Thursday, July 30, 2009

grand designs

Grand Designs usually pisses me off. I get cranky at the supercilious 'im-smarter-than-you tone' of the ever-smug presenter, Kevin McCleod. He seems to actually enjoy the turmoil created by the naive couples who engage architects and builders to create their 'dream homes' with unrealistic expectations and impossibly lean budgets. I guess it makes great television, watching these couples squirm as their dreams get gradually eroded by the inevitable compromises that building often demands.
And so I was surprised by my reaction to a recent episode (a repeat I suppose) in which a couple built their own home in Brittany. I smiled...all the way through it. I was caught up in their dream. Even Kevin's quips and jibes failed to dash their hopes or my enjoyment.
Its long been a dream of mine to build my own house. I mean, actually build it, so watching a couple do this from go-to-whoa, in the space of a year, making the decision to sell their expensive city house in the UK, pay out the mortgage and build a home on a cheaper piece of land in provincial France with the remaining money, was inspiring. They took a year off their paid jobs to do this, and enlisted the help of volunteers for some of the labour intensive parts of the project.

They built an earthship. A passive solar home built mostly out of recycled materials. While the aesthetic is a, hmmm, a bit too 'nuts and berries' for me, I really liked the technique of using car tyres which would otherwise be used for landfill, as both wall and structure for the rear of the building. The wall was made by stacking the tyres in an open bond, packing them with dirt from the site, and rendering the interior and exterior surfaces with pise. Low cost, thermally efficient, insulative and it makes use of a material which would otherwise present an environmental problem.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mieng Kum, finger food.

Last weekend my partner and I were in withdrawal. We were seriously craving the tastes and textures of fresh Balinese food, and the summery feeling of eating raw food. Leafing through our favourite cookbook "Old Food" by Jill Dupleix, we came across a Thai recipe that seemed to fit the bill. Although Thai in origin, Mieng Kum pushed all the right taste buttons: toasty coconut, funky dried shrimps and zingy lime. Heres the recipe that we shared with some good friends as an entree. I have included the substitutions we used, rather than the full Jill Dupleix recipe.

1/2 cup palm sugar
a 1/2 cups water
5 tbs grated coconut (dessicated is OK)
1tbs of shrimp paste
3 shallots
1 tbs peanuts
1 tbs dried shrimp
1 tsp sliced ginger (or galangal)

Boil sugar and water, stirring. Hat a dry pan and roast coconut until golden, remove coconut and dry-fry shrimp.

Pound together/blend shrimp paste 1 tbsp coconut, shallots, peanuts shrimps, and ginger until mushy. Combine paste with sugar syrup, simmer and stir for 15 minutes until it thickens. Cool.

fillings: (feeds 5 as an entree)
2 tbs finely diced shallots
2 tbs finely diced lime
2 tbs finely diced ginger
2 tbs dried shrimp
2 tbs roasted peanuts
2 tbs finely chopped chilli

Arrange these artfully on a plate, or in bowls, and encourage guests to arrange these in lettuce leaves, top with a spoonful of sauce, wrap and EAT. Its an amazing taste sensation, and transports one to a warmer climate immediately. Or maybe thats just as we added too much chilli!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Facet Joints

Until last Friday night I didnt know what a facet joint was. And now I know its location, as well as its capacity to inflict pain of extraordinary dimensions. Apparently there are multiple facet joints in the spine: its the space between any two vertebrae, shown in this diagram within the blue rectangle.

My trouble is the space between the L4 and L5 vertebrae has opened up, at the facet joint, and is causing the area to become inflamed.

The fact that there are a whole bunch of nerves that reside in the joint between the bony bits, means that I can feel this inflammation. Boy, can I feel it! So, until the inflammation goes down, Ill be stuck in bed trying to type with two fingers on my side. Pretty tricky stuff.
The GP reckons it might well have been my overly flexible hip/back muscles that have caused the problem: too much pushing the envelope during yoga. DAMN! I had been trying to be sooooo careful to strengthen my abdominals with all the right pilates exercises, but still I have managed to injure myself.

Its so hard to know where the limits of the body lie, and what our capacities are. I always find this challenging in yoga: knowing how far to take a pose. When there is no pain, then it all feels why has this happened????

(Image Courtesy of Beverly Hills Pain Management Centre)

Friday, July 24, 2009

bed haiku

breath-stealing back-pain
brings me back to bed and here
i rest. flattened. sore.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

5 Things that drive me crazy about each of my lovely girls!!!

OK: its 4pm and we have come home from the school pickup and I'm tired after a day of working, and my kids are tired from their days, so we have the difficult stuff ahead of us: negotiating the needs of 3 tired people and the dinner bath bed routine before Dad gets home.This is the stuff of everyday life, ands its going on in households everywhere as I write this. Its times like these when I kinda find it difficult to remember all the things I love about my kids. Its times like these when I need to re-read my posts, and refresh my memory a little, cos right now I'm being driven bonkers by the least appealing aspects of my children's behaviours. Its times like these, I need a reality check! So heres an appraisal of the least appealing things about the lovely Miss E:
1. Your grumpiness!! When you are tired, you find it difficult to lift yourself out of the murky mood you are in. Your 'stare of great disapproval' is a worry to me, as its defiance and gloom are difficult for me to deflect when I am not in the mood to 'laugh it off'.
2. This mood can last forever on evenings like this
3. Listening. I can ask you to do something, and you can stare at me in the face, and not take in any of the information I am giving you... arggghhh.
4. Neglectfulness and Forgetfulness: Ditto above, with the distinction that know you know what I have asked you to do, but I get ignored, or the task simply forgotten, on your way to the next thing on your agenda
5. Messiness.

And Miss S. I adore you completely, but:

1. Hanging off my arm when I am trying to write is amazingly annoying. There are times when I just want a few moments to myself, and this reliance on me for amusement is frustrating.

2. When you tell me that you are "hungry" just when a meal has been packed away and the benches wiped down is particularly frustrating. I know this is a call for attention rather than food most of the time, but perpetually making you little snacks is really not OK. If you ate your dinner/lunch breakfast, then Im sure you wouldnt need so many wee meals.

3. Your need to have me supervise your getting dressed, when I know you can do it yourself.

4. You stuff dirty clothes back into the cupboard when I ask you to clean up the floor. Arrrgghhh!

5. Why does everything need to be pink????

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

cutting it: taking cuttings from fruit trees

I have a Mum who not only has green thumbs, but all her fingers are green as well. Or maybe she has green arms, legs, toes... the whole kit-and-kaboodle. She is champion of things green.

So Mum, if your reading this, I need some help right about now! I have taken some cuttings from the magnificent and abundant fig tree that has served so well in providing delicious produce over summer and autumn, in the hope that I can strike them into new wee trees. We may well move after the next harvest, and I would love to have a viable version of this fig in my new garden, where-ever that may be.

I used the sharpest secateurs and cut just below a growth node (ummm....what did you call this again?) trying to keep each piece about 15-20cm long. I just have wiped the sap from the cut, as I dont have any fresh aloe to coat the cut. Would paw-paw ointment do?

So, here are some cuttings that I have wrapped in damp news paper. Just 6 of them. I'll pot them in sandy potting mix tomorrow, water them once, put them on the sunny side of the house with a bag over the pot and see what Spring brings.

Let me know if any of these cuttings look crap, and i'll not bother planting them.

10 things I love most about Miss E

In the spirit of the previous blog about my youngest daughter, I also wanted to celebrate my elder daughter Miss E. Ive chickened out of using their full names, but most of my readers know them anyway! I suppose I figure that their privacy is not being protected in the long term (who knows how long the blog will sit in cyberspace) if I use their names. And its always better to be safer with indemnities of kids... Its so sad that I even have to consider their safety in this ether like environment, but consider it I must.

So, here are some things about the amazing Miss E, that I love, that challenge me too (in equal measures)

1. Your energy! Miss E, you have such an enthusiasm for life, and throw yourself completely into your activities. Just this-morning, when you realised you had to get your gym gear and swimming gear together for today, rather than do this quietly, you raced like a mad-tornado through the house leaving a trail of neglected items behind you! But you did it with such a burst of wild energy. So you!

2. Your creativity: You never have "nothing to do". You constantly amaze me with the delightful things you dream up to occupy yourself and your sister. When we stayed up in the snow for Dad's birthday, you got up at the crack of dawn, ran out into the snow in your PJ's and started to make "snow guinea pigs"... and then there are those endless barbie "scenario" games... incredibly how they last for HOURS. With so many bits of paper made into props.

3. You love the natural world. Walking with me up mountains, you delight in the trees, the birds, the air, the clouds. You see the joy in this, as I do.

4.You notice the small things that other people miss, Like the tiniest mushrooms on the trail, hiding under the leaf litter. And you point these things out to your sister, and she shares in this secret world of the small details, that so many adults miss out on. I think Simone has this talent too... in fact all kids do!

5. The crazy way you dress. You dont care if your jeans are ripped: they are your favourites. You like mint green and fuscia together. You wear skirts and jeans and messy hair. Vivid Stripes everywhere one day, and all red the next. There is a wild look to you. You throw out a fashion challenge... I love the fact that this is the way you put together your outfits for non-uniform day at school. There is not much conformity in you. YOu go Girl!!!

6. You can do 6 things at once, although it has to be said, you rarely clean up the 6 things after you have finished doing them, and moved onto the next thing.

7. You are growing up, and noticing that your violent mood swings affect others around you, and slowly you are learning to flip yourself out of the darkest of these moments, to find the sunshine inside. We are working on this together! Such extremes.

8. Your sister adores you, and follows your lead. Sometimes you use this to your advantage, but always you include her in your games. Sadly, you dont quite get the fact that she needs to have a go at making up the game too.

9. Your strength, Miss E. When I was pregnant with you and worried about the birth, and being a parent, I had a dream where you visited me and told me that I shouldnt worry. that YOU would look after me, and that was how it had always been. I had such a deep sense of being reassured. I still carry that sense of confidence in you, that you will always be OK. Weirdly, because you told me it was so.

10. Your passionate love. As you do everything, you commit 100%. You feel absolutely, and you communicate your feelings with your whole body. When you hurt inside, it hurts so much, sometimes your nose bleeds! When you love, you fling your whole body into it, and cling like a limpet with your arms and legs wrapped around me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

10 things I love about Miss S

Inspired by Bluemilk's honest reflection on her daughter's development, I'd like to write a little about my youngest daughter S. I've not mentioned her in my blog by name, and I suppose I had wondered if there were any 'dangers' in doing this, but I dont believe so. First and foremost, this is a blog for me, and I hope one day my children might read it too, and realise there were some interesting things going on in Mum's life, and that she really does (and did) love us.
Its so easy to focus on the things that annoy us in our children: they interrupt what we are doing, are the constant source of 'work', and require continuous dexterous and creative parenting ( a subject for which I was totally unprepared for) from 0-16 and beyond. Sometimes its easy to forget the many joys that children bring to life, and their uniqueness.

So, Miss S these are the things I love most about you, at age 4 almost 5:

1. As the second daughter, I know that you have found it difficult to assert yourself and your needs in the family, especially with a strong elder sister who has always been bigger, louder, quicker and in most things the leader. And now you are nearly 5, I'm noticing you are starting to stand your ground, and define the things you like to do in the face of opposition from your sister. You are your own person, and its great to see this equally strong will asserting itself.

2. Your love of olives, brie, capers and things that have TASTE. Never afraid to try something new, your food tastes are pretty refined. Strange that you can also be so fussy with your food. Everything must be in a separate bowl, and not messy. Peas separated from carrots etc etc...

3. Silky obsessions: you have always loved things that are silky. You still adore your 'purple blanket' which has been with you from birth. The satin edge is lovingly stroked between your thumb and fingers of one hand, and until recently your other thumb would be firmly planted in your mouth. We explained to you that now you are turning 5, it really was time to stop sucking your thumb, and told you about how it can affect your teeth growing well, and you tried so hard to master comforting yourself with just the blanket. Now you have done it! We hardly see the thumb in the mouth at all! Always good to have an 'emergency silky' just in case the blanket is not around.

4. You listen really well to explanations of how people feel, and are able to empathise with another person's happiness or pain. If I am sad, you will always come to comfort me with your cuddles.

5. I love your giggle, especially when you play the game of blowing the fringe from my face, and I from yours. Such a great happiness bubbles up from your being!

6. You can focus on drawing fabulous pictures that depict scenes from our life, or fantastic creations of your own inventions. Cats have whiskers, people have fingers, toes and expressions. You are trying hard to write all your numbers, and are starting to understand mathematics. You always ask clear questions when you dont understand something.

7. You understand that honesty is important. On a holiday in Bali recently, when everyone had a mint lolly on the car, and you missed out, when another adult requested that you respond honestly when you were queried on this, you wavered a little, but very clearly said that you had not. It was great to see you not cry or get upset, but clearly state your truth.

8. When your big sister is upset, you seem so genuinely worried for her, and that she find a happy resolution to whatever is upsetting her (even if you had something to do with the cause of the upset!) You can forgive quickly, and dont seem to hold onto sadness or moods.

9. You CAN play and draw independently when your big sister is at school.

10. You CAN put on your own clothes, and remember where your library book is. Its amazing how independent you really are

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Asian Pantry Essentials

Our pantry is an abomination. I guess Im largely responsible for this, rather than my Malaysian Chinese husband. I'm one of those people that feigns organisation: what you see are the clean public 'surfaces' of our kitchen, what you dont see are the interiors of cupboards which contain a private chaos of the jammed in bottles, packets and jars. I would like it to be otherwise, as I am sure if I knew where everything was, I would actually be more efficient in the kitchen. But, sadly, Virgo is not my 'rising sign' and the chaos remains until such a time as my patient and incredibly neat husband has had enough of losing the balachan behind the breakfast cereal and restores order to the madness.

But, the purpose of this post is not to attempt to re-think pantry organisational techniques. Rather, I was asked by my sister what kind of Asian essentials we keep in the pantry. SO having confronted the mess, I have taken stock of what we do have, and here's the shopping list, Liz! Its not complete, by any means, but contains the basics that we use overy other day.
  • Fish sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • ABC thick sweet soy sauce
  • sweet chilli sauce (Thai)
  • tamarind paste
  • palm sugar
  • red and green curry paste (for cheating purposes)
  • 'Hogans' laksa paste (ditto)
  • Chinese rice wine vinegar (shao sing)
  • sesame oil
  • white pepper
  • Chinese black vinegar
  • dark soy sauce
  • Hoi-sin sauce
  • light soy sauce
  • dried shrimp (add to soups/stir fries)
  • mirin
  • dashi
  • Noodles: bean thread noodles, rice vermicelli, soba and udon noodles
  • dried gelatin (in strips)
  • Black rice, jasmine rice, mung beans
  • star anise, curry leaves (fresh are best) , yellow and black mustard seeds, tumeric powder, cummin, corriander + too many to mention....
Oh, and we keep the balachan in the freezer! (It pongs)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

yoga retreat: Bali style

During a 2 week holiday in Seminyak, Bali, I managed to fashion my very own yoga retreat. Not wanting to pay the $1000's of dollars for a 'big-name' retreat, I hunted around the internet to find a yoga school that would take me on an a casual basis. Actally it wasnt too hard to find: Bali seems to cater to the whims of the tourist particularly well, and Seminyak did not dissapoint. Staying in avilla with friends and family added another delightful dimension to the holiday. At times the house felt too full for the kind of focus that yoga demands, but there were quiet times to be found and this lovely deck was the perfect place for a few salutations and quiet stretching.
For serious yoga practice, i slipped off to Prana for fluid vinyasa inspired yoga classes, offered daily just 15 minutes walk away. Its was superb.
There is something so right about practicing yoga in a warm climate. The muscles loosen, the mind is softened by the heat of the day, and these two things create a suppleness of body and mind, just brilliant for yoga.
Its inspired me to attempt to organise a my own retreat. Yes, in beautiful Bali. The villa I was staying has all the right ingredients: gorgeous gardens, warm and friendly hosts, beautiful accomodation, and of course a small, but delighful timber platform on which to stretch, twist and relax. Organising this.... hmmm.....cant be too hard really? I already have a mini-list of friends that might be interested. Just need to find a yoga teacher (have one in mind), block out a week in the 2010 diary, book villa (not too hard...just an email) and then make some decisions about $ and so forth. Possible.... very possible.

Bloggin' Mojo

Well Ive lost it: perhaps I should rephrase that... I felt I'd lost it, but now its back again. I hope.
There is a discipline to writing every day (or every other day) that has eluded me of late. trying to think of something worthy of a post--post worthy--every day of the week is a challenge. I like the IDEA of this discipline, but when faced with the choice of writing, or flipping out my yoga mat in the spare moments of my day, then I have most often chosen the more physical pursuit. The yoga has been good!

And so, why the change of heart? Perhaps it is discipline I need. perhaps some sense of mapping the course of a day, week, month is beneficial to me in charting a future course?

So i shall set sail and head out to sea once more and attempt an every-other-day post ( I cant quite commit to the idea of posting every single day, as I know that there are times that I just dont bloody feel like it. ANd why should one be a slave to the blogosphere.... I cant promise an ocean of witty, informative and/or poetic offerings, but will attempt to fish through the thoughts of the day to find some salt (crusty?) distillations.