Tuesday, November 30, 2010

fewer buttercups, more sunflowers

About three weeks ago, I got stuck into this stretch of garden. I weeded and weeded and pulled the invasive flower bulbs out and planted tomatoes and freed up the lemony-yellow rose to actually grow and bloom. I got as far as the red rose, starting from the left.
The remainder looked like this three weeks ago, and since then the buttercup and dock and tobacco and grasses have got a lot bigger.

Today, home in quarantine with the shortest child (the bug I'd been warned about but not escaped it seems, though she was perky enough to garden with me), we weeded and weeded and weeded and then planted and now it looks like this:

In the background is a Red Russian sunflower, I think and in the foreground is a gooseberry bush. Another superb tasting fruit which is never available in the supermarkets.
Lest I consider the mountain of housework awaiting me inside as a priority, here are some photos of other parts of the garden also in need of hard work. The picture below is out the front and while I kind of like the lush abandoned look, it doesn't leave room for my pumpkins to grow, or indeed for the last three to even be planted.

You can just see the rhubarb here, but you can't actually reach in to harvest any. I made the mistake of planting this rather quickly two years ago in a spot with well established perennial weeds. Survivors like convulvulus, dock, thistles, a spidery invasive thing and of course, creeping buttercup. I need to dig the rhubarb out and do something serious about the weeds before anything goes in again.

After three years of idly planning a superb new (but actually brilliantly recycled of course) compost, not one which was a heap below the treehut which is a really useless place to have a compost, yesterday I caved and bought some plastic at Mitre 10. Now we have a compost heap which is getting properly hot and over summer we will redesign the base of the tree hut to make it more child-centred. This compost bin is now living beside the oppressed rhubarb. I have thoughts of moving it on to the newly cleared oppression site (after I've removed the rhubarb of course) to really kill the perennial weeds in a couple of months' time.
This is Brighid's garden. Nobody offered it to her that I can recall, she just claimed it. So I had to get resource consents before every change I made to this garden this afternoon. The onions which are harvested to the side were removed from the garden after a particularly lengthy consent process. This garden looks much drier than the same time last year and tonight after this photo I put the hose on the garden. I haven't mulched the garlic with peastraw because some book said not to (have done other years though) but the kale and broccoli definitely need some moisture retention help. I was disappointed that my Iceland poppies were not flowering but on closer inspection, that is because Brighid is deheading them before they even bloom.

Monday, November 29, 2010

He knew I loved him and I knew he loved me

Just two days before the mine exploded at Pike River, I wrote this post, where I reflected on the process of stocking up wood for winter in our small wet town. I've chosen, since the mine disaster, not to reflect here on individual men who died. The connection which saddens me most is one I am still choosing not to publicly reflect on. Even for a girl who has been here not quite five years, the connections are multiple, these men of our town who are loved and mourned and lost.

But I've just seen the interview with my favourite wood merchants, originally broadcast on TV3 and now online where I found it via facebook.

There are not words, but also words are all we have.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

red & purple

Lurgy day. So instead of doing anything of practical use, I lay about trying to rest and thinking about making a special bedspread from our heirloom purple blanket. Well, I'm defining an heirloom as something old and precious and I think this one counts. FH's Nana sent two lovely, deep purple blankets down to us, looking like they'd scarcely ever been used, when she moved out of her own home about three years ago. In an age where New Zealand practical wool items are rare, I'm particularly fond of the label:
I like the imagery on the label of the crown with the 'princess' label in the centre and the tiki on either side. When I first met FH, I was living in Onehunga (Auckland), in a done up house with a tense feel to it which had once been a gang house (pre-makeover). Not quite the scene the purple blankets conjures up to look at.

So I fancy turning this into the bedspread for our bed and I spend a good part of the day googling blanket art and wool dyeing and any other linked idea which came to me. By the middle of the afternoon I knew that the colour was not going to change and I started to think of how to decorate the purple expanse in a Sandra-possible fashion which would also somehow look fantastic.

Enter my sister's legacy. I didn't bring a lot of fabric back from our time living in the UK, but I did bring the skirt length of Welsh herringbone tweed which my sister gave to me one birthday or Christmas after her trip to Wales. It is soft and lovely and very fine and not quite enough for the style of skirt I favour and I have ummed and aghhed over how to actually wear it for years now (um seven maybe eight years).
Pre-felting above. After I had felted it twice in the washing machine and tumble drier this afternoon, it looked and felt wonderful. The felting intensified the red colour and the fabric density is now viable for my wool applique plan. Fabrics ready below.

Of course I am not allowed to actually start this until I get the purple-cardigan-of-never-endingness finished. I did do quite a lot of rows today, about ten I think, enough to feel the arthritis.
The children and I collected garden flowers for the windowsill. I decided not to be deterred from such beauty by the surrounding lack of Martha Stewart-ness. The children chose the dandelions.
The foliage in the front is sage. I cooked some up in olive oil after dinner and ate them as I recall their excellent properties for throaty-malfunction. I don't recall the specifics, but they did taste nice.

A fourth explosion at Pike River this afternoon. It's not as simple as banning mining as the Green Party have advocated, or I don't see it as being that simple. The complex desires for wealth and adventure and extraction enterprise leave me feeling not just grateful for my own relatively safe job, but also with deep questions about what powers our economy. I work for the government and without taxes from the generation of wealth, I am unable to offer my skills to the community (or not if I want to get paid for it). I don't have answers, only questions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Supporting our rescue workers

Nice reflective piece from Amy Glass in today's Press. It is online here. You can also read the Press tribute to Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn here. I found both of these articles in the paper version this evening as I waited for dinner in town and it was a nice antidote. I've been upset by some people, including bloggers, deriding the rescue operation. When I heard the news of the first explosion, I asked to use the phone immediately to know that my friend T was alright. I was so relieved when he answered the telephone. He has been doing long hours ever since, using every ounce of his geologist training to assist in a dangerous situation. All across our district and with national and international assistance, people are putting their very very very best and most skilled feet forward and I am grateful and proud to know them or know of them.

If you discovered this blog in the last week, you won't be expecting details of a local girl's clumsy but improving sewing attempts on a blog titled "supporting our rescue workers". But that is how it is here, snippets of my life on a web postcard. Favourite Handyman is sick. The children are tired. I have a mysterious lurgy which has as its key symptom a startling loss of patience with small children. I got out the juicer to make us all better this morning which worked a bit and mostly made a lot of mess. We visited our friends who have recently created an animal farm in their backyard. I like our Brown Shaver hens, but their Rhode Island Reds are extremely handsome birds. Our friends also have rabbits, which my children can enjoy on visits as I don't allow pets who don't produce eggs. If we had enough space, I would allow milk-producing pets also, but 800 square metres mostly taken up with a house and garden does not quite allow for a pet goat or cow.

I also considered labelling this post Yellow Kaftan Night.

With photo credits to my son, you are can see me in my latest creation, a nightshirt of considerable proportions (finished apart from a button and the hems). I have no plans to gain 20 kilos or have more babies, but I do now have a nightshirt which could see me through such events. The pattern sort of matches the kitchen lino don't you think?

With less than two weeks to go until the Big Holiday North, we made the smallest of gains on our preparation. FH weighed the tents, Brighid broke the scales, I lost the plot, Fh mended the scales, I folded washing to create some order, the children dirtied themselves and as much fabric as they possibly could. If anyone else has read Mr Little's Noisy Train, that is how it feels here, except now the children are asleep and I do love them unreservedly. I guess a holiday with three packets of toothpaste and no tent pegs can be fun, certainly we've enjoyed them before...

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I drive through town, a mum slipping away between taxi duties. Our little streets, never hot spots of night time excitement, feel a little restful again. The man with his camera by our feature rock (don't you have a feature rock in your small town? You should) has the tripod packed up and slung over his shoulder, ready to leave. I am, as you know, one of the lucky ones. My friends, neighbours and menfolk are all above ground and alive. The guilty living clamber to do something and I remind myself that my opportunities to help, to 'do' something, will come over the months and years, long after the media has gone, but before it recedes enough to become the stuff of school social studies projects, like Brunner and the Wahine.

At the Blackball Museum of Working Class History we will find a way to make a permanent tribute. In 2009 on May Day a CTU representative gave a speech on workplace safety and the idea of a wall of tribute to those who lost their lives in workplace accidents was mooted.

I have a new blog on my sidebar: Found Stitched and Dyed: a whirled-wide sewing circle for gatherers, menders, dyers and dreamers. I find the posts quite moving, as they relate fabric histories and human histories in their many layers. There is so much there which is very quotable and I highly recommend a read through even if fabric is not your passion. Here is a sample:
I’ve acquired a deep respect for the way cloth behaves. It breaks down, wears out and is then repaired and reconstructed. These sensibilities resonate for me: Cloth is very powerful when it retains traces of its previous life, gathers history and becomes something new. (from this post)
As I think of fabric as both reality and metaphor, I also think of our community here on the West Coast, wounded irrevocably, but also able to bind together to darn the rent.

There seems to be something healing about making fabric into clothes at this time, a faint sense of creation as a palliative to death. I got the blue dress to the stage where I could
try it on yesterday. It is at least a size too big almost everywhere and also the volume of serviceable blue reminds me of a nun's habit so that can go aside for future dress ups or school plays. Now I am making a nightshirt. I cut the fabric, an old sheet handed down from my Mum, last year, using a pattern from Mum's extensive pattern stash. I am about a third of the way through getting that to wearability.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Thank you to everyone who has posted comments of support on this blog and to all my friends who have emailed or sent messages of support on facebook. This morning I thought I was hoping for two miracles. The first was for the men to come out alive. The second was for the media to leave town.

We don't have the first miracle. That dream has gone and it wasn't until I heard the news of the second explosion this evening that I realised I still had real hope of that miracle.

The second miracle would be a wonderful thing. That one is physically possible.

In memory of the 29 men who died down the Pike River Mine, and all their mining brothers who went before them, at Brunner, at Strongman, at Dobson, and throughout the world, I am taking the children for a drive now, to find a church or a beach where we can remember. Lest we forget.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

frontier country

My Dad tells a story about going to Greymouth with his Dad, when he was about ten years old. They stood on the bridge over the Grey River, the one which connects Greymouth and Cobden, and watched as the Barber (the dense, cold fog which marks the start of a day in the colder months of the year where we live) swept down the Grey Valley. Despite hailing from Canterbury, my father said he had never been so cold in all of his life.

On that holiday, he went out on the boats once with his Dad and the local fishermen. He liked the boat but the boat didn't like him - our shores are choppy at the best of times. Another day he and his father went up to the forest and sawmill to see where Uncle Eddie worked. Many of the men were missing limbs from workplace accidents. My father swore there and then that he wouldn't be a forestry worker when he grew up.

Forestry accidents are relatively rare now for the simple reason that forestry and sawmilling activity is relatively rare compared to those days. I still sometimes hear bitter comments from locals about central government building houses and grand buildings throughout the country with West Coast wood and then prohibiting Coasters from milling any more (there is still a pine industry, but no more felling and processing rimu like what was used to build our own home).

Fishing accidents are also less common because there is less fishing. Much of the fishing off our shores is done by big boats who don't even berth in Greymouth, much less put any money into our economy. Some fish does dock here in Greymouth and it is a pleasure to support our local fish shop.

There is a reason it feels like frontier country here in Wetville. Much of our economy is built on extractive industries. The nature of a frontier is pushing boundaries. Tourism doesn't push boundaries like the search for more coal and gold.

Parts of today went well. The sun shone and as the pressure at work has eased compared to the last fortnight, Brighid and I spent time in the garden instead of me working extra hours. I planted a pumpkin and two tomato plants. Brighid decided to play water controller, turning the tap off in the middle of watering because she thought I had done enough. Naturally, I have no idea where her bossy streak comes from. But in my mind was often a guilt, that I had enough distance to be happy while so many others near me are going through hell.

This morning at kindy there was a basket out collecting non-perishable goods for volunteers working with those affected by the trapped miners. Tonight I read in the paper that the Salvation Army are running a drop in centre each day to support community members who need to talk and process current events. Something I can do! There are chocolate thins, tea and coffee in the car boot now, ready to hand in at kindy in the morning. Now I know the Sallies are helping, I hope I can find out more things to do from my Sallies stalwart friend, C.

Thank you Ele Ludemann for your comments on National Radio today. While I'm honoured that Ele mentioned this blog, I wish with all my heart that I was still preoccupied with our December holiday, bits and bobs of gardening, cooking and reading and that local news focused on the latest school gala, instead of being paralysed with grief.

I wish all our men could be safely above ground right now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Acting like normal

Today was all about acting like normal, at work, at Fionn's school, at Brighid's kindy. Mostly, it worked. When a call came through to our office at work to say that the names had been released mid morning, spirits took a plummet.

So things like normal. Things to like and be proud of. I am extremely proud of the young people who have been part of the Red Cross response team.

A feature of our tragedy in Wetville is how little we can 'do'. I felt like doing something for someone and our beloved elderly relative, Mary K, is always a great choice. Brighid and I took her shopping and are planning something special for her birthday next week.

At school pickup, every single dad there was a particular blessing. Every single one, I thought when I saw them "there's a kid with a dad who is alive'. Despite the media hamming up the presure to go down the mine with dangerous gases and very poor safety indications, I don't actually think anyone in our town (that will be the m-e-d-i-a excepted; they are welcome to go back to their own home towns) wants to jeopardise more lives.

Back home, two treasures in the garden: artichoke hearts just beginning to show. I squeezed in a little weeding around the garlic before the story-fest which marks a rather too slow descent into sleeping silence in the children's bedroom each evening.

I've gone back to working on the dress I started sewing in January. Now it has sleeves and the skirt has a skirt-like form to it. I'm up to the part where I make the midriff pieces into the waist and ties. I think it is all going to be rather too big but given I didn't pay for the material, it takes the pressure off and gives me a chance to just learn to sew. I've been reading about adjusting patterns for fit recently. I definitely need to learn to sew with a straightforward unadjusted pattern first, which is what, I tell myself, I am doing at the moment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


We stayed home today, treasuring our time together as a family, resting before the week ahead of us. I made a dress for Brighid, who begins morning kindy tomorrow. As you can see below, she likes it. The kids were both healthy and happy today, not so surprising when their Dad is playing with them, when they know their uncles and grandads and cousins are all safe, not trapped down a mine. We've not told the children about the Pike River mine situation. There are several miners' children in Fionn's class and although I think they are all at Spring Creek, I don't want to say anything until I know they are safe.

I ironed and mended, jobs with a bit more long term currency than cleaning the floors or picking up the children's mess. As the weather improved, I weeded in the garden and planted the grape seedling which I bought at a local market recently. I also have a red currant , a gooseberry and a rose to plant from the same market expedition.

I'm not looking forward to tomorrow. Today we have insulated ourselves from the world, totally privileged in that all four of us are alive and together. Tomorrow is when I meet the grief of those who cannot sleep at night, those who have very close relatives down the Pike River mine. I'm hoping that the police are able to help shield our young people in particular from the voracious media. There is another group of people I want to offer my empathy, my concern and prayers: the miners at Roa and Spring Creek and their families. I have not heard whether those mines have stopped, but given the severe financial imperatives on those mines to keep producing coal, if they are stopped, I doubt it will be for long. The Roa and Spring Creek miners and their families must be suffering or will suffer greatly not just from worry for their mining brothers but also from going underground with such risk so much to the front of their minds.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In solidarity with my town

I would like the media to piss off.

They do not need to swarm around our town, vultures in search of a product to sell on their 'news' programmes.

I too, am desperate for news of the Pike River miners. I too, checked the internet and the radio about a zillion times today, hungry for word that the rescue team can begin their job. Like everyone else in Wetville, I appreciate the messages of support from all over New Zealand, all over the world.

But none of this requires news crews to be in our faces, prodding our pain, trying to get names of miners despite a request from the miners' families that they retain privacy in this time of hell. I missed the service for the miners at our local Anglican church this evening, asleep after a long night shift mothering my vomiting son. But I have since heard that it was something of a media circus, with about 8 tv cameras and 6 photo people there.

I have heard just a little by word of mouth about the names of miners, and just from that little, I know that I know men underground, and their families who are in living hell right now. Of the mining families I know, I cannot be sure that all of them are at Spring Creek (i.e. an entirely different mine), though I think most of them are. I was relieved tonight to hear back from one friend that his son in law is at Spring Creek, not Pike River.

Something about our town. The media has broken down news of the miners into locals and overseas workers. Please do not get the impression that the workers who were not born here are not part of us. These men, their wives and children, are part of our community. Their children are doing well in our schools, they are playing sport, selling sausages to fundraise for sport and school like the rest of us, mixing and mingling and are much liked.

So thank you, to everyone who is reading this and has been sending prayers, best wishes and concern for the trapped miners. We are all desperate for good news. But please don't expect to see interviews with mining families, or to know more names and personal stories. That is more than it is reasonable to ask. Our town and our grief is not a commodity for the media to sell.

Friday, November 19, 2010

waiting, hoping, praying

In our small town tonight are families waiting to know if their husbands, dads, sons, friends are alive.

The Pike River Mine at Atarau appears to have suffered an explosion and 27 men are unaccounted for. There are concerns about ventilation for those trapped inside.

I could talk about other stuff, but right now nothing else really matters.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Longer than a pregnancy

I went into the local wool shop today as they rang me to see if I still wanted my purple wool kept aside. The date on the packet of remaining balls was February. February. I've grown babies to the point of them breathing all by themselves in less time than this damned cross over cardigan is taking. I did a few more rows this evening.

I was looking at this article on the WAPF conference earlier this evening. Great for the blogger that she was sponsored in return for writing it up on her blog. I recalled a recentish post from Sally Fallon wants to soak my nuts in which it transpires that the blogger's wife (and the blog is all about the food they make for each other, in their private life) is the publicist for the WAPfoundation. Something is ringing alert bells in my head. I do understand that I am a small town hippy who doesn't have the balls to go head to head with the big guns like Monsanto and play them at their own marketing game. Maybe the war of marketing of ideas and food love has to be played with the same tools.

But I'm not quite convinced. If you are on a media junket to a conference, how free are you to review the content in genuinely critical terms? Questions are starting to bubble up in my head at least about the agendas behind the WAPF.

Crocheted dish cloths. Shoot me now if you need to. I saw the cotton in the shop for them today and it is $11.70 for 100g. How many zillion can you knit or crochet from 100g please? Only I'm not taking the damn purple cardy on our trip north but I just might find, (I know siblings, yes I know like whom) that I want to make something of an evening while listening to the out laws. Crocheted dish cloths seem quite portable and tiny. Fancier than using up old towels, though clearly an insane amount of effort.

Coming up next week: Poison and Purity: a play about 1080 shows here in Wetville, site of much anger about 1080 from all sorts of groups. If you are near Greymouth, then it is at the Tai Poutinin Polytech atrium, 25-27th November @ 8pm. $5. Also next week, TV6 are coming to Blackball to film the Blackball museum of working class history project.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

moments of gentleness

The wood pile. Not currently a work of art as it is the remainder of this winter's wood and many pieces have been removed (and reluctantly returned) to make obstacle courses for biking around (over, through). The pea straw will go on the garden soon. On the ground to the left are the flax flower stalks and on top of the wood pile are cabbage tree leaves. I keep bringing these back from our beach walks for kindling for next winter.

Preparation for winter fuel is a serious topic of conversation in Wetville. This leftover wood represents a milestone for us on our goal to be an entire year ahead with our wood. One colleague proudly tells me he has pine which he has aged in his garage for seven years. Burns very nicely, as you'd imagine. Raffles (central to much that moves in our community) which offer a trailer of wood or coal are always popular. We tried out a few different suppliers in our first few years. One guy gave us some venison with the second delivery of wood. His freezer was overflowing with it apparently. The next fellow also sold us some punga logs, and punga trees. The logs are now the walls of the punga raised bed (see the artichokes photo below) and the trees were planted the day Brighid was born. As FH was pressing the soil in on the last tree, I got a contraction which was too big to manage without a servant, and Brighid was born on the lounge floor a few hours later.

The next guy was called Ray and I loved him. He delivered his very last truck load of wood to me before handing the keys over to a new owner a few years ago. Ray's successors are particularly fabulous people, who also run the Tui Festival in their spare time. 'Tui' like somewhere beautiful, not the alcohol brand. Steven told me the other day when I called in (yes indeed I am planning next year's wood already - do you think I should be cleaning the toilet or some other annoying real time job?) that they are planning a new product. He showed me a brick (though much lighter than a brick) made of coal finings, lime and sawdust which is very low in emissions but burns with the heat of good firewood. The ash can be put on the garden as potash fertiliser. Hopefully we are going to be triallers for the new product in autumn.
Calendulas and potatoes. Agria.
Oh how I have waited for you, purple sprouting broccoli. All winter and the spring, and now you finally offer up a small head for my pleasure. I have grown decent broccoli before, but not consistently.
How sumptuous is this? I keep forgetting what it is called, but it has gorgeous scent.
Nasturtiums and jerusalem artichokes.
Red poppies and celery. Weeds on the fringes. When I see these poppies, I wish I had planted them in every possible space in the garden. Actually, if it weren't for the small matter of the short people wanting to ride bikes and play cricket, I would want them all over the lawn as well.
Sunflowers, pumpkins, kale and tomatoes on my new potting table. They should be in already but time is in short supply at the messiest home in Wetville.
This is my dog rose against my red fence (FH painted the fence for me on Christmas Day. What better sign of true, patient, love?). I think I will move the roses elsewhere in winter and leave this garden for the vibrant oranges and yellows of the sunflowers, the dahlias, the red hot pokers and the tropicanna lillies. I wonder if anyone could ID the white flowered weed below the rose please? To the right is tansy, which is fulfilling the prophecy in the herb book of being vigorous.
The artichokes are growing well, but no sign of flower heads yet.
Twirly skirt progress. This is for the seven year old outlaw niece and will be finished when I sew up the elastic band.
Fionn got an invite to K's seventh birthday yesterday. She loved the pink sequinned skirt I made her last year and I thought a red gingham twirly skirt might go down well for birthday #7. It looks a little ridiculous on Brighid as she is only three, but you get the idea.

Trademe bargain today: Kendrick Smithyman's Imperial Vistas Family Fictions for $5. Our local library has a very poor selection of poetry from anywhere (though their New Zealand novel collection is pretty reasonable for a small town library) and I am keen to follow Maps' and Mad Bush Farm's suggestions for reading round the Kaipara Harbour (in the comments section of the post).

(remember remember we are heading north soon? You'd think I'm going for the life the way I go on, but it is a 16 day trip we've been anticipating for literally years)

If all this gives the impression that life in the messiest home in Wetville is a gentle stroll, peppered mostly with roses and poetry, indeed I have enjoyed that illusion as I've put together this post. It is a lovely antidote to the pressing deadlines at work which are driving me nuts, to the solo parenting in the evenings so that FH can meet his pressing deadlines, the extra childcare so we can be at compulsory work functions and extra meetings and fitting in the work for the aforementioned deadlines. I remind myself daily that we are lucky to have jobs we enjoy for the most part and enviable job security. Off to do dishes (no FH = no dishwasher loader and cleaner of the kitchen) and then the work I brought home...

Monday, November 15, 2010


It's less than four weeks until we take the children into another country. Not in a legal sense, but across water, the first plane journey for Brighid and the first for Fionn in almost five years. Indeed it is almost five years since we got on a plane at Heathrow with the son we grew and nurtured alongside the District Line and then the Central Line, on the borders of East London and Essex. We took him to my parents' place in Hanmer Springs, a place he thought of as "New Zealand" for some time (Wetville was not NZ, it was another country altogether to him). I will never forget day three of our new life, when he said he had had enough of being on holiday and wanted to go home.

There is no home.

That's what we did to you, my child, we took away your home, everything outside of your parents that you knew and before you could write or facebook or email your little buddies, and created another one. Thankfully it worked.

We came to the South Island for several reasons. I wanted my parents to be within affordable driving distance from their grandson and later their grand daughter and that meant no expensive ferry crossing. FH was keen on the South Island and we had bonded to the West Coast on a holiday six years before. That was the holiday when we decided to get married, when we borrowed bikes and cycled to Carters Beach and when we avoided the mirrored-window pub at the end of the shopping strip in Westport, preferring the one with the pipe band on New Year's Eve. The West Coast was also affordable, a place where we could buy our own home with a bit more saving, a place by the water, a place where we could have a second child without both of us having to work full time to pay the bills.

That first year, I went to Wellington for a friend's 40th birthday, and each year since we came back to NZ, FH has gone to Auckland for friend or family reasons. This is the year I promised my mother in law that we would be at their 50th wedding anniversary party, no matter what. So we will spend time with FH's family in the outer reaches of West Auckland and on a hill in Albany, places which don't seem to exist in popular renditions of Auckland from the outside. There is more to Auckland than either the fashionable strip of Ponsonby or the cliches assoicated with Otara.

We are planning to go camping further north, country which I have scarcely explored. I remember going to stay with family in Warkworth as a teenager in 1987. There was an exhibition, I think called Te Maori, in Auckland and I wanted to see it. It wasn't quite what anyone else had planned and in the end we had a day trip down to Auckland to shop in Smith and Caugheys (closest thing to Ballantynes for my Cantabrian mother I suspect) and go to Kelly Tarltons.

In 2000 FH and I drove north one sunny Saturday and I saw the Brynderwyns for the first time, wondering about this bright landscape with its Welsh name. We drove through Opononi and past Ruawai. Soon it was dark and too late for me (the wuss who prefers not to drive after midnight) to go back to Auckland. Our best option appeared to be a pub in Dargaville. FH noted that our room was directly above the bar but I was breezy about that, it was deserted at 8pm on Saturday night so nothing to worry about. I avoided looking at the brown stains on the brown walls. On a scale of budget accommodation, many things are better than a tent when it is not summer. Only it turned out that this was the late night venue after the other pubs had closed.

We left promptly the next day.

I don't feel the need for a Lonely Planet for my own country, but I am keen to hear recommendations for places in the north to explore. I've been eyeing up Aroha Island and Whananaki Beach so far. Man who likes stones (geological), woman who likes food, 7 year old who likes action, 3 year old who likes water. Budget. We are taking our tents, permissible in the summer.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Learning to be a reflexologist

This weekend I was part of a wonderful class in Hokitika, taught by Laksmi (who is one talented goddess) and it was such a gift to be there. Gorgeous food, wonderful fellow students and an opportunity for me to learn through my hands, not through a book. Next step is lots of practise, and a series of classes a month apart. I am not at the point of articulating my thoughts about the actual reflexology learning into words, but I can comment confidently that I now want to learn to make inside out sushi rolls. We had some with the nori on the inside and sesame seeds on the outside and they were divine.

Laksmi had giant red mustard in her garden and it is so beautiful that I have to grow some, whether I eat it or not. I've been telling Favourite Handyman about her raised beds built of river stones set in cement. They are in long curves and I would love to build some like that myself.

We also had guests for the weekend, favourite friends of mine called Jen and Hamish. That was wonderful as well, all the more so because they were unfazed by the mess around them. We'd had a babysitter the night before (in order to go to work at night as well as during the day...), so I'd managed some basic hygiene cleaning so no one ran away in terror, but indeed our guests did sleep surrounded by toys, books and unfolded (clean) washing. Now we want to save up and go to Wellington and see them as soon as possible. I might have to move to Wellington for a month really, for all the things I'd like to do and see (and people to meet), but I suspect a few days would be pretty darn good.

I fitted in a few minutes weeding, just before sundown last night. Garlic doesn't compete well with weeds according to all the books, so clearing the soil around it was a priority. We have more and more roses. More than a dozen Dublin Bay blooms, a gorgeous scented red rose from the rose nursery (taken from cuttings from our clever rose show neighbours), a yellow one just out for the first time since I bought it two years ago and the first bloom of the pink rose which I've also grown from cuttings. Indeed the link for the pink rose which I've just given demonstrates that it is a weed in the South Island, but I love it anyway and as far as I know it is not on the noxious weeds list. There is an old car/scrap metal yard in our town with a fence covered in this rose and it is totally gorgeous. I haven't yet planted the rest of my tomato/pumpkin/zucchini/kale seedlings but I'll fit it in somehow.

Tonight I finished the black ric-rac on the older outlaw niece's twirly skirt. Progress progress. Although it would be logical to finish my own dress next, I've been putting it off because it is more difficult and I am mostly sewing when tired.

I finished Fiona Kidman's Songs from the Violet Cafe during the week. I enjoyed it. I feel like I have some kind of symmetry now. I read A Breed of Women and Mandarin Summer as a teenager (not that I can remember details) and then recently both volumes of Kidman's memoirs and now a more recent novel. Everyone seemed to have made money by the end of Songs from the Violet Cafe, which seemed a bit unconvincing to me, but perhaps that is a feature of generation X gloom, whereas these women are baby boomers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How marriage made me soft

On Sunday Favourite Handyman had the loan of a motorbike for the day. It was a heavenly treat for him and I wasn't surprised to hear he was having a great time when he rang mid afternoon. Only that wasn't all the news. The accelerator cable had broken and he was a long way from anywhere. He gave me the names of three friends who would be able to help. "If I can't get hold of any of them, then I guess I hire a trailer and come and get you?" He didn't sound hugely convinced but then three friends is a good number to try.

No one home. Not one or two or three. It's been a long time since a drove with a trailer but indeed I have done it before. It has been a very very long time since I've backed a trailer and I'm thinking about avoiding that bit. I pile the kids in the car and we stop at the Mobil shop and I pay for and hook up a trailer. I concentrate carefully on hooking it up properly, ignoring that we don't have the wiring for the lights and that we only have a 1.6 litre vehicle. Needs must.

On my second intersection (about 400m from the Mobil garage) a car stops and calls out that I have a chain hanging down from the trailer. Not a good look. I then see my friend Paula, whose house I had called at for help earlier. "Do you have a few minutes to help me please Paula?" Paula is a very capable and generous person and soon I have returned the trailer for a refund, the kids are playing in her backyard and plans are in motion. More friends are called in and two men head off in Mr G's truck to collect FH and the bike. We collect food and drink from the supermarket and start the barbeque. My kids are in heaven as more children arrive to play with. Eventually the men are back, the bike is back with it's owner and all is good with the world. FH and I are humbled by what good and generous friends we are blessed with.

Yesterday I popped round to the G's house with a tray of chocolate brownies and some petrol vouchers. Tonight, they pop round with the empty tray and a bag of venison steaks. Truly we are spoilt. Last week I offered our neighbours eggs without expecting anything in return. Only that was spoiling day as well as they gave us some whitebait. Who needs the big city...

The big holiday is only a month away. I've been looking on the kodak website for gift ideas which are easily transported, personal and not time consuming. I can't be making the adults twirly skirts as well. Next step is to find some good photos of the children to turn into cups and mouse mats. I also want to call into a local screen printer tomorrow and see what they can do to keep the spending local. The local kodak shop will take the orders, but the cups and mouse mats etc are done elsewhere. If anyone knows of a good source of plain white tea towels for printing onto, I'd be interested in the details.

Things are growing well in the garden but I always seem to be somewhere else of late. The chooks got out of their temporary run the other day and trampled round my newly planted tomato. No go zone, egg workers.

I am creating order in the chaos of my sewing pile. I do understand that some people can re-fold sewing patterns so that they fit back into the original packet - my mother does this properly without fail. Only I cannot. Now I have a pile of snap-lock bags with a pattern in each and the number of lost pattern pieces underneath piles of fabric is diminished. Of course, when there is a babysitter due in two days' time and visitors for the weekend in three, the sewing pile is the obvious place to start cleaning...

The last sleeve of the interminable purple cross-over cardigan is in progress. Planning for autumn 2011, perhaps. Never mind that it was supposed to be for the winter just finished. I'm enjoying Fiona Kidman's Songs from the Violet Cafe. I started Robin Hyde's The Godwit's Fly but couldn't get gripped fast enough for my 10.15pm almost asleep but still want to read something at the end of the day attention span.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

flower love and twirly skirts: Saturday in suburbia

Dublin Bay on ochre corrugated iron. My poor photography skills don't do this beautiful plant justice. I found it languishing and super-cheap at the Warehouse a few years ago. The first season in the punga raised bed did not go well and last year went okay, but this season it is a stunner. One day it will be all along this fence-line. In autumn I shall take cuttings.
A couple of years ago we grew tobacco. In the absence of specialist equipment, we dried it on a clothesline in the shed and hey presto, cheap tobacco. Favourite Handyman, after the lung infection, thought the home grown was wetter than bought and worse for his lungs. I canned all tobacco growing from that moment onwards. The stuff is dangerous enough in packets. But these nicotiana flowers are from some self-seeded tobacco from that crop two years ago. Pretty flowers. I am pleased to note that the chooks don't care for the leaves.
The first skirt for the out law niece is finished. Brighid models it above and below so I could adjust the elastic. I think the pink ric-rac looks great. It is a very full skirt - the hem on this measured 2.6 metres, and the size 7 version which I am part way through sewing is 3.4 metres around the hemline.
I haven't been in the kitchen all day apart from making breakfast and multiple cups of vitamin C and blackcurrant juice. Wednesday's last load of washing stayed out for three days. The world is still spinning.

But next weekend, we have visitors all the way from Wellington AND I am doing a reflexology course. V-E-R-Y exciting.

This Atlantic article on the multiple problems with medical 'research', Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science, is very interesting so far.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


The ground is cracked. After weeks of rain compacting the soil, the recent warm dry days have merely split the surface into fractured plates of hard earth. Tonight I mounded up the spuds some more and then encircled them with pea straw. I dug over a section of earth, added some blood and bone and dolomite lime and turned it some more. Then I planted a zucchini, surrounded it with pea straw and watered it in. The pea straw should make a lot of difference to the quality of the soil. While I was fossicking in the garden shed, I found citrus fertiliser and put some on the lemon.

The first arm of the purple cardigan is done. Next step turn round and do it all again. Tomorrow or the next day will be soon enough. Then I did some more twirly skirt sewing. Tomorrow night is writers' group and I haven't written a thing. I do like this poem on chocolate. Today's library visit yielded poetry from Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Fiona Kidman's Songs from the Violet Cafe and Robin Hyde's The Godwits Fly. Except I have already misplaced the poetry. So fast to fall, so deep the dark hole of lost library books. For many, it is a cue to spend tomorrow tidying the house.

Not for me.

The foccaccia worked. Um maybe I will write that louder. This morning as I made lunches and ate breakfast and talked to children and still managed to be dressed and at work at 8.20am, I also made bread. Not a usual occurrence, but a multi-tasking highlight to remember on the opposite days when I sleep until 7.15 and then see we have no bread for lunches and only yesterday's clothes vaguely fit to wear.

Leicester Kyle is a new discovery, thanks Maps. I've been thinking since I read this earlier today about how characters (and places sometimes) seem to loom particularly large on the landscape on the West Coast. That was part of looking up Jeffrey Paparoa Holman today, as he has links to Blackball, where they sell his books at the pub. I've always assumed that his middle name is for the Paparoa Ranges which Blackball is crooked into and which face the sea on the other side. To cross from Blackball to the sea the old way, you can walk the Croesus Track.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What do you do?

At 6.00am I woke. I was a kitchen worker, a mother. At 8.30am I dropped the last child off and became a paid worker. Sometimes I worked with people, sometimes with paper, sometimes with a computer. There were no fancy schmancy things like breaks, or cups of tea or lunch until I left at 1.55pm. At 1.55pm I became a housewife. A housewife in the supermarket, buying things for a repeat of today, tomorrow.

At 2.10pm @ home, I was myself. Eating chicken and mayo and artichoke sandwiches all by myself.

At 2.20pm I got in the car to drive to kindy to become a mother again. In the blur between 2.20pm and 5pm, I was a cricket taxi, a cook, a placater, an errander, a husband taxi. The blur from 5pm until 7.15pm was intensive mothering, though not of the kind which means I remembered to make the short people clean their teeth. They treat teeth cleaning as an occasional event, and make comments to visiting family members which reveal their parents' lackadaisical approach to Essential Parenting Activities 101.

I will write about the bits which are not above. I fancy some foccaccia and one of the things about living in Wetville is if I want foccaccia (not what the supermarket claims as foccaccia, but the stuff which tastes like Carluccio's), I have to make it myself. I decided to try a long rise so I put in 1/2 a teaspoon instead of 1.5 teaspoons and now it is on the bench to rise all night. If it works, then I will post the recipe. It is indeed true that my body works better without bread or without much bread, but it is also true that salty, olive oily foccaccia is divine on the tongue.

I began to sew the pink twirly skirt for the smallest outlaw niece. I knitted some more rows. Of COURSE I am still knitting sleeve one.

I thought again of parochialism and self determination in response to a recent comment, and once again ended up thinking about peak oil scenarios and how they might compare with 19th century West Coast transport and trade (stronger links with Melbourne than with the East Coast of New Zealand). I recalled how Canterbury wanted nothing to do with the West Coast until gold was found and then the race was on to build a road (very difficult, many gold-fevered Cantabrians caught a boat from Lyttelton around Nelson and down to Hokitika and this was also treacherous) and tack the West Coast onto Canterbury Province and thus get a share of the gold tax. Echoes of this issue can be found today in discussions of whether the West Coast gets an appropriate share of the money made from our coal mines.

Favourite Handyman, who hails from Auckland, commented once that whereas Auckland was a dirty word in many parts of New Zealand, on the West Coast it seemed not as bad as being from Canterbury.

We don't deal in wide circumferences in our loyalties here in Wetville. When FH and I first fell for the West Coast, we were on holiday in Westport and came to enjoy Green Fern, an organic lager locally brewed. When we moved to Grey District, we naively asked for it in liquor stores and pubs. Err hello, this is Monteiths country, we don't serve Westport beer here.

There are moves afoot to amalgamate the councils, or maybe it is some other administrative unit, but Buller won't have a bar of it. The three mayors have no love for each other it seems.

Throw our lot in with the rest of the South Island and cede from the North? Not likely, may as well go to Aussie if the Cantabrians are going to the run the show...