Thursday, December 30, 2010

button necklace

Most taxing, this holiday lark. I began today with the button necklace project. I had thought a fish buttons necklace would be wonderful as below, but abandoned it when I saw how tricky it was to get them all facing the right way.

The completed necklace below, is all blue buttons. I remember when R's mum and I were pregnant and planning our home births and now R is four tomorrow. May the sun shine on you always, R, and especially tomorrow.

I spent the rest of the day gardening and bossing my children around. No. They bossed me around and we all argued until it was time to go see our friends and have tea with them and then we were all very well behaved. Something like that. I weeded around the spuds and strawberries and FH and I discussed changing the garden around completely. We could of course do it with very little effort, by buying these kitset gardens, but look at the prices!! When you factor in buying the soil on top, that is a lot of vegetables to grow to pay the investment off.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On chocolate goo & timing

I have learned today, on the anniversary of a day of joy (at my gorgeous son in my arms) and dismay (on being inside the dispiriting hell of an NHS London hospital), that it is not a good idea to make a birthday cake from a new recipe barely more than an hour before the boy and his friends come home from the movie and McDs.

Not a good idea at all. The recipe looked fantastic, and was written and endorsed by no less than Elizabeth David (I'm slightly in love with her after reading her biography by Artemis Cooper) and Joanna Cary who is my favourite UK foodie blogger. But I put it in a loaf tin and forgot that in my experience, no matter what the recipe says, eggy concoctions such as this should be spread low and wide, not deep. It all fell apart when I removed it from the tin, and goo oozed out. Very nice tasting goo I might add, but not the kind you can ice and put candles on and cut up for eight year olds.

So when they came back, FH encouraged them out the back to play while I nipped down to the supermarket. Supermarket cakes are not bad soya and additives filled concoctions today; they are f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c.

Somewhere amongst birthday celebrations which included hosting my parents for lunch, I cut down the globe artichokes and began to try to prepare one to eat. I gave up after the first attempt. They are impressive looking plants and when I bought some marinated artichokes once, I did like them, but sometimes local, home grown and home cooked is not so attractive after all. Maybe I will find an online set of instructions and get better results (I followed Annabel Langbein's instructions tonight). Maybe.

I've been re-reading Kay Baxter's articles on growing nutrient dense food in recent issues of Organic NZ. I need to re-focus on gardening basics, specifically composting. I've been perusing the Koanga Gardens website, considering what I really want/need and also thinking about what changes I can make in the garden using my current compost and a visit to the beach (very close) for seaweeds.

I have more craft thoughts than I have craft stamina at the moment. Brighid's special friend R turns four on Friday and I have the materials to make her a button necklace, copying some I saw in a lovely jewellery shop in Devonport. I found two different sets of fish shaped buttons in my button jar, so tonight or tomorrow I shall make the necklace using plaited embroidery thread.

Mum gifted me some more towels today, including a worn red one which I quite like. I'd just thought (as I raced madly to create some vague sense of civilisation in at least the dining room and bathroom for their visit) that we need more hand towels. I haven't decided whether a same person would simply go to the shop and purchase some more damn hand towels or whether it is much better to split the towel in three and edge it with something pretty and thus refashion the towel into three new and cheap and useful items.

Then, a 40th birthday invite via the telephone today. I know the birthday girl is someone who appreciates handmade things. But what? And how to get it made for Sunday? It is a pot luck meal and I do promise I won't be taking chocolate cake. But one thought is to make dukka (NOT on the day!). I love dukka and cannot buy it for love or money here in Wetville. I have some cute jars... Must pull out the recipe and hit Simplifoods (which is what our old Bin Inn is now called) tomorrow. I can't wait to look at her garden - the birthday girl is also my West Coast gardening guru.

That's it. No intellectual thoughts. Maybe I will start to catch up on the Guardian Weekly editions from our holiday tonight.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blowing in the wind

My artichokes in blown disarray. I notice that already new shoots are growing at the base. I plan to harvest all the flower heads tomorrow then chop back the branches and let the new baby shoots become the main plants for next year.
I have no shortage of herbs, but given their vigour, I have a shortage of path to walk on beside them.
Ah, compost success. This is the old compost plot, where I was concerned at the absence of worms before I went away. But tonight I turned it over with the fork and there is a wonderful abundance of red worms. I have it earmarked for the chook grave garden where the calendulas and alyssum and dill are bedraggled and past their prime.
This wind has blown over the garlic, which I cannot remember happening before. I probably should harvest the bent garlic as soon as the sun shines. The kale on the right has grey aphids. I am grateful for any suggestions on how to deal with this. We had it two years ago and it rendered the leaves quite yucky and not worth eating. I have been plucking off the affected leaves (it isn't covered at the moment) and feeding them to the chooks.
So overgrown and wild that I can barely tell where the garden stops and the lawn begins. The rhubarb seems to be holding out against the convulvulus and the spuds should be ready to eat now.
First sunflower of the season.
Gifts from my favourite out laws. The glass dish is from a very sweet lady of 89 and I plan to find some special way of using it. The doilies were crocheted by Favourite Handyman's great grandmother and given to me by his sister. I have one soaking in ecostore laundry whitener at the moment. I am wary of ruining it so avoided napisan and am soaking one at a time. I plan to make a bag to say thank you to my sil and use one of these as the motif on it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Back in Wetville

I admired the vegetable gardens and orchards at Kemp House and the Stone Store in Kerikeri and at Pompallier House in Russell. I ate local red peppers and we all admired the views at Pagoda Lodge where we camped. We spent time at the marae and the Treaty House at Waitangi and walked part way to Haruru Falls. It was all superb and I recommend it.

In Auckland we had a marvellous time. It became apparent rather quickly that we could not all see and do and visit everything and everyone we dreamed of. We stayed with family in Albany Heights which was lovely so long as you didn't go near the soulless hell which is the Albany Mega Centre. We spent a lot of time on the motorway it seemed, but also managed to enjoy lots of friend and family visits and time at the zoo and Kelly Tarlton's. My favourite place of the Auckland trip was picnicking at Bastion Point.

Christmas itself started most pleasantly. It ended with a nightmarish event of present giving, not so much a ritual as a bun fight of present giving competitiveness. Or something like that. All year I aim to reduce and reuse and generally step lightly on this earth (and I am no model saint on this, but I try) and then in fell swoop it all seems wasted as the four of us were rained on with pieces of plastic and other oil-derived objects which we do not need, rained in such a fashion that I cannot even identify who gave the children what. At least that is over for twelve months and we won't be in Auckland for late December again for a long long time.

Now we are home and it is blowing and raining and the garden looks most wild. Everywhere there are plants laying sideways - globe artichokes, jerusalem artichokes, tomatoes, celery and garlic. The plants which I put in not long before I left look fantastic, not dried up as I feared but thriving as they were too small to blow over and apparently it rained 16 inches while we were gone. The nieghbours have erected a six foot fence to give them more privacy while we were gone. For the moment, the rusty waist high fence remains on our side of the concrete posts. Sometime I would like to replace it with trellis and grow things to cover the ugly new fence. It isn't top of my sometime list - with January all at home together in front of us I have many many things I would like to do or for Favourite Handyman to do. More to come on that.

By the height of the grass, it is clear that there was sun while we were gone. By the lack of even green tomatoes, it is clear that there wasn't lots and lots of it. The blueberries have disappeared, probably taken by birds as I didn't cover the bush with netting. But the birds have not found the blackcurrants and they are ripe and beautiful. I haven't told anyone else - my own antioxidant bushes for as long as possible. They are nice enough to eat, raw and unadorned by any sweetener. There is one zucchini ready and some lettuces. But January lays ahead of us yet. I won't harvest the garlic until late January, when a drier period should have improved its keeping qualities.

I managed to read three books on holiday, totally spoilt by my favourite out law who gave me the biggest holiday from laundry and meal preparation that I have had since I became a parent. I read A Short History of Paradise by Norman Bilborough which was pleasant holiday reading, a romp through hippy commune life set where my grandparents currently live, which is something of a stark contrast in lifestyles. Then another Alexander McCall Smith novel, this one called something about chocolate and most enjoyable. Finally an Anne Tyler novel, Digging to America, which was very good and reminded me how good Tyler is. I'd stopped reading her a few years back as it all seemed a bit samey in terms of intensive relationships but Digging to America was fantastic and I'm starting again when I've paid my library fines.

On the flight up I got a Lifestyle Block magazine and found wonderful, inspirational pieces of fibre art profiled in it. The link to see them online is here.

I've been reading Jeffrey Paparoa Holman's book of poems, Flood Damage. I got it out and then lost it and now I am reading it with relish in the full knowledge that tomorrow it must go back to the library and will cost me almost as much as if I had bought it directly from the shop. Holman has his own blog which I am looking forward to reading more slowly. For the moment, taking the liberty of assuming it is okay to reproduce one of his Flood Damage poems here, this is:

T-bar clothesline, Okarito.

a T-bar bearing
the lichen of centuries: his bush socks
soaked last night
in beer-sweat
buried in his boots
in the pub,

her wet panties
pissed in fright
when the back door
locked to keep him
out for the night
caves in, and-

O, Christ!

something she can't
scrub out is in her.

Teatowels flap naval
signals, double bed sheets
spinnaker belly: tacking, the rusty
centre bolt shrieks. Bellbirds
toll the flax, herons stalk
the creek; eels grow tusks
in the black lagoon

and it's marvellous drying weather.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

links love laundry

I'm not packed. The laundry mountain is reducing though, and slivers of couch cushions can now be seen. The celery and the passionfruit and the rocket seed and the basil went into the garden today.

Some things to read or listen to in the absence of my wittering:
1. An interview with the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, youngest of the Mitford girls. She is fantastic, with dry observations which I loved. Radio Four has been a wonderful salvation at times recently when I have felt like some radio but definitely not the wall-to-wall Pike River coverage which continues on New Zealand media.

2. The 31st Down Under Feminist Carnival. Self explanatory. I'm only part way through, but it's good.

3. Life on the latte line. Megan is also a coaster, one of the first people I met when we moved to Wetville. She is a talented mother, crafter, writer, teacher and all round fun person and I am thrilled that she has started blogging.

I better go back to the laundry pile... Thank you to all the people who have commented or emailed me to welcome me into their physical lives on my holiday. I'm not going to be in the area for everyone as we fly directly to Auckland, but I will definitely be out socialising as much as I can fit in. Whether you are drinking whisky or red wine or camomile tea, I hope you experience some chilled summer days with people you love during the rest of this month. I still recall Helen Wilson's poem for our 29 men and share her goal of being kinder to each other. May that mean the fewer people are lonely this December, whether death has touched their loved ones or not.

Ka kite ano.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How to sandbag a community?

Today Lou would have been 92. Lou grew up down the road from where we live in a little rental cottage. A child of the depression, he started school at six and finished just at the end of primary school. His father was out of work for some of the 1930s and they were adept catchers and eaters of rabbits. In World War Two Lou was captured in Greece and spent several years as a prisoner of war. The nightmares of what he had experienced never left him and became particularly menacing in his later years.

Lou came back to Greymouth after the war a changed man, the cliche which is only a cliche because no one was lucky enough to come back unscathed. He married a lovely young woman called Mary, the daughter of a sawmiller father and a strict Methodist mother. Mary is also my Dad's cousin.

Mary and Lou made a new life, a life which they wanted and which the country desperately wanted. The sorrow was not over - they buried their first child only five days after he was born. Only, Mary did not bury him. She lay in hospital, not far from the mothers feeding their live babies, while Lou stood at the graveside of the son he had longed for and wondered if it was something that had happened in the war which had contributed to the baby's health problems.

They had two more children and devoted their lives to their families and their community. Lou umpired cricket - a sport he enjoyed and had not had the chance to play in his financially impoverished childhood. Lou brewed his own beer and Mary sewed her own clothes. Lou battled the oxalis in the garden to grow spuds, lettuces and beans. Mary filled the cake tins for her husband and children and for many more besides. Sometimes the grandparents minded the children while Mary and Lou went to dances.

In 1968 they were on holiday, Mary and Lou and their two children, at Mitchells, on the edge of Lake Brunner, when the news of the Strongman mine disaster came through.

Lou was spared the news of the Pike River mining tragedy - he died three years ago. Today we took flanders poppies and red and white roses to his grave. The children danced and jumped around and over gravestones while Mary cleaned the bird poo off his age at death on the stone.

Lou has not just been spared the details of the tragedy; he has been spared the questions we all have to face in our community. I ration media exposure tightly as so much annoys or upsets me. As a community we all stood together during the fortnight of hell as we waited for a miracle for our 29 men and then as we marked our love last Thursday. I fear that as others ask their analytical questions and probe for answers about the future of mining on the coast as well as the history, I fear that our community may be torn apart. We have lost so much, is it so very stupid and naive to fear losing more?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I had aims to write something more extended and reflective about gender, class and dangerous work this week. The debate about extractive industries is so often framed around corporate interests (I'm talking about from a supposedly left wing perspective here, not just from the right), and does not, in my opinion, look at the opportunities and costs from the perspective of men looking for manual work. I think the concerns of the 'green' movement often arise from people who earn their living at quite some remove from that basic need to find something raw that can be sold for quite a lot of money. On the West Coast, danger money is a feature of all well paid manual work and the days of strong unions are largely gone. The strongest was/is the miners' union. The contractual nature of much logging at the moment seems to leave workers very vulnerable. Women are a strong presence in manual jobs on the coast, but the hours required by logging, mining and fishing deter people who have primary responsibility for children and this skews pay rates by gender before we even get into cultural and physical strength factors in the workplace. I don't have the mental space to reflect on some of the challenges posed by these realities at the moment, but I'm putting these setnences up here as a reminder to come back to it later and also if anyone has any comments already, then I'd love to read them.

Leeks. When Christmas and work and family ill-health and the holiday which looms incredibly close are all a bit much, then leeks are the answer. I planted 40 leeks tonight and then watered the garden until it got too dark to see what was in the garden. I put beetroot in in the weekend and have celery and passionfruit to go in tomorrow. Tonight I made/assembled little Christmas hampers for our much loved childminders and delivered them. I had some eggs to go with them but when I realised I had forgotten to include them in the wrapping, I decided that those 24 eggs should go to the Salvation Army instead.

My hair is now brown and blonde instead of grey and brown. Favourite Handyman is on antibiotics (needs must sometimes unfortunately, sometimes the bacteria win for too long). The fact that we leave for our Big Holiday North in only 65 hours is a little alarming, but after the zen of my gardening time, it seems possible that we shall pull it off. I think.

Tomorrow involves rubbish disposal, the cemetery, Christmas tree displays, kindy/school/sick husband and hopefully some progress on the Big Trip prep.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham is the most fabulous movie I have seen in ages. I think it might be the only movie I have seen in months but that is beside the point; it is fantastic. I loved the storyline and it was so uplifting to be involved in an exciting quest for justice which was successful. Voyeuristically of course, but it is quite a contrast to the impotency we have felt in our town as our men lay buried down the mine.

Back to Made in Dagenham, the story of women machinists fighting for equal pay, a fight which went all the way to Westminster and prompted equal pay legislation. The movie sexed up the story no end, with the workers mostly young and super sexy and with fabulous wardrobes. The footage of the estate looked just like where I worked in 2002, most likely because I was working in Dagenham. Some of the class and bullying stuff in the film didn't seem to have changed nearly enough 20 years later. There is a part of my heart which will always be in England and I loved that aspect of the film. I clapped out loud at Rita's speech to the union conference in Eastbourne. I loved loved the part where her husband overcomes his own difficulties and backs her. Oh yes, soppy me, but so many women in Rita's situation do not get their partner's backing.

I want to read some more about the actual struggle of these women. The end of the film showed excerpts from interviews with the real women who struck for equal pay at Ford Dagenham and that was awesome.

Moving on from the fabulous film, a health kick recipe. I haven't had a health kick obsession on this blog for weeks, maybe months. It's overdue. Chia seeds. This morning I am drinking a chia fresca, the recipe from the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Organics NZ. 300 mls water, 2 t chia seeds, juice 1 lemon, honey to taste. Mix and leave for 10 minutes. Drink. It tastes nice. I will report back on any miraculous energy boosts tomorrow.

Five more sleeps until we leave for the Big Trip North. I suppose I better get dressed and get sorting then. I have sort of done some things for Christmas which is quite good for me. Hopefully they arrive in time.

Yesterday my friend Ruth gave me some gorgeous sparkly bright aqua fabric which is going to make some very pretty birthday skirts in January. I think I will get some tulle and go all out on the party frills aspect. No more sewing apart from mending this week though.

I've got more mulching to do in the garden and some lettuces to plant. The artichokes are hearting up nicely and I may try one before we go.

Did I tell you we are going to Auckland-all-of-us-first-time-ever-for-Brighid-and-for-seven-years-for-Fionn-and-I? Yes yaddee ye-es. On Friday. Time I got out of my jammies and into the garden (important prep don't you know) ...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We will live

It was a beautiful service today. Thousands of people and scarcely a sound, even before it started. I loved Helen Wilson's poem, We will live. She captured our feelings perfectly. I hope it is publsihed somewhere as I would like to keep it, to read it again and again.

It was hot. A hot hot day and it has scarcely rained (in West Coast terms) since the second explosion, and no proper rain since the first. I thought about Hone Tuwhare's poem Rain tonight as I watered the garden. Part of me longs, paradoxically given the season, for rain. Gallons and buckets and at least a whole day of heavy rain. It feels like it would be cleansing, though we've not sinned or sullied as such. The rain of the West Coast is what produces the lovely ferns which were shared and placed today. It is the fire in the heart of the mine which burns our men up even now and the persistent sun is an echo.

I had held back from visiting, fearing to overload an already burdened family and then given the bugs in our household. As I left Omoto today, I knew it was now time, in this coming week, to visit a young man I know, a man whose Dad is still underground.

In Helen Wilson's poem, she talks of being kinder to each other, of this as the tribute to our 29 men. I hope to hold onto this, to put it into action not just in coming weeks, but as the months and years roll on here in Wetville. Opportunities to build hope, to build love and build achievement will present themselves in the difficult ways, spiked and twisted by trauma. I want to be here and do something useful.

At the end of watering the garden, I took the camera out to watch the ball of fire go down in the sky. From the top of our road I could see the waves rise and crash. The fire in the mine won't go down with the sun. I didn't get a fern today - our bus arrived only fifteen minutes before the service and I didn't see any where I walked in. But for me water - rain and sea - is the symbol of hope, of the renewal which means we will not burn our hearts out.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Quarantine continued today. My daughter was not impressed. She wanted to go to kindy and paint pictures. So she sourced some aqueous cream and painted this on the cupboard door:
She also painted aqueous cream all over her body but I declined to photograph that.

I used the vacuum cleaner. She ran away and although I would have preferred to run also, I held onto my adult self and vacuumed.

Weeding, planting, mulching. Brighid planted a tomato by herself. Watching her carefully take the seedling from the pot and plant it correctly from through the window, I think I might be raising another gardener.
Dill. Especially for the beneficial insects. I think it is beautiful.
My ANZAC poppies. Tomorrow we will remember our 29 men trapped beneath the Pike River Mine.
Tonight the supermarket was full. Only without the festivities usually associated with extra people stocking up. Our town is not full for a forthcoming wedding or musical concert or sports game. Our town is full and our hearts are sad.