26 January 2013

Popularity on our fridge

Recently I put this headline on our fridge.
(The magnet that holds it, a periodic table, is new also, and arrived via my chemist husband.)

Jack, I was delighted to notice, gasped in delight and said "Yes! That is so true!"

After reading Soule Mama's recent post about her 12 year old son, I felt even more pleased about that. It's a good motto for all of us, but especially teenagers who would be so much happier if only they didn't have to spend so much energy being like everyone else!

Jack is only nine, but I think it's good to start early.

{I'll be away from this space for a week or so now, back at the start of February.}

24 January 2013

Washing machine love

I am newly in love with our washing machine.

We have recently returned from a few days in Auckland, and while we were away, the washing machine stopped draining out its water. Ian told me this over the phone very casually - a by-the-way sort of comment - as if it wasn't a disaster.

I was fresh from visiting the Howick Historical Village, which was a sharp reminder of how colonial New Zealand women lived. Two-room cottages, eight children in the family. Their washing was done by hand in metal buckets, rubbed vigorously with harsh home-made soap made they'd made from rendered fat in between cooking and cleaning for 10 people, growing food, preserving food, sewing clothes, making candles, drawing water from the well....

The washing basket on display is identical to mine! I inherited it from my grandmother and it's in perfect condition, 35 or so years after I remember her hanging it on a hook in her garage when she'd finished pegging out the washing. (I wish you could still buy them like that.)

This bedroom had space for two babies near the adult bed - the other children slept together in the attic.

The village was quaint and pretty, and I had to remind myself that it wasn't accurate to wax lyrical over their simple, back-to-the land lives. It was undoubtedly Hard Work. And the people in the cute little houses probably spent much of their lives wishing they could have the houses and land of well-to-do people.

Their essential tools were stored in the kitchen/dining/living room ceiling,
which is about the size of Anna's bedroom.
Better Homes and Gardens.
The children played games on the village green:

Jack was invited to join a game of checkers under a leafy tree, while tuis chortled above:

 And there were soldiers, swords and muskets galore:

But as endearing as it all was to this lover of old-fashioned style, I was enormously pleased to have the washing machine fixed yesterday.

(Actually, with guidance from a Google search, Ian had fixed it the night before, discovering a macerated rag that had found its way into the pump. Only we didn't realise his repair had worked, because as the repairman explained, our model of machine takes a couple of minutes to start draining after it enters the spin cycle, and I hadn't waited long enough when I was checking whether our DIY repair had worked. Nevertheless, the repairman did find some bits of grit remaining in the pump and charged us $85. Grrrr.)

20 January 2013


Here it's the season of ripe fruits and raucous flowers.

Coprosma flowers - so hardy! In the background is a young
passionfruit vine, climbing away happily in the heat.
Rich, red Hawera plums, netted against
the greedy birds.

Our first crop from the Luisa plum tree I planted
two years ago. They taste like a cross between
a nectarine and a plum. 
 Amidst all this ripeness, Anna and I dug for buried treasure. Thanks to Ian's spring time burying and mounding, we found big, fat agria potatoes in the powdery dirt.

She was thrilled and delighted. We ate them an hour later - boiled, with butter - and they were fresh and full and very new-potato-ish. Delicious.

18 January 2013

Raising kids for free

I like this article about raising kids for free.

We even did it for a while, when Jack was born. Pretty much everything he wore was from a second hand shop, or knitted by my mother, and the toys were op-shopped.

As far as we were concerned, there couldn't have been a cuter or happier baby.

In some ways it's easier to live that way now; websites like Trade Me have made second-hand buying - particularly of quality items - so much easier. But as the children have got older, although they no longer need nappies high chairs sippy cups buggies portacots etc, they need/want/get music, sport and dancing lessons and the clothing and equipment that matches these things, not to mention school fees, stationery, art supplies, skateboards, scooters, bikes etc.

Today, for example, I spent nearly $50 taking three children to the movies, and that was with just a $2-3 snack each and free parking! We do it just once each school holidays.

Right now they're outside when they should be in bed, playing with their home-made wooden swords. (Tomorrow, however, we're off to a market where Jack is planning a purchase from a sword-maker who I bought some weapons from before Christmas; this is his Trade Me site and I can totally recommend his products for top-quality wooden craftsmanship, not to mention reasonable prices.)

Nevertheless, I still enjoy searching for ways to live simply and frugally. And I love the fact that living that way means I don't have to go to work!

(I'd better go: the blokes in the photo above are complaining that while the children are having a good time, they're not and the children MUST go to bed.)

17 January 2013

Two figures

Readers, meet my two figures. Figures, meet my readers.

I got these two people for Christmas. They're artist's models from a local art shop. They're about 25 cm high and I love them!

I like their style in our house - they grab the eye, posing there on top of our bookcase. They're fun to move around into creative poses. So far they've done the can-can, surfed, danced, done karate, held hands, and one's done a handstand on the other.

They've also had an argument (see below). As you can see above, they made up.

Although they lack a bit of joint flexibility in certain places (no downward-facing dog for them, yogis), they're a fascinating study of how bodies move and balance. Their feet attach magnetically to a round base, and the moment I try to make them do something we couldn't, they fall over.

I also like the way little changes - such as whether their knees are angled slightly in or out - seem to change their personality. When I make their legs bandy, they seem masculine and cowboyish.

Below is one of my favourites. It's the first thing Jack did when he saw them.

One's a Wallabies supporter, he said, and the other supports the All Blacks.

15 January 2013

Do the Hokey Pokey

I'm not sure whether the song goes "Do the hokey pokey", or "tokey", or "cokey," but hokey pokey is a very yummy New Zealand thing, and today my children made some.

I grew up perusing the sweets section of the Edmonds Cookbook, entranced with the realisation that I could eat the sweet treats if I made them - and I enjoyed making them. It was the beginning of learning how to cook.

My children have very much decided they're ready to do the same thing.

Today, with no guidance from me, Jack found himself in that same sweets section, and lit upon the Hokey Pokey recipe. "I'm going to make it," he said, happy to see there were only three ingredients (sugar, golden syrup and baking soda), all of which he knew we had.

After a minute or two of stirring the pot, he declared his arms weren't strong enough to stir and please could I take over? Nope.

He got there, and since then, he's eaten one bit and didn't really like it. In the excitement of seeing the frothing chemical reaction that occurs when the baking soda is added, we didn't mix it enough, and the remaining lumps of baking soda really put him off. Plus, this is the boy who still hasn't finished his Halloween lolly collection. Not a big eater.

His sister, however, is a fan and we keep chipping little bits off the crunchy mass for her.

It was she who set them on this baking path. Yesterday she had a friend visiting and announced, "Kate and I can both read now, so we can cook." She found a chocolate cake recipe from a book in the bookshelf and set about baking it herself.

All the years she's been helping me paid off. She could do everything beautifully (wearing her apron, of course). I had the chance to observe this because, Kate, I'm sorry to say, was hardly allowed to do anything, including eat it, because she had to leave before it was baked. It is, however, a huge and delicious cake.

Ian is unimpressed by this turn of events and has declared that he will not clean up the mess. I take the opposite line and heartily support it, because I can see that it will mean less baking for me.

Hokey Pokey (from the Edmonds Cookery Book)

5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda

Put sugar and golden syrup into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Stir occasionally, if necessary, to prevent burning. Remove from heat. Add baking soda. Stir quickly until mixture froths up. Pour into a buttered tin immediately. Leave until cold and hard. Break into pieces.

13 January 2013

Having fun

I'm not sure that we have enough fun. Let's have more!

This is a crazy fun thing we did during a Boxing Day family reunion/barbeque. Firstly the children lined up and had a scooter race (scooters are the latest rage for children in these parts).

Then the adults were called upon. We lined up and took off... (that's me in the middle with the khaki pants).

The field was very spread out as we came back down the track from the cul-de-sac at the end of the road. Supporting legs were aching. I was a distant third behind two nieces... who are both older than me!

As the last of the field came in there was a shock fall with someone banging into the curb and falling down hard, face first. (I was going to show the face-down photo but it's too scary - she could have been knocked out. Plus she might not like the publicity). Her strong bones and positive attitude carried her through, and her pains were soon dulled with limoncello.

Such fun and drama at a Boxing Day party!

10 January 2013

Story of stuff

Having just watched a 20 minute movie called the Story of Stuff on YouTube with my children, I award it 'Movie of the Year'. It is funny, fascinating and sad.

The children were riveted to the screen, and although it is aimed at children, it is just as gripping for adults. I have a feeling that I'll never again be begged to buy stuff from the $2 shop and in general it will save me a lot of money. It'll save other things, too... you'll see.

Click here to watch it. Then spread the word....

9 January 2013


I've been offline at home, due to a failed modem. A new one arrived today, and I am relieved. Posts have been building up in my mind.

I've been having a few disconnected thoughts, too.

:: These searing hot days we've been getting have been leaving behind evenings that feel like soothing velvet on my skin. It's even better when a plunge in a friend's swimming pool has left me fresh for hours afterwards.

:: Four ounces. The Barefoot Doctor has been pointing out to me via email that a nice way to travel through life is putting just four ounces of pressure on it, and never allowing anything or anyone to put more than that on you, either. Sounds like such a good idea.

:: I've been reminded that children live in a world full of the unknown. I forget that they don't know things that we take for granted. Recently Anna said to me, after doing a little burp, "Do we have to say pardon me if we're alone?" And, "Do you have to learn how to drive?"

She used to like the idea of being famous on my blog, but now she's gone off having her photo taken.

4 January 2013

Centre of the family

Jack wrote a lovely poem at school about "I'm from...".

It started with "I'm from books like Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings and Eragon."

It finished with "I'm from.. the salty seas of the Bay of Plenty, which holds the centre of the family."

And it does, because that's where both his parents were born. That's where we were at Christmas, and on New Years Day I climbed Mount Maunganui. It was magnificent. Is there a more beautiful place in the world? I've travelled a bit, and while a couple of places equalled it (Austrian Alps, Scottish lochs), I found nothing I liked better.

Here are some photos.

There is a native bee or two just visible above the pohutukawa
flowers, which hundreds of them were busy pollinating. I've never noticed
native bees before - they are very dark and, at a glance, like flies.
But when I looked closely I could see they weren't flies.

The pohutukawa flowers leave a red carpet when
they drop their petals. 
It was a magnificent climb. Aside from my first time noticing native bees (at least I think that's what they must have been - I've read about them before), I think I saw a tui nest! Mr or Mrs Tui was hanging around it and it looked very nest-shaped.

I realised clearly, for the first time, how even when confronted with such large-scale beauty, there is such pleasure to be had in small-scale beauty, which is often more attainable.

Then, when I got to the bottom, hot and perspiring, I plunged into this glorious sea.

It was one of my best-ever swims. Glassy water, rolling with generously-sized waves that lifted me high and flicked their breaking heads over mine, while the beautiful Mount stood watch above.

(For you, Julia.)

3 January 2013

Top of the year

The end of the year was a bit like sliding under the weight of things that I really wanted to do but just couldn't get to. So, at the top of a new year with months stretching out before me, these are end-of-year priorities that need to be spaced out this year.

Most importantly, these should all be traditions. In this way they get an added glow attached to them that makes everyone feel as though they belong, and there is magic. It also gets parents organised.

:: Mince pies - it is unwise to make these from scratch the week before Christmas!
Resolution 1. Make fruit mince and pastry in November. Make some pies then if there's room in the freezer.

:: Christmas cake - everyone loves it and it means doing no further baking for ages. The children adored my sister-in-law's one, so I will get her recipe (and probably post it here).
Resolution 2. Make Christmas cake in October.

:: Get photograph of children with Santa. Arrive while he's still there, not half an hour later...
Resolution 3. Put fixed date in calendar to get Santa photo.

:: It is more difficult to make presents look lovely when trying to do it in a planet-friendly way, but not much. Make the time!
Resolution 4. Make effort with wrapping presents. Wrap them when they are bought instead of on the same day as packing up to leave for Christmas destination. Keep boxes with interesting patterns on them to cut up for gift cards. Stock up on coloured hemp twine from Trade Aid (about $4 a ball).

:: Go to the Cambridge Christmas festival. We did do this, and loved it! It has become a pre-Christmas tradition. We listen to carols being sung in the beautiful old town hall, then the children each choose a decoration for our tree, then we have home-made afternoon tea served with vintage china.

When I told the volunteer lady who was serving tea that I like the china every year, she brought out a stunning cup and saucer for me. "We chose it especially for you, since you like it," she told me. Glow.

This year I loved hearing the children sing along gustily to Hark the Herald Angels sing, without looking at the words. That's what happens when your Mama sings it to you year after year!

Afterwards the children inevitably scramble around the grounds of the hall.

Cambridge clock tower
And I'm a toilet inspector. If I go somewhere interesting - a restaurant, or museum, say - I'm always interested to see how they've done the toilets. The Cambridge Town Hall ones are some of my favouritesl. Newly renovated, but very much in keeping with the old style of the hall. Clever. And in my favourite colours, too.

They just needed a touch of red...

:: Keep on putting out a Christmas Eve snack by the fireplace for Santa. The children love it, and in fact it was the little girls who remembered to do it this  year.

And as for the location of yesterday's photo, here's another clue. Probably only locals will recognise it. It starts with M.

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