Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Festive Cheer

What beautiful weather we had on Christmas Day, which is unusual for Auckland as we usually have rain on 25 December.  We all had to lay down in the afternoon for a rest and try to digest our meals, but manfully rose to the occasion and devoured large portions again at dinner time before trailing off around the park to try to shake down some of the food.  What with a champagne brunch it was a busy day but a fun time was had by all.  We were farewelling our niece who left for England on Boxing Day morning at an ungodly hour, so that made it a poignant occasion.  We were missing our Firstborn who has left for her big OE.  Christmas was slightly strange, but we did manage to talk on the phone.    

Since Christmas Day we have been able to spend some time at Shoestring and catch up with friends.  The starlings have succeeded in hatching out some fledglings and we think we can see three.  They make their presence felt with noisy demands to be fed.  The plum tree is laden with ripening fruit and Mr Shoestring immediately dashed outside to try to salvage some of it before it was taken by the birds, who could not actually get inside the bird netting but managed to peck through it nevertheless.  After wracking my brains as to what to do with the fruit I have cooked it and strained the resulting puree, and am going to experiment with making plum icecream.  (Mr Shoestring adores the Kapiti Black Doris icecream so it may even earn me some points in his good book.)  This week I will consult recipe books and try to find some other things to do with less than perfect plums.    

The first lilies are flowering, but they are nowhere near as spectacular as Mrs Peaceable’s ones.  She gave me a lovely bunch of hers and I fully intend to rival her one day in the Christmas lily stakes.  The perfume is heavenly and fills the whole cottage. 

 My first lilies

A small offering from Mrs Peaceable's garden

A few weeks ago I bought a “Girl With A Pearl Earring” canvaswork picture from the church garage sale for $2.  Somebody had put a lot of time and effort into their work and it seemed a shame for it to be unloved, so I have turned it into a bag to take marketing.  Inside it has two old doyleys for pockets and it will come in handy when we are scouring the local markets for bargains.
Doyley pockets in lining 

Bag - finished and ready for endurance shopping events

This little book was a Christmas present, and what gems of gardening advice it contained.  

Mr Shoestring received this  

As he has recently been preoccupied by all matters sartorial (in fact Lady Raglan now calls him Captain Peacock), he received it eagerly and has scanned it from cover to cover in order to become ever more well groomed and ready for any occasion.

Preparations are in full swing  for the holidays at Shoestring.  What a lot of renovations we need to do, but also friends will visit for a catch up.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wild Weather

We couldn’t spend as long at Shoestring as we would have liked this weekend, because of Christmas party plans, but we did make the most of what time we had.  It was obvious that in the last week there had been torrential rain there (as in most of the rest of the country, where some areas had a whole month’s worth of rain within 24 hours).  Some hosta leaves were  found shredded to smithereens on the opposite side of the house to where the hostas were growing.  At least there was no need to water the garden.  I spent some happy time with my Procut 400 (the little hand mower which makes such a cheerful chirping sound) dashing all over the miniscule lawn with it.  I know that it is best to have a plan when mowing, but the lawn is such an irregular shape that it is difficult to mow efficiently and I tend to get distracted and go off course, so it takes longer than necessary to get around the area.  Never mind, I enjoy myself and the lawn is definitely improving despite the constant battle with the birds over the seed they love to devour. 

Speaking of birds, we were worried that the starling had abandoned the nest this week because there were no signs of comings and goings.  After bringing a ladder  and peering in precariously from a safe distance we discovered that the starling was still on the nest and are hopeful that there will be babies soon. 

The plums are ripening quickly on the enormous old plum tree now.

Mr Shoestring is determined not to lose the entire crop to the birds so he hastened along the road to the hardware store and bought himself some bird netting.  I am not sure how effective this will be in keeping the birds from devouring the fruit because it seems to me that it merely wraps up all the fruits in a convenient bundle so that they are all together for easy access.  After he applied the first piece of netting it came undone within a short while and remedial work had to be carried out, so we will just have to await further developments on that front.  The tree does seem to have responded very well to the pruning it had last year though and is laden with fruit even after a lot of it was blown off in the gales last week. 

I was rather alarmed when Mr Shoestring gleefully showed me the left handed weeding tool he found while out Christmas shopping.  I have a conventional right handed one and he has always been envious but didn’t think a left handed version of this tool existed.

He is more of a pruning/slashing/hacking gardener than one who can be let loose when there is precision weeding to be done so I am not sure whether this was a wise acquisition.  I am hoping he will lose interest now that he has finally tracked it down. 

 The first tomato of the season - I am ridiculously proud of it

These hydrangeas were kindly donated by a friend as cuttings during winter time.  They are bravely flowering their little hearts out now - many of the blossoms are actually larger than the plants!

The roses are all finished for the time being but the first lily is blooming and there is lots to see in the rest of the garden. 

Mystery seedlings which popped up in the garden "growing on"

The first passionfruit ever - tiny plant put in during the winter

The latest crockery acquisition is this very beautiful Aynsley plate – bestowed with strict instructions that it was not to end its days out of doors on the side of a tree.  So inside it will remain. 

Plans for the local rail trail are well under way.  It seems unlikely that it will be ready for opening at the beginning of the Christmas holidays as was originally planned, but it should not be long after that so we will be able to whirl off for rides through the farmland.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Ballet Recital

Many moons ago, when we had three little girls, they all attended ballet and jazz dancing classes at the local ballet school.  Towards the end of the year there was always a frenzy of preparation (on my part) and anticipation (on their part) to be ready for the annual Christmas concert.  Well I remember grappling with costumes intended to resemble a cook’s helper, a jam tart or an octopus (my personal bĂȘte noire).  The possibilities were endless and quite challenging. 

I thought those days were over but last weekend Mr Shoestring and I sallied forth and watched the youngest of the Peaceables perform in her annual ballet recital.  How touching it was to see the talented and enthusiastic young dancers giving their all for their families and friends.  The littlest performers were sometimes obviously rather overwhelmed, wearing looks of intense concentration (or was it terror?) throughout their routine.  It was easy to see who would be likely to grow up to be the capable types (they would firmly grip their fellow dancers to prevent them from coming onstage too early or from heading off in the wrong direction) and who would be more dreamy ones (the ones who seemed to forget the fact that they were on stage and go into a trancelike state).  But the whole event was very well staged and some of the older dancers displayed great skill and obviously had worked very hard all year.  The most amusing part for me was the parallel concert being put on by three small girls who were members of the audience, and with great enthusiasm danced in the aisle throughout nearly the whole production.  They had no need of lessons, being naturally gifted dancers.  From the distance of a few years I could enjoy the entire spectacle without any anxiety and it was a very nostalgic evening.  Needless to say Miss Peaceable was fabulous and acquitted herself admirably. 

The other excitement this weekend was that we discovered Mr Starling has indeed built a nest in the starling box and there are two (or possibly three) eggs inside.  We didn’t want to get too close in case the parents abandoned the nest, but were able to see the eggs and this has spurred Mr Shoestring on to bigger plans.  I think he will agree to build me some more starling boxes and let me paint and decorate them so we have a lovely starling village along the back wall in time for next spring.  Here’s hoping that the first clutch of eggs hatches and we have babies to observe soon.
You can only see one egg but there are two, possibly three!

Shoestring Cottage is bursting at the seams now, I really must stop buying more and more old china and “trinkets” because we have reached saturation point.  (Actually that was probably already reached on moving day.)  My wicked mama understands this only too well and she insists on torturing me by passing discarded treasures on me.  The last thing was this pretty Coalport plate which I really did not need but was powerless to decline.  

After hanging up the plates outside on the trellis I am bolting off on another quest – to decorate the back garden with old china and cutlery and therefore get some of it out of the kitchen, thereby decluttering the cottage – well, it sounds good in theory, doesn’t it?  So on the strength of this I have a selection of old forks and spoons which Mr Shoestring is going to transform into a beautiful wind chime.  He seems reasonably enthusiastic so hopefully soon I will be able to show you a photo. 

The Dancing Queen has recently completed renovations in her home at the other end of the island and she magnanimously donated this lovely old sewing machine table which has been converted into a surround for a hand basin.  It is going to go into the laundry when we complete the new flooring and line the walls there, I can’t wait.  It will look so pretty in front of the new window Mr Shoestring installed.

The other thing kindly bestowed upon us by The Dancing Queen (makes her sound like a fairy godmother, doesn’t it?) is this “pretend” fireplace which glows as though coals are burning.  It is really an electric fire and her family said it is hopelessly naff, but as you know we at Shoestring are not discerning and gleefully had it collected and transported to the cottage where it will be installed in the fireplace we have uncovered.  Happy days for Mr Shoestring completing all these projects!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Out Of Control At The Market

This weekend we travelled to a local market where great bargains are sometimes to be had in the perennial plant stalls.  I was sorely tempted as soon as I arrived but forced myself to hold off buying anything until a circuit of all the vendors had been made; but even so still managed to exceed my budget.  The man with the hostas was there and we managed not to have any disagreements this time.  In fact he was such a good salesman that I found myself under the sway of his persuasive patter and bought a selection of salvias plus miscellaneous other treasures.  At other stalls there were lovely pinks and pelargoniums on offer.  All in all it was just as well that there was no church shop sale this weekend or the budget would have suffered very badly.  But one disappointing thing I have to report is that one person sold me a plant which turned out to have no roots when I went to plant it!  It must have been snipped off as a cutting and passed off as a growing plant.  If only I could remember who sold it to me I would go back and take issue with them.  (It wasn't the hosta man though, his plants were all excellent specimens.)

Mr Shoestring has put in the "new" back door this weekend and it looks great.  We were held up for a while because we had to buy a new lock for it, and in the end located one on TradeMe for a comparatively modest amount.  It was hilarious to read the "Engrish" instructions which accompanied it.  They started of with: "This lock occupies the first at the same locks" and things only got better from there.  We were in fits of laughter as we tried to decipher what was meant by the convoluted and confusing instructions.  Mr Shoestring was given a "trick" Christmas present last year with this brilliant Engrish, we saved the packet so we could enjoy it whenever we wanted to - we are still not exactly sure what it means though!

The native wood pigeons were back again this weekend, scoffing themselves silly on the berries of the flowering cherry tree.  They are so large and cumbersome that they stamp all over the branches and twigs of the tree as if they are climbing ladders.  I shudder to think what would become of them if they ever missed their footing, they probably would plummet earthward like stones.  At least we got some good photos this week so you can get an idea of how attractive they are - in their own modest, unassuming, New Zealand bird kind of way that is!  No spectacular plumage or bright colours here, thank you very much.  

The last of the yellow roses were putting on a good display though - I am sure they must be the English rose "Graham Thomas" so hopefully there will be some more blooms later in the season.

They looked pretty under a couple of platters on the wall in the kitchen and the scent is very good.