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.