Friday, July 25, 2014

Green and Thrifty

This one I call 'Decorating With Weeds'. The ivy and the rosemary are both plotting to overtake the driveway. When I stand on the front steps I can feel them looking at me. In a considering kind of way... so I rip them up by the roots and  decorate the house with them. No plant plots at me and gets away with it. 

In the green and thrifty category this week, wait for it, I .... sewed on a button. I know, I work so hard at being an eco warrior. BUT, sewing on this button, a job that I have been putting off for weeks now, increased Rosy's stock of school shirts from two to three, which means no more emergency late night washes and tumble dries when she runs out of school uniform. A win for make do and mend, and also for the button jar, which nearly always comes through. Whenever I have to throw out an unsalvageable piece of clothing, I always cut off the buttons. And then generally Posy uses them for 'craft'. But sometimes there is a suitable one left over.

On the cooking front, I have been experimenting with sugar-free baking. Today, at Posy's request, I made blueberry scones, using the last of the frozen PYO blueberries from last summer. Scones traditionally contain no sugar, but then you eat them with jam and cream. In ours, the blueberries contained enough of a hint of sweetness, so we ate them hot with butter. Posy, her friend, her friend's sister, her friend's mum, Rosy, The Girl and myself all declared them a winner. Unfortunately we have now run out of blueberries until January, but a vote was taken to try date scones next week.

On advice from lovely commenters Judy and Miss Maudy from the last post, I made some granola without sugar. I used this recipe of The Girl's, which has always been successful and highly sweet. I left out the golden syrup and brown sugar, and increased the coconut oil to 3Tbs, and guess what? It is fantastic. It doesn't clump together without the sugar, and instead of a sweet hit, it is buttery/salty/nutty/datey (that would be from the dates I suppose). You know, without that knockout blast of sweet that is in so many daily foods, I think I am beginning to actually TASTE a lot of subtle notes in foods that I didn't really notice before..

My green and thrifty triumph in the kitchen this week has been to ban all processed cereals from the breakfast cupboard. The children ate the last of the rice bubbles and cornflakes and then I declared I wasn't buying any more. Firstly because they are highly processed, and not nutritious, second because they are so tasteless the children always add honey to them anyway, third, because they are ridiculously expensive for what is essentially a nutritional filler. Now the cereal containers are all filled with porridge oats, rice and lentils. I also moved the jars of ingredients for granola into the breakfast cupboard so it looks like there is actually something to eat in there. Incidentally Posy wept and raged for two days at this further instance of her mother's inhumanity and general evilness, but I ignored her.

Posy's new favourite breakfast, when she actually consents to eat something, is an egg pancake - an egg whisked up with cream, poured into a frying pan that is sizzling with a knob of butter, and left to set for a minute, then flipped. It is essentially scrambled eggs that haven't been scrambled. In fact, that is how it came to be a 'thing' in our house. Mummy set out to scramble an egg and got slightly distracted. 'Oops, sorry darling, your scrambled eggs... aren't. Oooh, look, Mummy made you a lovely egg pancake.'

In other news, the sun has been shining all week, and I have dried all the washing outside, including three sets of sheets and all the towels. Freezing sunshine. Takes two days on the line to dry, and comes in smelling of cold AND sunshine. Not sure how that is possible, and quite likely I am imagining it, but it makes me happy not to have a houseful of draped laundry. And saved three loads of tumble drying, because I still haven't worked out how to dry sheets inside when it is raining.

I made arrangements to car pool hockey practice with another family. So I will only have to freeze half to death at practice once a fortnight now. Unfortunately there is still some child-engendered expectation that I be present at all the games. Sigh.

Oh, and I know you'll love this one. Today, for the first time ever, I walked to the gym. Yes, outrageous I know. Took me six minutes. I cringe every time I drive to the gym. It is so wrong on every level. In my defence, my gym buddy and I usually arrive at the gym at six in the morning, when it is dark, and have to be home post-haste afterwards to get the children out of bed for school. However, gym hour has now been officially moved to the middle of the day, and so now I can add 14 minutes a day of brisk walking to all that weightlifting (yes, I know that maths doesn't add up, well spotted, but walking home it is all up hill. And I am a bit tired..)

Then, oh the shame, this is my could-do-better confession. While I was on a roll with timing things, I timed my shower. Twenty minutes of lovely, lovely hot water. I realise this is BAD. VERY BAD. Not only will I deplete the world of its limited hot water resources, but I will get very wrinkly. Or wrinklier, as Posy would no doubt point out. Being as I never venture into actual sunshine, I have to conclude that all current wrinkles stem from my hot water habit. But hot water is so lovely, and cures most ills of the mind, body and soul. And there are no children arguing near me in the shower. In fact, the only drawback to showers that I can think of, apart from the skin damage of course, is that you can't read under one. But you can declaim poetry loudly. Should you want to. Still, all very bad, and must do better. So next week I ought to be able to report an improvement. Maybe 19 minutes? Updates to follow.

Over to you, my lovelies. Tell me about the highs and lows of your thrifty green week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Confessional (Makes Us Feel Better)

OK, so let's get cosy and start today's confessional - who has some eating habits that give them grief? Who has children whose eating habits give them grief? I'll start shall I? The answer to both questions is YES and YES.

Jess and I both mentioned our NEED for sweets in the comments in the last post. Such a sweet tooth as I have, I find it quite difficult to finish a meal without something sweet. Not surprising, as it is an evolutionary quirk to crave sugar. Sweetness indicates calories, and a craving for calories was a definite evolutionary advantage, especially for children growing up in a world where every calorie counted toward survival. I don't know if you have noticed, but there are enough calories to go round for all of our middle class children, and also their mamas. Do you know, last night I read an extraordinary statistic - there are 1 billion malnourished people in the world, and 2 BILLION overweight people. I read this to my kids and asked them to do the math. What is wrong with us all that we can't balance that statistic out?

Several years ago I was 10kg heavier than I am now. I am currently 6kg heavier than I was when I first remember ever stepping on a scale, when I was pregnant with my first baby at 22. I probably don't want to go back to the 49kg I was then, but I could easily lose another 3kg to get my proper waist back (I am also very short, with tiny bones. At 52kg I would still be well within the 'healthy weight' guidelines for my height, so all you motherly types out there need not worry. Including my sister-in-law, yes, I am looking at you Aly!). I am beginning to think about weight as a 'green' issue, and also a social justice issue. I didn't gain 15kg by eating a mainly vegetarian diet with the occasional grass fed local meat, free range eggs and local dairy, whilst walking everywhere or riding a bike. I gained 15kg by sitting on the couch every night after dinner, eating a packet of chocolate biscuits with The Man while watching telly. And driving the kids everywhere in the car, and eating all their left overs, and teaching them to bake cakes instead of dinner. Also eating take away, and fish fingers, and ice cream. And peanut butter toast. Lots of peanut butter toast, because it doesn't require cooking. In other words, eating a pretty standard Western diet. And even though we always ate our vegies and provided a reasonably nutritious diet for the children, it wasn't a way of living that caused us to be bursting with health and vitality. Also, driving the children to soccer and ballet provides them with exercise, but not their mama. Oops.

And let's look at just one packet of chocolate biscuits from an ethical point of view. Plastic wrap, will not break down for hundreds of years in landfill. When it finally does, it breaks into tiny, tiny pieces of plastic that are absorbed by bugs and worms and other organisms, and nobody really understands what that does to them. Probably not a lot of good, but who knows? Inner plastic tray that can be recycled once, into a plastic bench or something, but when that bench wears out? Can't be recycled again (I actually don't know why this is so. Probably something to do with science or technology. Not my areas). Chocolate harvested by who? Possibly indentured child labour, children sold by parents or guardians to keep the rest of the family alive. Enormous cacao plantations owned by wealthy landlords displacing local agriculture in Africa and South America. Other ingredients from all over the world shipped to a central factory to be processed and packed. Have you noticed Cadbury's is now exploiting economies of scale by only making one product at each of its factories? Our Tasmanian factory only makes Milk Tray chocolates, as far as I know. Our chocolate biscuits are now made in England, and shipped here. And most of us will buy our chocolate biscuits from a giant supermarket chain, which will be zipping its profits out of the community to its owners and shareholders, as well as zipping all its products around the country and the world in giant trucks. Even knowing all this, I still do occasionally buy a packet of chocolate biscuits. Not very often though. Often not for a year at a time. I find plenty of other sweet things to finish a meal with though, mostly baked by my lovely daughters.

Even though we are officially avoiding sugar, it being the last day of the school holidays yesterday I gave the green light to baking chocolate cookies, and also, a lemon meringue pie. It is all in the house, RIGHT NOW, whispering sweet nothings to me from fridge and pantry. Mostly though, recently, there has been absolutely nothing sweet in the house except dried fruit and honey. After a meal I have been meditatively munching on a handful of delicious organic sultanas from the Riverlands (thank you South Australia), or a couple of dates. I need to really pay attention and tell myself that I am eating my treat now, so that my mind registers it. Have you noticed how gobbling food mindlessly causes your brain not to notice that you have eaten? Or is that just me? Anyway, reading while eating is a bad idea for me! Hilariously, four o'clock munchies are now a bit of a let down around Chez Blueday. A mandarin. An apple. Some nuts. Cheese on a cracker. Two dates. At this point my sugar-crazed mind kind of gives up in resignation and confesses to not being really hungry anymore. This means I am winning. I think.

And what about the children? Well, here are my bad mother confessions. Rosy and Posy refuse to eat breakfast most days. Sometimes they will eat a banana or an orange. There is now no cereal left in the house except porridge oats. They will eat porridge at morning tea time on non-school days. I think their biological clocks are broken. They don't appear to be fading away, and they are still good at maths.  I am inclined to just ignore them. I could faff about making smoothies or something, but likely they still wouldn't drink them. Should I try? There are all those studies about breakfast being so important. But in my mind, if they eat well over the course of a day, they'll be fine. And I refuse to buy cereal and Nutella and fruit loaf just so they will eat breakfast. But if they don't eat breakfast, they don't eat until 11am at school. Tell me, should I try the smoothies? If they love them, I will have to make them every day.... before school. At dawn. Then wash up. Aaargh. Yes, this is all about me..

Also, Posy and The Girl NEVER take fruit to school. Posy will happily eat fruit all afternoon, and takes fried rice with vegies for lunch most days in her thermos. But she hates cut up fruit at school, and won't eat apples. The Girl only ever eats stewed fruit, rarely fresh. She will eat anything else though, including vegies. But will snack on them only if I chop them up and provide dip after school. Again, it's all up to me, the pressure, the pressure.. if any of you have fantastic, tried and true dip recipes, based on actual vegies or beans, would be very grateful. Even writing this down has helped me see - if I want the children to eat in a certain way, then it is up to me to facilitate that. And it will continue to involve hard work. I don't think there is any getting away from that. Darn.

Today, the girls took yesterday's chocolate cookies, and crackers from a plastic packet to school. Only one of them took fruit. Practically the only plastic packets left in the cupboard are from the crackers. Is there an easy way to make crackers? I have seen recipes, but has anyone outside of pinterest-world actually made them? You know what my problem is? My crusading idealism runs far ahead of my technical and practical abilities. Or even my desire to possess technical and practical abilities! I am much better at reading and writing about the problems of the globalised food chain than making crackers:)

Go on then, tell me your secret vices. And tell me your worries about what the children are or are not eating.. I promise you'll feel better..

Oh, forgot to say, every week when I go to the whole food shop, I buy chocolate covered cherries at enormous expense, and eat them all myself while reading a novel. They are organic and fair trade, but I am sure they come from the other side of the world, Tasmania not being a noted producer of cacao, and I DON'T CARE.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Could Do Better

Just LOOK how well we are doing on the 'no sugar' front! You can take the baking away from The Girl, but you can't take the baker out of The Girl. Banning the baking has been hard on the poor pet, but a holiday sleepover with her 'girls' saw her spending half a blissful day in the kitchen in preparation. I came home to find the kitchen table covered with chocolate butterflies 'curing' on baking paper resting in the centre of a number of large open books, to give the butterflies that 'just about to fly away' effect. There was icing and chocolate on every surface, piping bags full of chocolate and icing, and mixing bowls full of batter, all being 'cleaned' efficiently by a certain small sister.

I have been contemplating the effects of our new 'not so much' sugar lifestyle. First, it is very, very difficult not to give in to the whining. I don't think I have ever realised how much we equate sugar with love, comfort and happiness. And how much certain children will attempt to capitalise on that. And what a very easy touch I am for emotional manipulation. I swear I will never take Posy to the supermarket EVER AGAIN. If from this you deduce that the sugar sometimes still jumps from the shelf into the trolley, you would be absolutely correct.

Second, how much sugar there is everywhere, everyday, available for consumption at every turn. One day last week there was an article in our local paper quoting a WHO researcher who was becoming concerned at the 'normalisation' of sugar in children's diets. What was once maybe a once-a-week treat is now becoming an everyday snack - chocolate, lollies, cakes, biscuits. Interestingly, this was also something touched on in the comments in the last post. When did sugary treats become a lunchbox staple?

Third, I have discovered how awful all that sugar really makes me feel. After a week of eating well, the weekend treats (no, of course I haven't been eating them in moderation. Lemon slice for breakfast covers all the major food groups, surely) make me feel positively unwell. This could be because I am getting quite old and my once cast-iron digestion is beginning to let me down. The children appear to be able to eat cake for breakfast with complete impunity.

Fourth, keeping sugar for a weekend treat makes it just that - a wonderful, precious moment of sweetness, much anticipated and savoured. OK, more savoured if possibly I could resist eating cake for breakfast, but, well, it was there, you know..

Which brings us to point number five - if it is there, we eat it. During the last couple of weeks the dear wee petals have been wandering from fridge to pantry like unquiet shades. 'There is nothing to eeeeeat,' they moan, clanking jars of condiments around in the fridge like Marley's Ghost, hoping against hope that there is something tasty behind the chutney. There is of course - cheese and fruit and vegies and dip and nuts and the odd bit of dried fruit. Mostly they sigh and choose an orange or nibble on a date, or decide they are not really hungry, because they're not, of course. Most of us are never really actually hungry, because we don't go long enough between meals to let our tummies get to growling stage. But there must be something so addictive about sugar. Because I can look at an array of oranges, dates, cheese and capsicum slices and decide I am not hungry, but put a plate of chocolate cake in front of me, and suddenly my appetite returns. I believe this may also account for that mysterious manifestation, the extra 'dessert stomach', where no matter how full you are, there is always room for a little sweet something.. So taking away all the sweet somethings has somehow recalibrated our appetites.

I have been watching (actually listening to, whilst doing something tedious, like cleaning the bathroom) The Men Who Made Us Fat This series of documentaries on the food industry is extraordinarily intriguing. I think the most disturbing thing about it for me is the glimpse into the workings of the corporations who make a great deal of money from processing our food. It made me absolutely determined that the food my family eat will be prepared by me, or the local butcher and baker who I can talk to, and who are passionate about their craft, not by a giant corporation whose passion is for shaving a few cents off  the product and the process wherever they can. Even though I find cooking dreadfully tedious, I am motivated by a great deal of concern about my children's health and well being. The convenience of food-in-a-box is far outweighed by the knowledge that the people who put the food in the box have absolutely no interest in my children's health and well being.

Well, I promised  my latest, and most successful to date, muesli bar recipe. It is actually a cookie, and based on this recipe which Jessie sent to me several weeks ago. True to form, I couldn't stick to the recipe as given, but experimented and tweaked. The original recipe only has two ingredients, coconut and medjool dates. I only ever have the dry dates, so needed to add dried fruit to give the mixture the moisture it needed to clump together. Now I am excited about the potential of using our own dried fruit this summer to make it more of a local production. I also added the sunflower seeds for extra protein. This is a very nutrient and calorie dense cookie - I have been sending them along to school on the days the girls go straight from school to afternoon sport. This is not food for the couch potato (ie me). It is also a very loosely interpreted recipe, and ripe for further experimentation. If you try it, let me know what further tweaks are successful..

Muesli Bar Cookies

Whiz up a couple of handfuls of sunflower seeds in the food processor.
Add a cup of dessicated coconut, a cup of dates, and at least a cup of assorted dried fruit.
Other optional extras may include a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder, sesame seeds, soaked chia seeds, or other tasty tidbits from the pantry.
Whiz it all up until it all clumps together in a dough. If it doesn't clump, add more dried fruit.
Try not to eat all the dough.
Roll into balls, squash down with a fork, bake in a 150C oven for 10-15 mins until they begin to be hard to the touch.
When they are cooled on the tray they will be crispy on the outside and delightfully chewy and moist in the middle.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Worst Mother in the World Bans Sugar

Picture if you will - Posy, head in arms on the kitchen table, sobbing, 'I hate you, I HATE you!', Rosy's friends reportedly labelling me a 'monster', and The Girl, with her back to the pantry, wild-eyed, clutching her cook books.

What has Jo done this time? You may well ask. Apparently it is child abuse. I banned sugar.

I have been reading all the books, trawling through all the websites, even read the World Health Organisation guidelines (yawn). I think we are some of the healthiest eaters I know. We cook everything from real, actual, raw, local, often organic food. We don't buy take away or processed food, other than the odd jar of mayonnaise, curry paste, or seaweed rice crackers, the occasional muesli bar or box of cereal. And yet... and yet... there was still too much sugar in our diet. WHO guidelines recommend no more than 6 teaspoons for women, 3-4 teaspoons for children per day. We don't need any at all of course. In fact, apart from honey, most of our ancestors didn't start eating sugar at all until about 250 years ago. That is eight short generations for our bodies to adapt to a foodstuff that interrupts and plays havoc with every bodily system it comes in contact with. Hormones, appetite control, energy levels, fat metabolism, brain activity - you name it, sugar will mess with it.

And so here we are, with me trying to encourage healthy eating, but at the same time baking cookies, cakes, desserts, jams, chutneys, delicious home-made chocolate syrup.. you know, because I love my kids, want them to have happy home-cooked food memories... want to set them up to gain weight, not concentrate at school, and use sugary treats as an emotional comfort crutch?!?

So I banned sugar. For a month. Just to see if it would kill us (spoiler alert - we are not dead yet). It has been two weeks. While I was on a roll, being evil monster mother of the year, I also banned milk as a beverage, and bread as a daily food. I did this because Posy was beginning to subsist on just those two foods, and I want us all to eat a LOT more vegetables and decent protein. She gets cheese sticks (cut from an actual real cheese block with my own fair hands) and local nothing-added-but-actual-fruit yoghurt, but only after she has eaten a fruit and a vegetable. Oh, I am mean.

But not unreasonable. I know I can't police what the girls eat outside the house, so just as an exercise, I added up all the sugary treats I KNOW they have eaten in the last week (who knows what else they haven't confessed!). So, from last Thursday until now - The Girl's Biology and Chemistry classes have a 'bring a cake' roster for the last lesson every fortnight, which means (at least) one slice of cake every Friday. Sunday, The Man took us out for lunch at a local cafe. We didn't have dessert, but the girls had iced chocolates, and Posy had organic raspberry fizz, full of lovely organic sugar, quite probably more than her 3tsp/day allowance (a can of soft drink contains 5-6 tsps sugar). Monday Posy brought home a lollipop she had won in her class at school for being awfully good at something (I forget what, I am a bad mother, but we already know that). Tuesday, Posy's friend's birthday, she brings mini-Malteser packets for everyone in the class, and also a party bag full of lollies for Posy, who missed the party because she was sick on Saturday. Rosy has her Food Technology class (fancy name for plain old Home Ec), and brings home a plate of M&M cookies. We all have one for afternoon tea, and one goes in the girls' lunchboxes next day. Wednesday, Rosy has a class end-of-term party, and Posy dances out of her flute lesson with a chocolate frog 'because she worked so hard' (music teacher code for, 'I love all my students dearly, but I am so grateful to see the back of you all for two weeks, here's to the holidays, now where is my armchair and that nice bottle of red?'). And here we are at Thursday, and The Girl has escaped to Sydney on a school art trip no doubt determined not to let a single grain of sugar pass her lips (!!), and it is the last day of school for Rosy, so possibly more tired teachers will be parting with sugary tokens of gratitude, and same for Posy tomorrow, all of which means.....

.....even if I never bake another cookie or buy another gram of organic, fairly traded sugar EVER, the children will probably exceed their WHO guideline daily intake of sugar several days a week, mostly from those institutes of learning which put so much emphasis on healthy eating. Ha. So a) don't feel too sorry for them, especially if they are whining in your vicinity, and b) this means I never have to bake again.

Ironically, the only day they didn't have sugar from an outside source last week, I broke down and let The Girl cook dessert - chocolate pudding and ice cream - because Daddy was home. It was the first time we have had ice cream in the house for months. So, clearly, I am no purist, and also  - how incredibly easy it is to put a 'little' sweetness into our diets, it just creeps in until it is in every meal.

Pre-sugar-ban diet, children
Breakfast - Choice of: Home baked muesli (baked with honey or brown sugar), or weet-bix or plain cereal like cornflakes with honey and milk. Toast with jam (or Nutella for treats!). Fruit toast. Fruit. Yoghurt. Stewed fruit. Glass of milk.

Recess - Home baked treat. Fruit. Popcorn and choc chips. Dried fruit. Crackers. Muesli bar.

Lunch - Salad and Meat Sandwiches, wraps, or home baked rolls and scrolls.

After school snack - Fruit, Home baked goodies, glasses of milk, cereal with honey and milk Cheese and crackers. Popcorn. Dried fruit.

Dinner - Home made, fairly nutritious something with vegetables, lots of pasta and home made bread. Dessert on the weekends. Posy often ate the bare minimum, then snacked on cereal and milk afterwards if no-one caught her.

No sugar diet, children
Breakfast - Choice of: scrambled eggs, boiled eggs. Porridge with stewed fruit and plain yoghurt, or yoghurt with fruit, no added anything else (there is only one local yoghurt sold in only a couple of outlets around town, that doesn't have sugar, or sugar substitutes in it). Rosy usually just eats a banana. Posy sometimes refuses to eat anything at all. Being such a bad mother, I have let her out the door without breakfast occasionally. So far she has not fainted or suddenly started getting Ds in Maths. I do sympathise. I can rarely eat breakfast before 9.30 either.

Recess - Seaweed rice crackers. Fruit. Vegie sticks. Cheese sticks. Pop corn. Limited dried fruit.

Lunch - The Girl, being in Grade 12, and therefore highly privileged, with coveted membership of the Senior Common Room, has access to a microwave, so takes dinner leftovers. Rosy takes dinner leftovers or soup in a thermos, and Posy, creature of habit, takes fried rice with vegies every day in her thermos. Unless there is chicken soup available, but only chicken noodle, not that horrid chicken and vegetable soup, Mummy. Just NO. Sometimes she buys lunch at school when it is chicken soup or Singapore noodles day.

After school snack - Fruit, cheese and crackers, cheese sticks, yoghurt, stewed fruit, dried fruit, vegie sticks and dips. Pop corn. Nuts.

Dinner - Home made, lots of vegies, hardly ever pasta or bread. We have home made potato wedges with soup now, instead of bread, and are getting through a lot more basmati rice than pasta, but really, just eating a lot more vegetables. We may re-instate one dessert a week.

So, tell me lovies. What do you think about this? Am I being too extreme? Does anyone else not eat sugar at home? Yesterday, one of my friends mentioned she was on a high fat, low carb, no sugar diet, and when she heard I'd banned sugar, she was very excited at the thought that she could use peer pressure to introduce the idea to her two girls, same age as Rosy and Posy, so I am afraid I will be even more heartily disliked by small children everywhere soon... help! I need some support!

Next time - a recipe for a successful, no-added sugar muesli bar substitute, based on a recipe sent to me by the lovely Jessie some time ago. Excellent fuel for those after school, pre-hockey training moments..

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Accidents

Today a bee flew onto my fingers as I was drinking tea in the winter sunshine. Now, I am not afraid of bees - I happily co-exist with them in the garden and they buzz past my ears as I prune the rosemary hedge or the lavender - BUT, I have never had one walk on me before. Well, not without me screeching and flinging it off. Today I held my breath and let the bee crawl in and out of my fingers. I think it was curious about the blue flowers on my mug. I watched its tiny, wiggly, furry body, its questing antennae, and waited gingerly for a sting. But there was no stinging, only tickling, then it flew away.

In a novel, that would be a metaphor for a newly awakened sense of trust in the universe. In my actual life I was tremendously proud of my bravery. I let a bee WALK on me.

Then I spent some time contemplating some seeds that have recently started appearing in my yard. This is the first year I have seen them. They are like tiny, perfect eyebrows. Someone, somewhere, has planted an eyebrow tree.

In other garden news, I have spent the week removing all traces of summer. Due to spring laziness, or as I prefer to call it, the Better Late Than Never school of gardening, I planted my spring garden in January, which is the equivalent of planting in July all you Northerners. Planted seeds, mind you. Anyway, due to my, ahem, scientific experimentation, I can now assure you that planting zucchini, beans, tomatoes and basil in the middle of summer will still provide a splendid crop, as long as you are willing to wait for food until late Autumn. Oh, and only if you plant close enough to the house to avoid frost. Only the cherry tomatoes will ripen, but the others will slowly ripen in the laundry, or even faster in the fruit bowl next to the bananas. So next year, maybe I will plant in Spring (fingers crossed) AND in Summer, when the new plants will take over from the spent Spring planting. I still have about a kilogram of cherry tomatoes on the kitchen bench (in JUNE!) and the very last Grosse Lisse. Last week I used the last fresh zucchini. So there you have it. Extending the season through sheer laziness.

Here are the skeletonised remains of the beans. The baby lettuces growing up underneath them? Last Winter's lettuces that I allowed to go to seed in the pots in spring. I love accidental gardening. This week I will cut the bean plants down at ground level rather than pulling them up, so I don't disturb the lettuce. Then I will plant snow peas between the lettuce babies. Also planted the garlic this week. It has to be in before the shortest day, to get enough time to bulb up nice and plump to harvest at Christmas. So I just squeaked in.

More lovely garden goodness this week - I picked a load of apples from our trees. The leaves are nearly all gone, and the remaining apples are like baubles on a Christmas tree. I kindly share them with the birds. Wattle birds hanging upside down to peck at the apples in the tip-top branches of the apple trees make me and the cats very happy. The birds are framed beautifully in our second-storey front windows; I call it cat TV. Anyway, a week's worth of stewed apple. Yum. Such sweet apples, they didn't need sugar, just cinnamon.

And a friend came for morning tea bringing her home grown limes and mandarins. The mandarins were wonderful, tart-sweet, not bland like the bought ones. I will be impatiently waiting for another year before I have any mandarins, but there are oranges on my trees that I am keeping my beady, greedy eyes on. Not long to wait now.. faith is the substance of things hoped for.. I have great faith in you, my oranges.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Living on the Edge

One of the advantages of schooling over home schooling is that after the children go to school I can do outrageously BAD things without them knowing. Like balancing my breakfast and the laptop on the balustrade above the stairs while huddling over the heater. So this is what living on the edge is like..

Tell me, is daily life a constant struggle for you, or is it only me? Things that make me panic on the inside: making telephone calls, organising pieces of paper such as bills and hockey rosters, needing to buy essential items of sporting equipment or shoes, or book covers, or indeed any of the paraphernalia of daily life for the children. Organising ballet costumes. Aaargh. Following up tradies, or having them traipse around my house, however nice and useful they are. Shopping. Getting in the car again to go and fetch a child or pick one up. Going out, anywhere, ever. Making appointments. Yes, I am a disorganised hermit. Yes, I would happily never leave the house. Yes, I really do want to be Ma in Little House on the Prairie, because even though she had to hand-sew every stitch of her family's clothing and take the insides out of animals before cooking them over an open fire, she only went shopping once a year, and never had to drive the children to hockey.

Life is just way too complicated for me to get my head around most days, and I am continually tempted just to go back to bed. However, I have discovered that I do play a beneficial role in the community. Last week, instead of having my usual nap in the car, I actually went into ballet (because I absolutely HAD to, due to tedious but essential ballet business) and was earnestly telling one of my fellow ballet mums how amazing she is, as she sat there sewing an armful of diaphanous ballet costume, because if I had to sew any ballet-related costume, I would actually DIE, and then I told her why I was there, which was because I was shamefully disorganised and had messed up big in Balletland, and had to confess this to the ballet teacher. And she said to me, 'Oh, I have missed you. I always feel so efficient and talented when you are here.' See, I improve other people's self-esteem by my uselessness, thus rendering it useful. If I became super-efficient and good at things, it would make other people feel bad by comparison, and that would be mean.

I have also made another discovery. I often find myself doing these same things: suddenly and desperately needing a nap, a hot shower, cake or an Agatha Christie novel that I have read twenty five times already. I only just realised this week (because I am a bit slow), that these are all things I find intensely comforting, and that maybe, just maybe, I am using them as a substitute for dealing with whatever very uncomfortable thing I might be avoiding. So these last few days I have found myself gently asking why it is that I feel I need a nap, or to read The 4.50 From Paddington AGAIN. And the answer is usually that I don't want to write an important email, or ring the builder, or deal with an actual emotion. But then, I ask, well, what to do, now that I have admitted I don't want to ring the builder? I still don't want to do it.

And here is another revelation. People talk to each other about all this stuff. And IT MAKES THEM FEEL BETTER. I am rather an introvert, obviously, otherwise I wouldn't wish I was a hermit. But I generally don't act like one around other people. I am deceptively sociable and jolly. I listen well. People like to tell me things, and I love to listen and sympathise, and enter into their difficulties, and it often feels like I am connecting on a deep level, but it is mostly a one way street, because I don't tend to share back, or if I do, not about current difficulties, just past, resolved ones. My current problems I keep close, and ever so usefully, pretend they don't exist. And if I can eat enough cake and take enough naps, the comfort blanket works so well that I can say, 'Fine!' when anyone asks, and actually mean it. Clearly though, not fine. Daily panic. So I am resolving to discuss some actual problems with actual people. Even telling my fellow ballet mum about my stupidity helped. All those old cliches turn out to be true. A problem shared really is a problem halved. And often, the problems I seem to have.. make other people laugh. So, therapy for everyone really..

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Pettle and A Buzz

So, the news that The Man is now semi-permanently posted to a city far, far away for several months means that my single parent status is now more or less permanent as well. Sigh.

But, as Posy wrote in my Mothers Day card - You are the pettles to my flower, the buzz to my bee.

When my day gets a bit miserable, I just need to remember that I am somebody's pettle. Somebody's buzz. Somebody who is relying on me to keep it all together for her.

And, I really just have to crack on and do something. I AM going to clean the house this week. It is getting difficult to see out the front windows.

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