday I have started writing some of my cousin Mary's stories down and I want to get a photographs to go with it. Family but not mothering. Progress perhaps?

8. BEST OF ALL, my brother is coming all the way from Perth, Western Australia to stay with us tomorrow night. He has never even seen Brighid, who is now 2 years 8 months.

2. This government. People who I have encountered too often including today who think that poor people are bad and deserve only to pay taxes, not to receive services.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

garden & home made notes

Beautiful day today. I have grown a globe artichoke! An actual artichoke. Oh the excitement. Now I have to re-read my recipe books and find out what to do with it.

My jerusalem artichoke plants are growing nicely.

Three of my rose cuttings are growing really well. Not sure that any of the others will survive, but three is a saving of about $60, not to be sniffed at. I am supposed to snip off the buds the first year and give the plant the chance to put all energy into strong roots. I really wanted to know what colours I had and thought I would leave just one on each. But today I accidentally knocked my one bud off. Peeled it back thougfh and saw it is a gorgeous red. Excellent. I like a bit of deep, rich, extravagantly bold, red. The yellow banksia rose I bought from the garden nursery last year (my only full price shop rose, bought with the freebie $20 credit from my loyalty card) has extremely tiny flowers and while it is pretty, it needs to be moved now I can see this. The spot I have it in needs big, bold and blowsy. I bought a five metre roll of rigid netting to stake my roses against along the warm north facing back of our house. We have already got the warratahs to hold it in place (we live not just in wetville but also gustville) and it is laid out on the lawn ready for Favourite Handyman.

I transplanted my shop-bought leek seedlings today. Last year I never got around to it, leaving the punnet lying around for months. They are fiddly and time consuming. I really should mark out a row and sow some direct from seed. I've had a couple of small salads from the garden this last week and the lettuces and other greens are now shaping up nicely for regular harvests.

At the garden shop today I said 'no! no no no way!' to requests from my children that I buy a statue of a weird robot thing, a buddha, a flax, several other small natives, a water feature pump (no, we don't have a water feature), a gaily coloured children's watering can, several roses (actually I asked myself for one of those but I was strong and resisted), potting mix and of course a goldfish. I did reach deep into my heart and let them choose a $4 punnet of six flower seedlings each though. So now we have dianthus and livingstone daisies to add to our garden.

Our glasshouse share plan is no longer. The neighbours' landlord is kicking our lovely and favourite neighbours out so he can move in. We will miss our chats over the fence with our kind and generous friends.

Lots of work to be done in the garden, plus a truckload of wood to stack. But it is term-time again tomorrow. I've been sewing as well. This morning I made button holes for the first time ever. My next step is connecting the waistband to the skirt and it appears not to match exactly. So I'm putting that off for tonight. Progress on the paua baby coat has stalled since I finished the back and then mucked up the left front. I also received an email from Mum about knitting peggy squares for Samoa which I want to fit in soon. Which means motoring on with the baby coat as I have a rule of not starting a knitting project until the previous one is completely finished.

The story I wrote for FH's niece apparently went down very well and now I would like to write one about the chooks for a Christmas present for the two sisters. If I get the camera paid off in time then Fionn and I can illustrate it with photos. I've also got writers' group in only three more nights and as I am the enforcer of the rule that we must always bring something to share... better get my creative writing head screwed on next.

ghosts and drugs

Am I on about the devil, big pharma, again? Again?

Yup. Have a look at this blog post on the ghost writing of articles reporting on new drugs, articles which are important for FDA approval in the US. And here and almost definitely wherever you are.

Earlier this week the front pages of our newspapers were full of a really big deal: that pseudophedrine is going to be made a class B2, prescription-only drug as an attempt to reduce access to this substance by P labs. Apparently it can be used to make P (methamphetamine). A sample article can be found here. Nowhere, nowhere did I see any alternatives to big pharma's products discussed. The growers of lemons, garlic, ginger, cayenne, manuka honey, apple cider vinegar (quick random sample of ingredients I know to be of use for dealing with colds and influenza) have not a smidgen of the power of big pharma.

I remember reading about pseudophedrine when my daughter was tiny. Unsuprisingly, given it's drying effect, it has a negative effect on a mother's breastmilk supply. Unsuprisingly, given the power of big pharma, this information is not widely disseminated.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Today I put a payment down on a camera for our family, something to chart our changing lives and growing children with. The old camera, a super-cheapie from Tchibo in the UK which has served us well, is dying and either doesn't work or takes very grainy photographs.

Sure, I would like to be able to post photographs on this blog often and with ease, but the actual clincher for paying money down today is the thought that if something happened to one of my children, economising by delaying a camera and thus having really huge gaps in our portraits of their lives would never seem worth it.

Tonight I went to see the very beautiful and wonderful movie Everlasting Moments. In this movie, a Finnish woman living in Sweden before and during World War One wins a camera in a raffle. She uses it, this rare thing in her community, to record her world and it also gives her another life outside of the drudgery of poverty and the horrors of a drunken and violent husband.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Things which annoy me

When our government funds heaps of vaccines and heaps of antibiotics when what many families need is a good quality food and shelter.

When the big pharmaceutical companies make a lot of money from the sale of
a) vaccines for small babies
b) antibiotics for small and not so small people whose immune system is already compromised
c) lotions and potions for children with eczema
d) inhalers and steroids for children with asthma

a, b, c & d are all linked in a huge portion of cases in my view.

But nobody makes much money out of poor families eating well. A budget which alloows for fruit as snacks instead of a budget range bought biscuit.

Which is why funding for our local healthy eating programme is under threat right now and yet I betcha anything that pharmac continue with multimillion dollar funding of vaccines and antibiotics and steroids and and and and this year and next.

Making an effort

Rearranged my half of the study this morning. Acres of dust gone, no idea how we breathed comfortably before but I guess my body is well attuned to dust. I took about half of the fabric stash I was gifted down to the Sallies today and found some sewing patterns in my size to enable me to use up the (substantial) remainder of the fabric. I have found various long lost buttons and patterns and notions. Tomorrow night I am babysitting for a friend who has a tidier lounge floor than me so when the children are in bed I am going to cut out the rest of my skirt pattern (started in August) on her floor.

The dreaded spectre of Christmas (yes I am a Christmas grouch) is looming already. I have broken the news to my parents that we are going north to be with my elderly grandparents this year (first time since I got married nine years ago) and they were so quiet (not like Mum at all) that I'm even contemplating taking the kids to them early and having a special thing with them then.

I'm also crap on birthdays. Haven't always been but I am now. My children were both born close to Christmas and the whole fandangle craziness all together makes me want to hide. But FH's niece turned five today and I managed to get Fionn involved and we made and sent something. Something non-consumerist because I just cannot face sending more stuff to a family which I know is chock full of stuff already. What we did is that I have started a letter telling I5 of stories of her cousins and aunt and uncle. We added photos and a card and got it all bound and hopefully it is a wee bit of a success. Now that I've started, I'm aiming to do more stories, or at least the story of the chooks, for I and her sister C3 for Christmas.

My other project at the moment is knitting for a friend in London. Many knitters of my acquaintance are really lovely people. They knit for other people a lot of the time. In this respect, I don't stump up very well, only very rarely knitting for someone who is not myself or one of my two children. But Marion is a very special friend, the first really good friend I made as a new mother in London. Her second child and my Fionn are the same age and as she was pregnant with number three before we left London, I got a buzzy bee for the bump and passed on a few baby things before we left. Now, too far away to do anything more useful like babysit or make meals, I thought I would knit for the new baby. My experiment with knitting socks on double pointed needles failed. Maybe I will try another time. So back to the wool shop and I settled on knitting this kiwi classic in a blue green mix which is suggestive of paua shell. I might even get organised enough to make a paua shell necklace (or get paua buttons) to go with it.

Sometime between now and late December, I also need to get out some of my still large stash and have a go at sewing a shirt for Favourite Handyman. When I made shorts for his birthday he initially though I was sewing a shirt with the fabric and seemed so enthusiastic that I thought I would have a go for Christmas. Maybe it will turn out to be Christmas in six years' time - took that long between buying the shorts fabric for his birthday in 2003 and receiving the actual shorts this year.

So I guess I am making some effort to be a good girl. Maybe it will work, maybe not.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The evolutionary origins of surplus

I began to review Tristram Stuart's book Waste here. Tonight I want to come back and share what I learnt and thought from his chapter, (11) 'The Evolutionary Origins of Surplus'.

Many people assume that society's blase attitude to wasting food is a
recent phenomenon and that in the past people were more frugal , and food was
too valuable to discard. If this were true, rectifying our current leveles
of waste would simply be a matter of reverting to earlier customs.
But the history of human wastefulness has deeper roots than late capitalism or
consumer culture. Waste is a product of food surplus, and surplus has been
the foundation of human success for over 10.000 years. Everything we call
civilisation depends upon it. (Stuart, p.169)

So Stuart begins what for me was one of the most interesting chapters of the entire book. I love it that he goes beyond the radar of the current romanticism regarding historical food practices. While I am skating near this particular soapbox, how 'bout I just jump right on top of it, regardless of how it wobbles? Women, indeed households, in the past, did not form these seamless beautiful harmonious units of supportive wonderfulness all the time. Women (just for starters) got turfed out for being 'witches', a term which could be used to encompass any lack of convention which others did not like. Extra-marital affairs ripped apart families in the past just as now. Daughters in law often lived long lives with no say in the household in which they lived.

More specifically, food practices in New Zealand (this would apply to Australia as well as to other countries to some extent). White, or Pakeha, New Zealand settlers overwhelmingly came from an industrialised country. While their seventeenth century forbears in the countryside may well have made their own bread (but is it Beowulf where we see that bread making is a specialised/centralised activity from a loooong time ago?). If you lived in a Glasgow tenement or the crowded hovels of England's industrialised cities, there wasn't a wee green patch out the back to grow veges and chooks on and an aga in the flat for making the daily bread. Many of our ancestors were dependent on the shops more than us. If you were Irish, then your tradition may have been the easier to make (timewise) soda bread rather than yeasted bread.

So while high country farmers made their own bread (as per Mona Anderson's descriptions in A River Rules My Life about life on Mt Algidus station in the 1940s - note that even there it is the cook's job and for the entire staff rather than a housewifely activity), bakers sprang up in even quite small townships in colonial New Zealand and supplied households with pre-made bread. Yes indeed my great grandmother made her own lemon curd and ginger beer and her sponges were legendary (especially to my father, who made the right move of marrying their darling granddaughter). But she didn't make her own bread. Her daughter in law, my grandmother, baked cakes and biscuits and scones and pikelets (the morning and afternoon teas were amazing when my younger uncles were still at home) and she preserved fruit and made jams and jellies. She wasn't yearning for the days of making her own bacon though - her Kenwood mixer and pressure cooker, later the automatic washing machine, the dishwasher and then the microwave, were useful and appreciated. My Dad remembers home made bacon as he also grew up on a farm, and loved it when they started to buy shop bacon - he said it was a lot nicer. The Italians and the Spanish may have had beautiful curing recipes and traditions, but colonial New Zealand was settled by an industrialised and industrialising Great Britain and while diy was functional, it was not necessarily beautiful.

Oooops. Back to the evolutionary origins of surplus. Oh dear. Too tired again to talk about potlatches. Too much ranting. At least my children are asleep now. I'll try again on the evolutionary front later this week.