My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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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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Her agile fingers were nimble and never idle when doing crochet

Agile

“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.


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Summer Storm

The massive, severe, subtropical weather system that battered much of New Zealand has abated.

All through Thursday night and during Friday the wind howled and whipped our trees into frenzied motion, flinging small branch debris into the air. We got wet, but the sweeping rain did not fall as heavily in our inland area as we expected. The stream filled to its usual level and the rainwater tanks filled. Personally, we dodged the stormy weather bullet.

Any concern must focus on the plight of people affected elsewhere. The destructive forces of the high-tide sea surges and the storm-driven pounding waves combined to inundate east coast communities and to flood homes and roads. Emergency services media posts, callouts and travel cancellations highlighted the dangerous nature of the storm. Holidaymakers, advised to pack up and go home early, did so. Many people became stranded on the Coromandel Peninsula when the Thames coastal road was destroyed.

Meanwhile, back home, Number 2 Son  anxiously and constantly scrolled social media for storm-damage reports and weather forecasts for the coming days. He and his friend have planned to take their four kids camping next week – on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Many years ago, Himself and I with our two sons, used to camp at Stoney Bay and at Fletchers Bay camps both at Department of Conservation Farm parks. My sister, her husband and their sons joined us. We experienced summer storms. No social media alerts back then. We always prepared for such eventuality. Maybe we were lucky.

Anyway, the next generation is packed and ready. Geeky Grandson cannot believe there is no cellphone coverage where they will camp. He ‘refuses’ to accept the usefulness of packing a notebook and pencil as a basic messaging tool. He looked askance at his outdoorsy, practically-minded younger 11-year old brother who is ecstatic at the prospect of learning how to use his hand-held compass we gave him for Christmas. He is aghast at the prospect of no X-Box, of having to either read the book or play games of cards that his Dad made him pack for entertainment. Even worse, it is cold showers only at the camp. He cannot believe we actually used to enjoy such a camping holiday lifestyle. Undoubtedly there will be more revelations. Oh, how I wish I could be a fly on the tent wall to watch Geeky Grandson adapt from his device driven life to that of simple living and spartan but essential amenities. 

On Sunday, Son and his mate will review the camping situation.  

Always have a Plan B.`And C.

 


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Learning Rabbit Care on the Hop

If we thought rabbit care would become routine pet care, think again. I have been on a steep learning curve, learning on the hop so to speak, moment by moment.

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Oreo’s hutch is predator proof. Leo hunts wild rabbits and would attack the pet rabbits.

Leo, the family cat, frequently and successfully hunts wild rabbits. Though the hutch and run are predator proofed, it has not stopped him scoping the possibility of getting easy prey. It means we must spend time daily with Paws so he can have a run and forage in the orchard. For now, Oreo does not leave her cage and is never far from her kits.   

After the birth of the kits, it was the behaviour of our normally amiable free-ranging hens that astounded me. I was giving Oreo fresh water and feed. Two of the hens tried to push by me into the cage run.  I pushed them away. They flew back and pecked me as they tried again to get into the run. They stayed near the cage for some time glaring at the enclosure that had been their chicken coop one year ago.

The local pet-shop owner suggested I remove the placenta stained fur to clear the hutch of smell that would attract predators and might be agitating the hens. Later that afternoon while doing as I was advised, I sadly counted four kits. The fifth was nowhere to be found. Oreo for reasons of her own had eaten this newborn. I had been told to expect this could happen.     

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Paws the pet rabbit and Grandson have quality bonding time.

Grandson, 9-years old, was an interested onlooker at this time. He wanted to know about about birth and the placenta and asked lots of questions. Sitting quietly in the orchard with this boy while we watched his pet rabbit, it was a special moment to be part of a learning conversation about Oreo’s experience and be able to relate it to facts of human life. Wow! Oreo is more than a pet. Oreo the mother. Oreo the teacher.    


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Oreo the mini-lop rabbit gives birth

Tuesday, 24th October is a date when I would like to have been proven wrong about the saying, breeding like rabbits.

Oreo Mini-lop Rabbit

Oreo feeding on dandelions and fresh grass

In my previous blog about Paws, mentioned how excited Grandson at the arrival of an unexpected second pet rabbit and how his Mum said she had got Oreo ‘not long ago’ from the S.P.C.A. and that because she was so young,‘things should be alright’.

Paws and Oreo are parents

Kits cocooned in Mum’s downy fur

Oreo, a mini-lop rabbit, gave birth to her first litter of five kits about midday. She showed strong basic instincts in her preparation for the birth and mothering.

She had tried digging a burrow from the cage. She had plucked fur from her lower abdomen to make a soft downy cocoon for her babies in the straw nest created some days earlier. In this way, Oreo exposed her nipples ready to suckle her kits.

There was a time lag of about three hours between the birth and when we were able to separate the new mother and her kits from Paws, the father. Too late, I think. Oreo is probably pregnant again. 

Mother and babies are doing well.


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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.