My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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Waiting is All We Can Do at Present

Present

Today is the calm before the storm.  At 8.30 a.m. it was a still, sunny humid morning in my garden and the best time to take a few before photos.

The oregano and thyme thrive in this summer heat. The crushed herbal leaves in my hand smell divine. All the energy soaked up from the sun to produce the wonderful aroma bursts so evocative of many Greek and Italian dishes we all love.

Oregano sprawling along a garden border.

First thing this morning, I stopped to watch a Monarch caterpillar attach itself to a Lemon Grass leaf as it prepares for its spectacular life change.

Caterpillar attaching itself at 8.30 a.m. to a Lemon Grass leaf.

It is now just after midday. We are home from having sweated in the gym. Outside in the garden, the temperature has risen and the sweat trickles down my face in this humidity. The gym was cooler than this. Mobile in hand ready to take photos, I brave the heat to have another look at the caterpillar. Four hours and we have a chrysalis. Nature has worked its magic.

Transformation about four hours later at 12.30.

Cloud is building to the west of our place. A light breeze can be felt. I do hope the caterpillars and chrysalises will survive whatever nature and the weather gods are about to unleash on us.

For now, the dahlias are blooming and upright. I am enjoying their rich colours and shapes while I can. At this moment, these flowers are doing what they do best in this heat. With their faces turned to the summer sun, they simply show off.

My fruit wars against the Pukeko continue. Earlier this year, they stripped the fruit trees of the ripening apples, peaches and plums. This week, I discovered something. They do not like quinces.  Great news for this quince lover. The tree is a prolific bearer and the branches hang heavily with ripening fruit. I am thinking of recipes for jelly and paste, my Mother-in-law’s quince shortcake, baked and stewed quince preserves, savoury quince with lamb.  Years ago at quince time, M-i-L always came to stay in March when it was time to preserve and bake the fruit. She would commandeer the kitchen to make her shortcake recipe and quince filling. It was the quintessential quince fest. A bit more time spent ripening in the sun is called for. I do hope the quinces can hang on to the branches if the stormy weather hits our area.

Quince

Tree is loaded with ripening fruit

Cyclone Gita, having wreaked havoc on Tonga, is well on its way down the Tasman Sea west of New Zealand. This is one unwelcome visitor that will not be late. Its presence, we are lead to believe, will be particularly felt in the southerly regions of the North Island and the northerly and western regions of the South Island. The Met. Service tells Kiwis to get prepared now. The Northland region might, or might not, feel the lash of Gita’s fury.  Waiting is all we can do at present.

 

 


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

Insist

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.


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She Flies Out Next Week to Enrol for 2018 Academic Year

Enroll

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.


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Trees for Every Living Creature

Creature

Trees worldwide deserve our utmost care and attention. Planting a tree, be it in our garden or in a forest, is an action that breathes life the environment. Destroying a tree is an action that disrupts the cycle of life. We are part of a dimension of life that is greater than ourselves. 

Ancient trees are our links to life lived before our time. A tree revered by Maori and of national importance  in New Zealand is Tane Mahuta Lord of the Forest, a 2000-year old Kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest. It was a seedling tree well before people arrived in this country. It is a parent tree that has seeded a forest, creating living habitats for countless lifeforms. It is a taonga, so precious that it, and other Kauri trees, now requires protection from human interaction. Imagine if the father of this forest could speak. What might it tell of New Zealand’s extinct flightless birds that once roamed the forest? What secrets lie beneath centuries of tree litter?

Kauri Tree in Waipoua Forest

Trees give protection from the wind and sun. They soak up carbon from polluted air. They provide food and fuel. Their visual amenity softens harsh urban development.

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Magnolia ‘Star Wars’ is about to flower in February! Tree is a visual delight in my garden when in full bloom.

Boundary Shelter Belt Tree

Boundary shelter belt tree Cypress Leylandii being felled because it was overgrown and dying off.

On my lifestyle block, we have had to cull storm felled or old, diseased, overgrown shelter belt trees that crowded our driveway and boundaries. Branches can be hazardous when left as they rot and break off. When we fell such trees, we mulch their branches and make compost for my garden. 

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Tree mulch in the compost bin. Another truckload of mulch was added after this photo was taken. Pure garden gold.

My replanting focus has been to choose low growing trees as food sources for beneficial insects and birds. For my garden, I selected fruit trees grafted onto dwarf root stocks which makes them easier to manage. I am protective of the many native Totara trees on our land, several of which are about 80 to 100 years,. They protect the water in our stream.

Vibrant trees provide safe habitats for every living creature.

 

 

 


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Irrational Urge was Hard to Stifle

Stifle

Eleven years ago, Himself arranged for a stock agent to buy four, white-face beef animals at the local cattle sale held each Tuesday. We understand that animals can be nervous when they off-load from the truck. But, they tend to settle once they have explored the paddock, had a drink and start eating grass.

On this occasion, the new cattle stood quietly in the stockyard while Himself checked them over before releasing them into the paddock. Four black bodies charged through the opening gate, just missing Himself flattened against the fence railings. They stampeded across the paddock and hurtled through the live electric fence. They splashed across the stream into our neighbour’s property.

Himself’s language probably offended the animals as there was more cattle mayhem. Neighbours rallied to help herd the runaways home. One animal hurdled a 7-wire fence into another neighbour’s farm. Three fled in a headlong rush up the road before being rounded up. The final gallop was through my vegetable garden. They kicked divots of garden soil into the air and trampled my late summer vegetables. One dived back into the stream and joined the animal still on the neighbouring farm. It took three hours to restore calm and to secure the animals in the back paddock away from the stream and the road. That was on Tuesday after I got home from work. 

That night, Himself was on the phone to the stock agent. “From a forestry block!” Himself was heard to splutter. These four animals had had little contact with humans. Cattle hand-reared as calves are more used to humans and this is what lifestylers want on small blocks of land. On Thursday, all four animals were back on the truck to their new owner.

That weekend, it was drinks and BBQ at our place for the neighbours. Everyone had their similar stories of strife with cattle. In the heat of the moment, we had all felt the irrational urge to shoot the lot on the spot, an urge which was hard to stifle.


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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.

 

 

 

 


Birds Warble and Whistle and Trill

Trill

Birds in one way or another, grab our attention. I often stop what I am doing when gardening and I will just stand and listen.  Perhaps that is why my garden is still a work in progress. I listen to the bird sounds around me.

I hear the distinctive warbles and whistles I associate with New Zealand’s well-known and common small native birds that dwell high in our Totara trees. Staccato squawks are heard from the birds that nest in the paddocks or on the streambank. The thrushes sing melodiously from their perches on branches and fences and their songs are delightful to hear. The birdsong is prolific early in the morning, the sounds combining to produce a rousing chorus. Their day has begun. There is bird work to do.     

Back inside the house away from the midday heat, a Fantail joined us, flitting through the house, cheeping and peeping as it hunted flies. 

Day-old chicks inside the nest

Pukeko nest in the paddock

We hear strident screeches from the paddocks and the streambank as Pukeko and Spur-winged Plovers engage in aerial combat with a circling, predatory hawk silently intent on finding a fledgling in a grassy nest. A flock of five magpies added their cacophony of a harsh discord to the sound mix. 

The hens clucked quietly as they pecked at  their night grain feed before roosting. Some birds were still twittering in the nearby trees. Later when it is dark, Pukeko will continue to sound out with occasional noisy outbursts. The iconic moooorpoooork call will echo through the night as Morepork, the New Zealand owl, flies through the trees and the hills.

After dinner, at the end of another very hot summer day, Himself and strolled up our rural road. No traffic. No streetlights. House-lights dot the countryside. Hilly ridge-lines are silhouetted against the glow of distant urban lights. It is a still evening. There is not a sound, not even a bird trill.