a conquest, a battle, a victory…

One way I can tell we had a mild winter, is that the nasturtiums I planted at the beginning of last summer didn’t die off. Nasturtiums are very frost tender and they usually die and wither over the winter when the frosts hit…but because the frosts didn’t kill them off, they have been partying hard-out in the garden.

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I enjoyed the nasturtium riots for a long time but finally had to pull some of them out as they were romping all over the place and taking up room I needed for spring planting. I don’t like pulling out healthy and decorative plants, but had to let my desire for tomatoes and corn overcome my silly sentimentality.

Here is just some of the nasturtium we pulled out, the air was dense in that unique wet, peppery smell that nasturtiums have – peeeyuuu!

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Garden wreckage becomes spontaneous landscape art…

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According to plant lore, nasturtium is the plant of heroes and represents ‘a conquest, a long battle and a victory’.

So who won, me or the nasturtiums? Ha ha…

There are still lots of nasturtiums blooming around the place, I only pulled out the ones in the vegetable beds.

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I love nasturtiums – if I were braver and more certain, I would get a nasturtium tattoo – I really love THIS ONE.  But then I also love THESE DANDELIONS…..and THESE VEGETABLES  and THIS BEETROOT and THESE WILDFLOWERS …and this constant indecision is how I am 41 and as yet tattoo-less…..

Anyway, after creating all that space in the garden for spring planting, I entered a raffle at the Manawatu Harvest Festival on Saturday AND I WON! Sweet fortune!

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Now these lovely plants are sitting in the driveway waiting to be planted – and as soon as the horrible spring wind stops blustering away, I will do just that.

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harvest time…again…

preserving

As it’s harvest time – around the country there is a fair bit of preserving going on – jams, relishes, sauces, bottled fruit and all that good stuff. But here is something that happens to me sometimes – I get to this time of year and look in my store cupboard and see that I still have X jars of Y left from last year’s harvest season. This doesn’t put me off making more preserves, but I do get motivated to use up last year’s, as it’s not good to keep it too long – I like to eat mine within the year (ish) it’s made if I can.

Of course, one solution is pass it on – friends, food banks, school gala days…

But I am tight thrifty when it comes to food, especially food which I grew myself so I thought I’d write a bit about other ways to use up relishes, pickles and chutnies, in case anyone else has a glut around this time.

Relishes etc. are most commonly used as a cold condiment to a sandwich or snack, but relish is just vegetables/fruit, sugar, salt, vinegar and spices so when you think about it – these are flavours which are good added to lots of things. Change your way of thinking about them – they aren’t just a condiment, they are like a little flavour booster. Just try to match the flavours in the pickle with what you are cooking. We think of relish as a cold food, too, but there is no reason it can’t be used in hot food.

I have a few jars of a dark and yummy plum/beetroot pickle that has been around for too long which I will be using up over the next eight weeks.

Here’s some suggestions for using up relishes and pickles to make way for this year’s batch:

-add 1 tsp to a tbsp to flavour mayonnaise…curry-based relishes + mayonnaise would be good with egg or potato salad, more vinegar/sweet relishes would be good with green salads. You could do the same with vinaigrette, too, of course.

-sitr through plain yoghurt as a raita alternative and serve alongside dahl

-stir 1-2 tablespoons into a 1 tbsp of oil and use as a marinade for meat or tofu.

-rub a teaspoon of relish into meat, fish or tofu before you put it into the oven to bake

-tomato/vinegar based relishes can be added to pasta or pizza sauces to give them a flavour boost. (Not too much! Just 1 tsp-1 tbsp.)

-add 1 tsp-1 tbsp to the flavour base of fried rice…as you frizzle your ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sayce etc, add a bit of pickle at this stage.

-use a little bit in soups to boost flavour, just as you would with packet stock. A tablespoon of tomato relish into a tomato soup really boosts the flavour. Of course you wouldn’t usually ‘waste’ relish doing this, but if you are using up a glut – go for it!

-use a little bit in casseroles, stews and oven bakes…

In other words – if you can add it to what you are cooking and it would improve and deepen the flavour, do it!

And of course, eat lots of it on water crackers with tangy cheese.

(I’m not sure if this post falls into the ‘teaching your grandmother to suck eggs’ category or if this is actually helpful, but anyway…pickle it up, folks!)

 

 

key turns lock

Over the last few months, I felt kind of reductive – in that I have been paring back what I own and what I do.

In physical form – it has been decluttering, sorting, tidying and tying up loose ends, withdrawing from seeing people who don’t nourish me; giving up various volunteer work things.

In mental form – it has been ceasing doing things I no longer want to do, saying no more, doing less generally and trying to rest more.

Now, I feel like I’ve hit the zenith of that paring back and am feeling at a sort of bare, barren place – I can sense change ahead, but I’m not sure of its form. There is only so much reducing I can do before I go off and become a nun, or something. It’s time to put some things back in the basket.

This is me trying to work out what all this means…

I am liking less and less:

-social media; volunteer work;  spending time listening to people who aren’t capable of returning the gift of listening and don’t really care about me; socialising for the sake of socialising; crappy over-packaged, processed food; passive aggressive nonsense from anyone; the writing scene and what it can do to people’s heads; the ‘more is more’ approach to life; exhausting type-A people who can’t be still; only having two days a week to do as I wish.

I am liking more and more:

-silence; quiet family weekends; reading a good book instead of a facebook; devoted discipline; yoga yoga yoga yoga; friends who can a) listen deeply and b) give good useful advice; honest direct dialogue; the genuine; space – in my day, in my mind; simple vegetarian food; the notion of self-employment; relaxed, honest people who know how to rest and how to care for themselves; integrity.

I spent a lot of time in my twenties and thirties trying to be good, trying to be nice, trying to be helpful, trying to ‘build community’; trying to be all things to lots of people, trying to achieve certain things, only to achieve them and discover that – wherever you go, there you are – they mean very little.

I think my forties is going to be about being real.

I also think ‘real’ and ‘nice’ are not necessarily compatible.

the things you keep which are not yours

A little more on stuff…

…I just read THIS BOOK. In it, the author Corinne Grant explores the roots of her hoarding habits. I found this description of her intertia around organising her possessions interesting:

‘The fear of doing something I might later regret overruled any desire to throw something out. If I threw out an old placemat, I might all of a sudden find myself completely unmoored from my past. If I threw out a cardigan my mother had given me for my twenty-third birthday, I might destroy the family bond that held us to each other. We don’t call our possessions our ‘belongings’ for nothing and … it felt like my belongings were the only things holding me together.’

I understand her attachment to the thing which links you to the person it represents. I utterly understand it. I understand wanting to keep a thing out of some misguided sense of respect for the person who gave it to you. In the past, I’ve hung on to gifts for years, thinking I was honouring the friend who gave it to me, only to have, in one case, him mock the very object and when I protested that he had given it to me in the first place, he responded: ‘God, did I? For god’s sake get rid of it. It’s hideous.’

Once Corinne Grant begins to declutter and sort out her life, she catches the decluttering bug and becomes addicted to her new fixation, spending a whole winter going through her stuff:

‘I was an archaeologist excavating my own life, determined to dig myself out of the rubble.’

I found this sentence very poignant – possibly the most poignant thing I’ve read around decluttering. Doesn’t this one sentence get to the heart of what decluttering is all about? A sense of having lost oneself? A feeling the the way to find oneself again lies in dealing with belongings and trying to establish what they say about you?

As you know if you read my blog regularly, I spent the summer decluttering my house. It wasn’t that bad to start with – I’m no crazy cat-lady who can’t throw out an empty can or an old newspaper, but I was starting to feel like the cupboards and shelves were bulging and that I was hanging on to a lot of stuff for the wrong reasons – like nostalgia, ‘it might be useful one day’ and my need to be surrounded in creative materials.

I was very thorough and heaps of stuff went – to friends who would actually use it, to opshops, into our garage sale (and I still have a large pile of stuff to be listed on trademe – which I should probably be doing now instead of writing this….). I got rid of clothes I had emotional attachments to but no longer wore, I got rid of my record collection, I got rid of piles of art materials, books I knew I’d never get around to reading, unwanted gifts…I think I did really, really well. However…

there remain two stumbling blocks:

-family ‘heirlooms’ – things which have been passed down to me which used to belong to my grandparents, or great-grandparents – these items range from the useful (a gorgeous green jug that was my maternal grandmother’s, which I love and use most weeks to put flowers in) to the space-taking and useless (a musty fox fur coat, my grandmother’s debutante satin gloves – which don’t fit me, because she had tiny hands) to the precious (cameo rings, war medals) to the sublime (beautiful gilt-edged, leather-bound 140 year old family Bible) to the ridiculous (a small old cardboard box full of my grandfather’s pen nibs. He was a draughtsman and took great pride in his pens. The nibs are completely rusty and useless. The whole artefact is useless and not particularly beautiful. It is my favourite reminder of him, and I love it.) I also have my great-grandmother’s mantle clock. It is large! The key is long lost so I can’t wind it up, making it useless. I can’t throw it out. My great grandmother was not a wealthy woman. She didn’t have much. I feel, tangibly, if irrationally, that throwing out that mantle clock – the only thing of hers I have – would be like throwing HER out.

I don’t know what I think about the presence of these items in my life. Some of it makes sense (the green jug: beautiful, useful, translates to a contemporary setting) some not (the ridiculous attachment to a musty old box of rusting pen nibs, keeping old satin gloves which don’t fit me, worn to a ball by a grandmother I never met.)

The things I love the most from my ancestors are usually quirky things, rather than precious things. I hear from those who knew her that my grandmother loved to tell fortunes, read tea-leaves and cards, so for this reason, I love her tea-leaf-reading cup. It’s one of my favourite possessions. (That’s it above – I always have it on my mantlepiece.)

My grandfather went to India during World War 2 – I love the little wooden deities he bought back from India (below.) These speak to me of adventure and fear and being miles from home, and of thinking of those at home at the point of purchasing these little souvenirs – they speak to me of his war experience much more than his actual war artefacts: his medals and papers.

Ah, family heirlooms! The threads of attachment weaving down through generations…

The other area with decluttering where I have hit a wall, is with my writing papers.

I have writing papers – early drafts, submissions, correspondence, publications, course materials etc etc – dating back as far as high school. They start with my high-school poetry books and the punk ‘zine I wrote as a teenager and then they chart my progress as a writer from there….

All in all, including my journals, it comes to about five big boxes of stuff.

Is this a lot?

Why am I so very attached to it?

Is there any point in keeping it?

If I let it go, what does that mean for all those years of learning and struggle? While I am the sum of those parts – the writer who sits here today – does getting rid of the tangible evidence of my struggles, and travails and triumphs and experiments diminish them?

Does it diminish me?

I don’t know. I really don’t.

I feel very close to being able to let it all go – to be able to throw it all on our next bonfire – but should I? What should I keep, if any of it?

How much ‘rubble’ in the archeology of a life is too much?