Monday, July 27, 2009

Gladioli Belinda

Would these bring joy to your heart? Would they make you happy? Would it matter that they don't directly contribute to the saving of the world through digging for victory?
Fionn and I planted five bulbs of Gladioli Belinda this afternoon. We weeded out onion weed and other uninvited squatters. I surveyed the rise of my garlic shoots with satisfaction and Fionn and I discussed plans for his garden some more.
Planting the seed for such beautiful red and white glory made today special. The children made today special because I'm glad they are with me, healthy and alive. The picture on the bulb packet, which looks like the image above, gave me a sense of beauty and poetry and good things to shine above dishes and laundry and cooking and cleaning and dishes and laundry and cooking and cleaning and insurance companies and fire nurturing and fireplace cleaning and fire maintenance and and and.
It's going to be a spring and summer of flowering beauty here. I've been buying a few bulbs each season and the effect is starting to accumulate. There seems to be some naturalisation and growth of bluebells and crocuses (and something else that I'm less confident of, possibly a misplaced daffodil) outside our bedroom window, where it is too shady for food plants apart from parsley. In earlier years I mourned not being able to buy $50+ worth of bulbs and imagined a time when I would have a bigger bulb budget. But now I am beginning to feel that little steps also grow beauty.
There is an article in the August (09) NZ Gardener on crocuses. I found it a particularly useful article in that it identified which crocus varieties naturalise (multiply by themselves if left in the ground for more than one season) easily. For the budget flower lover, this is valuable information.
I don't know the quote about bread and roses accurately - give us bread but give us roses too - nor can I quote from whom it first came. But I feel it's sentiment and I love this time of the year when brassicas bed down beside beauty.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday organisation

This morning we went to our new aquatic centre and had a wonderful time. What a perfect way to pretend it isn't winter. The design of our aquatic centre, which local people have fundraised for for longer than we have lived on the Coast, is excellent. I think we will be spending most Sunday mornings in the pool.

As is the case for working mummies everywhere, Sunday is also about organisation. The idea of it all got too much and I went to bed with the Sunday paper for part of the afternoon. Upon rising from my slumber, I admired progress in the tree hut. Fionn fancies having running water and a basin in it! At the moment, he observed to Favourite Handyman, it is like a house that really poor people live in.

I lightly dug over part of the old chook run and then spread mushroom compost over the top. Fionn (aged 6) and I planted out six cabbage and six broccoli seedlings. He is somewhat outraged that I have planted 'his' garden with garlic already, without consulting him. I offered him another spot, this time a distinct bed, about 1 x 1.5 metres. Ooh yes, and he would like to grow poppies, sunflowers and dahlias. He has heard someone talk about dahlias and fancies trying them. I think it is the wrong time of year for planting them and they may rot in the spot I have given him anyway. But sunflowers we will do and I will investigate poppy options. I am going to plant jerusalem artichokes on the compost bed (will relocate the compost pile) near the tree hut where we can all enjoy the sunflower-like flowers and then eat the hidden bounty in winter.

I have got borlotti beans cooking as I type, ready to be turned into something yummy during the week, with some to go in the freezer. Lamb bones and veges are in the slow cooker making stock. I looked at the supermarket meat options today and couldn't find any of them worth buying. There is the usual scary stuff with supermarket chickens and our closest supermarket only stocks standard issue abused chicken meat. Pretty much the same story for pork. The lamb will have been raised in better conditions than the poultry or pork, but the standard of butchering and the eye watering prices stopped me from buying a lamb roast. Come pay day I'll be out at Jonesy's buying his much better quality meat. I plan to take some recipes out to him and see if he can organise and cut the meat so I can have a go at increasing my meat recipe repertoire.

On Friday I made Nina's superb muesli slice: 6 C rolled oats, 1 C yoghurt, 1C brown sugar, 2 tins (400g each) of sweetened condensed milk, 240gm melted butter, 1 C flour and additions of whatever nuts, seeds, dried fruits you fancy. Bake in greased or lined tins equivalent to two 20 x 20cm tins for 50 minutes at 180 degrees celsius. Some of the slice is in our tummies, some went to a friend with a newborn baby and the rest is in the freezer so I can take out one piece per day for Fionn's school lunch.

I have committed myself to what feels like 85 extra meetings and other events this week and thus I still lack the organisation necessary to keep us in decent home made meals for the duration. Perhaps inspiration and a beautiful flow of cooking on low or no work days and providing leftovers for the extra busy days will come to me tomorrow.

One of the extra things I will be doing is sitting on a raffle table for our local primary school. This coming Saturday is Gala Day, our all in one mammoth fundraiser for the year. The children do lots of creating and competing as part of the special day and the parents and wider community do lots of gifting, buying and admiring. On Tuesday and Friday we have a slot at the local supermarket selling raffles and in the process advertising the gala. I've been learning about the Epilepsy Foundation's fundraising issues today. Chilling stuff. I'm getting more and more focused on and enthusiastic about local initiatives this year. National organisations seem to have such gaps between stated mission and actual practice.

On Tuesday I will sit on the raffle table, on Friday night I will make a pork dish in my slow cooker and on the gala day itself I will collect my cousin Mary who has been baking for the gala since the school began in 1958. Mary will drop off her baking while I can still drive her up the too steep driveway and I will drop off my pork dish still in its slow cooker and get cracking being the face painting money collector, face prepper and encourager as children choose who they want to 'be'. On Thursday I will be at a Blackball Working Class History Project meeting. Apparently we now have the building consent for our museum so it will be an exciting meeting finally moving onto the next practical stage of the building, which we want to have open for Labour Weekend in October. All the other extra things are work meetings. I like my job, but that doesn't quite stretch to looking forward to three extra work meetings in one week.

I can see that I'm blogging at personal diary keeping level at the moment and I thought when I changed blogs from Sandra's Garden to Letters from Wetville that I would change that. Alack and alas, this is what is falling out of my head and onto my fingertips at the moment. I'm disillusioned with pretty much everything about national politics. There are some small changes in terms of running cooperatives locally which I am watching with some excitement - night classes and one of our two remaining butcheries in the district - but both are too early to comment on in any detail. Then there is the photo thing. One day. One day. One day I will know where our camera is, how to transfer photos from it to my computer and I will join the ranks of garden bloggers who illustrate their posts. One day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

More garden notes

An hour without children but with sunshine today. I covered the punga raised bed with cardboard and then weighed it with logs and tyres. That should prevent it from growing weeds in the compost and keep it a bit warmer.

Then I got cracking weeding the strip against the fence, not far from the punga raised bed. When we moved here, nothing grew in this strip at all, not even the lawn which it seemed to be designated as. But once Favourite Handyman had chopped down two large bushes and let in lots and lots of light, and then as I buried bokashi along this strip, dormant plants from far ago when it was a loved garden strip began to show themselves. The tropicanna lilly has gone from strength to strength and will be ready to divide and replant next Autumn. For the first time in the 3.5 years we have lived here, snowdrops emerged a few weeks ago.

So now I am preparing the soil for flowers the entire length (c.2.5 metres). There are trees very close from our neighbours and coal ash has been put there before, so I'm not planting edibles on this strip. I will add some blood and bone and some comfrey-seaweed compost brew. Soon I will sow calendulas along the strip and when my rose cuttings are strong, transferable plants, I will put them along the strip. This area is on the side of the hosue where we eat and relax in summer, so a good spot for some visual beauty to drink in.

Florence Fennel

Grew it. Ate it. We all ate it.


I sowed some florence fennel seed last year - I can't find a record of when but I know that there were no signs of germination for so long that I gave up and planted something else. Obviously not right on top though because a few months ago I noticed some feathery smelly stuff and thought it was dill from the beneficial insect blend sowing. I don't have much experience with dill or fennel so I'm easily confused with these plants.

I've wondered a few times about it being fennel and consulted a few books and still not been sure. But the August 09 issue of the NZ Gardener had a photo which looked exactly like mine. So I harvested it and cooked it with garlic and onions and anchovies and grated beetroot and then some kale and then mixed in lots of sour cream and made pink sauce. Which when put together with the rye pasta (I can't tell you that rye pasta is better than wheat, only that on the food ordering day rye seemed like a great idea) which is brown, makes for a very new age hippy bean sprouting looking type of meal. Naughty us that we contributed to the death of our ocean friends and the rise of landfill and no doubt a thousand other evils by having tinned salmon with it.

I've only eaten florence fennel one other time. That was in a soup made by my gardening guru friend Marie who had also grown the florence fennel herself.

So now I'm ready to have another go, as the NZ Gardener says now is a good time to sow it. I still have some seed. The New Zealand Companion planting book, which I have out of the library for the seventh time at the moment, says never near wormwood and also not near peas and beans and strawberries. Somewhere else I read it likes to be by itself. I'll find a spot tomorrow - somewhere.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


We had a big storm last night and the roof of our garage fell in in two places. It's an old style tile roof and I suspect that it is going to need replacing in its entirety. I am pleased I wasn't collecting wood when the large tiles fell directly onto where we usually collect the wood from alongside the garage.

At least the chook run was fine this year. It is currently in a much more sheltered spot - if it was in the original spot I expect it would have also blown over last night.

Not content with getting really wet walking to the car, Brighid and I went swimming in our new town swimming pool after work this morning and it was absolutely brilliant. Warm , fantastic design, only $3 for a parent- pre-schooler combo.

Deciding to ignore the rain and pretend or at least imagine that clear skies will be with us again soon, I bought some mushroom compost (totally, utterly wonderful stuff) and two punnets of brassicas. I don't usually bother with cabbage, but if it is homegrown, perhaps I will finally have a crack at making sauerkraut. Broccoli for my other punnet.

The biggest event on the school calendar for our local primary school is the school gala. Braving thunder and lightning, I went to a PTA meeting last night. Just like last year, I was totally in awe of the talent and extremely hard work of the chief organiser who must put in hundreds of hours of work, all for the unpaid benefit of our primary school. This year I have volunteered to be the marshall for the face painting. I will collect money, prep faces with moisturiser and get them to choose their design. That way the lovely face painters can work at maximum efficiency.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The lost skill of using fat

A few months ago I spent a while wondering to myself and to Favourite Handyman what early people did with their fat 500 or 1000 years ago. It doesn't do anything for the compost or the garden. I concluded that they must have had less fat than us due to eating undomesticated, hunted animals with lower fat content.


Last night, months after my serious pondering, I was reading Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's books (Meat, which I own, and River Cottage Cookbook, which the library kindly lend me several times each year) and I suddenly remembered what my mother did with fat when I was a child. She doesn't now - the doctors have fed Mum and Dad up on cholesterol fright and now they have margarine on their bread and I haven't seen dripping in Mum's fridge for years.

Mum had a jug in the fridge and after a roast, she poured off the fat into the jug for re-use with other foods later (back then she used to add dripping to a roasting tray befoer cooking - divine roast veges). With the remaining bits on the roasting pan she made gravy. As children like to do, I publicly preferred the packet gravy.

Shows how easy it is to lose knowledge in just one generation.

I'm going to do some experimenting with keeping my own fat and using it to roast veges with and maybe some other cooking uses. (Of course I won't do this when my vegan sister comes to visit, Joe!!) One less thing to go off the property and into landfill. HFW seems to think pig fat is the tastiest. Today's roast in the oven is chicken. I guess chooks aren't too different to geese and goose fat is supposed to make divine roast spuds, so that will be the first experiment.

We don't generally do a traditional Sunday roast. It feels like something that only makes sense if you get dressed up and go to church/Mass first. As a child, some special Sundays Mum put the roast on before we went to Mass at 10am and then afterwards we all had a drink (alcohol for the adults and lemonade for us kids) before the roast was served. There were never arguments during this time and the weather always was lovely on these days. Treasured memories.

But today is a roast day because hopefully it will give me a pile of protein for my boy for school lunches for the next couple of days. I have spent more on groceries in the last four days than I usually do in 2-3 weeks. Some of it is bulk buying - the Piko wholefoods order will last me all year and some of it is the cost of restocking the pantry differently and the higher cost of protein than carbohydrates. We are still doing potatoes and I can see they will be cheaper than our usual bread. Bread is the main thing I am keeping to a minimum - aiming for Fionn to have none at all some days and just 1-2 pieces others. I am also keeping pasta meals to a minimum. I'm glad I already had a box of organic avocadoes - they are great for good oils and nutrients and fit well with our current focus.

Friday, July 17, 2009



I'd tried it for Fionn once before, in the UK, and not been totally converted. I didn't do any reading around the topic at the time and I did not know the difference between classical homeopathy and whatever the non-classicists are called.

But after our session with Laksmi, I've been applying the remedy as per instructions, changing our diet to more (non-dairy) protein and fewer carbs/dairy and supplementing with aloe vera juice, cod liver oil, fish oil lollies, vitamins and flax seed oil.

Changes: his eczema is receding noticeably. The dark circles under his eyes have faded and the deepness under his eyes has lifted a lot. He hasn't cried at the drop of the hat at all today.

I can still hear a chesty cough sometimes, he is still under delusions that it is hotter than it is and I would like to see him gain some weight. But for two days in, I think it is pretty damn wonderful progress.

I am no fan of big pharma. I suspect them of lacking scruples and having a vested interest in making entire nations believe that drugs are the only route to good health. That's the short summary of my thoughts on the pharmaceutical giants. Currently, an influenza strain which seems more virulent than ones of the last few years but still not exactly bubonic plague country, has prompted people to buy up all the old near their use-by date stocks of tami-flu and oecd nations to get out their cheque books in the middle of a major recession to pay for nationwide vaccinations using a largely untested vaccine. Never mind that the same scenario in the 1970s had to be halted due to lots of people getting guillane barre syndrome. Magically and mythically, with no documented changes between now and the 1970s that I have read of, it will be different this time.

So, the big banks get bailed out from the consequences of their imprudent choices and greed by our taxes and then big pharma gain a financial windfall from H1N1 flu. Meanwhile the workers who produce actual products in factories in New Zealand went without pay when their factories were quarantined last month.

I am very appreciative of the benefits of modern medicine in life and death emergency situations. I'm not going to see a homeopath or reflexologist if I break my leg or am in a major car crash. But many of our every day complaints are not well served by general practice medicine.

I have been considering the implications of this for government funding. Like anyone cares, but I guess if you've read this far you might be mildly interested. The hold which big pharma has on the purse strings of governments world wide is enormous. I would prefer that fewer of my taxpayer dollars, for example, went on statin drugs to lower cholesterol given that these very statins inhibit magnesium and coq-10 which are essential for good heart function.

I don't think though, that I do want to see alternative therapies brought into the mainstream and state-subsidised. I think that for the best practitioners, it would be compromising and that for the dodgy ones, it would be a licence to print money. I have opted that we will eat as well as possible and seek the support of Laksmi (before Laksmi it was Donna the reflexologist who made a massive difference to me when I had viral rheumatoid arthritis, but now Donna lives too far away) to help our health. And others if necessary. It is cheaper than medical insurance and has the potential to strengthen existing weaknesses, which is something medical insurance does not do with it's caveats for pre-existing conditions.

Growing your own garlic is still, in my opinion, the best cheap thing anyone can do to help strengthen their health. I am very pleased with my kale this winter - that would come a close second for me, followed by parsley.

One interesting thing to me is the overdosing guidelines on the labels of homeopathic remdies sold in my local health shop. The brans are Weleda and Naturopharm but I'm referring more to Naturopharm here. It advises taking three drops every fifteen minutes for several hours. In contrast, Laksmi had me put two drops of silica and two drops of thuja in Fionn's bath once per week and then to do the same to the aqueous cream pot which I use to rub into his eczema. She was very clear that as soon as I saw an improvement in his symptoms I should stop immediately. I thought I saw an improvement yesterday but wasn't sure and put some of the adulterated aqueous cream on him at bedtime. But today I was very sure of the improvement and have stopped all homeopathic treatment. A naturopath called Maggie who works part time at our local health shop described to me this very phenomenon, where people bought homeopathic remedies over the counter, went away and then came back saying they had taken the whole bottle and now felt worse. And Maggie said she wasn't surprised. I now understand that that is when the remedy is 'proven' and starts to prompt the very symptoms which it was initially taken to eliminate.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Laksmi and the dinosaur eggs

I took my boy to Laksmi who is a masseuse/homeopath/nutritional therapist/awesomely knowledgeable and skilled person yesterday. The dark and deep rings around his eyes, the tendency to weep at the slightest provocation, the re-emergence of his eczema, the not quite there energy levels, the recent history of viruses, they all pointed towards it being time to call in some help.

Help and support for the body. Not drugs to supress the symptoms of his weakness.

Laksmi worked her magic. I have seen my boy take a shine to people before, but he adored Laksmi.

So when we were going through her eating plan, he was prepared to follow her guidance. Especially because she made food magical.

Dinosaur eggs for afternoon tea. Baked potatoes and then the flesh taken out and mixed with kelp salt, lashings of butter and something green which I couldn't quite remember. Today I added wakame, Japanese dried seaweed. Crumbled it in. Both kids wolfed it down.

One of the themes to come out of her recommendations was less carbohydrate and more protein. Interesting - I've been reading more and more pointing in this direction over the last twelve months. Expensive so far, but I need to remember that changing eating patterns is always expensive initially and things might ease down a bit in time as I get better at cooking in the new way.

The other interesting theme was about fat. Like many I read and respect, Laksmi is not at all convinced by the lipid fat hypothesis and notes the correlation between fats being demonised and children running around with adhd. She has him using flax seed oil on his breakfast, cod liver oil with dinner, eating those fish oil jellyfish, plenty of butter on vegetables and increased portions of meat.

He is also using homeopathic remedies on Laksmi's specific recommendations. I can see a positive direction already - after his bath of silica and thuja last night his dark circles were not so dark this morning.

I am really looking forward to watching my son get stronger and stronger.

Meanwhile, I thought a pudding would be an excellent treat for after league practise. Laksmi didn't mention icecream and crumble in her recommendations but I had a plan for loading up on nutritional goodies at the same time. I used pears for the fruit and then added finely chopped crystalised ginger to the fruit mix. For the crumble mix I crushed brazil nuts, cloves and almonds and then added rolled oats and sugar and lots of cinnamon and mixed spice. I stirred a handful of this mixture into the pears and then spread the rest across the top.

Those nuts and the cloves and ginger which the children usually shun? Straight down the gullet.

Tomorrow's project? Home made muesli bars. Plus some pumpkin muffins which I am going to sneak more nuts into. Lunches are the biggest area for changes from a carb-intensive meal. Just as well I bought lots of baked beans this week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Garden expansion

I've walked around our section many times today, both literally and figuratively. I've found a spot for some maori potatoes and a place for some jerusalem artichokes after receiving Corrine's lovely swap suggestion.

I had already planned out where the pumpkins, squash and zucchini would go and the smaller soft crops can fit around the rest of the spaces (the punga raised bed and part of the old chook run bed) fairly flexibily. Not much point angsting over the finer combinations as it always changes at planting time.

But really, I want more garden space. Every year I have made new garden, but every year I have also turned established garden plots over to perennials. The spot which first had zucchini on it went to blueberries the year after. When they failed to thrive in that spot, I put the lone survivor in a pot and bought a potted blueberry to go with it and planted rhubarb in the vacated garden spot. My first garlic spot is now a perennial herbs bed. Another bed which started out for annuals is now the blackcurrant patch. Garlic is using up most of two other beds. Last year's newest garden bed, which started with spuds, now has strawberries filling it. Last year's zucchini spot now has a globe artichoke and a chilean guava.

So I've been pricing and measuring and planning to move one fence nine metres towards the front of the section. This area, on the far side of the house, is woefully under-utilised at the moment but if we move the fence (which is not a boundary fence but a child-proof fence to keep our young children safe from the road, then it would free up over 36 square metres for gardening. I'm hoping we can do this in early spring and then move the poultry palace in there so the chooks can do their job of turning lawn into garden.

Oh the things I will do with 36 square metres...

Garden audit

In which I take to myself and my seed box with a large reality stick.

The highlight of every July since I moved back to New Zealand is the arrival of the Kings Seeds catalogue. This year is no different but today I am making myself face the existing seed box instead of ordering up more.

I have been planning the summer garden, wanting to squeeze in even more than before. I am also working on matching up our family priorities with our spending and our home-work. What needs money on it, what needs time on it, what needs to disappear?

So um, like other people have wool or fabric stashes, here is my existing seed list after I binned seeds past their best before date:

anise hyssop
chervil curled
thyme english winter
garlic chives
parsley gigante italian
basil gourmet blend
astragalus milk vetch
sunflower giant russian
sunflower dwarf sensation
sunflower moon walker
calendula dwarf colours mixed
marigold inca
chamomile german
epilobium willowherb
echinacea purple coneflower

arugula italian wild rustic
beetroot cylindra
broccoli purple sprouting early
beetroot chioggia red/white
broccoli de cicco
bean borloto fire tongue
bean slenderette
corn salad verte de cambrai
celery for cutting
carrot white belgian
carrot touchon
chicory red verona
florence fennel romanesco
kale lacinato
kale red russian
kale squire
cabbage palm tree di toscana
lettuce webbs wonderful
leek carentan giant
mesclun lettuce mix
onion red brunswick
onion white welsh
squash burgess buttercup
pumpkin musquee de provence
radish gourmet blend
tomato rainbow blend mixture
tomato sub arctic plenty
zucchini costata romanesco

hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. With over 50 packets of seed, could I grow a successful garden without recourse to buying more seeds? Could I forgo buying $15 worth of heirloom seed potatoes which I cannot find room for without giving up any of the other things I really really want (and mostly already have seed for)? Could I forgo my chase for jerusalem artichokes? I have used up all my sungold cherry tomato seed and that is the most successful tomato here in wetville. There are neither peas nor silverbeet in my stash.

But and but and but, Sandra there are millions of plants waiting in your seed drawer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Well thousands anyway.

I already have garlic in the ground for this coming summer (and roses). I've got a reasonable collection of kitchen herbs already in the garden. I am going to use my thyme seed to raise plants to make a herb border all round the old chook run bed.

The celery, kale and silverbeet currently in the garden will all be eaten up by the time the ground is warm enough for spring plantings.

I have blackcurrants, blueberries, one globe artichoke, a chilean guava, a lemon and three rhubarb plants in pots or in the garden. I have prepared a spot for planting an as yet unpurchased plum tree.

I think I am up for the challenge. [Took me ages to write that.] By my next post, I want to have replanned my summer garden to use existing seeds without buying more. I don't think I am prepared to forgo sungold tomatoes and I would like some more peas. But there is room to develop my medicinal herb garden (where?) with my existing seed stash and certainly scope to grow plenty of food (a sunflower and kale forest by the look of my seed collection!)

Monday, July 13, 2009


Looks like we will stay clothed when peak oil wreaks doom and disaster upon us all after all.

Hot on the heels of making pyjama pants for me and mending one pair of Favourite Handyman's trousers last week, I have now made a pair of shorts for FH (with fabric I bought for this very purpose only six years ago), mended another pair of his trousers (saving us hundreds of dollars in the process) and extended the hemline of a favourite pinafore of Brighid's.

Oh yes I do think a medal is a good idea.

I am getting more confident and thus sewing more evenly with this practise. FH saw the fabric (smallish paisley on a deep red background) I had out to make the shorts and loved it. 'Are you going to make me a shirt with that?', he asked. I'm not up to making a man's shirt just yet. But after reading on some very good and organised person's blog today about starting making Christmas gifts now in order not to get in a panic and a funk close to the time, I did think that a) this wasn't completely silly as by November life has gone crazy and there is no home made room except maybe for ginger beer and b) perhaps, just perhaps, if I keep practising my sewing skills and improving at them, I could manage a casual man's shirt by December.

Let's not be too specific about what calendar year this December might be in for now.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Beautiful day at Arthurs Pass. Friends with us both had their camera and kindly copied the pics on to my new gadget - a memory stick. Now if I could just find our camera...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sewing day

Which actually happens once or twice per year here. Today makes twice already in 2009 though...

I mended Favourite Handyman's trousers, sewing flowery denim patches on the inside of the seat of the trousers and zig zagging it all together with purple thread. They should last for ages more now.

Then I finally made up the pyjama pants that I cut out at sewing class last year. I'm wearing them now. Op shop fabric, more purple thread which I already owned and elastic from my stash of things which I buy for specific projects and then forget. All round cheapy goodness. I broke one sewing machine needle but that is an improvement on last year, when I broke the entire machine every time I tried to use it.

The sewing machine is back on the floor, my laptop on the desk again. Who knows how long until it comes out again, but of course this flush of success at actually finishing even small projects has me thinking of more. Perhaps some sewing for Favourite Handyman's birthday? After all I do have the fabric and pattern I bought for making something for his birthday for 2003...

I still have a large and fantastic stash of fabric gifted to me earlier this year. Maybe I will make a bag for my daughter, who seems to be into girly things like bags.

Then there is the scale of making things really properly so I could wear them to work. I keep planning this, but haven't actually done it yet.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Today we had a wonderful visitor - my friend Caroline, together with our friends' boy S7, who we were also really pleased to see. Being lucky enough to have school holidays free, I enjoy having other children over whose parents are not so lucky (and other children more generally). We loved having B11 over earlier in the week before more vomiting put paid to visitors of any age.

We talked about lots of things. Cuba, childcare, vaccination, the Green and Labour parties, motherhood, local community challenges and politics, the tragedy and ripples of a local murder, gardening.

I brought up the issue of kiwisaver and I was so relieved to find someone besides Favourite Handyman and I in agreement. To my mind there are just two options. The first is that the big guns get a lot of money to speculate with and squander. The second is that we have a comfortable retirement off the sweat of someone else's exploited labour. How else are returns generated from investment?

Caroline talked a little about living a life of integrity, even if others did not recognise it as such. Even though we were talking in my dining room, I felt as though I had come home. I am not insane (or not on this particular charge anyway). Our choices are careful choices, not random and not stupid.

Less wonderful was the rest of the day, which I declared the entire household's day of cleaning and got very grumpy with anyone who didn't work hard (Ithey all did, eventually). The house is indeed a lot cleaner and us adults are now enjoying a well earnt wine or beer as a present. I am moving closer and closer to getting my friend Cathy to come and clean for us fortnightly - notching up to weekly next year if I increase my paid work hours then.

Amongst the blogs which I read and enjoy, a pride in housework is a frequent theme. It is not one which I can relate to. Passionate though I am about good food and home gardening, housework sends me into a grumpy slump. Such a grumpy slump that it never entirely gets done and builds up slowly, usually to be dealt with in an almost good enough bang each school holidays.

I remember cleaning for others as a student and valuing the money it paid. At the time, three hours of cleaning paid for my weekly food bill in our frugal flat. I would do it again if we did not have enough money to eat, keep warm or stay dry. But we are in that privileged position where we can eat, keep warm and stay dry without me cleaning other people's houses and frankly I can't stand much cleaning of my own home. I like my paid work and consider it a useful comtribution to the society I live in and the shape of the society I want to live in. I like parenting (mostly), gardening, cooking so we eat well (mostly) and writing.

My friend who cleaned for me when I was so ill after the birth of my daughter that I could not walk - she does need more paid work in order to look after the basic needs of her family. It is money well spent and I look forward to Cathy, a woman who I admire greatly and have learnt much from, being part of our family life (routine seems not quite to be an appropriate word for us) again very soon. If I am less of a woman for outsourcing my dirtiest work, then so be it. I would rather spend my money locally and connectedly than gift it to the usurers.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cooking skills and my thinking challenge

Further to my recent thoughts on things which last beyond the whirly-gig of daily care for a home and family, I've now definitely got a new skill. I made gnocchi for the second time last night. I took Christy's guidance (thank you!) and did not bother with a recipe. I worked with the feel of the potato mix. I put spinach in as well in last night's gnocchi and made a tomato sauce to go on top.

Except I have a new fancy word for my tomato sauce.


flash aye?

So although the gnocchi is gone and the dishes taunt me and the boy is hungry for more dishes-making food right now, the thing that endures is my new skill that I can make something so yummy which is otherwise so expensive to obtain (and the shop stuff has all sorts of additives in it as well as being pricey).

I've been thinking about the philosophical state of our worldview, inspired by Madeleine Bunting, but I'll be back to that when my boy isn't so desperately needy. Bunting's article feels to me like the best and most important thing I have read in some time, but I still have to work out how to 'answer' it for myself. Or respond might be more accurate. I read the article in the print version of the Guardian Weekly (I would love to be as clever as Madeleine Bunting - she is always writing fabulously apposite articles), but I see the online version has lots of comments. I'll be back to read them when I get a break in my mummy shift.

something lasting

I've been enjoying the writing on handwork of Sharon and Sharon lately. I especially liked Sharonnz' teacosies.

The specialness, I would even tender the sanity-savingness, of work which lasts is very true for me. I find this with my garden. Even though it won't last forever, my garden work lasts a lot longer than the clean bench or the folded washing. My project to fill the punga raised bed with compost this past few days has been my sanity project in the midst of child illness which seems close to endless. When it was raining as well as Fionn ill, I managed very tiny projects. I would lay on the bed with one or other child in my arms and hang on to this small sign or progress. One day I emptied a bag of seaweed on the punga raised bed. Another day I spread the last of my bale of peastraw. But yesterday dawned beautiful and there was a gap before my daughter came down sick. In that gap (bright with the short-lived prospect of illnesses over), I moved four wheelbarrow loads of compost into the punga raised bed and I am now half way to my goal that this bed will be lovely and high with new soil in late Spring. I didn't realise I had so much compost in my second compost bed so I'm pleased with that harvest. I collected lots of chook poo from their night shelter/nesting box and put that in the punga raised bed also.

So I am halfway through this winter project without having spent anything. Next I am going to collect horse poo from a friend's paddock and pile that up with some pea straw (assuming I can buy some).


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

local food: squid

Last month we were talking about how lots of squid is caught near us and yet we can never buy it. Today I found some at the fantastic fish shop in Hokitika. Five dollars for a whole squid. I took a few tips from the fishmonger on what to do, wondered about the eyes etc. back home and rang a chef friend in Auckland for more expert tuition and then cooked my very own calamari
for the first time.

Before children, when we spent a large portion of our two incomes on gorgeous food in Ponsonby, I used to eat calamari every single time we went to a small restaurant (not at all ponzy or pretentious) called Calabria. I've been keen on having some more ever since but as tonight's meal (entree size) for two was probably $40+ worth of calamari in a restaurant setting, I'd despaired of having any for a very long time.

My first attempt was a reasonable feed and I'll be buying it again and practising until I have that Calabria sensation in my mouth once again.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The front page of this week's Guardian Weekly details the about face of the banking industry, which has now, merely five minutes after ruining the lives of millions, romped back into it's time honoured culture of mega bonuses. There is also comment on something called the 'derivatives market'. As far as I can work out, this refers to the practice of selling on mortgages such as that in the sub prime sector in the US. And selling them on and on. But to quote the Guardian Weekly article (which I can't find online, I'm referring to the print version of 3 July 2009):
Initially almost all parties involved after Lehman Brothers went bust agreed
there had to be huge changes to make these markets more transparent. But
ISDA [International Swaps and Derivatives Association] believes the bigger risk
today is that regulators will over-react and kill off an industry which is again
generating substantial profits for London. "We would suggest that there is
no little danger of demonising credit derivatives, which remain a useful risk
management tool," it says.

Well well well. What else? Shall we steer clear of all efforts to protect children from sexual abusive and pornography? You know, because money can be made from it so it must be worth doing.

I feel sick reading it. Sick that we allow this. I wonder if I will have the courage to really get out there (locally, online is easy) and educate people in what democracy really involves. What our apathy allows to happen. We certainly need a revolution.

I could have separated my home based independence thoughts/report into a new blog post. Big world politics tidily separated from home based stuff. The big boys stuff away from the mumsy stuff.

I think there is a case for keeping them together. The actions of greedy bankers, of immoral bankers and other financial merchants, impact on homes. Homes here in New Zealand and throughout the world. Families brought to the brink of collapse and those on the brink already, tipped over the edge.

Life in my home at the moment whirls around illness. Sometimes it moves slowly, as everyone sleeps or rests quietly. Sometimes it moves very fast, as the washing machine plays up and soup is needed and the boy is in tears of pain and the girl poos everywhere and I mean everywhere and then proceeds to practically roll in it until someone catches her.

What we have done is to rely on our own resources. We try very hard not to reach for panadol these days for the children and I'm pleased to have supported Fionn thus far through this nasty illness without it. Lots and lots of cuddles and drinks and stories. I think the excellent multivitamin/mineral supplement known as CAA has helped Favourite Handyman and I ward off this illness. I've had it a bit but nothing like our boy.

Tomorrow I have an appointment with a homeopath in the next town. I am going to get her to help me create a homeopathic first aid kit for my family. I expect I will also come away with a recommendation of a good book to support this. Julie only recently finished her homeopath training and I am grateful that we now have her expertise on the coast - before she qualified, it was a 300km trip to see a homeopath.

I have cleaned the filter of our front loader. I found lots of unidentified gunk, a piece of broken plastic and, wedged in the mechanism, a 20 cent coin. So far, the washing machine is now behaving better. I have all my fingers crossed.

A subject I have been learning about lately is the benefits of spicey foods healthwise. I've known about garlic for a long time but now I am enthusiastic about ginger, particularly for its expectorant properties at the moment, and about chilli (good for the lungs). I've been learning about cayenne and heart health as well, though that doesn't seem so especially pertinent this week. I've also been learning about caprylic acid and coconut oil. So tonight's healthy soup comprised coconut oil, garlic, ginger, chillies, cumin, celery, carrot, yams and kale. With a little soya sauce on each bowl. Fionn could only manage the broth and my two year old routinely ignores dinner (she still got yoghurt with added probiotics, mandarins and avocado so not utterly bereft of goodness), but us adults, the ones on 24 hour nursing duty at the moment, at least we got some strength in our intestines.

An article in yesterday's Christchurch Press on widespread prescription of placebos to patients reinforced the value of being an informed adult who does not reach for the doctor for every sore throat. I found the assumption that precribing antibiotics was a 'harmless' placebo quite chilling. The importance of good gut flora, the problems of candida in the body, have been the subject of much of my health reading over the last 6-7 years. The way in which elements of the medical profession rides roughshod over a person's holistic health strikes me as not so very different from those of the big bankers on Wall Street and in London's 'City'.

The best thing anyone with a tiny piece of outside space can do in these tightened times (oh boy do I disbelieve the idea thrown out by the big guys that the recession tide is turning - they just want to get us spending again for their benefit, not our own), is to grow some garlic.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A distinct lack of purity

Many of the blogs which I read demonstrate fabulous commitment to their ideals, whether they be green (environmental), red (political), simple living or gardening. Or craft.

I'm committed to a pile of things, or so I think, but on a Friday night on the eve of two weeks off work, there ain't no purity of ideals round here. I did manage home made school lunch for Fionn but nothing for Favourite Handyman. I did manage to walk to collect Fionn this afternoon (in the rain) but this morning in the rain we all piled into the car. Brighid and I had sausage roll snacks at lunchtime and for dinner the kids and I had fish and chips from the chippie shop. Then we went to the pub for a while and the kids had lemonade and orange juice while I had wine. Brighid swiped her glass sideways twice and I may have to ban her for the next ten years. A pile of non-essential spending and I don't regret it at all. Blowing $40 on bought food and booze once per pay period won't stop us paying for bills or groceries and I am grateful for our good fortune in that respect.

I did buy a draught stopper attachment for the back door which should help optimise the effectiveness of our fire. Haven't told FH about that one yet - but I'm sure he will make a beautiful job of attaching it this month.

I did swap some books and magazines focused on good eating (ha ha ha) with a friend and we all had a go on her treadmill. I got a bit woozy, clearly not my thing. That was way before I got a wine into me. Cleared out some more kids' clothes to gift between us too.

I have got some home made bread on the cooling rack as I type - been rustling it up in between louching around today.

I have just knitted another row of my wrap cardi/vest which surely counts as goodness compared to the many times I have nearly bought something in the shop which will fill the same hole in my wardrobe. It is true that if we didn't drink booze and eat shop bought greasies, then I could buy those items. But frankly I'd rather eat and drink on a Friday (especially the one just before HOLIDAYS!) than wear some flashy bought cardi anyway.

Have a great weekend. I installed a statcounter thing this week which is how I know that more than just me is reading this blog, which is very gratifying. Thank you. What I plan to do this weekend is watch Fionn play league (will he get his second try of the season? His second try ever? Will I be a good mummy and be watching properly??), sidle around the edges of housework, and read: The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy. Described on the back as a love homage to London, or something similar. I'm enjoying it so far.

Oh and GARDEN.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Once upon a time there was a little country called New Zealand. The children in New Zealand went to schools and were ranked. There was practise at this ranking for a decade or so before the earnest ranking began. All the fifteen year olds in the land would sit their school certificate. They tried their hardest or nearly their hardest. Most of them mucked around and made their teachers fear for their (the children's) futures right up until their teachers had drained the local liquor store of booze as a result of their stress. Then, and mostly only then, they would pull finger and work very hard and mostly do themselves proud and make many people beam and reach for more alcohol. That is the nature of teenagers. I remember it myself.

The thing about this ranking was that only half of the people were allowed to pass. Every year far more than half of the people would try very hard indeed. They would study and swot, swear and stumble, make leaps in understanding and climb some very high mountains. But the thing was, even if the group of people who gained very good marks was higher than 50%, the entry gates still had to be the same. They did something called 'scaling' to keep the requisite 50% out.

They called this system 'school certificate'. Limited edition. Only 50% may pass. Ever. Up and down the land teachers and other interested people noticed that for the very very many, half actually, who did not pass, there was no recognition of their achievements.

Some of the very concerned and interested people tried to do something about this. They spent a long time and a huge amount of energy trying to do something about it and eventually what came out of their very many conversaations and conferences and white and blue and green papers was somethign called standards based assessment.

Standards based assessment proved to be a lot of work for the people who already knew how to do such things as read long complicated things and write long complicated things and indeed it turned out to be a lot of work for the children who needed to demonstrate that they too could read and write increasingly long and complicated things. Sometimes things which looked incredibly easy to people who were destined for passing old systems and new and becoming university students and maybe even professors, were not actually easy at all for people who had learning difficulties and behavioural difficulties and who had moved schools many times and who just plain found school work really hard. When they achieved their unit standards, as they came to be called, the generally more accesible of these standards based assessments, they were justly proud of real progress.

Well our current government wants none of that. Even though the bright and talented writers and readers of very very long and complicated things don't have a particular need for any qualification at 15, because they will stay longer and schieve higher qualifications which will count for more on their journeys, apparently a certificate has no credibility if it is accessible by people who have to work very hard to gain the skills of reading and writing partly complicated things.

I have the pleasure of knowing young people in second chance education for whom the unit standards are a lifeline and greatly valued.

And I'm angry. What do you want to do to our country, to our young people, Mr Keys? Rank them and shove the weakest in a ghetto? Then blame them for benefit dependency?