My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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 Study in Grandparenting


My mother said of her eleven grandchildren, “they’re an interesting lot”. My mother-in-law loved her five grandchildren unconditionally. Both women were very present in the lives of these children, each quite different in character, each with their hopes and dreams as they grew towards adulthood. They know their grandmothers’ family stories. Both women were comfortable in their grandmotherly contributions toward the children’s upbringing. The kids respected their grandparents. As the joke goes, at Grandma’s, the answer is always, “yes!”

I study my eight grandchildren and I echo the sentiments. People who go before are our mentors. Their  lived experiences and words show us the way. The older generation has a vital part to play in shaping the lives of the younger generation. We share our heritage and values that have held true over time. We each do it in our own way.  

To have a sense of belonging, to know you are cared for within a loving family and are part of a cohesive community, shapes your sense of self and direction in life.

Whina Cooper
Hand in hand with her mokopuna, Whina Cooper walks the gravel road on the protest march to Wellington.

It is worth reading about the late Dame Whina Cooper, whāea and kuia, influential Māori leader who protested against the loss of tribal lands and the alienation of her people.Much is written about her determination to restore pride to people, their sense of self and  access to their rightful heritage embodied in their ancestral lands.

Whina Cooper’s actions and words are a study in grandparenting the next generation, in giving direction and showing the way to care for the next generation in Aotearoa New Zealand .


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Winsome Boys

It’s not easy to be crafty and winsome at the same time, and few accomplish it after the age of six.  John W. Gardner

The next generation has gone camping – somewhere. No texts. No messages. X-Box is still at home. Son and Grandsons have not come home. Himself and I like to think they have inherited our hardy genetic predisposition to tough things out. This is a great summer holiday adventure for the Dad and his three lads. The two younger boys are delightful and winsome in their childlike excitement about the adventure.

In a few weeks, 12-year old Geeky Grandson will enter male adolescence. The Boys’ High School claims to prepare boys to become fine young men. Fine men who care, who are respectful, who take responsibility for their actions and their words, who  serve their communities with honour. This now pre-teen boy-child, fretting for his X-Box, is amusing, charming, intelligent and  pleasant. This soon-to-be teenager will follow in his two adolescent cousins’ footsteps at Boys’ High. There, he will engage with new adults and peers. His winsome ways will smooth his path through and beyond his schooldays.

His eldest cousin, 19-year old Grandson, home from his first year at university, is showing the way of having perfected the craft of crashing onto the couch, asleep after a hard night out. Another charming teenager  in the here-and-now cruise control mode. Family matters. Mates matter more. Social scene matters very much. His academic break job is a necessity to keep his car fuelled and as in the way of living life to the fullest. For now, his Dad, Number 1 Son, and Daughter-in-law are accommodating their young man-boy with the echoes of childlike charm and his engaging winsome ways.    



The Sudden Loss of a Pet Baby Rabbit

New Nest in the Hay Feed Bowl

Sibling bunnies snuggled in happier times in Mama’s dry feed bowl incidentally adorned with a garden art rabbit.

Little Kit

24 October 2017 ~ 21 November 2017

28 days

Mini-lop baby rabbit of Oreo and Paws

Once there were 5 kits. Now there is 1.

Much loved family pet rabbit


It has been a distressing and emotional day. Sudden death of any animal is hard to take. But we live in a rural environment and as the saying goes, ‘where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock’. It is never easy. Over time, we have dealt with the deaths of cats, a calf and poultry. They are never just animals to us. They each had pet names. Grandsons came home from school this afternoon to the tearful reality of the loss of their beloved baby rabbit. The boys had questions. We had questions. How could this happen so suddenly?  

This little bright-eyed bundle of white fur hip-hopped into our hearts. Little Kit suckled Mum and grew fast. From Day 12, Little Kit nibbled at greens and hay and rabbit pellets, just like Mum. Becoming more curious after its eyes opened, the big hop from the confines of the hutch became a regular activity. The sibling kits would snuggle and curl up together after a feed and clean from Mum, on their bedding pine shavings inside the hutch. Life was good for the siblings.

Yesterday, it was life as usual in the rabbit world. Early that evening, Little Kit had a gunky left eye that closed up. It was not interested in nibbling or moving. I wiped the eye with clean cotton pad moistened with a saline solution. That seemed to help a bit. Later the mother rabbit was seen licking her baby. We decided to take the Kit to the vet in the morning thinking it was an eye infection.

Early this morning, Little Kit was a very distressed bunny. It had managed to move from the hutch into the run. I reached to pick it up to check its condition and it screamed. A sound I never wish to hear again. It moved clumsily, was shivering and the eye was clean and half open. Its sibling was snuggling up as if it was trying to be a blanket to warm up its sibling. The mother was licking its baby. The sibling also licked its body. Both healthy rabbits seemed to be comforting and caring the sick baby rabbit. Oreo, the mother, stopped to eat she yet remained close and watchful. This sight was so touching. Heart wrenching.

As I prepared the carry cage for our trip to the vet, I noticed Oreo and the sibling had distanced themselves from the sick kit. It had become floppy and and cold to touch. I picked the kit up and wrapped it in a warm soft rug. The vet said the probable cause of death in the surgery at 11 a.m. was ‘encephalo zoon cuniculi’. It is a nasty condition, common in domestic rabbits, that can be passed in-utero and symptoms can manifest weeks later after birth as has happened today.

The grandsons absorbed the terrible facts and a google search gave more information. Our concern is now for the remaining pet rabbits. We must especially watch the sibling kit.

We mourn a little creature who put life into living and enriched our lives by being. 



Bunnies and Bridge Aren’t a Fit

My brain has turned to rabbit mush. It has been 22 days since they were born. Newborns in any household bring on that ‘brain mush’ effect. My senses are tuned to responding to the demands and needs of these small creatures.  

It is now routine at 6 a.m. for me to forage under the totara trees along the stream bank for fresh dewy puha, dandelions and thistles. By 7.30 a.m. the rabbit hutch has been cleaned, the kits have a frolic while Oreo, their mother, has her breakfast. Rabbit housekeeping  is repeated for Paws’, the father rabbit, cage. He is let out for a thirty-minute run in the orchard before he too is fed back in his cage.


Foraging for puha, dandelions and grass along the stream bank

There was the initial burst of enthusiasm for the novelty of rabbit care before school Agricultural Day in October. Paws showed off his moves and earned Grandson an Agricultural Day Certificate. Grandson considers job done. And apparently, 6 a.m. is not a civilised hour to be up and getting wet by the morning dew on the long grass in the paddock. The boys are not impressed that Nana at their age had to herd the cows, no quad bike, from their night paddock to the shed and help her Dad with milking and feed the calves. So last century.  Grandsons of the  household are getting ready for school – so they say with a device in one hand. But they are out the door at 8 a.m.

Hen care is next, the Brown Shavers indignant they have been usurped and made to wait because of these furry intruders. Squawking loudly, they stand and poo in their water dish, peck at and clamber over each other and crowd the opening of the chicken cage run.  I remember to smell the Sweet Peas that scramble over the bean frame in the vegetable garden. The flowers are just glorious at this time of the year. I do a few household chores and get myself ready to rush out the door.

One morning a week, I attend formal lessons for beginning players at the Bridge Club , a fifteen-minute drive into town. It is more like a mad dash through the door just after the lesson has started. We were learning about Responder’s Rebids and having a choice of bidding No Trumps if my hand had no fit with my partner’s suit. So what do I do? Bid like it was a game of 500. I called 6 No Trumps. As the complexity of these lessons increases, I am convinced I will never get the hang of Bridge. Two other players are in a similar situation grandparenting two young dogs and empathise with the challenge to get a fit between small young animal care and learning bridge. Breathe, we tell ourselves. We laugh. Our Bridge instructor is wonderfully patient. 

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Mini-lop Baby Rabbits’ Eyes Open Day 14

Oreo and her Kits

Both surviving 14-day old kits had hopped out of their nest in the plastic tray.

It is Day 14 since the birth and we have seen rapid change. From hairless newborns enveloped by a thick quilt of soft rabbit fur, the white-furred kits have emerged from their downy cocoon, moving in tiny hops as they explore the boundaries of their nest before joining Mum on the floor of the hutch. One tiny hop for a rabbit. One giant hop for baby bunnies.

For the first time, we saw Oreo cleaning her babies as they lay on their backs while they suckled. They are beguiling, such cute characters. After school this afternoon, it was with absolute wonder as they cuddled the kits that grandsons learned the baby rabbits had newly opened their eyes.

I stood back and looked on gobsmacked. Were these the same boys who absolutely must be in front of a gaming device in their spare time? Rabbits = 1, devices = 0.


Oreo is calm about me cleaning the nest, handling the kits and watching her with the kits. I have been careful to build trust and a routine with her. I like to talk to her with a quiet voice and let her come up and sniff my hand. It helps to offer Oreo a piece of apple. Everything stops for that treat.