Dec 28, 2008

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 3

The continuing story of our Chicken Dome.

On Day 1, we erected the frame
Day 2 was crossbracing day
Day 3 sees us make the door.

Linda Woodrow gives instructions for making a snake-proof door in her book, The Permaculture Home Garden. Something fairly sophisticated would also be needed if you have raccoons to contend with. Here in New Zealand, however, we have neither snakes nor raccoons and need only to worry about the neighbourhood dogs. Therefore, a simple hinged door will suffice.

Step 1 - Locate the offcuts from the arc-pieces from Day 1. We found ours in various places around the section, having been used as hobby horses and swords for a couple of weeks.

Step 2 - Choose a place for the door and measure the size of the frame. This picture here, taken from the crossbracing day, also serves to show where the doorway is. The door will go in the space bounded by the purple and red lines.

Step 3 - Cut the piping to fit, taking into account how the pieces will attach to each other.

Step 4 - Drill holes in the ends of the pipes, and securely attach with tie-wire.

Step 5 - Ensure your door is not twisted, and is 'square' (as square as a rhombus can be - symmetrical I guess)

Step 6 - Cover the door with chicken wire. We are using a double layer of wire to help deter those neighbourhood dogs. We'll likewise also cover the whole bottom half of the dome with two layers of wire.

Day 4 is covering the frame with chicken wire.
Day 5 - chicken dome completion!

Dec 26, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry christmas everybody. Miss4 is completely spent after the excitement of yesterday and is holed up in our bed for the morning. Leaving Miss1 the attention of TWO parents and all of the opened presents from yesterday. The winner: 'pretty things'.

Here she is modelling a whole set of hairclips covering her entire head:


Dec 20, 2008

toast and the spanish armada

Miss4 likes to make shapes with her toast at breakfast, on the odd occasion when we aren't having porridge.

This morning I was vaguely aware of the running commentary of the shapes of her toast, as she created a different object with each bite...

Look! A big it's a shoe!...a gun. bang bang! I'll shoot you (miss1)...
That's when my ears tuned in more closely, but the toast changed shape again before she got too involved with the gun...
Now it's a little boat! Gunpowder (shake shake goes the toast), and now fire!, then the boat gets launched whooosh towards the big Spanish ships. Here's Elizabeth's little ships, and over here (appropriate gesture) are the other ships. Whooosh goes the wind and blows the fire ships towards them. Oh No! the Spanish ships can't get away. Crash!
And there you go. The bare bones of the Spanish Armada's defeat at the hands of Elizabeth I's navy in 1588. Brilliant.

Dec 17, 2008

oven dried tomatoes - recipe

Store bought tomatoes, washed and ready for anything

I'm experimenting with more ways to put my tomato surplus in the 'pantry bank', so to speak. Having recently purchased the first two Destitute Gourmet cookbooks, I was keen to put them to good use. I've already baked the Oaty Crisp biscuits (cookies if you're in the US) every week, so that justifies the purchase of book 1. This week I'm drying tomatoes in my oven. (Handily justifying the purchase of book 2 - justifying to myself, I mean. I'd be annoyed to fork out money for recipe books I won't use).

Before I get into the pictorial extravaganza, I'll point out that drying stuff in a warm oven for hours is not exactly 'destitute' cookery. It would have been far more frugal to blanch and freeze them, or bottle the tomatoes to use in recipes in place of tinned ones. But it was fun.

If I could rig up a solar dehydrator for use on those long hot mid-summer days then it would cross the threshold into true frugality (especially if I found a cheap supply of olive oil...). But for now, here is how I interpreted the instructions given me by the great Sophie Gray.

First, preheat your oven to 125degC

Wash your tomatoes and take off the green bits. Slice them in half and poke holes in the skin with a wooden skewer (or a fork if you don't have any skewers).

Excuse the state of my oven - I don't clean it often

Lay the tomatoes on an oven tray or two and pop them in the oven.

Wedge the oven door open slightly with the handle of a wooden spoon. This allows the evaporating water to escape the oven, and allows the tomatoes to actually dry.

One spoon, artfully placed

I think I left mine too long. You're aiming for soft fruit-leather type consistency, without them being juicy - no juice should ooze out if you squeeze one. But mine are a bit crispy round the edges - for some reason I was heading more for banana-chip consistency (which is odd as 1. I hate banana chips and 2. We do eat sun-dried tomatoes, so I'm not unfamiliar with their consistency. Weird. I'll just put it down to a bit of a head cold). The book says up to 6 hours, but mine were still a bit juicy then. Use your judgment and make notes for yourself for next time.

When they're done, put them into sterile jars*, pour olive oil over the top until the jar is full and screw the lids down. I'm hoping that soaking in olive oil will soften mine up somewhat.

These dried tomatoes are not bright red. Apparently bought ones are soaked in something first to keep them red coloured, so your homemade ones will have that artisan-craft additive-free look to
them. And you get bonus flavoured olive oil for all sorts of goodies once you've eaten the tomatoes.

From 3 kilograms of tomatoes (about 6 pound, give or take) I made 2 jars of dried tomato goodness. So I guess one way that this beats freezing or bottling fresh tomatoes is the space saving component. That's a lot of concentrated tomato flavour in a couple of little jars.


*I sterilised the jars by taking the tomatoes out of the oven, and putting the jars in, at 125degC for 10 to 15mintues. I sterilized the lids by pouring boiling water over them and leaving them to sit for the same time period. If you have your own preferred sterilization method, then use it. Tomatoes are quite acidic so are a bit more resistant than other foods to 'close enough is good enough' sterilisation standards.

Dec 15, 2008

Quotable quote - what the world needs

"Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and do that, because what the world needs is those who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

I can't work out how to stop it saying "read more" when there isn't anything more to read. Sorry

Dec 14, 2008

lacto-fermented tomato relish

Tomatoes are in season in New Zealand and are consequently very economical. Apparently there have also been issues with exporting them this year, so there is quite a glut of them. All the better to buy up large and preserve them for the rest of the year.

This year I've decided to try one of the Nourishing Traditions lacto-fermented relishes, as well as the usual Edmond's Cookbook relishes and chutneys that all kiwi families know and love.

Step 1 - gather your ingredients. In the photo above, you see
1 Capsicum, or Bell Pepper. Recipe said green, but I used an orange one, then photographed a red one. This needs to be seeded and chopped. i.e. cut it open, throw away the bit with the seeds, and chop up the skin and flesh.
5 Tomatoes. Recipe said 4, but mine weren't very big. Skin them, remove the seeds, and chop.
1 Tablespoons Salt. Recipe calls for natural sea salt. What I have is iodized table salt with anti-caking agent. The purists will throw their hands up in horror. Go ahead.
2 Chillies. Recipe says fresh jalapenos. I have dried chillies of indeterminate species, harvested and dried from a chili potplant I was given. Remove the seeds and chop, being scrupulous about washing your hands afterward. Chili juice burns like fire.
4 Tablespoons Whey. Mine is some liquid strained from homemade yoghurt. Recipe says you can omit this and add more salt, but doesn't say how much more salt.

Then I went for a walk in the garden and gathered 3 green/spring onions and a few leaves of vietnamese coriander/cilantro.

These were also finely chopped, and everything was mashed together in a glass bowl, along with 1/2cup of water. (Tap water. I can hear the screams of purist agony from here).

The mix was then poured into a large preserving jar, tightly sealed, and placed on the bench for a few days (2 to 4 depending on how warm your house is) for those friendly lacto-fermenting bugs to do their thing. Then place it somewhere cool for storage.

Traditional Sauerkraut is probably the most widely known lacto-fermented food. I've not eaten ordinary sauerkraut, but have enjoyed Kimchi, the spicy Korean version. When cabbages are plentiful in my garden, next year sometime, I'll give that a go too.

Dec 13, 2008

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 2

The making of our chicken dome continues. Day 1 is here. We managed to erect the general frame of our PVC pipe chicken dome but hadn't crossbraced it (made it stable), or put chicken wire and a door on. Day 2 is crossbracing day.

You will need:
twine (we used sisal 'garden twine')
a crochet hook (or equivalent piece of wire)

The bracing is really important for giving the dome strength and stability. At the end of Day 1 the structure was very wobbly. Now it can be picked up easily from the side without it losing its shape.

First you make a 'skirt' of diagonal crossbracing, circling the dome, between the base of the dome up to about 30cm from the ground.

This is followed by horizontal crossbracing between each vertical strut, at that 30cm level, creating a support ring made of twine, 30cm from the ground.

The third lot of bracing is bowbracing and runs vertically from the top support ring (made of plastic piping) to the middle support ring (which you just made from twine) at the point of each vertical strut. I combined this bracing with a bowbracing around the inside of the top support ring as I threaded the twine from one strut to the next, but I don't know how much extra stability this gave the chook dome.

Here's the step by step version, with helpful and informative photos! Since it's almost impossible to see the green twine that we used for the bracing, we've added exciting coloured lines to show where the lines are for one wedge of the frame.

bow bracing - connecting two points on one of the vertical struts, like stringing a bow (coloured purple in the picture)
horizontal cross bracing - connecting from one vertical strut to a neighbour at the same height (coloured red)
diagonal cross bracing - connecting from one vertical strut to a neighbour at a different height (coloured yellow)

Step 1: Make the extra hole

Mark off about 300mm above the ground on each vertical strut. Drill a hole big enough to comfortably fit the twine through twice.

Step 2: Crossbracing

Tie all of the diagonal cross bracing at the bottom.

Tie all of the horizontal cross bracing and the bow bracing.

And you're done.

Day 3 is making the door.
Day 4 is covering the frame with chicken wire.
Day 5 - chicken dome completion!

Dec 11, 2008

Brainchild Casserole for the Slowcooker

Using a Slowcooker is absolutely the best way to cook casseroles and lamb/pork roasts. A friend requested (and named) "Brainchild Casserole", so here it is.

You will need:
500g braising/stewing steak, cubed
2 large onions, chopped and microwaved in butter
5 large carrots, chopped
2 capsicums, cored and chopped
6 mushrooms
1C cashew nuts
2T sunflower seeds

1/2t Cinnamon
1t Tumeric
1T crushed garlic
1T Oregano
3T Bisto (instant gravy)
1/4C Worcester Sauce

2C water

Combine the first seven ingredients in your slowcooker.

Mix the next six ingredients with some water and pour over the casserole. Add the rest of the water.

Turn slowcooker to 'low' all day (8 hours).

Do not

Dec 6, 2008

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 1

Exciting news. We will inherit a pair of chickens in January. Now they need a house. The handymum found in her most excellent book The Permaculture Home Garden instructions in how to build a chicken dome, which is a lightweight chicken 'tractor' that can be moved around the section. It's a compromise between free-range (which isn't practical because of our vege garden and the neighbourhood dogs) and a permanent coop.

Armed with this knowledge our brave heroes ventured forth (pictures and details below the cut).

Linda Woodrow gives instructions in her book for a dome 12 metres in circumference - this is large enough for about a dozen chooks and far too large for our section. So we had to adapt things a little.

Our chicken coop is a hemisphere with a ground circumference of 6m. This will give enough room for 2 to 3 chickens (the recommendation is 1sq meter per chicken) This is what you will need:
5x 6m class 12 PVC pipe, 20mm wide
pvc glue
(you also need a drill, pencil, tape measure, hacksaw and maybe even cellotape)
plus some other stuff you might need but we haven't used yet:
baling twine
bamboo or pine slats
small dark box as a laying box
woven plastic tarp
4 tent pegs
water container

Step 1: Making the base

Take one of the 6M pipes.
Put some pvc glue in the female end of the pipe (the instructions are on the glue) and make the pipe into a circle.

Step 2: Attach three more pipes as the frame of the coop

Take three of the 6m lengths and cut them until they are 4.2m each. If you use the full 6m length for the frame your coop could look more like a bullet - like the picture on the right....

Make a mark with your pencil on the base circle every 1m, so there are 6 marks in total. Drill a small hole through each mark going from the outside of the circle to the inside. This is what you will attach the frame to.

With the 4.2m lengths drill a small hole about 15mm from each end, making sure that both drilled holes are in the same orientation (so the pipe doesn't have to twist).
Then bend a 4.2m length over the base circle so that the ends touch two holes on opposite sides of the circle, with the middle of the length arching into the air. Use tie-wire to connect the arch to the circle, with the end of each arch inside the circle. Repeat for the other two arches.

Tie-wire / Cellotape the three arches together at the apex to form a primitive frame:

Step 3: Add a support circle
I wasn't sure whether the PVC pipe would be flexible enough to bend into this smaller circle so I opted for the much softer and more flexible Polybutylene pipe.

We used the sophisticated method of marking 1.25m high on the frames with a pencil, and holding it up on the inside of the frame to determine what length we want it. After marking that we chopped off the excess, made it into a circle with the connecter, and marked out six equal portions on it (which turned out to be 730mm).

Then out with the drill again to put six marked holes in the support circle and six in the marks on the frame. I again drilled through the support circle from outside to inside, which this time around was a little inconvenient since the Tie-wire didn't line up neatly when going from one pipe to the next.

Handymum showed off her needle threading prowess by doing four connections in the time it took me to do two.


Day 2 was a week later
:) Crossbracing the dome.
Day 3 is here. Making the door.
Day 4 is covering the frame with chicken wire.
Day 5 - Chicken Dome Completion!

Dec 5, 2008


This school term we've been able to join with some other home educators for a fortnightly pottery class. Here's Miss4 showing me which bowl is hers.

We spend a couple of hours every other Friday morning at the pottery club rooms. Miss4 spends the first hour inside with the clay, while I follow Miss1 around giving her scraps of clay to play with as she sits up at an unused wheel and pretends to throw pots, or rolls balls of clay, or generally starts touching things she shouldn't, climbs step ladders to the sinks, opens cupboards, touches other people's works... and occasionally runs around outside in the sun. The second hour is more or less the same except that the smaller kids from the class are kinda done with the work and they all hang out together outside, climbing the bush-covered bank behind the clubrooms, building 'campfires' and generally having a blast.

I've gotten to know one of the other Mums quite well and we generally find time to sit and have a natter and some morning tea (she brings coffee in a thermos and I bring bikkies - a mutually beneficial arrangement).

The tutor is really good with the kids, and copes very well with the large age range. There are two 4 year olds, a 6 year old (whom you can see with Miss4 in the photo), a couple of kids about 9 or 10, and about four or five in their early teens. There's one of those "what a small world" stories about me and the tutor - her husband is a cousin of my father-in-law, which we discovered more or less by accident when she called in to collect Merl's Grandma to take her to the airport. I would go into more 'she said, she said' detail but it would get long and rambly and pointless (trust me, I've already written it out and deleted it!). Anyhow, she's very good at getting the kids to make stuff with the clay, enjoy the process, and doesn't insist that they all sit down and be quiet while she explains stuff the kids don't think they need to know. (She gets them started and is great at jumping in with needed information once the kids realise they need it - and doesn't mind explaining it again individually later)

We've got one final class remaining for the year, so that's when we get to see how it has all turned out. I'm really excited to see the results. I think Miss4's coffee mugs are going to be way cooler than my 'ugly mug' that I made when I was a student. Read more...

Nov 28, 2008

queen cleopatra

My sister gave us a treasure trove of kids' books at the weekend, and we have been having a great time exploring them this week.

Miss4's current favourite is a book produced by the British National Museum all about Beauty Secrets of Egyptian Queens. It's an activity book with pop-out cardboard jewelery, lots of information about a whole range of Egyptian Queens, and suggested activities - like making an Egyptian style wig, how to make a long linen tunic and...
milk and rose petal bath to have a bath like Cleopatra - using milk powder instead of asses' milk, for convenience sake. Thankfully, since donkeys are in short supply in this suburb.

Miss4 has been switching between being Cleopatra and Elizabeth I this week. Sometimes she's both at the same time, which makes for interesting conversations among her toys. Read more...

Nov 24, 2008

You treat me like I'm your slave

So said Miss4. as she took some breakfast plates through to the kitchen.

Our wonderful big girl is taking off reading, and has just discovered where I have hidden all of my graphic books. No, not like that silly. Asterix, Dilbert, Calvin and Hobbes and The Farside. The latter three are impenetrable due to their heavy use of irony, which is beyond her at present ("Calvin is a naughty naughty boy").

But she can and does devour Asterix, which has lead to a number of interesting questions about Romans, punching people, slaves, and of course, falling into the magic potion.

We now have the kinda good problem where she just goes and hides for long stretches of the time and we find her sitting on the toilet or in her room reading. Jobs take a distinct second place, which is why we have to be firm, which is why apparently we treat her like a slave.

Which is why we have to explain to her.....


Nov 20, 2008

advent conspiracy

Spend less. Give more. Be free.

Nov 19, 2008

shower caps

Miss4 and Miss1 in their new shower caps

Thanks to this very easy to use tutorial at Sew Delish our girls now have new shower caps.

Miss4 had been protesting about having a shower in the evenings because she doesn't like having her hair combed out and then dried (it's very tuggy). So we thought we'd give a shower cap a try.

I used a large plastic postage bag for the plastic layer and some old cotton sheeting for the blue layer. The only thing I had to buy was the bias binding - and at 99c a metre these are economical shower caps.

The tutorial says to use a circle 55 to 66 centimetres diameter, and I made mine 51cm, due to plastic bag size constraints, but this is a fine size for a child's head. If I were to make one again I would use a lighter type of plastic - perhaps rubbish bag weight.

Both girls have been wearing the caps as 'casual day wear' around the house since I finished them yesterday. And the shower this evening went very well, with no hair-drying required.

All in all a very successful project.

Nov 16, 2008

Young Tory of the Year

From 1995. The more things change the more they stay the same.
From "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" UK comedy show. Read more...

Nov 15, 2008

Life Without School

Life Without School is a 'community blog' which I check regularly. There are a range of contributors, with a new article posted roughly weekly.

I've been inspired and reassured by the articles - each written by a home educator sharing an insight or tip or general musings on life. The contributors follow the "inquiry-based, learner driven approach" (the swanky phrase I've recently adopted because 'unschooling' makes people nervous).

Highly recommended for a bit of inspiration.

Nov 14, 2008

homemade tortillas

Mixing the oil into the flour

I tried making my own wheatflour tortillas the other night. We had leftovers, and not many of them, and I needed some way to make the same dinner over again look like a completely different dinner. Solution? Wrap it in a tortilla!

Personally I don't know how people roll them thinly enough to make them look like shop bought tortillas - mine ended up looking a lot more like naan bread once they were cooked. But that is not a bad thing. Naan is in fact very good.

Since it was my first attempt, I stuck to the recipe exactly - next time I'll use butter instead of oil and at least some wholemeal/wheatmeal flour in with it, perhaps up to 50/50.

As for the tools to use, you can use anything to mix the oil in - you don't have to use the nifty pastry cutter (or blender) that you see in my photo. I like to use it because it was my Mum's. It also spreads the oil through really evenly. I don't use it to mix the water in though - it just gets clogged up. That's when I switch to my wooden spoon.

I don't think I used quite enough water - they were not really soft enough to roll out easily. But be careful not to add too much. Soggy dough is a bit harder to correct.

Apparently these freeze well, but I'd probably need to triple the recipe to have any left to freeze.


2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil
about 3/4 cup warm water

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (or food processor), add the oil and then slowly add enough warm water to form a soft dough. Knead on a floured board for about 5 minutes then allow the dough to rest.
Divide dough into 10 or so small balls and roll out thinly.
Cook them quickly in a greased, moderately hot pan for half a minute or so, until they bubble and start to brown. Turn and cook the other side.
Keep them in a damp tea-towel to keep soft and reheat in aluminium foil in the oven. Read more...

Nov 12, 2008

building community

I cannot surpass the two posts I'll link to in a minute. The suggestions are excellent, the approach is hope-filled, and the goals are admirable.

In North and South this week I read a prediction for the economic downturn. The man is Bruce Sheppard. The words are as follows
"...We're all going to have to reflect on the kind of society we want to become. We're going to need to learn to be charitable and show decency and respect towards one another again..."
And if we don't? "We will descend into anarchy because there won't be enough cash flowing around to make everyone a winner. We'll be staring at a South African-style future." Rampant violent crime and home invasions."
North and South, December 2008

Perhaps not coincidentally our vicar at church has been talking about the transforming power of hope within communities - and for communities to adapt to doing things in new ways.

Over at Green Bean Dreams there is an excellent post on building community.

Please do go and read the post. But just in case the link breaks (as they do), here are a few choice snippets. Green Bean says;
There are a million ways to do it. Sign up with a local green group. Join a church or, if you already belong, attend an event or volunteer to be on a committee. Put together an email list for the neighborhood. Plant a garden in your front yard. Set up a cocktail table in a cul de sac. Ask other parents at your child's school about carpooling. Ask a neighbor to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar. The ways to build community are as simple and as limitless as can be.

But here's the catch.

Building community is hard. It will tug you out of your comfort zone. It will force you to interact with others - particularly, others whom you do not know well or at all. That is, after all, the point.

In many ways, it is easier to make your own yogurt, plant an edible garden, make jam in a silent kitchen. That is more comfortable for most of us and certainly for myself. I don't have to talk to anyone when I harvest lettuce or stir in the yogurt culture. I can sit in the quiet cocoon of my own home and reach out only through wires and cables. I don't have to look at anyone's face. Or struggle for something to say. Or wonder afterwards if what I said sounded stupid. If I talked too much or too little.
This is true. Christ did not tell us to go live holy lives in isolation - He was all about community and bringing hope to the world. And that means the community of people around us.

The other good post is the one which tipped me to Green Bean's blog. Melinda at One Green Generation uses Green Bean's post as a starting point and then expands on it from her own experiences. All a community group really needs is a few friends sitting around deciding to do stuff and inviting others to join in. Be brave and actually get out there and join in with them!

Hattip to the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op for having Melinda write for them too :) Read more...

Nov 10, 2008

something i didn't know about flies

caution, not for those with weak stomachs

Flesh fly. Sarcophaga spp. Image from wiki entry

Miss4 was on a fly hunt today. The warmer weather has brought a few of them inside and she is an excellent fly swatter (what passes for hand-eye-coordination training around here).

Today, she swatted a fly and decided to do a little investigating. After all, we do encourage an 'enquiry based, learner directed approach' donchernow, so despite my own qualms about the grossness I remained silent as she proceeded.

Taking a wooden block, she carefully squished the fly on the windowsill to see what she would see.

What she saw was live young! How cool is that?? I didn't know that flies could lay live maggots - I thought they all laid eggs that went through the usual egg, larvae, pupae, fly process.

After ascertaining for certain that we were indeed seeing what we were seeing, I sent her off to thoroughly wash her hands and the wooden block while I got rid of the fly and maggots.

I've just done some investigating online and found that it must have been a flesh fly. Some species of flesh fly lay live young (try saying that 6 times fast) and thus are useful to forensic entomologists (people who look at the insect colonisation of dead bodies to determine time of death etc). I like their scientific name Sarcophagidae - meaning 'flesh eater'.

There's a you-tube of someone doing the exact same thing if you really want to see it. Some people will put anything on youtube, won't they? I didn't watch the whole thing, it was too gross to see twice...


Nov 9, 2008

farewell helen - post election reflections

I will miss you, Helen Clark, farewell and enjoy your retirement.

The NZ election results came in on Saturday night, with a clear government able to be formed by National and Act.

(for anyone not familiar with New Zealand's voting system, we have multiple parties, elected based on their overall percentage of the votes, who then get to negotiate with each other to try and form a majority group who can be the 'government' - it's actually more complicated than that, but that's close enough - for more info, see the MMP wiki)

So. A swing to the Right.

Which is not the way I voted :) I did reconsider my vote for the Greens in the end - I ended up ticking the Progressive's box, whom I decided actually more closely aligned with my ideals.

I totally support the Greens' environmental policies, and I love their insulation scheme for poor peoples' homes, but I was uncomfortable with some of their other private member's bills that were passed in the last few years. A little too much of the government legislating how you behave in the privacy of your own home/private premises etc (like the anti-smacking bill, and the anti-smoking legislation - both of which I agreed with the aims of - but felt that the legislation was sloppy and rushed, and consequently had unlooked for consequences - like what a CYFs caseworker might now do when a neighbour reports a smack, or Returned Servicemen not being able to smoke in their own RSA clubs).

So. To the future. Some of my friends have said that they would plan to leave the country if Helen were re-elected (to which I always replied "and go where??"), and today my bro said that some of his friends were now planning to leave the country. Go figure. I still reply "and go where??" The whole world is having an economic meltdown. OK, sure, the last time New Zealand had a Right Wing government in power during a recession, they retrenched (causing massive job losses - the government and its infrastructure projects being a major source of employment), set a target of 10% unemployment (i.e. always to have at least 10% of people unemployed), slashed welfare to 'make people want to get a job' (while actively planning not to have jobs for everyone), got rid of state-housing, sold off or deregulated state assets like the railways and power companies (so the railway system was sucked dry and left a wasted worthless husk, while we now have power companies raising consumer fees by 10% 'because of the hard times' while giving their execs 100% pay raises).

But they wouldn't be stupid enough to do that all over again. Would they??

Despite the fact that many of those very same people are likely to have cabinet positions.

And Roger Douglas, of Rogernomics fame, likely to return to cabinet.


But even so, NZ is still an awesome place to live. I can't think of a place I would rather be.

My hope is that people will come together to help each other out during the coming hard times, just as they did last time. That the church will respond with compassion and grace and practical help to those who are desperate - as it did with the Hikoi of Hope in 1998. And we will remember that no government, no political system, no leader with a charismatic smile can ever rescue us.

Neither can the church - a bunch of people mostly doing their best to follow Christ each day, some days better than others, mostly fairly averagely.

Only Christ himself.

And even then, to be honest, sometimes the divine 'rescue' initially looks like a worse option than staying with what you have. I'm sure the thought crossed Jesus' mind on his way to his execution. In fact, scripture says it did (Luke 32:39-44).

It's late and I'm rambling (and making lots of typos which I'm having to go back and correct), but I guess what I'm saying is that even though I am less than stoked about our election result, I am confident in God's sovereignty, confident in his goodness, and hopeful to see what good he will create from the situation. There is always goodness - and every good and perfect thing is from God (even if our vew of God is too small to make the connection obvious). Read more...

Nov 6, 2008

I have a secret - a merl post

And it is this: Today is the sixth day of Movember. It's a great opportunity for the women in your life to develop character.

The rules: Have a bare lip on October the 31st, and then compete with other guys at work to grow the best moustache (something which you have almost no control over). All in a good cause.

This year it's even more exciting than usual because Miss4 and I have decided to keep my Moustache growing a 'secret' from the wif.

Comments from Miss4 in the last week:
Won't she be so surprised? But don't tell her. It's our secret.

It's so soft and warm (stroking what is essentially three day old stubble).

You should stop talking to mummy and tell her not to talk to you. That way she won't find out you're growing a moustache.

and then today: snow

Yes, truly, snow. And hail.

Remember what the weather was like a couple of days ago?

Well, we woke this morning to snow on the hills. The weather at springtime in a temperate, coastal climate in the pacific ocean is completely mental.

We embraced the moment and, taking morning tea with us in the car, went driving looking for some snow to play in. And we found some! It was fairly sub-par, as snow goes, but it was good for a wee snow fight. It was Miss1's first experience of snow and she wasn't that stoked. She was far more interested in stomping in the muddy puddles and after about 10 minutes was trying to open the car doors to get back in the warmth (or perhaps to get access to the biscuits/cookies we brought with us).

So after a couple more snow balls we called it a day. We climbed out of our wet snow clothes, and warmed up with some hot chocolate from the thermos (fair trade hot chocolate, of course!) before heading back home.

One more thing we wouldn't be able to do if Miss4 was at school next year! Read more...

Nov 4, 2008

an afternoon in the sun

Afternoon tea on the lawn with Princess Clarey (the bear in the dress).

Yesterday was a beautiful day - not so hot that you'd burn, but nice and warm while lying in the sun. This photo was taken in the late afternoon, with Miss1 having her catch-up afternoon tea after her long afternoon nap. Miss4 and I had already had ours, sitting on a rug in the shade. Very civilised.

I've decided it's a good thing the election is this weekend, because I'm done with politics for now :) I occasionally get a rush of blood to the head about things, but I'm over it now. I figure that both the major parties are self-serving politicos, and the smaller parties are more or less forced into extreme positions just to make themselves visible to the media.

I was going to put a quote here to express and validate my cynicism, but it turns out I'd mis-remembered it. Perhaps this is better - it is inspirational and optimistic, if only we can find the party to vote for that reflects what we consider to be "high ideals and heroism"

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you
to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann


Nov 1, 2008

helen clark - eminem parody video

We thought this was funny.

I'm coming to the conclusion that I don't want either National or Labour to win the election. This rather hampers my strategical voting powers...

By the way, there's a good intro to NZ politics and MMP here, explaining the system etc for an Australian audience, if you're a foreigner and interested in our upcoming election. Or even if you're a kiwi and need a reminder.

Saw the other day that some of our kiwi school kids here reckoned they wanted Obama to win the NZ election, the odds are fairly low... Read more...

Oct 30, 2008

Who you should vote for - a Merl post

Every wonder why otherwise sensible and intelligent people could make the absolutely awful and unfathomable decision of choosing to support their terrible political party, the party which would take the country to hell in a handbasket and would make you consider emigrating to another country if they won the election? Me neither.

So without further ado, here's a guide to voting for the parties in the upcoming New Zealand election:

Act. You should vote for the Act party because they are the natural party of libertarians. Standing for both economic liberalisation to moral permissiveness, if this is you then Act is your party. Please disregard the hypocrisy of Rodney voting in lock-step with National to condemn several morally permissive pieces of legislation, or the fact that he spoke up in favour of those issues before he became leader of what is left of the Act party. He proudly represents Act's founding principles and puts party before self, even if the party might only be himself after the next election. Vote Act!

National. You should vote for National because it really isn't such a big deal that what the party says in public is quite different from what they say in private. Please. Give us more credit than that. Since everybody know about National's 'secret agenda' of welfare cuts and selling state assets to anonymous donors, it isn't really a secret agenda. It's like advertising really. It's not a lie if the advertiser doesn't expect the public to believe it. And that's why you should vote National.

United Future. Vote for Peter Dunne because you might get an extra MP who you've never heard from into parliament. But at least it won't be the Christian Democrats!

New Zealand First. Accounting is hard. Really hard. That's why most people pay accountants to handle their finances for them. Who could blame Winston for taking a pugnacious and grandstanding approach to dealing with the media, when it's precisely this approach that has served him so well for his entire political career? So what that only legitimate disciplinary approaches for his alleged misbehaviour need to come from either the Prime Minister or the Privileges committee, both controlled by Labour and amounting to a smack on the back of the hand (note: written before the privileges committee found against Winston). If Labour disciplined him before the election they would be committing electoral suicide by bringing down their own government, and who expects them to put principles above political power? They are politicians. Winston is New Zealands most consumate politician, and really, who in parliament is more interesting? You should vote for New Zealand First.

Labour. Usually the major opposition party campaigns on a 'get the buggers out' platform. You should vote for Labour because they've apparently forgotten that they are the incumbent government and are arguing for re-election primarily to protect the treasury benches from National. And charges that they are a tired party with no new legislative ideas (having passed fewer pieces of legislation in the last term than any government in the last 20 years) are ridiculous. Who cares that in the last term they have frequently resorted to the delaying parliamentary tactics usually used by the opposition to obstruct legislation simply because they don't have any other pieces of legislation ready to be debated next. They are not National. And that's why you should vote for Labour.

Jim Anderton and whatever he's calling his party at this election. You should vote for him because there just might be enough people like you this time round to get Matt Robson back into parliament. Maybe.

Maori Party. You should vote for the Maori Party because they reject all the PC rubbish of recent times. Call a spade a spade, and they do. Multi-Culturalism is absolute rubbish, and serves only to distract people from what's really important, Bi-Culturalism. The Maori Party take a refreshingly different approach to campaigning. They are the only party not slavishly courting your party vote (since they will be creating an electoral overhang in parliament and really don't need party votes to hold the balance of power post-election). And that's why you should give your electorate vote to the Maori Party.

Greens. You should vote for the Greens because although they are not and never will be more than a minor party, every private members bill that passed in the last term of government was a green initiative (although they were definitely helped by the Labour government not having any government legislation that they really wanted to pass, making more private members days available than usual). If you want more social engineering and moral decay in society this is the party for you. Remember the anti-smacking bill? Outrageous. People should be allowed to assault their children as God intended. And climate change? Please, that is the product of media hysteria and has been thoroughly debunked. You should vote Green. Read more...

Oct 28, 2008

The Frivolity of Evil

I was passed an article to read this morning by a fellow kiwi home-edder. "The Frivolity of Evil", by Theodore Dalrymple. It's a discussion of the repercussions of the fusion of the welfare state and a culture that says that the highest good is never to feel bad about yourself.

The full article is here.

Now, personally I have grave reservations about abolishing the welfare state. I think the parties on the Right end of the political spectrum have a lot to gain by having a desperate and hungry workforce - when employers have 100 people desperate for the 1 job you've advertised then the employer gets to set any conditions they choose. High unemployment and no welfare sets the stage for exploitation, child prostitution and indentured labour (more honestly known as slavery). On the other hand, welfare sets the stage for selfishness, apathy, eternal adolescence, dependancy and depression.

Right now our society sees the evils of Welfare because that is the system we live with. Some years ago the Political Studies department here had about half a dozen academics - all but one had been born and raised in the West. These 5 were all vehement Socialists/Marxists/Communists etc. The one academic who had been raised behind the Iron Curtain was a fervent Capitalist/Democratist.

We see the evils of the system we are in.

But anyhow, I found the following quote from the article to be very thought-provoking...

...sooner or later the summation of small evils leads to the triumph of evil itself.

...There has been an unholy alliance between those on the Left, who believe that man is endowed with rights but no duties, and libertarians on the Right, who believe that consumer choice is the answer to all social questions, an idea eagerly adopted by the Left in precisely those areas where it does not apply. Thus people have a right to bring forth children any way they like, and the children, of course, have the right not to be deprived of anything, at least anything material. How men and women associate and have children is merely a matter of consumer choice, of no more moral consequence than the choice between dark and milk chocolate, and the state must not discriminate among different forms of association and child rearing, even if such non-discrimination has the same effect as British and French neutrality during the Spanish Civil War.

The consequences to the children and to society do not enter into the matter: for in any case it is the function of the state to ameliorate by redistributive taxation the material effects of individual irresponsibility, and to ameliorate the emotional, educational, and spiritual effects by an army of social workers, psychologists, educators, counselors, and the like, who have themselves come to form a powerful vested interest of dependence on the government.


Oct 24, 2008

Randomness and children

Miss4 helping in the garden

Miss4 has spent the last two or three days in this dress-up dress. It was actually my flower-girl dress from when I was 5, but it is now the firm favourite dress-up. I think she's being a princess most of the time, but it varies.

She now teams it up with a light blue baseball cap, with a dress-up wedding-veil secured over the top of it. Startling, but surprisingly pretty. She got lots of indulgent smiles from strangers when we went to pick up Merl's Grandma from the airport a couple of days ago. Today the dress and hat/veil were complemented by a shoulder purse (containing a small pony), a tote-bag (containing a stuffed zebra, koala, and two toy rabbits), and the blue surgical hair-net she was allowed to take home after her operation - not worn as a hair-net, but brought into service as a special cocoon/cradle for her toy panda and a couple of dinky cars.

I like hanging out with kids. They're so random.

Merl's Grandma is staying with us for just over a week. It is really wonderful to have her with us, as we haven't seen her since Christmas, and every day is precious! She's our girls' only remaining Great-Grandparent, and my heart gets a lovely warm feeling in it when I see the connection they've made with her.

Back to the theme of randomness in children...

Conversation in the car today:

Miss4: Why did M have a pirate party? Why wasn't it a mermaid party?

Me: Well, I guess he preferred pirates. But that's okay, cos you went as a mermaid anyway.

Miss4: He should have had a mermaid party.

Me: Well, it was his party. He can have any sort of party he wants to.

Miss4: What if he'd had a Sky party instead?

Me: That would be cool. Then people could come as clouds or birds or aeroplanes or stars or all sorts of things. What other things?

Miss4: Fairies, and other flying things.

Me: What would you go as?

Miss4: A mermaid.

Oct 17, 2008

on holiday

Our family spent a wonderful 5 days in the North Island visiting Merl's family last week.

Here's Miss 4 playing ball in the sun with Grandma and cousin S. The rules of this game could briefly be summarised as "don't hit people with the bat - hit the ball! The ball!" On the whole, good sportsmanship abounded, but 3 year old boys with a bat in their hand seem to need constant refocusing on the true task at hand!

Miss1 really loved the whole trampoline thing. We have a tiny little one at home - but nothing compares to a 'real' trampoline.

Especially with a ball. Balls make a good thing better.

We even took the opportunity to leave the children for a 'sleepover' with Grandma and Grandpa for one night while we traveled to our old home town for a friend's wedding. It was the first time in 5 years we've been childless. I cannot describe the feeling that washed over me as I realised that no-one, not a single soul, would be calling out for my attention in the night.

'Bliss' would come awfully close :)

I slept like a log until I woke to the dulcet tones of Merl saying "what's the time?" And it was 7.30!!! That's a royal sleep in, that is.

Wedding was lovely, children had behaved well and not been at all distressed by our absence while gone (although Miss1 wouldn't let me out of her sight once we'd returned). All in all a wonderful trip, with the only down-side being that we can't do it more often! Read more...

Oct 14, 2008

reading in the dark

It's about three quarters of an hour since the girls went to bed, and I've just discovered that Miss4 is even more of a replica of her mother than I'd thought. She was curled up in the passageway with a book trying to read in the dim light coming through the glass front door.


So I sent her to bed with dire warnings of eye strain and short-sightedness (I've been very short-sighted since I was 8 years old), then had a quick conversation with her Dad.

The choice is either to ban night-time reading or to allow it under the covers with a torch (so as not to disturb her sister).

We figure that if she's anything like either of us (and boy is she like us both), she'll disregard the banning of the reading and just continue to read via streetlight and moonlight. So, the torch it is. We shall have to get one of those dynamo ones so we don't go through lots of batteries. Read more...

Oct 13, 2008

Go the Greens

Well, if I was to vote in our upcoming General Election purely based on their home education policies, I'd have trouble deciding between the Greens and Act.

NCHENZ, the National Council of Home Educators New Zealand have an "Election 08" section on their website, where they have posted responses they have received from parties to enquiries about their education policies.
Since I feel that I would spend lots of time crying in the shower trying to scrub myself clean after voting for Act, that leaves me with one clear choice.

Okay, so I was probably going to vote for them anyway, but this makes me even happier :)

The other proviso is that I haven't seen the policies from National or Labour. But I think we can guess that Labour (the incumbents) won't move too far from where we are - which would also make me happy. And we know that National wants to bring in national standardised pencil-and-paper testing of every grade level even at primary schools. No word yet on whether that will extend to private schools or home-edders, but I am firmly opposed to this policy even in state schools, so it almost doesn't matter what their home-ed policy is.

As for United Future, whose voting base has generally been conservative Christians, I hear rumours that they want home educators all to operate through the Correspondence School. Hmmm. Not my cup of tea either. And not something that will fly with the bulk of the Christian home educators either I wouldn't think.

24 Oct 08
Edited to add:
United Future have clarified their position. The person who answered a question saying that homeschoolers would all have to work through the correspondence school was under-informed. (I'm guessing that, like many kiwis, he thought that homeschoolers were people who used the Correspondence School).

Anyhoo, UF are supportive of homeschoolers and see no reason to change current system etc etc.

Oct 7, 2008

Tracking Wages - A Merl Post

These graphs seemed interesting to me. From No Right Turn. Read more...

ig nobels 2008

The Ig Nobels are in for this year.

Although the coca-cola and exotic-dancing research subjects have, predictably, caught the imagination of the media, I personally liked the Peace Prize. Imagine needing to dish up a salad while preserving the dignity of the ingredients...

Here there are in full, from the Improbable Research website.

NUTRITION PRIZE. Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Oxford University, UK, for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.

PEACE PRIZE. The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH) and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.

ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE. Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino of Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, for measuring how the course of history, or at least the contents of an archaeological dig site, can be scrambled by the actions of a live armadillo.

BIOLOGY PRIZE. Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert, and Michel Franc of Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Toulouse, France for discovering that the fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.

MEDICINE PRIZE. Dan Ariely of Duke University (USA), Rebecca L. Waber of MIT (USA), Baba Shiv of Stanford University (USA), and Ziv Carmon of INSEAD (Singapore) for demonstrating that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine..

COGNITIVE SCIENCE PRIZE. Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University, Japan, Hiroyasu Yamada of Nagoya, Japan, Ryo Kobayashi of Hiroshima University, Atsushi Tero of Presto JST, Akio Ishiguro of Tohoku University, and Ágotá Tóth of the University of Szeged, Hungary, for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.

ECONOMICS PRIZE. Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that a professional lap dancer's ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings.

PHYSICS PRIZE. Dorian Raymer of the Ocean Observatories Initiative at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, and Douglas Smith of the University of California, San Diego, USA, for proving mathematically that heaps of string or hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE. Sharee A. Umpierre of the University of Puerto Rico, Joseph A. Hill of The Fertility Centers of New England (USA), Deborah J. Anderson of Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School (USA), for discovering that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, and to Chuang-Ye Hong of Taipei Medical University (Taiwan), C.C. Shieh, P. Wu, and B.N. Chiang (all of Taiwan) for discovering that it is not.

LITERATURE PRIZE. David Sims of Cass Business School. London, UK, for his lovingly written study "You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations." Read more...

Oct 6, 2008

kereru, bruised ribs and puppets

All features of this last week, which has been moderately eventful, as these things go.

For a start, I spent the latter half of last week waiting to discover whether I had Shingles or Pneumonia. Turns out it was neither (thankfully). I had a bad cold and extremely sore ribs on one side - couldn't cough, laugh or even breathe deeply. Went to Dr who sent me off for a chest x-ray and started me on antibiotics in case of pneumonia, but said he suspected shingles, but wouldn't be able to tell until the rash came up. Spent next couple of days in pain and feeling unwell. People from church prayed. X-ray came back clear. I no longer feel the slightest bit unwell. But ribs are still very sore.

Yesterday I recalled being viciously (albeit accidentally) jabbed in the back by a small person's elbow about the day before my mysterious rib pain began. That sort of thing happens all the time so I'd forgotten all about it. Bingo. So I had a cold and injured my rib-cage. Still, at least I've had the x-ray now and know there's no rib cracked or anything. I'll just need to be careful and gentle for the next few days. Yay for a husband who loves to stay home with the kids! He was great - took most of last week off so I could sit/lie around doing nothing while he took care of the offspring. Good stuff.

On to the kereru (native woodpigeon). These were quite common to see in our neck of the woods when I was growing up, but then almost vanished about 10 or so years ago. Well, they're back, and this pair were spotted in the gum tree in our neighbours house. I love them. They make cool "whoo whoo whoo" sounds with their wings as they fly, they try to land on branches that are ridiculously inadequate and fall off, and they're altogether lovely.

I hope they stay and the gum tree doesn't get cut down this year (or ever). There's a couple of neighbours who hate it with a passion as it shades their sections quite thoroughly even in summer, drops gum leaves every where and threatens to 'self-lop' one of its great branches into their section. I can understand all that - gum trees aren't really great in suburbia (they also don't like other stuff growing near them and inhhibit healthy growth of other plants), but they provide great nesting sites for these beauties. And they suck up huge volumes of water each day. My section has kinda soggy bits all through winter so I'm happy for the gum tree to be taking what it needs.

On to our third, unrelated topic for today. Puppets.

I handed Miss4 a book of 100 things to make with paints and paper and suggested she have a look through for something to do today. She decided to make a 'dancing dollie'. She drew and coloured the picture of the dancer, and showed me where to cut the holes for her fingers. Then she cut out around the dancer and voila - a dancing puppet.

I unearthed a discarded wine cask box from our craft supplies stash and improvised a wee theater using the craft knife, and she was quite taken with it for about 20 minutes this morning.

It's fun introducing her to new ideas - she's seen puppets before, and played with our wee finger puppets that you can see in the photos - but we've never taken the leap to staging a puppet performance ourselves. I'll raise it as an idea tomorrow. The usual pattern is that she'll be uninterested in something when I first mention it, but after it rolls around her mind for a while (and this could be a long while) it may pop back up, seemingly out of nowhere, as a full-fledged interest.

I'd also like to get hold of a prism in the next week or so. We're reading the Magic School Bus Color Day Relay chapter book, and there's an explanation of white light being fractured by a prism, but reading about it, hearing about it and even seeing it on YouTube (I haven't looked, but I'm confident its there) doesn't compare to actually holding the thing yourself and seeing it happen in real life. Read more...

Oct 2, 2008

e-day - disposing of electronic waste

Are you in NZ? Do you have old computer or mobile phone bits lying around? (who doesn't...) This Saturday is the day to get them out of your house without them going to the landfill. eDay organisers claim that up to 95% of the collected waste gets recycled in some form or other (only 5% going to the landfill).

Computer waste is a big deal - those little chips and cell-phone bits contain lots of heavy metals and sometimes radioactive waste. Not only are these toxic to waterways, they are really expensive and wasteful to mine for in the first place - much better to keep them cycling through usefully.

From the eDay website...

eDay is a community initiative designed to raise awareness of the hazardous nature of electronic waste (e-waste), while offering an easy way for households to dispose of old computers and mobile phones in an environmentally sustainable manner.

eDay was created in response to a growing concern about the volume of e-waste being dumped in landfills around the country with a potentially toxic effect on the environment.

The event was launched in Wellington in 2006 with an extremely successful pilot sponsored by Dell. Fifty-four tonnes of unused computer hardware were collected in one day. In 2007, eDay was extended to 12 locations throughout New Zealand where a total of 6,900 cars dropped off 415 tonnes of e-waste. This included more than 26,000 computer items including monitors, CPUs and printers.

Click here to find out where your local drop-off point is


Sep 30, 2008

The Unschooling Handbook

While at the library last week I picked up a copy of "The Unschooling Handbook - how to use the whole world as your child's classroom" by Mary Griffiths.

If I wasn't already largely convinced of the practical common-sense nature of 'unschooling', this book would have done the trick. It answers all the common questions a parent might ask when thinking about this approach to their kids' education - including "what about maths?" (and science and reading and writing) and "how do you know if they're learning anything?"

I particularly liked the personal reflections from over a dozen homeschooling parents and kids that she has included. I found myself nodding while reading most of them (not all - if would be a strange world indeed if we agreed with everything everyone says :) ).

All in all, recommended if you even just want to know what on earth 'unschooling' means when it comes to the nitty gritty of what people do all day. Readable, chatty, informative and not remotely intimidating (doesn't use any "eduspeak" that I noticed). Read more...

Sep 27, 2008

Usborne Young Puzzle Books

We borrowed the Puzzle Balloon Race from the library yesterday. This is the first time I've seen this series of books and they are right on target for where Miss4 is at. It's great to find something that she can read, and the puzzles are interesting but not too hard for her, but there are some that she can't do, so it stretches her too.

Not sure how long the interest will last once she's done all the figuring out there is to be done - so perhaps better as a library loan than a purchase, but I am very happy that we found them in the library. One thing she has never been great at is actually looking and finding stuff - not a strong visual learner at all - so it's great to have a combination of puzzles. Some are looking at the pictures and find certain things, but some are remembering what was read out earlier in the story, some maths puzzles (if each blast of hot air raises you 50feet, and you need to be 400ft higher than you are now, how many blasts of hot air do you need - we were flabbergasted when Miss4 replied correctly), some maze puzzles etc.

All in all, highly recommended for kids who can read, and like to do puzzly things but just aren't up to the Where's Wally or Animalia type books yet. Read more...

Sep 26, 2008

planting potatoes!

I'm using a mish-mash of techniques - a little bit John Jeavons' How to Grow More... and a little bit no-dig gardening technique.

I'm using Jeavons' recommendations for spacing (9inches offset - not in rows), but I'm not digging them into the ground - I pulled the mulch layer back off the earth, scratched a little hole in the surface of the earth, sat the potato in and covered it back up with mulch again.

Then I layered 2 wheelbarrow loads of lovely aged compost onto the top of it to keep them nice and dark and bob's your uncle.

Hopefully they will like this treatment and we'll have new potatoes in early to mid January - they're 'karaka' potatoes and are 2nd earlies - so 80 to 90 days to maturity. Allegedly. I've never grown tatties before so I'm hoping they'll be fine.

Dad has grown them every year for ever and he reckons they'll be great, so I'll trust in experience, the elements and Providence. Read more...

Sep 21, 2008

Affluenza - by Oliver James

I'm currently reading this book, by Oliver James. I am enjoying it immensely.

From the blurb...
There is currently an epidemic of “affluenza” throughout the world — an obsessive, envious keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality that has resulted in huge increases in depression and anxiety among millions. Over a nine-month period, author and psychologist Oliver James travelled around the world to try and find out why.
Basically the premise is that 'Selfish Capitalist' societies (of which America is the prime example - certainly in the way it portrays itself via the media etc), lead to a massive shift in the population's behaviour and values. The more 'selfish capitalist' the nation, the more likely its people are to neglect their needs in order to chase after their wants - without even being aware that that is what they are doing. James contends that this societal shift is what leads to those countries' very high rates of 'mental distress' (a term he prefers to mental illness - since it he believes it to be in many cases a normal response to an abnormal society/situation).

The needs he identifies are as follows,
We need to feel secure, emotionally and materially. We need to feel part of a community, to give and receive from family, neighbours and friends. We need to feel competent, autonomous and authentic, masters of our destinies to some degree.
And we trade those in so we can work for longer to get more money to buy more stuff, or work harder to get more qualified so other people will congratulate us or so we can finally be good enough for our parents/ourselves, or work harder so we can buy thinness or blondeness or other means of being sexually attractive (and therefore 'valuable'), or so we can get a bigger house, or a conservatory or a second house or a shinier car or whatever else we 'need' to have.

Sometimes we even kid ourselves that we can somehow achieve emotional and material security, or those other needs, by buying more stuff (true to a point - but untrue beyond basic subsistence levels), or being prettier (pretty according to whom? and of course there will always be someone prettier), or even that by working 8am to 8pm six days a week for someone else that we are somehow masters of our destinies and achieving autonomy.

He asserts that the long term effect of having those needs unmet, and of working harder and harder at misguided efforts to meet them, coupled with the pernicious continual mantra of advertising (what you have/are/do is not good enough - you need more), is mental distress - depression, anxiety, psychosis etc.

An interview with him, from about the time the book was published is here, and an extract from the book is here.

He also discusses the "vaccines" to the "virus" of affluenza that he observed in various places around the world. Some really thought-provoking observations.

The section of the book dealing with academic performance and 'virus values' rang very true for me - It's entitled "Educate your kids (don't brainwash them). It reminded me of an article I read a month or so ago, by Alfie Kohn, "How not to get into college".

Having suffered burnout myself after being a high achiever at school and in first year, I can attest to the pointlessness of sacrificing your health for better grades. I put enormous pressure on myself to succeed and had had no practice at 'failure'. Um, not getting into a highly competitive entry course, but still having an A- average counted as 'failure' for me - I really did not know how to handle this. I got a lot more practice in 2nd year (my first 'E'!).

I can actually remember very little of my second year at varsity. I recall looking through my 2nd year notes a year later while studying for my 3rd year exams and being astonished - I had absolutely no recollection of having written them, or even covering that material in lectures - I checked the name on the book and even got out other notes to compare the handwriting. They were mine. I think my body was attending the lectures (it certainly took good notes), but my mind was shut down.

Burnout, depression and the occassionally paranoid anxiety attack (anyone else crawled under their desk and just not wanted to get out ever?). All because my whole self-image was utterly pinned to getting into medical school - to being one of 'the top students' - to getting very high grades. Which are all comparative things - none of those had anything to do with my actual worth - it was my 'worth' compared to other people's. Not a recipe for good mental health. At some point I needed to let go of how other people viewed me, and stop measuring myself by the feedback I received from them, and build up my sense of self from the inside out. That was an extremely hard process - one I'm not sure I've finished yet.

That's one of the things Oliver James gives as a 'vaccine' to the afluenza 'virus' - being 'intrinsically motivated' is vitally important. Even people with 'virus goals' (e.g. top promotion) are generally protected from mental distress if their motivations are intrinsic rather than external (e.g really enjoying your job for its own sake).

I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the book and I recommend it so far. Even if you disagree with him it provides some interesting food for thought. Read more...
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