Thursday, January 31, 2013

Purple kale

Purple kale! 

Late this afternoon we were all back at Mitre 10, in pursuit of more equipment for the project to strip back the paint from Brighid's windows, and now to strip the window opening rods back to their original splendour.  One day there will be photos.

Whilst there, I happened to discover there had been a new shipment of plants at the garden section, including purple kale.  I grew red russian kale a few years ago, and found it grew to the size of a small tree and wasn't as delicious as cavolo nero or curly kale.  But this variety is a much deeper purple and I found it irresistible.  Thanks to another beautiful evening outside, the purple kale, plus the rest of the tatsoi, silverbeet and spinach which I hadn't finished planting yesterday, are in the ground.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I'm back at work and the sun shining is shining most utterly gloriously for all of every day.  This afternoon I bought a sprinkler and the kids ran around under it after their first day of school and their earlier fatigue and grumpiness melted away. 

Most of the year we live in a deluge of water, or between frequent deluges, so buying a sprinkler hasn't been high on our list, ever.  But I left it on the old chook run garden for a while this evening and then planted out some more greens.  We cannot have too many greens going into autumn and winter.  Alongside the sprinkler, I bought punnets of silverbeet, tatsoi and spinach.  There are no photos because although I spent about a million hours divesting us of many many items and then the lovely H began cleaning for us on Monday (very wonderful), I have, in the process, mislaid the cord which connects the camera to the computer.

I am weaning myself off frequent trips to the supermarket quite well.  That has been an additional prompt for me to put more greens in the garden, as greens which have been in the fridge for six days (on top of time in transit and at the supermarket) aren't really my preferred type of vegetable.

Must be work + school season if I'm about to go hang out washing at almost 9pm...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Still cleaning after all of these minutes

Houseworking.  Still.  Anyone would think that I had to go back to work in a couple of days.  Today H our prospective cleaner came round and I liked her immediately.  She starts on Monday and upgrades at that point from 'prospective cleaner' to 'our cleaner'.  This afternoon I helped Fionn clean out his room and set up a coffee table for his lego.  Maybe I'm the only person in the world with a child who looks at his/her bedroom and has no idea where to start but does quite well with alongside support.  I somehow doubt that. to my great relief, he was in a mood to get rid of a number of things he has outgrown.  Phew!  More room for the things he does love, and an enthusiastic goodby on my part to large plastic battery operated toys.  Has anyone else noticed that the really annoying toys have batteries which never run out?

Goodbye, very large, very noisy helmet.

I also cooked up a storm in the kitchen.  I roasted a mix of aubergines, red peppers, red onions, anchovies and (tinned) tomatoes.  Most of it I put in a litre container in the freezer, but the last part I saved for dinner.  I roasted a chicken, took all the meat off it and then put the carcass and cooking juices in the slow cooker with bay leaves, onions, carrots, celery and lovage.  Then we had sandwiches with salad from the garden, the roasted vege mix, chicken, hummous, cherry tomatoes from our garden, carrot sticks and cucumber.  Obviously you are all dying to know this detail.  I cooked corn on the cobs for lunch as well.  It's kind of fun, cooking in bulk-ish on an afternoon - lots less pressure than after work on a Thursday evening.

No sewing.  When people ask me how I get sewing/gardening/other projects done, I tell them quite truthfully that I don't do housework.  Not so at the moment, though once the clearance work is finished (though I understand constant maintenance is required), I should be able to sew in splendour.

In other news, I have a six year old.  We had a party on a beautiful sunny day and despite the usual reservations (What if children don't get on?  What if the mothers are horrified by the state of my house?), it was a great afternoon.  Brighid's favourite gifts were a CD of The Sound of Music songs and a music box, replete with a twirling ballerina.  I seem to recall liking mine a lot a long time ago, though whether I drove my family nuts by playing it when I should be asleep in bed does not survive in my memory.

Tonight we somehow stumbled across this youtube slide show of Don Mclean's "Vincent" (or "Starry Starry Night") song set to images of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings.  It gave a whole new meaning to a song which was merely background ballad to my childhood on Radio Nelson before deregulation of the airwaves.  Van Gogh painted Starry Starry Night whilst incarcerated for insanity, and the song reflects on the challenges he faced even as he produced fantastic paintings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cleaning Queen

I have a cleaner lined up!  Whilst cleaning green algae off the bath about ten days ago, I decided that something had to change.  Given that I may be increasing my paid working hours again this year, whatever didn't work last year was unlikely to miraculously work this year. 

So H, our new cleaner, is coming to see the house on Saturday (and possibly starting the job on Monday) and I have been working hard to create floor space so she can clean effectively and also a reasonable enough impression so she even agrees to clean the house.  The rubbish bin is full, the recycling bin is full, I've been to the Sallies with more bags of goodies and there is another at the door for tomorrow, I've gifted more clothes and craft items to local acquaintances with younger children, and there is still more to do.  Still, p-r-o-g-r-e-s-s is distinctly obvious.

I didn't quite fit in supercooking today as well as supercleaning, but I did buy up terakihi and turbot at the fish shop and now I have five bags of fish in the freezer, neatly labelled with the fish type, date and weight of the bag.  Because my planning habits had become so out of whack, it has been increasingly frequent that I need to go shopping before I cook most nights.  Stocking up our little freezer, gifted to us by Mary when she moved to a rest home this time last year, is a useful start towards effective meal planning.

In the middle of the afternoon, we said goodbye to Sandra-the-super-cleaner for a while and went down to the local swimming pool.  The kids got so hungry that we drove home, ordered pizza online straight away (much cheaper than purchasing over the counter) and ate it long before conventional persons eat their dinner.  At bedtime we started the book I bought Brighid on my Nelson holiday, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I loved The Secret Garden as a child, but had never read A Little Princess.  Not far into the story, Mr Big Ten Year Old had been intrigued by what he heard down the hallway and came down to join us.  Three persons snuggled into a single bed for storytime is a squash as they get bigger, but it was the loveliest time.  I've promised to read them some more in the morning.  We can, because it is still school holidays and we need to hold on to that specialness and use it as much as we possibly possibly possibly can.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The good, the bad, and the imminent

Things I've been doing:
Good: fantastic actually.  I had a weekend in Nelson with three wonderful friends and got back yesterday.  Being a tourist in Nelson is fun.
Good: Morelands Fabrics in Nelson had 50% off all of their fabric last weekend.  Pictures to follow - I did well.

Bad: crap really.  Heart palpitations/racing heart/breathlessness/scary irritability.  Then worse: the medical people, who I saw as soon as I got back after my weekend away, decided it was all in my head.  Stress, apparently.  I've had the cruisiest holiday since I became a parent this summer (I've been a parent for 10 years).  So there is more to be done on that score, as I would seriously like to get rid of these symptoms.  They are not as bad as a few days ago, but they are still there. 

Progress: getting ready for going back to work.  I've put the word out that I'm looking for a cleaner.  I took three bags of rubbish to the dump, a yoghurt maker and dehydrator to a friend and lots of bags to the Sallies.  There will be more tomorrow.  I cleaned out some of the fabric cupboard while Brighid wasn't watching, which worked pretty well.  The fabric sorting I did while she was watching was hopeless.  Apparently she loves all of the fabric I was going to pass on. I've had the radical, inspired, idea of putting the sheets from the Sallies, which I bought for making dresses/muslins before I discovered that knits are where my sewing and wearing is at, in the linen cupboard and on the beds. 

Kitchen: haven't had that word on here for a while.  But it's time to sort out some shortcuts for term time dinners.  I made two marinades tonight: a soya sauce/garlic/ginger/honey marinade and a cajun spice mix with garlic and olive oil.  I mixed eight pieces into the first marinade and 12 into the second and ended up with five meal packs of chicken for use in the next couple of months.  I'm thinking of meal planning on a weekly basis this year - hopefully it helps the flow of food onto the table as well as the budget.  Easily springing to mind are:
1. sausages/potatoes/broccoli.  The girl loves it. Everyone needs one night per week without complaints.
2. Nachos/refried beans/sour cream/cheese.  Very easy.  A bit light on the veges though.  Sometimes I cook broccoli on the side.
3. Roast chicken.  Dependent on someone being home after school.  Nice though.
4. Chicken pieces.  Plus veges.  Should be good.  See above preparing in advance comments.
5. Burgers.  Bought more packs of merino burgers, which are on special, tonight.  Yersterday I bought three 8-packs of burger buns and divided them into bags of four each for the freezer.
6. Lamb shanks.  I have a good oriental style recipe from Alison Holst.  I suspect I could do that before freezing another time.  Though we have no specialist butcher left to buy good quality meat from anymore.
7.  Mince.  See above comment on the quality of our meat sources once we use up the supplies in the freezer.
8. I need to develop a staple made of lentils or some other non-dairy vege food.  Suggestions very welcome.
9. Vegetable bake.  Like quiche but gluten free because I only put veges, sometimes bacon, and eggs in the greased dish.  Particularly good given we have our own chooks for eggs.
10.  Running thin now.  I used to cook risotto, but it requires more patience than I currently have, and is carb-intense which I don't aim for so much these days.
11. Fish night.  Needs to be on a day when I can go to the fish shop, unless I get organised and buy lots and freeze it.  Which I shall do tomorrow.  Stirfry fish with veges is great.  Battered fish fried at home is very yummy but not worth the mess in a kitchen without a rangehood and where the window is a distance from the stove.
12.  Soup, though not until the weather cools and there is NO hurry for that.

Books: Reading Jacqueline Fahey's Before I Forget which I am enjoying. I read Emily Perkins' The Forrests over the weekend and found it thoroughly depressing.  Two friends have suggested it is a bit close to the bone and thus lacks any delicious escapism opportunities and I agree with them.  Perkins also does a thing which I'm not wild about, where she uses her very superb descriptive skills to bring alive detail about a person or their small action, but it seemed that the landscape, and any sense of place, was deliberately not evoked.  Perhaps aiming at an internaitonal audience and fearful of being buttonholed as a "New Zealand author"?

Abstinence: I didn't drink at all this weekend, far too worried about crazy hyperthyroid symptoms to risk doing something which I think does encourage my heart to race.  Now I'm going to extend that to a three month period of not drinking any alcohol.  I've not done this as an adult outside of my pregnancies, or not as far as I can remember.

Garden: looking good for the most part, though my tomatoes under the lean-to are chronically diseased and the ones by the kitchen window (i.e. outside completely) are doing well but something unidentified is eating the ripest tomatoes every day (or night perhaps).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lemon Balm

I bought and planted lemon balm because I liked the smell of it.  It doesn't get used in the kitchen, and despite its invasive nature, it is currently buried amongst even more invasive plants by the bright red corrugated iron fence.

But hyperthyroidism is turning out to be a dramatic beast, and I am looking forward to my hospital appointment at the end of the month.  In another bout of online reading on the subject, I noticed again that lemon balm is known to slightly inihibit the thyroid-producing hormone (e.g. here).  I've just been out in the garden and, clearing some unknown yellow-flowering weed out of the way and reaching gently between the rose branches, have picked some lemon balm.  I've got the jug on the boil now to make lemon balm tea.

We've had my father in law to stay this week and the house has been a DIY festival.  More on that next week.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The remnants top: Simplicity 1945

The remnants top.  I had leftover polyester jersey from two attempts at the Simplicity 1945 (Khaliah Ali) crossover top, plus some leftover polyester knit from my Cake Patterns Tiramisu dress.  I used them to make the cowl neck top in Simplicity 1945. I cut an 18 round the neck and sleeves and graded up to the equivalent of a 20 for the sides.  The shine in the first picture is the combo of the flash on the camera and the light coloured bra effect - it isn't see through as far as I can tell so far.  I had mid blue for the back, navy for the front and sleeves and a lightweight polyester knit in a blue print for the cowl.  Navy is as difficult to photograph as black, but I'm pleased with this top, which I appear to have produced at nil cost.  May this, together with the Tiramisu dress, mark the beginning of a successful year sewing.

Last night a slug ate the carrot seedlings.  Razed them to the ground.  Once again.  Slugs have a long history of eating all of my carrot seedlings at my place.  A very long history.  But Favourite Handyman did dig up the far too big flax bush out the front (I couldn't even lift the rootball afterwards) and we moved one of the bay trees into its place.  I'm ready for an attempt at European styling out the front, one which doesn't centre on blackberry.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thursday in the garden

In the night, it occurred to me that I could let out the seams on the Tiramisu bodice a little.  So this morning, I did.  It isn't a magical fix, but I think it will make wearing the dress to work more comfortable - it's not a good look to be tugging the bodice over one's bust, ever.  Than I hemmed it.  Viola, all done.  My photographer was busy doing Important Ten Year Old Things, so maybe I will get a photo of the completed-including-the-hem dress another day soon.

Then I moved to the garden, my favourite place this summer.  Yesterday I weeded and then sowed rocket and misome.  Today I weeded and then sowed beetroot and planted purple alyssum.  We had a very windy night and some of my plants, especially the tomatoes, are the worse for it.  But every day that I spend freeing up more soil from the weeds is leading to many more veges for us this autumn and winter.  I'm focusing mostly on greens, as they are old and expensive in the supermarkets and nothing beats fresh greens on the plate minutes from when they were attached to the soil.  I haven't had chicory/radicchio for a few years but it was a great performer last time I did. 

We did lots of talking about converting the overrun sandpit into a chook run/tunnel house.  The idea being the chooks would have access to it via a tunnel from the Poultry Palace in winter, and in summer we would put down the hatch between the Palace and the tunnel house and grow tomatoes and basil and maybe broccoli in it.  I went down to the hardware shops and got some prices.  Might not be this summer, but maybe at the end of term one we could do it.  Or that's the seed I am sowing...

Does it look like this is my gardening diary?  Why yes it is.  Much harder to lose than a notebook.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Tiramisu dress: an initial review

Today I wore my unhemmed Tiramisu dress, thinking the best way to help the hem drop, if it was going to, was to hang the dress on my body.  The pattern sizing is based on the high bust measurement, and then the bodice for each size has a/b/c/d cutting lines, depending on proportion (fullest bust = d version).  The bodice pieces also have the finished bust measurements written on them.  I have a high bust of 38.5 inches and a full bust of 45 inches.  I share this with you only because I find it so incredibly helpful when others share their stats as they write up their own fitting narratives.  The high bust put me in the 35 bodice, but the 35D bodice had a finished measurement of only 39.5 inches.  At the time when I was making cutting decisions, there was no full bust adjustment information available for this pattern (that went up yesterday on the Cake website).  But there was a very useful piece of information about mixing bodice sizes (in the comments section of this link).  One the basis of Steph's advice to the query from a person with a 36.5 inch high bust and a 45 full bust, I chose the 35 back bodice and the 40D front bodice.  This gave a completed bust measurement of 43.5 inches.  I didn't contemplate moving up another bodice size and figured that some negative ease would be fine.

Now that it is finished, I am pleased with the dress and I would like to make another one, but I do need to make some changes to my sizing.  While I was making this one, when I first thought I was finished apart from the hem, it turned out that I wasn't, as the bottom of the midriff band was very low on me, and looked most unflattering.  I unpicked the seam between the skirt and the midriff and took the midriff band up 4 centimetres all round (apologies for mixing metric and imperial).  That improved the look considerably, though I like the look of a narrower band still for another version of this dress.  Below is the dress as worn today, unhemmed.

It is very comfortable to wear.  I have got shop bought dress fit, but I am hoping for better next time.  I didn't think through when I made the two different bodice sizes for front and back that actually, the figure for the 40D bodice would be smaller than 43.5 inches because the back would be narrower.  In the pictures above, I have the bodice pinned.  I could say for modesty, but it's a little more practical than that.  I looked down at breakfast and there was my bra.  On display.  No.  No no.  So I pinned it together but it is straining from the pin a little and I have the pin merely high enough for a work-appropriate dress.  In the two rather unflattering photographs below, you can see that there just is not enough room for my cleavage. 

I made a mistake with the underbust gathers.  I spread them evenly along the gathering line as per the instructions, but in practise mine seem to be gather partially between my breasts rather than underneath them.  That won't be hard to improve upon in the next version.

The back bodice is a reasonable fit, but a little closer to my skin than I am used to.  For the next version I would like to make one in a darker fabric, possibly with longer sleeves and which I can wear with another layer underneath it in winter.  So actually, I think I shall make a 45C front bodice and a 40 back bodice on the next version.  I think I have my head round that alteration better than the new FBA instructions.  That will give me the length between the bodice and the midriff, and then I shall shorten the midriff by 5 centimetres instead of my current alteration of shortening it by 4 centimetres.  It won't be hard to take the sides in if needed.  By the time I make another Tiramisu dress, I will have the benefit of the sew-along posts.  Sewing the dress itself was quite easy and I liked Steph's style of instructions.  I think they are very beginner friendly with only one tiny exception, which was that nowhere did it explain that the neck and sleeve bindings needed to be folded in half length-wise and then sewn on.

I don't have a modern machine, but through much experimentation, I have found ways of sewing knits with my 1970s Toyota machine.  So I used a slight zigzag stitch for the entire construction and I'm pleased with how that turned out.  Given that it is made of a non-ravelling fabric, I didn't bother 'finishing' any internal seams.  Where Steph's instructions call for fusible stay tape for stabilising the shoulder seams, I opted not to even attempt to buy such an item in small town New Zealand, but used some ribbon from my inherited ribbon stash instead.  It seems to be working well.  I'm really glad I've found some knit-sewing strategies for my machine, as I think knits are so much easier to fit and really comfortable to wear and require no ironing.  I was given some lovely dresses made of knit fabric a couple of years ago, dresses I could not have afforded to purchase myself, and my previous desire to wear mostly natural fabrics has since melted away.

If you are thinking of making this dress yourself, then I would highly recommend it.  Although I haven't got my fit quite right first time round, I learnt a lot from the process and I do have a dress which I think I will wear regularly.  If I can get the fit right next time, I may well make several more.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tiramisu dress progress

The tiramisu dress is now almost done.  As it's sewn on the bias, I have followed advice to let it hang for a few days before hemming it.  I will do a more detailed review once I have hemmed it and have a photo of me wearing it.

I've also started a cowl top made from the remnants of the last three knit fabrics I have sewn with, using Simplicity 1945.  I think knits are my sewing future.  Unfortunately, I didn't mark the right side of the sleeve pieces and now have two left sleeves (they are not symmetrical pieces) so there is some more unpicking in my near future.

Friday, January 4, 2013


We drove up the coast this afternoon in beautiful sunshine, and Brighid and I took the opportunity to collect seaweed for the garden.  I think I will bury another bucket of bokashi in the middle third of the punga raised bed and lay the seaweed over the top as mulch.

I've signed up for the tiramisu sew-along.  Only four days in which to clean the lounge so I have room to sew.  Although I don't need the rest of the lounge to physically sew in, the enormous amount of clutter shouts at me currently, and I can't sew with anything shouting at me.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Growing soil

More gardening.  A perfect day of sunshine after yesterday's gale.  I weeded along most of the garden underneath the kitchen window, and then I planted cavolo nero and basil in the resultant gaps.  Cavolo Nero is my favourite kind of kale, and we didn't grow enough last year.

In yesterday's fierce weather the garlic and the bergamot were flattened.  I cut the bergamot (which was about a metre tall) almost to the ground, and will deal with the garlic tomorrow.  Then I cleared one third of the punga raised bed of weeds, spread the charcoal (dumped from the remains of a barbeque using driftwood), buried a bucket of bokashi along the centre of this third, then collected several handfuls (through a plastic bag) of chook-poo encrusted wood shavings and spread them along this third.  Then I severely diluted the liquid from the bottom of the bokashi bucket and poured that on top of the poo-wood mix.  Then I laid the branches of bergamot on top and the spent poppy plants on top of the bergamot.

At the other end of the punga raised bed is my favourite little flower:

I'm now reading Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas, which I'm enjoying.  Favourite Handyman is painting the hallway 'witchhazel', which is looking quite good.  I think it will work out very well, though part of me wonders if we are turning the house into a circus.  Actually, it is a literal circus of madness all of the time, and now the paintwork is starting to give a positive rendition of this reality...

I presented myself for ultrasound examination this morning at eight o'clock sharp.  Turns out I have lots of nodules in my neck, some larger than others.  The next investigations are either nuclear imaging or a biopsy.  Truthfully, I'm okay about them not happening exactly this week.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In retreat

Today there was a gale, and the tent came partially down and the rain formed a large puddle underneath it anyway and when I opened the wash-house window a little to let the tumble drier hose vent outside, the rain was so forceful that it slammed against the tumble drier and bounced downwards to make a big puddle on the wash-house floor.  Then all the tent things came inside and everything was wet and the lounge is full full full of things while Brighid's room is being painted.  I took the Christmas tree down in case we needed to light the fire (it is on top of the fireplace, with tinsel wound thickly round the flue).  I still can't find the DVD of Mary Poppins I chose for Brighid for Christmas and indeed I cannot find anything specific in the lounge.

I retreated to my room and my book.  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, was quite good.  Infinitely better than dealing with the lounge.  I relaxed so much that I fell asleep instead of cooking dinner.  My lovely Favourite Handyman, who had just nobly painted and painted for days until Brighid's room is now a completed and glorious orange, eventually appeared to ask if I was alright.  They do notice the absence of food, and that tends to form a trail to wherever I am.

Fish and Chips.  Very possibly not in my prescription for good eating this holidays.  Better than the squall of unfed children though.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gardening and zen in 2013

A sea of seeding poppies, bok choy and spinach in the punga raised bed.  I started to clear one end yesterday and I'm glad I did - the nine huge, contented and fat snails I found certainly explained why I'd had lettuce seedlings disappear overnight in recent months.  They are now being recycled into eggs for our breakfast.

Yesterday Brighid and I planted (in other parts of the garden): lettuces, celery, coriander, peas, cavolo nero and violas.  We also sowed seeds of carrots, beetroot, chicory and basil.  Brighid tells me that she thinks she would like to be a gardener in between jobs as a ballerina when she grows up.  It's lovely gardening with her.

Today I weeded around the red onions and I planted winter savory, golden sage and pizza thyme.

I'm loving my summer in the garden.  I think my main goal for 2013 is to stay in the garden!  It is deeply satisfying and I feel a calmer person afterwards.  It feeds into my bigger need - to find ways of living a more tranquil, less harried and less crazily-multi-tasking life this year.  I need to re-orient myself away from seeing busy as good, and that has been quite a threatening concept for me to even consider.  Gardening during this lovely holiday period is really helping, and I'll endeavour to chart my journey towards more zen on this blog.

Happy New Year!