Saturday, January 29, 2011

Change of season

Lots of new things, like the lounge walls and the bookcase Favourite Handyman painted to go in it. Today I finally finished hanging the curtains I washed three weeks ago. Tough bikkies about the wrinkles - I'm not taking them down to iron.

The dress pattern. I finished all the alterations to the actual pattern. I wanted to lower the waist which is surely one small detail. Which meant the altering of the front and back bodice pieces and the front skirt wrap and the front facings. I'm not game for altering anything else on this pattern. I washed and dried the fabric. I'm not sure if the navy blue will end up looking crisp and smart or make me look like I am 69 (apologies to stylish 69 year olds), but I am sure that choosing a cheap fabric to learn on was a good idea.
I pressed the pieces of the never ending purple cardigan. That's it all in a neat pile, looking most unphotogenic.
No photographic evidence, but I did clean the oven, wash masses of laundry, spend an hour at work getting organised for next week, spend an hour at the supermarket trying to get back into school lunches mode, repair Fionn's broken monkey, take a LOT of stuff to the dump, choose some library books, buy some mesclun salad mix seeds and vacuum the dining room floor. The speed of life is about to go up in our house, up a lot, and I am getting prepared.

Tomorrow I will name a lot of children's clothes, and make a lot of food. In the meantime, all there is to do is to go to bed and read, and note that I have now had no alcohol for EIGHT days in a row. These summer holidays have been totally fabulous. 2011 is our last year with a pre-schooler and I've cut back my hours at work to spend more time with Brighid and to spend more time actually at home growing things (like brocolli, not mould) and whatever other projects seem wonderful (sewing seems to be it at the moment). Fionn is counting the days until his swimming lessons start and soon martial arts starts again. I think we are ready, 2011. Not perfectly ready, but good enough.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The last Friday in pyjamas

for a long time...

Seven days without alcohol as of today. I have mixed feelings about reporting that I do feel better for it. On the one hand I do enjoy wine and beer a lot and on the other, the increasing sleep loss effects of it on my relatively young body were very annoying.

Today, spurred on by the certain knowledge that there are thousands of jobs awaiting me at work next week which possibly should be started today, the kids and I stayed home, me in my jammies and they in about a thousand different outfits all of which they got wet, and I cleaned. I present to you, my corner of the study in which you can see bare wooden boards and the drawers shut.

The pile by the monitor is for mending. The idea is that I will notice it more there... The drawers in the front right now contain a tidy assortment of freshly laundered fabrics which have passed my test of whether I will ever sew them. The ones which did not make the grade were also laundered (most were from a friend who had stored them in a slightly damp basement before gifting them to me) and now await the Methodist mission opportunity shop who have a special fabric table and patterns rack.

I cleaned our bedroom as well, but I'm not sharing bedroom photographs on the internet. One result is five black sacks for landfill; another is more supermarket bags for the op shop or friends with younger children; another is that as soon as I'd washed, dried and folded all my multiple baskets of today's washing, Brighid managed to render all her bed linen in need of washing.

I've been thinking about the many interesting points raised on the Kiwipolitico blog (here and here) today. I've focused on the constructuve comments, of which there are quite a few, and opted not to give head room to the smaller amount of ignorant anti-feminist stuff. Maps has summarised his contributions and those of others in a useful and thoughtful post which demonstrates a grasp of the bigger picture and issues which I really appreciate. I don't agree with him entirely on Miles Fairburn's work, but that will have to be another post. One of Maps' (many) favourite concepts, regionalism, is, I think, an important consideration in evaluating Fairburn's argument.

A friend sent me a link to this Raptitude post today. I like it.

The dress: I have measured and read the fine print on the actual pattern pieces and am part way through re-cutting the pattern to an 18 instead of a 20. I'm sticking with the lengthening of the bodice.

The purple never-ending cardigan: huh. All that cleaning and laundry and a trip to Hokitika to collect Favourite Handyman (I had to shower and dress at the last minute to avoid driving to the airport in my by then smelly jammies) + progress on the dress? Not a thing on the cardy. I think I need to press it next anyway and the ironing board is covered in pieces of Vogue 8379.

Lolly cake is marvellous. It feeds children for days. So do marmite sandwiches.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The culture of sewing

I finished the long purple tie. Then I made the lower front bands, picking up stitches to make a band for the very first time. I had to redo the first attempt but they both look pretty good now. Now the back, both fronts, the sleeves and the ties are knitted, plus the lower front bands. Could be I will actually wear this cardigan this autumn. I haven't posted a picture because it just looks like a mass of purple wool.

Last night I went back to sewing Vogue 8379, or more accurately cutting out the paper pattern pieces for Vogue 8379. Ha ha ha. Sewing pattern alterations. I think this is going to be up there with finishing my masters thesis and giving birth. I found this tutorial on lengthening bodice fronts after I did the logical step and ended up with wrong sized pieces. Very conveniently the tutorial is based on the same pattern that I am using. I still have markings to transfer and more alterations to make, but at least two are done. I'm still undecided on whether to cut a size 18 or 20 in the shoulder. A 20 is more straightforward and still a size down from the frumpy huge dress I made last year, but the 18 poses some logistical issues of something called grading which is currently a skill set (or 9) above mine. Other sources again suggest I should consider a 16 but that is just too hard this time. But then now I see that the alteration in the picture increases the waist anyway... my head is doing this all the time.

This building was once a community hall.

In 1953 a huge dance was held there to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II. My Dad's cousin Mary K remembers tucking her young son up in bed at his grandparents across the road and going to this dance with her husband. Now there are no signs of it being used, though someone mows the lawns around it. It was disbanded as a community resource and put up for sale about five years ago. In the same area as this hall, and stretching along to where we live, there is an infrastructure fund which was set up as part of the government economic adjustment package for the West Coast after the ban on native forestry felling and milling. We all have the opportunity to vote and comment on a request by the local Playcentre for $50 000 to rebuild their centre which was destroyed by flooding recently. I think they were looking at rebuilding before that ruined the current building completely. I am still undecided on how to vote.

I made this for some festivities this week:

And this skirt. FH and Fionn made the toy house.

Tonight out in sewing blog world I stumbled upon a fantastic looking book. The book to draw together my once upon a time life when I read academic books nearly all day with my life now where I sometimes sew of an evening:

Here is the book description, courtesy of Book Depository:

Throughout its long history, home dressmaking has been a formative experience in the lives of millions of women. In an age of relative affluence and mass production, it is easy to forget that just over a generation ago, young girls from middle- and working-class backgrounds were routinely taught to sew as a practical necessity. However, not only have the skills involved in home dressmaking been overlooked and marginalized due to their association with women and the home, but the impact home dressmaking had on women's lives and broader socioeconomic structures also has been largely ignored. This book is the first serious account of the significance of home dressmaking as a form of European and American material culture. Exploring themes from the last two hundred years to the present, including gender, technology, consumption and visual representation, contributors show how home dressmakers negotiated and experienced developments to meet a wide variety of needs and aspirations. Not merely passive consumers, home dressmakers have been active producers within family economies. They have been individuals with complex agendas expressed through their roles as wives, mothers and workers in their own right and shaped by ideologies of femininity and class. This book represents a vital contribution to women's studies, the history of fashion and dress, design history, material culture, sociology and anthropology.

My Mum was going to give me money for shoes for my birthday, but really, I have gumboots, I have the soles of my feet, I even already own some work-friendly other boots without thick cleat soles. What do I need shoes for when there is the possibility of reading this book?

Six days without a drink.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quotidian politics

This morning there were two new posts on my sidebar, the part where I have my current favourite blogs showing their latest posts. I use this sidebar function a lot because I have never managed to get blogoodle or sitefeed or myblogs or whatever any of them are called to work for me.

I read Reading the Maps first. Maps wants to know Have our intellectuals gone to the blogs? He takes his cue from kiwipolitico post Who are the next generation of NZ left thinkers? Both posts are worth reading. The kiwipolitico post, which I read last, has a long conversation in the comments which is more illuminating than the post itself.

This from Reading the Maps:
Pablo and a number of the commenters at Kiwipolitico seem to believe that young left-wing intellectuals are a little thin on the ground in New Zealand, but I'm not sure if this is quite the case. I don't think there is any shortage of clever young people with left-wing opinions in New Zealand: the problem, as far as I can tell, is that it is hard for these young people to relate their scholarly research and their theorising to the world of quotidian politics.

That word 'quotidian' is wonderful. It has an almost onomatopeic quality, seeming to echo the doldrums of daily bickering. Maps goes on to detail the gap between action and theory with reference to thinkers he has known personally in New Zealand universities and some names from my own time at university came to mind as similar examples as I read.

Then I read the second new post from my sidebar. This one is from Maia of The Hand Mirror, writing on the forthcoming 2011 Pro-choice gathering in Wellington in March. As I read, I was mindful of the accusations ('observations' if I'm feeling generous in my interpretation) of some male lefty writers that single issue activism had essentially buggered up the class activism movement. In my view, paid labour is not central to agency for any woman; control over ones own body is central. No matter how repulsive abortion might ever be to me personally, I have no right to stop another woman from controlling the direction of a pregnancy. Neither has the state nor any other organisation. This is where I sidetrack yet again. If you read the comments section you will see this:
I agree with the basic principle about choice and whose choice it is (although I don't think the taxpayer should have to fund something they may vehemently oppose.)
How on earth can anyone say this as if it is logical? Can the rugby world cup funding NOW! And marketing departments in universities and television advertisements and cholesterol lowering drugs and cigarettes and vaccination propaganda and and and and. I am vehemently opposed to a lot of things. Our legal system is surely our charter for how to best both meet and insist upon the rights and responsibilities of us all, collectively and individually. I am aware that those who would make abortion illegal in this country believe that they are also doing this, albeit through privileging the journey of a foetus over that of a woman. Privileging the journey of a foetus over that of a woman oppresses the woman in her lack of choice. That's not okay to me.

The Action for Abortion Rights group have taken the theory of women's empowerment and right to control over our own bodies and is applying it practically. The Hand Mirror was absent from both Kiwipolitico and Reading the Maps' initial posts and it is a glaring omission. In the comments to the Reading the Maps post, a fellow called Jack Ross makes the following observation:

I agree that the blog makes a good intermediary between the Academy and the Street -- in theory, at least, it can steer between the Alexandrian over-refinements (and entrenched power-structures) of the former and the simplistic bellowings (and over-dependence on a muzzled news media) of the latter.

"Subjective and trivial" are the presumptive labels attributed to most blogs, though - breaking through that perception is, I think, the real problem. If a blog simply works as an extension of the street or the academy it helps it gain an audience, but doesn't achieve any of this cultivation of the middle ground you're talking about.

Body politics are often described as subjective and trivial and yet the ideas around fat acceptance and the controlling narratives of fat shaming were possibly the most interesting ideas I took on board in 2010. How any of us define 'political' and 'intellectual' are in themselves powerful tools. Are those definitions up for discussion, or are we to content ourselves with bickering about versions of pure leftism (as if) and the naughtiness of the proletariat who are watching tele and eating chips instead of remodelling society into a collective utopia?

Monday, January 24, 2011

A spot of kitchen goodness

Not cleaning precisely, though I did run round and do some today in aid of not scaring of dinner guests off too quickly. I made chicken stock, which is the first photo. A long time ago, I read this very good book on waste in the food system, the name of which, right now, completely escapes me. Since then I look at the marked down food differently. Before I only bought it if the special was really superb, as well as that I planned to eat it anyway. But now I feel a stab of virtue as I pick up the specialled chicken (so often it is fresh chicken), that I will ensure this bird did not live and occupy the resources of the conveyor belt in order to be thrown out into landfill. So in the fridge are roughly hacked pieces of raw chicken meat which I must stir fry tomorrow and in the slow cooker is the carcass.

My first ever pavlova. I was given an early birthday present by some kind people who usually give me teatowels. This time it was a copy of Annabel Langbein's The Best of Annabel Langbein: great food for busy lives. It looks very good and I plan to cook lots of things from it. It also has lots of very useful recipes, including lots of spreads, which are fantastic for sandwiches for people who have moved on from marmite or whose mother insists on a little extra nutrition on occasion.

So I made the pav from the new recipe book and I was rather pleased with myself and I proudly showed Brighid the result in the oven and she said:

"I hate that."

Which did rather dent my plans to serve it for a special occasion she has been burbling about for months, scheduled for this week. Still, as you might note from close inspection of the photo, I have been enjoying a section of it already.

Does anyon know the difference between baking paper and ordinary lunch paper? That's ordinary lunch paper in the photo and it turned out fine.

I also made foccaccia today. My theory is that I'm using up the high grade white flour as I'm not going to make bread any more as I'm kind of off wheat. Like being off alcohol, it doesn't mean I don't like it anymore, just that I'm not going to eat so much of it any more. We'll see.

Day 3 with no alcohol. I even managed to have no alcohol when we had visitors. And I'm not pregnant.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Notes from a temporary teetotaller

Day two of my supposed month of not drinking. I committed myself and I doubt my health will fall over immediately if I break it, but it seemed a useful experiment at 4am recently. As in 4am wide awake having drunk wine the previous evening.

The King's Speech. Mary K and I went to see it this evening and I loved it. I loved the Queen in it and when I got home I used her lovely crisp and calm voice for at least ten minutes on my children.

Tomatoes. We are growing some, green ones so far. I watered them and delateralled them and weeded around them and then I had a look at my bed of compost with a layer of peastraw on top and harvested big fat slugs and black and tan caterpillars for the chooks. I put fertiliser on the lemon tree. In contrast to other years when we have killed the lemon tree(s), this year we have tiny lemons on the tree. The seeds of phacelia which I sowed recently have germinated already.

Beetroot. My best crop ever. I do not want to make beetroot pickle or bottled beetroot or anything like that. I just want young tender beetroots for my salads available for as long as possible. These are not quite the right desires to match my twenty or so plants of beetroot ready either right now or very soon. Perhaps I should dig up a beet kvass recipe. I guess I could drink weird drinks instead of wine... Or I could make borscht.

The long purple tie continues. It might even be finished tomorrow. I also mended a t-shirt and my favourite black velvet gypsy skirt.

The absence of deep thought about anything not domestic persists. I have started going in to work to get sorted for the coming year, mostly involving filling rubbish sacks with things I do not need from last year. I think this year I need a resolution not to make so much paper waste at work.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Do not prepare for excitement. I'm tired, sleepy and have come to the conclusion that I should not drink alcohol.

There is a purple thing which never ends. It began as a cardigan pattern book eleven months ago. Now I knit rows of the crossover tie for it every day and while the tie grows, so does my boredom. The only thing which keeps me going is that I want to wear the damn thing this autumn. I chose it to fill a gap in my wardrobe (note the implication of thought and organisation about what I wear) for last autumn, and the gap remains.

So mostly I don't indulge in other crafty pursuits like sewing at the moment because I am knitting a long purple tie. Which must be finished. Except I seem to come home with things, things relating to making things which aren't long purple ties. One day it was curtain remnants. Another it was fabric to make swimming bags for Fionn and Brighid.

Today, too exhausted from sleep loss to clean or cook or garden in the hot sun or hang curtains or jif the couch (yeah really, works well on 70s vinyl), I did some mending and ironing. I mended an op shop top with lots of holes around the wrist because I like it so much and never find this style to fit me in any shop. I mended the op shop skirt which matches it. I ironed things for the impending beginning of paid work again. I cut the waist off one skirt ready to take it in and sew a zip.

My current health reading focus (obsession might cover it accurately I suppose) is iron overload, or haemochromatosis. I have been ever so slightly interested in why my body handles alcohol so poorly these days. It's not that I get drunk more easily but that anything after one small glass of wine means I will be awake in the small hours of the morning for anything up to 2.5 hours. This is an interesting article about haemochromatosis and antioxidants. The blog Off the Food Grid in my sidebar is an excellent blog which has iron overload as a primary interest.

Then I went to sleep.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Good Body. Mine. Yours.

Favourite Handyman's latest great project: edging the cactus corner with shell and bricks. You can see it half done here. The (relatively) tall cactus in the front is one we bought at the Fox River market when we had only been living on the Coast ten days. I think of it as "our" oldest plant of our West Coast life.

A pink tutu apron confection, sewn up tonight and now hiding until Brighid turns four next week. I cut and sewed this in less than half an hour! I never imagined I would raise a daughter so keen on pink and fluffy stuff. My only consolation is to know that she will be stomping around in this and her gumboots most of the year, not flitting around in ballet shoes. The skirt/apron is standing unaided in the photo, which is apparently what tutus should be able to do. Many thanks to Kristy of Lower Your Presser Foot for her very helpful instructions.

Sewing for myself, and reading endlessly about sewing for oneself, has been a very interesting project from the point of view of body acceptance. If you can alter a pattern, you can make something fit well for your shape right now. This is much less the case for fitting shop bought clothes. The plus size message board on Pattern Review has been particularly illuminating, putting me on to the trail of some fantastic blogs and explaining how pattern altering works so I no longer feel so enormous as I used to. Just in need of getting very good at doing something called an FBA.

Last year I started to read about fat acceptance. While some of the ideas were initially obvious, others took me a while longer to come on board with. I like this more recent article by Lady News on the arrogance and wrongness of assuming that only slender people can wear certain clothes. 'Fat shaming' is a new phrase in my vocabulary, but now I am on board, I notice it all the time. (For the record, I also like Lady News on pinkification)

My favourite blog post find of this week so far comes from Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing. Drawing on some quotations from her yoga teacher (initially belonging to Eve Ensler), she writes both gently and powerfully about living in the good body, our own good bodies, the only ones we will ever have. If you have a moment, I really really recommend you read We live in the Good Body.

We are in the news again in Greymouth. Many many people in the media have something to say about recent decisions regarding the Pike River mine. I have my own thoughts about the decision to close the rescue operation but they don't matter. What matters to me is that I cannot imagine how I would act if my son died. I hear the pain of Bernie Monk, quoted endlessly in the media, angry at the closure of the operation. I don't recommend that anyone has the arrogance of telling our bereaved families they should 'put a line under it and just move on.'

Oh the kitchen. Of course the kitchen. I made sausage rolls today. Based on the Edmonds version, with their shortcut of bought flakey pastry. If you make sausage rolls yourself, you can sneak kale in to the mixture. They tasted good. Next time I shall make my own pastry, a double recipe and freeze half.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Washing Machine Review

Firstly, the washing machine, in the event of anyone else considering spending their winter wood savings and the car wof money on a new one.It looks like this:
See the lights and the little electronic screen? It tells you how long the cycle has left to go. It does seem to have some excellent little features like a strong door hinge and tray for the detergent and a filter that you can fit a container underneath should you need to. But the main thing is that it GOES. A significant feature which the old one did not possess.

When we bought the last one, five years ago, the salesperson said he thought there was such a focus on minimising water use that the machines did not use enough water for effective rinsing. At the time, our boy was three and had really terrible eczema. I always used the extra rinse function, sometimes rinsing additionally after that. With the new machine, somewhat awed that it was a Miele, I left out the water plus option initially, thinking they would have it all sussed in their basic programmes. But I'm using it routinely now; the water efficiency vs effective rinsing proved similar to other machines. It made a fantastic job of cleaning the curtains. The manual even had instructions for cleaning curtains. The highest spin setting is 1100 rpm whereas our old one was 1000 rpm. This does mean fabric comes out very lean and dries faster, especially on tumbe drier days (which you may not have so many of, because you may not live so close to a rainforest as I do). It does mean, though, that if you put a tissue in by mistake, then it will be rammed tight against the fabric by the fast spin and be rather difficult to get off.

So there you go, a review of a domestic appliance, backed up by multiple actual uses, by that messy woman on the Coast.

In other news, the children are back with us. We stopped off at the Maruia Springs natural hot pools on the way to collect them from my parents. Then we went to the pub while they were at church (Vigil Mass). It's lovely to have them back but I got so soft in just four days and was totally knackered tonight by all that cooking and washing. They did get involved in some painting for a bookcase for their room today:
I think Brighid was in charge of the pre-cleaning of the wood. She chooses to have her hair like that. You might observe that I'm too lazy to brush her hair properly and look after her like other proper mummies and you might be right. I could also observe that she gets to define her own style with a little less influence from rigid societal norms than could otherwise be the case, a free spirited approach. Of course I do talk a lot of bullshit and I haven't brushed my own hair today, let alone anyone else's.

This is the lounge, all wild thinged and hot chillied. Unless you are drunk, probably too drunk to read my words, you will notice that the curtains are still on the back of the couch (they are clean though) and the furniture is still crowded into the middle of the room, as though the paint is still drying. Time. I want to clean the windows before the curtains go up. Time will tell if this is too ambitious. I will take another one in the daytime, as that one makes the far wall look orange which it is not.

Completion. Is this is a theme? yeeee-eeee-eee-0-ees. That O in the middle is a yawn. I have finished the short tie of the never ending purple crossover cardigan. I want to wear it, not endlessly knit it. Fingers crossed. No not crossed. I won't get any knitting done that way.

I'm far more interested in sewing at the moment but as I don't have the skills to make a winter jacket, I still have to finish knitting as above before Autumn, preferably before work starts again at the end of this month. I brought back this pattern from Mum's:
It's reversible and the timing (pattern published in 1975, size 4 shown here) suggests Mum made it for me. I fancy making it for Brighid. When I've finished knitting and when I've made her flourescent pink tutu apron for her birthday (following these instructions). I think she has too many clothes but my mother pointed out that most of them have paint on them. Oh. Anyways, she (Brighid) is quite easy to sew for, seeing as I'm currently liking this sewing thing.

Another woollen blanket story. Ages ago, my Mum gave me her woollen blanket from when she was at boarding school. Her grandparents had bought it for her. It is made in Kaiapoi, at the woollen mill there which processed the fleeces my father's uncles and grandfather produced on their farms in North Canterbury and not far from where my Dad was born.

I found it yesterday in the big shed (which is smaller than your kitchen most likely, but the other sheds are smaller again) and the neglect was apparent. Earlier mishaps have been darmed carefully, presumably by my Mum:
So I checked out the wool cycle on my fancy new washing machine and then I felted it on a 75 degrees celsius hot wash and tumble dried it. I wanted to be sure that I'd killed anything eating it that might want to live in my linen cupboard and cause further unhappiness. It came out of the drier looking and feeling lovely. I think the initial weave must be quite sturdy as felting doesn't make much difference. I shall think of some stunning use for it at some point, surely. I don't want to make knick knacks with it; I want to make something I will use and will last and carry the blanket through into another family history story.

I cut a lot of comfrey and put it in the compost. Scratchy itchy stuff. I harvested our broccoli. It was small and ravaged by insects which had left brown scars on the plant and lots of egg sacs. We ate it at lunch time. Then at dinner time we had some of my Dad's broccoli. His was juicy and lush and huge and tasted fantastic. Hmmmmm. I dug out the area which had been housing the poor broccoli plant and buried bokashi in it and then covered it in pea straw.

I liked Rosemary McLeod's article in today's Sunday Star Times. Perhaps I should write and tell her, because twenty years ago I disagreed with her so much that I refused to read her for a long time. I'm distantly related to her as well - I found out when I read her wonderful ode to working class fabric craft: Thrift to Fantasy. There are of course some bloggers rather irritated by McLeod's article, like Linday Mitchell. The concept of structural inequalities seems so difficult for some people to grasp. But then you don't grasp things if your fists are clenched shut.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Life and times of a domestic goddess.

Washed curtains. Big ones, small ones, black out lining, the works. That was just the lounge.

Big binge on the kids' room. Lots of biffing. & sneezing. I guess floor washing shouldn't be so notable, but it is for me.

Finished the second sleeve on the endless crossover cardigan. Next job is to decipher the codes on the pattern instructions for making the ties.

Sent parcels of clothes to various places. Filled the car with stuff for the dump.

Made tortilla with my new frypan, Le Crueset no less, courtesy of Fly Buys.

Made sushi.

Took veges and a grocery voucher around to my friend C, who now has temporary care, possibly long term, of her two grand daughters. One is less than a month old. I get very furious thinking of how happy to bash DPB recipients some people are. How on earth else is it possible for my friend to look after these babies whose parents are in no state to raise their own children? I wish there was more I could do.

red with a zip

The red skirt, all completed. It started with a gathered wait but I strode out of my comfort zone and fitted the waist and added a zip. Now I am no longer scared of zips. Big progress, and a vastly expanded range of patterns I can consider making. I put bias binding around the top (the changes were a bit ad hoc to make facings) and around the hem.

The red skirt does not represent revolutionary anything, unfortunately. Today was entirely domestic and a powerful reminder of how much waste we make in our cheap as chips consumer society. Five years ago we bought a good quality washing machine and today we found that not only was the part and labour for the latest repair going to cost over $400 but that the part was not available until (they expected, could not be confirmed) mid March. I went down to the shops and did some research. 'Shame we can't get a Miele' I said to FH. 'They are the best and most worth while but just too expensive right now'.

FH challenged me to tot up the cost of not just the first washing machine but all the subsequent repairs and suddenly the Miele looked a much more cost effective option. So we spent the winter wood and the new insulation money on a Miele.

and it goes. I was nervous that after $1600 worth of electrical repairs before Christmas and a $1900 new washing machine now, what if there were still problems? But it does go. The installers took away our broken machine, only five years old and still looking rather new to me. All that metal and componentry into landfill after just five years! I am glad we have bought something which history and research suggests will be with us for the next 20-25 years.
Cactus in flower at the end of the red fence garden.

I am nearly finished the second sleeve of the never ending cardigan. Next sewing project is either making a tutu apron for Brighid for her upcoming birthday or beginning the wrap dress project. I have cut out the pattern pieces for the dress. I was going to sew down a size and add a full bust adjustment as per the advice from clever sewists at Pattern Review but then I chickened out. Now I've read the posts again and I shall have to have yet another close look at how the pattern pieces work together and where I should adjust, assuming I still can. Putting a zip in is baby stuff compared to this pattern adjustment lark.

Once upon a time I had thoughts and arguments about issues of greater significance than fitting a dress. I think I even had some this morning. But I can only plead holiday mode. The current fashion for demonising domestic purposes beneficiaries is both disturbing and has historical parallels which challenge the idea that bad women deliberately have babies only because the DPB exists. I no longer have a copy of Margaret Tennant's work on charitable providers and receivers in 19th century New Zealand, but I do recall it's influence on my thinking from over a decade ago. Aid for mothers living without the support of a husband was very scarce then, and involved jumping through a number of hoops of proving ones respectability in order to qualify. Some right wing commentators would have us return to this situation. I think that in times of economic hardship, mothers without financially-providing partners are often the scape goat for a pressured society.

So much to unpick, so many sleepy, holiday-influenced brain cells. I desist from promising anything, as my brain cells will likely still be sleepy for days yet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Floral loveliness, for my sister

My parents invited my children to stay with them for four days. Fionn and Brighid were excited, my Mum and Dad are excited and FH and I are excited. I do feel very grateful. Even though I took the nutrients source away from this globe artichoke, it has still opened up and flowered. How magnificent is that?
Some of our sunflowers.

Our dahlias. These were in the front garden when we moved in. By the size of the tuber when I dug it up, it had not been divided for many many years. Now these blooms are in the garden by the red fence.
Tropicanna lillies. I saw the yellow version of these looking resplendent in Kerikeri and also at the end of our road, so am aiming to get the yellow version to go in the red fence garden.
Another sunflowere. This one is in the old chook run garden. I think it is from the 'Baby Bear' packet.
The red skirt so far. I sewed all the pieces into one line today. But whereas I made this version in the larger size last year and it is nice but rather too loose and shapeless, this time I went down a size and now I am going to dispense with the gathered wasitline and try sewing a zip in for the first time.

I have also been cutting out the pieces for my dress pattern and working out what alterations I need to make to get a reasonable fit. That high school maths is definitely useful after all.

In yesterday's mail I got a very special present. Revolutionary Women: A Book of Stencils, gifted by my sister. In it she wrote "For the first revolutionary woman in my life". I don't quite have words for how special this is to me. I will have a post specifically on the book soon.

Off to bed to read and think and dream. I adore my kids (and shout at them and despair at the chaos and so on) and I will miss them soon. But right now, with just FH and I and the beach to walk on each day (which we are doing) and lots of uninterrupted conversations, it is an amazing gift.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Steve Austin super hero

Steve Austin lives in Wetville. You may recall the six million dollar man but I can tell you that our local Steve is far more useful than that.

At least I hope he comes up trumps again this week. Steve fixes electrical appliances and I have a broken washing machine for the zillionth time this century.

I suppose it serves me right for washing curtains. Surely there are better things to do with my life.

This year I am having some fruit progress in the garden. Other years have been pathetic fruitwise. Brighid and I have been scoffing strawberries and blackcurrants most days. The blackcurrants are so lovely ripened on the bush that no sugar is needed (useful when you eat them standing by the bush).

One neighbour, who declined to talk to us for the first four years we lived here, today offered us his glut of lemons and said there would be grapes for us later in the season. I caressed my jaw gently so as not to be too obvious in rescuing it from its floorward descent and thanked him very much. Life is obviously much better than focusing on that damned expensive washing machine would suggest.

In the absence of anything interesting or sustained or thoughtful from me this month, can I suggest some online gems I have been reading?

1. Reading the Maps has a beautiful piece on the Maungakawas in the Waikato, blending history, personal story and politics in a way I like a great deal. I have toyed with writing in a similar vein on the 19th century Central Otago women I 'excavated' in the 1990s. But when I return to my thesis and my note cards on each woman (I ditched all my secondary source notes but could not bear to ditch my cards, the products of hundreds of hours of attempting to recreate the lives of hiterto unknown women), I am too frustrated by the narrow range of information, shoved into the usual dichotomous good and bad women frameworks. Although my subject matter is quite different, Maps may have prompted me to try again soon.

2. The Hand Mirror, repository of so much that I love, has an article on Easy Targets: the recession and sole parent bashing. I suggest you read the comments as well, especially the ones on gift law changes and the impact on family trusts and divorce settlements.

3. A new blog, brought to me courtesy of The Hand Mirror, is Hazel Parson. All three posts so far are interesting. The light shone green for keep watching-this-blog in her first post:

A bit about me: I'm a New Zealander, I'm fiercely interested in politics, I'd describe myself as left-wing but don't necessarily think that means much, and I like analysing things. ... I really want to know what makes people believe that their opinions are right, and I enjoy deconstructing ideas to see what makes them tick (or if they tick at all). ...

An example of what I believe: there is no such thing as a good idea that doesn't work in practice. At best, an idea which doesn't work in practice has the potential for being a good idea if a lot of research, testing, and analysis is done. (This sort of thinking makes me spectacularly bad at idealist politics of any kind. I always always always want to know how things are going to work in practice, right down to details about how and where and who by information will be held after the form is sent in. Idealism, when I've encountered it, usually focusses on big-picture stuff, and I don't like plans in soft focus.)

Amidst the hand wringing of 'proper' socialists (do rightwingers argue like lefties about purity of approach or are they too busy making money and exploiting tax loop-holes?) about the yuf of today, lots of us under forty are trying to work things out from a perspective which we dare to call left wing.

4. Real books? None this month. The library fines are too scary. Maybe I'll go on payday. I have been poring over the latest Organic NZ magazine. The lovely Annie Stuart who I used to flat with and study history with (I was a terrible flatmate with an awful boyfriend hanging round being awful and Annie was a fantastic cook) has written an interesting article on the history of the organics movement in New Zealand. It began as The Humic Composting Club. I found an example of a humic composting club when I cleaned behind my son's bed in the weekend. I think we will ban late night bananas for the forseeable future.

Tomorrow the children go to my parents for the rest of the week. oooooooooooooooooooh. A pic from the boys' trip camping:

Sunday, January 9, 2011


It's just Brighid and I for a few days, while FH and Fionn are away camping and kayaking (Fionn's birthday present). They've got the car and so that's the biggest change to the way we are living. Yesterday we hung out here most of the day. I sewed her a skirt made of sequinned material and after that she literally glittered around the back garden. I made a start on cleaning up the abomination of clutter and dust and detritus which had come to pass for our home. It feels much easier to clean with fewer people in the house.

Later on we went swimming. She biked and I walked. An hour later, we had stopped and started a million times, bought a gingerbread man for energy along the way and finally arrived at the swimming pool. Lots of swimming and then we set off home, via the local pub, where I had promised her we could have dinner (the fish and chip shop is too far to walk to). As we sat in the sunshine at the pub, she with her juice and me with my wine, I remembered hanging out with Fionn like this a lot (not always in pubs, but always us sitting up together instead of driving places with the child behind me) when we lived in London. It's not very practical in Wetville in the long term, being carless, as there are no suburban buses or trains and it's a much longer walk from our place to get to 'town' itself. The supermarket online ordering and delivery we used in London is not available here either. I miss the carless life sometimes.

I am coveting a new dress. I bought one in Auckland which I love and which has served to make me want another one. Only this time I will need to sew it. I have ordered this Vogue 8379 which looks so completely fabulous that I have read almost all 84 reviews of it on the Pattern Review website. In the meantime I am washing and drying my red and denim fabric scraps to turn them into another version of this skirt.

Now, meantimes have abounded since I started this post at 9am and now, writing at 10.30pm. I have done no less a good thing than started to wash the curtains.

Washed the curtains.

Yes. We won't talk about the lack of vacuuming or dish washing or bed making (huh! No one makes beds here unless it is sheet changing time which of course you don't make until bed time) because curtain washing is pretty damn good. I carefully eased apart the wet thermal drapes and they only left little holes in the thermal lining but that was all worth it because really they were very dirty before. That's what burning coal does. Not just the entire environment, Wellington people (they've been recycling for decades in Wellington, I'm sure they are so eco-friendly there that no one has seen a coal fire since they stayed at their Gran's in 1974), but the lounge to boot.

I have also harvested the garlic and done some weeding and the girl and I walked to the shop and had an icecream, just like a poster for a New Zealand summer.

I have cut out the red and white spotty material and the swirly red and white pattened material but the denim is just too wrong. The spotty fabric was a remainder piece for half price and the swirly fabric comes from a $2 dress at the Sallies so quite frugal and recyclish because whatever the brownie points or lack thereof, I am going to the brand new fabric shop sometime soon to find some more red and white wonderfulness as I have cut five pieces and need five more.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wild thing & hot chile

Test pots are fun.

We settled on Resene Wild Thing for the walls (below is progress so far, just one coat) and Resene Hot Chile for the backdrop to the fire.

Lots of painting round here this week. Fionn chose Trinidad for his test pot for the tree house. Far too boring to paint it all one colour apparently, and he bought Dizzy Lizzy (bright lime green) this morning.

The wind outside is destroying parts of the garden again.

The slugs have been eating my coriander. Time for more beer traps. I do have rocket ready to eat again, and sowed more earlier in the week. Below are my favourite flowers at the moment. They self seed, and turn up in places where I forgot I ever put them or whether it was plants or seeds I put there. Both delicate and gorgeous.
Brighid chose her tulle for her birthday skirt.

I made lavash using this recipe yesterday. They were very yummy. Thin as thin as thin as possible yields the very best results.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Playing with colour and seaweed

The proposed new colours for our lounge. Ignore the skirting boards and ceiling colours; they will be white. So much warmer than the current scheme:
This afternoon we went to Rapahoe beach to collect seaweed. I collected two bags of seaweed and almost two of rubbish. The short people collected somewhat less, spending most of their time by the river mouth (gratuitous picture of the children for my siblings).

We all enjoyed watching the heron in the river.
Back home, I rinsed the seaweed and put it in the compost, layering it with the chopped up woody stems of the globe artichokes plants. I'm assuming they provide carbon. Not sure of the carbon/nitrogen status of seaweed, but as both Kay Baxter and Linda Woodrow consider the stuff to be like gold, I figure I can't go too far wrong.

I weeded around all of the garlic and planted Brighid's impatiens. I tied up the tomatoes which have been flopped on the ground since before I got back from holiday. Some very strange shaped tomatoes, but flowers and even one fruit so worth persevering. Over in the wild lot, the bees were plentiful and I was reminded that order isn't the only good. There are lots of flowers on the pumpkins and I must check - I think that other years I have pruned the flowers so that the growing energy is spread over fewer pumpkins.

I am refusing to sew for a few days as it is making my head spin (metaphorically rather literally). But I have a new sewing blog love. This is Andrea's vintage wardrobe blog. Andrea has a figure quite similar to mine. I have never before seen someone sew so beautifully and wear their clothes with pride in such a personally inspiring way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

aubergine paint & calcium compost

There will be no neutrals in our lounge. No beige, or off white, no gentle colour scheme linking in with the same paint in the rest of the house. This morning, acting on my own certain knowledge that ordinary cleaning is boring, I brought the ladder inside, took the curtains down and started to clean the ceiling. Favourite Handyman had a look at my progress and offered to paint the lounge for me.

So we started with thoughts of yellow and red and then I looked at orange and also I'm now keen on aubergine. Not all together you understand (or maybe that wasn't so predictable). There is a large piece of chipboard behind the fire which I want to be a different colour. Even back in the olden days (last month) when I thought of pale sandstone for the walls, I wanted deep red for the chipboard. It is currently unpainted and that does most definitely need to change.

I found Resene's EzyPaint software on their website which is quite fun. Though the simple online one is more fun than the real deal downloaded one which is much more fiddly and feels like work.

Back to basics gardening. It is certainly where I need to be. After the neglect of the last year, I am focusing on compost again. I've been reading Kay Baxter's articles in recent Organic NZ magazines, especially the Nov/Dec 2010 issue. She is of the mind that gardens, and therefore composts, need lots of calcium. Usually I roast and then crush the leftover eggshells from breakfast and feed them back to the chooks. Today I cooked them (habit? I guess I don't need to for the compost) and then ground them with the mortar and pestle and threw it on my compost. I've got a big bag of mussel shells which I need to crush and put in the compost as well.

Yesterday I bought silverbeet, coriander, mixed brassicas and impatiens at the garden shop. I was away for the key seed raising period and bought seedlings is still better than entirely bought vegetables. The impatiens, some of which are a salmon pink I associate with 1980s bridesmaids' dresses, are a concession to my daughter's enthusiasm for gardening. I tried to move her to the pansies but to no avail. I have planted almost all of them, adding compost and lime and delighting in the worm numbers where FH last dug in the bokashi. That patch should grow wonderful brassicas.

Today I knitted one row of the endless cardigan. Yesterday I knitted none at all. I guess that is why it is endless. I also made banana cake with two children who wanted to be actively and competitively involved. I think running a professional kitchen would be easier.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Watch out for bad luck and socialists.

So 2011. I vowed not to do some things at the beginning of 2010. Mostly I succeeded. Two 'failures': library fines (though I didn't do the damage I have done some other years) and hair dye. I quite like being blonde again, carcinogens be damned.

The post I am most proud of on my blog in 2010 is my post on abortion, which The Hand Mirror, The Standard and the Down Under 27th Feminists Carnival linked to.

2010 turned out to be the year of the sewing machine for me. It was a good year at work for me on the whole, though I deliberately don't blog about work. The casualty of my time at work was the garden. I have cut back my work hours for 2011. My daughter is showing signs of having green fingers and I hope that we can spend much of our last year at home together, before she starts school, making magic in the garden.

I am disappointed in my 2010 from a political perspective. I achieved nothing. The danger money received by our local miners got called in and none of us has any decent answers. I don't have the certainties of faith in socialism which would help my sense of direction. I don't have any sense that any other political perspective has something better to offer either. I've been reading the comments about John Key from Chris Trotter and Deborah of the Hand Mirror. I've been considering them in the light of an experience in Auckland when I tried to direct Christmas Day banalities into a conversation about politics and economics (unsuccessful as I froze the table into silence). 'There but for the grace of God' is a phrase I often invoke. I don't think it is necessary to believe in God to find this phrase helpful. But 'there' is bogeyland, and most people do not want to go near bogeyland in case it is catching. So what is so attractive about John Key and his simultaneous wealth and accessibility is that he exudes success and the idea of catching some of that success is most appealing.

I managed to throw out three pieces of clothing this morning. Old, ugly, poor fit, no longer worn. Still took some discipline to actually put it in the bin and not in the craft pile for repairs or just in case. May they be the beginning of an avalanche of decluttering. If I cannot garden because of the rain, then at least I can whittle down the junk.

Happy New Year.


I would like to offer my sympathies to Anne Else, a Hand Mirror blog writer and the writer of two personal blogs: Elsewoman and Something Else to Eat. One of the particularly special aspects of the current state of New Zealand blogging for me is the chance to read Anne's writing. When I was studying history in 1993, her book on closed stranger adoption (see here for more details of Anne's writing achievements) was very very influential. Almost two decades later, parts of that book still resonate with me, and I write as a person without personal experience of adoption.

Anne's valuable analysis and writing skills are still with us, but the man she loves is not. I knew the name Harvey McQueen without knowing much of what he did until recently and I have enjoyed his blog Stoatspring. Words always seem to me to be so solitary, so inadequate, in the face of death. On this occasion, words offer something different, special, a way to remember. I shall buy his recent book of his favourite New Zealand poems, These I have Loved, just as soon as I possibly can.