Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lemon Verbena Tea

First the lemon verbena grew into a great big bush in the summer. It lives in a half-wine barrel along my front pathway which is fairly protected from the frost. Lemon verbena is a bit fragile and doesn't cope well with hard frost. Then I dried it for a month or so in my garden shed. Then I put it in a box in my front porch in a giant bunch where it greeted visitors for another three months.

The Girl has been visiting for a week during her holidays so one night we sat at the table in front of the fire and stripped all the leaves from the verbena. The age-old women's tradition of talking and working lives on in our dining room.

And when the working is finished we continue the talking, this time with added lemon verbena tea. We tried it with sugar and without, and decided that without is preferable.

 Lemon verbena tea is rich in anti-oxidants, good for indigestion, heartburn, and lowering fevers. It also tastes good and smells divine. If you harvest the whole leaves you don't even need a tea strainer - just throw a few leaves into boiling water then fish them out with a teaspoon when your tea is steeped to your satisfaction.  This makes it a very practical tea for picnics, the office, and all events at which really terrible tea and coffee is served. A tiny pot of lemon verbena leaves stashed in the handbag, and instant, home-grown, hassle-free lemon tea nirvana is possible wherever boiling water is available.

This is my picnic tea tin. It is an old wedding cake slice tin from my granny. Apparently, once upon a time, brides would send slices of wedding cake in small tins to friends and relatives who couldn't make it to the wedding. This is a magnificent idea, and would make it very tempting not to go to the wedding. I mean, wedding cake - that's the best bit of the wedding. This way you would get the cake without having to dress up or travel interstate and sleep on your cousin's lounge room floor.

Anyway, small tin, lemon verbena tea. Hot water. Bliss.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Potting Up Indoor Plants and Dividing Aloe Vera

In the cold days of winter going outside into the garden is not high on everyone's agenda, but there are really a lot of very useful gardening jobs to do in winter, especially on a sunny afternoon. For such a long time I have been meaning to repot some of my indoor plants, and today was the day. First I collected the pots. I am still not buying anything this year if I can possibly avoid it, so I fossicked through my dwindling collection of terracotta pots and found some the right size. I then prowled around the house to see what else I could find, and took down these blue and white Chinese porcelain pots from the top of my bookshelf. They have been up there doing nothing but looking pretty for years, so now it's time for them to do some actual work.

I have a collection of pieces of broken terracotta pots that I keep to use as covers for the drainage holes in pots. These stop the potting mix from falling out of the pots, and also slow down the water as it drains out of the pot, to keep the soil damp for longer.

This is my poor aloe vera plant. I bought it two years ago when I moved to this house, and it has been in its tiny nursery pot ever since. Luckily aloe vera thrives on neglect, and it has grown several babies. It really is time to separate them now though, so I carefully pried the plantlets apart.

Now I have four aloe plants instead of one! I love plants - they are so generous! Two of these plantlets also have tiny babies, so in a year or so I will be able to divide them again. If you are doing this, make sure that each piece has some roots attached.

Here are my potted babies in their new cosy blankets of fresh soil. I love the shiny leaves of the fiddle-leaf fig. It too was living in its tiny nursery pot for over two years, so should make enormous growth as spring comes along. The two devil's ivy plants came from cuttings from my friend Carla. She cut the stem just an inch above and below a leaf. I left them to root in a glass of water, then potted them up in potting mix for a few months. One is now growing a new leaf, and both had roots sticking out of the bottom of their pots, so I knew it was time to pot them on. I gave one back to Carla, one to my friend Lillian who is making a jungle in her bathroom, and kept two to drape down from high shelves. Devil's ivy drapes beautifully in long, leafy vines. Carla's cat kept chewing her plant, which was why she had to trim it. I use about half potting mix and half compost in my indoor plant pots. I find that all potting mix dries out too much.

The aloe vera I potted up in succulent mix, which drains extra well, and is more bark-like than regular potting mix. Ok, so when I said I am not buying anything, clearly I bought potting mix and succulent mix. I would love to learn to make my own. It's on the list. That would eliminate more plastic bags from my life. But it's food really, isn't it? Not things. Plant food..

 I watered all the pots with a solution of seaweed concentrate. Three capfuls of seaweed concentrate to a nine litre watering can full of water. Seaweed concentrate stimulates root growth. While the pots are draining I get out my seashell collection to make a decorative mulch for the aloes. My seashell collection is the result of many years of family trips to the beach, and all those buckets-full that come home with the children. When they get tired of the shells (two days on average) I store them in a big pot in the shed. They make a very nice mulch for indoor plants.

Now to find new homes for the plants indoors. If you bring terracotta pots indoors it is important to remember to use a glazed saucer as terracotta saucers are porous and will ruin the surface you have it on. I have a stack of plates in the back of the cupboard that are chipped or cracked and use them as plant saucers. I am so happy to have repotted my plants at last. It may have taken two years, but it did happen in the end, and now they should all be happy for another two years at least..

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Places To Go..

Just because I don't have a TV doesn't mean I don't ever watch a screen for entertainment. It just means I get to choose from a far greater range of truly inspiring stories with no advertising... Here are my current YouTube favourites:

You will find the Artist as Family blog in my side-bar. I have been intrigued for some time by their back-to-basics lifestyle. They label themselves as 'neo-peasants' and they live in a small, country Victorian town on a quarter acre block and are experimenting with what they can subtract from conventional suburban life (utilities, cars, supermarket shopping, conventional jobs) and what they can add instead to create a fulfilling life (bicycles, foraging, growing food, collecting firewood on their bikes, fermenting, bartering, growing a community of like-minded people).

I keep revisiting this story and I challenge you not to do the same, because it is impossible to take in the full glory of the re-purposed, re-use aesthetic of this richly textured, Aladdin's cave of treasures. This family has made their home in a school bus, but it is the most surprising school bus interior that I have ever seen...

Now, how to introduce this next show, Venetia At Home in Kyoto? Imagine if Beatrix Potter went to live in Japan in a 100 year old traditional Japanese house and created a beautiful garden and pottered about making old-fashioned English crafts like pot-pourri and rose-water. This is just what English woman Venetia Stanley-Smith has been doing for the last thirty years. In her show she also introduces fascinating Japanese craftspeople and discusses their traditions and past with them. Venetia is the kind of lovely, eccentric woman who does what she wants in her own quiet way, who I absolutely aspire to be like one day. These episodes make for a gentle, beautiful interlude on a day when everything seems a bit too much.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sadness Sewn Into the Seams

Asylum seekers being separated from their children at the US border has been a lot of the news lately. It is wrong and inhumane. But there are a whole other category of children separated from their parents as well who have been on my mind lately. These are the 61 million children left in rural China with grandparents, family, in institutions or simply left on their own while their parents work all year in factories in the city. In the largest annual human migration on the planet, at the Lunar New Year millions of people travel back to their villages to see family. For millions of parents this is the only week of the year they will see their children.

This documentary follows one couple on their 40 hour train journey from the city of Shenzen back to the little village where the couple's two children are taken care of by their grandfather. This couple work in clothing factories in Shenzen. They send money back to the village to support their family. They can earn three times as much in the city as in the country. They can't bring their children to the city because they have no residency papers for the city and their children would not be able to go to school there.

The family's farm back at the village is worked only by the old grandfather, who of course cannot keep the farm going by himself. The fields are falling into disrepair. This is farmland which has been farmed continuously for three thousand years in one of the most successful agricultural societies the world has ever known.

This is the reality of the Chinese economy as far I can see - and I would appreciate any thoughts others have on the subject. It is more profitable for China to have its people working in factories than on the land, so workers are lured into the cities with the promise of higher wages, but without any of the privileges of city residency, such as being able to send children to school. When they can't work any more these workers will have to go back to their villages - maybe to take care of the next generation of grandchildren. Where does China's food come from then? Certainly not from family farms any more. China now imports more food than it exports and little villages are no longer self-reliant in food.

In the world's wealthy countries we are implicated in this system because we profit from it greatly. We get lots of cheap stuff from China. Cheap clothes. Lots of them. Cheap cars and toasters. And solar panels. And, well, the list goes on. Again, it is the poor and especially the children of the poor who are being exploited by the wealthy and powerful of the world in a callously unfair system.

And we have bought into it to the extent that even if we want to buy clothes or toasters that are made locally by unexploited workers.. we just can't. The products have ceased to exist.

This is the reason I don't buy new clothes any more. Because they have sadness sewn into the seams.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tiny Lights in the Dark

The last light of the day on the longest night of the year for us in the South. I welcome the dark months. They draw us in to the fires on our hearths, the little twinkly lights and lanterns that we light to keep up our spirits in the big dark. We turn inward and deep down, put ourselves to bed early, read and ponder and gather our thoughts and our strength for the bright months ahead as the earth begins its long journey back to the sun.

This evening I stood outside and watched the light fade. In my city cottage I heard the dull roar of traffic as the city began to empty and all the workers rushed hither and thither back to their warm homes and dinner and light. For a moment I saw all of us humans rushing around like little ants, madly building up our wildly teetering castle of civilisation, while just above us the wide spaces of the sky slowly turn from season to season, as civilisations rise and fall and cities crumble and humans pass away like a mist dissolves in the sunlight.

We have such illusions of grandeur, us tiny humans, as we weave blankets and tents and houses and skyscrapers and rocket ships of technology and wealth and safety and security, but it is all a dream. We have little twinkling lights in the darkness, and that is all.

I think it is good to remember that we are really not that important. We have each other, we have a day in the sun, we have a dark night, we are grateful to be here on the good earth. It is enough.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Green and Thrifty

Birch twigs are wonderfully flammable fire starters.

In green and thrifty news this week I collected silver birch twigs that came down in the last winter gale on the side of the road. I am finding them extremely flammable fire starters. I often walk home with the dog and a large bouquet of birch twigs.

For the past few weeks I have been making extra dinner to.. feed the dog. It occurred to me that dog food per kilogram is more expensive than many of our meals. I read a library book a couple of years ago about home made dog food, which pointed out, reasonably enough, that dogs have been eating human leftovers for millenia, and that pet food has only been a thing for fifty years or so.

I went to a salvage place and found two gorgeous cedar four-panel doors for Builder Matt to chop in half to make two sets of French doors for my back verandah and the little office he is building (when I say 'chop in half' I mean, do excellent craftsman-type magic to make old doors look like something gorgeous from a French farmhouse..). Will add 'after' photos when they are installed, when I have painted all the back wall and architraves. While at the salvage yard I also found an old lock which matches the door beautifully, and even had a key that worked! I love using old things again.

When I ran out of dishwashing detergent I used laundry detergent to tide me over to shopping day. I wouldn't entirely recommend this, but it did the job. Sort of.

I made chickweed pesto out of chickweed from the garden and sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are my pick for all pesto recipes as they are the cheapest of all the nuts and seeds.

I have stayed completely within the grocery budget this week, which is a miracle, due to my not-as-it-turns-out particularly novel system of budgeting with actual cash. I have so many kindred spirits in this system here at Blueday:) I love that I can see the cash dwindling in front of my very eyes, and when the children want more treats I just show them the sad, empty purse with a few lonely little coins jangling at the bottom. Then they go and bake cake instead. I am not sure this plan is going to be at all good for our waistlines.

This morning my neighbour from up the road brought down a bag of Jenny Craig frozen 'treats'. I know, I know. His partner works for Jenny Craig, his freezer was full of them, and he was going to throw them out so he could stash an entire salmon in the freezer instead. Sensible man. Anyway, he thought he would check with us before he threw them in the bin.. because, you know, we say yes to everything:) So now Posy is happy with a freezer full of processed food and I am trying to make myself not read the ingredient labels..

More loaves of sourdough. It is getting better every time I try it. It is so satisfying! I received a very excited email from friend and reader Fran recently about the sourdough she had made from my recipe plus the starter I gave her. She included these gorgeous photos taken by her partner Steve. It looks amazing!

Eating from the garden: kale, silverbeet, beetroot leaves, lettuce, Cape gooseberries, tarragon, sage, parsley, lemons, spring onions. From other people's gardens: rhubarb, limes. From the shed: garlic.
Weeds: chickweed, onion weed (three-cornered leek). Onion weed is a good substitute for spring onions. Although I don't know why you would need a substitute for spring onions as they grow like, well, weeds..

Vegie garden featuring giant, triffid-like spring onions which will go to seed in spring after which I will have approximately seventeen thousand spring-onion plants.

Tell me about your green and thrifty moments this week..

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Life is a Mess, But Also Often Quite Pretty

Hockey child baking cakes amongst the deplorable kitchen mess

This is a tiny conversation in one of the outer galaxies of the internet, but I want it to be a truly useful one, both for me and all who read. We have been discussing in the comments recently about the difference between the face we present to the world, especially on social media, and the dark, ashamed place that we often really inhabit. Can I tell you how much I love the conversations that happen in the comments? So many kind, wise, brave, thoughtful, vulnerable people. I have some rather unconnected but themed thoughts about a few of the insecurities that perfect lives on social media generate for me.

The game: I think that those of us who are women are especially vulnerable to this kind of insidious comparison game. Clearly, everyone except ourselves is living pretty much the perfect life, and the proof? There it all is out there on social media. We are too clever to know that this is true, but somewhere in the depths of our souls, we believe it, because we are convinced that actually, everyone out there has it all together except us. We are the middle-aged lost people who feel that despite decades of parenting and work, and managing to pay the electric bill, that somehow we have failed to adult. But at the same time we don't really want to adult, because it just doesn't seem like that much fun.

Myself: It is excruciatingly uncomfortable for me to expose myself 'out loud'. I think a lot of us grew up in a space where we were encouraged to put our shiny happy faces on for others to see. I have done the same for my children, and regret it now. But they are tough and brave and luckily ignore a lot of what I do and say. I have spent a lot of my adult life learning how to be sociable. I am quite good at it as long as I don't have to sustain it for long. I quickly get out of my depth, and sustaining relationships is tricky. I rely on the kindness of friends, often, to keep relationships going because I am not that great at following up, answering the phone, emails or texts or actually wanting to leave the house. I am even not that good at doing this with my adult children. Although better at it with them than with anyone else (short break in transmission while I call my girl). And my poor mother mostly has to call me, although I am always pleased to hear from her. It's not you, Mum, it's me. I joined Facebook several months ago, but haven't been able to sustain it. All those people saying witty or even just nice things about other people on a daily basis.. and confidently putting it all out there in a format that I can't even begin to decipher. I think I can confidently say I am pretty much a fail at Facebook... but then I roll my eyes at myself, because all the people seem to manage it and run all their creative projects and change the world. And many do it so well with honesty and bravery and vulnerability a well. And here I am walking the dog. 

Parenting: I am consistently at sea about parenting. I have four very different children and think it is unfair that just as I get used to working out how to deal with one child, then I have to turn around and work out completely different ways of relating to another one. Much as this seems an odd thing to say, I love being a single parent. I am a much nicer person now I am not unhappy and emotionally holding my breath all the time. But still, mess and trauma and shouty voices and slammed doors and anxieties and troubles and ill health, too much driving children about, and even worse, teaching children to drive, and concern about studies and schools and worry about adult children and their concerns and difficulties and all the cleaning, such as it is, and all the cooking, such as it is.. sometimes I feel like I am drowning. And yet.. sometimes also I discover that the children are propping me up as well. They have made me stronger and wiser and taught me empathy and conflict resolution as well as turning me into a shouty, whiny haggard person. No, actually, I did that to myself. They just provided the perfect excuse.

Here on Blueday I do not discuss my children's journeys, because their paths are their own. Sometimes I post a photo or a conversation with their permission. If I don't mention them it is not because I don't want to share the difficulties of parenting with you, it is because I can't do it without co-opting their stories. We are normal, middle-class citizens with an average load of difficulties and challenges. I would really like to try to find a way to discuss some of the down times if I can do it without exposing my kiddos to the internet. 

Where is the real?: Do you know what intrigues me about modern fiction? It can be soul-searingly honest, dark, gritty. It bares the hidden corners of modern life, which I think is admirable, if sometimes quite difficult to read. But you would hardly know that any of these dark corners even existed if you relied on social media for your version of reality. Often people reveal their problems, but only after they have triumphed over them and have a really useful solution to offer. See my last post for a classic text-book example of this. There is nothing wrong with offering useful solutions to life's many dilemmas, of course. But what about when there aren't solutions? What about the demons we battle over and over and over, and realistically know that we will continue to do so for the rest of our lives? It is good sometimes, to hear about these. Good to know that yes, they happen and no, we are not alone. 

And it's not even the big things, often, that we want to know about, but the tiny, annoying things, the mosquito problems that torment us every day. And there, my dears, is where I can be so, so useful. I have in recent times given up caring particularly about all sorts of things that used to worry me terribly, like grey hair and foraging on public roadsides. Well, now I may as well go one step further and share all the abject foolishness of the ways I fail on a daily basis. It will no doubt be very therapeutic. The Stoics would be all over this. In Stoicism you focus on the things that you can change for the better about your life. The areas of life that you can't change you completely dismiss from your list of things to worry about. What Other People Think About You is very high on the list of things that you can't change. So why worry? Well, I will see what I can do..

The photos: And finally, to address the carefully curated photos of my house that I love to post here. Well, I love them because I can almost convince myself that I am living that dream. It also comforts me a little because I can point to that and say, hey, there's me. And it's true for a tiny slice of my life, but not a lot of it. So... because life is never all one thing or all the opposite, I will be forcing myself to share more photos of the mess on the bench around the fresh sourdough loaf. But sometimes I will just go for the beautiful shot, because I like it. And also the happy thought, the uplifting platitude, because life really isn't all about our failures either; sometimes it is about glorious, everyday wonder.

The end: This feels like the most incoherent and badly structured piece of writing I have ever sent out into the world, but in the spirit of getting over my perfectionism, I'll put it out there. Along with a photo of the never-ending dishes. Tell me all about the conversations you really want to have. Be as anonymous as you like. This is, after all, the internet:)