My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden

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Speckles, Dominant Henpecker in the Henhouse


It all began with a cute, tiny ball of fluff, day-old Strawberry the chicken. She was Grandson’s pet project for the school Agricultural Day. Her 24-hour care, and that of her five Brown Shaver sisters, assumed overriding importance. The whole family was involved. Himself built the A-frame outdoor coop. Grandson’s Dad paid the bills. Grandson and his brothers did the cuddling. I did the cleaning, feeding and reminding Grandson of his project obligations.

Outdoors Chicken Run

Strawberry the chicken

Fast forward a few months, and I was not a happy gardener after the chickens’ sneak attacks on the green vegetables growing in my garden.

Hen-pecked Kale Jan 2016

Henpecked kale

I declared the growing chickens were no longer officially cute. Grandson, having earned his school Agricultural Day ribbon, was by this stage, enraptured with his X-Box. The garden was going to the birds. Only after chicken proof fencing was erected, did I feel I had wrested back control of my garden.

Chickens in Disgrace Jan 2016

In disgrace, Banned from my garden.

As the Brown Shaver pullets graduated to the big birds’ cage, they found out, the hen-house was not theirs to rule. Two senior hens had seen it all before. Gertrude, Vice-Henpecker-in-Chief was amiable as long as she got first peck at the grain feed. Speckles, Henpecker-in-Chief was not to be messed with at anytime. It was an avian offence for a young hen to stray into her field of vision. Many a Brown Shaver feather went flying as Speckles showed who was dominant


Hens-in-Chief: Gertrude and Speckles

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The Dog is no Excuse for A Tardy Student


“See No Homework, Hear No Homework, Do No Homework!” shout out on grandson’s T-shirt. A  mantra etched in the minds of students nationwide, it would seem.


Homework excuse? Teacher doesn’t think so!

Teachers have heard all the creative excuses for assigned work not completed.  Junior students might try their luck with a trite excuse. “Miss, my dog chewed it”, or “Miss, my little brother puked on it”. Learning skills, such as knowing how to organise time and  taskwork, are taught and practised at each year level throughout their schooling.

Senior students who do not have a valid reason for not completing an assignment by the due date may miss out on credits towards their final assessment. It becomes a matter of deciding priorities. Successful learners know how to organise and follow a plan in a timely way. They carry these basic skills into everyday life beyond the school gate.

The family pooch and younger brother are not reasons for a student to be tardy.     

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A Screen to Entertain Us


Going to the pictures at the local theatre was an exciting part of our childhood. We were mesmerised by film on the large screen. Musicals, epic sagas, drama and action filled our imaginations with glimpses into other worlds brought to us from Hollywood and England. In the 1950s,  audiences stood as the then national anthem of New Zealand, God Save the Queen, was played. We viewed cartoons and newsreels before making a mad dash to buy ice-cream during the interval and were resettled in our seats to view the feature film.  

After the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it was a big undertaking for our rural primary school to arrange to take us as a school group to the theatre in town to view a special newsreel showing of this event for pupils of local schools. Still images in print media kept could not compete with filmed sound and action. 

The first time I viewed the small screen was in 1960. A black and white television set had pride of place in my great-grandmother’s home in Auckland. My siblings and I remember we sat riveted by Robin Hood‘s adventures, stories we knew well from reading. We loved the novelty of small screen entertainment in the home. It was to be several years before Mum and Dad thought about buying a television set for our household. The costs of paying cash for a television licence and for a television set were considerable when there was a family to support. The viewing hours and broadcasting coverage in New Zealand were limited in the early 1960s. My brother and I had left school and home by the time my parents acquired their first television set. Probably a wise move on their part. No disputes to settle over which programme to watch.

In February 1966 the average price of a 23-inch black and white television ‘consolette’ was £131, equivalent to nearly $5000 today. 

Time moves on. Retailers display a range of monitors and screens of different sizes that are deemed essential to help us to enjoy our lives to the fullest. Real time viewing happens. Data plans and viewing options are available to suit our needs and wants and we can pay by credit card. I no longer entertain the thought of not having a smart screen in my home and in my hand.  


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.


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.