My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


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


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.


We wound back time on a school morning

Single-parent of three, Son had a 5 a.m. workday start. Grandparents were left in charge of getting the boys ready for school. Easy. We know what to do from when Daddy and Uncle were boys.

8.00 a.m. “Aren’t we taking the boys to school this morning?” Poppa and I swing into action. I don’t think we slept in this late when Daddy and Uncle were boys.  Throw some clothes on. Splash water on my face. Run fingers through my hair. Ready!

8.10 a.m. Make wholesome multigrain bread cheese and other filling sandwiches, add a pottle of yoghurt, packet of raisins and fresh fruit to the lunchboxes. “Dad lets us have pretzels in a snackbag” “We’re allowed Snax biscuits.” “I don’t like bananas.” “Don’t want raisins.” “I just had jam sandwiches when I was a boy,” announced Poppa? “Just put your lunches in your schoolbags”.

“All boys need to eat breakfast brain food for learning. Especially as it’s a cold wet morning – I’ll warm the milk”. “I want cold milk”. “Why can’t I have sugar on my cereal? It tastes better.” “See that word sucre on the nutrition information label – it means sugar and there’s 10 grams already in the cereal in your bowl” (7-year old has advanced maths and language skills).  Lesson over. “Yes. You can have a toasted muffin with strawberry jam on it.”

8.20 a.m. “No! You can’t play a game on the computer. Turn it off. Now!” The clock ticks on. The boys are reminded to clean their teeth, to make their beds and to get their shoes and jackets on. It’s pressure time to get to school before 8.45 a.m.

8.25a.m. “We need a dollar today. There’s a Talent Show at lunchtime. A crumpled school notice found at the bottom a schoolbag informs us that ‘it will be a gold coin donation to watch’. I haven’t any loose change but Poppa says he had two $1 coins and four 20 cent coins! “It has to be a gold coin,” argues 9-year old. Conversation  dissolves into the meaning of ‘donation’ and the value of the lower denomination coins. He remains convinced that younger bro will not be allowed in to watch. 7-year old is happy with the arrangement. Of the three boys, he’s most able to argue his way past the doorkeeper.

8.30 a.m. The rain is relentless as we drive down the road. I focus as  while demister clears the windscreen. Then I realise 11-year old has left his Science Fair project display board at the house. “Don’t need it till Tuesday”. “How are you going to work on your project in class then?” “I’ve did my title printout on the colour printer in the classroom.” Memories of 11-year old’s Dad and 11th-hour school projects flash through my mind.  “What about the report on your data? Can you ask your teacher to help you how to write it? Teacher said it’s to be done for homework.”

8.40 a.m. “Have a good day, boys. Love you.” “See’ya, Nana.”

8.43 a.m. Text from Son. ‘How were the boys this morning?’

9.03 a.m. Reply to Son. Okay. Got off to slow start. Learned 11-year old has to finish SF at home. Said he doesn’t know how to write the report. Sounds like kids more interested in designing coloured title printouts.’

Later. Sitting at the table, staring at the remains of the boys’ breakfast with coffee and toast in hand, still dressed in my scruffy gardening work clothes, I’m thinking, what has changed? Nothing really. Those beautifully coiffed and coutured senior citizen couples who flit across our screens and pages adorned with perfectly ordered households and grandchildren aren’t real. Sigh! It’d be nice to step into that picture for a moment in time. But this morning we wound back time but not our biological clocks. No matter what, we’re Nana and Pop. And that’s a precious thing.


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.


Leave a comment

Happy 70th Birthday, Babyboomers ~ say it loud and proud

The Daily Post: Write about something that happened over the weekend as though it’s the top story on your local paper.

The first of the post-World War II babies born in 1946 are turning seventy this month.

Last Saturday, neighbours and friends joined family  to mark Brother-in-law’s (BiL) three score and ten milestone. BiL thought “about sixty people” were invited. BiL is the fifth generation of his family to live in the farmhouse built by his ancestor. The key to enjoying this occasion is to understand the traditions, the echo of a past way of life. BiL prides himself on being able to provide food from the sea and the land. And the beer must flow. It is the way things are done. Sister has been married to BiL for forty-five years. They have two sons and two grandchildren.

Eleven-year old announces the birthday, “he’s going to be seventy and we’re saying it loud and proud”.

“My mother used this pot” said BiL as he placed butchered lamb into the cast iron camp oven to be placed on the embers. How did women manage to lift these large heavy cooking pots? How did they endure the cooking fire heat in the summer like the warm temperatures in the weekend?  BiL, the youngest of five children, recalled his boyhood, living without electricity. “It was my job to split the kindling and get the fire going first thing in the morning and make my mother a cup of tea.”

It was like the clock stopped at the time when people lived off the land and hunted game animals and fished to feed their families. Into another pot went a dressed wild turkey. Older Nephew told me he “shot it up at the Cape”. The cured ham hanging on a hook came from a wild boar hunted in the “bush at the back of the farm.” Potatoes were dug and peeled and salads were prepared. The helpers picked at slices of locally processed salami made from scraps of the wild pork. Older nephew, a commercial fisherman, filleted and marinated the snapper in coconut milk and lemon juice. Earlier, he had dived for scallops and shucked these ready to be grilled. Sister placed seventy candles on the cake.

“It’s a proven scientific fact that people who have more birthdays, live longer.” After midnight the beer and wine was flowing as were the birthday tributes and old stories. The guests had eaten. BiL yarned about the golden summers of his youth about what he and his mate used to get up to. They worked on the land and hunted “without aches and pains”. Fifty years ago BiL could not have imagined how medical technology would replace his hip.

So the Babyboomers are turning seventy. Growing older is a privilege denied to many. Often friends and family have died or moved away. Seventy is a number to clap and count as the candles on the cake are blown out.

Husband told BiL as he handed a gift of aged Scotch whiskey, ”drink it with me, don’t keep it to drink at our wakes.” Celebrate age “loud and proud”.