Slashing the Stash

It rained all weekend, so what was I to do but bake and sew for two days? It felt decadent, indulgent (though I did get my weekend chores done; I wasn’t a total slacker).

It was a rewarding weekend, too. My fabric stash has been getting out of control lately. I only buy fabric when I have a project in mind, but there’s always a little left over from any project, and it builds up. Not enough to make clothing for me or my now adult-sized kids, but enough for clothes for little kids and babies.

So this winter I’m on a mission to reduce the stash by making clothing to give to charity. On this chilly, wet weekend, I started in on my scraps of polar fleece. I made a whole raft of warm hats, and cut out the pieces for five little jackets (I need to get zips for the jackets before I can sew them). It was great fun turning all that ‘waste’ fabric into useful items.

Next weekend, I hope to start in on the knit fabric—I have patterns for baby t-shirts that’ll be perfect for using up those scraps. And then there’s the denim, cotton broadcloth, corduroy … so many fabrics, and so many creative possibilities, once you think small.

I managed to cut my polar fleece volume down by half—my stash reduced to pieces useful for my own clothes. If I can do the same with all my other fabrics, I’ll be thrilled. I get more space in my cupboard, I get to indulge in sewing I enjoy doing, and someone in need gets new clothes. It’s a win for everyone.

Hiking Under the Influence of Parenthood

My daughter and I went hiking for two days this week, taking advantage of the school holidays to get out. On our first day, we summited Little Mount Peel. Several years ago the whole family hiked the same track, though not to the top. In those days, my husband and I pulled the kids along behind us. Encouraging them on, waiting for them while they took breaks.

These days, it’s the other way around. I determined we would go at my pace, not the 14 year-old rock climber’s pace. She pulled me up the mountain, stopping occasionally to let me catch up. (Where did she learn that bland, patient smile, calculated to hide her boredom?)

I wish I could be as oblivious as the children I used to pull up the mountain.

Though I hiked behind her, I was still out in front, assessing risk, calculating her need for food and rest, figuring hiking times and return times, keeping an eye on her warmth. I was still the worrier, still the responsible parent.

When the kids were young, I dreamed of the day they could keep up. Now I fear the kids’ ability to get into trouble has outstripped their ability to manage risk. Not surprising. That’s what teens do.

But now I dream of a day when I can simply hike, without worrying about anyone’s safety but my own. I will go at my own pace, stop when I am tired, sit on rocky outcrops for hours contemplating the patterns of ridge lines in the distance. Perhaps once again I will experience a place fully, and not through the fog of parental responsibility.

Ode to a Fern

I could have posted a blog yesterday, but only from here, where there was cellphone reception. You’ll excuse me if I decided to enjoy the view instead of write a blog post.

It’s not that I didn’t write. My daughter and I, out for two days of hiking, stopped a couple of times on our way to sit and write. Sometimes I gave us a challenge, sometimes we just wrote.

I can’t say that anything I penned in the past two days is great literature, but I did smile as I wrote this Ode to a Fern, which was our first challenge. True to our writing styles, my daughter’s poem was deep and insightful, mine silly doggerel. Here it is, to lighten your day …

O filmy fern
All wet with dew
With fronds so thin
They are see-through.

You could adorn
A lady’s hat
A leafy veil
Fine to look at.

Or perhaps a curtain
You could be
Your gauzy fronds
Flapping free.

O filmy fern
These aren’t for you
To your wild self
You must be true.

Inhabit damp footpaths
Dimly lit
The forest floor
Is where you fit.

Pigeon Bay Walkway

View from the head toward Christchurch.

Yesterday was a beautiful autumnal day. We headed out to the Banks Peninsula and did the Pigeon Bay Walkway.

It has been over a decade since we’ve been to Pigeon Bay. Last time we went, the kids were preschoolers. Then, we’d hoped for some sort of beach where the kids could play in the water, but Pigeon Bay is rocky. The shoreline is covered in cobble-sized rocks teeming with life. Lift any rock and a dozen crabs scuttle away. A decade ago, the pursuit of crabs delighted the kids. Still does. Yesterday, we also noted starfish, chitons, limpets and snails under the rocks.

But the main activity for yesterday was the walkway. It’s rated as a five hour return walk, but is mostly on a well-graded farm track. It’s easy going, and we did it in four hours, including a lunch break.

The track runs all the way to the head of the bay. It’s not exactly a wilderness experience—the land is a beef and sheep farm—but the views are spectacular. It’s one of the few places on the Banks Peninsula where you can get right out to the tip of the headland.

Out on the head, the cliffs are quite spectacular, and you can see the layers of volcanic deposits, well-spattered with poo from the shag colonies there. In the clear air yesterday, we could see all the way to the Kaikoura ranges.

The best part of the walk for me was looking down on a small pod of Hector’s dolphins feeding in the bay below. The dolphins were clearly circling and corralling fish, and there was a trio of gulls shadowing them in the air, picking off the fish the dolphins missed.

A lovely walk. Hard to believe it took us this long to get around to doing it.

Autumnal Haiku

Yesterday was a gorgeous autumn day. It inspired a few haiku:

Rats tap out poems
On the ceiling at night while
Cats dream of sparrows.

***

Summer slips off to
Warmer climes, leaving autumn
To face winter’s scorn.

***

Summer cashes in,
Trades green for gold to spend on
Ice blocks and snow cones.

Mystery Burgers

Not the mystery burgers…

On Sunday, we were all busy with various projects in the yard and shop. At some point I glanced at the clock and realised no one had thought about dinner, and it was getting late.

In the fridge was a small quantity of baked pumpkin—not enough to pair with the pie crust in the fridge for a galette, which would have been easy and quick.

Then I noticed a package of tofu in the back of the fridge.

And a wedge of blue cheese.

Before long, I had concocted pumpkin tofu burgers with blue cheese melted on top. Oh my! They were delicious!

Tragically, I have no idea what I put in them. I didn’t measure, didn’t write anything down.

Aside from the pumpkin and tofu, I remember a shallot, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, ground coriander, paprika, salt, soy sauce, black pepper, cumin, bread crumbs, egg…but how much of each?

Nope. I couldn’t recreate these things. I might have been more careful had I known they would turn out so well. But I was rushing, using whatever I could find in the fridge and cupboard, going by the seat of my pants.

I didn’t even take a photo of them.

I suppose I’ll just have to make them again, more carefully. Mmm! I like that idea.

Book Release Day

The Dragon Slayer’s Daughter is now available in e-book and paperback at your favourite online retailers!

Order now!

Nathan, Ella and Oliver have saved Nathan’s dad. Now they need to save the dragons. Can they convince dragons and humans to work together? Not everyone is happy with their plans, and some are willing to kill to prevent them from succeeding.

Nursery web spiders

The nursery web spider (Dolomedes minor) is one of New Zealand’s larger spiders, in spite of it’s species name. At this time of the year, it’s also one of the more visible spiders, or at least its webs are.

Nursery web spiders don’t use webs to catch food. Instead, they use their silk to create shelters for their eggs and newly-hatched young. These shelters are visible in late summer and autumn on the tips of shrubby plants, especially gorse.

The female spider can sometimes be seen hanging around the web during the day. In fact, if she’s nearby, its hard to miss her, with a body nearly two centimetres long, and a leg span reaching six centimetres.

The nursery web isn’t the only care the nursery web spider gives her young. Until the spiderlings are near to hatching, she carries the egg sac with her to protect it. The young hatch out inside the nursery web, staying within the web’s protection for about a week.

The spiderlings disperse by ballooning—they let out a strand of silk until the force of the wind blowing on it is greater than their own weight, and then they float away on the end of the thread to a new home.

Like other members of the genus Dolomedes, the nursery web spider is an ambush hunter, chasing down its prey on foot. But most other Dolomedes do this exclusively on or in water, whereas the nursery web spider hunts on land as well as water, eating a wide range of invertebrates.

Home Fires Burning

Cat enjoying a good book by the fire.

I woke yesterday morning shivering under the summer quilt on the bed after a restless night listening to icy rain on the roof.

Time to switch to winter mode, I suppose.

I lit the first fire of the season.

It wasn’t long before the cat joined me by the fire. Then my daughter, then my husband, then my son…Nothing like a hearth to draw everyone together.

I think about the angst over today’s youth, separated from face-to-face interactions by their devices, and I think that perhaps what we all need are small, poorly insulated houses heated by inefficient wood burners. In a big, centrally heated house, it’s easy for everyone to retreat to their own rooms—shut the door, pull out the phone and troll the internet. But in our house, the only comfortable room in the winter is the 3×4 m living room. A teen who retreats to their room and shuts the door pretty quickly returns to warm up by the fire.

Yes, we may all sit here doing our own thing, but by gathering around the fire together, we share what we’re doing with each other. Someone might share a good line from the book they’re reading, or show a dumb cat video they thought was funny, or ask for help on a maths problem. Simply by virtue of proximity, we connect in other ways.

I will admit that on winter mornings, crawling out of a warm bed into the freezing air to light the fire, I dream of luxuries like heat pumps. And sometimes it would be really nice to have some space to myself, rather than do my knitting cheek-by-jowl with a teenager practicing a new juggling trick. But on the whole, I suspect the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. We humans are hardwired to sit around the fire talking to one another. Our ways of relating to one another, passing on wisdom and culture, and finding our place in a community evolved around the fire.

So, again this winter, I will keep the home fires burning.

Cranberry Orange Scones

I wanted lemon scones for breakfast this morning, but had no lemons. I made these instead, based loosely on my lemon scone recipe. I can’t think why I ever wanted lemon…

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups barley flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
125 g (1/2 cup) butter
1 egg
2/4 cup unsweetened yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
grated rind of 1 orange
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry knife until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk together the egg, yogurt, juice and orange rind in another bowl. Toss the cranberries with the flour mixture, then mix in the wet ingredients. Once all the flour is incorporated, gently knead the dough in the bowl (just 2 or 3 turns). Divide the dough in half. On a floured board, pat each half into a round about 2 cm (3/4 inch) thick. Cut each round into 8 wedges, and arrange the wedges on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 190ºC (375ºF) for 15 to 20 minutes, until nicely browned.

Eat them quickly, before someone else gets to them!