Monday, April 27, 2009

Is this the part where I pull out soap recipes?

Or shift the soap box for the milk box?

First day of the new school term. Fionn went, late, in swim shoes and quadbiking gloves. Begrudgingly, he also wore a few items I insisted upon, like shorts and top and jersey.

I have no motivation for doing the proper houserunning things I ought to be doing and I'm not quite ready to go on a massive shoe hunt on Fionn's behalf just yet.

So I'm mucking around online and I find some discussion on getting the supermarket out of people's every day and every week lives.

Maybe I should do that. Bit of focus. I've played round with it before.

Currently, I source eggs, fish, meat and most vegetables and fruit elsewhere. I source some of my flour and often my tahini elsewhere. So what next?

  • I could make my own yoghurt, not from a sachet but the real thing. I've tried and given up before and I've ditched my kefir, but this isn't impossible. Knowing my history, I'll stick to easiyo sachets for the time being and focus on other supermarket elimination tactics.

  • I could source more from the Bin Inn. I've been using vinegar and baking soda for cleaning (such that I clean) so they could come from there instead of the supermarket.

  • Laundry powder. Dishwashing liquid. Dishwasher powder. Perhaps it's time to get out Annie Berthold-Bond's book on home cleaners.
  • Shampoo and conditioner. Baking soda and something else isn't it? hmmm.
  • I dunno. I've kind of made some peace with my supermarket. We live in a small town so I know lots of people each time I go shopping, both other shoppers and the supermarket staff. If I could get local raw milk, then I would be prepared to give up the supermarket, but for the meantime, I've got to go there to spend our modest dosh on expensive organic milk. Which reminds me of another question: What exactly is milk really worth? Or should be valued at? Because knowing that non-organic, supermarket own brand cow's milk is a fraction of the price of organic, non-homogenised milk, is only a relative comparison, not any clue or representation of what we ought ethically be paying for milk, and who that money should go to.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Freedom and Remembrance

Anzac Day - May Day - placenta day - Autumn equinox.

Yesterday I went to the Dawn Service, my first time. I stood with Mary, my (Dad's) cousin and wife of a prisoner of war from World War Two. A woman who has supported her husband through nightmares of his time in the war. A woman who has had to understand that support is often understanding that some things are beyond understanding. We watched the march and I felt very proud of the many young people marching, standing to attention in the cold.

There was talk of fighting for freedom. I thought of the many fights for freedom, including those of the conscientious objectors. They also fought for freedom. There is a good blogpost on some of the battles they fought here.

Afterwards, back at the RSA, I said hello to people of all ages, saw the meaning Anzac Day has for current soldiers, for relatives of servicemen and women, for many other people in our community. I stood in the wrong queue for a cup of tea for ages until I realised that I didn't want rum in mine. Rum at 7.30am is too early for me.

After breakfast, I collected Mary again and we went to the cemetery for a brief commemoration and then spent a long time visiting the graves of Lou and his brothers. Mary and Lou were married for almost sixty years, a long period of love, work and adoration of which I am in awe.

Last year on Anzac Day we buried the placentas of our children and planted cabbage trees above them. The children stomped on Fionn's one and it had to be replanted, but even so, they have grown a lot in just twelve months.

These are all things which tie me to this land, to our local community.

The next special day on our calendar is May Day. We'll be up at Blackball this coming Saturday discussing the future in a world reeling from the failure of neoliberal economics, workshopping the Blackball history of working class history museum and in the evening watching a performance of a new play from Paul Maunder.

Somewhere during this week, if my check of dates proves correct, we will cut up some pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns and celebrate the Autumn equinox.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Back from the Hanmer bubble

I took Dad's cousin and my children to Hanmer for a few days this week. We stayed with my parents and I even made a reasonable fist of being a good daughter.

Hanmer Springs is a strange place to me. It is a holiday town with high housing costs and seems largely insulated from the wider world. If you are poor or unemployed, it is extremely unlikely that you will live in Hanmer. Trying to talk about recession issues was, um, frustrating. Of course, Mum and Dad have a television, which we don't. So I had the cultural highlight of watching the finale of Dancing with the Stars. I didn't explain what the charity Rainbow Youth was about until the next day. I also learnt that I am related to Rodney Hide's cousin. These right wingers don't all come from private schools. Rodney, it turns out, is a Rangiora High School boy. Just like Roger Kerr (Business Round Table) came from the same small town high school as me - Waimea College.

So while we were away, the government announes it plans to sell off parts of the defence force. Am I the only person who thinks that selling of parts of the defence force to private interests is incredibly dangerous and stupid? Same old same old. Plans for privatisation seem to be going ahead just like under Douglas and Lange in the 1980s. Never mind that it didn't work for ordinary working New Zealanders - the big business cronies who get to buy these assets will get the cream.

I did bring back some wonderful produce from Dad's garden. The pumpkin seeds I gave him were much more successful than the ones I planted here. I've brought back a gorgeous and lareg Musquee de Provence pumpkin which I will photograph and post soon. Also some swedes which are also from seeds we gave Dad - FH brought them back from Southland after a conference. I bought frozen blueberries and some grapes from roadside stalls on the way home which made me happy. I refuse to buy shop grapes as they are always from another country, excessively sprayed and packaged. Oh and tasteless. And expensive. So local grapes are a rare and big treat. Maybe one day we will have our own vine.

Anzac Day tomorrow. We're planning to go to the Dawn Service, first time for all of us. Shortly I will go into town and buy poppies for us all. The trip home with my cousin yesterday brought the poignancy of the occasion to the front of my mind. Her husband was captured in Greece during World War Two and spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War camp. Every day in the hospital in Greece he would see his mother at the foot of his bed and that helped him through. So we will go grave visiting tomorrow as well.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Global trade and local possums

I've been thinking about the graphs in a recent Against the Current post for a few days. I think the post (and the article which the graphs come from) are well worth reading, but the biggest message is that comparisons of 1929-30 and 2008-9 show that global trade and stock market value have both dropped faster since April 2008 than in the comparative period (immediately after the peak in the stock market and in trade) in 1929.

Which seems a pretty powerful piece of information to me.

This afternoon, over biscuits and tea, after much admiration of Brighid's biscuit dunking skills and of the clothes I dropped round for the great grandchildren, my cousin Mary (aged 82) and I were discussing this graph. We talked about the 1930s depression which she remembers but which her late husband Lou, eight years older than her, remembered even more vividly. Mary said she never went hungry and her Dad was in work throughout the lean times, so they were very lucky. Lou's family had not been so lucky. His father was out of work for much of the depression and he did remember going hungry. They, like many families, lived off the land and his father would kill native wood pigeons to feed the family. Wild blackberries were much loved.

Which got me thinking about living on the Coast and living off the land.

Which got me thinking about 1080, which in the name of possum eradication, is poison entering our waterways and our wildlife and leaching into our soil for generations to come. Occasionally we still hear that this is a DOC native fauna protection project, but here we're pretty used to the reality that it is targeted at possum control for the benefit of our dairy farmers. The link being that possums carry bovine tuberculosis which is a significant feature of dairy herds on the West Coast.

So as a time approaches where many would benefit (read: survive) from shooting wild animals in the bush, we are poisoning that bush?

I'm further mystified given the premium price which knitting wool which has possum blended in it attracts.

So we are poisoning possums which would otherwise be edible and their pelts usable through poison which is a low labour means of predator control at a time when intensive labour projects offer dignity and meaning to many people otherwise out of work?

Go on, tell me what I've missed. Which dots have connected incorrectly? Because the way I see it, bad crazy decisions abound.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Domesticity in the wet

It hasn't rained the absolute entire weekend. Not completely.

I started this morning (after a rather stodgy pancake making attempt) by donning gumboots and digging up some pretty autumn flowering bulbs from the creek at one end of our street. I've been asking and researching to find their name, but to no avail so far. Yes I do realise that posting a photo might help. Taking a photo would be some kind of start as well...

No children found me, so I stayed outside a while longer and sowed rocket, pak choy and phacelia seeds.

Later on I inspected Favourite Handyman's excellent work making a new plastic cover for part of the chook run. This time we have gone for the much higher quality and more expensive agphane plastic. FH ran a rope down each side and then used his heat gun to seal a flap over it. It certainly looked a wonderful scheme to me. I didn't know he had these skills precisely when I fell in love with him. But I did have a whiff when I saw that he could, despite being a city boy, back a trailer competently. It's a good test.

Back inside I played in the kitchen. I've got two lots of bread on the go at the moment. One will cook tonight and the other will be my first experiment with doing an overnight fridge prove of French Country Bread. I've put radish and alfalfa seeds in water for sprouting and chickpeas to soak for cooking tomorrow. I've put a smoked bacon bone in the slow cooker to thaw overnight. Tomorrow I'll cook it with puy lentils, carrots, onions, celery and bay leaves. Dinner was parsnip and potatoes layered with onions, garlic and bacon and cream and cheese. The cholesterol police can shudder all they like, it was delicious.

So I guess we're doing good homely things to batton down the hatches and live independently-ish in the long gloomy days ahead. If John Key listens to the frankly scary right wing already failed terrible community destroying suggestions of the recent OECD report on New Zealand, then it will be gloomy indeed. Just writing it all down started out feeling good but now I have bored myself to tears and feel like going down the pub and squandering money on liquor.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dead animal whiff

Well that will be the end of any vegans reading for the night.

But seriously, there is the smell of dead animal in our back garden. It is stronger in some places than others. I removed cat poo (our neighbours have many cats; at least the dogs can't get in) from one garden and I checked the chook run. The chook run area is a bit pongy as well but I think that is a separate problem, which will be when Favourite Handyman has a few hours to fix the huge rents in the chook run plastic cover.

Last time we had a pong like this, I eventually found a dead and decomposing hedgehog. I said many prayers of thanks that I found it first, not the (then) one year old.

I think the strongest smell is from under the house. Which does suggest that Favourite Handyman's job list is lengthening by the second.

Being of a fairly staunch disposition smell-wise, I managed to garden near the whiff without too much trouble this afternoon. I worked on the last section of the back of the house garden strip, the part which is alongside the wash house. It gets pretty wet, often floods, and yields from this part have been low ever since I created the garden two years ago. I lifted the onions (red and bunching) and threw out the ones which have already rotted in the ground. I pulled the scrawny remains of my camomile growing experiment. I'll try them again next year in a different spot. I hauled out some weeds and left the earth bare ready for some seed sowing (rocket and phacelia) tomorrow, when apparently the lunar elements are favourable.

Favourite Handyman was unable to work on the aforementioned tasks today as he was at the home of friends, being wonderful. They have recently pulled out their chimney and FH spent hours knocking mortar off bricks. We now have 151 lovely bricks stacked up awaiting re-use in some marvellous project. To say thank you for these bricks, I gathered some vegetables from around the garden and took round. I love gifting vegetables from my garden because I am a show-off.

What to wear?

The Warehouse is a bad place. I think I've mentioned that before. What I am less likely to have mentioned is that in spite of being aware of the problems, the pitfalls, the dodgy ethics and general badness of it all, I myself am bad in the Warehouse.

Which could explain why one Sunday with two (too) many children around me and a pile of supposedly useful things in my arms, I spotted long sleeved v neck t-shirts for just $12 each and bought a purple one and a black one without even trying them on. The shape of the v was nice, not too high and not indecently deep. If you wonder why I didn't bother trying them on, then obviously you have never taken small children shopping with you. To the Warehouse. On Sunday. Or any day.

Now, the neck was indeed just right.

But as we do not live in a society where fertility goddesses are the desired phsyique and all women aim for a big rounded tummy like mine, and indeed such a tummy displayed prominently is seen as at least bad taste, if not actually rude and disgusting. As we do not live in that kind of society, I'm all for minimising the big tummy look and the Warehouse t-shirts, er, maximised the big tummy look.

Making them part of a special collection I've built up over the years of t-shirts which I like the colour of and the neck line but which need cover over the tummy. You would think I might have learnt. I sort of have. I hadn't made this mistake for five years until now.

The cardi I made last year goes over all of these t-shirts nicely, but it is too warm. Only works for outside. So, in the interests of wearing my new and old t-shirts together with my various bottoms which are all waiting patiently in the wardrobe from last winter, I decided I needed to make myself some thinner knitwear.

This is the short version...

Lots of looking at patterns and wool at our local wool shop.

Lots more.

A visit to the posh (or posh for wetville) clothes shop next door to try on some readymade things. They all looked fabulous. They would at those prices. Helped with honing my ideas though.

Back to the wool shop.

Back home.

More thinking. It occurs to me to measure the cardi I made last year. I learnt something big then. Like an extra 15cm big. If I do a tension sample for a jersey, and it looks like I need to change needle size, then I should do a tension sample on the new needles and then see which one is closer to the specifications. hmmmmm. Just as well the cardi was a wrap one. There sure is lots of crossover.

I could go on a lot. I could go into a diatribe on the people who issued Vintage Twist in lovely colours and knitting patterns and then stopped making it, leaving just 6 balls of the gorgeous stuff and a pattern which no other wool fits well with. Oh ooops I did.

But here are some pics of the final decision process: The second picture in this post is the cardi I made last year. That's a stylish model over the age of fourteen wearing it, not me. Mine is chocolate-y black. The first picture is a pattern I considered only it would also be too hot. The wool in that picture is either the one I have chosen, or a similar colourway.
I'm sure you're all hanging off your seats with excitement now, especially people who came here looking for how to kill a rooster or some leftwing politics. Those of you on breadmaking kicks might make it to the end though. I have decided to use last year's pattern book and make the wrap cardi again, only this time using the standard 5.5mm needles and the Patons Jet wool and omitting the sleeves, allowing me to cover my tummy but not get too hot.
That's the plan.
So that's how I have come to be once more spending my evenings on the only partially lost art of knitting, reconnecting with local businesses through the infinite patience of Shona who owns Pins and Needles here in Wetville and the learning the skill of doing either no tension samples, or two.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Independence Days, Interdependence Days

Johanna recently reminded me about Sharon Astyck's Independence Days Challenge. In this, we are all invited to record our projects to become ready for a post peak oil by trying very hard to do at least one of the following things each day:
* Plant Something
* Harvest Something
* Preserve Something
* Store Something
* Manage Reserves
* Cook Something New
* Prep Something
* Reduce Waste
* Learn a New Skill
* Work on Community Food Security
* Regenerate What Is Lost

It seems a fine idea to me, especially if it gives you energy to keep focusing on skills which free you a little from the grab of the corporates in your daily living. In terms of managing one of these things each day, I expect I generally do okay. Yesterday (without planning to meet any categories) I harvested rocket for my sandwiches and learnt a little more about knitting, courtesy of the lovely Shona at our local wool shop.

I do appreciate Johanna's post as it has made me think more clearly about my own priorities and values. I'm not especially focused on peak oil disasters as part of my long term planning. I totally appreciate that armageddon may come and I like to think that my interests in the garden and the kitchen are and will help in my own preparedness, even if in only a small way.

But can I suggest my own thoughts about where I want to go, things I'd like to argue the value of, for our present and our future?

1. Firstly, the idea of interdependence, of collectivism, appeals to me particularly. Yes I'm a union girl and I do believe in solidarity. These are words which have been left at the back of our cupboards in the last few decades. I was just a teenager when the Employment Contracts Act changed the lives of New Zealand working people forever. The demise of union power in New Zealand was a theme for other countries at the same time. I think particularly of England under Thatcher. If you want to understand how to live less dependently on the power of large corporates, consider not just your individual food choices, but how you organise and support yourselves in your workplace.

2. As fewer of us are employed for money in this changing economic climate, it is also timely to consider carefully how we support those alienated by a shrunken job market. I met a very interesting woman recently who works for a group called the Peoples Centre. She and her colleagues work hard supporting people with workplace and unemployment challenges who are struggling to access their rights. One story she told me was of a man who came out of a month living in the bush (odd to you in cities, not completely odd here at all) and sought emergency food assistance. At the counter of a local supermarket, he was made to take back a cake of soap because it wasn't food. One cake of soap to get clean after a month in the bush was not an emergency need? There is so much to do to value the human dignity of each person.

3. Write. I'm serious. Two things have particularly reached out and struck a chord with me this week. Firstly, the deteriorating situation in Fiji. The media, both professional (e.g. newspapers) and amateur (e.g. bloggers) correspondents have been severely restricted in what they can share from Fiji. Also this week, a small group of writers here on the West Coast met for our monthly session of sharing what we've been writing. I was moved to see how empowering writing can be, how it can give dignity to our days and strengthen our sense of sanity in times when it may feel in doubt. Whether you are blogging, or keeping a private written journal, or writing letters to friends and family in other towns, whether you are writing a novel or a satire or a play or a shopping list, words are powerful and we connect through them. If you haven't blogged before, or are out of the habit of writing to Grandma, start! Every voice is worthy of it's own space.

The house is quiet right now and the rain has eased up for a bit, so I'm going outside to harvest some more rocket for a breakfast salad sandwich. Maybe I'll find some seeds and plant a bit more rocket and perhaps some indoor basil and coriander (will I ever grow coriander successfully again? Still persevering...). The food challenge is important. But we cannot live on bread alone.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

daily bread

Indeed I am making bread on a daily or almost daily basis. Esepcially when it is raining. I have finally got my rye bread to the consistency I wanted. The main problem earlier, I can now see, was that I wasn't cooking it for long enough.

The rye bread is a perfect match for eggs on toast, but as a 100% rye, it is a little heavy as sandwiches. I have found another great bread though. I think it is great anyway.

It is from Andrew Whitley's bible, oops I meant Bread Matters. This book is my bible for breadmaking. It is called Cromarty Cob and is a wheat bread kicked off with a rye starter. It seems otherwise closely related to what he calls a French Country Loaf and has a lovely chewy crust and a holey, kind of grunty yet still soft interior. He calls for some wholemeal and some white flour in the production dough, and then for the remainder of the mix he calls for some bread grade flour and some plain flour. On Monday when I first made this, I used my purple wheat zentrofan flour for the first wholemeal flour measure. Then I had no plain flour for the second part. So I used a little extra bread grade white flour and then used my purple wheat flour instead of the plain flour.

It came out tasting superb and the colour was a deep brown.

I have only heard of purple wheat within New Zealand so far. It is also sometimes known as konini and both my NZ Bread Making book (Leach/Browne/Titchborne) and the owner of Terrace Farms who sold me the flour said that it is used as an addition to bread, never as the main breadmaking flour. So I assumed it is low in gluten and therefore perfect for replacing the plain flour part for a Cromarty Cob.

'Tis. I've got another loaf beginning it's journey as I type. Even my son likes it. He who is determined to impress upon me the superiority of shop made food at every turn.

I'm off to sneak in some reading time (Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman - fabulous so far) but will post the recipe for a Cromarty Cob later this week. School holidays - we're all about sneaking reading in here.

Garden Day

Yesterday the rain stopped. Brighid the garden murderer slept in. Perfect conditions to actually do something in the garden.

I started with a spot of murdering of my own - the caterpillar hunt. I killed about 20, which is a definite slow down from last month, given that I have about 20 brassica plants, all either broccoli, curly kale, cavolo nero or russian kale.

Now that the rainy season is upon us, the ground is likely to be too wet for liquid fertiliser for the next nine months, so the comfrey/sheep poo brew which I hadn't entirely used up this season can be held over for next year. I cut down all the comfrey from my four rather prolific plants and dumped it on top of the current brew. I added more water and figure it should all be broken down and marvellous by 2010.

The potatoes out the front are ready to harvest. The most noticeable casualty of my more limited gardening time this season just gone has been that I have not mounded up the potatoes sufficiently. On every crop this summer, I have lost too many to being above the ground and green.

I thought I'd check the zucchini, not expecting much. hummpphh! A marrow and another very large zucchini. I've got steak defrosting to then mince up for stuffing the marrow. We won the steak in a raffle eons ago and I'd rather use that than go out and buy ready-made mince which will be of inferior quality. I quite like getting the spong mincer out and pretending to be a butcher.

I have got four different parsley plants looking healthy and ready to supply me with parsley for hummous and tabbouleh throughout the winter. I've let one go to seed each year and then transplanted the liitle seedlings which come up around it. I think it is giant Italian parsley originally. It keeps growing through winter and is my best winter asset.

Today we are off to collect more materials for our raised beds and/or garden paths. Friends have pulled their chimney out and the bricks - lovely deep orange ones - were otherwise going to landfill. So we'll tootle round with our wee station wagon and load it up a few times this afternoon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Food, class & capitalism

In a recent Prospect magazine article, Geoff Mulgan ponders what next after capitalism. He delineates clearly a pattern of social changes after major recessions from 1797 onwards and he proposes some possibilities for the changes ahead of us in the next decade or three.

Acknowleding that the rise of mass consumerism in rich countries has been a key feature of the post WWII landscape, he then goes on to posit that we can see changes to this domination already:

[T]here are already strong movements to restrain the excesses of mass
consumerism: slow food, the voluntary simplicity movement and the many measures
to arrest rising obesity, are all symptoms of a swing towards seeing consumerism
less as a harmless boon and more as a villain. The mayor of Sao Paolo, Gilberto
Kassab, banned all billboards in 2006. David Cameron has railed against toxic
capitalism corrupting young children, as well as toying with the idea of
personal carbon accounts to limit high carbon lifestyles.

Well I am glad to see that Mulgan can find three examples across the entire world. I'm all for the power of counter-consumerism initiatives such as the slow food movement and voluntary simplicity. But consider then an article by Felicity Lawrence for the Guardian from October 2008. She uses a word which Mulgan keeps out of sight in his article: class. Lawrence notes that:

[T]oday the language of class has been almost removed from the political
discourse. In Thatcherite and Blairite Britain, it has been framed instead in
terms of "choice". There is talk of the need to give people opportunities, but
after that, it's down to individual responsibility. It is no accident that the
government's white paper on health and obesity was called "Choosing health"
rather than the "social determinants of health".

Here in New Zealand the word 'class' has been all but obliterated from public discourse. Near to our small town, where work continues to create a lasting memorial to the birth of the New Zealand union movement in Blackball, the local council have rejected a rather reasonable request to have the $1100 resource consent fee for the project waived as it is a community project. 'Foreigners came in and caused that trouble - they were all communists and we can't be supporting that' sums up how at least one councillor sees a key project for the voice of New Zealand working people to be heard.

Back to food. And class. Lawrence again:

A child born in one deprived Glasgow suburb can expect a life 28 years shorter
than another living only 13km away in a more affluent area, a three-year
investigation for the World Health Organisation found in August. Commenting on
one of the key factors, the report concluded: "Obesity is caused not by moral
failure of individuals but by the excess availability of high-fat, high-sugar
Where are McDonalds and KFC and their other multimillion dollar international corporate mates mostly to be found? Down the poor end of town, that's where. The same end of town where most of the pokie machines are found in pubs.

They do so many wonderful things in the community, don't they? Ronald McDonald House, and the gaming grants to community groups. You betcha. At the prizegiving for the healthy food week (it had a flasher title which escapes me) at my son's school, each and every child in the school was given a Moro bar, courtesy of the local MacDonalds outlet. They were right on their use-by date and apparently such waste must be avoided by dumping them on the local school.

I talk to teenagers who go entire weeks without vegetables. What is easy to get your hands on if there is no food at home? Pies, chips, junk. You can't fill yourself up on $2 worth of oranges or bananas, but you can get a lot of calories out of $2 worth of fried spud.

I come from what used to be known as a respectable working class home, back in the days when sex and death were still a little taboo but class hadn't yet been buried. I learnt how to cook from my mother, who had in turn learnt from her mother. All the women in my family have spent time on farms as well as in suburban kitchens, and my legacy from this is that I know how to feed ten people if they turn up on the doorstep without warning. Shared meals around tables and on chairs have been the norm for our family meals for at least the last hundred years.

I remember being most irked by my mother's endless cautions if I was less than enthusiastic about a meal. "People are starving in Africa." "Some people have to eat out of cans. You should count your lucky stars I cook for you."

Mum never said who these people were who ate from cans. But I was sure I knew. They were from the state housing area, the kids who never got invited to our home and who, as legend has it in our house, stole my gumboots at school on the first rainy day after I turned five.

I torture my children about those less fortunate than themselves when they whinge and whine about my food. My son has a nice line going at the moment about how shop food is always nicer than home made food. Except for home grown broccoli, since he has had his own vege patch. He is keen on broccoli these days as it is going to give him the strength to score tries this coming rugby league season.

Just like I was, my kids are rolling in food wealth. Never a missed meal because of a pay packet which hasn't stretched far enough. The lentil soup we had tonight is the kind of food which does stretch a pay packet really well. So long as you have a decent saucepan, the power on, some vegetables to go in it with the lentils and some cooking skills so that it tastes good enough that they will want it again.

I remember the freezing works strikes when I was a kid. There was big one when I was 14. No one ever told us we weren't getting pocket money, or why there was a lot of soup and no ice cream for the six weeks and longer. We just knew and respected it. If I can muster the skills to manage the house like my mother did through long strikes, then I'll be very proud. We seem quite profligate by comparison.

The skills I have are the skills of a privileged woman. Poor enough that my mother ensured I learnt them; rich enough that we don't have to pull out lentil soup variations every night. I wish I knew how to pass these skills on in my community without being a patronising bitch. Because if you aren't coping, Mrs Superwoman with her broccoli in the garden and 100 ways to stretch a piece of dough is not quite who you feel like hearing from.

a call for sock knitting help

We won't be talking about the woollen curtain for the front door for a while, okay? Once I had handsewn a band at the top, I proudly showed it to Favourite Handyman who couldn't ever remember agreeing to how I thought I had told him it would be. Then he got me to hold it up and it was too short and I remembered why I had been initially planning to use the purple double bed blanket and not the single bed cream(ish) one.

So that project is off the menu for the meantime.

And I miss having a piece of knitting on the go.

And in my drawer (or by the computer now) I have 100gms of sock wool. I found it at the Sallies. It is 3 ply sock yarn, in a nice slightly teal-y blue colour and it is New Zealand made. Called "Family", it was made by Alliance Textiles. It doesn't say where in NZ and I suspect that it was perhaps one of the last sock yarns to be made here - the label and brand suggest the 1980s to me. It is not possible to buy NZ-made sock yarn currently.

I don't want socks for my children. They are spoilt. I want socks for me. I've never made socks before, but I am a competent knitter given a basic pattern (as in nice, even stitching, not as in good at flash stitches and techniques). My google searching thus far has not turned up adult socks in 3 ply. I am figuring that if I could get the part up to my ankle done in 50gm of sock yarn per foot, then I could change needles and wool and finish the top bit in thicker wool. I have found a ball of Cleckheaton variegated wool which would do the trick in my drawer.

Any suggestions? I'm going to have a look at our local wool shop tomorrow but I don't think they stock much of a range of sock patterns. I've never knitted in 3 ply in my life before and got very grumpy when I did a 4 ply vest for Brighid. But I really want to use this wool. I am going to have feet this size for a long time so it doesn't matter hugely that it will be slow going.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On the qualities of bread flour

Oh how very pretentious. Sandra from Wetville is pontificating about the qualities of bread flour.

Well yes.

I ordered 20kg of organic flour from Terrace Farm in Methven, Canterbury, a couple of months back. Even including freight charges, prices were below $3 per kilo. Compares favourably to ordinary flour in the shops and very favourably to the organic Australian flour I saw for over $7 per kilo in the supermarket recently. Terrace Farm mill to order, so beautifully fresh.

They offer stoneground flour and also zentrofan, which is very finely ground wholemeal flour. I ordered 4 x 5kg bags: zentrofan rye, stoneground rye, zentrofan purple wheat, zentrofan otane wheat. I'm continuing with my rye bread experiments and each loaf is an improvement on the last. I noticed a big difference once I used up my zentrofan rye and switched to stoneground rye, which is what my recipe calls for. Less wet and gluggy. I must remember to adapt the recipe for zentrofan next time. The zentrofan otane makes lovely muffins. That fine flour is nice for replacing white flour and still keeping a fairly delicate texture.

I had to buy my semolina flour from Bin Inn and made Altamura bread with that. It was very nice and I'd make it again.

Today was my second attempt at hot cross buns. This time I did include raisins and sultanas and I also remembered to add a glaze on top after they came out of the oven. I was very pleased with these. We might have Easter a few more times this year.

It is far too wet in Wetville for us to grow our own wheat. Apparently, it is the drought-surviving qualities of wheat which ensured it's survival following the last ice age. Some local farmers are experimenting with growing maize though and initial signs are good. Perhaps 2010 will be the year of the quinoa for us...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Winter warmth projects

No matter what happens in the world of politics, the more practical needs around our way at the moment are finalising preparations for winter.

Today I finished the Depression Dress for Brighid. For a loosely guessed sizing with no pattern, it came out pretty well. It is too big and when will fit her better next year. But I have used up lots of wool remnants and it will keep her warm. Especially when she stops spitting milk on it and no longer discards it in the corner of the kitchen when I am not looking. If you want gushing praise for a non-food item, do not look to my two year old daughter.

My next winter warmth project is to turn a blanket into a curtain for the front door. I have a towel rolled up at the base to stop the bottom draft. But there are small drafts along the sides of the door and as the door is mostly window panes, plenty of cold seeps through that as well. I planned this last year but have yet to make progress. What we need to do before I start sewing hoops across the top of the blanket is to buy a piece of dowel and two large hooks and put them on the wall above the door. I expect we could pay a princely sum for something perfect for the job from the curtain and furnishing shop here in town. But I do not have princely sums in mind. So we will be exploring the hardware shops for large hooks and a piece of smooth dowel which we can either leave as is or varnish ourselves. Or just a broom handle.

On Easter Sunday the children will unwrap new pyjamas as well as chocolates from their grandparents in Auckland. I've been discouraging people from buying them chocolate as much as possible, though I'm not sure how effective I'm being. My Easter present to them is an egg cup each.

It's all full of irony that we are seemingly celebrating the arrival of spring with eggs and bunnies as we simultaneously start lighting the fire each night. I've had a quick look at this site on Samhain and I'm starting to think about a special event with family and friends for or around 30 April. It is near to May Day, which we already have union celebration plans for. I think that the pumpkin which we grew and which is drying on the kitchen windowsill, will be our Jack-O-Lantern as we think about darkness and light.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

West Bank: writing on the wall

This is the link to the original article which I have reproduced in full:

West Bank: writing on the wall
Monday April 6th 2009
Ever wanted to scrawl graffiti onto the West Bank separation wall? Indirectly, now you can. A team of Palestinian peace activists are taking orders through their website, where for a small fee they will spray-paint any message you desire on the eastern, Palestinian side of the 620km structure. Project coordinator Faris Asouri, 27, talks of his delight at being able to vent his opposition to the wall in such a creative way:

When the separation wall was built I was surprised. To me it seemed proof that the Israeli government wasn't interested in peace with Palestine. I was angry too. Neighbours might have walls between their houses but they're built on the borders, not on each other's land. But this wall was built on Palestinian land.

I was devastated. I am a peace activist, I want peace with Israel, but this sort of thing makes me doubt if I am on the right track. I know someone whose house is now surrounded by the wall on three sides. When they left in the morning everything was in its place, and when they came back the house was surrounded by this concrete monster. The six-year-old who lived in it said to me: "Our house isn't a house, it's a tomb." The wall is 12 metres high, the house is four.

The Send a Message initiative gave me back my hope. The project was founded in 2007 by a group of professional artists called Palo-Dutch. They organised annual workshops that brought Dutch artists together with Palestinian activists like me. We were thinking of ways to raise awareness of the Palestinians' plight, and spray-painting messages from around the world on to the wall seemed like a really creative way of doing that.

What we do isn't illegal. If you did it in a Palestinian city you'd get arrested. According to Israeli law, the other side of the wall is Palestinian. According to Palestinian law, this wall doesn't exist. So there's no vandalism here.

We had a few run-ins with the Israeli authorities, who patrol on the Palestinian side as well, but none of them was serious. The patrol would pass by and try to stop us from spraying the messages, and we would tell them to go back to their side, because on our side we do what we want with the wall.

Each activist has a different role to play. Some spray paint, some talk to the media, others manage the project or look after the finances. We have a core team of around 10 people. It's all voluntary, none of the money we raise goes to us.

It's almost the perfect tool to reach people who don't know anything about Palestinian issues or the separation wall. It's a creative way to reach an audience. While before we were preaching to the converted, now for the first time we are in close contact with people in other countries.
Most orders come from Europe, but we've had orders from all over the world. Name a country and we've probably had it.

We love all the messages. We get a lot of solidarity messages and Valentine's Day greetings. I've had quite a few unusual ones – a marriage proposal, a recipe for making falafel and a call from one dog to other dogs to come out and play.

We don't post any messages of a pornographic nature, and we won't write anything with racist connotations or that might incite hatred or violence. Sometimes we get advertisements, in which case we check the business and the owner and then decide if it's something we want to be affiliated with.

Of course we like to spray the solidarity messages and slogans that are in our favour, but the people who write those messages are already convinced of our cause. I prefer a teenage birthday greeting to one intellectual sending a message to another intellectual, because then we don't win anybody over. The solidarity messages make us feel good, but the personal messages help us win more hearts and minds. But of course, both are welcome.

Although I'm relatively young, I can remember the days when Israelis drove to Ramallah to go shopping, eat in a restaurant or meet friends. I have loads of Israeli friends. The conflict between people started when the idea of separation took hold, when the Israeli government stopped Palestinians going to Israel and the other way round. If the people were left to their own devices there wouldn't be a problem; Palestinians and Israelis can live together.

I became a peace activist because of the satisfaction of doing something on a collective, social level. I like the idea of helping young Palestinians regain control of their present and future, and I want to help them engage in the path society is taking, rather than just be bystanders.
The feeling among the Palestinian youth seems to be somewhere between apathy and disappointment. They're disappointed because they were raised to believe that peace would come to the Palestinian people, but it didn't happen.

There is this idea that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are fighting for independence, but it's false. Palestinians are fighting for human rights and liberation. They don't care if it's called Palestine or Israel. If the Israeli government said there was going to be a one-state solution, few Palestinians would object.

We're hoping to raise awareness with this project. We've had 100,000 unique users on our website and publicity through blogs, TV and newspapers. But I can't say that our project will dismantle the separation wall. We can't change the course of history on our own, but we can contribute.

Fortunately, the wall will never be full. I hope we never reach that stage because that would mean the wall is still in place in two decades' time. The wall is 620km long, longer than the distance from London to Paris.

Spraying the messages on the wall has always made me happy. It has always been fun, even when it was snowing. I hope that we can help to change things for the better in the long term.

• Faris Asouri was speaking to Dyfed Loesche. For more information visit the Send a Message website at If you'd like to leave a comment in response to this interview, feel free to do so here.

So much to think about at Easter, aye Andrew Little?

In which I attempt to bring together several strands of thought I'm having at the moment, as we lead up to Easter, as we lead into economic struggle.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. Although I was brought up attending Mass every week (and I mean every week) as a child, I rarely attend now. Although I feel drawn to the ritual and symbolism, I'm not drawn to the corruption and conservatism inherent in churches as they become institutions. Most of them have been institutions for centuries now, and the layers of privilege, the base pursuit of power are within them as much as any other venerated institution.

But I took the children with me last Sunday. I thought we had a chance at turning up clean and on time at 9.30am, as we had the end of daylight saving giving us a little more temporal grace. We were late, the children hid their filth from me until inside church (you might suggest I didn't look and scrub hard enough before we left. Anything is possible.) I wanted Fionn in particular to see the procession and to see that the man who was welcomed into town one week, was denounced and murdered just the next week. I think the Easter story is compelling.

Hope and betrayal.

I don't actually think you need to 'believe' in order to find much to think about in terms of the human condition. So there we were, the children rolling round over and under the seat but actually managing to keep quiet. The grasshopper living way out of his usual habitat providing particular interest for my boy. Up the front, the story of betrayal, of Judas and his thirty pieces of silver, of Peter who disowned his friend three times before the cock crowed, the High Priest determined to have no contender to his throne, all these aspects coming through the readings.

I thought about how ordinary people have been betrayed by the financial big guns throughout the world. Sold the story of endless growth.

When it came time for the priest to share his thoughts, I heard no mention of the current global crisis. Not the environmental one, not the financial one, not Sri Lanka or Darfur or Chad. Not Afghanistan nor the homeless in California. He mentioned people saddened by children who did not come to Mass and talked about wanting to have everyone at Mass for the Easter Triduum, from Holy Thursday through to the vigil on Easter Saturday.

A little insular?

In traditional church circles, it is not for me to decide the message of Jesus. It is not for me to criticise. It is not for me to look up from the needs of my husband and children except to clean the church and do tightly prescribed good works.

But I'm not in traditional church circles. I left them a long time ago. I want to see how the message of hope, through and beyond betrayal, resonates here, today, tomorrow.

The day before we went to Mass, the four of us spent a long lunch with friends in Blackball, discussing this year's May Day celebrations, considering just what we should be fighting for in this post neo-liberal world. We talked about life skills, about the difficulty of fighting for environmental concerns in a climate where oil is currently cheap again. I talked about the impact of a monetised world, where one woman in the Press that day thought that asking a friend to babysit her children was begging.

Reciprocity, collectivism, independent and interdependent skills, these things matter.

So my heart sank when I read the news that Andrew Little, Leader of the EPMU union and now president of the NZ Labour Party, is advocating that migrant workers lose their jobs before New Zealanders.

Hang your head in shame, Andrew Little. To me, you are Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. The man with the skills to work for a better world for all workers. I certainly heard some bold rhetoric from Andrew Little at Blackball last Easter, though I recall some discussion then about protecting New Zealand jobs, with too scarce, far too scarce, mention of solidarity with Chinese workers. Who made your daughter's school uniform? Your crockery and your son's sneakers?

In tough times, when we must - must must must - find the love and support each other, uphold the dignity of each human being, Andrew Little is paying the racism card.

Hang your head in shame, Andrew Little.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The mouse doth protest

The rainy season has begun. After a pleasant blip of some weeks of very moderate rain, sheets and buckets of water are lashing down the windows, blowing sideways onto the wood pile in the new lean-to, and exposing the torn section of the poultry palace to damp but hopefully not to disease.

It causes us all to duck for cover, including my old foes, the rodents. Favourite Handyman, my long time husband, supporter of my projects and soother of my fevered brow, cleared the mouse trap of another victim (victory to the humans) this morning. Then went off on a two-night tramp into the inner hills of the South Island to the backdrop of heavy rain warnings on the radio. When I came home for lunch I heard noises in the cereal cupboard. Vigorous noises. We've been there before and it isn't pretty. Properly caught mice do not make this kind of noise. Mice where only an extremity such as a tail or foot has been caught do make this kind of noise. While I wouldn't dream of putting most animals through this torture, this is a rodent. I don't do sympathy for rodents. The only good rodent is a dead one. And in the absence of my favoured person for putting them out of their misery, the door is staying shut until the noise stops. Completely.

I checked the door once this evening. Cue movement from the trap and a perfect, high scream from me. Fionn (6) asked me what I had dropped. I can hear movement now. It does seem a particularly cruel and slow death. But though I may walk over broken glass for my children, make compost from scratch for my garden and say yes to time-consuming projects for my community, I will not voluntarily deal with a live or half-live mouse.

Letters with focus

Can I do it?

I've enjoyed blogging on Sandra's Garden for the last 20 months, charting my ups and downs in the garden and sharing my enthusiasm and or rage at other events globally or locally. Increasingly I found myself writing about my endeavours in the kitchen.

But it was all getting just too random and I was aware that in writing terms, I was getting slack and sloppy. Had been for ages. Was I writing for an audience or merely writing journal notes, a tiny smudgy step up from my shopping list?

This new blog is an attempt to focus myself a little more clearly. It may be spectacularly unsuccessful, feeble and weak. I know I veer from spilling my thoughts out without heed to an audience to keenly awaiting comments. And then I find that much as I love reading comments, I almost never have any decent reply to make. Which doesn't go a long way towards building up dialogue.

So here goes. The rainy season has begun. So has Letters from Wetville. I'm aiming for four sections: