14 December 2015

Beautiful, biodegradable gifts

Recently I read that David Suzuki - scientist, intellectual and environmental warrior - believes that disposable should be a dirty word. That man is a legend.

In this gift-buying season, I love finding things that are biodegradable and/or help people avoid using disposable nasties. Here are a few I've come across. 

Beautiful chickens and op-shop shirts.

Reusable bags that fold up small to fit into your handbag so you never forget them when you go to the supermarket...

... and open up to be gorgeous, spacious and strong, so that they are always better than a "disposable" plastic bag. This one is by Envirosax. There are many stylish designs to choose from. They even have man bags.

Reusable produce bags (although I really want some Onya weigh bags, as they are lighter so you don't pay for their weight at the checkout).

A bunch of homegrown flowers is a wonderful gift - these are sweet peas, of which I have grown far too many this year!

I'm hoping Anna's teacher likes this stunning kokedama succulent, because it's her thank you gift for being such a wonderful teacher this year. Kokedama is a plant with its roots surrounded by mud, then moss, then twine. Beautifully biodegradable.

An orchid in a pot (I find quite a few attractive pots at op shops).

A Christmas cake is also a fantastic gift - for an easy one, my mother-in-law's fruitcake recipe lives on! Find it here

Here are a couple of items I spotted in Trade Aid - an adorable dog cushion (you'd need to use a feather inner for it to be biodegradable, and an ageing feather pillow could work) and a solidly made twine reusable bag. I bought Jack a cushion like this a couple of years ago, and it was his favourite Christmas present!

There's also the option of a magazine subscription. In New Zealand I struggle to find something that's from-the-heart green and lacking commercial focus. Australia has Earthgarden, and I find myself very tempted by Taproot from the US. 

Happy shopping. Remember Trade Me, bookshops, markets and Trade Aid for shopping - maybe I'll see you there!

26 November 2015

Colour-coded bees in your garden

It's now been 43 years that I've been plodding this earth, and I've only just made a discovery that had been right in front of my eyes all that time - if only I'd looked properly at bees.

I was almost embarrassed to share my delight, in case everyone else had always known this fact. But everyone I've told has been similarly surprised (although never quite as delighted as I am by it). Just maybe, I thought, you might also be thrilled to read about it, even if you already knew.

It is this: bees that have been collecting pollen end up with vividly coloured pollen baskets, the colour revealing which flowers they have been visiting.

See the full, purple pollen basket on the bee's right hind leg. The left one is also visible.

I'd been aware of bees' dull yellow pollen baskets for years, so I wondered what those vivid purple lumps were on either side of the bumblebees patronising our phacelia patch. Could it be the pollen of those purple flowers, I wondered? Then along came a honeybee with bright yellow baskets, possibly from another person's yellow flower patch.

Then, out the front of our house on our uproariously flowering flaxes, were many bees with flamboyant orange pollen baskets - and indeed the flax flowers were tipped with the same hue.

Dwarf flax flowers. It looks to me as though some of the flowers have bright orange pollen, and some a very pale, almost white pollen. I don't know how that's possible on the same plant, but the camera is showing that it is! The bees I spotted on the flowers certainly had orange pollen baskets. 

Did you know that flying around your garden are bees with colourful jewels that reveal which flowers they've been frequenting?

15 November 2015

Beating boils with manuka oil

I've learnt a few things about treating boils as a mother, and one of the best discoveries I've made is how to use manuka oil to eradicate them.

The boil that took Anna to hospital. The pen
lines show where the infection spread down
her leg (that's called cellulitis).

A few years ago my daughter Anna began to get the most terrible boils, for no obvious reason. They'd begin as red welts like mosquito bites, then relentlessly swell into painful mounds up to 4 cm across. There would only be a few days between one boil healing and the next one starting. With one on her knee she ended up in hospital on intravenous antibiotics for three days. These were very nasty boils and we were at a loss at what to do about it.

Lab tests showed that it was Staph aureus, that ubiquitous bacteria, that was infecting her skin. Why it managed to breed so successfully on her skin, nobody knew. She was a sturdy, healthy girl in every other way.

Avoid antibiotics

Since then I've learnt even more about how bad antibiotics are for the body's healthy microbes, and as antibiotics are the treatment your doctor will prescribe for boils, you need a preventative measure instead!

(However, if you or your child has a large, painful boil with pus showing, I'd go for the antibiotics. Infection from a boil that spreads to healthy tissue is very dangerous.)

Catch them early

The best tip came from the wound care nurse who came to change the dressing on Anna's knee for a week or two after she was discharged from hospital."When you see one starting, put some antiseptic ointment on it straight away, and cover it with a plaster. Keep doing that until it fades away."

With that advice, Anna never had antibiotics again. We used either crystaderm or betadene ointment, with a little 'dot' plaster on top. The ointment is a great bacteria killer.

The key is to be vigilant so you can start early. For months I examined her skin all over every night for signs of boils beginning, and there were plenty of them. (Just to be clear though: if they aren't caught early and grow large with obvious pus showing, it's a case for antibiotics).

Not just for boils

Garden cuts and scratches can get infected with bacteria fairly easily (usually Staph aureus), so to avoid pain and antibiotic treatment it is really worth putting a bit of ointment and a plaster on such things for a couple of days.

Manuka oil is better

The trouble with the ointment is that it needs a plaster to keep it on the skin, and Anna has sensitive skin that develops welts where the sticky stuff goes. Even the sensitive plasters would leave painful red marks. Plus the plasters kept falling off, we needed a lot of them and at $10 a packet they were getting expensive.

Manuka flowers (white_
Manuka flowers
I'd tried manuka honey (the special woundcare version), because having written about that for New Scientist magazine years ago I know it blitzes Staph aureus. However, the honey hadn't worked.

Then I found manuka oil. It seems that the same compound that the bees collect from the manuka flowers which makes the honey so antibacterial is also in this oil, in a very concentrated form.

Of course, with the oil, the plasters wouldn't stick. So I just smeared a bit of oil on the baby boils each night and left the skin uncovered. The boils disappeared, usually in a three or so days (although the bigger the boil, the longer it took).

The best kind of manuka oil

It turns out that some manuka oils and honeys are more antimicrobial than others, largely depending on where the manuka is growing. The best one comes from New Zealand's East Cape (that's the big chunk of land that juts out to the right of the North Island). Fortunately that's the oil I stumbled upon first (it can be bought here).

At around NZ$25 for a tiny bottle, it seems expensive. But you only use a drop at a time, and there are no plasters to pay for... or doctor's visits, or antibiotics... so it's well worth it. Plus it comes in a glass bottle so your rubbish bin stays clear of tubes (and plasters).

Manuka flowers come in pink, too.
These are from our neighbour's garden.

The outcome

When Anna's boils were at their height, two paediatricians told me that such boil outbreaks just happen to some children for no known reason, and that they will probably keep coming for two or three years.

It's three years this month since Anna was in hospital, and the boils have almost stopped. However, just last week we were swiping manuka oil on another one, also near her knee, that looked like a mosquito bite. Constant vigilance!  I don't have to examine her anymore, because she is now old enough and sufficiently aware to tell me when she feels one starting. She says they feel a bit sore and a bit itchy.

I think they must have nearly finished, though. Anna has a few scars, but at least our family has all learnt how to deal with skin infections. Hopefully this post will help others, too.

12 October 2015

Other people's children

As the spring sun shone for us over the school holidays we visited with several old friends and their children.

It made me realise that one of the things I'm enjoying hugely about our children growing up is watching my friends' children grow. Children who I've come to know as newborns, or babies, or toddlers, now reaching towards their teenage years.

How they do grow, so big, strong, capable and beautiful!

Can you spot the baby seal down in the shady rock crevice?

28 September 2015

Spring things

Daylight savings just started, arriving simultaneously with lots of sunny days. Therefore, there are important things happening around here: growing vegetables, flowers and chickens. 


I'm growing a few flowers (more than ever, the older I get !), but mostly we focus on vegetables - our garden is actually an extension of our pantry/fridge. We think about what we want to eat, then grow it. Cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, spinach, peas, lettuce, spring onions, garlic, beans, shallots, kale and potatoes come to mind. Oooh, and strawberries.

A sunflower emerges
We're  later than last year planting our vegetable seeds, but it's as exciting as ever watching them come up. One experiment from last year that we've enthusiastically taken up is the tomaccio plants from Egmont seeds. The tomatoes were intensely sweet and delicious, and the plants were hardy, producing a LOT of fruit well into autumn. $5 for just two seeds sounds scary, but it's worth it. Only when I was sowing them at the end of August did I remember vowing to grow nothing but tomaccio this year, but by then we already had other types of tomatoes sprouted. Oh well, next year.


I've sown Icelandic poppies, but I have ladybird poppies (red with black spots) to sow, and wildflower seeds. I've also just planted three Asiatic lily bulbs - enormous, fragrant and rather over-the-top lilies that I love having in a vase. From now on they'll be free from the garden.

Our tulips by the front door are blowing us away, rather. It is SO worth planting some bulbs each autumn!


I've also been loving my new chickens - the others were 'spent', as they say. I brought in four fresh ones: three brown shavers and the other a half-Orpington, half-bantam something-or-other. She's a character, our Hattie - and isn't she gorgeous?

When she lays us an egg, sometimes she leaves us a token feather, in case we don't know that her distinctive creamy egg is hers. Aren't feathers beautiful?

17 September 2015

Just add pollinators

Spring is blooming around here. It is wonderful watching the world emerge from winter.

But where do the seasons come from? Jack and I watched a little youtube video a few days ago, which made it so clear how the earth's tilt on its axis, combined with its annual circuit around the sun, creates seasons.

The blossom and birdsong have been gorgeous. Today was a shorts-and-shirt day, and we watched the different pollinators visiting our plum and peach trees. So far we've seen the following nectar feasters: two types of wasp (boo), honey bees, huge fat bumblebees, tiny wax eye birds and a monarch butterfly.

Six different pollinators! In July I went to the Tauranga TEDX talks. One of the speakers talked about how there are so many different and even unexpected creatures that pollinate flowers. During his PhD he found that pohutukawa flowers were being pollinated by long-tailed bats on Little Barrier Island, and rats on the mainland! Surprising, all right.

1 September 2015

Preventing stuffocation at home

Hello again!

It's been spring-cleaning time here. Anna, who had turned nine the day before, spent about four hours yesterday with me clearing out her bedroom. It was an enormous job, and we were both exhausted from her party/sleepover, but we were focused, and we did it!

Anna's bedroom. She made her own bed this morning.

I despair, though, about the amount of 'stuff' we had to shift. How can we avoid it coming into our lives?

Prevent stuffocation

We are stuffocated, even though I say no over and over again to $2 shop visits, plastic toys, and even thrift-shop finds. Certainly the pile of stuff we sent to the landfill was not as big as the one we'll be giving away. I'm not even sure that thrift shops will be able to accommodate all the beads and trinkets we'd like to unload on them. The world is awash with such stuff. (Note: Stuffocation is the name of a book, not my witty invention sadly!)

I've resolved to be tougher in future: birthday parties will be no-presents-please (although our children will get presents from us), and I'll have to be even stricter with saying no. This orderly room with some bare surfaces is worth fighting for - as well as a cleaner planet, of course!

But how to do it without causing offence? There have been a couple of situations recently where I've either had to accept the junk, or offend someone.

The well-meaning and devoted soccer coach gives out $2 shop purchases as game prizes, and the school PTA has children seeking sponsorship for completing their cross-country run, with toys for the children that get bigger as the amount of sponsorship gained grows. We skipped the sponsorship deal, but it felt impossible to offend the coach or disappoint Anna as each team member dipped into the goodie bag to choose a prize.

We had a two-bag week thanks to the clear-out and party.

Why we have to say no

The last issue of New Zealand Geographic magazine (in which I have an article about bumblebees) has is a fascinating story about rubbish. It says that every month, New Zealanders send a rugby field's worth of rubbish to landfill. It's a very tall rugby field: thirty stories high.

Apparently this is a fairly constant amount.  We continue to get better at recycling, but unfortunately this is outweighed by buying ever-increasing amounts of stuff, so the landfill burden doesn't drop. Often it's stuff that's cheap to buy, but only because the cost it imposes on the environment is not included in the price.

Low-waste living tips

There are people far more expert than me to advise on this: see www.rubbishfree.co.nz for the full info on a New Zealand couple who reduced their waste to one supermarket bag full of rubbish for a whole year. Their website has all the how-to of it, plus a shop - yes, for more stuff! - to help you reduce waste.

I bought for my neighbour something along those lines for her birthday recently. They were a 6-pack in a little red pouch of extremely light, see-through 'weigh bags' for gathering and weighing fruit and veges before purchase. I got them through www.onyabags.co.nz. I reckon their backpack would be an awesome little pull-out-of-your-hat bag when going on holiday.

The reward

One of the hardest things is to get others on board. Even Anna emerged from our clean-out feeling good about it, though. She said "I gave away some of the things I loved" (although she had the final say over everything that went), and also "I loved cleaning my room with you". At the end of the day, I realised that working with your child - as long as they're willing participants - is every bit as rewarding as doing something more leisurely with them.

3 July 2015

How to get children to love reading

My last post was on books that my boy has loved. But how did he get to be such a prolific reader? Really it felt like it 'just happened', but here are my guesses at what happened along the way to encourage it.

Take one baby

At six weeks old, we began reading to our babies before their sleep times, purely because it was delightful. It was only on a film camera in 2003 when Jack was a baby, but imagine our photo of me lying on a bed next to him, reading from a little cardboard book I'm holding up. ("Take one baby, put him in the bath..." I read it so many times I can still recite it.) His big blue eyes are open to their maximum expanse, and his mouth is wide open in the biggest baby smile ever! His legs are a blur, because they're kicking with excitement.

For a while we had to stop reading to Jack before sleep time, because he got so excited it kept him awake.

Anna was the same.

Life was basically a fest of reading for years, with three books before every sleep time. As the books got longer, this was sometimes a drag and we would almost fall asleep doing it. We had our eyelids prised open by little fingers. Yet was always a treat to move onto more grown-up books, instead of the more babyish ones we'd read a thousand times.

There were also three songs before every sleep time, and a weekly Mainly Music session at the local church. I don't know why, but it feels like the rhythm and melody involved helped with reading.

When Jack was about three I started explaining things like the sound W makes (W for Winnie the Pooh, of course.) I'd get him to point out all the Ws on a page and tell me the sound. Then J for Jack, and other letters crept in. That is about as difficult and onerous as learning to read got, i.e., not at all.

Once he got to school his teacher told me she'd never known a child learn to read so easily.

When he was six he started reading Harry Potters. From about then on he didn't want us to read to him anymore. Anna is eight and we still read to her, but not as much as she reads to herself.

Time, not money

Was it expensive? No way, we were paying off a mortgage. Isn't that what libraries are for? Our local librarians are practically extra grandmothers, they have seen our children so much. We are top of the Heavy User category. However, the book cases still managed to be laden with second hand books and gifts.

Was it hard work? A bit. I do find it hard to constantly find books to feed my boy reading-beast. A book a day is nothing to him. That's why I love it when he discovers series of books, because it's a brainless way to find more for him. Also, getting a Kobo has been excellent, because we can go online and get free books instantly. Our local library has an exploding range of ebooks available.

No television, lots of books

Oh, and what I suspect is a MAJOR point: we had, and have, no television. Computers have started to bring screens into our life in a bigger way now, but we fight them valiantly. At present our iPad is at my husband's workplace, and it's staying there for the near future, safely out of reach.

We love having no television. It is incredibly easy.

Love reading yourself

We read, full stop. Every day, for pleasure. Mainly books, in the lounge, in bed. We talk about what we're reading and how we love it.

Is reading so great?

I can see a downside of too much reading: less of other things. Staring into space. Making stuff. Gardening. Doing housework. But for stepping inside other worlds, and therefore expanding your own, I think reading is the ultimate.

25 June 2015

Books your boy will love to read

Recently Jack (11) said wistfully that he wished there was a computer programme that could make him forget things.

"What would you like to forget?" I asked.

"I'd like to forget every book I've ever read," he said.

I knew what he meant, and he agreed that he wished he could read them afresh all over again. I tried to reassure him that there must be many good books he hasn't read yet. "Don't lie," he told me. "There will never be anything as good as Harry Potter."

My next post is going to answer a question I sometimes get asked: How did we get our children to love reading so much?

But for now, here is his list of dearly loved books recommended by the most prolific reader I've ever known. It excludes horror books and most war stories, because they are not to his taste. There are definitely more books than this, but we can't remember them all.

Early primary school years

The Geronimo Stilton series
The Captain Underpants Series
Anything by Dick King-Smith (too many to list, but especially Dragon Boy)
The Pippi Longstocking books

In between

Harry Potter series
All the David Walliams books (Awful Auntie, Gangsta Granny, The Boy in the Dress, Mr Stink, Demon Dentist, Ratburger, Billionaire Boy)
Everything by Roald Dahl
The Famous Five series
The Secret Seven series
Anything by Des Hunt
Anything by Louis Sacher
Anything by Morris Gleitzman
Anything by Andy Griffiths
Non-horror books by Antony Horowitz
Anything by Paul Jennings
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Killer Underpants by Michael Lawrence
The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulde
The Time-Travelling Cat series by Julia Jarman
The Horrible Histories series by various authors
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
The Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks
The How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
All the Star Wars books
Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce

Older primary school years

The Alex Rider series by Antony Horowitz
Under the Mountain by Maurice Gee (and Gee's other books)
The Lion Boy series by Zizou Corder
The Artemis Fowl series by Eion Colfer
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
The Henderson Boys by Robert Muchamore
The Cherub series by Robert Muchamore
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
The 39 Clues series by Rick Riordan
The Eragon Series by Christopher Paolini
The Warriors series of cat books by Erin Hunter
Hatchett by Gary Paulsen
The Maze Runner series by James Dashner
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by Tolkien
The Magyk series by Septimus Heap
The Divergent series by Veronica Roth

More suggestions always welcome!

11 June 2015

So you want to kill my cat?

Last night we watched The Secret Life of Cats, a National Geographic documentary. We watched it online, of course, having no TV. It highlighted cats' murderous habits, which I think about daily as I watch our own furry carnivore, a loved member of our family.

The Australian scenes stood out. A millionaire who founded a fenced wildlife sanctuary to protect Australia's many vulnerable, weird and wonderful mammals had a bumper sticker saying "The only good cat is a flat cat". He wore a cat-skin hat, complete with cat head over his forehead.

As a nature lover I sympathise with and even admire that. So how come we have a cat?

Our cat is good for our souls

With winter setting in here, and a nightly fire in the woodburner, we are falling more in love than ever with Duke, who hangs around us a lot more when it's cold. He has a huge shaggy coat, and cooling off outdoors in the shade is his natural summer setting. But for now, he wants the hearth and the body of one of his clan members (us) whenever possible.

He's in high demand by us. On the rare occasions he's adventuring when those after-dinner hours by the fire come round, someone's bound to call him. He's as obedient as a dog, and always comes, although it can take a while if he has a few boundary fences to navigate to get back to us. We know he's at the door when we hear him rattling the flyscreen, into which he has sunk his claws. (Yes, the flyscreen is tattered as a result.) Meowing's too hard, I suppose, and his is a quiet version.

At bedtime he's essential. Anna must have him on her bed while we have our evening chat and songs, and he goes to sleep there when I leave. Then at Jack's bedtime, I collect Duke and Jack and I spend about 10 minutes stroking and scratching him, and discussing things like how finely crimped his fur is, how cute but lethal his front paws are - and subtly striped, like a tiger's! - and how ugly the insides of his ears are. That fine fluffy guy lies there taking all the touching he can get, including having his ears turned inside out. Ewwww.

Should we have cats?

Cats seem like an extraneous life detail to non-cat people, but essential to happiness for cat people!

A year or so ago a non-cat friend told me her daughter wanted a cat, and she wondered if she should give in and get her one. I told her that we felt that life was much better since we got our cat. Privately, apparently, she scoffed at me for making such a grand statement. But she got her daughter a cat, and within a few days, she told me, she knew exactly what I was talking about! "I love that cat!" she exclaimed incredulously.

I think they are a truly heart expanding addition to a family. Also, they're there for you even when everyone else is angry with you, and nothing else feels good. I remember this as being important to me when I was a child - the comfort of my cat when I was all at sea.

I also love they way they accompany you in the garden, as if they're thrilled to have you visit their territory.

Duke taking his winter medicine of oat leaves. His murderous
fangs are ill-equipped to eat leaves.

What about their murderous habits?

Duke no longer brings us the corpses he's hunted. He started out with that repulsive behaviour, but as a smart guy he learnt fast when I spoke from the heart (i.e. screeching and yelling at him in horror).

But what about the wildlife? Here in New Zealand we almost exclusively want the mammalian wildlife dead, apart from our tiny native bats. Cats can get bats, but they tend to sleep up high under the bark of gnarly old trees. Sadly we have none of those on our property. All our other small land mammals are pests, so cats' killing is welcome.

Birds are another matter, although the natives are in such short supply around here that it's not really a risk (sadly I did once find a fantail corpse). Of course the native birds' main threat is having their eggs and chicks eaten by rats, possums and stoats, so cats may have a net benefit (see this article for more on that*).

Which is why, after his ear innards have been rudely commented on, Duke is mainly heaved outside for the night (unless it's especially cold). There he can kill as many rodents as he likes, as they scurry about on their nocturnal wanderings. Meanwhile the birds are quiet, still, up high and far less tempting.

Let them eat cat

I was fascinated by a section of the documentary showing a group of middle-aged Aboriginal women tracking a feral cat. It seems that cats have wiped out much of the Aboriginals' traditional prey. Astoundingly, now they eat cats instead! The women were helping a biologist, and they were amazingly skilled at tracking and catching a feral cat. When the biologist had finished with it, the women roasted the cat then sat around the cooking fire eating its various bits with their hands. Mmmm, cat drumstick.

*This controversy was stirred up by the SPCA's policy of not putting down stray cats, but desexing and re-releasing them into the wild. There are also places where people feed these re-released cats. Give them a kind, lethal injection and donate the money to pest control efforts, I say.

26 May 2015

Only poor people have clothes lines

Recently I learned something that astounded me: a clothesline (for hanging washing out to dry) is a sign of poverty in the United States. Clotheslines are really things of the past, they said.

I was told this by some new neighbours who are from San Francisco. Having lived here for a year already, they realised that all New Zealanders have clotheslines, so could tell me this without feeling as though they were insulting me. For they must have noticed me hanging out our clothes... like a downtrodden wife stooping under the burden of poverty, according to their social conditioning.

For the record, we have three clothes-drying options: a backyard rotary clothesline, lines under the carport, and a drying rack that can be moved around to catch the warmest, sunniest spot.

My first, unchecked reaction (which went on inside me silently and invisibly, I hope) was "How lazy and irresponsible, how can you defend using clothes dryers all the time that run on electricity that is probably generated by burning fossil fuels, what wasteful destruction of our planet... rant, rant."

(I should emphasise that they were not saying they used clothes dryers in winter when it was too wet and cold to get the washing dry. They don't even have lines to hang it on, summer or winter.)

Then I realised that this was another of those rare opportunities that has come to me recently. I was given a glimpse of standard western culture as it truly, crazily is. Mostly we live inside it, so we can't see it.

To me, in many ways New Zealand has a very American, energy-hungry, consumerist, uber-comfortable way of life*. What we don't have is their cheap energy: I gather that at about 35 cents per kilowatt hour, our electricity is roughly 4 times more expensive than theirs, and our gas prices are also about four times higher. So most of us haven't slid into the central-heating, year-round clothes dryer, leave-lights-on mode. We're precluded from that aspect of Western culture by the shock of our $300 power bills.

So what would a non-Westerner, or a Westerner from long ago, be astounded at me for doing? Here are some I've figured out so far:

  • not having aged parents living with me
  • forcing my babies to sleep in a cot in a separate room to me
  • buying cheap Chinese-made clothes for my children (sometimes)
  • driving a car too often
  • habitually sitting in a chair and therefore failing to squat, so that like most Westerners I can't go to the toilet in the bush without danger of toppling over. This seems like a minor inconvenience until you think of the resulting tight achilles, hamstrings and lower backs that have lead to an epidemic of biomechanical problems (e.g. bad backs).
  • wearing shoes that are so stylishly narrow in front that my big toes deform to point inwards, creating bunions and much money for podatrists and supportive granny-shoe makers (actually mine don't but I see it everywhere, it's rife)
  • eating meat most days (I was abandoning this practice until my son developed a belly problem that means he can't eat beans and lentils, aaaghh!)
  • staring at an engaging screen instead of enjoying my friends and family, or perhaps an extra hour of sleep
  • Having a reasonably big fridge (not a double-door job, but adequate for four people). When I lived in the UK I was constantly irritated by their tiny waist-high fridges. The only freezer space was a little ice box at the top that could take maybe one large packet of frozen peas. It seemed like an impossibly antiquated way to live... which is probably how hanging out clothes seems to the Americans! (Actually I struggled to find places to dry clothes outside in the UK too.)
So I keep asking myself what other health, soul and planet-wrecking practices do I engage in that I can't see because everyone else is doing it too?

Today Anna made a quill and did her homework with it.
The ink is food colouring.
*Does this sound anti-American? I don't mean it to be. The people from the United States that I have met, in the US itself, in the UK and in NZ, have been polite, charming, eloquent, and smart. That includes my neighbours.
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