Sunday, August 2, 2015

June - July Reading

Somehow last month's list didn't get finished: in fact, barely started, so here's some of what I've read over the last couple of months.

Fiction

One Small Drop by Liz Constable
This is a tiny book about sadness, disconnection and love. Liz says in her TradeMe listing: " The idea was conceived by Liz who wanted to produce a bedtime storybook for adults. One that offers comfort and encouragement, just like a good bedtime story ought to. It is suitable for children too." Liz is one of my favourite New Zealand bookbinders and easily my favourite NZ workshop tutor. You can read more about her, and her work on her website and on her Facebook page.
The book may seem expensive, but given this is a very small run, hand produced, and a delightful book, it is good value, I think. It comes in the post as a treasure package to sit down, with plenty of time and a cup of tea, to open with ceremony and delight.


After my Ann Cleeves binge in May, I was still in the mood for easy read fiction and found the following three books fitted the bill nicely, but in quite different ways.

Darkening Skies by Bronwyn Parry
Set in a small Australian country town and surrounding district, this is a mystery / romance which pushes the bounds of credibility a bit. However it  is fast-moving enough for the creepiness to be manageable and was a satisfying light read.

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand
An interesting mystery which is really about people - how well do we really know the people in our lives, even our nearest and dearest, and also, how well do we know ourselves. The setting and basic story line is somewhat shallow and unrealistic, but I enjoyed the characters and their development.

8th Confession by James Patterson
Pretty brutal with a nastiness that means I won't read Patterson again until summer: life is a constant battle against the Black Dog in winter and reading dark fiction, however well written, is not advisable. I will come back to him again though.

Non-Fiction

The Nourishing Homestead: one back-to-the-land family's plan for cultivating soil, skills, and spirit by Ben Hewitt with Penny Hewitt
I really don't want to give this book back - I'm seriously considering buying it, and I don't usually buy books these day if they are available from the library. It is a beautifully presented (that top photo on the front cover of their son with his face buried in a bucketful of blue berries has to be one of my all time favourites) and extremely well written book. It is full of practical information, but there is also a lot about the Hewitts' philosophy of life - from life in general to homesteading, parenting, education, soil and animal care and more. I have to admit that I skipped most of the section on animal raising, slaughter, and use of parts, though I found it interesting that these one-time vegetarians have thought through their stance and changed to eating (and growing and slaughtering and respecting) animals. I love that this book resonates so deeply with my own beliefs - I just wish I'd 'got there' as young as Ben and Penny did. As you will see from the photo, I marked too many special paragraphs to fit into a review, but I'll offer a few.
On the value of homegrown food: "The labor to produce nourishing food is itself of value. I have to admit, I did not always see it this way. But over the years, I have come to understand that the value of the foods we produce is only partly found in the foods themselves. Indeed, I now understand that the labor itself holds a deep and intrinsic value; it maintains our physical health, it connects us to the land and nature, it fosters our intellect with new skills, and it develops the spirit. The sense of labor's role in feeding my family's body and spirit is so profound that it occasionally seems to me as if the food itself is merely a byproduct."

On improving soil: "Our habit of fertilizing our garden with compost we proudly made from vegetation and animal manure originating from plants grown in depleted soil only magnified soil imbalances, as the depleted compost was incorporated into the soil from which it came."

On the loss of celebration of season and ritual: The first strawberry in June is no longer cause for celebration: it is no longer brought to the house in the grubby palm of a child and quartered so that every member of the family can experience it's brief, particular sweetness and the anticipation of the berries that are slowly ripening on the plants. Why? Because, of course, we can have strawberries year-round, now, enough for everyone to have heaping handfuls and more. Who can resist that?"

On unschooling children on a homestead: "....we believe that the resourcefulness and confidence their hands-on capabilities engender - along with the inevitable failures along the path toward attaining these skills - will provide the foundation necessary to support them no matter what career or lifestyle they choose."

And the concluding paragraph: "We are still working on all of this. We do not have it all figured out. We never will have it all figured out. Every day, we are learning new ways and unlearning old ones. Every morning, we wake up and we walk outside to see what the day holds."

Magazines

Organic NZ July/August 2015 issue
There's always interesting things to read in this magazine, although there is frequently some articles which are full of unsubstantiated woo as well. But best of all, in this issue there was a recipe using five limes - my limes have been going to waste - that was also raw, gluten free, and dairy free. It was also really yummy once you got used to the unusual flavours. Sublime Tart. Try it. At least three slices before you decide.

Permaculture No84 Summer 2015
My favourite magazine. I could read many of the articles online and the website, but I love having this magazine lying around to pick up and browse - even the advertisements are fascinating. There's always a wonderful mix of the practical and the theoretical. Unlike many publications which address ecological, social and environment issues, this magazine always contains abundant positivity.






Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Still Alive and the Sun Shines

I slept really badly last night: hot flashes woke me, but after I threw back the covers and went comfortably back to sleep, I'd wake again, chilled to the bone by the frost outside that crept in through the cracks. In the morning I woke with an aching shoulder, back and knees. I have felt tired, sore, head-achy, nauseous and dizzy all day.
When I went to hang the washing out, I saw and smelled my daphne bush. I have bought and killed more daphne bushes than I can remember. I bought another four years ago, Wrong time of year - it was in full flower and I kept it inside to enjoy the fragrance. My friend Marcia visited and was horrified: there were woolly aphids all over it! She told me what to do, and where to plant it. It's the first daphne bush that has lasted more than a year. This morning as I breathed in the sweet smell I thought of Marcia who died just over a year later.
I took a photo of the bush, and when I went to look at it on the computer, the file was next to last year's photos for the same day and thus I was reminded that it is a year since our beautiful NgTong died.
Despite all this, I felt happiness seeping through the daze.
How could I be miserable when I'm alive and there was sunshine and bees?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Catching Myself Before I Fall

I thought I was escaping depression again this winter, but suddenly realised the other day that the black dog has been sneaking up through the bush waiting for me to let my guard down. Three weeks ago I went for a walk, climbed to the lookout above Ngarunui Beach, slipped over and hurt my hip, back and neck.
As a consequence I haven't been able to do much, and a couple of days ago I became aware that my thinking had become very negative. Everything is my fault; people who didn't come to our party are avoiding me because I'm horrible; there's no point in sewing because I'll not be able to do a perfect job; no point in washing the floor because the cat will just bring in more bleeding animals and / or vomit etc etc etc. I just wanted to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head.
In my head I knew all this was bullshit, but the thick blanket of black fog was descending. Even feeding the chooks and ducks seemed like too big a job, let alone cooking dinner. Then in the evening I'd feel even worse because I had achieved nothing.
I knew I had to do something before I fell too deep. Telling myself over and over that it didn't matter that the coat I was sewing wasn't going to look like those of Katwise or Twisted Stitches or Hazelmade because it was just a first effort, a practice run, I made myself sew. Yesterday I finished the coat and it's certainly not of a professional standard but that's okay because I'm not a professional, I'm a beginner! It actually got to be fun by the end. And now I have an amazing, really warm, technicolour, fun, crazy cat lady coat which I just wore down to the chook run to collect eggs, and it made me feel happy. (The colours are a bit brighter than you see here - the yellow more yellow and the the main body is actually green.)
Today I woke up feeling less grey, and started doing things straight after breakfast. I put the brine-soaked almonds in the dehydrator, soaked chick peas for a few hours, then cooked and bagged them ready for the freezer. I fed the animals and then cleaned the vomited food up off the floor - thanks Spike, you didn't have to eat the dog food as well as your own! I helped Mac put a water tank up in the orchard (for water for the ducks and irrigation in summer.)
I re-carpeted the chook run - yes, that's not a typo! Every winter it gets so muddy in the entrance way, and next to the nest boxes, so every couple of years I put down old wool carpet or underlay, so I don't slip over.
I found and cleaned my old Can o Worms, put a new bedding layer in it, and fished a box full of worms out of my current worm farm, for Heidi and Steven to take home to Hamilton so they don't have to send food scraps to land fill.  I did dishes and washing and cooked dinner - all things that had become a huge burden over the last three weeks, a sure sign of the advance of depression. I thought I was so much stronger with respect to my mental health, but it seems I'm still pretty fragile. However getting on and doing things helps. I just have to become aware of what's happening in time to catch myself before I fall. Most of all, it helps to have visits from some of my favourite people - Steven, Heidi and Ethan all stayed for the weekend, and Greg visited today. Thanks, lovely people, I needed that.















Sunday, June 14, 2015

Short Days and Violets

It's just a few days away from winter solstice and the return of the sun. Today it is slightly warmer, and there is scattered sunshine between the showers.
The bees grasp the opportunity to be out and about - no lingering inside with a morning cup of tea for them.
There are still a couple of last nashi leaves hanging on determinedly.
My beloved wild carrots are still found here and there.
The first bulbs are flowering, where the advantage of the protection offered by long grass down the bank outweighs the disadvantage of competition.
I haven't looked after the garden, so don't have much in the way of winter vegetables, but there's still some fresh edibles around. Silver beet which just keeps popping up around the place - I haven't planted any for years.
 Lemons - way too many - and limes.
 New Zealand cranberry, known in Australia as Tazzieberry, and in the rest of the world, and more accurately, Chilean guava (myrtus ugni). I cooked some up with the juice and zest of a lime and it made a delicious sauce on pancakes.
 And the first violets, growing wild around the base of the old water tank. They don't fill the empty space left behind by Violet Wild when she moved to America, but they are one of my favourites.

Friday, June 5, 2015

So, who Is The Real Me and where do I find her?

Be yourself.
Be true to yourself.
I need time to just be myself.
I need space to be myself.
I need to find myself.
I need to be able to express the real me.
I need people to accept me for who I really am.
I need to accept myself for who I really am.

Is there actually 'a real me'? As opposed to an 'unreal me'? I am uncomfortable with these phrases that haunt many of us, not only in our minds but in self-help books, Facebook statuses, women's magazines, in New Age spiritual, and pop psychology books and web pages.

As an atheist, I don't believe in a soul or spirit that has been there since birth / conception / all time / whatever. I know that there is a sperm and and egg, carrying genetic stuff from way back, all the way back through all the human ancestors, the primate ancestors and beyond. And those genetic factors could be described as the deep-down, inner, real me - but quite honestly, unless you are a seriously geeky geneticist, I don't think you'd be interested in meeting that me. Not a lot of fun to hang out with. From the moment of conception that little genetic me was influenced by my environment. Everything in my environment has affected both my physical, mental and emotional states and have become part of the whole that is me. Everything I have swallowed, breathed in. Every movement, even the smallest. Every contact through every sense. Every encounter with another human, however brief, happy, sad, toxic or loving. All these things make stuff happen in my body and brain. (Have you guessed yet that I haven't had much contact with Science? Science with a little 's' happens in me and in the world and in the universe all the time - I'm just not too familiar with the precise terminology or mechanisms of Science with a capital 'S'.)

Anyway, long story short - I am me, and me includes everything that I have brought with me from the ancestors (who don't need a capital A) and everything that has touched me in any way. Somethings touch me so lightly, so imperceptibly that they don't really affect 'me'. Unless I am allergic, or turn it into a giant self-flagellating guilt trip, one square of chocolate will not change me in any meaningful way. But a large bar of Trade Aid Dark every day (the original 60 something % mind, not that new skinny healthier version) will change me noticeably - I'll be happier for a while then fatter. Many experiences affect us emotionally, but because of our own unique situations, affect people differently and in different ways. But they still go to make up 'me'. Even the nasty things.

I've come to the realisation that I am an evolving me. (Sorry Science, I'm using your word unScientifically.) I am 63 and I am not the same me as I was at 53 or 43 or 33 or..... The experiences, good, bad, and imperceptible, have made the current real me who I am. Positives can become negatives (such as coping mechanisms and friendships that pass their use-by dates) and negatives can become positives (though I can't think of any simple examples right now.) I can learn from all these experiences and become a new me. Or I can deny the lessons and try stay in the old ways for a time. Or forever. Growth can be painful, but it is way more satisfying than stagnation and decay. Something I am learning to do is to not regret the past, to move forward, grow, and to be content that I am always 'evolving' into a new me. I am learning to not speak harshly to the old me, nor be impatient with the current me, as I look forward to the future real me. I'm trying to be kind to me.

What I'm NOT doing is this: I am not calling on God to change me. I am NOT putting it out there to the universe to provide everything I need. I am NOT thinking positively or chanting mantras to attract the right people and things into my life.

The real me is right here, now. The real me is changing and growing and learning and it's all happening inside the me that is now. It's happening in MY body and brain through the natural processes of action and reaction, chemistry and other Science shit that I am not choosing to learn because I'm just to busy with learning other shit - but I'm not going to say, oh, I haven't learned all the Science, so God! The Universe! The Law of Attraction! Some people need those things to get their body and brain chemistry working the changes, but I'm saying ME! I'm accepting, and taking responsibility for, all of the versions of me that have been, am now, and will be.

Actually, I was planning to write about friends and friendship. Then something happened and I wanted to write about the influences that led me to self-doubt, self-abuse, confusion and depression, all of which affected how I learned to be in friendships. And then someone commented on her Facebook status of seven months ago and I re-read what I wrote to her then, and along with my current impatience with / intolerance of god-shit and woo-shit, I found myself writing about something quite different. I'll get to those other subjects. Maybe. The current me has begrudgingly acknowledged that although I am still passionate about bookbinding, my journaling works better here - the books will have to find another purpose.


May Reading

Fiction

At Book Club I was reminded of Ann Cleeves and have been on a binge. I first discovered Cleeves via the television detectives series about Vera Stanhope. Loved the series, and discovered I love the books too - although, as always, there annoying changes to the stories for no apparent reason. Cleeves has several detectives that she has written about and they are all good, although I think I like the Vera books best - possibly because she is a woman not too far from my age. So without reviewing each one, these are what I've been reading:
Hidden Depths (Vera Stanhope)
The Healers (Stephen Ramsay)
The Baby Snatcher (Stephen Ramsay)
Red Bones (Jimmy Perez)
Blue Lightning (Jimmy Perez)

Non-Fiction

Bloodhound: Searching for my father by Ramona Koval
Ramona Koval is an Australian broadcaster, writer and journalist, and I bought this book after hearing her being interviewed on Nine To Noon on National Radio. Her parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland who had settled in Melbourne a few years after the end of World War 2. But their relationship was an uneasy one. Some years after her mother's early death in her late 40s, Ramona began following up the clues that her parentage wasn't as straightforward as it seemed. The book is a lovely mix of her hunt for information about her parents, along with stories of her own life and many others. It also contains a lot of introspection and self-examination in a real way without being ponderous. I  have been disappointed in the past, when reading a book after hearing the author speak - this was not one of those times. I thoroughly enjoyed it even as it challenged my white, middle-class, colonial privilege.

The Wisdom Seeker: Finding the Seed of Advantage in the Khmer Rouge by Pisey Leng as told to Jennifer Colford
This is the story of a woman whose life was turned upside down when she was seven. She was the daughter of well to do people living in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. They - in fact virtually all of the people of Phnom Penh - were driven out of the city, with no time to gather more than a few belongings. Her story of their treatment at the hands of the Khmer Rouge is harrowing. She had an amazingly strong mother who got them through these years (although her father died), through the subsequent 'liberation' by the Vietnamese, and then through their time in a refuge camp in Thailand. By the time they were in Thailand she was growing up and she took advantage of every opportunity to gain education, including learning some English. The last part of the book is way too full of positive thinking, 'The Secret' type of thinking, and 'putting it out there to the universe, but as that seems to have been what got her through in her new country, then all power to her. And her new country? Well, as well as working as an anesthetist technician in Hamilton, New Zealand, she owns the bakery / takeaway shop in Raglan, ten minutes away form my home. Which makes her story all so much more real to me - 'brings it home to me' in more way than one.
The book is not particularly well written, but the story is mesmerizing, and well worth reading.

Our World text by Mary Oliver, photographs by Molly Malone Cook
I didn't discover Mary Oliver's poetry until the last ten years, but she's been published for decades. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and is one of the most celebrated poets in America. Her life partner, Molly Malone Cook, was an early advocate of photography as an art form. The book is a quiet celebration of Molly's life and of their life together. It is beautifully presented: the phographgs are amazing, and, as always, Mary's words reach instantly into my heart. Mary writes about how Molly taught her to see with an artist's eye, which goes part of the way toward explaining her poetry which is so filled with careful observation and detail. I love this book. If you want to read it, you'll have to get it elsewhere - I'm not lending this book out to anyone!

Swan: poems and prose poems by Mary Oliver
As I slowly read Our World, I pulled out this book off my shelf and interspersed my reading with poems. So many lovely poems that make my heart sing. You can't borrow this one either.






Sunday, May 31, 2015

Winter Days - A reminder that it's not all grey

It's easy for me to fall into gloom when the weather turns grey and the days get short. So I'm making a reminder that winter isn't all bleak and dark. I will try to remember to come and look at this when the hair on the back of my neck rises, warning that that damn black dog is creeping up behind me.

 On a crisp morning the sun rises promising a beautiful day.

 The frost outlines the grasses
 and keeps the bees inside their hives.
 I love the way the frost draws me in to notice the shapes and patterns, suddenly unfamiliar.

 The nasturtiums are not so enthusiastic,
 and my hands are gloved for the first time this winter.
 I love our view of Mt Karioi
 and even when it's cloud covered, I can still see it in my mind.
 Colour - the blues and greens, lemon-yellow and guava-red.
 Fifteen minutes drive away, my favourite place to walk - Ngarunui Beach.





 
 






 Then a trip to the farm in Waitetuna for our weekly milk supply.
 Home, to be greeted by the pukeko family
 who insist they have right of way.

 First year the camellias have flowered - so perfect.
And another glorious day over.

The black dog cannot approach when I hold this glory in my heart.