My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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Can There be Compromise on a Reality Show?

Compromise

 

Last night, life sank to new low. High evening temperature and humidity rendered us inert, too lethargic to think. TV remote in hand, Himself flicked through the viewing options until even that became too much of a chore and stopped at Channel 3. We were even too sluggish to turn to Netflix. And there we stayed, staring at the reality show, Married at First Sight Australia.

I do understand in this day and age why people might turn to Tinder and other dating apps in the hope of meeting a soul mate. But words fail me as to why people might enter such an unreal TV show.  “I’m looking for love,” we were told. Really. On this show? We heard participants say what they expected of a partner. Does falling in love involve ticking a checklist now? Couple mismatches seem designed to generate drama and TV show ratings if the meaningless dialogue and vulgar on-screen behaviour are anything to go by. It seems all so scripted and edited.

One camera shot showed a couple grocery shopping with her perched on the front of a supermarket trolley being wheeled by him. Get real. Did they not hear the store’s public safety announcements about safe trolley use? Buckle up. Use that child seat restraint. For goodness sake, set a safety example to the other kids in the store. The tedious dialogue and vulgar behaviour is so edited that misunderstandings happen. Stupefied, we watched on, forgetting that the Off-button was our best viewing option.

But MAFS participants acting out and acting up probably want their own 15-minutes of media fame or Instagram likes.  Himself could not get it that men would want to sit and endlessly talk about emotions or whatever. Their days seem tedious, lacking everyday things to do. Not a man-cave in sight. There are cute mid-shots of a MAFS husband cooking a romantic meal which his MAFS wife eats with one eye surreptitiously fixed on a text from a guy who stated at the commitment ceremony, that he wanted to leave his marriage. A melodramatic moment. Will they have an affair?  Who will get hurt? Meanwhile, who is doing the household chores? Who cleans the toilet?  This is real.  This is the nitty gritty small stuff of daily married life. No wonder MAFS couples want to unmarry after first sight.

Seriously, after fifty years of marriage, Himself and I know it is hard to give and take. There are no quick answers. Just do not not let the sun set on an argument. Words spoken at our own wedding service still ring true and included this timeless advice:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs.

‘We’ comes before ‘I’ in wedding. It is all about ‘Us’. Each couple must find their own way to work together, to listen with an open mind, receptive to what their partner is telling them, to be willing to meet them half-way. As one MAFS wife said, “marriage is about compromise.”


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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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Facing Up Takes Courage

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.


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Rube is Not the Word to Describe My Neighbours

Rube

 Census 2018 is on my mind. New Zealand is about to count itself.

Our dwelling details will be designated rural. We will count our hens and our cattle. I guess we will explain again, our septic waste and water supply systems, uses of buildings and land. No doubt we will list our gender and our levels of education and income. Who knows what other questions will be asked. Our feelings and views will not be canvassed. Data will show we are neither feather-brained nor bovine in outlook. Such questions are designed to elicit data to give an overall statistical snapshot of people who live in the countryside on Census 2018 day.

What I do know, is that the tally of rural residents living on our country road will show our neighbours’ occupations as: accountant, builder, commercial hydroponic rose grower, dairy farmer, engineer, horse breeder, industrial chemist, land developer, nurse, policeman, retiree, school bus driver, school principal, stay-at-home parent, student, urban business owner, web developer. And what I also know is that these neighbours have busy workdays and busy weekends. 

We affect to live a rustic lifestyle just fifteen minutes drive from the city. To some, country living may seem unsophisticated. Sunhats, jandals, gumboots are not fashion statements. They are practical items that suit the living on the land. Old-fashioned he may be, our neighbour persists  year-round in true Kiwi style by wearing a singlet, shorts and gumboots as he goes about his jobs. We all wear gumboots as the preferred footwear when the soil is saturated after rainy downpours and when we struggle in flooded paddocks to save wrecked fences. 

Fenceline

This time a post had to be pulled out of the water.

In stormy weather, a work gang forms and men rev their chainsaws and tractors to deal to a fallen tree blocking the road. We are able cook up a one-pot meal over the woodburner or gas-fired BBQ during a prolonged power outage.Our gender, our educational levels and occupations count for nothing at these times. Neighbourly commonsense and cooperation matters. These are the same people who on Monday morning, switch to their sophisticated urbane selves and dressed in their city clothes, head into town to their places of work. 

But back to the word prompt for this post. Getting started was the hard bit. What content could I use on which to peg the prompt. I consider myself to have a good knowledge of the meaning and use of the English language. As a competitive Scrabble player, I pride myself on a quick recall of words. How could I have not come across this word? Awkward.

First I thought maybe the word had something to do my birthstone, that precious, blood-red coloured gem, the ruby. Shakespearean quotes came to mind. After all, there are many rub- words associated with red and rubies that evoke emotion and symbolic meanings. Then there are these proverbial words,

Who can find a virtuous woman? for Her price is far above rubies.

Next, I wondered if I could play around with the shortened version of a given name like my Great-Aunt Ruby or a man’s name like Reuben. Both names feature in lyrics of well remembered songs but yielded few writing cues.

Feeling ignorant, I broadened my word meaning search. It was American dictionary time. Hayseed to me is something that falls from a dried grass stalk and is often the cause of a seasonal allergy known as hayfever. Hillbilly, not really in this country. Yahoo or lout, maybe the young guy who 360s at the intersection or weaves his vehicle at speed through the designated 55kph corners of the windy stretch of downhill leaving black tyre marks on the road surface. 

Finally. Got it. This has been an exercise of making sense of cultural use of words to express ideas.

Rural voters were tired of being treated as rubes by state officials who showed interest in them only at election time. 

The word definition and its use in the sentence imply prejudice, a put-down, a negative viewpoint of rural folk. I am word wiser now.

Reminder to self. Memorise the 4-letter Scrabble word list. There are only two hooks, -l and -s, for the word ‘rube’.


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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.

IMG20180205083133[1]

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. 

IMG20180205141518[1]

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.