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A Merry Little Christmas Tree

Our Christmas Tree is up!! We used to have a little green one but had to get a new one last year because bumblebees used it for a nest/hive when it was stored in my shed. Really. They later moved out, leaving a few dead bumblebees and a bit of comb-stuff, but the tree wasn’t something I really wanted to use after that. Of course, I had been wanting a black tree, anyway, and the bumblebees provided the excuse to get one 🙂

We always make our own decorations, and  the back-story for our home-made decorations goes like this:

Back in 2005, I’d just got back to my home town and had only just found a job and was still getting myself out of credit card and overdraft hell, thanks to my time in expensive Wellington doing expensive art at expensive art school. I’m not moaning about it– it was the best 18 months of my life. I am just rather allergic to credit card interest (freeload, everyone, freeload!!) and I’d never had an overdraft before (or since). So, that first year, we got a real Pine Tree and a couple of cheap packets of origami paper, found some beads and fishing wire and made ornaments for it. They were cheerful colours like orange and blue and green and yellow. Here is 2005’s tree (please excuse the photo quality) (see the goldfish? I made that):

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They were pretty hideous, really, but they were cheap, and satisfying to make. We planned to be a bit richer the next Christmas and make new ones out of prettier paper. We kept some of our fiddlier (but sturdier) originals, though, and these I painted to match our new colour scheme.

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We also got a fake tree, which is simpler with the cats and the small space and the ants. Side note: we discovered that one cannot hang candy canes on the tree in this city. The ants discovered them– even though they’d never been seen in the lounge before– and then ate their way into the canes and got stuck. Or perhaps they were in carb comas. When we discovered them, the candy canes were studded with black things sticking out all over. Truly gross.

Moving on…

We got our ideas out of library books and internet sites. Here are a few examples:

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A couple of our creations weren’t strong enough to survive storage gracefully– paper will only put up with so much. I had larger editions of these but they looked somewhat mashed so they had to go 😦 These ones will have to be retired soon, as well.

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We also discovered that double-sided tape is no good in the long-term. These guys had to be retired this year.

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Another time, I’d use glue. We also made some fairly random things, like a cresent moon, just for fun. The only thing on the tree that we didn’t make is the angel– we got that from Trade Aid. One day, we’ll get inspired and make one…

This is our black tree this year.

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The bronze paper doesn’t show up well, and with  the retirement of a few more decorations, it’s high time we made some more. At the moment, we’re thinking beads and buttons and wire to add to all our paper and bead creations. They’ll be more durable, anyway.

Do you make your own tree ornaments? We’re still looking for ideas, so feel free to share 🙂

My garden– the End of Spring

Today I thought we’d have a look around my garden…

I rent a little brick house that was originally a granny flat (but for a bloke) ,which is situated on a tiny pocket of land. It has a little lawn with no fence and a small garden out the front and a courtyard with a narrow garden by the fence out the back. Neither garden gets much sun, so I don’t use them for much except as a home to some of my shade-loving potted plants, and a place to dump some of my sulking herbs. People say you can grow rosemary and sage in pots. I disagree– or rather, my plants do. The sage limped along, growing the tiniest leaves in the world and the rosemary just looked BAD until I dumped them out there. Within weeks of their transplant, both were looking better, and the sage had produced giant leaves and flowers, if you please. The rosemary has quadrupled in size in a year. I felt a sense of betrayal– I’d tried so hard to keep them alive and they had shown no appreciation at all.

Here’s the traitorous sage, flowering away.

In reality, there is a companion-planting synergy thing at work here: sage and rosemary grow crazily well together.

Moving on…

My courtyard has a picnic table in it and I have a potted garden out there. I incorporate the table to get the 6-8 hours of direct sunlight that most fruit and vege plants need to do their thing successfully.

This year I’ve been experimenting with ‘square foot gardening’ principles. So far, the plants I’ve potted up with vermiculite and peat moss (yes, I know it’s not sustainable, but neither is petrol and I’m only needing one installment of peat moss) mixed with compost seem to be happier than last year’s ones. I think they’re appreciating having their moisture retained. They don’t need as much water, either.

I have been also been experimenting with how to replenish the compost so I don’t have to buy new stuff all the time. Last winter I tipped my used compost into a bottomless barrel and added horse poo, sawdust, some ashes, and the chopped up remains of things like the tomato plants that I’d grown over the summer. It worked OK I think, but my tomato plants really took off after I mulched them with chopped up stinging nettles.

My brother’s property has a few lovely patches of stinging nettles and I am working on him and my dad, trying to convince them to leave them where they are because nettles are good for the garden. You can eat them, too, but I’m not that keen…

I’ve been gardening in pots for a few years, now, and have over 20 pots and three trough-things. Here’s a round-up of what is out there:

There are two blueberries, three raspberry-type things and a strawberry patch under bird netting. I only got the raspberries and blueberries last year, so I’m pretty excited about getting my first berries, and am very unwilling to share with the blackbirds 🙂

I have six tomato plants (four from saved seed and two I was given) this year, and nine pea plants (from saved seeds). You can see four of my tomato plants in this shot:

I have two artichoke plants, and have eaten five artichokes in total. They’re so interesting to look at, and tasty, too!

I have a lemon tree that thinks it is going to set heaps of fruit. I’m going to limit it to two to per bunch.

There is a pot of calendula (featured in a previous post), and a trough with garlic and spring onions in it. I’m growing the spring onions from the cut-off ends of shop-bought ones. They are pretty slow-growing, but they are coming along fine.

There are also some eggplant, pumpkin and a zucchini seedlings I’m raising for my SIL:

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In addition to fruit and veg, I have a variety of herbs. There is French tarragon, chives, parsley, oregano, lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint, peppermint, lavender and a bay leaf tree, in addition to the thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram and borage that are in the front garden. I also have a pot of salad greens that went straight to the flowering stage (will be starting over) and a comfrey plant. I’m growing chamomile and chickpeas, but they’re babies on my windowsill, yet. Here’s the chick pea:

I planted some from my pantry after reading about growing them on James Wong’s website. I planted six but only one was successful. I’m pretty impressed, really, and am trying again, as I’d like to have two plants. I’ve got The Homegrown Revolution coming to me in the post. Once I’ve got it I’ll probably add other interesting plants to my collection. Can’t wait!

Not everything I try works, though. I’m trying to grow coriander but I’m not having a whole lot of luck, even though I’ve broken open the seed pods and whatnot. Likewise the angelica I’m attempting to germinate: no sign of it, though I put the seeds in the fridge like you’re supposed to. I’m freezing more seeds now, to see if that helps.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of my garden. One day I will have a bit of land so I can have some fruit trees- my courtyard is pretty full up, so I can’t really even have dwarf ones in pots 😦 For now, however, I enjoy trying to grow new things and then staring at the results several times a day. It is a simple pleasure, but those are the best kind…

The Geek Book

On Monday I had a day off (Yay!!) and my sister is on holiday, so we drove to Waikanae and caught the train ($14 return, after 9am or all day on the weekend and the car park is free. Way cheaper than driving) to Wellington. My sister has exhausted the second-hand bookshops in our town, and Things she Needs aren’t coming up on her TradeMe watch lists, so she had an ambition to look at Wellington second-hand bookshops. I had remembered there was a giant one somewhere around the centre of the city: I lived in Wellington for 18 months, once, but I’m sure I spent the whole time with my head in a paper-bag, because I don’t know where things are at all, down there. (Can anybody say ‘geographically challenged’? That’s me.)

More by good luck than any clear idea where we were going, we quickly came across Arty Bees Bookshop

We walked in and, oh, the exclamations of delight! My sister dove at the sci-fi/fantasy section and got down to some serious browsing, aided by what I call The Geek Book.

The Geek Book lives in her handbag. It is an old-fashioned address book– one of those little books with an alphabetized index. She tells me it was quite hard to find one, because most people store contact details electronically these days.

Inside The Geek Book are listed, under the appropriate letter by author, book titles she wants to buy. A fellow book-geek gave her the idea, and she says it saves her from the annoyance of accidental double-buys. I notice she also jots down the cheapest price she can get the book new– probably from Good Books International, which has free shipping– so she doesn’t accidentally waste money. Once she has found and purchased the book, she crosses it out.

She left the bookshop with eight new lines to draw in The Geek Book and a very happy spring in her step. I have a feeling we will be making much more regular trips to Wellington in the future…

Calendula

I don’t like orange. When I was a child, I even used to pull the orange-flowering plants out of my mother’s garden. She loves orange (and any other bright colour) so she was less than amused…

Over the years, my attitude has mellowed a little, to the point where I could plant some Calendula, for medicinal purposes. Even then, I hoped for yellow or apricot hues rather than orange. As the flowers matured over the winter, I would cut them off and dry them between paper towels on a rack on top of my fridge. It worked perfectly– and I didn’t have to look at them for long. A few weeks ago, I started infusing the petals in apricot kernel oil.

After that, I was very happy to pull up all but one of the plants and plant peas and things. I ignored the remaining plant until today, when I decided to go dead-head it to encourage more blooms– as everywhere in internet-land told me to. I discovered that the spent blooms were pulling an Alien and growing blooms out of their middles:

So weird. I’m sure I didn’t dry all the flowers over the winter but haven’t seen this before. So I will forgive their orangeness in favour of their mutantness. For now.  Also, they will make a good companion for the tomatoes that are flourishing on my windowsill, waiting to be planted out.

Soon I will make a skin-healing-promoting salve out of the infused oil and the circle will be complete 🙂

Best Lint Brush Ever!!!!

When I was in Germany last year, I apparently admired my sister’s lint roller. I don’t really remember this, but it certainly sounds like something I would do. I am always aware of the Cat-Hair Conundrum. We have a black cat and a cream cat. It seems we have gone out of our way to make sure the cat-hair colour-combo that exists in our little house is impossible to hide. The main perpetrator is William.

I often ask (rhetorically) whose idea it was to keep him, anyway, on account of all the FLUFF. My sister ignores the rhetorical nature of the question and reminds me that the keeping of William was totally my idea.

A while ago, we were chatting with our Germany-based sister on Skype, when she waved something at us and said she’s found the lint-roller that I liked in the supermarket and she’s send it over.

Lo, in due time, the parcel arrived. Yesterday, in a fit of enthusiasm, we began our spring-clean by de-fluffing things. It was fun, and I decided that this deserved a blog post. Here’s what I like about it: (Please excuse me while I go all Suzanne Paul for a minute.)

1. It is designed to be used in both directions, so you don’t accidentally unload all the lint onto what you are trying to clean.

2. It is self-cleaning, and does this each time you change the direction of use, so you can use a scrubbing motion indefinitely.

3. It collects the lint in the back, so it is mess-free.

I love this lint-brush. If I knew where to find more, I’d import them and make my millions 🙂

Opinion: Poetry, Art and The Emperor’s New Clothes

The starting point for this post is that I have been thinking about Florence and the Machine, and her new-ish album Ceremonials and how I don’t enjoy it as much as her other effort, Lungs. I have been thinking about what the difference between the two albums is for me. I have decided that, apart from employing an appalling number of clichés in the lyrics in this album, Florence simply takes herself too seriously. Gone is the fun; gone are the little songs full of sly dark humour and now there are just what I call giant set-piece tracks. I like sweeping drama and complex orchestration and odd instruments and whatnot– as evidenced by the fact that my favourite band is the British Iona (they’re so clever)– but by my reckoning, Florence has gone and fallen into The Trap.

When I was at Art School, I saw The Trap illustrated when my family would come to view our school art exhibitions. They would look at the work of the senior students who had nailed a doll’s head to a plank or thrown toilet paper at a canvas or piled up a mish-mash of junk and just kind of blink.  Afterwards, my brother would carefully balance a pen on top of a coffee mug and, pointing at it, grandly declare: “That’s ART, that is.” And we would all laugh, because, yeah, it was about as ridiculous as what we had just seen in parts of the exhibition. I would point out that the artists had been through a thought process and were probably expressing something deeply meaningful to them through their work. I would also agree with them that I didn’t see such expressions as ART, though, because they excluded the viewer.

I like to experience the creative endeavours of others and I always feel free to interpret them in my own way. Sometimes I want to know what the creator was thinking; sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t matter if it says fifty things to fifty viewers. The important thing is that the work speaks.

"Everywhere"

My most non-figurative painting to date. It’s basically a branch and flames and a word- ‘everywhere’ . Inspired by Rich Mullins’ song ‘Everywhere I go I see You’ (meaning God). I was thinking about Moses and the burning bush, among other things. I was also experimenting with what I know of colour theory.

Sometimes the work simply says I know something you don’t and you are excluded because you don’t belong and you’re not smart enough or educated enough and, anyway, I am enjoying feeling superior. That shows an artist who has fallen into The Trap. Their work is not ART because you can’t have a conversation with an egomaniac; all artistic expression is, at its core, a two-way conversation.

Poetry is a type of creative expression that is problematic for me– to the extent that I do my best to avoid reading most of it at all costs. I think I just don’t have the right kind of brain to appreciate poems. I once offended a woman because she wanted me to read her poem and tell her what I though of it. I refused, explaining that I probably wouldn’t appreciate it and she probably wouldn’t like my opinion of her little creation. If I read a modern poem, I usually want to throw up my hands and ask why I broke my rule and wasted minutes of my time when I know better.

There are poems that are very famous and are just a collection of words that don’t mean anything to anyone except the poet (probably). Further, there are rafts of academics who have (somehow) secured funding to analyse these creations and then bore us with their findings. All I can think of is ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. The Very Superior Poet is probably laughing in and toasting the gullibility of the ‘elite’ who are pretending to see where there is nothing at all, for fear of appearing uncultured.

Some poems I do like, however. Most of them are by Lewis Carroll and are in Alice In Wonderland or Through The Looking-Glass. They are kind of rambly and kind of nonsensical and a bit silly but are not without meaning. I don’t know if what I get out of them matches Carroll’s (opium influenced) intent, but it doesn’t matter. Here ends the post, officially, but if you feel like it, read my favourite poem– tis quite long. Read it aloud. Go on 🙂 (I had a bit of formatting trouble, so verse-breaks are indicated by the change to and from italics.)

The Aged Aged Man (or A-sitting on a Gate) by Lewis Carroll

I’ll tell thee everything I can;

There’s little to relate.

I saw an aged aged man,

A-sitting on a gate.

“Who are you, aged man?” I said.

“and how is it you live?”

And his answer trickled through my head

Like water through a sieve.

He said, “I look for butterflies

That sleep among the wheat:

I make them into mutton pies,

And sell them in the street.

I sell them unto men,” he said,

“Who sail on stormy seas;

And that’s the way I get my bread —

A trifle, if you please.”

But I was thinking of a plan

To dye one’s whiskers green,

And always use so large a fan

That they could not be seen.

So, having no reply to give

To what the old man said,

I cried, “come, tell me how you live!”

And thumped him on the head.

His accents mild took up the tale:

He said, “I go my ways,

And when I find a mountain-rill,

I set it in a blaze;

And thence they make the stuff they call

Rowland’s Macassar Oil —

Yet twopence-halfpenny is all

They give me for my toil.”

But I was thinking of a way

To feed oneself on batter,

And so go on from day to day

Getting a little fatter.

I shook him well from side to side,

Until his face was blue:

“Come tell me how you live,” I cried

“And what is it you do!”

He said, “I hunt for haddocks’ eyes

Among the heather bright,

And work them into waistcoat buttons

In the silent night.

And these I do not sell for gold

Or coin of silvery shine,

But for a copper halfpenny,

And that will purchase nine.

“I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,

Or set limed twigs for crabs;

I sometimes search the grassy knolls

For wheels of Hansom-cabs.

And that’s the way” (he gave a wink)

“By which I get my wealth —

And very gladly will I drink

To your Honour’s noble health.”

I heard him then, for I had just

Completed my design

To keep the Menai bridge from rust

By boiling it in wine.

I thanked him much for telling me

The way he got his wealth,

But chiefly for his wish that he

Might drink to my noble health.

And now, if e’er by chance I put

My fingers into glue,

Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot

Into a left-hand shoe,

Or if I drop upon my toe

A very heavy weight,

I weep, for it reminds me so

Of that old man I used to know —

Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow

Whose hair was whiter than the snow,

Whose face was very like a crow,

With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,

Who seemed distracted with his woe,

Who rocked his body to and fro,

And muttered mumblingly and low,

As if his mouth were full of dough,

Who snorted like a buffalo —

That summer evening long ago,

A-sitting on a gate.

Book Review– Wendly Nissen’s Supermarket Companion

I’ve been making some of Wendyl Nissen’s ‘Green Goddess’ recipes for home cleaning and back-to-basics kitchen-y things for a while, now. I read, several months ago, that she was putting out a book about food additives in supermarket food and that it would include an index explaining the mysterious ‘numbers’ in food additives. I immediately thought: Ooh, must get that. Then, last week, a blogger mentioned that she’d received her copy in the post and that it looked nice in the bookshop, too. I went against my usual MO of wait-for-the-special-or-buy-2nd-hand-or-online-for-cheaper and went to the mall and got it.

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Nissen intends for us to take it to the supermarket in our voluminous handbags so we can check things. To this end it is quite a compact book, if quite a fat one. It weighs 432g, (so a quick comparison reveals it weighs just a bit less than Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games book -paper back edition) so it is quite heavy. I found the binding very tight and had to firmly hold it open while I read it. For supermarket reference, I would prefer a phone app, honestly. Not that I have a phone that can run apps at this point… but, if I did, it would be more convenient than a brick in my handbag. Also, I don’t carry a handbag if I can help it.

As previously stated, I primarily bought the book because of the index at the back. The rest of the book sets out things to look out for in packaged food– The chapter headings include Meat, Chips & Nibbles, Milk & Other Matters, Dips & Spreads, Breakfast, Bread, Meal Solutions, Cakes & Biscuits, Treats, Drinks, and Sugar. Nissen has taken an anecdotal approach to her topic, which saves us from both the overly technical or dramatically breast-beating approaches one can find elsewhere, while making the book very readable as well as entertaining. I have read a number of Nissen’s other books and feel confident that she has done her research, thus saving me a lot of legwork that I would never get around to. She also includes a reading list, should we feel like reading further on these things. I judge it to be well worth the $30 I spent.

Now, as a lifelong (and I mean lifelong– beginning before I could talk) migraine sufferer, over the years I have worked out what I can’t eat and drink. As a general rule, anything brightly coloured or with too many ‘numbers’ in it is not good for me. I never drink soft drinks and I don’t like tea or coffee or alcohol or most fruit juice, so I am severely limited in the beverage department. One thing I do like is ‘Ovaltine Light Break’. It has nineteen ingredients, including eight ‘numbers’ (not counting the two either/or numbers). I usually have one or two of these drinks a day. I was dreading looking up everything in Nissen’s Very Useful (colour coded) Index, as I knew that, should it prove to be full of Bad Things, I’d never drink it again and I’d be left with apple cider vinegar and honey. That’s quite nice, but not very indulgent.

So. Today I got on my Big Girl Pants and got out a piece of paper and listed all the ingredients. I worked out that there is about 11% of every serving that is not milk solids, malt and barley extract, glucose solids or cocoa. Of the eight (or ten) ‘numbers’, all are under ‘no known adverse effects’ except for 951, which is aspartame, an artificial sweetener, and should be used with caution if it can’t be avoided (said me). It is third-to-last on the list, so there must be just a wee bit in there. I can live with that. So I breathed a sigh of relief and blessed my Supermarket Companion for letting me find out I’m not slowly murdering myself with my one indulgent beverage.

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After that, just for kicks and giggles, I had a look at my food colouring. I have three- a red, a yellow and a green. They are for colouring icing on cupcakes, occasionally. Very occasionally as it turns out, as the first thing I noticed was that, while they are all expired, they are all nearly full. The second was that all of them- sourced in the baking isle at the big yellow supermarket– are made of Very Bad Numbers.

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Some might say that the one or two drops used in icing or whatever won’t hurt and they could be right. However, as a voracious reader of recipes everywhere, I’ve been reading Red Velvet Cake recipes and, just recently, Red Velvet Cheesecake. I’ve never made one simply because Red Velvet Cake contains at least 15ml of red food colouring and the Red Velvet Cheesecake called for two one-ounce bottles of red food colouring. I got my OMGs on over that. I could be wrong, but if a cup is eight ounces, one ounce is one-eighth of a cup, and that is two tablespoons or 30 ml, so two of them is 60ml, which is a quarter of a cup. OMG indeed. You would want to be very sure that your chosen food colouring wasn’t 122, 124, 127, or 129. Even 120, which is cochineal and is made of crushed beetle wings and is therefore relatively natural (if a bit gross) is linked to hyperactivity. Plant ones seem to be the better options, but probably won’t give the intense colour these people seem to think is necessary. Why must the cake be violently red, anyway?

So I am left with trying to find a spot on my bookshelf for a very informative and well set-out book– it even has nice illustrations throughout. It is a worthwhile resource for anyone trying to make sensible choices at the supermarket.