Saturday, August 10, 2013

Things You Should Probably Know About Me

The Lost Boys

Tineke Houthuyzen made me watch this movie at least 15 times.  She watched it even more.  Official record unknown.  Must follow this up.

American Pie

This was the song we always sang when we were drunk.

Leonard Cohen

I am desperately in love with this man and his poetry.  Gino doesn't know yet.

Deep Peace

This song was gifted to me by my dear Aunty Marguerite who passed away recently.  Now I am waiting for my cousin Anastasia's personal recording to arrive via NZ Post.  This seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time.  This song has literally saved my sanity a few times lately.  Others may disagree about how sane I am but trust me - it could be worse.


Watch ... This ... Space   ; )

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mean Green Mother from Outer Space

I was on the phone with my husband this morning and we were talking about our week apart.  I said that living according to my every whim for a week had been fun but exhausting.  I'm sure glad to have someone to keep me in check most of the time.  I said I was getting sick of a house full of books, animals (including sheep) and candle wax.  I may have not mentioned the sheep.  :)  

The blog is about to take a turn down another road.  My year in Kaikoura is up - but I'm still here.  My journey to sustainability is still on going and always will be.  I've found myself becoming so much more self assured and subsequently opinionated.  I am hoping that my opinions are now tempered by experience.

At the end of our conversation we were talking about what it's like for the person married to someone like me.  The someone who fills the house with their passions and grabs life by the short and curlies.  There usually has to be a partner in their life who doesn't acquire so much and approaches life in a slightly more systematic and temperate.  Gino asked me how I would describe myself and I think the words - unique and special were bandied about.  But you know what I prefer - "mean green momma from outer space."  

Please enjoy this link and I will formulate some blogs for you all to enjoy.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pre Christmas Update

I realise it has been very quiet on the blogging front lately.  I read recently that if you want to be a writer you have to live a full life too otherwise you have nothing to write about.  That is very true.  Over the last month I have been continuing to live my sustainable journey and hopefully I have gleaned some fodder for my blog.

Firstly, a little bit on my favourite topic "soap nuts."  Early on in my sustainable journey I felt almost consumed by the topic.  This was a very labour intensive period where I was reading, doing and learning lots.  Now it has settled into a happy medium and I really feel that it is possible to live sustainably without any more effort than is required to live conventionally.  As soon as my soap nuts liquid runs out I automatically boil up a new batch.  Same with my shampoo and conditioner - I can have a new lot made up in about 2 minutes.  In many ways it is easier than realising your have run out and having to go down to the supermarket.  So many behaviours and actions have become automatic.  For instance on the odd day when I forget my recyclable shopping bags I end up packing my own plastic bags at the supermarket.  It is quite funny as the shopping attendant keeps filling new bags and I empty them and put them in the half full ones.  I find that especially the younger attendants look at me like I'm a bit of a crazy lady.  They could have a point but seriously - is there some rule that says toiletry products can not cohabitate with fruit and vegetables? that coffee can't tolerate the company of cheese?  and that horror of horrors - well wrapped meat must be banished to a lonely life in its own shopping bag.  Lastly on the "preaching" segment of my blog - please remember Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  They are in that order for a reason.  If at all possible don't bring home non organic packaging.  Choose products from the supermarket that are not over wrapped or are in a container which can be put to good use.  If you must purchase inorganic wrapped make sure you can turn it into a lunch box, drink container, handy scoop measure.  I don't use them forever because often the grade of  plastic in these products is not intended for extended use.  There is potential for the plastic to leach into the contents (or that is what the manufacturers tell us).  Recycle them periodically and get a new batch.

I'm continuing to enjoy making cheese.  The last two cheeses have been made from goat's milk as my friends had some spare.  One of the cheeses we ate fresh - like a feta - and it was a hit.  I now have three waxed cheeses which we will start eating at Christmas.  I did make a huge cheese from 9 litres of Jersey milk but it was a disaster.  Much better to stick to 5 litres otherwise I am juggling far too many curds and hygiene gets compromised.  I made my last cheese around midnight Friday night and some time in the early hours of the morning my make shift cheese press keeled over.  This released 17 litres of water into the bathroom and because I didn't hear anything it soaked into the surrounding carpet.  Not very nice and one reason that I would dearly, dearly love a proper cheese press.

On the creative front I have now attended two sessions with the Kaikoura Spinners and Weavers.  There are about eight of us and they are a lovely group of ladies.  There is something so nice about sitting in a group and knitting.  I also met a lovely lady a few weeks back who invited me to her place in Christchurch for a spinning lesson.  Thanks to her I am now able to spin for half an hour at a time without breaking the thread.  My wheel is borrowed from Zoe so I was going to get my parents to bring my old wheel down.  This wheel was only ever intended to be decorative and it would have taken some money to get it functional again.  So instead I bought an upright wheel over Trade Me and my parents are kindly bringing that one down for me.  I'm really excited to see it and get spinning on my very own wheel!  Photos to follow.

Another group of us (young mothers and me) have met a few times for a casual crafting session.  We do all sorts of activities - some of us knitting, others making a Christmas wreath, bath salts, cross stitch, carding wool and even making the fairy for the top of the Christmas tree.  It is really nice to pick up creative ideas from others and the mums enjoy a break away from the kids.

Finally, I am now attending harakeke or flax weaving classes.  In fact I am due there now.  For a koha (donation) and bringing some food for a shared lunch we get to learn from master weavers.  Last week I made a long basket which I am using as my Christmas kete.  It looks great with all the presents inside and its gorgeous flax skirt.  Today I am hoping to make a small bag with a plaited strap.  Actually I better go - I'll save this blog and finish it this afternoon.  I want to add some photos and give a quick update on Katherine and her new friends Gretchen and Maggie Magpie.

Its the next day and I am the proud owner of a flax kete shoulder bag.  Last night I attended the final evening of the Kaikoura High School Night Class.  We delivered our flutes which hopefully will be fired by the local potter very soon.  Then we were taught how to cook using kelp.  How you do this is to hollow out a pocket inside the kelp.  Fill it with fish, meat, herbs, veggies etc.  Then tie off the end with a piece of flax.  Place the kelp pocket into hot embers.  The kelp will turn from brown, to bright green and finally to a charred black.  This only takes about 7 minutes.  The pocket is then cut open and inside is gorgeous steamed food.  I'm going to try this on a beach bonfire cooking fish caught fresh from the sea.  Add a slice of lemon, potato and some cabbage.  Yum, yum.

Quick livestock update.  Katherine is continuing to thrive.  She is a lot more independent now although she continues to hover quite close to the house.  She is pretty much naturally weaned although I'll continue to give her a milkshake every few days until the Anlamb is used up.  She has a huge wool coat and I am going to try and get her shorn very soon.  I don't want her burdened with this in the height of summer.  The goat farmers (Sarah and Daniel) had acquired a goat and her kid from a friend.  As the goat was the wrong breed they did not want to use her in their cheese making operation.  I am happy to report that Gretchen and her kid Maggie Magpie are now living with my neighbour Monique and are thriving.  I am hoping to try milking her (Sarah has offered to give me a lesson) but I will wait until she has fattened up a bit.  Being a young mother has taken its toll on her and she needs some TLC - not some crazed city girl yanking her udders.  : )

Finally - I just want to say a word about "zealots."  All parts of society have them but the sustainability section have more than their fair share.  I have a friend who is vehemently vocal about organics and animal welfare but sadly just does not walk the talk.  Having her lecture me on a regular basis is extremely trying.  I want to point out that while I am loving exploring the concept of sustainability I do not claim to be "without blemish" and I would never force this way of life on others.  Of course I love it when I hear friends are using soap nuts, or trying out the baking soda and apple cider vinegar hair wash - but I'm also a realist.  I do believe the world would be a better place if we all endeavoured to live more sustainably however I realise this path is not easy and often not realistic for busy wage earners and parents.  I am neither - and that makes my endeavours a whole lot easier.  I hope this blog provides some inspiration to try a few different things but I'll still love you if I meet you in the supermarket checkout stuffing commercial detergents into your plastic shopping bags.

Last of all (yes that is technically another finally) I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and I hope you all enjoy a well deserved break.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

East Fresians

I am sitting here typing away while sipping a glass of my Elder Flower champagne and chomping on a thick slice of spelt flour bread.  It is very satisfying to savour things that you've made yourself.

I have now completed my second block of edam cheese.  Gino was able to observe me this time and came up with a couple of little innovations.  He fashioned a wire hanger for me so I can leave my thermometer in the saucepan.  This is a big help as I am constantly having to monitor the temperature.  Later I was wondering how I would know what vintage each block of cheese was and Gino suggested waxing my cheese, then putting a piece of paper with the date and waxing over it a couple of times.  It looks great and is easy to read.  I again made some white cheese with the remaining curds to sprinkle over our salads.  It tastes so good.  The next day I made butter.  I had left 5 litres of milk in the fridge to separate   Then I scooped off the cream and put it into an antique butter churn that I had borrowed from my neighbour Monique.  I churned for over an hour and although I had made cream it wasn't getting to the "breaking" stage.  A break is when the solid and the liquid components separate.  I transferred it to a bowl and continued hand beating.  After a while of that I got out my electric beaters and finally it broke; only one second before it broke me.  Once you have the grains of butters you wash and churn, wash and churn until the liquid runs clear.  Then you pat it with two wooden spoons to squeeze out the whey, salt it and freeze it for about 10 minutes.  You get a very little butter from all that milk and it is extremely labour intensive.  I am not sure I will be making butter on a regular basis but I am glad I had a go.  At the very least I am not so concerned about the high price of butter now I see how much time and milk goes into making it.

Still on the cheese front my friend Paula from Christchurch kindly organised a visit to her friend Chris' lifestyle block.  Chris has a small flock of East Fresian sheep - in fact one of the very few flocks of this type of sheep in New Zealand.  They are funny looking things, big and woolly but with no wool on their legs or faces.  They look like elegant old ladies in fur coats.  They have a very loud, deep, "baa" and I was a little freaked out as they chased us down the run.  Probably not as freaked out as Gino who had the container of field peas that they were madly trying to eat.  Chris has a very flash mobile milking machine.  Once his chosen ewe was in the pen eating her peas he very quickly milked her.  It seemed to only take a few minutes and we had two litres of milk.  We tried it back as Paula's while it was still warm from the sheep.  Probably best to drink it chilled like all milk.  I didn't really like the flavour - it seemed to have a sour moth ball flavour to it.  I am hoping this is linked to their diet of field peas rather than a distinctly sheepy flavour.  I will have to try sheep milk from another source to test my theory.  Gino has been happily using it in our coffee and I don't notice the flavour.  It is very creamy and yum in coffee.

Katherine continues to thrive.  She appears to be going through either the terrible twos or her teen years - I'm not too sure about the life cycle of a sheep.  She took great pleasure the other night leading Gino and I on a merry dance around and over our neighbours raised flower beds taking delicate mouthfuls of plants mid stride.  I still take her out morning and evening to graze for half an hour on the road side borders.  That way she gets all the yummy broad leaf plants that the other sheep can't get to.  I now carry her kibble bucket with me so that all I have to do is bang on the bucket to get her to follow me.  The rest of the flock are now back in her paddock and she has had some close encounters but continues to be weary.  There is not much I go about the fact that she just doesn't realise she is a sheep!  Our other neighbours have purchased three lambs and their mum.  They are crossed with Romney but are meant to be Damara sheep which are broad tailed African sheep with hair rather than wool.  They look more like goats.  Apparently they make good milking sheep but I am not sure if she intends for me to milk them for her or not.  We will see.  I did suggest to Gino we could have one sheep, one goat and one jersey cow and I could offer a variety of cheeses that way.  He was unimpressed with my idea.  : )

Gino has had a sore throat the last couple of days and I've been feeling a little funny myself although this is most likely rampant hypochondria   I have been making a magic potion suggested by my Mum last year when I was sick in the UK.  You boil up water and as many cloves of garlic as you can handle.  Then squeeze in the juice from a couple of lemons and two big spoonfuls of honey.  The garlic is quite tough on the stomach and the honey acts as a buffer.  Have a couple of big cups morning and night and you'll kick your cold in a couple of days.  I am also dosing myself up with bee pollen.  Pollen is full of goodness - its a bit like taking a multi vitamin.  For hayfever sufferers like myself it also helps reduce hayfever by exposing your body to local pollen.  It won't happen straight away but by next season you should notice a difference.  I've also been having flaky yeast on my toast which is high in B vitamins   Along with magnesium, fish oil and serotonin precursor amino acids I am hoping to stay well and healthy right through Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas - its coming - soon.  Don't stick your head in the sand.  It is much better to get prepared in November so that you can enjoy the season in December.  Otherwise every Christmas carol becomes another reminder of how hopelessly behind you are rather than what it should be - a joyful refrain.  I am making some tiny cross stitched Christmas tree decorations.  They are very cute.  I'll post some photos next week.  I am forcing myself to spend an hour a day prepping for Christmas and I play carols to get myself in the mood.  Its a lot of fun but I admit - slightly nutty.

Writing Fuel
The other marvellous, exciting news is I am finally writing.  My friend Yanina suggested I have a go at free writing and I am also reading a couple of books which served to boot me up the backside.  Gino says he is happy to support an author in the family even if I remain penniless.  I have committed to writing for two hours every day.  At the moment it is a gobbly gook of opinion pieces, brain dumps, short bits of dialogue, fragments of future novels etc.  The content doesn't really matter at this stage.  It is just important to develop the habit and to get used to getting ideas down on paper.  I am excited to see how it will evolve.

Pizza With Home Made Mozarella
Cushion Cover Made from Tea Towel
Another Tea Towel Cushion Cover

That's all from me this week.  I have to card as much wool as I can as I am attending the Spinning Craft Group tomorrow.  Hopefully I will be spinning wool by the end of the day.  Have a great week and remember we are creative beings.  When we are creating we are expressing our true nature.  Grab any spare moment to get creative even if it just involves trying a new recipe for dinner, growing a vegetable you've never grown before or making a handmade gift for a friend.  Life is full of opportunities to be creative but unfortunately we're usually too busy to see them.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Cheese is Waxed!

When things go wrong it doesn't mean you've failed - it just means you've been given another experience.  Well, I've certainly had a lot of experience this week.  The sour dough starter that I ordered on line failed terribly.  I added water and flour as instructed.  I kept it somewhere warm.  I stirred it vigorously on a daily basis.  I had my concerns before I even attempted to make bread.  It just didn't look bubbly or smell right.  Sure enough my dough failed to rise.  Damn - that was an expensive experience.

My little edam has been happily chilling in the cool box.  Now that the skin has dried it was time for a wax coating.  My first attempt was simply pouring the hot wax over it.  This seemed to work okay but every time I turned it over to wax the other side the underneath part would peal off.  Very frustrating.  So I popped it back in the cool box and sulked for a couple of days.  Today I bought a cheap paint brush and had another go.  This time I painted thing layers over and over again.  Finally - victory.  It looks great.  Kind of knobbly but I think this adds to its rustic charm.

Leo trying to keep his nose warm.
It has turned very cold and we had a big dump of snow on the mountains.  My new vegetables looked unimpressed - particularly the basil.  I'm determined to use some of the herbs in the dinner tonight - I'll let you know how that goes.

I bought an old Singer sewing machine from the dump over the weekend.  $20 and it works perfectly except I had to buy a new "foot" which cost another $20.  Still great value and I can finally sew the little coin purse kit that Paula gave me for my birthday.  I have been making a big effort on Paula's other project - Louisa's birth sampler.  Putting in the hours has created some momentum and I am really happy with the result.

Flowers from Monique's garden
So that's all for this week.  It wasn't the exciting progressive week I was hoping for but I've worked through the frustration and I can feel my mojo returning.  I'm reading up on Christmas traditions and I am looking forward to making lots of little things to make Christmas special including a home made wreath.

And I almost forgot to mention that I made Elder Flower champagne.  Alison kindly picked some flowers for me and I quickly added them to boiling water, sugar, white wine vinegar and chopped lemons.  In two weeks it will be ready for drinking.  If it turns out to be as yummy as I think I'll have to save a bottle for Christmas day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Little Steps

I have been spending a little bit of time lately reflecting on my journey so far.  I am really proud of the little things that have achieved - I have radically reduced my chemical load, I'm making small changes to help the planet and I am learning many new skills.  While it is important to take time to reflect; it is equally important to keep taking the little steps towards achieving the bigger goals.  My husband was starting to question my commitment to my sheep milking venture.  He had a valid point - apart from lots of Katherine cuddling and plenty of dreaming - I wasn't really taking the necessary steps to bring my dream to fruition.  I read some very wise words recently which really helped me to get moving.  They were along the lines of the need to become used to discomfort and to not insist that you have to feel comfortable before you can start moving again.  This is very true.  When treading new roads it is very common to feel shy and nervous about asking for help.  However, while acknowledging the discomfort, it is no barrier to doing those things which are a little scary.  For some reason I was feeling really shy about asking the local farmer for some milk.  Realising that I could feel that way and still make the phone call was an important lesson.  
Now I've achieved some good steps towards my major goal of setting up a sheep milking venture.  I am in the process of arranging two farm visits to existing facilities and I made my first block of cheese.  The farmer down the road supplied 10 litres of milk straight out of the cow.  This milk is a lovely golden creamy colour and tastes like ice cream!  The entire process took most of the morning and there were lots of steps to follow.  I was blown away when the curds formed as I had only put in 1/4 of 1/4 of a teaspoon of rennet.  It must be very powerful stuff!  The milk that I used is from jersey cows who are only milked once a day so it has a high fat and milk solid content.  I got an incredible yield; in fact I ended up only using 5 litres and even then I couldn't get all the curds into the mould.  The process was hampered by the fact that I haven't invested heavily in the proper equipment.  Having a real cheese press instead of balancing buckets of water on top of cans which make a huge difference.  Today I went down to the local vets and got a 1 ml syringe   This means I can now measure out as little as .1 of a millilitre.  This is going to very handy.  My little cheese is now drying out and then I will coat it in about 4 layers of bees wax.  Hopefully the cheese will be ready by Christmas for our first tasting.  

Another obstacle that can get in the way of achieving our dreams are excuses.  I had some very good excuses for not having a vegetable garden.  I am renting my house, I don't have access to any land and I am in an extreme wind zone.  However, I knew in my heart that these obstacles could be easily overcome.  I have a big porch and I put four containers / pots in a spot where they will get morning sun.  I have planted short vegetables so the wind doesn't knock them around too much.  In one pot I have parsley.  In another pot I have sage, rosemary and basil.  In a long container I have a variety of lettuces.  In the final container I have leafy greens - silverbeet, bok choy and celery.  I have chosen to plant greens because although carrots and potatoes store well I find my greens are always going floppy in the fridge before I get to eat them.  The herbs just add that something special to a meal and are incredibly useful.  It only took me an hour to get everything planted and watered in.  The vegetables are so large and healthy I could just about start eating them straight away!  

So now that the cheese and the vegetable garden are on the right track it is time for a new project.  My Mum told me about an interesting documentary on modern wheat and how bad it is for us.  I had a quick look at it on TV On Demand (I do not have a TV connection as you all know from last week's rave).  I was impressed and have started reading a book called Wheat Belly.  I know my husband often complains of feeling sluggish and uncomfortable after eating bread so I thought I would try a sour dough spelt flour.  Spelt is an ancient grain and contains no gluten.  I have been interested in learning how to make sour dough for a long time as I love the fact that you don't need yeast.  So the flour is in the post and by next week I should be able to report on my bread making adventures.  

This week remember to take time to praise yourself for how far you've come and don't let discomfort or excuses keep you from achieving your dreams.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


My experience with soap making drove home to me the importance of having mentors.  People who have trod the same path and who are happy to share their own experiences and the wisdom they have acquired along the way.  I found two such mentors last week.

Firstly I visited Daniel who lives just down the road in a 10 x 10 foot house with his wife Sarah and their two children.  They milk goats and produce cheese which they sell in Wellington and parts of the South Island.  I spent a wonderful two hours picking Daniel's brains about all things cheese as well as living sustainably.  Daniel built their lovely home himself.  It is definitely small but it is lovingly and thoughtfully put together.  He leant me a great book called Places of the Soul which is all about building houses that nurture our spirit.  I can tell I am going to learn a lot from Daniel.

My second mentor is Zoe.  I was busy picking through one of the fleeces that my neighbour had kindly given me.  I realised that I had no idea what I was doing so I phoned Zoe who is the president of the Kaikoura Spinning and Craft group.  She responded to my plea for help immediately and invited me to bring my fleeces over the next day.  I ended up staying for three hours during which she gave me morning tea and lunch.  She taught me a simple method for preparing the fleece and also the basics of spinning.  On top of that she leant me her spinning wheel and other equipment which I know hold deep sentimental value to her.  I have agreed to join the spinning group which meets twice a month and I look forward to spending time absorbing the wisdom of the wise of ladies who belong to the group.

I am reading so many interesting books at the moment - most of which are aligned towards my environmental and spiritual awakening.  I know it sounds dramatic to describe it that way but I really feel that its true.  In the last five months I have changed almost beyond recognition.  It is almost like ideas are being beamed to me from outerspace.  Now, I know I am sounding a little crazy but I don't know how else to describe the journey I've undertaken since returning to New Zealand.  While it is great to saturate your consciousness with ideas it is important to also take concrete steps towards achieving your goals.  It is very easy to read and imagine a future utopia but it will never happen until you start doing.  In that vein I have purchased everything I need to start making cheese - a culture, digital thermometer, cheese cloth etc.  I will make my own cheese press from old cans and a bucket of water.  My final step is to approach a local farmer in order to purchase some raw milk - 10 litres of it.  I'm reading and rereading my cheese making book and I just can't wait to actually get started.

Tonight and over the next eight weeks I will be attending a night class called Maori Arts and Culture.  I am really excited to learn more about the local culture and I am hoping it will assist me to feel more grounded here.  I am very aware that as I walk up Mount Fyffe I am unable to name most of the trees and I certainly have no idea what their medicinal qualities are.  I am babysitting for my friend Alison so she can attend another night class - Medicinal Native Plants.  I am looking forward to her sharing her learning with me and vice versus.

Finally, I can not say this loudly enough - please seriously consider severing your television connection.  Television lulls you into unconsciousness, it eats up your free time and it exposes you to hours of materialistic consumer messages.  I have no problem with watching the odd DVD for entertainment because at least there are no ads and your viewing is far more conscious.  What horrifies me is the mind numbing, compulsiveness of watching back to back shows beginning with the news and ending at bedtime.  There is a whole wonderful world out there waiting to be explored if you just gave it some time and attention.  Instead of spending time in make believe worlds with make believe friends - go outside, explore nature, meet your neighbours.  Instead of watching real life documentaries and considering them experiences - go out and have some real ones.  The television programme will be forgotten in 24 hours but the real life experiences you expose yourself to just might change your life for the better.