Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A new level of self-sufficency

Since arriving home we have been busy!  I had arranged the hire of a digger for the first weekend we got back.  On the Friday a severe weather warning was issued and reluctantly, I cancelled the hire.  When I woke up on the Saturday morning it was grey but not raining so I rushed over and picked up the digger.  Of course this meant that the dire weather warnings came true.  By the time we had driven it to the backyard, it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale.  But with Richard's new found digging skills and my screamed instructions on where to dig, we got it done in no time.  Well only a few hours!  This has us on target to move the soil into softly undulating hills with a path running through the middle this weekend.  Needless to say I have hit every plant sale in the Christchurch area this week and we now have what can only be described as a small nursery at the side of the house.  It will look lovely when it is all planted out, I just need the garden fairies help.

On top of this, I made the decision that we should expand our family and add chickens.  I have always wanted them and see them as my entry into small-time farming.  So on top of digging up the garden, I also got the hard working (complaining) husband to build a chicken run and coop the same weekend.  Yesterday we picked up our four new family members and bought them home.  They are settling in well and it is lovely looking out the kitchen window and seeing them pecking around their new home.  I decided on pure bred chooks as they live longer and have a great personality.  They may not give me the most eggs but that is a trade off I am willing to make to have happy chooks.  We are starting with 4 chickens and will add another one or two next year.  Their names are Ethel, Eileen, Gertie and Mrs Speckles.  They are lovely girls and are already becoming very friendly.

This morning the girls ran out to let them out of their house and check for eggs.  Two sad little faces came back with no eggs found.  I reassured them it would happen and sure enough, I have just been out and found the first egg.  Of course I left it where I found it and will let them discover it after school - very exciting!

Luckily my greenhouse did it's wonderful thing while I was away and I came home to lots of little plants.  I had planted lots of seeds before I left with no great expectations that they would survive.  I was pleasantly surprised.  This has kept me busy planting them out in the outside raised beds and getting on to the next lot of seeds to plant.  Mia's watermelons are coming on slowly as are Amy's pumpkins that she planted.  The first batch of potatoes are bursting out of the greenhouse as are the tomatoes.  I have planted a whole bed of strawberry plants this year so we will have a bumper crop, last year not many made it to the kitchen, just the snacking tummies while playing.

We had an incredible trip that we will all remember fondly but it was wonderful to get home and back to my garden.  The kids have happily started back at school and are getting ready for the annual Pets Day.  As we are a country school, it is like a mini Easter show complete with prizes for the biggest vegetable, baking competitions and of course pets.  Just not your average pets - cows, pigs, chickens and horses.  I do love living in the country!

And the perfect end to our holiday was Richard's Gold Pin at the New Zealand Best Design Awards.  We were and are so proud of him and knew the design had the quality to take away the highest award of the night.  On the first day of school the girls took their Mickey ears to show and tell as well as the front page of the paper featuring Richard's chair - they were so proud!

Life is rather busy at the moment but so rewarding, I wouldn't have it any other way!  Thanks for catching up on our news.

Richard having fun on the digger

Getting the hang of the all the levers

Chook house al la Simpson

Mrs Speckles, Ethel and Gertie

All the ladies 

My chicken, Gertie

Happy little farmers!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dinner to Die For

With the flavours of an incredible meal still in my mouth, I felt I had to share.  How strange, no blogs for months and then 2 in 2 days.  Well when you have something to say I suppose....

The weather has turned and mother nature decided a month or so ago to roll over into winter.  With that thought in mind, it was time for a roast dinner of epic proportions.  Most of the good lamb is exported from New Zealand and so what is left is very expensive, therefore we don't have it often.  When lamb is on special, it will always end up on our table.  So tonight we had a lamb roast with roast pumpkin and potato au gratin.

Firstly the pumpkin, my maternal grandmother was a roast vegetable first place winner (at least in my book).  If it took the best roast vege to run Australia, she would have been PM.  Unfortunately, she passed away before I could learn her secrets and ask her what made her vegetables so incredible.  But tonight, I made her proud.  I try often and am a harsh critic but tonight I know they were amazing.  So I dedicate my roast pumpkin to Nanna.  I ate so much I feel very sick but I am not regretting a mouthful!  Amy and I gorged ourselves.

Now moving onto the potato bake.  I am sick of tasteless, runny potato bakes that have no flavour but lots of calories (I just had to do a spell check on the word calories - it is obvious where my priorities lie?). Anyway, I decided to tweak it a bit.  Enough to say that it was incredible, the recipe is at the bottom of the post.

As I mentioned the seasons have turned and not as recently as 1st June.  The leaves turned and then fell weeks ago and the frosts have started.  It is such a definite change that makes me feel comforted by nature and its predictability.  Our fire has been going steadily every evening for weeks and when the sun dips around 4pm, the chill creeps in.  I am strange in that I love winter and the crisp, cool but sunny days. It is my season!

The vegetable garden has wound down and I only have around 20 carrots left to harvest.  I have planted lupins and blue mustard seeds in an effort to "feed" the soil and make it rich and lovely for spring.  They are popping up all over the empty beds and succeeding in making it look green and not so barren.

Unfortunately I took Richard to the demolition yard today and we jointly (95% no to my 5% yes) decided not to make the greenhouse from recycled windows and doors due to the high cost.  I was very sad as I had found a stunning huge window with stained glass, perfect for the back wall. But you can't argue too strongly against logic.  So I will still be a green house gardener, just a new, bland looking one.  I shouldn't complain.  On an up note, they had a large timber sale to make room for the new motorway going in behind them and Richard managed to score some beautiful native hardwood at a bargain price.  He is now busy in the garage making me a new dining table. Lovely man!

Signing off now to end WW3 between the girls, here is the potato bake recipe.

Orgasmic Potato Bake

Enough thinly sliced potato to fill the baking dish you plan to use
1 finely sliced spanish onion
300mls cream
2 garlic cloves minced
fresh herbs - thyme and rosemary
parmesan cheese and a bitey, crumbly, strong chedder - grated together
salt and pepper

Cook the onions with a little oil until soft and smelling lovely.  Toss in a large bowl with salt,pepper, potatoes and onions and a small amount of the cheese.  Pour into a greased baking dish.  Put cream in a jug with herbs and garlic and whisk.  Pour over cream and top with the remaining cheese.  The amount of cheese is a personal choice - I like to be generous.  Put in a 190 degree oven for about an hour or until golden, crispy and the potato is cooked.  Delicious, Enjoy!!!!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hope for new life

Our family loves avocados, with a passion.  We would be lost if the humble avo disappeared.

A few months ago after finishing another delicious avocado, the seed and skins were put in our compost bin. We forgot all about it until Richard was working over the compost to make it extra special for our vege garden.  Amongst all the muck was that little avocado seed.  It had split down the middle and a tiny shoot was growing out of it.  Again, amazed at our growing ability, we stuck it in a pot with some soil and put it in the garage to protect it from the cold mornings.  For many, many, many weeks it sat under the shoe rack, completely forgotten by all.  Nobody talked to it, watered it or even looked at.

It was only 2 weeks ago that with great surprise, its shoot had stuck its head above the surface, against all odds, it had survived.  Taking that as a sign from some higher gardening power, we decided it was time to nurture and love this little battler.  So inside it came, to sit by the sunny window and be watered every other day.  I talk to it as I go by and today, Amy even read it a story.

Speaking to my Mum on skype last night, she reminded me as I proudly showed her our newest family member, that avocados don't grow in the South Island.  Like a red rag to a bull, I am determined to be the first.  This little avocado is the very reason I now need (and soon) a glasshouse.  Having read they can grow to 15 metres I am still not deterred, that is what pruning is for.  So I am loving our little plant and determined to have it survive.

In an update, having just done some research, I have found a woman in Invercargill that is growing an avocado in a pot in her kitchen and has just grown her first edible avocado! There is hope!  A tree after 7 years can produce 200 avocados a year - we would eat at least 4 a week, at $2 each that is alot.  Self sustainability here we come.

I have this little glasshouse planned down to the last nail and it will be my little oasis.  I have even planned a lock - on the inside!  There is a demolition yard near us that I visited and my plans took on a whole new, grander dimension.  With all the houses being demolished around Christchurch they were overflowing with stunning arched windows, bay and picture windows, doors of every size, colour and even detailed with stained glass.  There is a small possibility that this design stays in my dreams, but after all I can dream!

Stay tuned.....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


It is coming up to a year since we moved into our lovely home and I have been looking back over all the photos and marvelling at all the changes we have made in such a short space of time.  I am incredibly proud of it all and still marvel that I haven't managed to kill the garden.

As soon as February ticked over and March arrived, Mother Nature decided to move us straight into autumn.  Not that we really had a summer, but I look back now and appreciate those 5 extra degrees we had back in January.  There is a definite nip to the air and not just at night time.  Mornings start at 4 degrees and get to high teens by late afternoon if we are lucky.  It is nice to see the seasons change and to welcome back a roaring fire, yes we have been weak and succumbed to a few early season fires.

As with all season changes, I am winding down my vegetable production and getting ready for winter.  My corn is about ready to harvest as are my snow peas and carrots.  I have spent the last weekend propagating the strawberries so that next season we can have a massive bed just of strawberries.  The potatoes will be my last vegetable for the year and they are coming along nicely.  Who would have thought that such an ugly vegetable would have such pretty, purple flowers.

While Richard was working the compost last weekend he found an avocado seed that had sprouted.  We were very excited and quickly planted it in a pot.  We have moved it to the cupboard inside that has the hot water system.  Avocados don't grow in the South Island, so we figure the cupboard it a nice, warm substitute and hopefully will help it along.  We go through Avocados like water so it would be nice to have our own tree.  I know I'm dreaming but the kids are there with me in this pipe dream.  It is just a good excuse for Richard to get moving and build me that glasshouse I am wanting.  Will keep you updated on it's progress.

In an effort to share produce, Richard's boss who has a large and established farm, supplies us with his overflow.  We have been introduced to the uses of duck eggs and have recently been rewarded with a large supply of juicy plums.  I have been madly making jam of the fruit we can't get through and I feel very cottage industry-like.  Hopefully in the years to come, I will have a similar problem with over supply of our fruits and can share with others.

It seems that you just need to drive down any of the country roads around us and someone has put out a sign selling their surplus produce.  It is a great way to shop.  I head out for a drive through the country after dropping the kids with change in my pocket and keep an eye out for fresh veges, eggs or flowers.  So much cheaper than the shop and you know it is as fresh as it comes.  I am considering stock piling for winter, I feel like a chipmunk.

So I will leave you with some photos of before and after and will write again soon.

One year ago

Garden today

My potatoes - just waiting to be roasted

Amy washing the spuds with George's help

We can see you George!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A day to remember

It is 12.50pm, 22 February 2012.  This time one year ago I was going about my normal day, blissfully unaware that in 1 minutes time life as we knew it would be no more.  It has been a sad and emotional day for all of us and a time to remember.  People gathered and spoke of their experiences and just shared their stories.  The support that was there last February, never went away but today it was back in full force.  It was a quiet day with a hush over the city that you could feel.  The girls school planted a tree and held a 2 minutes silence, Mia asked why we would want to stop and remember such a painful event.

160 years to build the city and 24 seconds to destroy it.  May we remember those who died, the injured, the everyday heros and the families that remain and look towards the bright future of Christchurch.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lessons Learnt

It has been a while between posts and for that I am sorry.  I wanted to write but had the feeling that I didn't have anything to write about, which was stupid because looking back on the year so much has happened.  So here is a catch up and hopefully the first of many more updates from our life in NZ.

This past year has taught me so much, it has been full of learning curves and lessons learnt.  We are only days away from the anniversary of the February 22nd earthquake that changed the lives of every Cantabrian.  While it was a devastating day, I have realised that many good things came from that event, mainly never to take anything or anyone for granted.  Don't hold a grudge, never part angry, hug often and appreciate what you have.  All good lessons, unfortunately they came at a very high price, especially for our children.

Mia let out all her fears and anxiety from day one and has since been through months and months of counselling which has allowed her to cope and deal with something no child should have to go through.  Amy dealt with it in her own way which we have found out was to bury it at the back of her mind until she can deal with it.  Which seems to be now.  She is clingy and more fearful than before and is now aware of disaster, death and upheaval.  She doesn't know how to talk about it, but every now and then small questions come out that gives me an insight into her thoughts.  It is all about taking everyday as it comes.

After the 22nd I felt incredibly guilty about our decision to move here and put the kids through this trauma.  But now I don't.  Bad things can happen anywhere and they shape us in many ways, ways that I have come to realise we have a chance to control.  How you deal with what life throws at you is a decision that only you can make.  On the 14th January we celebrated our first year in Christchurch and went out for lunch with the kids.  I asked them to tell me all the great things that had happened in the year and they went very quiet.  Mia told me it had been a bad year because of the earthquake and should be forgotten.  I reminded her that because of the earthquake we made life long friends, we had finally bought our dream house and we still had each other.  Lots of cliches have been learnt by the kids this year - Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, Nothing is all good or all bad, Be grateful for what you have, ect ect but it is all true.

So looking back on this year, I can say that I have many happy memories and now love the life I have here.  Many people still think we are crazy to have come and definitely to have stayed, but this is home and we love it here.  Christchurch has an amazing sense of community and strength and that is what makes it such a special place.

After moving here last April, we threw ourselves into being domestic.  With such a huge backyard we were able to build a large vege patch and orchard that has made me very proud and amazed me with what I was capable of.  Having never been able to even keep a house plant alive, I was stunned that we grew enough veges to feed us for many months.  It has taught the kids how food is made, how to nurture and look after something and they have loved looking after the plants, checking their progress and of course eating all the produce.  We produced a bumper crop of super sweet strawberries that didn't even make it into the house, they were picked and eaten straight from the plant. It was a race to get up first in the morning so you could be the one checking the plant for new strawberries.  We didn't get too many peas which I now realise was because the kids would play outside and when hungry would help themselves to fresh peas.  The original fast food in their own little pod containers.

This year has been a great trial and error lesson with what will grow and what does best so next year I will know what to do better.  I have a long list of jobs for poor Richard - to expand the vege gardens with 3 new beds so we have continual produce, a huge shed (6m x 2m) to house the ride on mower and woodpile, a greenhouse and the list just keeps growing.  Looking after this garden has taken a huge amount of my time, which I have loved.  So my last post of what to do to be useful and busy has been taken care of.  Of course as with everything, if you relax and stop stressing ideas are bound to come to you as they have.  Since resigning myself to being happy with looking after the 3 kids (Richard included) and the garden, I have come up with a business idea that I believe will be very successful and ticks all my boxes.  I have started working on a business plan and hope that if all goes well I will start the business in the second half of this year.  I am also helping Richard with his second job which seems to be growing rapidly.  His brilliant designs are keeping him busy and giving him the creative outlet that he needs.  He has a new furniture range being developed by a local furniture company and it is amazing, even if I do say so myself.  He is truly talented!

The kids are doing very well with school and Mia worked so hard last year to catch up to the rest of the class.  Her hard work was rewarded with 2 special merit awards given in the prize giving assembly.  I was so proud of her!  Amy is loving school and is doing brilliantly, I have no idea where she gets her brains from.  She is the youngest in Year 2 (64 kids) and is in the top reading and maths groups.  Sorry, I just had to brag!  They have made some wonderful friends and love living in the country.  We cycle to and from school and they still think it is funny passing sheep, horses and cows on the 3 block ride to school.

So life has been good to us in the last year.  We have much to be grateful for and our wish for this year, along with all of New Zealand is a calm, peaceful year with no more shakes.  After living through just over 7000 earthquakes and aftershocks, I think we have deserved some peace.  If I could pass on anything I have learnt this past year, it is live to be happy, life is so short make every day count so you can look back on something spectacular.