Monday 6 October 2014

I have oats for breakfast every day. Usually I add some combination of milk, raisins, maple syrup, cinnamon. For the Live Below the Line challenge, I've increased my portion size (the better to keep me going until lunch), and added fruit. Here's the recipe:

Half-Hearted Bircher Muesli

Oats - 37 cents per 100g. 1 serve is 4T/35g = 13 cents
Budget tinned peaches in syrup - $1 per can. 1 serve is 20% of a can (3 peach slices and syrup) = 20 cents

Total cost: 33 cents

Tip the peaches and syrup over the oats. Refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, loosen the oats with a little hot water.

This tasted... fine. It would have been better with cinnamon and maple syrup though. Maybe next week.

Sunday 28 September 2014

100 things in 30 days

Recently, I threw out 100 things in 30 days.

Photo by martin via Flickr.

The clear out wasn't prompted by anything in particular. I was pottering around, doing my weekly tidy-up, and found three things I didn't need and set aside for the charity bins. Then I found some more.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Two Streets

This is a turn of the century villa.
When I left last night's election party, I walked down a nice street. It's a wide street, with mature trees, roundabouts to slow traffic, and million-dollar renovated villas set back on green lawns. There's a primary school round one corner and your pick of organic cafes round the other. It's not even the nicest street in Epsom.

The last time I'd walked the three blocks from my friend's house to my partner's house, I passed two people sleeping in their cars. 

This is a 1997 Toyota Camry
I didn't peek through their windows, any more than I'd peek through the window of one of the villas they were parked in front of. But the windows were steamed up with someone's breath, and one of the cars had a carefully placed sun visor thing across the windshield. 

There are very few people that live in a car out of choice. It's a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. It's a choice people make when they cannot find affordable accommodation, or a job which allows them to pay rent. When they can't access money to pay for a motel, even for a few nights. When their friends get tired of them sleeping on the couch, or maybe the friends don't have a couch, or maybe they don't have friends. Anyway. Few sleep in a car from choice. They do it because their only other option is sleeping rough(er), on the street. 

So that was two streets: the one with the upper-middle-class folks in their tastefully renovated villas, and the people with no other option. The same street, worlds apart. This is inequality. 

I'm middle class, and last night's election results won't unduly affect me. It's not me I'm worried about. It's my country. I thought we were better than this. I don't want to see people sleeping rough: not because I'm scared or offended by their presence, but because all New Zealanders have a right to a basic standard of living. A right which is currently not being met for a lot of people. 

Today I've signed up to sponsor a New Zealand child through KidsCan. Because 260,000 New Zealand children - 1 in 4 - live in poverty, and today they need our help.

Further reading: 

I would encourage you all - no matter how you voted yesterday - to check out KidsCan. This issue is important, and it's not going away. 

Sunday 7 September 2014

Fun with crochet!

My friend said, "Rachel! You made this? Your skills are being wasted."
I said, "This is the perfect use of my crochet skills, actually."

On election night, we’re having a party. We’re going to drink themed cocktails (Muldooned Wine and Champagne Socialism), and watch the votes come in. And we’ll play a game or two while we argue about Epsom. I’ve* made a new deck of Cards Against Humanity, and you can play it too.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Dirty Politics in screen caps

In the past few days since Nicky Hager's new book has been released, a lot has been written on it. I don't have a lot more to add, but here are the bits I thought worth screen capping.

It's important to remember that this is the work of just a few people, and that sunlight will always be the best disinfectant. Buy the book. Enrol to vote. The election's in a month.

Sunday 6 July 2014


My mother is leaving the country for a year. Her partner has sabbatical; she has a year's leave of absence; their house is to be let, the car sold, and they're flying to London, via Hong Kong and Spain. "It was a pretty cheap flight," my mother explained. "No one wants to go to Spain via Hong Kong."

"Do you want anything from the house?" she asked. "Any heirlooms?"

If you knew my family, you wouldn't think we had any heirlooms - but a heirloom doesn't have to be a manor-house, it's just a thing, handed down.

I wanted the camphorwood chest, and said so. Part of the scenery of my childhood, I remember it holding dress up clothes: beaded saris, and a battered puipui.

A battered camphorwood chest.

"Your great-grandfather, Arthur Rayner, got that in the War. He was fighting up in the Khyber Pass, and had it shipped back, somehow."
"You mean he looted it," I said. "And how do you post things, in a war?" My mother shrugged.
"It was just something they did in those days," said her partner. "In a hundred years, people will be looking back at what we did in horror."

A scene of a battle on a camphor wood chest.

A dragon carved into the lid of a camphor wood chest.

A battle scene carved into the side of a camphor wood chest.

Rayner was the illegitimate son of a Duke. He was well educated, in France, and after leaving my great-grandmother and their only child during the depression, managed Bellamy's for some time. That's all I know of him: that he was a cad. I took his name by deed poll in my early twenties.

"That's not your grandmother's maiden name," said my mother, wrinkling her nose in horror. "It's your great-grandfather's name. You don't want some man's name. Why don't you take my maiden name instead? That was your grandmother's name too."
I gave her a long look. "How long do you have to argue about which one's a man's name?"
She laughed, realising. I never knew my grandfather either.

Before my grandfather, my grandmother's first love died in the war, at Guadalcanal. He was an American. The army had practised D-Day landings on the gentle shores where my grandmother grew up. After the war, my great-grandmother set up a camp on the land in decommissioned army huts, and it's still a camp ground today. I don't know the American's name. I don't know who remembers him.

"Besides," I said, "Rayner alliterates," and that settled the matter. The surname name I was born with alliterated too. My new name is even neater; six letters in each, and I like the rhythm of it: Ra-chel Ray-ner. My original surname was my father's name - another cad who doesn't deserve to have his name carried on. I guess sins dilute with time. I don't mind my great-grandfather's bad behaviour.

"There's this too," my mother said. We were standing in her empty house, everything stored away, ready for the tenants.
"I'd forgotten it existed," I said.

It was an ivory box, carved with elephants. Did I remember it sitting on my grandmother's dressing table, or did I remember it later in our home? I remembered the word I used to play in Scrabble, every game. P-y-x, pyx, a small precious vessel. Fifteen points.

"It's horrible," said my mother, "but what can you do?"
"Is it legal?" I asked, turning it over in my hands.
"To own yes - but not to sell. You may as well have it. It's not like we can give it back to the elephant. There's nothing to do but keep it."

Ivory is teeth, warm to the touch, organic feeling. I put it on my dressing table, next to the picture of my grandmother.

Once, I had commented idly to a man that I was jealous of my grandmother's beauty in that photo. Her hair, and those eyes. I think I have her eyebrows, something of her chin. He looked at her, and said casually, "You're hotter," as if it was a competition, as if my grandmother hadn't died at 86, the twenty-year-old in the picture long vanished to dust. My mouth is fuller, with a neat cupid's bow, and my nose is wider, not so long.

I have my grandmother's pearls.

"I don't know their story, I'm afraid," said my mother. "But I've had them restrung, so the clasp is very modern. It's magnetic." An offering, the beginning of a story I could finish. I turned them over in my hands, and put them on.

Pearls are biological, like ivory. The test for a pearl is to rub it gently against your teeth. If it feels gritty, it's real.  They are cool to the touch at first then warm rapidly against the skin, to blood temperature.

I am the youngest daughter: the pearls are my sister's by rights. For years this galled me, and I said so to Jesse. He bought me a string of pearls, the first Christmas we were together. I hadn't been expecting it, even though I had said I'd like some, and burst into tears. It's not a reaction I'd had to anything, before or since, and startled us both. "This doesn't - they don't mean -" said Jesse. We hadn't been together very long. Pearls don't mean anything. They aren't gold or diamonds. They're semi-precious, very affordable, as jewellery goes.

Nothing means, anything, unless we say so.

There's meant to be a danger, in putting things like this on the internet. What if some stranger sees, and sneaks in to burgle - what, exactly? A looted chest, ivory, pearls? A photograph? These things don't mean anything, to anyone but me. Who would buy a battered chest, a string of pearls of indeterminate age, with no story?

"It's good to hand these things on," said my mother's partner. "To the next generation." I was startled: didn't they mean to take them back, in a year?

These are the things we can do for the dead: we can bury them; we can forgive their sins; we can remember them.

Saturday 28 June 2014

The Solution

Recently I reread the entire Animorphs series. For those of you who weren't kids in the 90s, it was about a group of teens who were gifted the power to turn into animals. They used this power to fight an alien invasion (they win, eventually). 

Book cover of The Mutation by K.A. Applegate. It shows a teen boy turning into a whale.

Sunday 22 June 2014

I knit a hat. It's squishy and blue and has a pompom. 

A blue tardis hat with a pom pom sitting on a loaf of bread.

Recognise the shape? It's a tardis! I used this pattern, and found it very good. 

Recognise the bread? It's a baby hat. (More on baby-bread here.) 

A blue tardis hat with a pom pom sitting on a loaf of bread.

I gave it to Jenn and Zac. They liked it! 

Jenn and Zac opening gifts, smiling.

Jenn told the crowd, "This is actually the second Doctor Who themed item Rachel's knit for us. She also knit this cardigan, with a scarf knit right in."

Jenn and Zac opening gifts, smiling.

It was a Doctor Who themed baby shower, of course. 

A blue cake with a fondant-ed tardis sitting on top.

Baby showers are kind of odd things, aren't they? I always think it's wonderful to gather the community, and help give new parents the things they might need, but they have kind of a staged effect, the pantomime quality which comes from collecting strangers together. "You know," I said to someone I went to high school with, "I don't think I know anyone else here." 
"I was just thinking the same!" She said, "It's so strange - I know Jenn so well, and yet - " she gestured to the crowd. 

And there was a crowd, which was wonderful to see, all the people who care deeply about this child, and are looking forward to welcoming it into this world. 

It was wonderful to see the children at the party as well, and know the child is coming into a community where young ones are valued and loved. 

A small child is being handed a helium balloon and she is SO HAPPY about this.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Where we stayed in Christchurch, the first night of our holiday, had been Red Zoned the last time I'd visited.

We asked the taxi driver where we could get dinner in town. He paused and said, "Nowhere. It's all wasteland now."

The ruins of the Christchurch Cathedral.

Easter and Anzac day lined up this year: with three days leave, you could get ten days off work. So Jesse and I went to the South Island.

We flew into Christchurch, and the next day drove out of town.

Somewhere in the South Island. Lots of cloud.

Snowcapped mountains in the South Island, with some kind of weird cloud thing going on.

A mountain and a lake in the South Island.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

I want to talk about cheese rolls.

Cheese rolls are a regional food: you can only get them in the South Island: I'd never heard of them before a few years ago.

I knew we had to find cheese rolls and try them out.

They were elusive, but we tracked them down in the end (Jesse googled: cheese rolls te anau, and we dutifully headed to the Sandfly Cafe).

They looked pale and unappetising in the cabinet, but when they appeared on our plates, they looked delicious.

Inside, the cheese was molten and onion-y.

"Are you doing a cheese roll selfie?" asked Jesse, like he had just met me or something. 

How did they taste? The first bite was sublime. Hot cheese, crisp bread, sharp onion. After that, they tasted kind of sad. I guess regional food is poverty food by definition, even if it pretends it's not (I'm thinking of risotto. As fancy food, risotto is a collective delusion. It's a cup of rice, a spoonful of broth, a rind of cheese, and half an hour of woman's labour). Cheese rolls are slice of bread and a slice of cheese, and call it lunch. It tasted a little desperate (they cost $3 each). 

However! The rolled shape meant they were much easier to eat than a toasted sandwich and the cheese-to-bread ratio was closer to fondue than a sandwich. 

I found a recipe which looks pretty close to the ones we tried. 

Cheese Rolls

(The original recipe serves 36, so let's try it again with reasonable portions.)

  • 75g grated cheese
  • 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
  • Reduced cream, enough to bind
  • 4 slices white bread
  • Butter or margarine

  1. Mix together the cheese and onion, and dollop in tablespoons of reduced cream until you have a thick, sticky mixture. Aim for the consistency of porridge.
  2. Spread mixture evenly over the bread. Roll the bread up tightly, and snap the crusts o it doesn't unroll. 
  3. Spread the outside of the bread with butter, and toast in a hot panini press until golden brown.
You could also substitute leftover kiwi onion dip for the reduced cream and onion, and suddenly this whole recipe makes sense. I had leftover dip once, in 2011, and it was quite confusing and upsetting that all the dip wasn't gone. It hasn't happened to me before or since, but I guess it's more common down South. 

Have you got a cheese roll recipe? Share it in the comments! 

In the South Island, we saw stacked stones.

First we saw them by Aoraki.

A picture of a cairn of staked rocks in front of Aoraki/Mt Cook in New Zealand's South Island.

Then by Lake Tekapo.

Stacked stones by Lake Tekapo. That's the Church of the Good Shepard in the background.

Stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

Stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

Is this a cairn thing? Do they mark the dead, or do the living place the stones to mark the days?

Stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

Stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

Stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

There are so many of them.

Stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

"What the hell," I said. "What the hell is going on with everyone on this entire island that's driving them to compulsively stack rocks?"

Jesse standing next to a pile of stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

"Don't be all weird about this," said Jesse, adding scale to my photos. 

Jesse standing next to a pile of stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

"It would have been that first one guy stacked some rocks, and then someone else stacked some rocks, and then it was a thing."

A pile of stacked stones by Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

They weren't all by the shore: someone would have had to waded to do this:

A pile of stacked stones in Lake Tekapo, in the South Island of New Zealand.

We saw them further South, in Queenstown...

The shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, South Island.

Stacked stones on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, South Island.

Stacked stones on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, South Island.

Stacked stones on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, South Island.

We saw them on the shores of Te Anau, supplemented with wood. I tried to stack stones at Lake Te Anau, but the rocks slipped and fell, and I was too cross with them to take a picture.

We saw a variation in Glenorchy. 

Stacked bricks on the foundations of an old building, Glenorchy, in New Zealand's South Island.

This was the hotel which burned down in 1959. We know that because at some point, the powers that be in Glenorchy halted the clean up and put up a sign instead. It's right on the main street.

Stacked bricks on the foundations of an old building, Glenorchy, in New Zealand's South Island.

Maybe the answer is as simple as "they have rocks down there." I live in a place with sandy beaches. How would I know?

Sunday 11 May 2014

Baby's First Email Address

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