Friday, February 26, 2010

Free Rice Update

I thought I would give you all a quick update on my Free Rice endeavours to date.

If you recall, Free Rice is a website that donates rice to the World Food Programme for each English Vocabulary you get correct. It works through sponsorship, combined with people like you and me playing the game. A surprisingly large amount of rice is able to be donated every day, which makes a significant difference in the lives of those who are near starvation due to famine, disease, war, or disaster in their area.

So, I have made Free Rice my homepage, and have been keeping count of my Free Rice totals since the 26th of January. This because Boyo was counting all of his, and beating me! :op Some days I don't do any. On others, I might get 5 or 10 words right before I need to get into my study. Then sometimes I just get so involved that I end up with hundreds of grains of rice!

I started off really well over the holidays, then over the past month had hardly done any! So now I'm trying to get back into the routine of answering a few each day. I find once I get started that I get so much enjoyment out of seeing what bizzare words come up, that I quickly do a few hundred before moving onto my studies.

January - 5,200 February - 4,130 March - 1,160 April (so far) - 2,280

I thought by posting it here on my blog, I would be encouraged to keep going! Have you had a go? It's loads of fun if you enjoy language.

Amy

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tomato Update

I fear that I have severely maligned our tomato plants. In an earlier post, I complained that we had not been very impressed with either the Principe Borghese or Brandywine flavour.

I am pleased to be able to renounce this verdict, at least in part.

The flavour of all our tomatoes has improved!!! We are unsure as to the exact reason for this, but suspect it may have something to do with more water (we had some decent rain), and the tomatoes getting into their season properly (early fruit never being the best?). Whatever the cause, I am happy. I would not go so far to say that I am rapt with either variety, but they are definitely palatable. I think I prefer the typical cherry tomatoes myself, which neither of these is. Next year I will probably add a popular cherry variety or two, but will also grow a few bushes of each of these ones for variation, particularly as they seem to both do well as soups, sauces and dried fruit.

Principe Borghese ripening


Sometimes it pays to reserve judgment until all the data is in, don't you think?

Amy

The Great Bargain Finder

I would have to say that when it comes to finding great bargains, my mum is the BEST! She just has a knack of finding things. Like earlier this week, when we had a call from her. She was in Sallies (Salvos, 2nd Hand Opportunity Store) looking for some things for herself, but had just happened to walk past a stroller and a carseat. Off we headed, to have a look.
The carseat, unfortunately had an expiry of December 09 so we gave that a miss. But the pushchair, looked great. It was just what we'd originally been wanting to get, but had been having trouble finding. You see, Boyo and I wanted a rear facing stroller or pushchair. There's some talk about the fact that most strollers these days face the baby away from the parents, which actually limits their social engagement with the significant people in their lives - an important part of development in the baby/toddler age bracket. I didn't like the idea of having to look through a peep hole in the hood to see what my baby was doing, or of trying to point out something of interest and them not even being able to see me! The only issue was that rear facing strollers are pretty much a non-event in today's flash baby market...they are not at all 'in.
We love getting out walking, so having one that would be robust enough to use on all the gravel walkways around Tauranga was also a requirement. Plus there were the usual requirements that it must fit in the boot and be able to be folded easily.
There it was, a second hand pushchair that can be either forward or rear facing, light enough for me to get it in and out of the car, fairly easy to collapse and erect again, and in pretty good nick overall. After a bit of time with the three of us (plus a few staff members before Boyo and I arrived) working out how to operate handles, seat, harness, breaks, wheels, and so forth, we took it. The grand total? $30!!!

Here it is~our brand 'new' stroller, seen here in it's forward facing position!

It doesn't have a storm or mozzie cover. We can add them if we decide we want them. And it needs all the fabric bits washed. Not a big deal. We don't get the cosy foot warmer thingy that new strollers often seem to come with (that the kids feet can go in), or the food and drink tray for either adult or child...but then why is it that we 'need' a food and drink tray when out walking anyway? Whatever happened to sitting somewhere to converse and eat facing each other, after we get to our desination? Or popping a water bottle in the basket underneath for those quick sips along the way?

Anyway, we are all rather chuffed with Mum's find. She is the baby-gear-finding legend in our household! And the stroller is still proudly on display in the lounge!

Amy

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Constipation

When I first contemplated writing a blog, constipation was definitely NOT one of the things I thought I would be writing about. I couldn't possibly conceive why on earth I would ever be interested in "The Big C" either then or at any point in my life thereafter (except maybe when I was really, really, really old!). I have always been regular, and quite happy to be so.

But pregnancy has this way of changing things. Lots of things. Topics that I would previously have dismissed as irrelevant or boring have suddenly become interesting and at times, even vital. Like constipation. I have never, in my life as far as I can recall, suffered from constipation. To be honest, if I ever thought about it at all (which you can imagine was not very often!) I kind of wondered what all the fuss was about. I mean, it's a biological process right? You just, well, go.


Yeah, that was then. This is now. Apparently in pregnancy there are these hormones that pump through your body, telling your muscles to have a holiday, take a break and chill out for 9 months. This serves a very important function: your uterous does not contract. No one wants a baby born well before it is due, so I can definitely appreciate the hormones. I just wish that somehow, God would have made it possible for the hormones to only affect that one function, instead of my whole body. What little coordination I possessed before is long gone. I am being very, very careful with knives, stepping over things or down stairs, and have to watch out or I will walk into walls (which I admit, I have always done when tired so that at least is not a new phenomenon - sometimes I could swear the wall moved!). Then there's the Big C. I was feeling quite virtuous that everything was ticking along nicely until about 2 months ago when my pipework just decided it didn't want to work anymore. So I now have great sympathy for any fellow sufferers - the discomfort is incredible. It is strange. I can cope with quite a lot of things, but this one issue would send me to tears on a regular basis, pleading, "Please, can't I just GO!" Sounds funny, but it is true enough to be almost tragic.

But, hope is at hand. I have discovered two homeopathic remedies in my little Ainsworth's First Aid kit that are recommended for this complaint, particularly in pregnancy...and yes, they have helped. They are Sepia and Nux Vom. I take them together every week or thereabouts (however long it takes for them to wear off, basically). I also discovered another little remedy through fishing through online comments and forums. A lady mentioned that she found eating an apple first thing in the morning beneficial. I would have to agree that it's working for me.

I can't say things are back to normal. I'm still pregnant after all, and the hormones are still running rampant, doing their good work. And I have this sneaking suspicion that my life may never be 'normal' again...children, after all seem to have this way of changing what one might consider normal to be. But I am much happier! So there you are. Constipation, just one of the many things I thought I would never be interested in. Little did I know. :op

Amy

Why Garden?

I was thinking about the purposes of having a productive edible garden this morning as I ate my pre-breakfast, pre-study snack of passionfruit and apple. Which, by the way, was delicious!
People's reasons for gardening can be many and varied. For some, having a vegetable garden is purely a financial decision, driven by a need or desire to save money on food. At other times, it might have more to do with knowing what has gone onto your food, how it was grown, and trying for fresher, better quality than what might be available in the supermarket.
While both these reasons are very valid and part of my reasons for gardening, I have found another great reason for growing some of your own food. Variety. I happen to like variety. In fact, I get rather bored eating the same thing all the time. Boyo can happily eat weetbix every morning. I, on the other hand, like to have something different every day. Even if I have toast, it will have avocado and tomato one day, honey and peanut butter the next, and something else the following. So, I have concluded that variety is a good reason to grow your own food.

As I ate this morning, I noticed that we eat a much wider variety of food than we probably would if we were relying soley on the availability at our local supermarket. My salads are very rarely just lettuce. Instead, an average salad will usually contain greens from several types of lettuce, plus silverbeet (nicer fresh than cooked, I think!), spinach, beetroot, parsley and other herbs. Not only does this make for a more interesting visual and palatable meal, but each plant can provide different nutrients for us.
I see a similar picture in the fruit department. Over the past few weeks the fruit bowls have held bananas, nectarines and plums from the supermarket, which is a perfectly acceptable palette of fruit for this time of year. But when you add the raspberries, a few strawberries still fruiting, the Golden Delicious just starting to harvest, and passionfruit from the next door neighbour, suddenly we have a smorgasboard of fresh fruit!

Pears developing - this photo was taken in December.


My parents garden (which is where I garden) is not large. It is a suburban garden, with somewhere around 700m2 of land we think. Now the house and front yard take up more than half of that, plus there's a whole lot of lawn and a clothesline out the back as well as the vegetable gardens and fruit trees. But still, within this space we are able to grow a surprisingly wide variety of food. We start the fruit season off in November with deliciously tasty strawberries. Then, next year as they finish, we should have Christmas raspberries. February has seen standard autumn fruiting raspberries, Golden Delicious apples and next year hopefully passionfruit (our vines are still small so we'll see, but the neighbour is always generous either way!). Next up will be the red grapes and brown pears as we head into autumn properly. The Golden Delicious will probably keep fruiting right through till April to be joined by feijoas (although the tree doesn't get good pollination, we do at least get a few to eat). Then during winter, there's the mandarin and of course, the faithful old lemon tree. Oh, and I forgot to mention the Babaco. I'll need another post to rave about that, but this shorter relative of Papaya (Pawpaw) is delicious fresh or stewed and used to be grown by my grandfather...now my dad and uncle both grow it.

So can you see how a small backyard can provide so much variety, especially when combined with the offerings of supermarket or farmers market? We are eating fruit that we otherwise would be unlikely to buy, such as raspberries and passionfruit, as well as having some trusty standards like the mandarins to fill the gaps. And you know what, it is tasty and nutritious and I love knowing that we 'grew it ourselves!'

Amy

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Raspberries and Dried Tomatoes


This morning I harvested a nice little bowl of raspberries.
They have not lasted till the end of the day!



Last night I had my first attempt at drying tomatoes in the dehydrator.
I did 3 sheets in the Ezidri Snackmaker, and ended up with 2 little jars of dried tomatoes. I've added olive oil to preserve them as semi-dried tomatoes.
I love the golden glow it gives the deep red of the fruit. Now I guess we will just have to wait and see how good they are. I'm not sure whether to delve in straight away, or let them sit and develop for a week or so first!





Amy

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Codling Moth!

My parents have two old Golden Delicious apple trees on their section. This year, they have been badly infected with codling moth. I haven't grown fruit before, and didn't realise anything was wrong until I saw all these ugly holes in the fruit! Good old Google and I had some more information:

The little blighters burrow into an apple, grow inside as tiny caterpillars, then come out to be little moths and do the whole thing all over again. They are very hard to treat in the caterpillar stage, as they are safely stowed away inside all our apples by then! It seems the most effective option is a trap that attracts the male moths...but the garden centre had run out! Other options were various sprays. Nasty, nasty, nasty - there was no way I was putting any of that stuff on my food. I mean, they stated on the boxes that they kill bees, which we need for pollination, and can cause harm to human respiratory systems. Nope. So not interested. We will cope with the moths! By then it was all a bit too late anyway.



Despite the codling moth, the trees are having a good season.

We have just started eating the first windfall fruit of the year. I've found that if I cut them up there's still a fair bit of apple left for us after the codling moths have been and gone. It sure feels better than having to throw them all out!

Out of all this I have learned an interesting lesson. If you want to grow food in your backyard as a bit of a hobby, no worries. It is pretty easy to grow a few lettuces or herbs, or even a lemon tree or two. The hard part comes when you want to grow food all year, without big gaps, making the most of the available space, getting to eat most of it yourself rather than it being scoffed by the birds, and not resorting to the supermarket because your lettuces all went to seed or your broccoli were all ready at once! That is quite a tricky skill and one which I suspect will take the rest of my life to develop.

How about you? Do you find vegetable and fruit growing easy, hard, pull-your-hair-out-challenging, exciting or a bit of everything?

Amy

Growing in the Garden This Week

I have just been out in the garden, wandering around. I must admit to spending an awful lot of time just wandering the garden. I find it therapeutic to just amble, gaze at this plant or that, contemplate what needs to be done, and enjoy watching the fruits of my labour grow (literally!).
Here are a few of the things I've enjoyed looking at over the past week:


The raspberry canes are fruiting well, particularly for their first season! I have never been partial to bought raspberries, but have discovered that there is a marked difference in flavour between the pale pink, plastic clad berries you buy at a supermarket, and these dark, juicy ones straight off the canes. Yum!
Next year we hope to have even more, with some Christmas fruiting canes sending out their fruit-bearing runners this summer in preparation for fruiting next year.


We have been chuffed to find a self-sown watermelon in the garden. Doesn't it look scrummy?! Now the family is debating whether it is ready to eat yet.





We moved a few self-sown pumpkins so they could ramble out over the lawn: here's one doing nicely. I think there might be at least 5 big grey pumpkins developing.






On a less exciting note, yet another
lettuce has gone to seed. Typical for this time of year in Tauranga! At least we might have got some of this one first.










Finally, here are seedlings waiting to be planted once it gets a little cooler this evening. These are the first of our winter crops to go in: pak choy, broccoli, cabbage and silverbeet mostly. It will be interesting to see just how well they cope going in this early in a Tauranga summer. You can see the grape vine enshrouded in its cloth bird-protection in behind the garden, and the fresh mushroom compost we put on every available garden space last night.

Thanks for coming by. What are you growing in your garden this week?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chooks

I just LOVE chooks. I think they would have to be my favourite animal, followed by guinea pigs. I have always loved chooks (chickens, hens, poultry, fowl!). As a child, I had a little bantam named Henny Penny. She got a bit lonely and sad though so eventually had to go join some other little ladies.

I think part of my love for chooks is a feeling of affinity with them. Have you ever done one of those ice-breaker games where you are supposed to draw a picture of an animal that you feel is like you, and then hold it up and explain to the group how you are like that animal? Every time I do that game, I draw a chicken. I think it is that they are industrious - always busy. I like to be busy, especially with my hands. And I like how they are sociable and chat away happily and quietly to each other while they work...but that they are always busy working, getting things done. And I love that they give us eggs. They have multiple uses really - gardeners, destroyers of bugs, egg producers, makers of compost, eaters of leftovers, plus of course the quiet presence of a living thing that they bring to the garden.

My husband does not share my enthusiasm. He seems to find their clucking annoying, rather than soothing. We only got chooks after our attempt at purchasing some land (acreage/lifestyle block) fell through and he knew how disappointed I was to have to give up the dream of having chooks and a big garden. Our first 4 chooks were bantam/Arucana mix and quite stroppy. They were given to me as chick and grew up to lay beautiful little blue eggs on a regular basis. We had 5 originally, but early on could tell that one was a rooster. I was careful not to get attached as I knew he would die young, but Boyo insisted on naming him Frank. So from now on all roosters in our family will be called Frank...or at least those destined for the dinner table. Frank did meet an early death after he started crowing (no crowing allowed in town folks!); a friend came and flicked his neck for me - a very quick way for him to go. We even had him for dinner. Being a young bantam rooster there wasn't much to taste but what we did have was very tender and delicious.

The first 4 chickens when they were still babies!
The 4 girls ended up returning to their acreage home as they got into bad habits of standing in their yard and creating a fuss (VERY loudly) all day.

My second attempt at chooks went better. I was given 4 Sussex girls; a throw between the Light Sussex and Buff Sussex (not sure if those are the right names). They were beautiful, docile big girls with a mix of golden feathers. Mayberry (May), Rose, Pollyanthus (Polly) and Primula (Prim) were named on the suggestion of flower names by my mum.

Stories of their antics will be kept for another post (suffice to say for now that their antics were many and varied - perhaps several posts will be needed!).

But here they are:

Polly (dark with yellow legs), Rose (dark with white legs)

Prim (light with yellow legs)


May (light with white legs)

Thanks for coming by. I hope you like the photos! Amy






Cot Sheets

I'd heard that you could use old single, double, or queen sheets to remake into cot sheets and we had 2 spare sets of what I think were doubles. They are in quite good condition still, not having been used much on the spare bed (our bed is a queen and they didn't fit it very well). I figured that seeing as we had them already and they weren't being used, it would save me having to buy some cot sheets.


So I got to work and after a quick search for correct sizing online, turned our 2 double sets into 3 cot sets. I had enough to make 1 set of each colour, then used the extra pieces to create 2 double-coloured sheets, just for fun. Once again this has proven to be a great project for my novice sewing skills.


Here's the two colours just before joining. A bit different from your usual cot sheets! Grin.




Using Tomatoes

We have a bit of a tomato glut at present, and as many of them are rather large, I've been thinking of different ways to use them up. Their fresh flavour is a bit blah...kind of floury without much juice (still trying to work out why). I have found that once cooked they taste like all good tomatoes should though!

Last week I had a go at making a big pot of tomato soup, and this week Mum and I did some pasta sauce. Tomato soup is so easy to make. I lightly fried an onion, then used about 8 big tomatoes and a zucchini, together with some parsley and spinach from the garden, added 1/4c of red split lentils, some paprika, sweet chilli sauce and salt and covered half of it with water before cooking. I think tomatoes on their own with garlic and/or onion would be completely fine; the extras in this just added more flavour, vitamins and substance!

I have eaten quite a few big bowls of steaming tomato soup over the past week! For this one, I added half a tin of baked beans, a slice of spelt toast, and a sprinkle of parmesan for a complete meal.

The pasta sauce smelled absolutely delicious as it cooked the other night! And so it should. It had garlic, marjoram, oregano, italian parsley, rosemary and thyme from the garden, plus a few onions and some salt. Yum yummy! The big pot was full to the top, and we now have lots of little pasta sauce bags in the freezer. I imagine we'll need to do another lot in a week or so to use up the next batch of tomatoes. Not that I mind. I happen to be quite partial to pasta with tomato sauce and cheese.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why I Won't Make a Great Landscape Designer


In 2004 I studied Landscape Design. I loved learning about plants and picked up a huge amount of information from having a University Library at my disposal. My favourites times though were sitting down in the edible gardens at Unitec, next to the Food Forest in the peace and quiet while eating my lunch.

But the Diploma itself didn't end up as a good fit and I've spent quite some time trying to work out why. Here's some recent thoughts...

Design isn’t what motivates me. Problem solving does though, and in a big way. So I approached a site looking at “these are the problems that need to be solved,” when a good Landscape Designer requires more creative flair than anything else, I think. It is not that I do not possess creative flair. Give me a bunch of flowers and a vase and I can show you plenty of creative flair! I just seemed to lose the visual impact, the theming and creative scope that many of my classmates showed by being bogged down in logistics. I found it so hard to ‘see’ the final picture without worrying so much about how I would make it ‘work.’ That’s why I don’t make a good designer.


But plants, and how they look and feel, and work together, that I do love. And sustainable design, permaculture, growing anything I can eat - these are all concepts I first really discovered my deep love of while at Unitec.

It has taken me 6 years since studying Landscape Design to work this out. I just couldn’t understand why I made such a great student, and yet would not make a good designer. I think that’s an important distinction to be able to make: a great student of something does not necessarily translate into a great employee or worker in that field. It requires something more, something different. A great student is just that – a great student.
The decision to withdraw from my diploma in Landscape Design after my first year was fuelled by a combination of financial difficulty, poor health and wondering whether the course would in fact take me where I wanted to go. But whatever the reasons, I’m glad I did not try to become a Landscape Designer. It would have been a path fraught with disappointment and confusion.

The funny thing is that I was so sure when I started studying that Landscape Design was what I wanted to do. I mean, I wasn’t fresh out of highschool. I’d had three years to think things through. I genuinely thought I loved design. I see now that I love problem solving. So design involving problem solving is all good, but design on its own really doesn’t mean anything to me. Looking back, I really, really, really did not know myself. I have only just started to discover who I am over the past two years. And the more I discover, the more I realise just how much on an enigma I am. There are layers upon layers of hidden motivators, talents, hold-backs and more. So the questions I now find myself asking are:
What would I be great at? What am I already great at? And what can I do with that, where can I take it?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nappies!

With a baby on the way, I have been suddenly thrust into the world of nappies, change mats, cots, booties, car seats and various other paraphernalia. Sometimes I think there should be a user manual somewhere, on what to get and how to use it and whether we really need it! It can all be a bit overwhelming. I’ve been amazed at the enormous range of useful, decorative or just plain weird things available for babies. And I’ve been horrified at how much all these things seem to cost!

At the moment, we are trying to focus on finding a unit to rent before going to town on lots of baby gear. With only our 2 rooms here, there just isn’t a great deal of room for storage. We already have a new fridge, freezer and washing machine stored in my parents garage, plus a stack of boxes reaching to the ceiling in the ‘book room’ adjacent to our bedroom – vacuum cleaner, blender, pots, and so on. We figured that as we were planning on moving soonish and didn’t really ship much more than our bed back to NZ, it would be a good idea to avail ourselves of the Boxing Day sales, particularly for our large appliances. Seeing as we needed to buy them anyway, 20% off was a good incentive!

So with needing to set up a whole household first, my baby preparation over the summer months has been limited to nappies. Having several friends who have used (and raved) about the new generation cloth nappies, I have done my research on the various types available. Using disposables was never something I wanted to do, due to the huge environmental cost of something that sits in landfills for forever (or close enough to it). On top of that, I am a little dubious about putting all that plastic and chemicals on my baby’s behind. Surely that can’t be particularly good for them?

The great news is that where previously the only options were good old fashioned cloth or the not-so-disposable disposable, now there are many options in between. This has something to do with new fabrics becoming available, both man-made microfibre and natural hemp and bamboo. After many hours surfing internet sites, a visit to a friend who showed me her stash of all the different types, and much debate and deliberation, I decided to make some pocket nappies.

The reasoning? While the new generation ‘all in ones’ are fabulously easy to use (they act just like a disposable in putting on and taking off), and easy enough to wash, they take a long time to dry (it’s all those layers). Pockets, being a soft inner combined with a waterproof, breathable PUL outer have a ‘pocket’ in the top that you slip an insert into. Because you can take the insert out, unfold and dry it separately, they dry nice and quickly.
Pocket nappies usually cost around $30 each, and the general idea is to get around 12 nappies if you will wash every day. They usually come in different sizes, so you’d get 12 of each size your baby needed as it needed them. Fairly pricey as an upfront cost, but most people estimate savings of several thousand dollars per child from not using disposables…so definitely worth it in the end, especially if you have more than one child as you can reuse your nappies for ages and ages! Apparently they have good resale value too if kept in good nick, so can always be listed on Trademe after we are done with them.

My initial estimates are that I can make us a full set of small and medium pocket nappies for under $400NZ – not all that much more than the cost of standard cloth nappies, which would have been my second choice due to cost ($200-300NZ). My friend, Casper, who both showed me her nappy stash, lent me a pattern and then actually sewed 2 nappies with me to get me going, reckons most kids don’t go past the medium for this type of nappy so I will make just the two sizes for now.

So I took the plunge and re-learnt how to use my sewing machine which had been in a box pretty much since I bought it before leaving Townsville. I am now an expert on threading the needle and winding bobbins. I commandeered the dining table upstairs, and over several weeks have completed 18 pocket nappies, 16 inserts and 6 boosters (made from the scraps that were too small for full inserts).

Some red 'day' nappies waiting to be sewn.



My mother will back me up on this – if I can sew nappies, pretty much anyone can! My very limited sewing skills have even improved!!! I’ve been wanting to learn to sew properly for ages, but never had the gumption to get myself motivated and start, so this was the ideal project to move me along. The sewing is very basic; mostly straight stitching, with the elastic being the hard part to put in (you have to pull hard while sewing). And having a friend there to answer questions and show me the best way to do it was amazing (thanks so much Cas!).

So there you go. I made nappies! They look so cool too. Sadly it is time to start study for the year, so the medium nappies will have to wait until I have some time…maybe next summer??? Munchkin should hopefully not outgrow the smalls until at least 9months old.



2 finished Pocket Nappies with an insert ready to fold and slip in the top! Blue is for nights, having slightly wider legs than the reds.


Oh, and as so many people (even retailers of cloth nappies) have recommended that we use disposables for the first 4 weeks or thereabouts (new babies sometimes being a bit small, and new Mums and Dads a bit tired!), I have found a brand of ‘disposables’ that really are! They are called Moltex, and are made without chemicals and actually break down properly. I can pick up a box from a local store to get us started then we will transfer to my cutie pockets when we are ready. Munchkin is going to be one stylie, eco-friendly bub!



http://www.thenappynetwork.org.nz/ – cloth nappy forums, etc
http://www.greenbeans.co.nz/ – nappy fabric
http://www.ohbaby.co.nz/article.aspx?ContentID=1512 – review of Moltex disposables