Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

I really really hate Christmas

I hate Christmas. Like I really really detest it. Not just for the rampant over-consumerism, the over-the-top decorations that appear in the shops in late October or the awful music the permeates every area of public space.

Our children’s grandma is what we like to refer to as a non-practicing atheist. She has no religious beliefs, but if you rocked up to her place at Christmas (or Easter for that matter) you would never know it. She observes holidays HARD CORE. She migrated from England to Australia several decades ago and therefore was heavily invested to all the English Christmas Traditions and Trimmings: decorations aplenty, much of Christmas day spent stressing over a full roast dinner (with Yorkshire puddings of course), eating and drinking all day long, far too many presents, general merrymaking and being with family at all cost, even if that means tensely ignoring any difference of opinion for the day so that there is just one day where everything is perfect. She has mellowed a lot in recent years and all things considered is very understanding and accommodating of my reluctant Christmas participation. She has however instilled in our children a love of Christmas that even though I can appreciate that she is making special memories with them, I really struggle with in general.

Because I hate the entire basis Christmas.

We are not Christian, so celebrating the birth of a god on a historically questionable and somewhat arbitrary date makes no sense to me. The last Australian census put “no religion” as the biggest population group, so it could reasonably be argued that Christmas doesn’t deserve to even be a national holiday anymore. I suspect this would go down like a tonne of bricks if anyone in parliament was game to suggest it though: we Aussies like our days off work. 

This is just the first part of my loathing of this particular holiday. When you remove the Christian traditions of Christmas you get a holiday with various elements of pagan origin. Plenty has been written about why these were integrated into modern Christmas, essentially that elements of Yul and Saturnalia which were pagan winter celebrations were assimilated or appropriated into Christmas in an effort to get the locals on board as Christianity spread.

But this pagan seasonal root is also then especially problematic for southern hemisphere people celebrating modern Christmas today. A winter celebration just Doesn’t. Make. Sense.

We bring evergreen (and introduced) species of trees inside to decorate with plastic sparkly stuff when we could just look at the abundance of greenery exploding outside in the glorious beginnings of summer. We decorate with fake snow that comes in a can to spray on your window so that you can pretend the weather outside is frightful in the completely opposite way to what your senses tell you it is. It is not the delights of a fire we should be worshiping but the icy cold blast of an air conditioner that saves us from 35°C heat. As well as melting outdoors along with the tar on the roads, we melt indoors from the oven that is cooking a traditional Christmas roast. Sure there have been local adaptations. People barbecue seafood. Eat cold platters of meat and salads instead of a roast. Go to the beach. Use plastic trees that can be reused for many years. But I just look at it and think: What Even Is The Point?

Why the fuck do we decorate with millions of twinkly lights when it is light until 9pm? We already have glorious light at this time of year. It’s called the sun and it produces around 15 odd hours of natural daylight each day. If you want to take little kids out to see the magic of pretty lights you have to stay up late and pay for it the next day with overtired crankiness.

So I have been desperately trying to opt out of Christmas for about seven years. We celebrate the solstices and equinoxes with the children and talk about the scientific reasons for the seasonal changes we can observe. We give gifts on the Solstices (usually the most gifts end up being on the Summer Solstice) and books on the equinoxes. There isn’t a particular reason why, that is just what we did once and suddenly it’s now a family tradition. (Ha. Irony.) 

Opting out of Christmas worked really well until Lily was at preschool where of course she was exposed to the countdown to Christmas hype and to the concept of Santa for the first time. Santa is another thing I really hate about Christmas. I don’t understand how this guy got so big. It is essentially lying to your children though manufactured evidence and making it all about a judgement of children’s character. I’ve recently possibly been swayed by Dale McGowan’s excellent writings on this by reframing Santa as the ultimate dry run for critical thinking. 

I sort of took this approach with my children, but without the manufactured evidence. It’s been really interesting to see how this has played out with my kids. Lily and Olivia are still firmly in the believer camp even though I have never given them any evidence to suggest this is the case: Angus and I give them our surprise gifts on the Summer Solstice and they get surprise gifts from their grandma on Christmas day, none are attributed to Santa. But the girls still invent countless ways that Santa could be real (“maybe he is like a wizard with a time-turner” etc). Lily I’m sure knows the truth but she is still holding out hope that Hogwarts is real too so I think Santa may be in the same area in her mind. 

Sam however basically heard about Santa as was like “Wot. Lol. Nope.”

This kid has had his bullshit detector cranked up to 11 since before he could talk. He gives me this look and I can see the cogs turning in his giant brain weighing up the evidence. I knew he was bright when he lost all interest in sucking his dummy at 4 months old when he discovered it had a hinge on the handle. He would turn it over and over in his pudgy hands examining the moving part trying to figure it out. This week a conversation I overheard went down like this:

Olivia (aged 5) says: I am a zillion percent excited for Christmas.

Sam (aged 6) says: no, that is not right. Percent means out of one hundred. You can’t use a number bigger than one hundred to show what you mean as a percent. Also a zillion isn’t a real number.

I have some religious friends and I have literally apologised in advance for stuff I know that will come out of this kid’s mouth given the right circumstance. Any mention of God and he will look them in the eye, cock his head and just straight up say “But you know gods aren’t real, right?”

I digress. Back to my hate for Christmas.

Tim Minchin has a quite beautiful secular song about Christmas called White Wine in the Sun. It talks about how Christmas is great and even though he is an atheist all he wants to do at Christmastime is be with his family, at home, where the people he loves are. It’s a lovely song. And this sentiment is great in theory.

But I don’t particularly want to be around people. The pressure of Christmas parties and big family get togethers where I’m obligated to make small talk with people and everything has to be perfect and magical is only manageable for me if I am uncomfortable and constantly focussed on doing and saying the right thing and am then subsequently so exhausted I need a nap. Self medicating by drinking is of course a commonly chosen coping mechanism but this is problematic for many reasons not least because it also usually means I still need a nap.

So I think ideally I would like to just not do Christmas at all. I have done this in the past. One Christmas I cleaned out the garage. Another I built a garden bed. Those were good times. But now my kids are older and have more opinions it’s harder to get away with just opting out. It’s taken 13 years but I think my mother-in-law is really starting to understand my position on this too. She said to me last week that she really appreciates that I indulge her at Christmas time and said I was welcome to just nap on her couch through the whole thing if I would like to. I appreciate that. So I will continue to indulge them all in this silly season and I will even try to be less grouchy this year though I probably realistically will still take a nap.

In the meantime, Happy Summer Solstice everyone.

 

Topping up

The snow peas I planted a month or so back have not done well. A combination of starting late, old seeds and neglect, I suspect. This weekend I topped up the bed with some indoor-sprouted seeds:

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They took a few days to germinate on the kitchen windowsill.

For either inspiration or demoralization, my dad’s snow peas look like this:

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Wine glass for scale and sustenance.

Winter garden 2014, part 1

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The beginnings of snow peas. Also on the left is Urtica dioica, the stinging nettle. Our soil was too dense, dry and low in nutrients to sustain then before, so I take their arrival as a good sign. If they grow well, I might try a nettle soup this year. To the right is a self seeded fennel plant. Getting a bank of edible plant seeds in the soil is a step towards a self-sustaining edible garden for us.

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These are broccoli and silver beet, chard, etc. The garden they’re in doesn’t get quite enough sun, so we’ll see how they do.

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Here’s the bodge greenhouse. It’s two discarded windows over a raised bed. The bed isn’t quite full of soil, so there’s a comfortable gap between glass and seedlings. It’s rocket and kale in here, which don’t really need coddling like this but I had the windows so why not?

Mushrooms again

Today’s catch was a single saffron milk cap, Lactarius deliciosus. Most of the milk caps in the forest were very much past their best:

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The prettiest mushrooms by far were the poisonous ones:

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That one was admired but not picked.

One milk cap was in very good condition:

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I’m still eating as a way of confirming my identification, so I only ate two slices. However, so far so good.

The main event was actually harvesting pine cones for the kids to decorate for winter solstice, which will be upon us before we know it! Mission accomplished:

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Pork and fennel stew

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This is the pork and fennel stew I mentioned recently. I cook it in a slow cooker of 5 litres or thereabouts.

Pork neck sounds like a gruesome cut, but only the way I’ve found it for sale is as a fat, short cylinder of lean meat. No tubes, bones or other gruesomeness. Looking at it in a vacuum bag you’d expect it to make fantastic pork steaks. However, rather than one long muscle (like fillet) it has a bunch of different muscles going every which way.

Ingredients:
A pork neck (approx 1.5 kg), diced
A couple of hocks or trotters
Oil and butter for frying
1-2 fennel bulbs
1 tbsp carroway seeds

Optional:
2-4 carrots
1-2 onions
Cider

Method:
Brown the trotters or hocks in a pan in a little oil. Place them in a slow cooker. Brown the diced neck in batches and add to the slow cooker. Sprinkle the carroway seeds over. Deglaze the pan (I used water but you could use a little cider) and add the juices to the slow cooker.

If you’re doing onions and carrots, brown them in some butter and add them to the slow cooker at this point.

Brown the sliced fennel in butter until you get dark spots and delicious burned butter and caramelised fennel smells. Add a little water (depends on the size of your cooker, but I used about 1/3 cup). Pour the lot on top of the pork, then pop a layer of baking or greaseproof paper on top.

Cook it like this–layered–for a couple of hours, then stir gently, re-cover, and cook a couple of hours more. Before serving, disassemble the hocks or trotters, discarding any skin and bone. Chop up any meat and add it back in.

Serve with fresh sage cut over the top, with dumplings, mash, rice or whatever you’re in to.

This stew is very simple, and really showcases two cheap cuts. I get neck for around $10 per kilo, and hocks for $6 a kilo. It works with these cuts because the neck is a little too lean and not quite tendon-y enough on its own. The addition of hocks or trotters makes it rich and velvety. You can grow your own fennel, but I bought mine. It’s cheap at the moment because it’s in season (southern hemisphere, cool temperate).

Autumn 2014

It’s autumn again; almost winter. New baby is 6 months. We lost a cat to a snake bite but we have a new cat now. All of the summer veg is out and winter crops are in, hopefully not too late to germinate.

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The basil is under a makeshift cloche: Jerusalem artichoke stems tied together to make a frame, with a plastic bag over them.

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This is the kids genuinely helping to harvest said artichokes! Miss 5 even helped to scrub them.

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In another bed, we have silver beet and rainbow chard just starting again, self seeded from last year’s crop. Silver beet is our most reliable winter veg, but it’s hard to get the kids to eat it.

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Miss 5 gave me a sticker for my hard work.

A poem to read your kids in spring

We’ve been reading poems to our kids at bedtime for a while. Every now and again we try to add one. This season being spring, we’ve added Wordsworth’s I wandered lonely as a cloud. I get my Wordsworth from: http://www.rc.umd.edu/rchs/rime/wwdaff.html

Poets being the bleak bastards that they are, winter is a much easier season to find poetry for. We do Frost’s stopping by woods on a snowy evening, Teasdale’s winter stars, and Hardy’s Darkling thrush. But with the weather warming up its nice to add something a bit brighter to the mix.

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