27 May 2014

Why I want your winter leaves

Autumn is such a giving season for a gardener! The summer crops have tailed off, but everywhere there are fallen leaves, which are actually repositories of carbon, nutrients and tiny creatures. They're easy to collect and store, too.

Before I launch into how to use them, a little acknowledged fact: they are even better collected from your neighbour's lawn than your own. I have a couple of neighbours who don't want the leaves but don't care enough to clear them themselves. These are the best type of leaf-neighbours, because those who want the leaves, or obsessively don't want them, will have only scanty pickings. Those people have already been busy raking (or using a leaf-blower - I just have to look away).

Last week I visited neighbours around the corner with bags and rake in tow. Within an hour the following had happened:
1. My children were playing with their children for the first time in a year.
2. I'd seen and chatted with the mother for the first time in ages.
2. I'd talked to another gardening neighbour who was strolling by. His mother, he said, wants to get chickens. I'd invited her around to see ours so she can get some ideas for coops, garden protection etc.
3. The gardening neighbour had given me a big bag of feijoas.
4. I was warm from the exercise and felt well-friended.
5. Their front lawn looked much tidier.

What to do with leaves:
1. Dumped a big bagful in the chicken's fenced-off run. The rain and cool weather had turned it into a hard, desertified soil pan. It's mostly under evergreen trees so gets some leaf drop, and we chuck weeds and small prunings in there, but chickens need stuff to scratch through all day every day. They were transformed by the leaves, their red combs jiggling as they scraped and pecked, scraped and pecked. Ah, some jungle floor at last, thought the junglefowl descendents.

2. Mulched the garden. The books say that autumn leaves should be shredded before being used as mulch because otherwise they turn into a solid, almost waterproof layer. I guess I'll find out. We've had big winds since then and my first fear - that they'd be blown away - turned out to be unfounded. I don't know why they didn't get blown away, but they haven't turned solid yet.

This photo shows a mulched part of the garden. Underneath Ian planted garlic cloves, which will send up their shoots above the mulch soon, we hope. Of course what we really want from mulch is to suppress the weeds, build up a lot of healthy creatures, including microorganisms, underneath (don't mention the slugs), and hold in moisture.

Our frosted garden this morning.
3. Sat a bag of them next to the current compost bin to use as the brown layers needed to balance out the green layers (kitchen scraps, weeds etc). More bags will be stored so we have enough brown material to last until next autumn.

4. Used them to 'sheet mulch' a garden, also known as lasagne gardening. This is a way of creating a garden with wonderful soil. A fortnight ago this corner housed just lawn and a dead tamarillo tree, both of which perched on top of clay. I laid down layers in this order, from the bottom up: blood and bone, lime and animal poo (chicken and guinea pig, donated by my friend), then cardboard, then compost, leaves, our own chicken poo, grass clippings, leaves, grass clippings, compost, leaves. I stacked the fern fronds on top to hold the leaves in place (again, no faith that the leaves won't blow away). In a few months it will be stunning soil filled with microorganisms. I'll plant another tamarillo tree there in spring.

Your keen eyes will no doubt have spotted what appears to be a burial mound, just the right size to contain the corpse of a tall woman. Nope, just sheet mulching. Over time it will sink enormously and the neighbour who hangs out her washing on the other side of the lowish fence won't get such a shock when she goes to peg up the clothes. (She hasn't said anything. Yet.)

6. For the decorative autumn crown use of leaves, see the bottom of this post.

7. Our most favoured leaf-neighbours are yet to offer up their leaf fall - the tree is still glowing red with its leaves. Their tree doesn't drop until June. Here's a photo from last year - the best reason of all to rake up neighbour's leaves!

20 May 2014

Little retro shop

A couple of weeks ago I visited a little shop in Tauranga. It's run from a private home. The sun was shining loudly as if to announce 'This is NOT winter'! (Which of course it's not officially, until next month.)

The charming shop owner, Rachel - a retrologist - I love it! - sources lovely little retro homewares, and does them up - a bit of painting here, a bit of upholstery there, and a bit of general polishing and rearranging. She has the upholstery and some of the painting done by professionals, and the quality shows. Here are some of her wares.

Lovely stuff. I made a couple of purchases, and would have made more except I had nowhere to put anything. The prices were temptingly low.

You can buy from her via her facebook page, and here's her street sign:

She doesn't have eftpos, and instead gave me a hand-written invoice so I could pay her via internet banking when I got home. Which, of course, I did - and she said no one has ever let her down. Isn't that a great way to operate?

7 May 2014

Vipassana meditation retreat: how to live

I disappeared over Easter to a 10 day meditation retreat. I lived like a Buddhist nun for 10 days, including rising with the 4 am gong (I truly love that sound), not eating after midday (apart from herbal tea and fruit at 5 pm) and meditating for 10 hours a day. Oh, and not speaking, but that was the least of my burdens.

The Vipassana Meditation Centre about an hour north-west of
Auckland - a stunning location. Click on the photo to go to their website.
(This is their photo, not mine.)
Why, oh why? I've dabbled in meditation for a while, and there is a suggestion that it can prevent or treat migraines. But what I discovered was quite different. I learnt how to live! (I'm still getting migraines though.)

But firstly the challenges, which people seem to be most interested in, although they are incidental really. The early mornings I dealt with by grabbing an extra hour of sleep after breakfast, and at tea time I ate about 6 pieces of fruit. Still, each day when I woke I noticed a bit more bone emerging from my body. Not good.

However, for me the most challenging thing was meditating that much. When we were instructed - for about the 35th hour in four days - to focus all our attention on the small area between our nostrils and the top of our upper lip, I wanted to find a brick wall and bash my head against it. The brain training was so intense, so hard and my wandering mind so frustrating!

So why was it so great? Well, frequently I felt the soothing, peaceful bliss that meditation and lack of talking brings. But also because I learnt about equanimity, which is an even, balanced mind that doesn't plunge into anger, despair or worry, or become overly excited and passionate. This, say the Buddhists, is the key to happiness.

Without equanimity we have aversions (he was so rude to me.... I am terrified of this illness...I wanted that to happen and it didn't.... etc) and cravings (I want a bigger, better house.... I need to lose weight.... I want to have a baby...). Both bring unhappiness, the reason being obvious when it comes to aversions, but cravings do too because there is a gap between what we want and what we have.

So how on earth do we get rid of these cravings and aversions, which we're all riddled with? Firstly, we remember that nothing is permanent: "This too shall pass." It's a beautiful saying.

Secondly, we need to train our mind into equanimity, because it most definitely does not arrive without considerable effort and self-discipline. Vipassana meditation does this by training the mind to feel sensations throughout the body, and considering all of them, pleasant and unpleasant, with equanimity. This training takes 9 gruelling days of the course. The 10th day, in contrast, is enormous fun because you finally get to talk to everyone! (Also because we got dinner - oh joy - a lentil soup - I nearly cried with relief.)

A peeve of mine was that there was a heap of Buddhist stuff wrapped around all this, in spite of the technique repeatedly being described as rational and scientific. There was talk of kharma and reincarnation, plenty of Buddhist chanting and more. Nevertheless, whether a rainbow is described in mystical and religious terms or as the refraction of light, it is still real and beautiful. I quietly translated all the mystical stuff into plausible explanations.

The most magical thing was the sensations. I could feel all the nerve endings in my body tingling! When my concentration travelled through the back of my nose I felt the hint of water up my nose - ah, must be my sinuses. I felt the chambers of my heart, and the thickness of my skull. The volume of my brain's focus was turned way up. That, along with a quiet mind, had a whole lot of creative thoughts presenting themselves to me as if from a third party (especially when I was NOT meant to be thinking!).

Since I got home a week ago I have not kept up my meditation as I should. Instead of two hours a day, as recommended, it's been about 40 minutes. Maybe tomorrow, eh? Still, the equanimity in me feels strong, and I've found it to be a wonderful parenting technique.

I should sign off or you'll get bored. But I just want to say that the whole thing was magnificently organised, and breakfast and lunch were delicious, healthy and all-you-can-eat. I think that going there would help most people enormously - but I'll fall short of recommending it, or you'll hate me after a few days there. (Go anyway, go anyway, be brave and and strong!).

These courses are run all around the world - just google 'Vipassana meditation' for your country - and there is no compulsory charge, although they do like to receive donations.

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