Thursday, May 31, 2012

the new blue corduroy skirt and the inner voices

On the final day of May, I wore my new skirt, the one I finished earlier this week.  As is often the case, I had to give myself a little talk after I viewed the photos.  This talk:
Voice #1: But my stomach looks so fat in this!
Voice #2: Yes Sandra, that is because your stomach is that fat.  You can hide it by standing behind a child, but you cannot make it go away just by not liking it.
Voice #1: Oh.  I s'pose.  It's a bugger really.  I can learn to make clothes that fit me, and I can learn to make clothes which are flattering, but I cannot make clothes which make entire parts of my body disappear.
Voice #2: Yes.  It's good you are returning to a logical perspective.  Now remember how you have written about the need for diverse images of women in our media?
Voice #1: [splutter] But I like pictures of different shaped women looking glamorous!  
Voice #2: (which is by now most insufferable in tone) But women are not glamorous all the time.  Maybe those other women of diverse shapes who share their sewing or other pictures of themselves feel the disappointment and post anyway?  You should live the diversity mantra and post these pics anyway.

It tends to tilt so that the front is often lower than the back.  This is because of the shape of my stomach, and that ain't changing just exactly now.  It is quite comfortable to wear, and has given me a push to make my second attempt at a crossover top which I will then wear with this skirt.

Did I offer to include my daughter in this photo shoot?  Did I squat.  She announced that she would be in it, and in all of the photos unless she could take some photos.  The bossiness is a genetic thing.

The skirt is slightly a-line which works well for comfort.  I have a red one cut out in the same pattern, also of corduroy, and I am thinking of making that straight and comparing the two.  This skirt was plenty comfortable enough for easy and modest movement at work today (we can discuss feminism and sexual and clothing liberation all we like, but I'm still 100% sure that modest arrangements are the best choice for my work clothing) and the back vent would still give plenty of room if I made the sides straight, or even slightly curved in at the bottom as is apparently flattering in a pencil skirt style. 

Apart from this sewing achievement, most of my life seems to be spent at work of late, and not in the garden.  But at 4.50pm tonight, I resolved that I would not waste a single moment in which I was home, it was light, and the smoke alarm wasn't shrieking in the kitchen.  I dug in some biogold fertiliser pellets where the garlic will be planted, hopefully next week, and watered the smallest kale with fish fertiliser.  Not that it needs any water, but I think a bit of nutrition delivery could benefit us all down the track.  Out the front, I have been wondering why my daffodils are not sprouting.  I've wondered if I'm imagining things when there seem to be shoots one day and they are gone a few days later. 

I have suspicions.


Actually, no.  Stronger and worser.  The bulbs are really too big for blackbirds to carry.  The front garden is exposed to the weka(s).

I guess this weekend will be partly devoted to the effective draping of bird netting.

Monday, May 28, 2012



the constant


Sunday, May 27, 2012


Today was the birthday party for the youngest of Brighid's wee friends from our coffee group.  Despite the rain, we all had a great time.  I spent no less than seven hours at work this weekend, and wondered how on earth I would work full time and ever see my family. 

Food things:
1. Fast food chicken cooked slowly: bung one whole chicken in the slow cooker with a tablespoon of red Thai curry paste and a tin of coconut cream and some pieces of pumpkin (no need to peel them).  Cook all day.  Eat with boiled frozen peas.
2. I made vegetable and meat bones soup for dinner.  The mere addition of pearl barley and split yellow peas makes me feel all the hearty economical country cooker.  When my Mum did this, she did it properly.  She didn't squander the food budget on drinking red wine while she cooked. 

The sun is supposed to shine on Wetville on Tuesday.  On Tuesday I plan to plant my garlic for the year.  If the ballet teacher would kindly cancel this week's lesson again, I might be able to plant my naked lady bulbs and transplant my blueberries as well.

I haven't sewn anything for ages.  I did read a novel though, a very average affair called The Ex-Wives by Deborah Moggach, which seemed indeed to be all about affairs.  I've started and abandoned so many books lately that I just wanted to complete something.  I'm on the lookout for something substantially better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thoughts on Isa's free food study

Last year I had a very interesting time reading and engaging with Isa Ritchie's masters thesis on Weston A Price style food movements.  Now she's back, with a PhD project on no less than the 'democratisation of nourishment,' a phrase redolent with academic speak which actually translates to looking at very interesting movements of freeganism, free foraging and community gardening. 

Today, Isa is thinking out loud about defining the parameters of her study (something I was never good at.  Like Isa, I fancied looking at everything).  She writes:

"I want to focus on practices that either generate food (largely) outside of the corporate food system and aren't bought or sold using conventional currency or that glean food that would otherwise be wasted, and, therefore, do not contribute to the corporate food system.  I'm interested in concepts such as abundance, scarcity, freedom, community and participation - and I'm interested in what people involved in this sort of thing think and their lived experiences."

I have some thoughts. I cannot promise you Isa that they are the slightest bit helpful in terms of narrowing your focus.  Food isn't just a system in itself.  Food is what makes everything else possible.  Even if you define the terms of your focus on explicit movements, publicly accessible organisations with names, I think it's worth acknowledging and considering the silent and largely invisibile free food people.  I'd wager that they are mostly, though not exclusively, women.  A long time ago, when reading about conscientious objectors like Archibald Baxter, one of the things I noticed was about the food.  Despite the ban on supporting conscientious objectors, families of objectors would sometimes find food at their doorstep in the morning.  To me, this is an important gesture of silent and valuable support, one which has no tangible reward.

Then there is food for financial survival.  Whereas taking a bag of supermarket groceries around to a friend or acquaintance or neighbour in need seems to bear the neon label of "charity", sharing home grown garden produce is much more acceptable.  The sharing of glut produce can take place in a mutually beneficial web of reciprocity, but it can also be a means of redistribution for the financially vulnerable.

Then there is community fundraising outside of the corporate model.  Otherwise known as a cake stall.  Our school gala is not far away now and the newsletters requesting help flow in each week.  I'll be collecting money and marshalling children on the facepainting stall on the day, but before then I will be pulling out my cake and loaf tins (gifted by Mary K, my elderly cousin who is now unable to bake herself) and whipping up cakes and loaves using the recipes my mother gave me, one of which comes from her grandmother.  My Mum is the queen of cake stall baking in my opinion.  I expect she has earnt thousands for local community groups over her lifetime.  I know this isn't free food precisely, but it is food outside of a corporate model.

Free food movements are an interesting phenomenon.  They are edgy and often radical.  Dumpster diving wasn't cool when it was the elderly homeless, but when relatively affluent, university educated food activists starting doing it, ... well suddenly we had an actual movement.  Free food as a lubricant which enables vulnerable people to function is sometimes semi-institutionalised, as in the case of food banks, and sometimes it happens through the quiet efforts of unfashionable matrons.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A short post on carbs

Carbohydrates appear to be the new evil.  Low fat foods as a dieting mechanism is so last year and references to high protein-low carbohydrate eating, whether dressed up in the language of the flat belly or of the optimum gut flora, abound in the media.  I've read a bit about paleo eating over the last year and I guess some people would see paleo eaters as leaders in the anti-carb field.  I've seen wheat described as a poison which, before I got into all this nutritional discourse stuff, used to be a word reserved for insecticides, paint stripper and other people's medicine which you shouldn't touch.

But before we get too carried away with the idea that grains, and particularly wheat, have contributed to the downfall of human civilisation (like hell they have; Carluccio's foccaccia is still one of my favourite taste sensations in my whole world), I think it's worth thinking about the contribution of food which fills and fattens us up easily to our choices as human beings.

A while ago I got all excited about Sarah Hrdy, an anthropologist who found that in pre-settled agriculture times, given that a child needed 13 million calories to achieve adulthood, women employed a range of strategies to support each other and to make choices around how many babies they attempted to raise. (e.g. here)  It seems to me, that the incorporation of grains into a communal diet must have offered so many gains for women, and for the entire society, as it allowed for time in a day which wasn't entirely devoted to gathering sustenance.  Maybe grains did for those women what electric washing machines did for our mothers, and the internet has done for our generation.  It opened windows of time, and in the case of the internet, it offers windows of knowledge that were previously inaccessible to people on a limited budget with financial priorities around raising children.

Down at our local New World, I see they are advertising skinnier bread as having 40% fewer carbohydrates.  No one advertises small size apples as having 40% less fibre, yet that is the parallel logic (or lack thereof). 

Despite an awareness of the partly problematic nature of bread for promoting candida and weight gain in my particular body, an awareness I've gained by my own observation rather than blind assumptions from books, magazines or websites, I'm still eating bread sometimes.  I had toast with butter and hummous for breakfast today.  It was fantastic.  I made it at home (the toast and the hummous, not the actual bread and butter) so it was cheap.  I ate it at home, in snatched bites as I finished the school lunches, and so I could get on with my paid job as soon as I got to work.  The taste pleased me and the time convenience made the difference between eating breakfast and having to go without.

There's no poison in my bread.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

$304.37 and the redemptive power of naked ladies

So.  Three hundred and four dollars and thirty-seven cents is a big power bill.  It's not at all conducive to saving for a new car.  So I thought carefully about our power consumption and decided that:
1. The heater in the dining room should not go on so readily.
2. We should use the tumble drier less.
3. We should use the freezer more.

On the second point, I worked hard at being a good brownie all weekend and washed about a million loads of washing while the sun shone and kept drier use to a minimum (not everything was completely dry at the end of the day).  On the third point, I thought about lentils and the general concept of making better use of the freezer.  I've wanted one for years and we were fortunate enough to be given a small one at the beginning of this year.  At the time, I was all about buying bulk amounts of red meat.  There are still quite a lot of sausages and some other meat in there, but now I'm cutting back red meat consumption, what I really need is some more home made ready meals in the freezer. 

I soaked some lentils and bought lots of vegetables and promised the kids I would bake and freeze food for school lunches and in the end, I bought us takeaway fish and chips for dinner.

All for a good cause though, that of my garden.  The children and I took Mary K out (from the rest home) to her old house this afternoon.  It has been cleared inside, ready for a deep clean and to be put on the market.  I dug up some more of Mary's lovely bulbs: daffodils, snowdrops and naked ladies (amaryllis), plus some hydrangea cuttings.  Instead of cooking at nearly tea time, I planted the daffodils in the herb garden, the snowdrops outside my/our bedroom window and the hydrangea cuttings I poked into the soil outside the lounge window.  I've not decided where to put the naked ladies, and anyway it was getting too dark to see the soil by then.

After reading Rosemary McLeod's piece on her dance around the edge of 1960s lefty circles in today's Sunday Star Times, I'm gagging to read Workers in the Margins, Union Radicals in Post-War New Zealand by Cybele Locke. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Celebrate the 'F' word

Today I went down to our local art gallery and had a look at their current exhibition, "Celebrating the 'F' word".  It's 'f' for fibre, but I think it has a wonderful explicitly 'f' for feminist tone in the confident celebration of both domestic textiles and domestic content.

Some favourites included Mary Celeste's "Femicide Bomber", a sculpture of a woman in a black singlet with dolls, feeding bottles and kitchen utensils on the waist belt.  I also like Lindy Roberts' Colonial Cameos.  These medium sized frames in their traditional cameo style edging used fabrics from different countries in a colonial relationship, such as wool blanket, tapa cloth, shweshwe and cotton lawn hankies, with laser printed images in the centres.  Caroline McQuarrie had a crochet installation in the floor and on the wall, photographs framed with crocheted frames.  Catherine Moffitt is an artist who also works at the local state high school as a teacher and a dean.  In her heart series, she explores the emotions of the dean and the students.  My favourite was 'The busybody' (not shown on the website), with pointy hat shapes stuck to the heart.

Even the titles of the work referenced traditional female concerns in a way that I read as confident and proud and not twee.  One of Barbara McQuarrie's beautiful bright quilts was named "A Grandmother's Love".

I do have a quibble with the poor proof reading in the printed titles which go with each exhibit.  For example, Caroline McQuarrie's exhibit "The First Day of My Life" is mis-spelt to "Fist".  When artists have clearly put hours and weeks and months into their work, I think such slack errors are insulting.

If you have the pleasure of spending some time in Greymouth in the near future, then it's worth your while going to see this exhibition.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

fish & craft

Sushi salad.  Last night I was tired.  We still needed to eat.  Takeaways were not an option.  I put the wrong kind of rice in the pot so no basmati rice with fish and veg after all.  So I made the sushi rice as I usually would for sushi, then cooked the terakihi in butter/oil/ginger/lemon thyme/lemon juice and with broccoli, then tipped the whole lot into a bowl with the rice and added grated carrot and avocado.  I also added broken up nori into the rice before the fish went in, but I needed to have crumbled it up into much smaller pieces.  It tasted good.  I would do it again.

Baked fish.  Tonight I was tired.  It took every last ounce of discipline to start cooking dinner and not go blow money on takeaways and wine.  I tried out Annabel Langbein's baked fish with almond sauce and it was good.  Almonds are fantastic sources of magnesium and calcium but no one apart from me really wants to just eat them raw, alone.  Apparently the omega 3 in fish is preserved for absorption better when fish is baked compared with when it is fried.

Last night was craft night.  I took various things along for advice and now I have ideas for the new bag and for the crochet tablecloth which we inherited and for the long thought-of decorative blanket for our bed.
 Beautiful handiwork huh?  This comes from FH's grandmother, and may have been made by her or her mother.  I couldn't get all the coffee stains out, but I wasn't risking leaving something so old in napisan for ever.  Apparently it lived on the dining room table in between meals for many years.  Originally I thought I would cut it up, but now I am going to repair the holes and sew it to a blanket and make it the new cover for our bed.

I made this woollen cross-stitch in about 2001 and I've never done anything about displaying it.  Now I'm wondering if it would work as the side of a tote-style bag?

 Don't you wish that you too had funky polka dot red pyjamas? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A narcissistic narrative of our family health journey

Today I made lentil and feta salad for lunch.  I soaked the puy lentils with a little apple cider vinegar overnight, then I boiled them til they were soft this morning.  Then I sauteed onions, ginger, turmeric, cumin, crushed coriander seeds and kale in olive oil and butter and then added the lentils and mixed it all up.  Then I added lots of chopped fresh coriander, salt and pepper and diced feta cheese.  It was good, and nutritious and filling.  Next time I need to make a bigger batch as that was enough to feed FH and I for lunch.  It also made a pile of dishes.

Then I blinked five times, went to work, school pickup, ballet and the optometrist and it was time for another meal.  We have heaps of eggs at the moment and no money until pay day tomorrow, so it had to be an egg meal and the children were pleading to never have quiche again, or at least not tonight.  So I parboiled 4 spuds which I had chopped into rough cubes.  Then I sauteed onions, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and anchovies in butter and olive oil.  I added the spuds and then added chopped borage, kale, silverbeet and celery.  When all that was cooked together nicely, I whisked together six eggs, some salt and some pepper and mixed that in until it set.  Three people out of four liked it and no one said it tasted like quiche.  If anyone has some more recipe ideas for using up eggs in savoury dishes, I would love to know them.

I cannot resist bragging about the source of much of the dinner though.  Our own eggs, plus from the garden came the rosemary, thyme, sage, celery, borage, silverbeet and kale.

This morning, as I made lentil salad, with no one at home but me and the National Programme, I tried to organise my food/nutrition phases into a list.  The bit before I had Brighid is a bit fuzzy, but here goes

1. 1999-2000  my first organic foods phase.  It often involved buying organic food which then wasted away
in the fridge as I worked so late that the new on-the-scene-FH and I went out for dinner or takeaways a lot.  Experimented with cranial osteopathy, for my sore neck with good results.  I already know that I have haemochromatosis before now, but I ignore it.

2. 2001-2002 In London.  We lived by the District Line for four years and in the first month, particularly when I had my period, I swear I could feel the electrical field when laying in bed.  Which didn't quite create the open fields and hippy organic healthy body vibe but that's not all there is to enjoy in life, and London was an utterly awesome place.  Still buying some organic food, plus I was reading about candida and trying to make changes to get rid of that.  Experimented with local osteopaths, with mixed results.  Took some trial and error to find someone competent.

3. 2003-2005 New motherhood, still in London.  The first time I gave Fionn egg, his legs came out in a rash.  Eczema strategies dominated much of my reading andlaundry choices, food choices,etc.  Experimented with homeopathy which was interesting but not very successful, and reflexology, which was both interesting and very successful.  One time I was so exhausted that she put me in another room to just sleep after the session.  It was at that time that I admitted crazy multi-tasking defeat and fixed a date to resign from my paid job.  I started a food co-op buying bulk organic foods from Infinity and between that and the market, we were eating well, mostly organic, and for a reasonable price.

4. 2006.  Back in New Zealand.  Fionn's eczema goes crazy.  We go gluten free (FH and I for dinner and Fionn for everything) and Fionn doesn't have eggs.  Slowly, he makes progress and his immune system strengthens.  We try a naturopath but it isn't really our thing.  FH and Fionn refuse to take the medicine she makes for them because it tastes too utterly vile.  I find a reflexologist.  She is marvellous, though she lives a long way away.  In late pregnancy I organise several pregnant friends to have appointments and Donna travels to my house for the treatments.

5. 2007.  I give birth to Brighid late January.  I have serious feeding problems again, then mastitis, then a second lot of antibiotics because the firts lot didn't work.  Then three weeks after she is born, when I think I am in reasonable health again, my body stops working,  It gets worse each day until I cannot turn my head at all, it takes a very long time to get out of bed, I cannot carry my daughter or look after my four year old son, and one day I try to get up from the table (i.e. out of my chair) and I cannot.  FH does everything he can at night, our lovely childminder looks after Fionn during the day when it is not kindy time and Dad comes over and looks after me.  Most fortuitously, Brighid is a very happy baby who chills out beside me in the bed.  The doctors keep taking tests and my inflammation count keeps going up.  The prognosis is travelling rheumatoid arthritis.  They have no idea why I have it or what to do about it.  Donna the reflexologist comes to visit again several times and does a lot of lymphatic drainage and I start to get better.  The GP, when I tell her this on the next visit, appears to dismiss my case entirely as it doesn't fit her frame of reference.  Although this is a bit annoying, the main and most wonderful thing is that I am getting better and that finally I am going to be able to look after my children, both of them, myself.

My quest to work out what happened and how to avoid a repeat experience, goes on for a long long time.  I had bells palsy in my mid 20s and so this is my second major and unexplained body malfunction.  I'm aware that if I get a third, I might not be so lucky with regard to a full recovery.  I find that CAA triple pack multivitamins make quite a positive difference to my energy levels.  I read for ages and ages, online and off, and come to the conclusion that I was probably seriously deficient in magnesium throughout my pregnancy, and after a childhood chock full of antibiotics, and some other things in between which I forget now, antibiotics are a bit more than my system can handle.

6. 2008.  Fionn gets asthma.  More reading, more learning.

7. 2009- 2012.  I discover Laksmi, our therapist who has skills in about a zillion areas.  Massage, reflexology, nutritional therapy and something called visceral manipulation feature significantly.  FH tries to give up smoking endless times.  Sometimes in winter during the lung infections, I fear that I will be bringing up our children on my own.  The spectre of a billboard in London of the child of a smoker standing beside his father's grave scares me deeply.  In 2010 I start reading everything I can find on nutrition and smokers.  Clearly, smoking is really bad shit, nobody suggests otherwise.  But I find that magnesium and omega 3s are particularly depleted by smoking.  I also find that in a study looking at magnesium and depression (as low magnesium levels and depression have a significant correlation), they accidentally found that magnesium supplementation helped the paricipants reduce how much they smoked.  The vitamins shelf fills up and it does help reduce the severity of FH's chest problems.  Then he cracks it.  Now he has been smokefree for 11.5 months.  (I'm not supposed to talk about him on my blog so shhhh please, local friends).  Laksmi helps with strengthening the children's immune systems and teaching me things to do to support all of our health.  Brighid has endless tummy problems that I don't name online as I think she has the right not to be mortified by the detail as she grows up.  We make slow but definitely forward progress.  I don't bother taking the idea of medical insurance seriously as everything we need help for wouldn't be covered by standard insurance anyway, as they are things which conventional medicine can't currently do much, if anything, about.

I get a chest infection and a significant bout of rheumatoid arthritis in the middle of this and with Laksmi's guidance, make changes to my eating habits which improve my health a LOT.  This is when I start including salads in my breakfast, trying to increase seaweed and fish in my meals and reducing my wheat consumption.  From this time though, it does appear that my body doesn't like alcohol so much, which is why I'm always swearing off it and then then starting again and so on.  Despite the ups and downs of that mis-match between desire and bodily response, I do manage to consistently make sure that I have several alcohol free days each week.  I discover that epsom salts is a wonderful, cheap-as-chips relaxant in the bath for the children and anyone else and as epsoms salts is the common name for magnesium sulphate, it is interesting how it improves Fionn's disposition when he gets tired.

Well that was a long piece all about ME.  It seems a kind of narcissim writing it all down, but it is also useful for me to see it in a narrative of chronological phases.

I'm still trying to apply my algorithmic thinking to making a bag out of thick felted once-was-a-cardi wool.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Everyone needs a hobby

One of my favourite obsessions is foods for good health.  I do have to remind myself (often) that reading about good foods will not give me the benefits; I need to actually eat them.  I've kept up our home made food commitment, even though I gave up reporting on it daily.  Last week we had bought fish and chips one night and one morning I took asthma boy into town for morning tea after he came to work with me but beyond that we've been very good.  Asthma boy has made a very good recovery.  I'm not sure if it is pure good luck that he is responsible about listening to his body or if I can take some credit for the work I've put in feeding him well and explaining the food choices we make.  I seem to have my family in the rhythm of taking fish oil and cod liver oil each day and we are still using the flax seed oil topically on Fionn's eczema (which flared up with the asthma).

I've been finding red meat a bit heavy lately and as I wait for a doctor's appointment to check my serum iron and ferritin levels, I'm leaning towards less red meat.  Immoral in terms of ocean over-fishing as it appears to be, I'm keen on more fish instead.  For convenience, our red meat consumption has crept up over the last year or so, shaped in no small measure by the fact that the short fussy eater loves sausages. 

Initially, as I laid out my latest thoughts to FH (who has been vegetarian before and is happy to go back in that direction), I thought I couldn't be bothered with lentils.  But as I was re-reading some favourite posts from Off the Food Grid last night, this piece on turmeric, including the comments, reminded me about the benefits of turmeric.  When I first read about turmeric as an anti-inflammatory, I got a bit carried away and ordered a kilo of it from Piko Wholefoods.  A kilo of turmeric is a very large amount, particularly when my children got very cagey about all their meals being yellow by the third day.  Given that I now make adult home made lunches each day and neither of us like sandwiches for lunch much, I've mostly made hearty salads.  But I could make large-ish amounts of lentils/dahl with lots of spices, including turmeric in it, and put that in our salads.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the garden, weeding and rearranging the flowers.  I started to remove the roses from the front of the house, tearing and scratching my fingers as I went.  The irises in the front of our bedroom which never had enough sun to flower well have now been shifted to beside the red fence, where they get more sun and we can look at them every morning from the dining room table.

The sewing machine is still away being fixed.  I've pulled the felted black wool out of the cupboard, along with some inherited crocheted doilies from my grandmother in law, with the idea of sewing a winter bag.  My beige cotton bag seems light (visually and weight-wise) and flimsy now it is winter clothing season.  The felted black wool is from the swing cardigan which I knitted a few years ago and then last year I felted it to stop myself wearing something so unflattering.  It is too thick to sew with a machine, so it appears that I have a hand sewing project.  Me Made May is still in the dustbin of rash commitments.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Thoughts on multivitamin supplements and medical 'science'

Can I just shout from the rooftops that Brighid, my daughter who has rather limited likes at dinner time, likes brussels sprouts?  So did everyone tonight (I cut the base off, scored a cross from the base, steamed them and then added some butter).

In other non-news and perhaps eventually some actual news, I have something called a chalazion in my eyelid.  I've been pronouncing it with a french style, which makes it feel a little less unappealing.  My first encounter with the optometrist was somewhat unsuccessful, as he wrote a referral to the DHB and they weren't the slightest bit interested.  The optometrist then wrote a script for steroids, and given the time I've spent reading up on steroids (mostly in relation to my son's eczema) and my evaluation (the optometrist's seemed to be rather similar) of the likelihood of success with a skin thinning lotion, I'm not the slightest bit interested in putting steroid cream on my eyelid.

I've been doing hot compresses as the optometrist and a number of google-derived advisers suggested.  I've even been doing compresses with epsoms salts as per some other google-derived suggestions.  It goes up and down, sometimes a medium-sized bump and other times an entirely inflamed eyelid which partly films over my vision.  I've taken to getting FH to photograph it so that when I next talk to the GP about harassing the district health board, I have evidence of the yucky days.  Our DHB seems to work by sending most people away on their first application for surgery, and using that to weed out those who don't persist with what they need.

In older women, several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality risk; this association is strongest with supplemental iron.

I found this interesting given that my personal interest in haemachromatosis has led me to carefully vet all supplements to ensure they do not contain iron.  But it's not quite that easy.  Just because I see supplemental iron as problematric and possibly dangerous for the large number of people with undiagnosed haemachromatosis, dioesn't mean this study is rock solidly persuasive.  

I'm confident that anyone still reading is familiar with the irritating habit, common to medical researchers, of confusing correlation with causation.  My favourite irritation is the news that smokers have higher stress levels than non-smokers.  No!  Really?  And no one ever stoppped to wonder why poor and disadvantaged people still smoke in higher numbers than the rest of the population?

 I was wondering about the significance of when and why Iowa women were taking supplements.The health profile of an active woman who took supplements as well as making 'good' food choices is surely not the same as someone who only moves to taking supplements once she is diagnosed with cancer.  Then I found this article from a group called Life Extension, whom I haven't read or known of before.  But the linked article succinctly sums up many of my concerns about the use of data in the Iowa Women's Study, and the claims that have been made from that data.

If one book or group of books are 'bad', then that doesn't make all books 'bad'.  Likewise, it seems to me to be wise not to assume that all vitamin and mineral supplements are faulty, based on one or even several articles making such grand claims (or certainly the resultant newspaper articles went for such grand suggestions).  Equally, if you or I do choose to take supplements, even if they are on the advice of a GP (or any alternative health practitioner), then I think any of us are wise in that situation to go do some learning ourselves.  A multivitamin supplement is not a fixed thing, and one or any version may not be the supplement that best fits your nutritional profile. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The sole parent contraception proposal

On Stuff recently, there was an interview with a number of young people living in Huntly West.  These people shared their views on the government proposals to offer free long term contraception to sole parent beneficiaries and their teenage daughters.  There has been a lot of discussion on the pros and cons of Paula Bennett's latest plan in New Zealand this week.  On the one side, there are those who say "support everyone in need, no matter how or why' and 'walk a mile before you judge' and on the other are those who believe that to prosper is to be good, and any who do not should be punished, and certainly not 'encouraged' by any form of state support.

But I read the piece in Stuff on the young people in Huntley West, and I wonder why nobody asks what would positively give these people something else to aspire to, to find in their reach, to fulfil themselves with?  Because no matter what you do about disincentivising repeat solo parent pregnancies and upping the return to paid work requirements for sole parents, until the young people of Huntley West and other seriously lacking-in-hope-and-opportunities areas in New Zealand have real opportunities which engage and inspire them, a boyfriend and a baby are going to be beautiful beacons. 

I'm on the walk a mile first side.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It's not just sewing, it's algorithmic thinking

I'm still admiring and thinking about Cheryl Buckley's article on sewing, "On the Margins", as per the thoughts I started last night.  Buckley talks about the skill in designing that the women she interviewed exhibited, with nary a pattern in sight.  She notes that women across different classes made clothes (England c.1920s - 1980s), but in that this activity was consistently marginalised.

Before we pull out the standard line of women just not having enough time any more, what with paid work and running a household and all, I think it's worth noting that Buckley's women sewists were very busy women, women who put in long days in their paid jobs, raising families and assisting in family businesses, before sitting down of an evening and sewing at the machine which was on the corner of the kitchen table or squashed in the front room.  What is different is that clothes were much more expensive to buy then, relative to making them at home (particularly 1950s and 1960s for this point).  What is similar is that what you could buy was mostly shoddily made.

Buckley observes the long and special memories which clothes which women made held.  I've noticed this, and have enjoyed hearing Mary K (now 85) talk about dresses she made for particular occasions.  I've sat with her and looked at photo albums and wished they were in colour and close up.  Before Mary K married in 1948, she worked for a local firm which made couches and other furniture, sewing the upholstery.  When she got engaged, she was allowed to make the curtains and other soft furnishings for her new home, using the equipment at work.  I'd like to make a kind of personal exhibition of all the clothing my Mum had made over the years, both for herself and for us children (and more recently her grandchildren).  Mum has photos of herself modelling the clothes she entered into sewing competitions before she married.  Looking back through her knitting pattern box last year, I realised that somehow, in the 1980s, Mum held down a part time paid job, worked outside in the small berry garden business we had, worked inside running the home, made about a zillion cakes for community fundraising cake stalls each month and knitted each of us three children a new jersey each every winter.  I remember when we played euchre at night that we had to wait until she finished her row before she had her turn.

Buckley writes about the difficulties of tracing what these items of clothing meant to the makers of them through historical records, and of the ways in which these items which had specific meaning within the communities in which they were produced (sometimes used as barter for vegetables, other skills or locally available items).  This is where I think modern blogs are fantastic as a way of sewists sharing their projects, thoughts and journeys as they sew, not just within current communities, but also as a historical record for ther families and for the wider public.  This post by Tilly and the Buttons about her research on sewing bloggers as cultural leaders is so interesting and I haven't even gotten half way through reading the responses (found in linked blogs as well as the comments section).  Adrienne at All Style and All Substance is writing her gender studies thesis on the online sewing community, no less.  I loved reading about her feminist sewing workshops.

One of my favourite memories of studying history at Otago was when my friend Catherine (featured here) talked about assumptions about women and technology.  If you've ever tried making sponges in any oven, let alone in an untried (to you) oven, you will know that there is a lot of technological knowledge involved in making it light and fluffy.  But that was women's work and was never talked about as technology in the way that fixing a car was.

So in that light, I was fascinated to find this article on the way in which young women are taking on sewing.and using computer technology to create some very modern effects, such as using electronic pieces to sew a dress which has LED lights running through it.  I learnt that:

"“Algorithmic thinking” is the term computer scientist—and sewer—Leah Buechley uses to describe what it takes to translate a two-D paper pattern into a three-D soft object."

My journey to develop my algorithmic thinking now has a name.  The project, to get clothes to fit properly across a bust which is much bigger than clothing companies design for, seems rather frippery at times, but algorithmic thinking gives it a gravitas that I certainly appreciate.  It is a new kind of thinking language for me, this 2-d into 3-d, and I'm quietly proud of my small incremental gains in understanding something which had never interested me at school.

Monday, May 7, 2012

On the Margins: Theorizing the History and Significance of Making and Designing Clothes at Home

Today's new experiment: making herbal teas for my sore throat and headcold using herbs from my garden.  I've planted them all on purpose in recent years, but until now I've only used the culinary herbs.  Today, mindful of the rising price of the various potions I buy to scare away lurgies, I opted for some diy, using and checking the knowledge I already have on the properties of specific herbs.

I gathered some thyme, lemon verbena, bergamot bee balm, borage, sage and lemon balm and put it in a tea pot and covered it with recently boiled water.  The resultant brew was quite nice.  Maybe we will survive peak oil after all.

I carried on a little with my kelly green scarf.  After I saw this in a recent Press article:

I decided that I will make scarves (or at least this one green one) which I will eventually stop using as scarves and sew into a big blanket for our bed.  The picture above is of some yarn bombing which took the form of loads of pieces of knitting sewn together to make a giant cover for a container in earthquake scarred Sumner, a suburb of Christchurch.

Also, I lay in bed, cough mixture and tissues at hand, and had another look at The Culture of Sewing.  This excellent book is one I read last year but have never written the responses to it which formed in my head as I read.  The chapter I am most interested in is by Cheryl Buckley: "On the Margins: Theorizing the History and Significance of Making and Designing Clothes at Home". 

Buckley's mother and aunt were sewists and Buckley draws on their life stories and that of an older woman, Mary Skelton (1897-1982), all from the north east of England.  Buckley addresses some of the theoretical demands of the questioning (erosion?) of the subject, noting of her peers:

"Most of these writers have tried to conceptualize female subjectivity and the place of the female subject in historical writing within a contemporary theoretical context which is indifferent if not hostile to the notion of the subject."

This book was published 14 years ago and in that time I've read approximately no new studies of feminist theory, so please speak up in the comments if I'm missing significant new paradigms. 

Bucklet is conscious of writing in a style which "connects with women outside academic discourse" and I think she is successful.  Not all the writers in this collection exhibit the same commitment.  I felt a strong sense of identification with this woman who had gone to university and loved it and then in her subsequent research career had found a way to link the lives of the working class women who people her family with the theoretical and historical perspectives of academic gender studies.  Of course, Cheryl Buckley went on to become a very highly respected and successful academic and I went on to live in suburbia in a small South Island town and make herbal tisanes.  Post-modernism may hate the idea of a central subject, but for me the lived experiences of women in history and women historians are both fascinating and also anchors to which I am drawn.  In a world where women are constructed against ideals and inevitably, always found wanting (e.g. the skinny beautiful girl ideal, the perfect mother ideal), real women who are flesh and brain and action and story, not fragments of someone else's fleeting judgement (the bludger, the ugly one, the crone, the man-hating feminist) are valuable, special, interesting to me.

Hopefully, more on this another day.  I'm off to make some more herbal tea and scoff some more vitamin C.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ginger compress

There are photos of today below, wearing some things I made (grey t-shirt with stars print on it plus aqua-blue cardigan which looks and feels rather like a short dressing gown).  My hair is not brushed.  Joining the Me Made May'12 challenge was a commitment to wearing home made clothes, not to brushing my hair on Saturday morning.

Today's new adventure was making ginger compresses for Fionn's chest.  He does seem to be improving, and now I know why I bought such a large piece of ginger in the groceries.  Sometimes I get frustrated that my kids continue to get sick despite all my efforts to feed and water and clothe and shelter them to good health.  But it is timely at that point, I tell myself, to remember that on both sides of their genetic inheritance, relatives died young of asthma and breathing/chesty/lung complaints, so getting it down to a few bouts per year is a success.

Also, I have and had a head cold.  I wouldn't describe that as an adventure.

In the absence of a sewing machine, I thought I would knit something.  Something fast.  A scarf made of kelly green wool from my late mother in law.  A scarf to go with the beautiful full length hooded deep red coat which also used to be hers and which is now, most luckily, mine.  The wool is 12 ply (the variety is Shepherd kwiknit) and I am using 7mm needles with plain stocking stitch to knit it up as quickly as possible.  I started out with a prtty rib but started again as I could tell I didn't have the patience to keep on ribbing.  Counting!  I pondered using it to teach myself how to knit a cable, but head colds and concentration on learning new skills don't combine.

I had some vaguely intelligent thoughts about the way in which Kate Middleton is so admired by many women and yet is almost completely silent in public, but now I cannot for the life of me find the article which prompted these thoughts, so my intellectual analysis skills will have to remain on the wardrobe shelf.

I don't know if I can stand to keep recording our meals each day.  Everything was made at home.  I am rather blurry about lunch - I may have forgotten to feed some people and fed others twice instead.  But Favourite Handyman made breakfast and dinner.  I made steam baths for Fionn and dispensed omega 3 and vitamin C and Malcolm Harker's emphysemol and zinc-pink-ink-drinks and we all discovered we quite like Winter Wellness chews which is surely useful.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday asthma

Me Made May'12?  Probably designed for people who don't have sick kids.  No photo today, though I did use my home made bag and I wore the petticoat/slip which I bought for 50 cents at the Sallies and took the hem up myself.  You wouldn't be getting a photo of me in my undergarments even if my photographer wasn't too focused on breathing to take photos.

Favourite Handyman took the day off to look after Fionn and I went to work.  When they were much smaller I preferred to always be the person home with them when they were sick, but now they are bigger it is good to share the load and not always cancel my work commitments.  I also feel like a grown up feminist who actually shares the child care on the tough days this way too. 

I find that it is easy to end up focusing on other aspects of parenting or child wellness and be oblivious to something slipping until it is a bit late.  For us, that has been running out of flax seed oil and not keeping the omega 3 intake up.  Cod Liver Oil is good for vitamins A and D, but it doesn't deliver on omega 3, and omega 3 is very important for asthma prone people.  So today I bought some fish oil with borage oil and now I will try harder to keep it up.  Most fortuitously, I'd already made an appointment with Laksmi our fabulous health therapist for this afternoon, so now we have some ginger compress ideas to try and some breathing exercises. Expect to see (or at least I aim to provide) even more fish on my food reports.

Friday 4 May
breakfast: porridge, and I (who does not much like porridge and is the boss so no one can make me eat it) had salami and rocket and avocado toast.
lunch: home stuff.  Brighid had lunch box food and I came home for lunch and had more avocado and fish and rocket sandwiches.  I think the boys had mouse traps. 
tea: the others had chicken chips (as in crisps for UK friends) and I had bread and blue cheese while I cooked a late dinner of leek/anchovies/garlic.ginger/carrots/capsicums/ broccoli and smoked fish stir fried gently together.  I think it was worth the wait.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wearing purple, not waiting until I am old

 Ah yes, it's that cardigan again.  Unless my sewing machine comes back and I perform miracles of sewing productivity such as I've never achieved before, then many many many photos of this Me Made May'12 lark are going to involve my purple crossover cardy.  If I knitted it again now I would make the sleeve and shoulder size smaller and add more rows and stitches across the front to fit the boobs.  But I've gone off knitting at the moment.
The kids are responsible for the state of the wallpaper.  FH and I are responsible for the training of aforementioned children into civilised and thoughtful human beings and respecters of wallpaper.  The hallway is not the finest moment of any four of us.  I haven't quite the hang of the head turned for photo pose.  I guess there are many more days this month to preactise.  Unless I can find someone else to take my photos, I expect Brighid will be in at least one every single day for May.  I remembered to plait her hair up today as a nits notice came home yesterday.

I've had a few people admire the skirt and ask if I made it.  No I didn't, though I did adjust the waist after I was given it last year.  I woul happily like to make one like it.  It is a wide elastic waistband and then the knit fabric drapes softly off the waistband rather than gathering in a way hardly anyone likes.  The floral panels are identical round the skirt, three at the front and three at the back, and allow for a floral pattern on a flared skirt which does not overwhelm.

Same boots as all the other pictures.  If I had the money for lots of pairs of boots then either I would by now own some red ones or I would have used the money to deal with the state of the hall walls.

Thursday 3 May
Breakfast: porridge for the others and spinach and scrambled egg for me.
Lunch: last pieces of quiche for FH, usual lunch box food for Fionn and Brighid and I fell off the wagon and bought a salmon bagel in town.
Tea: pasta with mushroom sauce (mushroom, garlic, kale, thyme, sour cream) and beetroot salad with freshly cooked turbot and lime and coriander.  It was all quite nice, though as a combination I doubt it would win restaurant awards.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I made the cardigan/vest.  I took the sewing machine to the repair person today.  Given the colder weather, I now have two cardigans and one skirt which are home made and suitable for work and one long sleeved t shirt which is home made and fine for wearing in the weekend.  I also have a nightshirt and a bag.  Not quite enough for sustaining a month of daily wearing of home made clothing.

Wednesday 2 May
Breakfast: they had porridge and I had toast with avocado and salmon on it.
Lunch: kids' usual items assembled at home; adults had quiche.
Tea: nachos + broccoli.

Book club tonight.  Sleep time now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

From quiche to kale

 Day One of the Me Made May'12.  I made the cardigan myself.  It took 18 months and at the end of it I wasn't even that wild about the fit, but it is cosy and warm.  And purple.  I also made the skirt, out of some needlecord from my late mother in law's cupboard.  I think it was once destined for FH's sister when she was about seven.  You might find it easier to look past the droopy tits and the tummy which could be pregnant but certainly isn't than I do, but that, it seems, is the nature of the female gaze.

The punga raised bed, with kale, rocket, spinach, celery and (in spring) red poppies.
 Lemon verbena.
 Green succulent on our red red fence.
 The kale which I finally planted this afternoon.  Planting is quick, but the weeding required to make a space for planting takes a bit longer.
 Alyssum, geraniums, sugar snap peas, rocket, myrtle ugni, thyme, calendula and today's addition: welsh onions.  FH made this garden after the neighbour's dogs killed our chooks several years ago.  It's a lovely splash of colour over the chooks' grave.

Oh what a heroic wonder woman I was today.  I got up at 6am and made a quiche.  I was going to be on top of my game. 

Just after 6.30am, Fionn came through clutching his stomach and feeling that he couldn't go to school today.  After a pile of phone calls and a trip to my work to make arrangements for me not being there, I was home for the day.  No terrible stomach accidents ensued, but it did seem over time that the tightness was just above his stomach and that there were things we could do to help prevent a full blown asthma attack.  I made him nettle tea and tea tree oil steam baths and lots of good things plus, by special request, mouse traps for lunch.  Maybe gluten and dairy isn't perfect for feeling poorly from a strictly nutritional point of view, but from a nine year old boy's point of view, Mum home to make his favourite lunch rocks.

Tuesday 1 May
Breakfast: some people had cornflakes or porridge while one other clutched his stomach.  I think I had toast eventually.
Lunch: FH had quiche, Brighid had home assembled lunch box food and Fionn and I had mouse traps.
Tea/dinner: sushi.  I make it at home.  Any other way is too expensive or, in the case of living in Wetville, just not available.

This is the nightshirt I made today from vintage flannelette sheets from the Sallies.  The shirt uses too much fabric to get the it out of only one sheet, hence the contrasting sleeves.  The other problem is that secoind hand sheets are too worn for the nightshirt to last very long, and buying flannel fabric new is more expensive than buying brand new ready made pjs.  But still, at least the sewing machine behaved for the nightshirt.  It did not behave at all for my blue corduroy skirt when I attempted to understitch the facing at the waist.  So that has to go to the sewing machine doctor tomorrow.

Although today is May Day, I haven't given it a lot of thought.  May Day activities are at Runanga instead of Blackball this year, and are on this coming Saturday.