Saturday, July 30, 2011


The poultry palace is graced once again with five princesses.

Favourite Handyman cooked brocolli, sausages and potatoes for dinner.

Brighid ate all of her dinner without a single complaint.

Fionn got a voucher at league for doing a fabulous tackle and a big wound on his knee at the aftermatch function when he took a leap in the dark and landed on concrete instead of muddy grass. Despite wailing and gnashing his teeth as I cleaned the wound, and requesting bandages, it does appear that his knee will be perfectly fine in a week or so. It was worth it for him anyway, as he got a bottle of coca cola, illicit stuff in our house.

Geraldine Brooks' novel, March, is fantastic. Gripping, rivetting, etc.

The local garden nursery has little plants of snowdrops. It's hard to get these as bulbs, so buying them this more expensive way is better than missing out entirely. I bought and planted one today, and may well sneak back for more this week.

It has been a wonderful fortnight, full of treats of great weather, a real going-away holiday, and the absence of lurgies. The previous school holidays were rather unfortunately punctuated with vomit. Tomorrow we have friends for lunch, and in between making food and chatting with our friends, I'll be sure to visit the chooks very very frequently.

Friday, July 29, 2011

apple & feijoa cider

Good things:
apple & feijoa cider from Old Mout Cider. I grew up just down the road from where this stuff is made. Indeed, Brownies was held in the old school next door to what was the Noslen winery, makers of blackberry nip, which was another cheap and drinkable tipple, though I think the cider is better again. Anyways, it's on special at New World at the moment, and it comes in a plastic bottle. $9 a litre! Who can complain, certainly not me.

There was a magical moment at the vehicle testing station this afternoon, when it appeared that all I needed was a new headlamp bulb and then I had a warrant of fitness for our elderly car for six more months. Unfortunately, changing the bulb revealed that it's a bigger problem, and when they gave me the sheet to get it fixed, there was a warning on the bottom about a rusty crossmount bar on the radiator. Or something like that. Something ominous. Ominously expensive. Still. I have had worse warrant reports. Considerably worse in fact.

I bought Simplicity 9900 in order to make some shorts for Fionn, who has been reminding me that it is time I sewed something for him. I realise it is a simple pattern and that commercial patterns are expensive, but I find drafting or freehand patternmaking very difficult and at least this way I am supporting our local fabric shop.

My friend Ruth gave me this remaindered curtain sample, which Fionn likes a lot. I'd demurred that it was impractical for shorts, but then today I wondered why that had to matter, when I had the fabric waiting to be used anyway.
I've nearly finished them. Lopsided bottoms as the hem is marked up on one side after Fionn tried them on. I could easily have made the size smaller.
Only one more day until our new chooks arrive...

[yes, of course it rained today. Otherwise I would have been full of gardening talk. But not to mind, I still found things to do which related in no way to housework.]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Roses are not sacred

Best day ever! Not bad, considering it's holidays and I've been having lots of great days recently. I spent almost all day in the garden, coming inside only for the rained out bits. I have weeded along the outside of the kitchen and transplanted all the strawberries to this garden bed. Where the strawberries used to be are now free of weeds and covered in chook run fertiliser, seaweed and peastraw.

The kids and Favourite Handyman raked out the chook run and poured five wheelbarrow loads of wonderful fertiliser/compost on various parts of the garden. We've been putting wood shavings and sawdust in the chook run for the last two years and the chooks have been doing their bit by pooing endlessly. I've also cleaned out the coop and the pooey straw (the last couple of months they'd been sleeping in there instead of on the roost - not sure why) and put that on the garden.

That was the morning project. In the afternoon I got stuck into the front garden, or the overgrown strip which could one day answer to the description of 'front garden'. I managed to get the bulk of the gunnera out, which I've never managed before. It was very heavy, even though it wasn't much more than a stump in size. I want to get rid of a very ugly, invasive grass/flax like weed which is dominating my front growing space. It had even set up home in the gravel driveway. I got that out and then realised this meant it had shallow roots. In the past, I'd only chopped it back because it was growing through a rose bush. But today, I knew that roses are not sacred and this one must be sacrificed. Despite going carefully, I still ripped skin (gloves are for people who don't like gardening - I want to feel the process of creating life in the soil), but eventually the rose bush was out and then the nasty weed. Tomorrow I will take photos and try harder to identify the weed, but the rain prevented any photographs being taken this afternoon.

I have transplanted one red-flowering manuka into the vacant space and may do the second tomorrow. After dinner, we all pored over the flower section of the Kings Seed catalogue and made suggestions as to what flowers could go in the space which can nearly be called a garden in front of the lounge. Everyone made suggestions at once and then they laughed at me for writing the wrong name codes by various flowers.

Here is Brighid wearing the finished red dress with green flowers. Nice dress, but judging by her eyes, I don't have a 100% well child. She styled her hair herself, just like Kate Middleton (or was that her makeup? Brighid wants that stuff as well, she tells me).

Earlier in the week I took it into my head to reduce the amount of fabric in the study. Given that the study is going to become Fionn's bedroom in the medium term future, using up fabric needs to happen more often, faster, furiouser. Maybe not furiouser.

This skirt, for Brighid (yeah she has enough clothes, but everyone else is much more difficult to sew for), is made entirely from fabric and notions in my stash. I don't think I've managed that before - usually I have to buy thread or bias binding even when I'm mostly using up fabric. She likes it.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson is worth reading. It's pitched at teenagers, but I liked it anyway, and thought there was much to consider after reading it. Bio-ethics meets teenage angst.

Last night I finished Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I didn't get drawn into it straight away, but by the second half I was reading without any regard for the late hour, gripped. It is very good. Olive Kitteridge is old, clever, wise, angry, irrational, loving and stroppy. I could see myself in her at times and, chastened by such a clear evocation of the hurts which being alive so long bring, as well as the pleasures, I thought I should be more understanding of my own mother. Read it. Especially you, Marion H and Rachael A and Marija B, because I want to know what you think afterwards.

The cover of the book annoyed me though. What on earth does the image of a young woman's back have to do with this novel?

I'm also having a crisis of belief in socialism, and thinking about budgeting some more. More on those another time. I need to go start another novel, probably a Geraldine Brooks one. Need, you know. Not like when housework supposedly needs to be done. This is need + desire = action.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reefton retro

After five nights without the children, in which we had a marvellous time, firstly at the wonderful hot pools at Maruia Springs and later at home, we are now our full complement again and it's great to have Brighid and Fionn back. I miss the chooks too, much more than I had thought I would, so I'm looking forward to collecting our new chooks this Saturday.

Stopping of at Reefton for a pie this afternoon, I was impressed with the retro theme at the tearooms. The painting isn't so much retro but I included it anyway as it is of local brass band players. Those two display cabinets are entirely filled with novelty salt and pepper shakers.

At Maruia Springs we tried a new-to-us traditional Japanese dish called yose-nobe. It was a soy based broth with prawns, salmon, chicken balls, mussels, scallops and vegetables in it. They brought a gas ring to our table and then placed the large dish on the burner and left us with ladles and bowls to serve ourselves. It was delicious and I am on a mission to make our own now. I'm not wild about soy products, but I've found instructions for making traditional Japanese broths with kombu and bonito flakes, which I am happy to do.

Eating the lovely yose-nobe prompted FH and I to reminisce about favourite foods we had discovered while travelling. Memories of fabada in the Asturias region of Spain came back again this afternoon in the butchery at Blackball. So I've come home with white pudding, black pudding, chorizo and bacon (and sausages and saveloys of course of course - it is league season) and tonight I'll put some white beans in water to soak.

I've finished my flowery curtain material skirt, barring a hook and eye at the top of the zip. Hell will probably freeze over before I post a picture of me wearing it, but one of it on the skirt hanger could be up later in the week. I found some very lovely retro floral at the Sallies a few days ago and am gearing up to make it into a bag for my sister in law. I've only had it on my to-do list for seven months...

I took this from the new national cycle way path not far from us. Behind me is the Tasman Sea, to my right are lines of snow capped mountains, to my left are houses and here is our local gravel works. Behind it is more suburbia.

I got into the gardening late this afternoon. I transplanted one rose, dug a pile of weeds out and (it appeared) brought on the first rain we've had in over a week. More rose and strawberry relocations tomorrow.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

More garden dreaming

The two people who taught me about gardening as a child were my Dad and my maternal Grandma. Grandma is still alive and enjoying looking at her garden and gardening magazines, but she has to rely on other people to do the gardening for her now. I think of her when I see aquilegias, remembering when we went to the Royal Show in Christchurch about 20 years ago. Grandma and Grandad also bred pedigree jersey cattle, and we wandered around looking at many breeds of cattle I'd never ever seen before, and then moved on to the garden stalls.

Kings Seeds have many different type of aquilegias, also known as grannys bonnets. I considered the aquilegia yellow star (photo below) for my yellow theme, but as I only have one garden bed which really needs the yellow theme, when I saw the aquilegia shady garden scatter (top photo), I thought of it for the front garden, which is south facing in and need of special treatment.

This is the area which needs the work. Underneath the closest window are some spring bulbs, mostly bluebells which I planted. I'm happy with them. What I would like to add in autumn are some snowdrops, which from memory work well in shady gardens. Mum and Dad had a snowdrop hidden behind a larger tree on the front lawn when I was a child, and I always felt like I'd discovered the secret of spring when it blossomed. Along the back are succulents, which are cheap and grow with no care, but actually some flowers with a bit of height would be best along the back. Along with a mish mash of unknown leafy plants in this rectangle is quite a bit of comfrey. I did that on purpose, marking out my hippy territory. Now I'm moving to flower country for this patch, I expect some comfrey root will be there to stay for ever, but I'll be moving the bulk of it somewhere else.

This is also the front of house wilderness. I had planned on building a super spud patch in the strawberry garden, and shifting the strawberries out to the back. But now I'm into flowers for the front... Maybe sweet peas would complement spuds?

As for the wild long grass excuse for a garden behind the strawberry garden... time for my back to heal and to start some intensive digging and weeding.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kings Seed Catalogue

My first Kings Seeds catalogue list came to $83. Several culls ahead. But I am going to get cowslip, or primroses (above), in keeping with my Enid Blyton English wood nostalgia theme. The theme has been in my head and reading to the children so far, but time to take it out into the garden and let it flourish.
I fancy this Californian plant, meadowfoam (above) as well. Also known as fried eggs. I'm gearing up for a summer of yellow flowers. More on my garden list tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


We've had visitors and lots of fun the last couple of days. Much more fun than listening to some of the economic news, and that damn Phil O'Reilly on why workers should not get pay rises which respond to the sharp inflation rate. From the Blackball Museum of working class history:
Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.

A shot of the kids. Both photos from our talented visiting photographer.

Tomorrow we take the children to my parents to stay and then FH and I are going on a mini holiday all of our own, complete with hot pools, and possibly even snow.

None of that over the top expensive broccoli for us. Here we are eating swede. And kale of course. I made smoked fish and potato stew the other night, with kale in it, and I cooked grated swede and 8/9 people liked it. Brighid, of course, was the unpleasable. If you are hanging off the edge of your computer, desperate to know my recipe secrets so that you too can serve swede which people have second helpings of, then leave me a comment and I'll write the recipes in a post after I return from my overnight hot pools adventure.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Inglorious death

Warning: This post is not suitable for vegetarians. It does deal with some very unappealing aspects of animal death.

Today we continued with the chook slaughter. Last week Favourite Handyman killed chook #1. The biggest learning point from that was that they do have better eyesight than he'd thought. The remaining four chooks weren't going anywhere near him. This morning we organised the children in front of the computer and I coaxed one chook out with some grain. I caught her and spoke to her gently as I carried her round to the side of the house, where FH broke her neck. I repeated this performance once, before the final two chooks decided they didn't trust me and refused to be bribed.

The two dead chooks were in a sack waiting for me and FH took the children to the local swimming pool. Then - and I warn you again, this is not a pretty post - I went to start the skinning and gutting and, upon opening the sack, saw that one chook was still breathing. I didn't handle it well. I took out the dead chook and froze at the sight of the recently alive body on the table outside. Despite having skinned a couple of chooks before and gutted half a dozen, all confidence and sense of skill deserted me. I still felt both sick about the not-dead chook and sicker still that I didn't have the inner strength to kill it myself.

So I severed the feet of the dead chook, carefully washed and froze them, and buried the rest of the chook in the garden. There was quite a weight to the chook as I buried it and I was keenly aware that I wasn't making the best use of this resource. Twice I went back and checked on the not-dead chook, each time finding myself unable to act decisively. The second time I did see that it wasn't in visible distress, just quietly sitting in the sack, it's head turned to look at me. So at least it didn't appear to be dying a slow and tortured death.

When FH came home, I was reminded again why he is such a great husband. He was clear that he would have to kill it again and this time add the step of placing his booted foot on the neck and ensuring it was dead. Very calmly, he also talked me through the need to overcome fears, not to let them own me, and that we would get better at this, learn to kill them as humanely as possible, and this is all part of having chooks. I should add that this is just as new to FH as it is to me, and he certainly does not enjoy killing the chooks. So he killed the undead chook. It seems that the first time the chook just went unconscious and the neck was not severed. Then I skinned and gutted it.

The story gets more gory. As I gutted it, I wondered what huge hard thing I was pulling out. Duh! The chook was about to start laying, probably tomorrow judging by the location of the egg. As I gutted, I saw that we have culled too early. Next time, we will wait three years before culling. I had thought that efficent use of feed meant now was the time to cull and start again, i.e. after two years, but an inspection of the insides of the dead chook suggests otherwise.

The skinned, gutted chook and it's cleaned feet are now in the slow cooker, together with chopped onions, carrots, bay leaves, water and a little apple cider vinegar. The remaining two chooks are locked into the coop (thanks to the help of Fionn, who is the right size for chimney sweep sized jobs) rather than free reigning through the run, and will be killed in the morning.

I tell the story of today's learning not to make anyone feel ill. I am absolutely serious in suggesting that this is not a post suitable for all readers. But in a blog scene where urban homesteading is often glorified, all beauty and sunshine and love and little or no pain, rain, drought or disaster, I think it is important to tell my truth.

Friday, July 15, 2011

We need to ask some new questions

Often I read of the terrible, inequitable, sad situation of workplaces where women are under-represented. Such articles are so frequent in the places I tend to read (e.g. feminist blogs, Guardian) that I'm writing this as a generalised response rather than linking to a particular article. Such articles have a point, and the fight for workplaces which reward merit not conformity to a particular set of mostly male features must continue. When I tutored at university, my history students included many older women who were juggling the care of small children with study. My friend who was training to be an engineer had a few older male students in her class but the small number of female students were all under 25. Not enormously hard to work out why: daily labs until 5pm and the expectation of full time study were the norm.

But I want to argue tonight for asking some different questions, and I'm basing my thoughts on my own experiences. A couple of days ago, I went on a work-related course. It was fantastic. I learnt a huge amount and came away re-energised and enthusiastic about achieving my work goals this year. As occasionally happens to me, I thought of what I would do if I was running the show. But I am not angry about not running my department and I don't feel like anyone has got in my way. I'm fortunate to work in a job with flexible work time in the school holidays and my specific workplace is very very family friendly. Invaluable given that I'm often home with sick children. I'm not working part time because the door of full time work opportunities has been closed to me. I'm working part time because that is what I want to do.

I want to watch Brighid when the orchestra visits kindy, as it did today. I want to go to the school assemblies and trips (sometimes I can't because it clashes with work but the world doesn't end, soemthing works out with a trip sometime). I want to visit my elderly cousin each week. This afternoon I did FH's work for an hour so he could collect Brighid and they could watch Fionn's school assembly. Extra excitement when it turned out he got a certificate. We are lucky in that there is some, though limited, swapability in our jobs. I want to take them to the library, to make sure they eat well after school, to let them have friends around, to know the world they circulate in.

Just because I want to do these things does not mean anyone should, or has to. Please don't assume for one second that I think parents should not work or that a mother's place is in the home. I'm only talking about what I want to do. The fact that it rains so much here does help keep house prices down and makes it easier for us to enact this vision for our family life.

But can we talk about what goes on when people, like me, do want to stay out of the hierarchy of the workplace in order to pursue unpaid goals? Because it does annoy me when I find assumptions that highly educated people are not using their skills when they stay home and engage in unpaid care work.

As well as legitimately asking why women are not fully represented in jobs with high pay and high responsibility, I want more commentators to ask questions about how we care for others in unpaid contexts. I can't contract out the service of visiting my elderly cousin. It might be possible to pay someone to visit her, to take her out and help her with difficult challenges as they arise. But you cannot pay someone to have the emotional and almost tangible connection of being family.

Regarding childcare, we do pay for it. I don't have sufficient words for how special Robyn and Sharon are in our lives. When I graduated, I had lunch beforehand at a friend's house. I had much admired my friend's family situation because I saw through them the tangible proof that both parents could pursue careers and raise fantastic children within a close and supportive environment. That afternoon, not just my friend's parents, but also Mrs M, who had cared for my friend since she was two weeks old, were at the ceremony. I'm hopeful that our lovely childminders will still be in the lives of our children when they turn 21 and when they graduate from whatever they choose to train in. I also choose to be with my kids most of the time they are not at school and kindy. I want to. That's what I chose when I had them, and each year as we decide our plans, I have continued to want to spend that time with them.

A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful time in Nelson at the birthday party of an old school friend. I was both delighted and impressed with how all of my friends who had had children are enjoying them. Later on, as I was reflecting on the party, I relished a particular aspect of it: there was a diversity of roles within my friends' families. My high flying lawyer friend loves her daughters and her husband enjoys the flexibility that his work gives him to be the person who collects the girls if they are sick or changes his hours to watch their special events at kindy. Several male friends had taken a year's leave to look after their children while their wives worked. I hope my own children grow up seeing that diversity, finding it normal.

Asking questions about who cares for our vulnerable people - the sick, the very young and very old, the mentally unwell and others who cannot maintain independence - need not, should not, be conflated with asking where the women are, although currently that is where a lot of women are. We need to ask questions about how our entire society can arrange itself so that people with meaningful relationships with each other can provide care when needed. We've got a long way to go.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

In search of suburban beauty

You want kale first or last?
Tonight: kale in nachos.
My kids don't like nachos made with a tin of refried bean mush. They also don't like the vegetable mixture to arrive touching the chips. We never have a meat version because if I had the time to make a meat version, we probably wouldn't be having nachos.


Peel one large kumara. Chop into cubes and steam until soft.

Wash, chop out the central rib and chop up quite a lot of tuscan kale (also known as cavolo nero). Peel and chop 4-6 cloves of garlic. Roughly chop the contents of one container of anchovies (50g, sometimes less). Sautee it gently in a pan with the lid on top after the first minute or two (sautee may be the wrong word for experts but it seems the best fit to me). Add some cumin, stir and add the kumara. Mash it up a bit with a fork and turn the element off.

Make some guacamole. I made mine with the juice of an entire lime. This is too much lime juice. Half is better. Otherwise, a couple of avocadoes, the leafy contents of one of those plastic containers of fresh coriander from the supermarket (I cannot grow the stuff at all as of the last eighteen or more months), more chopped garlic. I forgot the paprika until now as I type.

Tip the nachos on to the roasting dish. Grate some cheese over them. Heat them in the oven until they are hot. Dish everything up onto separate parts of the plate. This worked well for three out of four people.

This week I have had only one glass of wine, which was when I went out for drink/dessert with friends on Tuesday night. I am indeed a good girl. Of course I felt a quiver of guilt as I typed that sentence, the sense that only the undeserving liar writes such a sentence, but then recovering Catholics are always recovering, never quite divorced from their gothic, sinful heritage of indulgence and self loathing.

Tonight I bought a home decorating magazine called Your Home and Garden, specifically because it has a feature on Melissa Wastney of Tiny Happy. Tiny Happy is a blog of delicate and beautiful gorgeousness such that sometimes I feel a little clumsy just reading it. It is also lovely and completely lacking in pretentiousness. Your Home and Garden had the usual effect of making me wonder what on earth other people did with their lives to find the time to make their places so gorgeous, before I remembered that it is a magazine, Sandra, and please remember both the artificiality and the capitalist-acquisitional-greed-provoking purpose of magazines. And we have painted a lot of things hot chilli or wild thing or a very bright red on the fence which I cannot remember the name of and I like them all. I might enter the competition to win a holiday in Samoa, just to feel that I didn't squander my money on home decorating unease without redemption.

The four chooks are still alive. I don't know that we are going to be very good at this killing part of the suburban homesteading project. But we have five new ones arriving in just two weeks, so we can't back out now.

With the school and kindy term almost done, and the house in need of cleaning, I'm gearing up for a new and more interesting project on care workers for an exhibition at the Blackball Museum of working class history. In Blackball. I have the great benefit and pleasure of working with Denise, who has lots of work and personal experience with care needs, care advocacy and care provision for the most vulnerable in our community. There is or was a court case not so very long ago about the rule where if non-family members provided care for dis-abled people, they were paid, but family members were not. Time to follow that one up, and then find some people for whom that case is very relevant.

The title. I am. In search. Sometimes I find it, even when I am grumpy.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Kale grows throughout winter. Kale survives storms. It survives thunder and lightning and hail and more rain than anyone who doesn't live near a rainforest can ever hope to experience.

Which is why we are still eating it.

Tonight: kale and garlic chopped and sauteed in a small amount of olive oil. Then I poured in quite a lot of frozen peas and a little water and put the lid on for the cooking to continue. Meanwhile I was cooking some fettucine because that is the only pasta I could find in the drawer. I added about a third of a container (the 250g kind) of cream cheese to the green veg mix because that's all we had left and blitzed it with my whizzy stick. Then I added the pasta into the sauce and stirred it all up and put finely grated cheddar cheese on top of each bowl of pasta. We ate it all and didn't have enough seconds to go round, so I'm treating that as a success. The addition of peas does definitely take it into the realm of babyfood consistency. Why not? I tried to cook the same for everyone when I had babies. Tins and jars and separate meals - bah! Yoof of today and their weird (y'know, not like mine...) parenting.

I'm still handsewing flowers on Brighid's new red dress and I actually like this handsewing thing. Just as easy to do as knitting in front of the computer but I think gentler on my hands. If I knit for lengths of time then arthritis makes an unwelcome appearance. This piece of sewing and the commentary was what made me notice how pleasant sitting sewing was. It reminded me that one day I will start something beautiful to go on top of our bed.

Isa Ritchie has flagged up her latest exciting project, this time on free food. I'm looking forward to reading and thinking more about her work. Reading Isa's outline, my own mind immediately wandered to thinking of historical practises of sharing food outside the formal capitalist system. I remember reading of the families of conscientious objectors in New Zealand, people who were supposed to be shunned. In public they were, but also I read of such families rising in the morning to find anonymous gifts of food on their doorstep. I also wonder about the different forms free food movements and less clearly organised free food practises take between urban and rural settings.

Three nights without booze. I've organised a women's night out tomorrow. I best get straight into the cake if I'm not going to drink. On the subject of more books and less booze, I'd best go read. I think it is the Peter Mayle Provence books awaiting me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

More books, less booze

My latest mantra is more books, less booze. Mostly, it seems that reasonable quality red wine is far far cheaper in the supermarket than reasonable quality paperback books in the bookshop (we don't quite have a real bookshop here either, just some best seller shelves in the stationery/magazine shops). But if I watch Trademe and have a lucky find, or even if I take advantage of Book Depository's free worldwide postage and the current high NZ dollar, and if perchance my body has announced that 2-3 drinks, 3-4 times per week really needs to go down to 1-2 drinks, 1-2 times per week, then books are the new black round here.

This weekend I read Andrea Levy's Small Island, set in Jamaica, India and London either side of World War Two. I loved it. Would I be so comfortably removed from the reality of the racism if the book were set in New Zealand? No. Gilbert Joseph fights for England in the war and yet finds himself more hated by the English when he moves to London afterwards than any German or Japanese enemy. The reason for the hatred? The colour of his skin. With an even greater run of good luck than the $4 Small Island, on Trademe tonight I won Levy's latest book, Long Song, for $1. Better than booze indeed.

We've had spring winds in July this year, and the plastic roofing on the chook run is no longer entirely where it should be.

We are still eating from the garden. This simply red mesclun mix from Kings Seeds is going in my salads and sandwiches most days.

The lemon tree is providing almost as much excitement as when I gave birth to my children.

Yellow lemons! On my lemon tree! Only took four years and three plants.

Next, the bits which need work. Not quite more work as I've done so little so far, but lots of work.

You can't see my precious snowdrops in this lemon balm jungle. The snowdrops are from an old bulb which did not flower for the first few years after we arrived, because it had been squashed and starved. Then it appeared like a miracle two years ago and now... now it is overtaken again. I have rescuing to do.

The front of the house. I've decided it needs a beautification project, though in my head I keep saying beatification, which is less justified.

Also in front of the house. I need to win against blackberry and long weedy grasses. I used to want vegetables, but now I'm thinking flowers. Strong-against-wind flowers.

Still no machine sewing. I do have the loan of a wonderful book called Sew What Skirts as of today, so I need to finish my current skirt. Finishing sewing seems not to be a strength.

I used to be a kitchen queen, a kitchen wizard even, every Sunday. Not so lately. Perhaps the children will die from eating uber-wrapped Le Snak packs at school and kindy. I'm trusting not at this stage. But I did make a new-to-me soup tonight for dinner. It's a combination of reading Nourishing Traditions briefly, shutting it before Pandora-the-food-whiner got out, and remembering reading this carrot soup recipe from Hazeltree Farm.

Peel and chop about six large carrots. Wash, strip and finely chop one leek. Finely chop some ginger. Melt lots and lots of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook the carrots and ginger and leeks in it for a bit, then add some orange juice (I used orange and apple juice cos' that's the supermarket had and real oranges are too expensive for this recipe), put the lid on and turn it down low. Cook for quite a while, maybe half an hour. Add some quinoa (the mere act of adding quinoa to anything makes me feel virtuous) and cook some more until it too looks cooked. Pulverise it all with a whizzy stick. Then add some cream slowly and mix in. I served it with toast, and followed up with apple crumble. Pudding. Maybe I was a kitchen wizard today after all.

Even better for lifting spirits, we planned a camping holiday for summer and a holiday involving the children at their grandparents and FH and I at somewhere lovely for in ten days' time. Roll on next Sunday.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Our family is not a tax factory

A post by Daharja on local living: home decorating and education is worth reading. It's part of series she is running on her blog and they are all good. I love her invocation to never paint the walls beige. For the last few years on Mothers' Day, FH and the children have chosen photos of the kids and had them enlarged and framed for me. I love them, and they fit with some of her suggestions. This year they gave me one of Fionn kayaking in a cave near Punakaiki and one of Brighid and FH walking through Hagley Park just a week after the February 22 earthquake.

I've not been sewing, though tonight I've started the handsewing on Brighid's red corduroy dress again. It feels like craft progress without the concentration/difficulty factor of getting out the ironing board and sewing a zip into my flowery curtain fabric skirt.

Fionn is preoccupied with bees and with reading and Brighid spent much of this morning with me wanting to write all our family names. It's fun.

I took it into my head to make paella tonight. I think it turned out okay, though I made enough to feed the five thousand. I used vegetables, chicken stock, squid and turbot.

I've just been listening to an interview with Professor Anne Smith regarding the Early Childhood Education taskforce report. I picked up the link on facebook from friends concerned about the implications for Playcentre. The interview does not specifically address Playcentre, but it does endorse a formalised, market-led model of early childhood, in which the gains for our community are measured in terms of economic productivity and a situation where mothers (it's assumed that fathers are working as well) are working and paying tax is best for everyone. I thought I would love Playcentre, but the reality of our family's experience is that our local kindy has offered what I had wanted from Playcentre and our local Playcentre was quite different to what I'd imagined from reading Playcentre philosophy. I'm a fan of parents/caregivers ditching all this formalised stuff and hiring a hall to have collective fun in. One of the local churches in Wetville does this every Friday and it is wonderful. Trained early childhood teachers do offer great things for children and families in my experience, but I think parents should never lose sight of their own power. We can and do do great things with our kids. Certificates, PD days and profile folders are not the only indicators of valuable growth and learning.

We toyed with home educating Fionn and sometimes people who remember this ask me how I see it now. I am quite confident that our local school is the best place for Fionn and it is extremely likely to be so for Brighid from next year, but I always hold on to the knowledge that we can, could and potentially would learn at home as a family full time ('cos we do it lots of the time anyway) and do it well. I intend for no institution of learning to have the power over us of being the only choice.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


The changeover of chooks project has begun. On Sunday Favourite Handyman killed one chook. He didn't enjoy it at all and there was another hitch in that he thought the chooks had worse distance eyesight than they do. They saw alright and they weren't going anywhere near him.

In the past, we have been gifted roosters to kill and eat, but this is the first time we've done our own. We haven't given them names and we always planned they would be eaten once they were past their best laying days, but it was harder to do our own all the same. FH had to go into work straight after the killing and I decided it was far too hard to skin and gut a chook safely (sharp knives and nasty bacteria) with two smallish children wnating to be part of the process. So I cut off the feet (excellent for stock apparently), washed them very thoroughly and put them in the freezer. Then I buried the chook in a deep hole with a bucket of bokashi on top and then soil on top of that. Not the optimum way to get the most out of our chook but it will enrich the soil for some great summer vegetables I hope. Brighid and Fionn were very matter of fact about the process.

This Huffington Post piece on how to talk to little girls is very good. I've thought about it quite a bit and I think I'm fine with still talking a bit of clothes talk with some of the hugely stylish (that's strong sense of personal style, not fashion stuff) four year olds I hang out with. I'm also fine with engaging with boy style choices too, knowing that this interests my own son at least. But as to the talking books stuff and the talking to the brain stuff, bring it on and more. I loved Bloom's story.

That's it. I haven't been sewing. I've hardly read beyond the newspaper. It's the tail end of the school term, unnecessarily long due to some silly sports games, and we're all feeling it here at the messy house.

But not SO messy. I cleaned the oven yesterday. I didn't bother with a medal. I went straight to the wine.

And we had kale for dinner. In the pasta sauce with smoked chicken and garlic and cream cheese and broccoli. 'Twas great.