10 December 2013

My chicken, his curry

I tried, I really did, to keep my old brown shaver going. We've had her for about two years, and she's been the most magnificent layer, giving us almost daily eggs even through her second winter. But a few months ago, her egg shells began to grow thin, then petered out completely. Her shell gland had given up the ghost, leaving us with sloppy egg innards in our nestbox. After three or four such messes, the eggs stopped altogether.

Her big red comb shows she's still hormonally fine to lay.

(Yes, I had supplied extra grit, and I saw her eating it, but it was to no avail.)

She was chicken number five in a coop and run that was straining to cope with the number of greedy, pooing chickens. She was giving us nothing in return for her keep, and worst of all she was a bully to the three young brown shavers. So I made the call.

A friend works with a Fijian Indian man who had said he was happy to take chickens off our hands - for the table, you understand. I phoned him and quizzed him. Yes, he knew how to kill chickens quickly and humanely. Yes, he would butcher and eat her. He can't bear our bought chicken meat - it's bland and watery, he said, and is no good for currying. The old, strong, slow-grown meat is far preferable, apparently.

So I delivered her on the day of slaughter, in the finest eco-packaging (i.e. tucked up in a cardboard box). I was relieved not to have to do the deed myself this time, but still felt quite shaky knowing I was catching and transporting her to go to her death. In the event, he was such a nice chatty chap, picking me a bag of fruit from his home orchard, that I wandered out of there without a second thought!

I'm glad she's met such an environmentally friendly end: the curry pot. Apparently she tasted great.

8 December 2013

not being good

I don't want my children to be 'good'. I never tell them they're a good boy or girl. They certainly hear about it when they're kind, generous, imaginative, thoughtful etc, though.

What people often mean when they say a child is being good is that he or she is obeying an authority figure. Sometimes that is the right thing to do, and sometimes it's not.

I think what we really want our children to learn to do is the right thing. After all, did Nelson Mandela live his life being a good boy? To many people he was a terrorist!

The Nazis were being good boys doing what Hitler told them to. Throughout history there must have been millions of times when terrible things were done in obedience to authority. Those people needed to do the right thing, not be obedient.

We only have 15 years or so to teach each child what the right thing is in a multitude of different circumstances. So when I tell my children what to do, I always explain why, even though it takes extra energy to do so. I'm not always going to be there, so they need to know the reasons behind the choices available, rather than blindly obeying.

I don't trust whoever might be doing the telling when I'm not there. Which one day will be pretty much all of the time.

(What 'right' things are today's terrorists trying to do? Oh, people are complicated, aren't we?)

3 December 2013

Candy doll time

We've been in the thick, colourful, energetic fog of a Christmas ballet production. It had an icy theme - ironic considering it's summer time. When it comes to Christmas in New Zealand, there's still a chunk of it that harks back to the 'old country'.

We're out the other side now, and almost a bit sad about it. There were many hours of rehearsals, many hours of waiting while others danced, much awestruck watching of the big girls dance en pointe (what kind of ancient torture is that?). Much consoling and pleading: you can go backstage without me in the wings, my brave girl! Mama wants to watch from the audience for at least one performance! 

By the time I got to do that - and not without a last-minute burst into tears by Anna, and urgent words from me about being brave and strong, followed by yet more wiping off black tear trails of stage makeup from her eyes - I got to watch.

It was magical. It was especially so for me, because I knew how much work had gone into it. I admired the dancers, and especially their teacher, so much! Of course when Anna was on the stage I only had eyes for her. My girl with her perfect timing, her tireless smile, her ability to be in front of the others so that those who needed to copy her when they forgot their steps could do so. I was proud of her.

But best of all was that she conquered her fear of being up there without me in the wings.

Actually, no. Best of all was the seemingly endless hours we spent together at rehearsals. It was lovely.

28 November 2013

A favourite Christmas decoration

I have posts, posts, posts in mind for this blog. Things are a little bit hectic here, so I'll delay them even more, except for this, a gorgeous little Christmas decoration I discovered at our local Trade Aid shop last week.

This is a real heirloom decoration, I think. At about $16 it's one of the most expensive tree decorations I've bought. In fact this one is a gift for a lucky friend.

But compared to the cheap plastic ones, I think it is utterly worth it. It's been hand made by someone who has set up a business to sustain his or her family, and just needs appreciative buyers like us. It's giving aid via trade instead of one-off donations that might feed a family once, unlike a business that will feed the family long-term. And it gives me such pleasure, this cute little half-dome scene!

The stock in Trade Aid impressed me more than ever before. It used to all be so wildly ethnic that the only thing I really wanted was some rose soap. Now there are divine light fittings, floor rugs,quilts and more that look as good as anything at somewhere like Freedom Furniture, are cheaper and far, far better quality. Have a look some time!

11 November 2013

Burgeoning garden

I should really be recently returned from watching Anna in her school fun run, but the rain came down and the school website told me the run is postponed until tomorrow. This is, however, a great thing for our garden, which is burgeoning in the rain after a long dry spell.

We've had a bigger problem than rain, though. We have had a CHICKEN who, for days in a row, had a little breakfast browse of the garden, with a notable focus on lettuce and strawberries. This annoying creature seems to be bottom of the pecking order and always has been. She takes refuge from vicious beaks by perching on whatever she can. She'd come to realise that the elevated position provided by the open coop door was an excellent staging post for flying/climbing over the roof of the coop and out into the garden.

Chicken-pecked strawberry
Fortunately I eventually twigged to her maddening strategy and a few days ago I meshed over the door top so she couldn't land on it. Which is why, finally, I have been able to plant new lettuces. This is spring, and salad season, and buying lettuce from the Farmer's Market is really not defensible when there's healthy soil in the backyard.

Sheltering the lettuces under an old net curtain from the strong, hot sun. 
Jack's Halloween costume is now keeping the carrot seeds moist
until they sprout. It's a hessian sack that had a brief life as an
executioner's vest. Not sure why the photo has spun itself around.
Greek oregano, given to us by our neighbour.
Normal oregano - another herb I can just grab a handful of
for a tomato sauce, or pizza.
The sad, aphid-infested state of our artichokes. I must get out
the pyrethrum spray. Never before have our artichokes had a single
sick day in their lives.
Please, no more cauliflower. We're eating it, but
we're sick of the glut.
Last year's calendula flowers bloom again.

A couple of nights ago I lost faith, as I do every year, that the previous year's beans will pop their heads up above the soil and live again. So I mustered the children outside, and minutes before it rained we pushed new bean seeds (which are of course themselves beans!) into the ground. They each planted under a different climbing frame, so they will be able to watch 'their' beans emerge, and then of course eat them! They love them raw. And roar (with health, I mean).

Even as they poked them in, I could see last year's beans sprouting. Oh ye (me) of little faith.

7 November 2013

Upcycled projects

I've finally been getting around to a few little projects. When I say finally, some of these have been years in the coming. And there are others that could be years more!

However, here are three. Once, about two years ago, I bought some coat hooks at a garage sale for $2 each. Then a few months ago I began to sand, undercoat and paint them. I took 'before' photos for you, but it was so long ago I don't know how to find them. Anyway, one of them is for our ukuleles, and now hangs in our dining room on an unused wall. I like the honest old hooks that remind me of the cloakrooms where we hung our schoolbags when I was little.

The instruments are hanging by short lengths of fingerknitted wool, made by Anna. I'd got sick of them lying around, and I like the way they look on the wall. To be honest, we've got out of the habit of playing them much. We have to get back to it. I'm hoping that the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra comes back to town this summer to inspire us.

Next, a little sewing project. I bought this cushion cover (merino and angora) on Trade Me. I traced the feather from a book and photocopied it up in size, then used an iron-on transfer to get the pattern onto the brown fabric. The brown fabric was once a daggy old brown woollen jersey at the Salvation Army, until it was bought by me, felted in hot water in the washing machine, and snipped by my sewing scissors.

Then I attached it to the cushion cover by stitching carefully around it in brown thread. The trusty old Singer, circa 1940s perhaps, did the job beautifully. Gosh - look! - there it is above in the bottom picture of the ukuleles, should you care to admire it.

The last story begins at the stinky old dump shop here in Hamilton, where people can dump anything reusable for free before they drive into the dump and have to pay for what they get rid of. This little table was picked up for $10. Ah, again no before pic, but it was covered in scratched yellow polyurethane varnish.

I sanded for a while, then got sick of it (I'm sure you know the feeling) and used 'Dad's paint stripper'. It worked a treat, but freaked me out a bit because it says on the packaging that it has cancer-causing ingredients. I was well suited up, I can tell you.

Bizarrely, I discovered that underneath the yellowed stuff the timber was rimu, apart from a solitary mahogany leg (the right hand front one in the photo). The mahogany is beautiful - I think I've only seen/noticed it in veneer before, and this non-grainy leg is quite different. Anyway, rather than get upset about mismatched leg colours, I decided to play with the idea of different timbers, and stained the drawer front with a pale colour, and the knob (which I bought new) a deep red-brown which we had left over from another project years ago. I finished the whole lot with a natural oil from the Natural House Company. (The white stain was from them too. I don't like the way the two areas of dense grain on the drawer front haven't taken up the stain properly, but don't feel inclined to do anything about it.)

So I have a few things to tick off the list, and a few additions to our dining/living area.

To finish, some wildflowers I picked on a walk and from our garden.

29 October 2013

My year of walking (a la Katy Bowman)

Humans were made to walk miles every day. It's the hunter-gatherer thing we did for so long, of course.

In my last post I explained how I've been intrigued by the blog (and now one of the books) of Katy Bowman, who's right into this stuff. So now I'm walking a lot, and was able to do lots of it over the holiday weekend we've just had. It was gorgeous stuff, for the body, mind and family & friends feeling.

The thrill of a dead bird. Well, part of it.
Baby mussels on a rock.

Raglan beach is a wonderful place. Especially if you have
a warm jacket.
Here's what I'm doing a bit differently while I walk as a result of 'What Katy says', and the sheer common sense her approach oozes:

- I'm barefoot or close to it (i.e. my Keen footwear, not rigid, foot-can't-flex, shoes.) (The Keen shoes I have and love are similar to these. Very durable and get me lots of compliments.)
- feet straight ahead. Like many people my feet tend to point out when I work - too many years of dance training I think. Of course, close inspection reveals that our feet are designed for the weight to transfer from the centre of the heel to the longest, strongest toes, not from the outside of the heel to the side of the big toe. It's hard to remember to point my flippers straight ahead, but actually feels fine.
- weight going firmly through heels, where there's solid tough bone to take the impact. For ever, perhaps, my weight's been forward over my toes, where there is a cluster of delicate bones and joints prone to deforming. Hence my foot shape, below. Ugly and hard to find wide shoes for. It's also amazing how much more the buttocks work when the weight is back on the heels. Easy butt shaper, I think?

I have to shift my pelvis/bottom back to put the weight through my heels. Hence the spine position changes. Hence... the whole stance changes. Wow. That's why Katy's first book is about FEET.

(Try standing in a way that's normal and comfortable for you. Can you lift your toes easily? If your weight is far enough back, you should be able to.)

My left foot points out a bit further than the right when I'm not thinking about it (i.e. not in this photo), and the left foot is correspondingly more spread. I wasn't born with these feet, I walked and ran (ran a lot) them into this shape! But no bunions - phew, no bunions. Small mercies. At least now I have the information to make sure that never happens, either.

I doubt it will be just a year of walking. Probably a life. It's great.

24 October 2013

Moving like a caveman

I'm being almost consumed by something. Something I find really, really (times 20 like my children sometimes say) interesting that I think is going to change the way I do things for the rest of my life.

I wasn't going to blog about it until it was less of a jumble of "WOW!s" in my mind, but it is spilling out and I can't help it.

It's a blog by a woman called Katy Bowman who talks about things like this:
- proper body aligment
- chairs and throne toilets are a disaster for our bodies
- we should all be able to squat with our feet flat on the ground and all our weight in our heels
- we are meant to be barefoot. Shoes are also disasters.
- standing and squatting workstations
- and so much more...

The lower workstation. The standing one is yet to come.
Katy also has two books that I'll be reading. She has a BSc in maths and physics and an MSc in biomechanics. She loves science.

Usually before I part with money for food, supplements, surgery or anything else 'health enhancing' I want the evidence. That's me putting lots of hits on the pubmed website. But I don't need to for this. It is so obviously true.

It really hit me in 1996 when I entered a toilet in a camping ground in the south of France. The throne was missing and in its place was a porcelain ring in the floor. My first squat toilet. I lowered my bum and tipped forwards. I could not squat comfortably because my heels came off the ground. Now I am 40, and they still do.

It struck me then that the vast majority of the people who have ever lived on this planet have had no throne toilets, so had/have to squat several times a day, no matter how old they are. And I, who prided myself on being in fairly good nick physically, could not do it. What did this mean for my hips, back, legs etc?

Although I am still in reasonable shape, the truth is I don't consider myself in good physical nick because I get frequent migraines. Which is why I've been talking to an osteopath, chiropractor and Hellerwork person (the latter who is a friend). And why my forward head posture keeps being mentioned by these people (I was sure I didn't have it - what a blow!) - and the fact that the arteries supplying the brain go through the same place the skull meets the neck. I know these arteries do bad things when it comes to migraines, like dilate, contract and cause pain, because I feel the effects.

So here it is - surprise and wonderment that I have lived many of these 40 years interested in 'natural' ways of living, and have never thought about natural movement. Goodbye to much of my chair sitting, shoes, pillow, walking style (my feet need to go straight ahead, not outwards) and toilet sitting (yes I will keep you updated). Goodbye to sitting and reading or chatting while my children swing around on the playground and in trees - from now on, I'll be joining them. It is exciting stuff. I love the frequent stretching and moving I'm doing (I WILL squat - I know I can, I know I can) and hopefully the migraines will ease also. With the prospect of having years of them ahead of me if things don't change, I really can't afford not to do this. Plus I love it, and my back has stopped hurting already!

The blog I have to stop visiting so often: http://www.katysays.com/

18 October 2013

Slimy milk and other dirt cheap health supplements

As I wrote in my last post, I've been reading Lyn Webster's Pig Tits and Parsley Sauce book. When you're living on a budget as limited as hers, there's not an ounce of room to buy health supplements. It occurred to me that I make some so cheaply that they wouldn't even dint the budget. Here they are:

1. Probiotics. I eat fermented milk - in other words, yoghurt - every day. For about a year now I've been doing it in an unusual way.

Some people buy ready-made yoghurt. I rarely have - it's expensive and the packaging is never recyclable - but used to always use an easiyo yoghurt maker, and I'd make unsweetened yoghurt with whatever brand of yoghurt sachet was on special at the supermarket. I did this for a very long time - in fact, I have the same yoghurt maker I bought when I was 19 and first went flatting!

But now I have a cheaper and more environmentally friendly option. No more foil packets or electricity to dry the milk at the factory, or boil water for my yoghurt maker. And it costs exactly the same as milk, whereas the sachets, which are mixed with water, cost significantly more.

I make Caspian Sea yoghurt. I bought it from here. It is so wildly simple: you mix a bit of yoghurt with milk (about 1 part yoghurt to 10 parts milk) in a clean jar and sit it at room temperature for about 12-18 hours. Then you have a new batch of yoghurt! It apparently has more healthy microflora in it than other yoghurt, although I have no evidence for that.

The only trick is not to eat it all up without saving some to make the next batch. Also, I find it doesn't last as well as other yoghurt. The sachet yoghurt lasts about two weeks, but five days is long enough for the Caspian Sea stuff. You can make as much or as little as you like though, so it's wise to make only as much as you need.

It does have a slightly different taste - sharper, more fermented. You get used to it though.

(If anyone who knows me personally wants to try this, let me know and I'll drop you round a jam jar of yoghurt. It's a 'share the love' kind of thing, and the more people  it's shared with the better, because then you have someone to ask for more if you accidentally eat all of yours!)

2. Essential fatty acids. Some people buy ground LSA (linseed, sunflower and almonds) for the good essential fatty acids they contain. I buy whole linseed from the Bin Inn, where it's dirt cheap. I grind it with a $10 coffee grinder I bought on Trade Me, and keep it in glass jars in the fridge so its delicate oils don't oxidise. I grind two or three weeks' worth at one time, and we have it on our breakfast weetbix or porridge. It also goes well in smoothies.

Often I also grind up sunflower and pumpkin seeds and add them to the mix. I used to grind almonds, but broke several coffee grinders in the process. Now I just gobble a handful of them when I'm hungry. If you're going all pig-tits, just linseed would be the best option.

3. Raw greens/juices. I don't have a juicer and I don't buy spirulina. But silverbeet grows wild in the garden, and every two or three days I make myself a green smoothie by adding a couple of raw, well-washed silverbeet leaves to a jug with yoghurt, a banana and some vanilla paste. I whiz it up with my stick blender and it is totally delicious, not silverbeet-y at all. I have not had a cold all winter, despite some other family members oozing germs, and I do think the silverbeet might have had something to do with it.

Sometimes I add these things too when I'm feeling decadent: frozen berries, two teaspoons of cocoa and a teaspoon of raw virgin coconut oil. Then I get a coconut/berry/chocolate flavour and it is very, very good. I know, chocolate and silverbeet - who would have thought! Trust me, the silverbeet regresses.

Pig-tits sticklers would use just bananas (probably old and marked down in price accordingly), yoghurt and silverbeet, and perhaps cocoa.

Do you have any other ideas for real food supplements on the cheap? Possibly home made sprouts count.

16 October 2013

Pig Tits and Parsley Sauce

I've recently been reading Lyn Webster's book Pig Tits and Parsley Sauce. Here is an indication of how popular it's been in this country: when I reserved it from the library a good four months ago I was 25th in the queue!

Basically it's about how she lives very frugally by spending only small amounts on food, cleaning and personal care products.

I loved the book, and really recommend it. The illustrations are gorgeously retro. It really encourages people not only to have a frugal (but not stingy, I think) mindset, but to feel good about it. She also talks about the sustainability of living that way, and how advertising has sucked us into believing an awful lot of rubbish in order to separate us from our money. An example is the notion that expensive shampoo gives you nicer hair - me, I'm baking soda all the way! I remain delighted with my hair after ditching shampoo (although have gone back to conditioner). I also believe that expensive anti-wrinkle creams are all lies, and you may as well chuck money down the toilet.

In those sentences alone, how much plastic packaging have I avoided?

The book's name came from something her mother used to say when then the children asked what was for tea: the super-cheap, scrape the bottom of the barrel meal. In our house, the answer to that would be omelette, for we are overflowing with eggs and silverbeet!

(You might also be interested in my next post on dirt cheap health supplements.)

Small disclaimer: I shuddered when I saw a photo on the author's website of her recent grocery shop purchase that included 'budget' caged eggs. This is what happens when you put frugality above ethics - you save $3 a week and thereby support an enormous factory farming system that keeps animals in horrific conditions. Admirably, Lyn does have her own chickens - obviously they weren't laying when the photo was taken.

9 October 2013

Fairytale castle

Spotted on the beach these school holidays:

 I can claim credit for the subjects of only two of these photos.

The sandcastle amazed us. It looked like it should have been part of a professional sand sculpture competition, but it sat alone, a work of imaginative magic on a peaceful afternoon, with the tide advancing towards it. The sculptor or sculptors were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they were crouched behind the dunes, watching for the reactions of beach strollers like us.

When we walked back along the beach, the castle had vanished, washed away by the sea.

6 October 2013

October garden

The weather's been so great here that I think everyone with a scrap of gardening urge is heading outside and getting their hands dirty. A friend of mine recently aroused gardening envy in me with her bed of flowering tulips and poppies, plus tomato plants! I always resist, though, putting tomatoes in before Labour weekend. (Mind you she did it last year too, and there was a frost in late October, but she got tomatoes before me regardless).

We've had fairly dirty hands. The bed of oats has been tugged out, had potatoes planted under it, and had the oats laid as mulch over top. We've never done it this way before.

I've been given some comfrey, and it seriously does have roots like a tree! A lovely gardening man gave me a few roots and I planted them under an ailing lime tree, and they are coming away. He gave me a few leaves, too, which the chickens rejected as being anything like desirable. I was saddened by this because they are meant to love it, and it is very nutritious. After a recent wandering-free period, however, I noticed they'd eaten some of the newly emerging leaves. Plus a heck of a lot of silverbeet, of course.

Comfrey emerging from tree-like roots.
Ravaged silverbeet
There's been a bit of weeding going on, and the laying out of pea straw around the strawberries. Once a friend said of pea straw that it makes a garden look like a bought one! It does, when it's fresh. Chickens love turning over mulch for the bugs underneath, of course, so they messed up my arrangement during their hour or so of roaming. Heads up, tails down, as they so love to be.

But where are all my peas? They've been in for weeks and are doing very little. Disappointing. They are, of course, competing with wild parsnips all over the place.

The zucchini had to go into the garden. I've tried a fancy 'Florence ribbed' type this year, and the seeds popped up fast and grew like billy-o, rapidly outgrowing their punnets. Mostly everything else has sprouted nicely, too. I always wish capsicums would get going faster. I've ended up with almost all big tomato plants (Brandywines) and maybe one cherry tomato (Gardener's delight) due to incorrectly second-guessing myself with what I'd already sown. I sowed two batches of biggies, instead of one of each. It is so important to not only label well, but to believe your labels!

Meanwhile we are eating silverbeet (we have spare!), cauliflower, parsley, coriander and lettuce. Soon we will have artichokes, a truly gourmet vegetable. I simmer them in lemon juice-spiked water and eat them with mayonnaise.

I've finished my tree planting for the winter, and we have two new orange trees, a tangelo tree and a ballerina apple. Anything else - namely the macadamia tree of a certain cultivar we're trying to get hold of - must now wait until autumn.

So we have a little break now until late October, when our big tub of ripe compost will be planted with the tomatoes and other seedlings, and basil seeds will be sown. Our runner beans will resprout from last year (hopefully).

This post is part of a garden share collective. Click on the icon below and you'll be able to see what others have written - that should really get those gardening juices flowing!

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