We’re in the bountiful days of summer right now. And while I’d like to be sitting in a chaise lounge enjoying that bounty all day, someone’s got to pick it and process it. At the moment, the processing mostly involves making pickles and chutneys, but there’s a lot more to come. Then there’s the necessary watering, weeding, tying up of tomatoes, planting of winter crops (because as John Snow says, winter’s coming)…
But at the end of each day, we do get to enjoy the fruits of the season. Last night I made one of my favourite mid-summer meals—zucchini and tomato tart.
The beauty of this tart belies its simplicity—just tomato and zucchini, embellished with a little parmesan cheese, garlic and basil.
Back when I had dairy goats, I’d spread a layer of chevre on the bottom, too, which was divine. It also had the bonus of preventing the crust from getting too soggy. These days, without an unlimited supply of goat cheese, I put up with a soggy crust—the tart is still amazing.
This tart relies on having the best tomato and zucchini possible—it’s not a dish to make with out-of-season vegetables—so if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, hang in there and enjoy this gem in July and August instead.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories we tell ourselves.
Specifically, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
I’ve listened to a lot of friends’ and family members’ stories recently, and it’s got me thinking about the power of the narratives we build about ourselves in our own minds. Those stories can turn almost anything into the truth, because we live the life we believe to be true about ourselves.
That’s a lot of power to give a story.
I’ve seen that power at work in my own life. There have been times when I’ve spun a narrative about myself in my head that was true, but depressing. It’s easy to find those sorts of stories to tell ourselves, because of course, bad things have happened to all of us, we’ve all made bad decisions, we’ve all experienced loss.
But by focusing on the victim/fool/bereaved narratives in our lives, we give power to those stories. Those stories become who we are.
As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults whose career has been derailed over and over by the classic forces of gender bias in our society, I could narrate a bitter and dissatisfied story for myself. Sometimes I’ve fallen into that trap, and it has led only to anger, depression and despair. It has given immense power to those negative experiences of the past.
It is better by far to narrate a story of resilience, support, love, and surprising opportunities. Because those things have been a part of my life too, and they make a much better story to live in. By building a positive story in my mind, I wrest power away from the negative. I actually increase my happiness and my strength by reminding myself that it’s always been there, even at the worst of times. My internal narrative can include those bad things, but focus on how they helped me grow, how I used the negative as inspiration for change, how the negative highlights the positive in life.
It’s not that I believe we shouldn’t tell those stories of injustice or pain in our own lives. As a society, we can’t shove that stuff under the rug and not address it. We can’t pretend it doesn’t happen.
But as an individual, I can acknowledge all the shit of life and still build a positive narrative to tell myself about myself.
Is it easy? No, not always. But it’s easier if I focus on the present. It’s easier if I look to the future. It’s easier if I focus on the things that are within my scope of influence. It’s easier if I refuse to label myself in any way—labels so often come with negativity or expectations that we may or may not want to meet. Labels encourage defeatism—oh, I’m just X, so there’s nothing I can do about it.
So in my story about myself, I am not a middle-aged woman. I am not a mother. I am not a wife. I am not a writer. I am instead, a person with certain skills, likes and dislikes who engages in many different activities which bring me joy. I am a person who is still learning and growing, and my story focuses on my core values and how I live them.
It’s been too long since my last post. I have illness to thank again. And simple early summer busyness. The strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, black currants and red currants are all coming in now, and I’m wondering how on Earth I’m going to pick and process them all!
The big garden excitement here at the moment is the new greenhouse that my husband and I gave to each other for Christmas. Yes, we know it was a rather early Christmas gift, but by the time we get the thing set up and ready to go, it’ll be Christmas Day. I’m looking forward to having more garden space under cover for some tender perennial crops and better winter growing.
I’m off to pick berries now and consider what different jams I’m going to be making this weekend! I’ll leave you with a little bit of Christmas doggerel (because I can’t help myself–bad holiday poetry just spills out of my brain at this time of year).
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I contend that actually it’s crisis that’s the real mother of invention.
Lately I feel like I’ve hit one crisis after another—getting Covid during the busiest season in the garden, having book sales completely tank in the lead-up to Christmas, having a critical component of a week-long science lesson be unavailable anywhere last week …
In the garden, I cut corners, laying compost on top of the soil rather than incorporating it as I usually do, in order to save time and limited physical energy. It’s something I hoped to be able to start doing, but figured I still had years of breaking up clay before it would work. Surprisingly, while the soil is a little harder than I’d like it to be for planting, it’s not terrible. If the plants do okay, I may have just changed my garden routine for good, saving me lots of work.
For my books, I’ve taken a step back from the ‘usual’ marketing techniques that have been costing me more than they’ve been bringing in. I’ve analysed what I’m good at, what I enjoy doing, and how I can incorporate those things into my marketing strategy, rather than banging my head against marketing strategies I’m no good at and hate doing. It will take a while to implement my new plan, and even longer to know if it works, but I’m having a great time working on marketing at the moment, rather than dreading every second of it as I usually do.
In the classroom, with less than 24 hours until my science lesson, I launched into preparations for plan B—activities I hadn’t run in 30 years. I felt completely unprepared, and kept realising things I’d forgotten to prepare or forgotten to do—each time I looked around at the resources to hand and got creative. The result was a set of fabulous lessons that didn’t look at all like I’d planned, but which worked well and were fun for everyone.
I really hope next week isn’t as full of crisis as the past several have been, but if they are, I’m pretty sure that as long as I keep moving forward, creativity will blossom and I’ll end up in better shape than before.
Young Adult fantasy is a popular genre, not just among the teens it’s primarily geared toward. Who can resist a good coming-of-age story or a swashbuckling adventure?
Here are some YA fantasy books from authors you may not have heard of before. They include all sorts of awesome things like dragons, samurai, mermaids and Greek gods. So whatever your tastes, there’s something for YA fantasy lovers here.
The last thing Marella wants to hear is that they’re moving halfway across the ocean during her senior year. But her father’s been posted as Ambassador to Pharlandzi, a rival mermaid kingdom, and no amount of pleading is going to change the inevitable: Marella is leaving her school and all of her friends behind to swim in strange waters.
As an ambassador’s daughter, she’s expected to know all the etiquette, curtsy to the right people and bite her tongue around others. But that tongue of hers has always gotten her in trouble, and now she’s in too deep. She doesn’t know who submitted her name into this challenge, but the one thing she knows? It’s death, or victory, and her father didn’t raise a loser. She’ll come back a dragon-riding warrior, or not at all.
She must enter the realm of the dead, or lose the one she loves forever.
Grief becomes revenge when Shou vows to kill the kami king. Only one weapon can destroy him, and it is lost in the realm of the dead. Driven by her hope to save the one she loves, Shou goes where even the kami cannot follow.
But the realm changes those that enter it. And a price must be paid, one that Shou’s allies do not want her to accept.
Further betrayal awaits Shou. And a final decision as the prophecy is unveiled. For with the death of the kami king, another must rise to take his place.
The epic conclusion to The Kami Prophecy, a YA series full of action, mythical creatures, and romance, all set in a fantasy world inspired by feudal Japan.
The fate of the kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young warrior touched by the gods…which prince will she choose?
Ilia is Gods Touched, a young warrior who has spent her entire life sequestered behind the walls of the temple of the goddess of war. The goddess herself brought her there, leaving her in the care of two other misfits, with only the warning that her visions of the future would put her in the path of the gods. Now, so many years later, that prediction has come true.
Prince Aristo has been raised to be king, but when his parents put together a tournament for the eligible young ladies of the kingdom to fight for his hand and an unlikely enemy appears instead, will Ilia’s help be enough to spite the gods and help Aristo keep his kingdom, or is there something deeper at play?
All Lucille ever wanted was a perfectly normal high school experience, but her town doesn’t do normal. Not when a few Latin words set her hand on fire, the entire town gets possessed by evil spirits, and the cute guy she’s got her eyes on brings a freaking sword to the battle.
Now Lucille has to make a decision: return to her cushy, and safe, life-style at the boarding school, or face the monsters that hunt her and the magic that lurks inside of her.
A Drop of Magic is the first of this action-packed YA fantasy series with the wit of Buffy, the magic of Charmed, and all the drama of the Vampire Diaries.
There’s a live Arlo Guthrie album (I can’t remember which one) in which he’s talking between songs, and at some point he says, “I know I’m supposed to be singing. But you can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.” To which the audience roars approval.
It’s true. You can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.
The second Fatecarver book (Fatewalker) is with the editor, and I really should be working on book 3 if I want to keep the books in the series coming out at a reasonable pace for my readers.
But a couple of weeks ago when I sat down to start book 2, a different book began pouring out of my fingers onto the keyboard.
It was like a flash flood. Within a few days, 15,000 words of a book I shouldn’t be spending time on right now had flowed out. I gave in and have let it flow. I don’t even have a title for the story, which has been kicking around in my head since New Zealand’s first Covid lockdown in 2020, but it’s already over a third written.
Here’s the gist of the story. I can’t wait to be able to share it with you. If things carry on this way, it won’t be long before I can.
Alex Blackburn has inherited all her Grandmother’s possessions. And all her secrets.
When she discovers an ancient book on summoning spirits among Gran’s books, she … sort of accidentally summons one of them.
It’s three metres long and looks like a centipede.
And it’s just eaten Gran’s dog.
She drags Gran’s neighbour, Shelby, into the drama because the book came from his great-great-great-grandmother. Alex can’t work out how to get rid of the demon, but maybe Shelby’s inherited some of his ancestor’s ability with magic.
Or maybe he’s just terrified of centipedes.
While the demon munches its way through the neighbourhood pets, Alex and Shelby scramble to find a way to send it back to where it came from before it …
This fantasy set in small-town New Zealand will have you sitting on the edge of your seat (while checking underneath it for centipedes), and cheering on Alex and Shelby as they bumble their way around magic and each other.
A few days ago on an online group I’m part of, someone asked about people’s life hacks.
I thought about it for a while and realised that I spend so much time in the garden, that my ‘life’ hacks are mostly garden hacks.
So here is a list of 10 of my many garden hacks:
Cut up empty milk bottles to use as plant tags.
Give your chickens the run of the vegetable garden during winter—they’ll keep pests and weeds down and make springtime garden prep easier.
Recycle old cotton sheets and clothes, and raffia baskets as biodegradable plant ties.
When picking carrots, water well about an hour beforehand—the soft soil will make the carrots easier to pull.
When thinning carrots, remove the largest plants first—the small ones will grow, and you’ll be able to eat your thinnings.
Instead of tossing empty juice bottles in the recycling bin, fill them with water and line them up in the greenhouse—they’ll store heat during the day and release it at night. Paint them black for even more heat absorption.
Fill plant pots with cement to use as weights for things like bird nets and row covers. Give them wire handles threaded with a short section of irrigation pipe so they’re easy to move around.
Whenever you cook something, like pasta, that is boiled and drained, save the boiling water and pour it on weeds to kill them instead of sending it down the drain.
Plant summer lettuces in the shade of tall crops like corn to keep them from bolting too quickly.
Plant rangy crops like pumpkins next to early crops like brassicas—by the time the pumpkins grow large, the brassicas are gone and the pumpkins have space to sprawl.
We spent a night in Wanaka last week before our tramping trip. While wandering around town looking for a likely spot for dinner, we came across some poems stuck onto a bridge railing.
Like a Banksy painting, the poems were certainly not ‘legal’ and were no doubt frowned upon by the local authorities. But also Banksy-like, they made passersby smile and think.
Years ago, when my husband and I lived in State College, Pennsylvania, we regularly took our walks in the agricultural fields near the edge of town. Along the path, shortly after leaving the neighbourhood, someone had installed a tiny section of sidewalk. Embedded in the concrete was the poem ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ by Shel Silverstein. There was no indication of who had installed the poem, and it was tucked away beside the field as though it had been surreptitiously installed in the dead of night.
There are municipally sanctioned examples of Guerrilla art—art that appears in unlikely places. The poetry among the rocks along Wellington’s waterfront is one example. But there’s something particularly delightful about the non-sanctioned art—the amazing sand sculptures people create on the beach, the sidewalk chalk drawings that proliferated during lockdown, the splash of graffiti on train cars. It’s an expression of life and spirit, a proclamation of something uniquely human, a statement about human lives.
I think we all could use a little more guerrilla art in our lives. Thanks to the Brownston Street Bard for your lovely contribution. May the ink continue to flow from your pen.
As usual, I spent most of the long Labour Day weekend in the vegetable garden. I weeded, prepared garden beds, and planted my cucurbits in trays.
But as they say, all work and no play … I didn’t want to spend the whole holiday weekend sweating in the garden.
So on Monday my husband and I went to Hakatere Conservation Park and sweated on Mount Guy instead.
The Ashburton Lakes region is a glacially formed landscape dotted with lakes and tarns. The land around the wetlands is largely tussock grassland studded with spiny matagauri bushes. An unforgiving, windswept landscape that can feel downright bleak.
That was my impression the first time I visited. Fifteen years ago, I was hired to develop an interpretation plan for what was then a proposed park only. I had the great fortune to tour the area with a Department of Conservation ranger who had worked in the area for decades and had a great love of the landscape. He showed me the little things—not necessarily obvious at first—that set the region apart. Rare insects (including an aquatic moth!), waterfowl and lizards. Unique and diverse plants. Historical use of the land, and massive changes over geologic time. There’s a lot more than meets the eye.
On Monday, we were treated to a glorious day—sunny and calm at first, with a brisk breeze kicking in just when the day began to feel too warm. We parked at Lake Clearwater and hiked the track to the summit of Mount Guy. On our return, we followed the tussocky ridge down to a saddle where we picked up Te Araroa, following the track back to the edge of Lake Clearwater where we completed our large, loopy circuit of the lake.
The hike afforded stunning views of jagged, snow-capped peaks, and a view of Mount Sunday down in the river valley.
Oddly, out of all the “mountains” in the park, Mount Sunday may be the most famous. The hill was used as the location for Edoras in the Lord of the Rings movies. In the enormity of the surrounding landscape, however, it is an insignificant lump of rock.
Perhaps, like the hidden insects, birds, and plants, it is the little details that are the interesting bits.