Sunday, December 30, 2012

All This and a Bookshop Too

I brought this autobiography (her second volume) by Dorothy Butler back from Christmas, on loan from my sister.  Initially, I thought it nice but not astounding, and thought it in the same vein as Barbara Anderson's very nice autobiography, about which no one said anything either.  But increasingly, I found All This and a Bookshop Too quite moving.  Butler had eight children, involved herself in Playcentre, ran her own bookshop, wrote books and most of all had a very ordinary and wonderful passion for books for children and for children's books.  By 'ordinary,' I mean that she does not employ elaborate academic structures for her arguments, but passionate and intelligent observation and the deepest knowledge of the children's book publishing scene.  I loved her stories of her family life as well as those of her book-related adventures.  I had the sense of someone who approached parenting (and marriage and grandparenting) with the same warm intellect as she did her professional work, and I enjoyed that.  I cried a couple of times towards the end and emerged from the bedroom to look up Beverly Cleary for my daughter and to find out about some authors who sounded most appealing despite me never having heard of them before.

At Brighid's bedtime, an hour or two before I finishe this book tonight, we sat up in the big bed and she read me The Kiwi Night Before Christmas, which she and we all love and which she knows almost by heart.  She stopped to talk to me about silent 'k's next to 'n's, an occurrence she finds most interesting.  She is almost six.  Then she read me a Mrs Wishy Washy book and then chose "Jam" from our big Margaret Mahy book for me to read to her.  It was lovely, not least because she went to sleep afterwards without procrastination but also because I had a specific appreciation of our experiences reading together after spending the last few days with my nose in Dorothy Butler's book.

My Dad told me once that when they were expecting me (their first child), there were no antenatal classes like in the city, but they were encouraged to read to us, so they did.  We sat on Dad's knee for stories every night.  I still remember the little yellow cards in the back of the books at Stoke Library, where Mum regularly took us.  I remember winning the prize of Margaret Mahy's The Haunting at Richmond Public Library later on.  Last year we took our own children to the Dorothy Butler Children's Bookshop in Ponsonby, Auckland, where they chose books with money from kind relatives.  I've just bought the first volume of her autobiography on trademe, and noticed that she is the author of What Peculiar People, which comes to us from the children's now grown up Auckland cousins, and which Brighid chose for us to read together last night.  I love sharing books, and have little enthusiasm for the e-reader, a device likely to be most unhelpful to the poor.  If I could ban it, I would.  Unsympathetic luddite, me.

No gardening today.  It rained, which saved me from watering things.  Always an odd feeling, to be watering on the West Coast, but there is that window in January where it (sometimes) acquires a relevance...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Comfrey & broad bean compost

Summer is a wonderful thing.  Summer holidays are even more so.  Today I chopped all the broad bean plants into chunks about five centimetres long and dropped them into our rotating compost bin.  Then I harvested an armful of comfrey chopped the stems below the leaf off (anything close to the root is just too prone to surviving and setting up a new colony of hard to eradicate plant) and then whizzed up the leaves in my mini kitchen whiz. Usually I use it to make hummous, but comfrey pulp is just as worthy.  Then I put it all in a large bowl, covered it with warm water and left it in the sun for a while.  Then I closed all the holes on the compost bin, opened the lid and poured the mixture in, closed it and rotated it round and round a few times.  Comfrey is a compost activator, and the broad bean plants with their large leaves and woody stems  (plus some old beans I had no inclination to cook) will contain a good mix of nitrogen and carbon.

I weeded some more, and planted basil, white cosmos and some pretty blue and yellow violas.  I love finding little violas (and heartsease miss helen mount is my favourite, though today I planted rebelina) partly hidden amongst larger plants.  They do seem to self-seed, though not prolifically, so I do find them unexpectedly in places where I must have planted them in previous years.

Inside, the painting project continues.  The children ripped all the wallpaper off Brighid's bedroom and the hallway and cleaned the resultant rubbish up.  Favourite Handyman has done an undercoat of the walls and ceiling in the bedroom and begun to 'cut' the hallway.  The testpots await but for some reason my suggestions that we start putting them up haven't come to fruition.  Yet.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

the season for gardening

We had a great holiday away, especially in Nelson and Kaikoura, and now we are back on the West Coast, I'm spending much of my days gardening. 

Today I've been weeding, adding compost, planning and dreaming.  The tomatoes under the lean-to (in pots) have a disease and the ones in the garden are doing much better.  Neither are looking perfect leaf-wise, because I delayed planting them out from the windowsill pots far too long. 

In other years, I've not harvested my garlic until late January, which seems to work well here.  January is when it finally dries out here, so by allowing the entire month for final growth, the garlic keeps better.  But the downside is that I'm back at work before I can replant the garlic bed into a new crop for autumn/winter.  I harvested one garlic head this afternoon and it looked a good size.  I gave the remaining crop (and my tomatoes) a dose of liquid fish fertiliser and will harvest it at the end of next week. 

Meanwhile I bought pea, celery and basil plants at the garden shop this afternoon, plus some pizza thyme and variegated sage.  My herbs are doing so well that I need to do some pruning mid-season so that I have room for my new additions.  I'm not cooking enough to keep up with the hugely plentiful lovage, and after I pruned it tonight my children wanted to know why I stank.

I want to develop my herb collection into some native plants.  Once I have the space ready, I'm going back to the garden shop for a kawakawa plant and horopito bush.  The horopito is quite beautiful looking:

Kawakawa is easily found in the bush on the West Coast, so I'm assuming it isn't difficult to grow at home.

Inside, Favourite Handyman is beginning to paint Brighid's room and the hallway.  The first round of negotiations on colour, particularly for the hallway, have begun.  Meanwhile, the local Resene shop is selling us plenty of test pots.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

NW by Zadie Smith, and other projects

I finished Zadie Smith's NW.  I agree with the reviewers who found it uneven.  Regarding the reviewer who thought it captured London life perfectly, I can also see how they could take that out of the book.  (These are probably Guardian & Observer reviews but I haven't kept the references).  I'm not convinced that it is a great book though.  The characters seem to be deliberately a bit (or a lot) pathetic, which may be very realistic, but I dpn't think it added to my enjoyment of the novel.  The book does address the split world feeling of working class women who make it to university and a 'new life', a topic which is always interesting to me.  At the end, when one educated woman originally from a tough north London estate asks her lawyer friend who also 'got out' of the same estate why they deserve to be doing well when their peers are drug addicts on the streets, I got Smith's question.  If you didn't, I personally suspect that the book would seem a waste of time.  I think I wanted Smith to explore where next to find a resolution to this, but perhaps she doesn't know yet.

The profile of JBB, my great great grandfather, is still a printed manuscript with a lot of editing scrawled upon it.  I went to the local library recently to fix up a few things.  I wanted Gordon Ogilvie's book on Banks Peninsula, and I wanted some good quality maps of England.  No joy on either front.  I bought Margaret Tennant's book Paupers and Providers on trademe, and I've been re-reading that.  Often when I've been researching family history, or looking for context for other thoughts on how we support our most vulnerable, I've thought of this book which I drew on extensively when I was doing my honours year in history.  I'm not buying Ogilvie's book because it is out of print, in demand, and retailing secondhand on trademe for $90-120.

No sewing beyond attaching Fionn's cub badges yesterday morning.  I've got the fabric and the pattern for the Tiramisu dress, and I originally had plans to sew it up ready for a wedding next weekend.  I'll be sure to post if I swing that.

I've been gardening a bit since work finished, mostly weeding.  I'm contemplating making artichoke leaf tea.  I experimented with cooking the immature flower heads but I didn't much like them.  Last night, nursing a head cold instead of partying, I was re-reading Sandra Cabot's Liver Cleansing Diet book.  I ignore the recipes because I don't do that level of prescription, but I am interested in the herbs to support the liver, and artichoke leaves are supposed to be good for the liver.

Since I last posted, I've collected some more exciting medical dramas.  I went to see the doctor about a lump on my neck, and it turns out to be a goiter, and the bloods indicated that I have sub-clinical hyperthyroidism.  Ooh la la.  More things to google.  I've had my traditional chinese medicine meets western food bible, Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, out and I need to look to my liver.  Cross-referencing with other texts, and in consultation with Laksmi (do I really have an alternative therapist called Laksmi?  Oh yes I do.  If you had a chance to see her, you would like her too), I do have the symptoms of a sluggish liver.  I'd been avoiding vitamin C, slightly freaked by the endless admonitions that people with haemochromatosis should not take supplemental vitamin C because it aids the absorption of iron.  But actually my body works much much better with supplemental vitamin C.  Medical literature also notes that excess iron depresses vitamin C levels.  There is certainly a lot more research needed in this area.

So I am starting to feel better informed and have also kicked the racy heart symptoms by supplementing with magnesium.  I've clocked a mildly impressive number of malaises in the last 20 years, and it almost always turns out that I am deficient in magnesium and vitamin C when I start to unpick what is going (or not) on.  It's about time I got my head around a lifelong need to keep my body very well fed with mag and c.  This weekend, just for more fun, I have a headcold.  Headcolds are a nuisance, and not much fun, but they come and go without anyone talking about nuclear imaging of my thyroid (I still need to research that one some more; the appointment for it arrived in yesterday's mail).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Mystery of the Severed Hand

We went away.  We saw sun and sunshine and watched some seriously fantastic martial arts practitioners (Chan's Martial Arts - a form of kung fu) and I got hay fever and the kids played at Spencer Park and we had dinner with friends in Christchurch and told them our sad Greymouth stories and then felt ashamed as we learnt of life for so many Christchurch people in post-earthquake limbo hell.  I spent a morning on genealogy with a wonderful and talented relative and it was great to be away from usual life, to find ourselves never talking about work.

Today was also wonderful.  I rearranged my work hours so I could be home today with the children as their school has a teacher only day.  We had two extra children for the day, two wonderful children from different families, both of whom will move to Auckland later this month.  I've known these two children since they were two and three years old.  The sound of children playing round the house, watching them run to the creek, to the bridge by the beach, hearing them make up new games and shout with abandon was fabulous.

Of course, I did much of this listening while I was writing my genealogical profile for the rumbunctious rascal JBB who was my great great great grandfather.  I'm still a bit obsessed, which is what I need if I'm going to get this project finished for Christmas.

In the process of today's writing, which sidetracked into more research, I found that JBB's second wife (I'm descended from his first wife) had links to this rather infamous case: The mystery of the severed hand.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday beautiful Sunday

A perfect weekend.  I started in the garden about 6.30am, which is quite the best time to start if I fancy a serene experience.  I weeded, pruned laterals and re-tied the tomatoes to their stakes, and planted spring onions.

I made cheese and pesto scones for morning tea.

I made 11 litres of laundry liquid. 

I tightened up my facebook settings.  Mine are quite tight anyway, but I'm often amazed at how many people blithely include their full date of birth on their public display settings, as the most obvious example of sharing more with the entire world than seems entirely wise.

I attempted to clean Brighid's bedroom.  Some progress, and many bags removed already, but it is probably still the equivalent of the warm up at the base of Mt Everest.  I'm planning the full scale of the mountain while she is at school.

It's possible that I won't win a prize for the fastest and most complete conversion to a life of sobriety and lower calorie intake.  Perhaps the tortoise will win the race.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Theatre Royal Hotel, Kumara

We had a great time at the community fun day to celebrate the refurbishment and re-opening of the Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara today.  I forgot to take the camera, but there is a youtube video of the opening here.  The weather was great, the stalls were good, the kids loved the sack races and the tug of war and then we retired to the playground (I retired to sitting with the newspaper; the children were rather more vigorous) for a while. 

Back home, we had our first barbecue of the year where it was warm enough to eat outside.  The kids got out the hose, the water gun and the little paddling pool.  Since Favourite Handyman had kindly mowed the lawn while we were out gallivanting in Kumara, the kids got to fill the pool with water AND grass clippings and other ingredients for a magic witch's potion.

A great day, all the better for sharing it with our lovely friends.  And the total joy at attending an opening of a business in our part of New Zealand, in such contrast to most of our local news, is hard for me to put into words.  Go well, Theatre Royal.  We will be out to sample your beers and wares soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Of all the things which I have considered boring for others to read (but gone ahead and posted about anyway), weight loss ranks as the most boring in my book.

But I'm not going to post about work.
But there's not much point dwelling on my sadness about so many of my friends leaving our small wet town.
But I'm not getting much done in the garden.
But there is no crafting going on currently.
But genealogy is at a minor standstill and isn't easy to write about in a discreet way.
But I have no new and coherent thoughts of a political nature to share right now.
But kitchen creativity is a concept which is practically sepia toned, it was so long ago.

Last weekend a good friend rang me from afar.  In a world of facebook updates, likes and the occasional message, an actual phone call has become a rare treat, something I usually forget is at my disposal.

I'd heard my friend had lost weight and she was kind enough to answer my questions.  Truthfully, I grilled her with a ferocity not quite polite.  My friend, it turns out, weighed the same as I do now, and lost 18 kilos after a significant health scare.  Hmmmmmmmmmmm.  I was hmmmming and thinking and squinting for ages afterwards, possibly ever since our phone conversation.  Like me, my friend hadn't bought into the idea that skinny was the only way to be.  But she wasn't keen on a life on medicines when she was only 39.  She lost the weight, she's feeling great, and she has lost the health problem which prompted her to change her lifestyle.

Day two of no alcohol.  Day two of eating with more care.  Now work has eased off in its intensity, it is much easier for me to take time to make protein and vegetable rich salads for breakfast and lunch.

I often read the articles about health at every size.  They are sound articles and there is only one glitch for me: they advocate health through exercise and I'm still not doing much if any of that.  Somehow, I need to make the change.

How long, how effective, how boring?  I've no idea.  I'm off to bed to read the final sections of Zadie Smith's NW.  Just as in my childhood, the escapism of a novel is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

For the love of Mawhera

Was yesterday special?  Kind of.  We observed a minute's silence for the second anniversary of the 29 men dead at Pike River.  But I think of those men most days. 

I never knew any of them personally, but I know members of their families, and no narrative of West Coast early 21st century struggle makes sense without acknowledging these men.

That is why when I mourn the loss of the last butchery on the West Coast (closing this Christmas), of the Smelting House Cafe in Greymouth (great coffee I'm told, superb lunch food I know from experience), buildings evacuated overnight due to earthquake risk and the latest is AMI moving out of our small wet town, it is sad but people are all alive.

The old timers on the Coast give me the greatest sense of looking forward.  'It's happened before', they tell me. 
'The Coast will recover.' 
'That's the nature of a mining town, boom and bust,' another tells me.

So we stay.  We farewell our friends and wish them luck.  We cross our fingers and toes for our friends looking for work and we remind ourselves to be grateful for good health, our family and our own blessing of secure work.

The sun is still beautiful setting over the western horizon and the beach has its own pebbly charm.  Our local kids are fabulous and the adults not bad either.  I keep planting plants.  Tomatoes, flowers, herbs, onions.  Byuing local feels responsible rather than extravagant.  Everyone deserves somewhere to love.  I'm grateful that I have what everyone deserves and not everyone gets.  Kia kaha Mawhera.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

wine swilling genealogist

 On Thursday just gone, it was the West Coast Schools' kapa haka festival.  I rearranged my work hours, took my girl out of school, and we headed south for the day to watch Fionn perform.  It was totally fantastic.  Fionn's school group put on a top notch performance which we were all very proud of.

Afterwards, while the students had their hangi lunch and played special games and the judges deliberated, Brighid and I had lunch together in the metropolis and walked along the beach, pictured above and below.
Beautiful huh?

Today was the Anglican Church Fair.  It's an important event on our calendar.  Six years ago, when we'd just moved into our first home and there was no lounge furniture and no money to buy anything flash, we went to our this fair.  We still have the couch and chairs from that fair, at a combined cost of less than $50.  These days, we buy some sausages, a couple of bowls, sometimes some books or clothes.  Today I bought my first whitebait sandwich of the season.  Likely my last given the dismal catch this year.  I paid $5 to fill a supermarket plastic bag with clothes and I've done very well out of that.  I also bought a black wrap dress with a yellow print on it from the Sallies this morning for only $5.  What's not to like about bargain Saturday?

Mostly, outside of work and parenting, I've been drinking red wine and doing genealogy.  I've been gifted with some wonderful resources by another family member genealogist enthusiast.  If I can just get written up what I've learnt and not let on my project before Christmas, I will be thrilled and, hopefully on Christmas morning, so will my parents.

I bought more chatham island forget me nots today, plus cosmos, coriander, basil, marigolds and thyme.  My last thyme, which I deliberately planted in a hole in the wood edging a raised bed, has died through malnutrition.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Zebra gardening

This weekend we helped a friend move, Fionn went on his first ever cub camp for two nights, I made a skirt for a third birthday party present and I got to garden.

I'm quite pleased with the gingham circle skirt.  I didn't make it to save money.  Frankly, in recent times I've pulled my wallet out for convenience far more often than I've taken the longer but cheaper route, especially in the kitchen.  I made it because I wanted a personally handmade gift for a special little girl, whose family is very dear to me.  Brighid had a lovely time at the party, and so did we for the part we attended.

Fionn the cub camp graduate.  After the asthma incident which followed a one night indoors camp last week, I was nervous about Fionn sleeping in the tent for two nights.

He had a FABULOUS time.  Fell asleep before 4pm this afternoon, but he is breathing properly, so we are all happy.

This afternoon after partying and camp collection, I buried bokashi, weeded the old chook run garden and transplanted celery, tomatoes and spinach into various parts of the garden.  It felt great, and is hopefully the beginning of many hours spent gardening this summer.

I bought a new dress, at Postie Plus.  It was in a 30% off all dresses sale and it fitted!  It is called a cross over zebra print dress.  It is very poorly made, but I like it and it will diversify my wardrobe until I can get some dress sewing for myself done.  I have favourite dresses which I wear with leggings, a long sleeved black t shirt and a slip in winter, and alone in summer.  So although I do like my dresses, I have been wearing them every week for 18-22 months.  I'm open to some change.

Last week I went to a very interesting talk on children and cyber safety by John Parsons.  More on that another time.

I've bitten the bullet and visited the local library.  Singlehandedly propping up the weak point in local government finances, I paid my library fines, and now I get to get books out again.  I've started Zadie Smith's NW.  Not ready to give a verdict just yet.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Economic collapse and school fundraising

In a devastating turn of events, The Spring Fling 80s night fundraiser has been cancelled because not enough people bought tickets.  Lots of people claimed to be planning to go, but they didn't front up with cold hard cash in time to give the incredibly hard working volunteers faith that it was worth their blood, sweat and sausage rolls.

There are a few things against me offering my home so we can all desperately seek Susan, get into the groove and implore our papas not to preach this Saturday night.  One is a desire to stay married to Favourite Handyman.  He isn't sharing my enthusiasm at all.  The second is that Fionn comes home from another camp, this time cubs, that day.  I'm pretty nerdy about my kids getting sufficient sleep after they stay up all night yakking in tents (they do yak endlessly; it's in their genes.).  The third is the state of the house.  It's currently marginal to get inside a room without standing on something.  The state of the surfaces is well, pause, immune-boosting.

But Greymouth ladies and gentlemen, let's find a venue and make like the 80s soon! 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Desperately Seeking Susan

I have a new project.  All in the name of supporting local education (Hekia Parata sure ain't, so someone has to), I'm off to an 80s night next weekend.  I wasn't so sure on reliving memories I had of dropwaist dresses and cerise and jade tube skirts.  But tonight inspiration hit.  It's 1985.  I'm 13.  Madonna has a hotter body than me, a theme which will never change.  She is the perfect teen pinup, with her crucifixes, lace hair ties and beads, fairly accessible garb for a cash-strapped young girl.  I never dared wear my rosary out though.  God may not have smote me down, but my mother would have.

I've just ordered some lace gloves.  I'm about to have a rifle through my drawers, wardrobe and sewing box to see what lace concoctions and other accesories I have.  And find my rosary.  Even now, don't tell Mum.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

breaking the hiatus

Time to get back in the blogging saddle.

I had the three chalazia (plural of chalazion = chalazia?) removed surgically on Tuesday.  My eyes are healing well and I've gotten over the strange frightening feeling of having my eyelid clamped back and pieces of it pulled out.

Both the nurse and the ophthalmologist were wonderful.  As she did the initial examination with the aid of a slit lamp, I admired Rebecca the ophthalmologist's knowledge and skill in such a specialist area.  I think I found it most interesting because she was a young woman.  There is a part of me which staunchly values the work of running a home and a family and another part of me wants to see so much more of highly skilled professional women.  Living in a small town, the range of specialised skills is not so high as for cities. 

When I was 17, I longed to leave my small town (not the one I currently live in) and seek knowledge and adventure.  I was most unimpressed with my aunts who were always talking about being tired on Christmas Day.  I'm quite a lot more clear now on how you might get tired organising Christmas for young children and feasts for extended family, but I haven't lost the feeling that there has to be more to life than domestic stuff.  On the tiniest of levels, I blog because it is non-essential, a text which is not a shopping list and not work-related, and it is mine.

As I write, it is 4.15am, and the rain is loud and fast against the roof and down the chimney beside me.  During the week, it was relatively dry (read: only patches of rain), but now we are in weekend time, the deluge returns.  I transplanted two tomato plants from the kitchen window into big pots under the lean-to.  No other garden activity.

Fionn went on his first school camp.  He loved it.  In keeping with his usual distaste for the boring things I recommend, he declined to remove his shoes and socks when they became wet at the beginning of the day.  Which may have had some bearing on why when we picked him Friday night, he was wheezing, looked utterly exhausted and had stinky, wrinkled feet.  There is no drug or mind-altering substance which assists children in listening to their parents and actually responding to their advice.  There can't be, or it would have been a world-wide best seller.  Really, who wouldn't mind giving up buying a new yacht, or owning your own home, or even eating breakfast on Tuesdays, if your young children actually followed instructions.  Still, I do love him more than anything else, in tandem with his sister and daddy, and hopefully we can avert the asthma from lasting more than the weekend.

I'm still reading Robert Long's A Life on Gorge River.  It's an interesting read of a fascinating life living in New Zealand's remotest spot (two days' walk through bush to the nearest road).  It's starting to get a bit same-y though, and I might be ready for a novel with some depth very soon.  I see Anne Else has reviewed J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy very postively.  I'm in denial about my library fines.  Could a new book be cheaper than paying the fines?  Could my management of something as simple as not losing books and actually returning them on time be worse?

Knitting continues, perforce.  Actually, I just wanted to use that word, but it's also true that I'm making steady progress on the sleeve of the pink miette.  Steph C of 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World and Cake Patterns has had a delay in the printing of her tiramisu pattern, which is a mercy, because I want to have finished the miette and adjusted my floral curtain colette crepe dress to make it wearable before my tiramisu pattern arrives.  I got a wedding invite this week (mark of advancing years: catching up with an old school friend in the hospital waiting room instead of the pub) and I'd like to have the option of wearing my very own tiramisu dress to said wedding just before Christmas.

I did make good progress on the sleep front two nights this week, though not so much this evening.  As with previous experiments, if I supplement with kelp, magnesium and vitamin C (plus a non-iron multivitamin), then I sleep better and also I eat better and hunger to eat outside regular meals diminishes.  Last night, the variables were of the Friday night variety: work drinks, fish and chips for tea and the absence of any magnesium supplementation.  I guess it's not so hard to see where Fionn gets his ignoring-of-very-good-advice gene from.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stress, magnesium and love.

I realise that I do indeed have a privileged first world 1.5 income household with food, warmth and shelter pretty much guaranteed so long as I don't develop a gambling habit.  No one hits me, I'm married to a wonderful person, the kids are healthy and lovely and are enjoying and progressing at school.  On the big scale, it's all pretty hunky dory.

If we could zoom in though, I want to write about my recent strategies to manage stress and get my nutrition intake back on track.  At my work, it is absolutely the most busy and pressured time of the year at the moment.  I'm at work what seems like all the time, despite being paid to be at work half of the time.  It will pass and the pressure will, I hope, ease off significantly in a fortnight or so.

I've been losing massive amounts of sleep, which no one has ever been able to convince me is an optimal way to live.  Some nights I've been awake for hours in the wee hours of the morning when I don't even have alcohol consumption to blame.  It's all very well saying stress is bad and the world should have less of it, but I'm keen to a) learn to handle work-place stress better and b) to look at ways I can support my body.

There is a large body of thought which focuses on exercise for stress management.  I believe them/it.  But on the whole, I'm not very successful at fitting exercise into my life, unless it is gardening, which can itself be problematic when I live in the area which surely inspired the story of Noah's Ark.

What does help me is a focus on nutritional support.  Magnesium is really important for the nervous system and for sleep quality (and quite a few other things).  It's important for me to take supplemental magnesium when I am also taking liver detox tablets which contain green tea and IP6, both of which chelate magnesium.  The liver detox is supportive of a better iron balance, given that I have a genetic disease called haemochromatosis and that I have had symptoms of iron overload this year.  Vegetables also matter.  I'm inclined to eat a lot of bread when I'm busy/stressed.  Not so much what might be described as 'pigging out', but a tendency to eat toast on the run in the morning, sandwiches on the run at lunchtime and a wrap or pizza for dinner.  Bread, I've found by trial and error, is not my friend healthwise.  But it is quick.  We always eat dinner around the table as a family, every night, and that is a great thing on about a million fronts, but also for getting me to slow down and eat.

Last night I started in earnest, taking my magnesium supplements twice per day and vitamin c as well.  I made an epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) foot bath and, in the absence of any camomile tea in the house, made a lemon and honey drink to sip while I had my footbath and read A Life on Gorge River.  It was a bugger that Brighid was in pain and unsettled all night, but when I wasn't getting up to her, I did sleep well.

Today I'm still on the magnesium supplements, and I also started back on my older habit of having almonds on my work desk to snack on during the day.  Almonds are a good source of magnesium and they taste good.  Tomorrow I shall take a bag of apples as well.  Part of my day is not spent at my actual work desk, but jumping around gesticulating, so I'm not overly worried about eating myself bigger with all this snacking.

Tonight I remembered to buy some camomile tea, so I'm supping that now and soon I will run an epsoms salts foot bath.  While I understand at a technical level that an entire bath with epsoms salts in it would be even more beneficial, I can't be bothered.  Plus, last time I did that, feeling most pleased with my positive self care practice, I crooked my neck.  Between the pain and the chiropractor's bill to fix it, I'm not enthused about doing that again.

Lovely things.  When I first started blogging, I was a stay at home mum with a four year old son and a seven month old daughter.  Blogging was my outlet which wasn't about the children, and I consciously chose not to blog about my son and daughter.  Now, when they are away at school most of the day and sometimes I am at work until 5pm, my thoughts on blogging about parenthood and my children have shifted.  This morning was special.  I didn't absolutely have to be at work until 11am.  Brighid had been awake half the night (I plan on getting some extra magnesium into her somehow too), so I got to let her sleep in.  I dropped FH into work early and then had about an hour with just my boy.  I dropped him to school just after Brighid woke up.  Then she and I hung out getting ready.  We went together to the chemist and health food shop for some remedies for her ills.  I took her into school about 10.45am on the most beautiful sunny day we've seen on the coast in at least a month, and watched her with delight as she went off to meet her friends, happy and comfortable in her school environment.  That little window with my kids this morning was the bestest present.

A Life on Gorge River is proving an interesting read, about a man who has been living in the remotest possible part of South Westland for the last thirty years.  Thanks to my brother for recommending it. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How Far is Heaven

How Far is Heaven is a beautiful film, set in Jerusalem on the Whanganui river, where the Sisters of Compassion, there for over 100 years, still have a base.  We took the children, mostly so we could spend some more time with them rather than getting a babysitter, and they enjoyed and got something out of it as well.  The comments by the nuns about the meaning of compassion (to suffer with) and their concept of being alongside someone/people, gave me much pause for thought.  Please go and see the film if it sounds interesting, as I know I haven't captured what I felt well in this very brief review.  The cinematography is beautiful.

I've finished one sleeve of my pink Miette cardy and started the next.  I'm really keen to have it finished by early November and my floral curtain Colette crepe dress adjusted to wear with it.  I have a theory that if I take the dress up at the shoulders, it will stop falling off my shoulders and thus fit better.  This fitting malarkey seems to be at the centre of all (clothing) sewing challenges.

Things I've been coveting of late include this polka dot bikini.  I've got my wallet safely away for the meantime, while I watch our budget and construct my argument with myself as to why this piece of swimwear (Pier underwire plunge bikini top by Freya) should make it to the 'buy' of our household wishlist.  I did notice recently that my current togs are transparent at the back, which is an argument for replacing them in the interests of public propriety alone.

But a bikini?  I can hear my mother's gasp from here.  But my sister, who is my guide in all things bra-like, says that bikini tops make great bras in summer time as a double use, and also ones like the one above provide good support.  Having not merely larger than supposedly standard boobs, but also a larger than supposely standard tummy, I don't think the one piece suits at Avokado (which is the NZ retailer of the gorgeous bikini above) would fit me.  Could I pick up some cheap lycra shorts at The Warehouse to go with the top?  Possibly.  I'm also thinking of choosing a plain, cheap one piece swimsuit from The Warehouse or Postie Plus, and then wearing the bikini underneath. 

It's still raining. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

garden colour and produce

The genealogical obsession continues.  Thankfully, the children have two parents, which meant they did get to eat meals in the weekend.  Checking just one more source, and then just one more, isn't conducive to cooking tea.  I did find that my 4xgreat grandmother was a midwife though, a profession I admire greatly.

Below is my Chatham Islands forget me not.  It took over a year before this plant bloomed, but looking at that intense shade of blue, I think it was worth the wait.  I'm going to plant some more.

Our little manuka, which I thought was going to die, is flowering.

Iceland poppies.

 Self-sown borage and calendulas.
 There isn't a lot to eat inour garden at the moment.  There is mesclun, of which the red russian kale and the giant red mustard dominate entirely.  I've been putting it into salads and stirfries. We need to eat this up most vigorously in the next fortnight, as the tomatoes need to go in its place soon.

Broad beans.  Half hearted, interrupted attempts at staking which I must rectify soon.
 Amongst the unweeded wilderness, an artichoke heart.
 A longer term project in the form of garlic, to the right of the irises.
My other great delight currently  is reading Anne of Green Gables to Brighid.  Re-reading it, I see why both Brighid, and I before her, love it so.  All that high melo-drama!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Like Dorothy

I feel like I've been plonked down in a weekend after a storm.  I went back to work after a fortnight of mostly time off, and the kids went back to school and swimming lessons and ballet and kung fu and cubs (spot the lengthening list and laugh if you are one of the people whom I told I wasn't going to 'do' extensive extra-curricular activities with my kids) and then last night I collected various vehicles and people and dropped them all off again and picked them up again and then it was my turn to go out and possibly it was a good idea that I was driving so I couldn't give in to the temptation to drink lots.  Not because my life is going wrong; it's actually going wonderfully, but because I was so tired and shell-shocked from the week that drink seemed a good response.

So I listened to a band called Radius and played a game of working out what instruments they were playing.  One of the band members was no help because she said that after mixing up banjos and mandolins so often introducing songs in the past, she now called one song "manjo music", and thereafter made no mention of instruments at all.  I thought a lot of her beautiful playing was on a cornet, but upon googling this morning, I realise I am wrong.  Still not sure actually, it was like a brass clarinet only higher in pitch. 

I found a solution to my ugly home made blue trousers.  I bought some red jeans instead, online and made of stretchy denim, so although the jury is still out on how favourite they will become, they at least don't add massive wings onto my hips.

Progress continues on my pink miette cardigan.  I've gained confidence knitting with double pointed needles.  I think my prior difficulties may have been because I tried to knit on the inside instead of the outside of the circle.  Also, this time I'd knitted most of a cardigan, so I had an incentive to carry on and make it work instead of giving up.

I've not read much.  A little of the New Zealand Books review and the Guardian Weekly, not enough to comment.  And if you count the Resene Habitat magazine, then I've been spending some time on that.  I sense that the debate on what colour the dining room should be painted is set to resume.  I forget how many years it has been going for.  Favourite Handyman has been talking yellow, and I'm talking Resene Quarter Parchment, because apparently it is a warm white without being a cream.  At least test pots are cheap.  The last shade-of-white test pot I bought to go on the dining room walls, FH and the kids used it up on the tree hut before I'd even opened it.  The debate, you might imagine, has a few more rounds to go.

The dining room walls are varnished wood until half way up the walls.  Style magazines, such that I've read, would have us paint over it, but we aren't keen. Once we paint over the wood, that distinctiveness is all gone.  I'm not looking for fashionable, simply something we will love to live in and which is somehow achieved alongside marital harmony.  The varnished wood will likely be fashionable again before we make a decision anyway.

In a splurge of decadence, straight after we've just bought a new-to-us car, I've booked a babysitter for Sunday so we can go listen to The Johnnys up the valley, a long drive from here.  Don't ever ask me for sensible planning decisions.  I think that means I've blown the money that should have gone to pay my library fines.  Might have to go borrow some books from friends instead, book droughts aren't good for me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

blue irises against the red red fence.

This year I put blue irises in the punga raised bed, and now that they are out, I love the look of them against the red fence.

Back in the term time groove, I think I'm doing okay on the extra-curricular front, an aspect of parenting which I try to support, but frequently do so only with poor grace.  Yesterday both kids went to kung fu with FH, and today we started back on swimming lessons.  Ballet is going okay now I can leave Brighid there and not get told off for talking to other parents during the lesson.  Tomorrow is supposed to be a trial run at cubs. 

There were tears at the dinner table tonight.  Fionn's best buddy moves to Auckland at the end of the school year.  I felt for my boy, and didn't say out loud that there might be several more.  Spring Creek indirectly paid a lot of school fees where my children go to school.

I need inspiration for meal planning.  I used to be better than I currently am.  I think this is for two reasons:
1. I used to be home more, so could set up the slow cooker in the morning.
2. We've consciously moved away from red meat, and red meat was easy.  Sausages one day, mince another, then a roast, followed by shepherds pie, all interleaved with fish, chicken and quiche.

Now it's all fish, chicken, quiche and nachos.  When we are particularly short of time and I want to make some kind of semblance of a home made meal, I buy wraps plus pesto plus smoked chicken and cut up carrots and cucumber to go in as well.  As we end up with bread-based lunches and sometimes I have bread based breakfast, I try to keep dinner wheat/gluten free.  Which means I largely avoid pasta for tea as well.  I'll start doing sushi again when the local supermarket re-stocks pickled ginger.  I've fallen out of the groove of using chickpeas and beans for vege dinners, but if it can be done within an hour (walk in to kitchen to eating at the table), or preferably 30-40 minutes, I'm keen to read and try any suggestions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

agency, crafting & elderly people

Tonight I was reading Steph C of 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World's post on the purpose of sewing for her and her response to greenie interrogation. The response I wrote in her comments section was so long and also threw in some things I'd been intending to share on my blog, that I've pasted a copy of my response here:
"I used to be more focused on living 'greenly'.  I haven't decided that it no longer matters at all.  But I have returned to the paid workforce and now have school aged children and the choices I make are different to the ones I made when they were tiny and I was at home a much bigger proportion of each day.  I see that time I put in when the children were younger as a positive legacy rather than bemoaning that I'm no longer making my own bread and raising all of my plants from seed.  I learnt a lot in the kitchen, in the garden and craft-wise.  We wouldn't have time to build a chook run from scratch now, but we do have the enduring benefits of that chook run in terms of daily eggs and a reusing option for many of our food scraps.

In terms of crafting, the children are in a perfect storm of hand-me-downs, and while I make some nightwear and round-home clothes, I can source these cheaply from op shops or even local rtw shops.  But what I cannot source easily are clothes which fit me, suit me, are affordable and meet my workplace needs.  This is where sewing comes in - learning to make a full bust adjustment has been the single most useful skill in the last two years.  I inherited some pretty dresses when a family member with gorgeous taste and a generous budget died.  Last week I realised that the features of my most favourite two dresses are almost exactly replicated in your tiramisu pattern.  I've got the fabric in the cupboard waiting!  No pressure though, I'm aiming to finish knitting a summer cardigan first.

I have a shelf full of gifted or thrifted fabric, ready to be turned into clothes, or at least used for muslins.  But, like you, I'm coming to the conclusion that knits are what suits the clothing I want to wear best.  And finding knits for muslins in the op shop just doesn't seem to happen!  If I take three attempts at an item to get one which I then wear every week for a couple of years in a winter or summer season, then I don't consider that waste.  Only through practising will I make progress.  I guess I could categorise it as 'slow clothing', if I were looking for categories."

In other news, I felt very keenly today the sadness of elderly people who once had agency over their lives and now have none, or very little.  In between work and school collection-ballet lesson-collecting the new car (yes! really! new to us anyway.  I like how it goes without steam coming out of the bonnet), I had ten minutes to spare, so I popped in to see Mary K, my elderly cousin who lives at a local rest home.

It's a great rest home. The staff are lovely, they love Mary K and they have really good communication with her family.  But today, a decision was made that there would be a separate dementia ward, and that meant moving many people around, including Mary K.  She has moved to a lovely room, but she is disoriented and I know from experience that she will be confused and consequently frazzled for about a fortnight after this major change.

Like our children who sometimes get a new teacher with no say in the change or the timing of the change, elderly people like Mary, who thank goodness have the care they need in a rest home instead of being dangerously unable to cope in their own homes, are pawns instead of actors in their own lives.  Our old people are a gift.  Not cute like babies necessarily, but people still wanting to be people, and how we as a society and as individuals treat old people makes, I think, a massive difference to frail lives.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The season changes again

This weekend I made some trousers, from the Simplicity 1887 pattern.  The sewing part turned out fine - I do feel I am making progress towards sewing competency.  But the fit is terrible.  The trousers bag out enormously in the thighs and then taper in again and I look like an ice cream cone silhouette.  I've just lined up my pyjama pants on top of them and my elastic waist pjs are considerably more flattering.  I have a whole shelf of non-stretchy fabric awaiting transformation (almost all of it thrifted or gifted to me), but more and more it seems that all the clothes that I like on me are made from stretchy fabric.

The sun came out!  I transplanted the asparagus and the cosmos and the sweet pea which so desperately needed it that I would lose them if I waited until next weekend.  But the rest of my many garden projects will have to wait a little longer.

The car project is nearly at completion stage.  Some time later this week, we will have the ability to travel long distance again, without substantial risk of the car blowing up entirely.

I've gone back to knitting, after my sewing interlude.  Now I'm onto the sleeves on the Miette.  The circular needles are too small to knit the sleeves on in my opinion, and the shop is not open to go back and purchase a shorter circular needle.  So I'm knitting on double pointed needles for the first time ever.  Hmmm.  Much slower so far, and I find it a bit disconcerting that needles poke towards me like war heads no matter which position in the row I'm knitting.  I can already see that alterations will be needed to get the fit I want for a Miette.  This one, and there is no way I am undoing it, will be like many on the ravelry site - done up at the top only.  But I would like to knit a blue all wool Miette for winter which is altered so that it will do up all the way down in a mildly elegant fashion (not stretching and pulling and groaning all the way).  As for working out those alterations, I am making progress in my head and I do need to say to anyone who thinks maths is irrelevant, that knitters who are non-standard sizes seriously NEED maths skills!

Back to work tomorrow.  I've enjoyed the break, the time with the children and Favourite Handyman and the opportunity to indulge my latest obsession of genealogy.  I now have some details and stories of all of my Cornish great grandfather's brothers and many other interesting details and continuously evolving questions to boot.  It's remarkable to me how almost everyone left the West of Cornwall after the tin mine industry collapsed in the 1870s.  My Cornish great grandparents had nine adult siblings between them, and only two stayed in Cornwall.  Neither of those two had children, and I wonder if, had they had progeny, they might have left also.  Most went to Australia or New Zealand, sometimes with time in other parts of England or in Wales first, and the widow and daughter of one great great uncle went to Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Our trusty Nissan, 1991-2012.

 It was at Wilson's Hotel, in Reefton, that we had our last supper before the car started to emanate steam through the bonnet.
Looking eastwards at dusk, this is Reefton with its lovely old buildings and a vista of bush leading to nowhere.
But Reefton, like all of the West Coast, has a long history of speculative excitement.  Even the tearooms.

Mercifully, after the big steam and almost bust, we had enough spare water to get us back to Reefton and add lots more water and fill all the bottles to attempt the journey home.

We got home safely and yesterday I left the car with the wonderful JJ and it was early this afternoon that we learnt that our car, the one which JJ had fixed so many times for us and kept it going and warrant-worthy, was not worth fixing.

Before this tumultuous event, I was spending large amounts of my time and headspace, during this school holiday fortnight, in a genealogical bubble.  I lost interest in blogging, or Eliza, or housework, though I did rouse myself to feed the children and spend some time at work occasionally.

Well, I'm never much into housework.  But this afternoon, in need of doing something useful to distract me from the choosing and financing of a new car, I swept the hall floors.  Then I vacuumed the hall floors.  Then I washed the hall floors.  I washed the biggest hall floor twice and peeled bits of chewing gum off to boot.  The water was still dirty at the end of the second wash.

Now I need to decide whether ringing the insurance people to quote on full insurance premiums vs our current third party.  Or clean the bath.  The bath may even win.

Have I gardened during this fair spring?  Why no, not much.  It rains and pelts and buckets down here for days on end.  One day, as I recall from last year, just as I think I need to build an ark rather than buy a car, it will stop. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Eliza # 4

"Crowded" took on a new meaning on the Jessie Readman.  You might have read the reports that it was clean and comfortable and generally a much better ship than some others which my later friends had the indignity of sailing on.  But comfortable is always a relative term.  Sometimes it means hardly anyone died. 

Cleaning, always cleaning.  Perhaps generously paying upper deck passengers had someone else to clean for them, but on our deck we all had to clean everything to a certain standard by half an hour after breakfast.  As you might imagine, in the women and children section, there was no shortage of officious matrons who lead the charge on making sure we all did our bit.  Not that anyone had a large area to clean, but you can still make a mess in the space it takes to swing a cat.

One day there was something of a commotion in the bunk next to mine.  Mrs Doherty was having a tough time delivering her fifth child.  Blood was running everywhere and the women beside her were looking both grim and fearful.  I was sent to sleep on the other side of the room while they tried to give Mrs D as much care and privacy as they could. 

I wouldn't say I was the most popular woman on the ship.  I wasn't given to prayer groups, or discussions of my husband's plans (did I know them to discuss?  Not really).  My escapade following Julia and Margaret had marked me out as someone to avoid for the more carefully pious in the room.  But once settled on the eastern side of the women and children's room on our deck, I began to make a little friendship with a very quiet girl called Annie.  Like me, Annie wasn't in a huge hurry to explain the full circumstances of how she came to be on the ship.  Unlike me, she was quite good at not drawing attention to herself.

When Mrs D and the baby died, some of the women lead a large prayer and Bible reading session before we had the full funeral.  As they assembled, Annie asked if I had a Bible.  Oh yes.  Even if she'd had not a penny to clothe or feed me for the trip, I think my Mammie would have made sure I took a Bible.  I sat beside her and opened the page to where the reading was about to begin.  I was only 19 and I'd already sat at the prayers and Bible readings for far too many woman who had died in childbirth back home.

It was then that I noticed that she was trying to match the words being spoken with the words on the page desperately and, it seemed, probably unsuccessfully.  Maybe I could play teacher on board after all, though more quietly than I'd played follow-the prostitutes.

happy holidays despite usual chaos

One fabulous day, the perfect kind of holiday day, where I get to chat with my friend N while our children play happily.  We went swimming, we ate and we went to the library.  Low cost, high pleasure.

My efforts to streamline our swimming pool visit had dismal results.  I separated my keys so that there weren't so many in the open lockers at the pool.  But, one house key and one car key are not sufficient if I go crazy on the security on our 21 year old, multi-dinged and filthy station wagon and put the clublock on.  FH came over and unlocked it, not even trusting me to borrow his key.  Nice work on the small town front that he was so close.

Next stop, the library.  As seems to be a routine bordering on ritual, this school holidays I realised that a generous but compulsory donation to our local library was going to be necessary if I wanted any more books out.  I'd not found three books for months in the midden, so decided to bite the bullet and pay for the books, a most generous sum.  Only my streamlining of only taking my eftpos card to the swimming pool meant I left my eftpos card in the swimming bag at home.  No generous gift and no library books.

But wait, there's more!  By the time I got home, I decided to delegate the cooking of dinner so I could operate a full scale archaeological dig in my bedroom.  One corner of my bedroom actually.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Procrastinators and Friends, I saved myself the princely sum of $28 in that dig.  One down, two to go.  Perhaps tomorrow I shall deal with another corner of the bedroom.  The third book is Brighid's, but I'm not yet brave enough for her room.  It is clear that she is my daughter when you look at the state of her boudoir.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Eliza # 3

I'd had no longing to cross the seas, become a 'colonial'.  At the time, I thought books would somehow be the saving of me from a lifetime of preparing dull food and destroying my body with babies.  The preacher in the pulpit wasn't keen on women having any thoughts of their own, but he was keen on everyone being able to read and write so they could read the Bible whenever they weren't doing God's drudgery in the kitchen and on the fields.

The Bible has been no saviour for me, and reading and writing hasn't prevented the endless housework and baby rearing.  I've managed to keep my babies tally down compared to some, but more about that later.

The boat trip over to Port Chalmers gave me a chance to learn a little off the other women.  There were many who were very pious - we were on a boat from Greenock to some vision of a brave new world free of sin after all - but by no means everyone.

There were, it turned out, a couple of 'fallen women' on the boat.  Properly fallen and having earnt some money for it, as it turned out.  Mammie thought I was 'fallen' for having kissed George once.  I left the antics of Julia and Margaret out of my later letters home, but they certainly gave me some smiles for their daring.  No knitting baby garments demurely on the edge of beds filled with children for them.

One time I followed them up as they crept through the divide between the women and children's section and the men's section.  I wasn't about to ply my wares like they were; I merely wanted to see what was out there, maybe smell a bit of fresh air, even say hello to George.

We got caught and hustled back down the back, placed beside some Bible reading hens with millions of human chickens around them, and refused dinner that night.  Worth it for a giggle, I thought at the time, but when George heard and got a message to me, I realised we still knew very little about each other, and that George was quite clear as to who should be in charge. 

Still the same right now.  Tomorrow I'll see if I can fit in the story of teaching Jessie how to read and write.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eliza # 2

It wasn't so bad, the trip over on the boat.  The Jessie Readman, the ship was called.  The boat was indeed full of crying mothers and babies and the kind of iron rules keeping men and women apart which Mammie would have praised if she'd known and requested if it wasn't like that.  I was a married woman now, but not one who arrived at that state the way my parents intended.

They didn't really know what to make of me, the men at the back of the Albion.  Those who knew my family knew that I should be tucked up in bed with my Bible.  Those who didn't and weren't completely drunk, wondered at my high necked grey dress in a place where women either didn't visit or made money from visiting.  The stupid man who made grabbed at my dress to pull me down didn't count on my brothers walking in at that point.

George Mitchell.  He knew of me, though I was a good few years younger than him.  He humoured me while my brothers were gone, offering me a drink and his arm when I tripped in the mud.  He'd no way of knowing quite what he was in for when I, emboldened by the whisky I'd long coveted as a man's treat, kissed him on the lips to say thank you.  My brothers, who thought they had dealth with the worst menace, took the scene rather seriously when they came back.  No need to talk to Eliza of course, Father would be the one to tell and the one to make decisions.

I gather that my father put George right on what he was in for.  In a town where John Robertson, farmer and staunch Presbyterian, had endorsed the public shaming of fallen women, the Robertsons needed me out of our little village and fast.

I don't know how they secured places on the boat for us so quickly, but I do know that I walked on that boat after a month spent indoors and only hours after I'd taken my wedding dress off and thanked my family for a number of extremely dour and practical wedding presents.  When we got off the boat in Port Chalmers, just over three months later, it was time to start life with a man I'd barely met.  A whiskey and a kiss, it turned out, were not sufficient exchanges for us to know what we were in for.

Usual story, time to make dinner if I know what's good for me.  I'll write again soon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eliza # 1

Mrs Geo. Mitchell to the rest of the world.  Housewife, cook, sometime mother and keeper of the books.  I'll be Eliza in these letters.

I suppose you want to know if I will tell the truth?  Truth, now that is an overused word around here, and seldom does it tell the story from a woman's point of view.  When Albert Jones beat his wife until the blood seeped through his boots, his truth was that she should have had the dinner ready.  I saw her clutching her stomach before he got home.  I'd heard her vomiting of a morning for a few weeks, and wondered what she would do to feed another child.  Now, she is dead, so is the unborn child, and he looks for someone else to look after his brood.

Perhaps you want to know what it looks like where I live.  Dull.  Brown.  Dirty.  Lives spent chasing sheep, scrabbling for long gone gold, and selling bread, gin and God.  Sex and cooking are never in the census, for women are invisible, or perhaps the shorthand of "married" requires no further elaboration.

My name is Eliza Robertson Mitchell, once known as Eliza Kerr.  I was born in Perth, Scotland, and I never asked to come to the other side of the world.  I asked to become a governess or a teacher, to use my brain and not spend my life having babies.  Only to become a teacher, I needed morals of the finest and sternest ilk.  They did not include having a beer at the back of the Albion Inn and flirting too much with the youngest son of a local farmer, called George Mitchell. 

Do I need to spell out what happened next?  The brothers who happily laid with local wenches had different standards for me. The Mitchells and the Kerrs had some heated exchanges and the news of the wedding and a passage booked for New Zealand were delivered to me on the same day.

I don't know how much you wanted from the first letter.  But I've a bottle of gin just delivered and if I don't want a thud to my lower stomach, always where it can't be seen, mark of an aspiring gentleman apparently, then I'd best make some dinner while I drink.


School holidays.  No making school lunches at 7am.  The juggling game stills for a time and we all get to catch up on sleep and time with each other and the garden and the house.

While the sun shone, I set beer traps for the slugs.  Favourite Handyman mowed the lawn and Brighid and I took Mary K (85 and in a rest home) out for a drive.

While the rain poured, I made laundry liquid.  I helped Fionn empty his room of clutter (I think he calls most of it Lego) so that I could vacuum the entire wooden floor.  Favourite Handyman put Fionn's posters up and now the room looks superb. 

Yesterday we all went to the movie Kiwi Flyer.  It was lovely.  A perfect family movie in an old fashioned sense.

This morning I finished Skylark by Jenny Pattrick.  I really enjoyed it, and I'm so pleased that someone has put part of the goldfields story to print, especially since I've still not written up the stories I think need telling yet.  Now that I have five minutes to call my own, I think of writing again.  But last holidays I was like this, and I can't even find any evidence that I wrote a single thing. 

I'm thinking of sharing my ideas in draft written form directly on this blog, as a way of doing something which actually appears outside of my bedroom.  So sometime soon, there will be some letters/diary entries from Eliza Mitchell, an unhappy housewife on the Mt Ida goldfields of the 1880s who puts the bottle in front of her paper and shares the stories of her world.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When the lemons rain around me, I garden.

When a globalised world with impotent local actors threatens to destabilise my sense of autonomy, gardening is my best response.  It allows me to grow food for my family, thus reducing costs and dependence on the supermarket and reducing the food miles aspect to supermarket-purchased vegetables.

I also happen to really really enjoy gardening.

Over the last few days, mostly in the weekend, I sowed sunflower seeds, transplanted my Mrs Kitson's marigolds, weeded, dug in bokashi, sowed phacelia, oriental mesclun, beetroot and a shady garden scatter blend of aquilegias.  I've also bought and planted seedlings of pak choi, two kinds of lettuce (including 'drunken woman' because that name has always appealed to me) and perpetual spinach.  Waiting on the table outside to be planted are dwarf cosmos, two asparagus plants and some coriander.

Inside I'm tending my tomato plants on the windowsill.  I don't sow much seed if I can easily buy seedlings due to time constraints.  But there is something very appealing to me about growing my own tomato plants from seed.  It is like the charting of spring.  I only grow cherry tomatoes, as the large ones don't grow in time here without the aid of a glass/plastic house.  I still think I'll get a plastic house one day...

Today I bought six punnets of seedlings.  I'm totally happy to pour a little money into our local economy and gain some autonomy over our greens supply in the process.

Not local, but still feel-good, is Cake Patterns.  I only discovered Steph of 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World a few months ago, but now I'm looking forward to making a dress she has designed called the Tiramisu.  Today she put patterns up for pre-sale on Etsy on a generous discount as a way of gaining the finances to print her pattern.  I've not done this before (technologically ancient you say?  guilty as charged) but I think it is a great idea, so I've bought her pattern.  Now I just need to finish knitting my Miette cardigan in the next month and source some lovely patterned knit fabric in readiness to sew a Tiramisu.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why I am angry with Tony Ryall and his cronies.

How dare this government?  The government which was happy for Don Elder to be paid a salary of $1.3 million and an increasingly top heavy, highly paid arsenal of non-mining bureacrats to suck up profits. 

The government which presided over a mine safety regime which was so grossly unsafe that TWENTY NINE men died and are still underground.  A safety and management regime at Pike River which was so inept that endless lies were peddled as they scrabbled to have any idea what to do when Pike exploded.

I've met Trevor Bolderson a few times and I have enormous respect for him.  I've heard him talk about his experiences in the 1984 miners' strike in England.  He is an astute, intelligent and hugely hard working man.  It was Trevor who presented the proposal from the workers for Spring Creek to Tony Ryall today. 

Tonight at 5pm on the National Radio news, I learnt that Tony Ryall openly admitted he didn't bother to look at the miners' proposal.  Not even the slightest pretence at respect for the work of the miners.

The work of the workers.

The work of the men who have buried their comrades not yet two years ago.

The prime minister and his cronies didn't mind dressing up and lamenting a 'work of God' back then.  They don't mind killing off the industry now.

Yes, I'm aware that enthusiasts of capitalism consider such outrage to be naive.  Makes the world go round and all that.


There is no respect in this process.  None whatsoever. 

Next time you watch the workers of Greymouth and their families fighting to keep our town alive on your television, know that they fight an honest fight.  They are not picking a business apart, flicking off its workers on to the dung heap until they next need them, in readiness to sell the business into private hands.

The government are doing a hideous and nasty job of so-called running our state assets.

Could it be worse?


Pike River Coal Mine was privately owned.

Lest you prefer to assume I am stupid, I do understand what a balance sheet looks like.  I do understand what being in the red and having a mortgage which has to be paid looks like.  I make choices every damned day to keep my own family afloat.  But I don't stuff up our family finances by taking out immoral amounts of cash just for being the administrator of our finances.  And I don't lie to people about what is going on.  I listen to the suggestions of other family members about how we can best make good financial decisions.  I don't disrespect the contribution that everyone in my family makes to our financial viability. 

Not like John Key and Don Elder.  Shame on you both, and all your lackeys.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spring projects

The sun shone brightly and the world was a lovely place.  I spent the morning in bed reading Lynda Hallinan's Back to the Land: A Year of Country Gardening, rising only once I'd devoured the entire book.  Great book.  Marking a truly spring day, I donned my floral curtain Colette Crepe dress for the first time.  I asked my daughter to take some pictures.  It's not quite summer, so I teamed my dress with black leggings, a black long sleeved t shirt, odd socks and gumboots.  In keeping with my usual Saturday style, I neither brushed my hair nor washed my face before heading out to the garden.
 I had fun in the garden.  The iceland poppies are flowering in front of the gone-to-seed rocket and beside the garlic.
 I planted out lots of pansies and polyanthus and I even had a go at upgrading the falling down, overgrown and neglected piece of sort-of garden out the very front.  Mostly what this photo shows is the falling downwind shelter, but perhaps you can see where I have tied the rambling briar rose across the remnants of a fence.  I'm hoping for a graceful arch of pink flowers from it later this year.
 A few problems became evident with the dress throughout the day.  I'm glad I didn't wear it out without a top underneath.  This evening I asked my beautiful assistant to take another photo so I could share the problem.  Despite all my careful alterations, going down in neckline size and the making a full bust adjustment, the dress still doesn't fit in the shoulders/upper chest.  At first I thought the problem was the width of the shoulders.  But now I think it is more likely that I need to make a petite adjustment between the high bust and shoulders.  If I were to pinch out an inch on either side of the shoulder seam for both shoulders, I would get quite a good fit.  Whereas in the current situation, the dress falls off my shoulders (which are narrow relative to standard pattern measurements) and the I am left with a large pillow effect from the sweet heart neckline down to my waist.  As in larger and more formless than even nature has endowed me.
Sewing?  The more I learn, the more I recognise what doesn't fit or work, and three years later the successful and long term wearable dress has still eluded me.

I've been having a look at possible uses for the $50 worth of emerald green satin I bought during the week and which hopefully I don't have to turn into a ballet costume after all.  Given I never go to formal wear events, the pickings are slim.  I am considering a half circle skirt for day wear.  Given my experiences with fitting myself with non-stretch fabrics, I'm not currently full of confidence on this project.  But when I rang the shop and what I wanted was emerald multi-stretch dance fabric and they only had jade, moving on to the evening wear section seemed the only option.  There are only a few colours I dislike, but jade may be at the top of that list.

Events in the rest of the world are utterly outrageous.  Paula Bennett's half baked punitive policy on early childcare for the children of beneficiaries has many holes in it as well as being morally bankrupt.  I've spoken to a friend in an isolated part of the West Coast who is affected by this and has no access to fifteen hours of an early childhood learning centre without driving very large distances.  What is the bureacracy going to cost to assess situations like hers?

One thing which was really good was last night's performance of The Cave above the Pa/Te Ana I Runga I te Pa.  I think it is an important beginning to telling and sharing the story of the dispossession of Mawhera Maori and I hope I find ways of learning more.  Historical perspectives on our town always seem to be focused on Pakeha stories.  There was a discussion afterwards on where to next for Greymouth which was a good idea in itself, but I didn't feel I had anything to contribute.  Once I would never have attended an open forum like last night's one without contributing.  I haven't decided whether I've gotten too cynical to see beautiful visions of a new future or whether I've acquired enough wisdom to keep quiet unless I have a genuinely valuable contribution to make.  What I do know is that this is the third play from Kiwi Possum Productions, a local community theatre group led by the talented and indefatigable Paul Maunder, and I look forward to both more discussion about Te Ana I Runga I te Pa and to whatever play is on the horizon for next year.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An exercise in chaos

So Brighid is doing ballet.
I've chronicled my ineptness and lack of proper enthusiasm for extra curricular activities fairly thoroughly on this blog, so recidivist readers know that I'm a ballet mum without a licence.  Or a clue.

Cue dancing competitions.

With costumes.  International theme, as the children skip across the room in painfully rehearsed formation to the words "children of the world". 

Which the parents provide.  "Parent" being, for the most part and certainly in my household, a euphemism for the mother.

I screened out the costume aspect for most of the term, having decided we would go Irish and assuming that would be easy peasy to source on Trademe.

On Tuesday I found out that next week is dress rehearsal and it dawned upon me that the actual competitions were less than two weeks away.  I told the teacher that we weren't quite entirely sorted.

That night, and the next, Trademe let me down.

I got a bit flappy, and everything else got a bit busy, and the teacher never got back to me after suggesting she would ring me with the name of the person who has an Irish costume from last year.  This morning I woke up late, took FH to school in my dressing gown, took the kids to school in my dressing gown without their lunches and, at 8.58am remembered the ballet costume challenge and decided to put my supermother cape on, make the damn thing and rang Fabric Vision in Christchurch immediately (I'd already checked the local fabric shop and no joy there).  I ordered two metres of emerald stretch satin, because that seemed a good idea.  A really good idea. 

This afternoon I left work earlier than usual because a) I was still too tired to make good decisions on tricky topics and b) the computers wouldn't work.  Point a) should have been a warning to me about making decisions about non-work activities.  Should have.

I sorted through patterns, sighed and wrinked my brow, chose the easiest one and started cutting out a muslin.  I told every person I saw about my project, both noble and overwhelmingly ridiculous.  I posted my project on facebook and friends began to worry that Brighid would be on stage naked.

I think they did more than worry.  They prayed.  Big time.

So tonight the ballet teacher rang and then there were more phone calls and now we are going to collect an Irish dress at the dress rehearsal on Tuesday.  I will endeavour to get it off Brighid as soon as I possibly can, as she likes to feed her clothes a regular diet of tomato sauce.

Meanwhile, assuming the loan dress fits, I can think about what I could make with emerald green stretch satin that isn't evening wear. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Miette, Dyson & tomatoes

So I left 19C Cornwall for a week, and participated in 21C Wetville a little more.  League has finished for the year and the freedom we had in the weekend because of that was beautiful. 


We went to Shantytown and hung out in the rain, and the next day we went to the swimming pool.  We bought a new toy which prompted some housework.

What toy does that, you ask?

The old vaccum cleaner had lost its suck.  I'd kept it going for an extra two years beyond when I first thought it needed replacing by lots of cleaning of the brushes and making do (and, it could easily be argued, by not using it very often).  I thought I'd shift from my Dyson, but when I researched my options, Dyson came out on top by a million miles.

So the house is quite a bit cleaner than usual which is lovely.  Long may the interest in using the new toy last.

I'm making quite good progress with my Miette cardigan.  I'm knitting the pattern as per the size 42" instructions.  I wasn't confident to make changes to the pattern this time round, but I am learning from the process and think I could another time.  Like lower the bust darts.  I've started those as per the pattern and I can tell you that even with the best bra engineering that money can buy, my bust point ain't going to be right up there beside my armpit.  There will be some blocking going on at the end.  I'm not unravelling at this stage, just having powerful learning experiences.

Still no news on Spring Creek.  I alternately feel grateful we still have quite secure jobs, and guilty that we do when so many of my friends and acquaintances face the job axe.  I've been reading the recent Listener articles on retirement planning and trying to be as sensible as we can.  I think Diana Crossan the retirement commissioner has a lot of good things to say.  A month or so back I wondered if we could be radical enough to drop to one income for a year and I would return to the garden and be at home for the kids some more.  After the Solid Energy initial round of cuts and terrible intimations of more here on the West Coast, staying home when we were lucky enough to have two income streams started to seem quite insane.  Our kids and indeed all four of us are really lucky and a bit of crazy busy-ness won't kill us- by some big city standards, our life is probably quite zen.

The time I spent at home when Brighid was a baby was valuable beyond the time I spent with her and four year old Fionn.  We'd only bought and moved into our home three months before she was born and in that first year I spent a lot of time creating vegetable and herb gardens.  Now there are more flowers, but the important groundwork was done then and now it is relatively easy to grow food.  I transplanted my tomato seedlings into small pots in the weekend.  It rained before I could do anything further gardenwise, but every small step leads to more yummy and cheap food in a few weeks or months' time. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

head in the clouds

It's evening, so my head has been in 19th century Cornwall for the most part.

No fabric, patterns or clothing purchases.  I spent the potential fabric purchase money on ordering death certificates.

Things which have finished: drum lessons, league practices and games and a reduction in kung fu attendance.  The difference in smoothness of a week is noticeable already, and it is only Tuesday.  There is a five week gap between league finishing and swimming lessons starting.  I'm enjoying it.  This does remind me that I need to sort out a costume for the ballet competitions this holidays though.

Ouch ouch ouch on the job cuts in provincial New Zealand already this week.

Recent developments in my garden: first iceland poppy (orange) out.  Lovage has re-emerged.  Feverfew and white sage taking off.  One bay tree appears to be flowering.  It's never done that before.  There is a flowerhead emerging from the Chatham Island Forget Me Not and one from an aquilegia - firsts!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

good bad great

Good: the new Cornish project is still fascinating me.  Today I learnt about hedging practices and forced enclosures over the past 300 years and I found information about my great x 4 grandparents who married in 1769 and my great x 3 grandparents who married in 1804 and my great x 2 grandparents who married in 1837.  I want to learn about how my great grandmother learnt to read and write in the period before compulsory schooling and some more about Methodism in their part of Cornwall. 

Bad: The housework fairy didn't visit over night.

Great: the rugby league season has finished for the year!

Friday, September 7, 2012

the new hobby

In our town, it has never been easier to find a park (except perhaps on certain days in November 2010) and at the supermarket in what is normally the crazy peak just after work hour on pay day night, there were two lanes free.  By day, I do my normal things, like alternately harass and adore my kids (actually the adore bit is usually at night when they are asleep), organise food, go to work, visit Mary K, do loads of laundry, conspicuously not manage any other housekeeping and thus witness the slide into Septemberitis which happens after eight months of busyness each year, chat to my friends, discuss the state of the world with FH, and sneak out into the garden even just to admire the current sea of white and yellow on green formed by the daisies on the unmown lawn, the daffodils and the white and yellow irises and the rocket run to seed.

By night I have a new hobby. 

I've had this bug before, when I was 19.  My flatmate would warn people at parties: "Watch out!  She'll talk to you about dead people and cemeteries!"  Some people played sport on Saturdays to keep fit; I kept incidentally fit by cycling to cemeteries on the far side of town and working out where my Irish forbears had made their new life in 19th century Christchurch.

This time, I've got the bug for my Cornish stories.  When I was 19, the internet was still some silicone valley pipe dream.  Now, there is so much I can find out online.  I've been finding out about my great grandmother and my great grandfather who emigrated separately from Cornwall and married in New Zealand.  Along the way, I'm learning a little about their siblings and the places they've been.  I've been looking up history articles to learn some more context, particularly about the links between Penarth, near Cardiff, and Cornwall. 

Not so far from life in Wetville after all.  Massive emigration from Cornwall 1861-1901 was prompted in part by the closure of the tin mines.  Cornish miners were valued world wide for their high level of skill in deep mining.  The mines in Glamorgan, Wales, or the docks for exporting the coals in Penarth, part of Glamorgan, appear to have been the reason that some of my ancestors moved to Penarth before eventually moving to Western Australia.  When I found that one of my great grandmother's sisters had moved, with her Cornish husband and the first couple of children, to Penarth, where they had more children, it suggested an origin for an old, delicately made pin with 'PENARTH' on it and surrounded by flowers that Mary K gave me earlier this week:

My camera couldn't manage to retain clarity on such a small object, so the script is illegible and flowers a bit fuzzy.