Summer Idyll

I have been extremely lackadaisical about writing my blog over the Christmas period. Perhaps it was all the cooking and general busyness. Perhaps it was the aftermath of eating and napping. I have become like one of the cats: sunning my belly on the deck and snoozing away the afternoon.

Even though there were only four of us, Christmas lunch with my parents was still pretty complex. Homemade pies with beef cheek slow-cooked in red wine. Ham triple-glazed in cranberry sauce and manuka honey. Corn on the cob. Potato & egg salad. Coleslaw of red cabbage, kale, carrot, celery, and sunflower seeds. Another salad of rocket, parmesan & pear, tossed in garlic salt & balsamic vinaigrette. And then we followed that with fruit salad, ice cream, and pavlova with cream and strawberries. A good (if elaborate) summer lunch. And then cheese and crackers, which became my dinner as well.

I deliberately bought the smallest ham I could find (and free-range, of course). It was 1.6kg (about 4lbs), so we’re still left with quite a bit of ham in the fridge. My husband will no doubt do what he can to make it into sandwiches, and perhaps it will find its want into an omelette or soup, but at least it’s a much more manageable size than the ham we gave away. The leftover salad was taken care of within 24 hours, and there was no leftover dessert. There’s still a lot of cheese, and booze, and chocolate, but everything will dwindle with time. The napping may also have been an side-effect of the ongoing snacking.

After lunch, for some reason my family felt motivated enough to drive out to the lighthouse on the Manukau Heads. None of us had ever been there. Only thing is, it’s a long, narrow and windy road, and it turns out that the gate to the lighthouse reserve closes at 5pm – at least that’s what the sign said. So by the time we’d picked our way up the peninsula we never did get to see the lighthouse, but I look pictures of the landscape just to entertain myself. The feathery grass, the pitted sand bank, the rough moss and bracken. It was quite beautiful in its own way. Rugged and windswept – part of an older world.

It is frankly a miracle to be able to spend both Christmas and Boxing Day with my husband, and neither of us have to work. We went down to the beach on Boxing Day (where I slipped over on a rock pool and sliced my hand open on the barnacles). The beach was virtually empty, which I guess meant that everyone else was out shopping. We wandered around the point at low tide and found a freshwater spring and a small cave. My husband made jokes about hunting for signs of “sea-squatch”. We found oysters and tiny crayfish, but left them alone. It was an idyllic way to spend a quiet, lazy day.

Now… back to that ham.

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Silver Lining

The bad news is that Tuesday turned out to be far too hot to spend much time in the garden, so I just napped instead. Is that bad news? I’m actually not so sure.

The good news is that I have an interview for the job I spent extra time and effort applying for last week! Yaaaayyyyy!!! *flailing Kermit arms*

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via GIPHY

It’s not a new job yet, but an interview is a really good start. I absolutely hate applying for jobs, so the less applications I have to do, the better.

To celebrate, my husband and I decided to make use of the good weather in a positive way and go down to the beach to eat fish and chips and drink cider and watch the sunset. This sounds lovely (and looked lovely, above) if not for the howling southwesterly that made us both freeze and made the chips go cold. However a neighborhood cat choose to join us and loll around cutely to see if she could steal a chip or two, and she didn’t seem to mind that they were cold, so there’s that. Obviously cats can tell that we’re cat people.

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Big Dry

See, I wasn’t kidding about the fact that the new section is pretty parched. This isn’t actually part of the pasture – it’s the bit that’s been scraped off to put the house foundations in – but you can see how the clay is already starting to flake and crack in the heat.

On days like this the sun is just unbearable. As with yesterday, my husband and I did some work in the morning, and then came home at lunchtime and laid about having a siesta. After just an hour and a half up at the section, working without any shade, we’d both sweated gallons and ended up with pounding headaches. He was laying down weed-mat, and had an allergic reaction to some of the weeds. He gets bad hayfever anyway, and this time his arms broke out in a mass of red welts. The combination of these factors was enough to drive us back home (and to the pharmacy) with very little done.

It was so hot that when we got home we found our (black) cats all snoozing on the back porch in the shade. Eva had even curled up in a planter pot, which was still damp from where I’d watered it that morning. I think if we had a fountain or pool outside they would all have been puddling about in the water to cool off.

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I returned to the section later in the evening to finish the weedmat and water what plants I could. One of the neighbors stopped by to tell me to mow the grass… Yeah, we tend to mind our own business with our neighbors and we appreciate it when they do the same. But I was polite. Politer than I should have been.

Perhaps it was the heat.

Shifting Tide Lines

It has been a day of developments all over the place. From the supposed (and perhaps momentary) halt on the Dakota Access Pipeline, to the shock resignation of NZ’s Prime Minister, many of my left-wing friends have been memeing for joy all day.

But not so fast…

Now that Prime Minister John Key has resigned, we will almost undoubtedly go into the New Year with a Prime Minister who is worse. John Key started out as a day trader – a bit of a Trump-like figure, who sat on a massive capitalist fortune, who made changes to benefit businesses whilst hurting those at the very bottom, and whose silly over-privileged adult children provided New Zealanders with a lot of amusement. However, his politicking was personality-based and cynical – he went for the type of glibness that would appeal to most voters, regardless of his own personal beliefs. I’m not even convinced that he has entrenched political beliefs. His potential replacements are career politicians – true-believers whose positions will be hard to shift, no matter what realities they face.

And as for the Dakota Access Pipeline… Well Obama can now count the remaining weeks of his presidency on his fingers. The halt called by the Army Corps of Engineers can be quickly overturned by the incoming President-Elect. And given that Trump owns shares in the company that is building the pipeline… Well it’s a surprise that anyone is excited about this. Why on earth would he make a decision that would damage his own personal fortune? When you prime an electorate to believe that all government is corrupt, then you can behave corruptly without much fear of consequence…

However… it was an unbearably hot day to be outside. So my husband decided that we should go for a walk down on the beach in the afternoon to cool off. It would have worked, except that the water was as warm as a bath. And I found a little injured sparrow.

He was lying on the beach, breathing hard, with his beak pressed into the sand. When I went up to check on him and see if there was anything I could do, he reacted with a panicked flutter but he clearly couldn’t fly. At least one wing was broken, and I’d say he’d been badly punctured by a cat.

Nature is a very cruel thing much of the time. It reminded me of my little story about the hedgehog. The natural world rarely offers comfortable and easy ways to die.

There was nothing I could do to save his life, and my presence only seemed to frighten him, so I resolved to do the only thing I felt I rightly could. I broke a branch off a nearby pohutukawa tree and, moving quietly and slowly, sank it into the sand beside him. This gave him camouflage should the cat return, and also gave him shade from the crippling heat. Yes, eventually the tide would come in, and he might have to make a choice to either move or remain, but in the meantime he would be more comfortable.

Just because we can’t fix all the injustices of life, it doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to be nice to one another…

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Dinner

It’s undoubtedly a sign of how shitty your work week has been when you come home on a Friday night and get out the cider and a giant Toblerone.

This wasn’t actually my dinner. I cheered myself up by making venison, butternut and feta empanadas, which I’ve been meaning to make for ages. I bought the venison steaks on special about a week ago and they’ve been staring at me in the fridge ever since.

But, in retrospect, I ruined them. They were leaner than lean – I mean almost purple they were so dark. It’s easy to ruin venison when it’s this lean. I rubbed them with cumin, cilantro, lemon zest, salt and cinnamon. I flash-fried them in a hot pan for less than 60 secs per side. I let them rest in the same pan so they could release their juices and lose all of that sizzle-tension that causes them to shrink in the heat. And then I sliced them up. And they were beautiful – medium rare, soft as butter, delicious… But then I folded the slices into my empanadas and cooked them again. They turned from soft and buttery to slow-cooked flaky, and lost some of that wondrous flavor.

I should have just done venison steaks and coleslaw for dinner. They were perfect before I cooked them again. You live and learn.

And then my lovely husband came home with flowers because he’s lovely. And Scrappy fell asleep against me as I lay on the couch – curled up against my cheek with his head on my cleavage, as he twitched and fidgeted and dreamed. It was sweet. This is the stuff that makes me carry on.

This and, you know: cider and chocolate.

Property Inspection

Thursday is the first day of Summer in New Zealand. It’s so hard to believe that we’re almost up to summer already.

We had a property inspection today. I was expecting it to be in the first week of December, as they seem to come every 4 months and the last one was in the first week of August, but (Bad Jelly) the Property Manager decided to spring it on us a week early and tell me on Friday (right before my big weekend). Just because. I think she wanted to catch us off guard because she likes writing us nasty letters about how I run the garden. She wanted me to have the roses pruned in April…

My husband has been amazing (as always) and cleaned the whole house while I was at work over the weekend. He just left me the grossest bits (at my request) – the bathroom and the cat litter trays. So at least I can feel like I’m contributing more than just the weeding. Plus I got to bring some lavender in from the garden and make the bathroom both look and smell pretty.

In the end, it was several days of work for just 5 minutes of inspection. They wander around, take lots of photos, accuse us of damage that was already here when we moved in, act like we’re the devil and we’re hiding a meth lab somewhere. All the usual stuff that I’ve come to expect from this company. I’m dying for the day when we can tell them that we’re moving out and they can go fuck themselves, but so far they don’t know that we’ve bought a section and are getting a house built. We’ve never rented through an agency before and after dealing with these people I’d never do it again. It seems to be the way that everything goes in Auckland though.

However, now that that’s done, I can spend Wednesday putting in my vegetable seedlings and just generally enjoying my garden time once again. Two weeks after planting the seeds, the black beans have now not only germinated but are quickly out-growing their peat pots. My sunflowers and dwarf green beans aren’t far behind, and there’s also rocket and lettuces to plant out. It’s nice when things work, but also extra rewarding to see food spring up from virtually nothing. Bring on summer…

 

 

 

Giving Thanks

Why exactly do we insist on giving thanks by eating copious amounts of food? It does kind of make sense if we are thankful for a harvest, and if the weeks leading up to this have been starving times where we waited impatiently for the food to come… But like most people in the Western world, I have a supermarket nearby, so the highs and lows of subsistence farming no longer affect me. Basically I’m just showing thanks through gluttony.

And there’s still Christmas to come.

My husband was grateful though. Grateful that I would rush home after 11 hours at work to cook a big meal so that he could come home from his work day and eat dinner with his wife. And I am grateful that he is wonderful and he wants to have a meal with me. And that he will do the dishes.

I’m grateful that we finally found a section to buy, and figured out how to make the loan work, even though it’s currently crippling us financially.

I’m grateful that we have a happy home, with 3 sometimes-lovely cats (even though Scrappy kept jumping up on the table throughout dinner and trying to steal turkey off our plates).

I’m grateful that our plants are mostly growing, and in a few months there will be harvests of our own to do.

But mostly I am grateful for him and how supportive and kind he is. I am grateful for that every day.

Despite the harshness of the past winter, there is so much to be grateful for this year.

 

Banana Sap Smells like Bananas, and Other Things I’ve Learned

When you get up at 5am (conferences!) and this is vastly unnatural to you, and the coffee canister is empty… when you open the new packet of coffee, you will tip the whole thing into your cup instead of the canister. Because you’re an idiot. And it’s 5am.

When you get home late after a 13 hour shift and you have to do laundry, you will carefully separate your whites from your colors, you will spray the stains and bundle up your bras into a lingerie bag… and then you will run the whole cycle without putting any powder into the machine. Because you’re an idiot. And you’ve just been at work for 13 hours.

When you’re looking at your finances (Rent AND a mortgage! What were we thinking?) and felling depressed, you will go online and buy plants. Because you’re an idiot. And because you’ve replaced your shoe habit and lingerie habit with a plant habit.

When you decide to go out and work on the new section on an oppressively hot and sunny afternoon, you will put on sunblock, but you will miss a little strip across your shoulder. Because you’re an idiot. And because you need something violent and painful and red to keep you awake at night.

When you have to go to bed early (because conferences), and you’ve eaten all the pasta and drunk all the wine just to make yourself sleepy, you will then decide to go on Facebook for two hours and write a blog. Because you’re an idiot. And because you have to write this blog every day, even when full of wine and pasta.

And when you wake up on the couch again at 5am, with the kitties batting at your face, the TV will be on something funny at a low volume, and you will have a warm blanket, and your glasses will be on the end table… Because you’re an idiot. And because you don’t deserve such a loving, considerate husband.

Hayfever

It’s a change. A nice change. I went to work today and my husband went up to the new section and cut the grass. I think that’s possibly the first time that something has happened at the section without my involvement. He helps out where he can but he is normally not a gardener.

He has a very good excuse: terrible hayfever. I’ll admit that I don’t really understand hayfever (how can you be allergic to the air?) but it makes him miserable and snotty throughout this time of year. Every second word is punctuated with a sniff. Sometimes it even brings on a rash. As for the new stuff we’ve planted, I’ve deliberately tried to pick trees which don’t create masses of pollen. And eventually there will be very little grass… because what’s the point of a lawn anyway? We don’t play sports in our front yard, so we have little need for a large expanse of grass.

Considering his allergies, it’s actually a wonder that my husband tolerates my gardening habit as much as he does. He could just insist that we concrete the whole yard, but then I think our marriage wouldn’t have lasted this long.

Lazy November

As anticipated, Tuesday was my day of rest. Or rather, my day of lots of sleep.

I woke up at 4am to a pile of purring, nuzzling kitties. I completely refused to get up and feed them at 4am, so there was two hours of furry cuddles before they gave up and woke up my husband instead. It was actually incredibly pleasant to have time to linger with the cats instead of being forced to get up for work. Except for the claws.

The cold wind had finally died away, so it was actually a stunning, warm, spring day. Too hot to be out in the garden really, so it probably wasn’t a bad thing that we just hung around the house. I’ve managed to coordinate my days off to match with my husband’s days off (not easy when we are both on random shifts through the week) so it’s also wonderful to have had so much “husband time” over the past couple of weeks. On an ordinary week we may hardly see one another – and live our separate lives like lonely flatmates. But we both really enjoy the time we spend together, so we cherish it.

We went for a walk on the beach in the afternoon, and spotted some jellyfish (which are apparently a big problem around Auckland at the moment, and probably a sign that the fish stocks are suffering). These ones are harmless though.

It’s hard to describe the real joy of the seasonal change towards summer. The air tastes different. Asparagus and strawberries are back in the shops. Fireworks go on sale tomorrow (for Guy Fawkes Day, because we’re all supposed to be stoked that 400 years ago we killed a bunch of Catholics who hated the Protestant King of England). Just the fact that we can have dinner outside is an unbelievable relief.

And all of the trees I’ve planted at the new section over the past few months are happy and gradually taking off. It really does make all that hard work seem worthwhile…

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