My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


Facing Up Takes Courage


Three years ago, Grandson and his classmates were taken through a programme at school to stop bullyingThese students now know how to name the different ways bullying can happen: be it physical actions, digital comments or spoken words, threats, body gestures and excluding or blocking. Many children are fearful on a daily basis because they are being bullied. There is a way forward. There are actions that can be taken and words that can be spoken to suit the different situations. The students learned such strategies as how to “report it” and how to “speak up and stand up for yourself.”

A strong yet simply worded message to bullies said their behaviour is “not ok.” What a bully says and does hurts others. Bullying is abuse. Friendship is no excuse for ignoring and doing nothing about hurtful words and harmful actions. Friends unwittingly enable bullying by not challenging and denouncing the hurtful behaviour. Bullies have lessons to learn about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. They need to find answers to explain the ‘why’ they do what they do. How they would feel if it happened to them? Who could help them through the process? They must face up and ‘fess up.

The transition from a rural primary school with 300 students to a city school with over 1,000 students is a big change. In conversation with Daughter-in-law, wife of Number 1 Son,  the topic of bullying came up. D-i-L felt both her son and nephew, my 12-year old and 13-year old Grandsons who are both in the same year level at the same High School, and their mates have the confidence and the ability to cope with the challenges of new peer group pressures. She added these boys, in their own ways, are articulate and she has seen them confidently reject crappy behaviour.

My initial thought is that the school programme belongs beyond the school gate. As a family, we do talk. Number 2 Son’s insistence on family having dinner together at the table is a step in the right direction. Talk happens and no subject is taboo. But, listening is good too. Himself realises that what happened in his day, when boys physically settled their differences out of sight, is not what happens now. The harden up attitude is no more.

Beyond the family, social policies and programmes that address attitudes towards and the prevention of violence are a vital part of public education. Abuse victims feel crippled by fear. When can they ever feel safe? When an inspiring leader steps forward and is inclusive and has genuine empathy for the well-being of all people, then there is some hope. Schools are doing their bit towards preventing bullying. Families become involved. How brave are our now politicians? They need to have a voice that rings true. A voice that resonates, “I’m here for you. I’m listening.” Can they look beyond their next election prospects? Or do we wait for my Grandsons’ generation to make a difference?

It is not a soft option to meet, to talk, to listen, to question. It is a sign weakness to resort to physical means. It is not a sign of weakness to own your words and your actions. It is a sign weakness to blame and to lie. It is not a sign of cleverness to make personal put-downs. It is a sign of friendliness to show kindness and respect. It is empowering to tell the truth. It takes strength of character to do what is right. Facing up takes courage.


It’s Not too Much to Insist the Kids Bring Their A-game to the Dinner Table


Visiting my Great-grandmother, well in her nineties in the 1950s, in Auckland was always a highlight in our childhood. She set her dinner table each night with starched white linen, matching china and silver cutlery. Food was presented in serving dishes. Grace was said. We children sat quietly, ate the food on our plates and spoke when spoken to. We stayed at the table until we were dismissed. Later, we helped with the dishes. I remember her showing me how to dry a fork properly by drawing the tea-towel through the tines. I have wondered how she learned these domestic arts.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, like most girls, I studied Home Science as a school subject. In preparation for our housekeeping roles in later life, we learned to cook family dishes using a variety of foods. We were exhorted not to be wasteful and we followed kitchen cleanliness rules. We were shown how to place cutlery and meal items nicely on a dinner table. The social expectation was families ate together.

Certainly our family did. Dinner was served at 7.00 p.m. once Dad returned to the house and had washed up after he had finished farm work and settled the cows after the evening milking. If there was a roast dinner, Dad would sharpen the bone-handled carving knife with the steel and slice meat onto our plates. Mum dished vegetables from the saucepan. There was less dining formality. The table was covered with an easily laundered, colourful seersucker cloth. The cutlery was stainless steel. Dishes were still done by hand.

If left to and with their own devices, seven grandsons, ages 9 to 16 years, would eat, sleep and live in their own gaming worlds. Virtual worlds in which characters function in perpetual motion, in which no-one eats or sleeps or goes to school. Real world matters such as doing homework, eating meals with your brothers and parents, reading only before lights out, getting ready for school can be at times the stuff of epic battles. 

Dinner time is still family time.  Typically the reminder, “ten minutes to dinner. Wind up your game. Devices off. Wash your hands. Get to the table.” is an invitation to argue. Perhaps it is the multi-faceted instruction that is too much for the boys to handle. “I’ve just … (take your pick of any gamer grandson excuse).”  Houston, we have a problem!

Sons have matured to become the adults at their family meal tables set with mismatched crockery and cutlery, and no tablecloth. They are firm and make a stand,  resolute and show determination to hold on, emphatic, and brook no argument. “Which part of NO don’t you understand?” You might think it a simple matter for these tech savvy boys to load and operate a smart dishwashing device. But, no. That remains a mystery. A problem beyond their realm of competence, or comprehension.

Himself and I have to laugh. At times, we hear ourselves in our Sons. We have now lived long enough to enjoy nature’s revenge. How long ago was it when we expected our Sons to bring their A-game to the table? To use cutlery for its intended purpose. To eat the food served to them. To talk about their day. To use table talk manners. Family eating together at the dinner table? Even now, it is still not too much to insist.


She Flies Out Next Week to Enrol for 2018 Academic Year


The 1970s was a defining decade. Births of children. Stay-at-home parenting. One income household. Mortgage. A traditional, well-trodden life-path. It is what our conservative families expected of Himself and I. It was what our siblings, cousins and friends did. Noises about civil rights and Vietnam War protests channelled into our home in the early years of that decade.  Oil shocks lead to carless days in New Zealand. Politicians geared the economy towards think big projects. Change was happening.

Meanwhile, a message closer to home was being heard by young mothers.  I belonged to a babysitting club with a friend who had a PhD in Science and who worked in a lower paid job than her husband, also with a PhD in Earth Sciences, at the local university. I had had no joy finding child friendly hours working in my former career as a registered nurse. “Why don’t you retrain? Get a degree and go from there,” were her comments. Immediately I named all sorts of the barriers, no childcare etc etc. Could I do it? What about Himself?

Bless him. Himself said words to the effect, “what have we got to lose?” He was able to adjust his hours to glide time. In 1976, youngest son was at kindergarten each morning. The oldest was at school. I had the credentials for free entry into university. Off I went as a part-time adult student. That was scary. At that time, no married adult I knew did what I was doing. I mixed with school leavers, or  younger single people as it were for the next four years. Some of the baby sitting club Mums worked part time jobs in the deli at the new supermarkets.  It was a lonely path at times.

I grew in confidence. I studied fulltime. I achieved A’s. Perhaps it was too easy. I recall one lecturer telling me that younger students did not have the same work ethic. I did not have the luxury of failing papers, of having social timeout. Always, I had to get back for the kids. I had a guilt trip once when my mother worried about Himself having to cook the dinner after coming home from work. Life moved on. I learned how to put issues into perspective. With both boys at school and increasing interest rates, I needed to bring a second income into the household. I qualified to become a secondary school teacher specialising in English and History.

How was I to know during my first, tentative, part-time year at university, that I would spend the next thirty years in education, do postgraduate studies and research. Then, it seemed such a brave thing to do, to break a social pattern. Last week, my granddaughter and I discussed her second year Science and Maths papers  for 2018. It was hard for her to understand what the fuss was all about for me in the 1970s. I am excited about the scope of the options available to her and her ‘varsity friends. Her academic pathway is well-counselled, well-funded, well-socialised and has promising career prospects. She flies off to ‘varsity next week to enrol.


In Conversation with 10-year old Grandson

Grandson Number 7 has a certain way of thinking and conversations with him tend to be interesting. We know him to be a deep, independent thinker.

Last year, then nine years old, he convinced his teacher he was a heathen and that he should not go to Bible class at school each Tuesday. The alternative class he wanted to attend was related to Values. It was not for him, he told us at the dinner table. The adults of the family were amused. The dinner table discussion was lively. Did he know the difference between heathenism, atheism and Christianity? And, “no”, he blandly assured his Dad that his decision had nothing to do with his mate being  in the Values class. His brothers were skeptical. He had already written and dated a note for the teacher. His Dad’s signature was needed. Later, he and his Dad had a quiet chat. 9-year old Grandson’s wishes were respected.

Today, one week before the school year is due to recommence, now 10-year old Grandson announced he was a vegan. He wanted to know what he should put in his school lunchbox. We talked about the usual goodies that vegetarians like to eat. “But I’m a vegan”. The adult males of the household smirked and left me to it.

Now to to put things into a context, I make a point of having two to three vegetarian meals a week. I encourage the grandsons to cook with me and to explore recipes in my cookbooks. They understand the fresh from the garden to the table approach. And because Himself is a Type-II diabetic, they have an idea why we talk about reading food labels and healthy eating habits.

This afternoon, Grandson pored over my copy of The Revive Cafe Cookbook 5. “I want this for dinner”, he said pointing to the recipe on page 82 for Indian Sweet Potato Rosti. Good choice, I thought, knowing I had the vegetables and other ingredients and that it would be quick to put together. Grandson floored me by asking if the meal would be gluten free. This from a boy who has no health issues. We started to talk about gluten.

His mind had moved on. He was now thinking about tomorrow night’s dinner. He turned the pages of the cookbook and decided on Lentil Ragout on Potato Mash. His brothers, he reckoned, would not know it was not mince. On second thoughts, he thought that Mega Bean Tacos would be a better choice. He and his brothers love tacos. And because he loves desserts and cakes, he thought the Creamy Raw Fruit & Nut Torte in The Revive Cafe Cookbook 6, would fit the bill. Menu planning done, he raced off upstairs back to his X-Box.

What just happened here? He swore he thought about being a vegan by himself. I am picking we need a chat about the difference between veganism and vegetarianism.  And I know his device time is all about gaming so he does not bother much with google searches. It was the same when Oreo, his pet rabbit gave birth in October last year. The big questions came thick and fast in real time.  I must remember to ask him about what will happen to the yummy eggs laid every day by Strawberry, his pet chicken. I live for these in-depth conversations.

Tonight, the Indian Sweet Potato Rosti were a hit.

Cook and then mash 1 large red kumara. Saute 1 chopped red onion, 1 chopped red capsicum and 3 crushed garlic cloves in 2 teaspoons of oil. Add 1 teaspoon each of turmeric and ground coriander. Add 1/2 cup each of frozen peas and spinach leaves.  Cook for about 5 minutes. I did not add the salt. Combine onion mixture with the kumara mash. Shape the mixture into balls and flatten a bit. Fry about 2 minutes each side. Serve with a green salad and sweet chilli sauce.

Dessert was fresh fruit only.

I will hold off making the torte until we have a special occasion. I am thinking to make some bliss balls for lunchbox snacks. No. Better still, Grandson can make them.

We will have the tacos later this week. I will get Grandson into the kitchen and he can cook the dinner. Conversations happen when we work together in the kitchen.





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Speckles, Dominant Henpecker in the Henhouse


It all began with a cute, tiny ball of fluff, day-old Strawberry the chicken. She was Grandson’s pet project for the school Agricultural Day. Her 24-hour care, and that of her five Brown Shaver sisters, assumed overriding importance. The whole family was involved. Himself built the A-frame outdoor coop. Grandson’s Dad paid the bills. Grandson and his brothers did the cuddling. I did the cleaning, feeding and reminding Grandson of his project obligations.

Outdoors Chicken Run

Strawberry the chicken

Fast forward a few months, and I was not a happy gardener after the chickens’ sneak attacks on the green vegetables growing in my garden.

Hen-pecked Kale Jan 2016

Henpecked kale

I declared the growing chickens were no longer officially cute. Grandson, having earned his school Agricultural Day ribbon, was by this stage, enraptured with his X-Box. The garden was going to the birds. Only after chicken proof fencing was erected, did I feel I had wrested back control of my garden.

Chickens in Disgrace Jan 2016

In disgrace, Banned from my garden.

As the Brown Shaver pullets graduated to the big birds’ cage, they found out, the hen-house was not theirs to rule. Two senior hens had seen it all before. Gertrude, Vice-Henpecker-in-Chief was amiable as long as she got first peck at the grain feed. Speckles, Henpecker-in-Chief was not to be messed with at anytime. It was an avian offence for a young hen to stray into her field of vision. Many a Brown Shaver feather went flying as Speckles showed who was dominant


Hens-in-Chief: Gertrude and Speckles


A Candid Kodak Box Brownie Camera Moment


Give parents a camera and they will snap their children at play. My sister and I sorted through a box of family photographs of everyday happenings. Children stay fore-ever young. Time and subject are stilled, memorialised in black and white. A Kodak Box Brownie camera moment to be candid.

Childhood Photo

Wearing Dad’s work boots while sweeping Grandad’s back yard


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Her agile fingers were nimble and never idle when doing crochet


“Can you fix this?” Eldest son handed over his cherished childhood blanket crocheted by his Grandmother more than forty years ago.

Crocheted Blanket

Adult son’s cherished childhood blanket crocheted by his Grandmother more than 40 years ago.

It is with trepidation I eye the repair needed in one of the blanket squares. The decades old wool has frayed at one point and the thread has unravelled.

Knitting Needles

Some of Mother-in-law’s knitting needles used for many a soft toy, baby garment or other knitwear.

My mother-in-law was much admired for her woollen handcrafts. She knitted delicate baby garments on fine needles, soft toys, patterned children’s jerseys. Much of her work was created without a printed pattern. Her knitting needles were always in use.  Her nimble fingers were never idle, her mind ever sharp as she checked tension and mentally calculated size and counted stitches and rows. She also sewed, did embroidery  and crochet work.

The blanket in question I remember being created from scraps of wool accumulated over the years. I remember seeing how a strand of wool,  looping over the fingers of her left hand, was pulled in nimble, quick repeated movements as she plied the crochet hook with the fingers of her right hand. I even did a bit of the crochet work as we chatted though handwork is not really my thing.

Both my now adult sons have kept their blankets and their special soft toys created for them by their much loved Grandma. Her legacy lies in scraps of wool transformed into squares and stitched together with love by her hands. M-i-L knitted well into her eighties. Her fingers and hands did slow up in her last years but she got the item finished.

Crochet Items

Mother-in-law’s crochet hooks and wooden cotton reels studded with four small nails used for a childhood crochet activity.

I sorted through M-i-L’s old knitting needles and crochet hooks. I have been practising and training my hands to do basic crochet work.  The repair will happen. I do not pretend to be deft and quick as my M-i-L when doing crochet handwork. My fingers are not as agile.