My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


The Ages of our Inscrutable Cat


Ignoring the wet and windy weather, a tiny tabby kitten chased the leaves blowing around the enclosed courtyard next to the staffroom. No-one knew how he got there. He was not telling.

I found an old cloth and dried his fur. Next, some cold milk from the staff fridge poured into a saucer, was lapped up with gusto. A box emptied of  five reams of A4 copier paper became his shelter to sleep. There was talk of taking him to the SPCA. After work,  SPCA forgotten and during the 30-minute drive home, this kitten sat on the back seat, never moving, facing forward between the front seats. How was I going to tell Himself that just we had just become parents to another fur baby? After a lifetime of now departed cats, Himself had declared it was time to call it quits. Nestled under my jacket, the kitten peeked out as Himself gave me a hug. Eighteen years later, Himself and Pushy the cat remain constant companions.

T. S. Eliot considered naming a cat to be “a difficult matter” because a cat “must have three different names”. Eldest Grandson was learning to talk at the time the kitten arrived and his word for cat, ‘Pushy’, stuck as the “everyday name” we use. Pushy responded to this name. Whether he cared or not, he was not telling.

Living as we do on a lifestyle block, there are jobs to do. When Himself mixed milk powder to feed four-day old calves, Pushy got the first drink of warm milk. Hay was wheeled to the cattle in the paddock with Pushy in the driver’s seat. Rats have to be kept in check. When electric fences are checked, Pushy never walks never beyond the third tree down the driveway. He will sit and wait for Himself to come back. And someone needs to be Sleeper-in-Chief.

In keeping with Eliot’s rhyme,  

…, a cat needs a name that’s particular,

A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,

Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,

Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

Pushy the Cat

Sleeper-in-Chief annoyed at being disturbed

Over the years, his naming has included Pushy the Farm Cat, Rodent Officer, Pushy the Lazy Tabby Cat. I like to think of him as one of Eliot’s Practical Cats”. I have different  thoughts though when his tigerish tendencies came to the fore if we offend his sensibilities and he digs his claws in.  This is the same cat that protected Binky, the baby rabbit when it escaped from its hutch. This is the same cat that lifted his head when we returned after an absence of almost three years, and wanted to be fed. Cats can be quite difficult to read. We are not always sure of what Pushy is feeling or thinking. He is not telling.

And we will never know. Pushy is about eighty-eight in human years. Grandson’s  old sleeping bag is now his to sleep away his days. His deepest cat dreams and thoughts are beyond words. What is his cat name that he calls himself? He is not telling. Pushy, our old moggy, remains inscrutable.

Old Cat

Constant companions

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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.    


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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.

School Agricultural Show Day pet project


Paws the Rabbit

Four weeks ago, we became accidental grandparents to Paws, the cutest one-year old white bunny with light chocolate coloured floppy ears. Who could resist such a cuddly charmer? Grandson’s school Agricultural Day loomed and he wanted to show his pet mini-lop rabbit that he cares for when he stays with his mother in the city. It would be a short stay we were told.

The old chicken coop and caged run was scrubbed, put in a sunny sheltered spot in the orchard and furnished with fresh bedding straw and sweet-smelling hay. A hutch away from hutch, secure from predators we thought as we admired the comfy rabbit home.  

Paws arrived with a bag packed with his care booklet, grooming brush, hay, pellet treats, purple plastic toy tunnel, red walk harness, sipper water bottle, woollen blankie and a surprise.


Oreo eating dandelion before giving birth

His mate, Orero. An adorable female mini-lop rabbit with floppy ears and chocolate coloured patched fur.

Grandson was excited at the prospect of an unexpected second pet. His Mum said she got Oreo ‘not long ago’ from the S.P.C.A. and that because she was so young,‘things should be alright’. As seen-it-all-before Grandparents, we were suspicious. Wild rabbits breed prolifically in our rural area. Domestic city raised rabbits must have the same basic instincts.      

Both rabbits eased into rural lifestyle living and diet. Grandson learned to identify and pick dandelion, dock leaves, grass, puha and thistles from the stream bank. Oregano from the vegetable garden, yum. Happy rabbits. I googled ‘rabbits’ and questioned our local vet. Reality – Oreo could get pregnant at a young age.

Grandson’s Dad and Himself bought wire netting, built and kitted out  a bigger second secured rabbit run. Agricultural Day drew closer and Grandson’s photo and written project work had to be completed. Paws and Oreo settled well into their new rabbit run. On Day 10, it was with some dismay I saw Oreo padding the straw-lined plastic tray inside the hutch shelter with hay stalks.

Paws and Oreo are parents

Baby rabbits cocooned in mother’s downy fur

Six days later, I was greeted with a snow of white rabbit fur throughout the hutch and run. My first thought the cat had entered the run and wreaked havoc. But no. Five newborn kits nestled in a thick blanket of rabbit fur in the plastic tray. When birth is imminent, mother rabbits pluck soft fur from their abdomen and create a downy cocoon for their babies. It is in this way they also expose their nipples ready for suckling.

And, Paws was mating with Oreo.


Paws is confined to the bachelor quarters. Oreo and her kits now dwell in the old chicken hutch. Grandson and his brothers were ecstatic. Grandson’s Dad thought about solutions to longer stay. Grandparents sighed and rolled up their sleeves at the prospect of newborn rabbit care.

Now, about that mother duck who nested and hatched six ducklings among my celery plants.


ANZAC Day 25 April, “We will remember them”

Flanders poppies grow among the graves of soldiers who were killed in northern France. Grandson learned about 100 years of ANZAC history and in 2015, applied his knowledge to create a poppy remembrance garden for a school agricultural project.

Grandson knows 25 April is New Zealand’s national day to remember those fought and who died serving New Zealand during times of war. He knows his great-Grandfather fought in WWII and his ancestors fought in WWI.  He knows that in 1915, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey, the site of New Zealand’s first major battle of World War One with the loss of over 2,700 New Zealand soldiers. He knows that since the first commemorative services in 1916,  Kiwis attend ANZAC services across the world, from dawn until dusk.


My childhood ANZAC commemoration memories are of services held over the years in the local rural community hall, of the silent stillness of the local people watching, moved by the drummer’s tapping accompanied by the tramp, tramp of the veterans’ feet  as they  marched in formation down the road past my grandfather’s house. I see the New Zealand flag fluttering at half-mast in the breeze. I hear the collective voice of my family, my neighbours, my community as we uttered in unison the words, “we will remember them”.  I hear the bugle sound the Last Post  at the close of our lament for the dead.

After the service, people linger. 25th April is a day to be together, to share, to retell stories.

I see my grandfather standing in silent respect, and later in conversation, he would tell that as a married man with children, he was a reservist and he managed his younger brothers’ farms while they, keen to “do their bit for King and country”, enlisted early in 1915, one of whom was ‘never the same’ after returning home from gas and trench warfare.

I see my great-Aunt, church organist and community stalwart, widowed in the early 1930s, childless and never remarried, after her husband, a WWI veteran turned to alcohol to fight his traumas and to die by his own hand.

I see my mother among a group of other war-brides, chatting about their families ‘back home’, recalling the bombing raids and rationing in wartime England, and I know that her Uncle lies in a marked grave in northern France.

I see Dad standing with an older local couple talking about his mate, their son who in WWII  was a prisoner of war with Dad, and who was shot in a camp. In 1992 at Dad’s funeral, the youngest of the three brothers in that family, delivered the eulogy. In part, he said

After my brother was killed, Ken arranged his funeral and then reclaimed his personal possessions. He carried them with him on that infamous forced march into Germany, and as soon as he arrived back in Walton he gave some of them to my parents. Years later when he felt, the time was right he gave the rest to me. I asked him why he had not thrown them away when he was enduring such extreme hardship himself. He replied, “I looked at them sometimes and thought I’ll do that tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.” Ken proved to our family that he was a true and loyal friend.

No-one ever forgets.

Over time in college, at university and as a teacher, I thought further about the pointlessness and horror of war through the words of poets like Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est.

The Kiwi voice heard in the poem An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier written by James K. Baxter, son of conscientious objector Archibald Baxter, tells the story of a young nation sending antipodean troops to a theatre of war in a distant country, of painful personal realisations and of the futility of war.

An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier

There was a time when I would magnify
His ending; scatter words as if I wept
Tears not by own but man’s; there was a time.
But not now so. He died of a common sickness.

Nor did any new star shine
Upon the day when he came crying out
Of fleshy darkness to a world of pain,
And waxed eyelids let the daylight enter.

So felt and tasted, found earth good enough.
Later he played with stones and wondered
If there was land beyond the dark sea rim
And where the road led out of the farthest paddock.

Awkward at school, he could not master sums.
Could you expect him then to understand
The miracle and menace of his body
That grew as mushrooms grow from dusk to dawn?

He had the weight, though, for a football scrum,
And thought it fine to listen to the cheering
And drink beer with the boys, telling them tall
Stories of girls that he had never known.

So when the War came he was glad and sorry,
But soon enlisted. Then his mother cried
A little, and his father boasted how
He’d let him go, though needed for the farm.

Likely in Egypt he would find out something
About himself, if flies and drunkenness
And deadly heat could tell him much – until
In his first battle a shell splinter caught him.

So crown him with memorial bronze among
The older dead, child of a mountainous island.
Wings of a tarnished victory shadow him
Who born of silence has burned back to silence.

by James K. Baxter


Cookery class at school in 1958

In 1958, we were given a small textbook, Home Science Recipes when we were taught cookery in Standards 5 and 6, or what is now called Years 7 and 8. Words and phrases used then make me smile now.

“all parts of the dominion”, “domestic instruction”, “helpful to the small family”, “young housekeeper”, “apron”, “never waste anything”, “Housewifery and Laundry Work”

Wordy echoes of strong colonial and emotional ties to England, preparation of girls for marriage and motherhood, and always, a vivid memory of want and hunger experienced by our parents’ generation during the depression and war years. New Zealand as  a country grows food well. This text was compiled by a generation of educators intent on building a nation of self-sufficient citizens and healthy families.

The ingredients then reflected the predominant farming and small country town lifestyles we lived in the 1950s. I shudder now at the thought of using animal fats of “lard”, “dripping”, “suet“. Beef and mutton were staple foods. Home killed meat roasted in a fat was common.  Dad would butcher a sheep about once a week. I recall how my brothers, sister and I lined up as he did so waiting to grab the knucklebones so we could play the game. No sentimentality then. That is how it was.

My mother and mother-in-law always kept a bowl to store the dripping from roasted beef. My grandparents and parents all loved spreading dripping on bread in preference to butter. They had  lived through food rationing. As if that was not enough to fill growing large baby-boomer families,  New Zealand mothers served baked goodies for morning and afternoon teas and  puddings. All recipes used great quantities of animal fats and sugar. Unpasteurised, creamy milk collected as the cows were milked was drunk daily. Thank goodness our outdoor lifestyles meant we were physically active and hardworking compared to present day.

Essentially, we their daughters in the school cookery classes, were cementing household practices of generations before the 1950s. Incidentally, the Window Cleaner recipe in  Cleaning Materials, still works a treat and is cost effective.


Lemons Three ‘olden’ ways

Was it really fifty years or more since I attended cooking class at school? I felt quite ancient when 11-year old grandson talked about his first food technology class and his first recipe for a Fruit Smoothie, a printout pasted into his exercise book. The blender was put to work and the smoothie made an excellent after-school drink. But, he was not really that interested in Nana’s old school handwritten cooking exercise book, or the recipes. It must have looked like lots of hard work.

In 1958, I used non-electronic kitchen equipment and we measured in pounds and ounces.  Girls at my age  were used to cooking at home with our mothers. The boys did carpentry and metalwork instead. For fun, I revisited two recipes, one from my old schoolbook and the other from a recipe given to me when I was first married. The third way with lemons is about hand care, something my mother routinely did in the kitchen.

Lemon Honey, or Lemon Curd as some call it, is delicious. Living on a farm, we kept hens, lemon trees grew well and butter was cheap. Lemon Honey was commonly made. This recipe makes about one and a half cups. I store it in the fridge. It never lasts long in this family. It can be rippled through creamy icecream, swirled through yoghurt, made into lemon tarts or as I did today, added to the centre of lemon muffins.

Lemon Cordial is another oldie. My mother-in-law made it when Himself was a child. My sister-in-law and I continue to make this drink. It becomes a  refreshing summertime drink when made up with finely julienned fresh ginger straws, crushed mint, ice and chilled soda.

Lemons are nature’s cleanser. I can see Mum now, at the kitchen bench, rubbing a cut lemon over her skin and around her nails before dipping her hands into oatmeal and rubbing this all over her skin. Oatmeal leaves a soft feel to the skin.