21 December 2012

Mince pie fuss pot

Maybe there are fruit mince pies besides my own that I like, but I've never found them. I use my Nana's recipe.

I remember being about seven years old and at the beach with some neighbours, and gladly taking the mince pie offered to me because I loved Nana's so much. It was horrible. I was very embarrassed but finally plucked up the courage to ask the grandfather-neighbour what I should do with it because I didn't like it. He whispered to me in reply, telling me to wade out into the sea and drop it by one of the boats anchored there. So I carefully crushed it into my hand so no one else could see it, waded into the water and secreted it there. Our little secret.

Christmas came alive for me today, because I baked mince pies. Both children helped me. I told them how this was my Nana's recipe, and that when I asked her how much fruit to put into each tart, she told me to be generous, not stingy, with the filling. I had to ask her because the recipe she wrote me out contained almost no instructions.

It was a time full of memories. I used her rolling pin for the pastry, and her tart tins for the little pies. We cut three little vents in each lid, just like she did.

For the first time this year I used suet, which, I found out when I bought it, is flaky beef fat. Yuck. But YUM! It really holds the flavour. For both the fruit mince (which I made last week) and pastry I could only bring myself to use half the amount of fat she did.

In future I must remind myself that she made enough to last us for many weeks, eating them every day. She'd portion them out into old, clean bread bags and put them in our chest freezer. Her quantity of fruit mince was made accordingly. We made about 70 pies today and we are only half way through the mince. I have no chest freezer! Help!

After I'd made a few tray fulls I realised something was wrong. The pastry underneath the bottom of the pies wasn't translucent. Nana must have rolled it paper thin. The rest of the tray fulls are better, but I suspect my mother will notice they're still not thin enough. That's another reason to make them in October, as Nana did - the air temperature is in the teens instead of  the mid 20s, and pastry behaves better when it's kept cool.

However, the other people in this house don't care about thick pastry - they love'em!

20 December 2012

Santa Claus

Anna's been thrilled today to watch a little movie from Santa, which he emailed her. He called her by name and talked about what she wants for Christmas and what she's been trying to be good at all year.

Then he rang her!

He only wanted her to tell him what she wanted for Christmas, though. He didn't give her a chance to tell on Jack for being mean to her!

18 December 2012


Every day I have cause to say to my feathered friends: thank you, ladies.

I'm also feeling thankful for the power of compost at the moment. Check out these photos of our two zucchini plants. The top one is growing next to a compost bin. The bottom one isn't.

I didn't move my feet when I took the photos, or lean towards or away from the plants. I just turned the camera to the right for the first one, and to the left for the second. The difference in size really is that huge! I grew both plants from the same seed packet, and they were the same size on the day I planted them out. Strangely, though, the big one has variegated leaves.

17 December 2012

Garden odours

Our garden is full of smells. Most of them are resonant of growth and fertility - flowers, leaves, pea straw, ripe strawberries. But there's something else: the smell of death.

Our cat has been stashing the corpses of his hunting trophies. They're hard to find, but I confess I don't try very hard. I don't like to think what I might find. This morning when I opened our bathroom window after my shower, the room filled with the smell of rotting flesh.

Tonight I heard a frenzy of peeping outside our back door. When I looked out, my eyes fell upon our grey, furry carnivore with a baby sparrow between his jaws. He gazed at me, worried, furtive, guilty. The terrified, angry noises were being made by the devastated parents, Mr and Mrs Sparrow, perched above him in the lemon tree.

I have no doubt the sparrow parents had the same motivation to protect their baby as human parents. The same alarm and fear and devastation. But sparrows almost certainly lack the same consciousness we do (although I think the question of animal consciousness is inconclusive and basically just too hard).

Mr and Mrs Sparrow, however, are probably asleep already. There are 20 sets of parents in Connecticut who will only be so with the help of heavy sleeping pills. I hope they have kind doctors. Sometimes, unconsciousness is bliss.

16 December 2012

Market music

Another market this morning - this time the Hamilton Farmer's Market, where I stocked up for Christmas. An Irish Christmas cake (fruit soaked in Guinness and whiskey) for some friends, and a side of smoked salmon for our Christmas table. Yummm.

While we shopped, our friends played music. They play the fiddle, guitar, ukulele and banjo, and sing. As I drove away, fiddle music floated in with the warm summer air through the open car windows. Nothing like a bit of fiddle (and Christmas I suppose) to draw the crowds - the market was packed out. Good stuff.

15 December 2012

Market pickings

Today I had a wonderful morning at our local Tamahere market. I came home with the freshest possible macadamia nuts (I'm so glad we've planted a macadamia tree - the nuts are divine), avocados, new potatoes, handmade funky fridge magnets and a headband for Christmas gifts, and hemp seed oil.

A small selection of my purchases.
I feel quite excited about the oil. The hemp is grown in New Zealand, and cold-pressed and stored to avoid to avoid any rancidity. That is super important in this house - a husband who did his PhD research on fats and oils chemistry does not allow oxidised oil across the doorstep because it's unhealthy and tastes bad. Hemp oil's health properties are such that it makes fish oil look dodgy. It's got lots of the right kind of polyunsaturated fatty acids. The lady selling it had skin so outstanding that I noticed it just strolling past. I think I'm going to buy some of the face oil she also sells.

For dinner I found myself strangely alone, possibly for the first time in years. Very weird feeling. I plundered the garden of its first runner beans and zucchini, and plucked flat-leaved parsley from the wild forest of self-seeded stuff we have out there. Combined with some avocado and boiled new potatoes, it would already have been a good salad, but the hemp seed oil dressing* made it amazing - it was quite possibly the best salad dressing I've ever had. But then I spoiled the salad on my plate by adding more, which reminded me you can get too much of a good thing - it's quite strong!

Before the market I went firstly to an antiques and curios fair that's a monthly occurrence. It was my first visit because I'd always imagined it as stuffy and overpriced. How wrong I was. It was heaven for a vintage freak like myself, and I liked the prices! I was overwhelmed and had to stop shopping after I bought the vase below ($18) because I could sense a complete loss of perspective coming on with the gorgeousness of it all. How sad I was to have forgotten my camera so I could show you a selection of the offerings.

*I ended up only using half the amount of honey stated in the recipe, simply because only half of it would dissolve in the jar, so I fished out the undissolved bit out with a spoon. Once I tasted the dressing I realised I wouldn't have wanted it any sweeter - it was just right. I used a manuka-bush honey mix, not pure manuka honey.

14 December 2012

Simple things

A friend of mine has just moved into a house with a great asset: a big crop of alstroemeria flowers. I picked a bunch for our table, and I'm enjoying the simple beauty of them, with Anna's advent fair candle next to them.

A few hours later I found our lounge reasonably well-stocked with children having an origami fest.

It soon morphed into a paper plane folding and flying session, of course. They were definitely fighter planes.

This is what the flowers are sporting today:

This last photo was taken with the new camera I bought today. No more white splotches from the fungus in the old lens!

It takes amazingly high definition video. Jack took one this evening. I've just watched it, and found that it consists primarily of a toy gun he was holding in front of himself as he stalked me in the garden. The gun is mostly aimed at me as I weed, water and inspect leaves for insects to feed to the hens. It periodically jumps as if it has fired bullets at me. Me! His dear Mama!

12 December 2012

How a child remembers Christmas

How rewarding it as been to set myself a little challenge for Christmas. This year I've decided that all the gifts I buy will be made in New Zealand, handmade, second hand or completely focused on reading, art or music.

It has been such fun! Crackers, a cushion and a sewing kit from felt.co.nz; handmade wooden weapons, books, a flower press to dry flowers in, seeds, handmade market goodies and Trade Me gifts. I can't mention them in detail of course - you never know who might be reading this.

I don't buy second hand things for people other than my immediate family, but my children think they're fantastic. Two of the Trade Me items are of such quality I would never have been able to buy them new, and in both cases I don't think they could even be found in New Zealand shops. They also appear to be, in fact, new and unused.

There was one thing I gave in to: Jack wanted a baseball cap. It's awful and made in China. But when a child actually wants to wear a hat, it's a good thing. It covers his ears, too. We are pale and freckly people living in a land with sizzling UV levels and an annual death-from-melanoma rate even higher than our appalling car crash death statistics. (Even after writing that I still dislike the cap. We already have plenty of hats.)

He also wants to buy himself a $12 plastic skateboard from KMart, like his friend's. Last night we talked about all the reasons it would be wrong to do so: we already have one from a garage sale that is tatty but works very well; all the energy use and pollution that we would be supporting with that oh-so-cheap and tempting purchase, and how reducing is the most important R in reduce, reuse and recycle.

Anna has been so good at the three Rs: the gifts
she has wrapped for us and placed under our
Christmas tree are things we actually already own! 
My resolution to do my best in this regard is based on irrefutable, alarming facts. If only that tidy rubbish bag (please tell me you use a paper one... ) we put out on rubbish day did in fact disappear! I found some government stats reporting that in 2006, New Zealand sent 3.2 million tonnes of rubbish to municipal landfills. There are only 4 million people living in this country!

It wasn't until 1804 that the world's population hit 1 billion. Plastic hadn't been invented. Nearly 200 years later, in 1999, there were 6 billion of us, and giant landfills, and an ocean with a continent-sized aggregation of floating rubbish. The United Nations reckons there will be about 9.1 billion people by 2050. What on earth is this planet going to be like if we all churn out nearly a tonne of rubbish a year? It's a shameful, short-sighted scenario that I do not want my grandchildren to live with.

What can I remember about Christmas presents as I grew up? I definitely remember the excitement of loot appearing under the Christmas tree. I just can't remember what it was. I remember only one thing - something I was disappointed about. It was a sewing basket, and I didn't want it. My mother told me I'd find it very useful, and indeed I still use it!
Nature is decorating our garden beautifully
with these red feijoa flowers.

10 December 2012

This garden of love

We've been in our house for seven years now. I didn't like the garden when I moved in. It had plants I didn't like, and the back garden felt barren and small.

Our vegetable garden now.
As I walked out to the backyard today - a day of full, bright summer sunshine and fertile smells - I realised I have come to love our property. It is so cultivated and rich, and so ours.

There's a huge crop of Hawera plums ripening. The tree was
a gorgeous mass of blossom in spring: the bees have worked hard.
Granny Smiths from one of our espaliered trees.
It's full of vegetables and fruit trees, a veritable food jungle in places. It's also well stocked with maturing native trees and plants. Although they take up more room than the barren bark-chipped garden that was once there, our backyard now seems full of life, character and colour. They give us privacy that was once non-existent, and house our chickens, who prefer to be under trees, being descended from jungle fowl.

Ignore the knickers. The native trees are behind. Hard to believe
that seven years ago there was just the odd straggly camellia along
this fenceline.
There is a hard-earned stack of wood waiting to keep us warm in winter, overlooked by a grapevine that we will feast on in February (although the arrival of the wood means that getting to the bunches at the back could be a challenge).

It's kind of wild...
Our self-seeded sunflower forest. When she goes off into her
happy, sing-song, imaginary world, Anna tells me fairies, elves
 and goblins live in here. They go to sleep about the same time
as the chickens, she says. The latter are very prompt at jumping
on their perch when the sun begins to set.
And there are good, healthy things to eat every way you look.

But mostly the thing I love about it is the way it has become our children's place of play and home, the place they're growing up, and a place they love. They've been inspired by our cat, clambering over fences and roofs, making up for the lack of tall trees by maximising the vertical structures we do have.

Even better, the neighbour has a large tree of ripening plums, one branch of which hangs over our shed roof. It's time to plunder! (With her permission, of course.) It's a rite of childhood, is it not?

8 December 2012

The challenge of scientists

During research I've been doing for an article I'm writing on breasts and breastfeeding, I've had the opportunity to interview two scientists. It was such a pleasure to talk to them: they are accomplished academics, both from Otago University, who struck me as genuine, humble and dedicated to their work.

The birth-day of little Anna, breast feeder extraordinaire.
They happily made time for someone (me) they'd never met to ring them to ask questions they'd probably been asked plenty of times. Both of them, without prompting, immediately did some literature searches to address questions I'd asked that they weren't experts in, and emailed me the papers within the hour.

But how hard it is for scientists to satisfy everyone! One of them is a nutrition researcher who looks at nutrients in breast milk. There was talk of supplementing mothers and/or babies with vitamin D, iron and folate because of the evidence that quite a lot of babies are at risk of not getting enough, and the consequences of that are pretty dire. She's studying the effects of New Zealand's mandatory fortification of bread with folate, about which there was an enormous backlash.

That night in a social setting I talked to a woman who was frustrated that doctors don't recommend nutritional supplementation for health problems. They're only interested in drugs, not vitamins, she said.

It seems to me that they don't recommend things that aren't proven beyond reasonable doubt. For example, vitamin E was touted as a great supplement. There was a trial to see if it prevented prostate cancer: it was stopped early because it wasn't working, and a later follow up showed that men taking it were significantly more likely to get prostate cancer. And there are lots of examples like that.

Proving something is usually horribly complicated. It's a bit like planning a renovation that seems quite simple. Then the walls are ripped off and the wiring and plumbing are revealed to be a mess, half the tradesmen don't turn up on time and those that do turn up do a bad job. Then it costs twice as much as you'd planned and takes three times as long.

For example, one paper I was sent reviewed many studies looking at whether breast feeding reduced the risk of breast cancer. Simple question? The results were all over the place. Most studies concluded it did, and some that it didn't. But there was no standardised measurement between the studies; for example, some measured no breast feeding compared to any breast feeding - but some mothers may have only breast fed for a fortnight. Others made the comparison with cumulative duration across all children, while others took the average length per child.

There were hints that it is prolonged breast feeding that reduces the risk, but studies from most western countries contained so few women who did so that the effect didn't show very clearly. In China, however, apparently more than half of all women breast feed for at least three years (per child, I think; what lucky babies!). Those women had a 64% reduction in breast cancer risk. It seems to only be a reduction for premenopausal breast cancer though.

That paper was summarising many studies over many years, and the conclusions were far from certain. So much work, so little certainty.

I feel grumpy when doctors prescribe things that aren't proven. My husband's GP suggested he buy some glucosamine for a sore thumb joint that may have been arthritis. Soon after I read that the summary of evidence suggests it doesn't work particularly well. See ya later, $50. His thumb still hurt.

However, I'm happy to be a little bit experimental. I take a certain zinc supplement if a sinus infection is imminent and it works (unless the powder is old and smells wrong). I went from being terribly ill with the infections and considering sinus surgery to never suffering from them.

I've also been taking iodine drops after I read iodine may help fibrocystic breast disease (sore lumpy breasts on a monthly basis), and that women with fibrocystic breast disease are at higher risk of breast cancer. Two months later the sore lumpy breasts were gone.

I knew in advance that New Zealand-sourced food is generally low in iodine and zinc, so I knew I had a bit of room to move, which is important because too much of these minerals is toxic.

That's one of the benefits of knowing how the scientific process works - you know where to find the information and have some basis on which to judge its validity. There is an awful lot of impressive-sounding 'pseudoscience' on the internet. I'm sure I've even been sucked in by some.

Here's what I look for in a study (pubmed is my first port of call):
- research carried out by researchers at institutions like universities or hospitals
- published in a well-known, reputable peer-reviewed journal
- a control (placebo) group, for the purpose of comparison (because the placebo effect is massive - often people taking the placebo report an improvement, too, so the effect needs to be better than placebo, not better than no treatment.)
- randomisation, so that who gets the treatment and who gets the placebo is determined randomly. Otherwise, there may be unconscious bias (e.g. the researchers might give the treatment to people based on something like age, severity of symptoms, etc.)
- double blind, which means that neither the patients or the researchers giving the treatment know who is receiving the treatment and who is getting the placebo. There will, of course, be a spreadsheet somewhere that reveals which is which, but no one involved with giving the treatment will know, so no bias is introduced that way.
- the study has as many participants as possible, because the bigger the group, the more representative the sample. (e.g. five out of thirty children in one classroom might have red hair but if you counted the children across ten different schools the true rate of red hair might be only two out of thirty - hypothetical of course.)
- they have accounted for other causes as much as possible. Generally this means recording income level, age, marital status and goodness knows what else, then doing statistical jiggery-pokery to make sure those things aren't having an effect themselves or influencing the effectiveness of the treatment.

This covers what is generally considered the 'gold standard' of research: placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind. It's there to remove bias and make judging the effectiveness of the treatment as objective as possible. Because without it we humans are very good at being subjective. Witness the decades (centuries?) of bleeding sick people! They thought it helped!

Even this isn't usually enough to persuade other scientists. The results generally have to be replicated in a number of different studies - and hopefully those different studies use exactly the same measurements, but that is definitely not always the case.

And it's really important to acknowledge that our knowledge about things is always changing and updating, and that's the only way that the pursuit of any complicated 'truth' can ever work. A drug company immediately withdrew a vaccine a few years back because the babies were getting a horrible side effect (a gastrointestinal problem, from memory). When the post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy results (increased cancer and heart disease) came out ten or so years ago, the results were immediately made widely known and the majority of women stopped taking it. So scientists do backtrack and withdraw when proven mistakes are made, but they do their best to make sure they don't have to.

We humans are, however, so imperfect! The process of gathering knowledge is also imperfect. I do know that all the scientists I've worked with over the years are totally dedicated to getting closer to the 'truth'. Getting there, however, is harder than it first seems.

5 December 2012

Watching a child drown

Oh! There is nothing peaceful or green about this post! It is traumatic and black. But I think anyone with a child or grandchild will be glad to have read it.

Summer swimming days are near downunder.
The article below describes what a drowning person looks like, and it's not what you'd expect. In fact, in the US statistics given, in 10% of child drownings the parents watch their child drown.

It happened to me when I was little - maybe seven years old. I jumped into a deep pool at the start of summer, couldn't remember how to swim and began to drown in just the way described below (I can remember it vividly, going up and down, up and down, and it was terrifying). My mother sat there watching me and chatting to a friend, and had no idea. Fortunately her friend realised something was wrong and got me out of the pool.

Here it is, with the permission of the author, Mario Vittone.

The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”
How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.
The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC). Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:
  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.
(Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006 (page 14))
This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long – but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.
Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.
So if a crew member falls overboard and everything looks OK – don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all – they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents – children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

That's the end of the article.
Here's a link to a video of someone drowning. It's two minutes long. Please watch it.
Please pass this on to... well... everyone.

3 December 2012


Some of you have told me you've tried to leave a comment but it doesn't work. Well, I've fixed it! You should now find it easy. So comment away... I would love it.


I know I've written before about how I love my thunderpants, but I just want to have another little rave. They're made in New Zealand from organic cotton and they are the most comfortable undies ever! They also excel in the no-visible-pantyline stakes and the don't-ride-up-bum stakes.

(Mine are the hipster version, in case you're wondering,
but they're not particularly low cut)
Anna and I have matching pairs. Each day as she's getting dressed, she yells out to me "Wear your blossom thundies!", or "Wear your artichoke thundies!" depending on what she's wearing. She likes to know we're wearing the same colours, even if it's only secretly underneath our clothes.

Jack has them also - he just can't stand uncomfortable clothes and that goes for undies too.

Because they're so funky, they make a good gift. You can find them here.

2 December 2012

Nature-wise, creative children

Today we went to an advent fair at the Waikato Waldorf School. Everything about it was so full of natural beauty and clever creativeness that I began to wonder whether we've made a mistake not sending our children there.

Anna and her friend went "fishing" in the school's pond...

Made flower crowns and posies...

Dipped candles in pots of coloured wax...

They also rode in a cart pulled by Clydesdale horses (during which we could have reached out and plucked little apples and pears off the multiple fruit trees growing along the driveway - but of course we didn't - not only did they not belong to us, but they were unripe), modelled clay, had their faces painted, and whizzed down the flying fox.

I did some exquisite Christmas shopping, and particularly admired the beautiful wooden products. Let's just say there was some weaponry purchased for lucky little boys!

There were gorgeous fresh hazelnuts that Jack has pronounced delicious, and some novel plant markers for a certain garden-loving school teacher.

The wooden creations for sale reminded me of how we'd spent the previous evening with home-schooling friends. They have a large carpentry workshop at home that seems central to their three boys' lives. Also being fresh from reading The Idle Parent, in which Tom Hodgkinson recommends woodwork as an enriching and useful creative outlet that lets parents get on with what they enjoy and need to do, I couldn't help but agree with him.

Tom didn't mention sewing, but much of what he said about woodwork also applies to sewing. It is creative, it produces useful and beautiful things, and children love to do it with their parents.

I remember last year one wet summer's day when I pulled out the sewing machine, and the children asked, "Are you going to sew today?" "Yes, I answered; don't you want me to?" They looked amazed that I could think such a thing, and said, "We love it when you sew!"

I spent the whole day sewing happily as they roamed around me, fascinated at the creative process unfolding.

(I bought some woollen felt from the fair for us to make Christmas decorations with.)

I do wonder at the five day a week, six hour a day regime of state schools. Perhaps it would be better to be able to sew or work with wood for a few days in a row whenever the need or desire takes us, and to have our children learn from us as we do it? To delve into Roman history for a couple of days without interruption? To randomly visit rockpools and spend the next day learning more about the habits and anatomy of the bizarre creatures they hold?

We can live perfectly acceptable lives without carpentry, sewing or, for that matter, playing instruments, singing and dancing. But to me it seems to be a life lacking some extremely enjoyable, rich embellishments. For most of human history these things haven't been embellishments, but absolutely central to life. Today they have been largely replaced by TV, shopping and ipods - a loss in so many ways.

Non-state schooling is not the norm. But the older I grow, the more I like the idea of being unusual!

29 November 2012

An apron sewed

You didn't expect that we could actually eat a meal at the dining table while a sewing project is in progress, did you?

For almost a year I've had some fabric and a pattern set aside to make an apron for Anna. She's asked me to do it many times. With her confined to home due to her bee-stung foot, and me with no urgent work to do, I thought it was a good time to finally do it.

Our well-furred cat lay himself down among the threads and sewing detritus, much of which was due to Anna joining in, sewing buttons onto scraps as little gifts for me, and stitching together a felt pillow stuffed with cotton wool to provide comfort for her stuffed-toy duck, who is about to have her babies, you know. (This duck doesn't lay eggs, she said, this one has live babies.)

The project took over four hours, but that was with a fair amount of unpicking because I kept modifying the pattern and getting it wrong, and with Anna frequently needing me to tie knots, rethread the sewing machine needle and generally help her out.

She loves her apron. "I can't stop looking at my apron!" she said.

Here she she is trying it on for the first time and acting the TV cook, giving a demonstration of how to prepare a certain dish. First you chop this, then you mix this....

Later that day we had to do some baking, of course. She stirred the chocolate brownie mix on the stovetop. She, like me, can't bear the thought of the apron doing what it is meant to do: get dirty!
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