Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Today Next Year

A writing prompt asked: What was there about today that you will enjoy remembering in a year's time?

Not the woman
that the council want her
to either chain up her dogs
or build a secure fence.
Not the man
that the bench seats and tables
outside the chippie shop
aren't clean enough.
Not the woman
the concrete path
to the jetty
is in the wrong place.
On this bright
yellow and blue
mid-winter's day
I smile at small boys
dropping rocks
into the sea
with a satisfying splash.
I smile at the curve
 of the blue footbridge
leading the women
pushing strollers
following toddlers
over the water
to the playground.
I notice the leaves
of opportunist
self-seeded plants
sprouting from the top
of the broken palm tree:
like a comical toupee
on a balding man.
There's a shiny
 black and chrome
better than new
nineteen forties car
parked outside the cafe,
a chance to chat
to one, no longer a stranger.

The dog runs into waves
the boy follows
foaming water fills his boots
and, nearly mine.
Gulls run along the sand.
There is laughter and barking,
shells and driftwood.
If this day next year
is as cold and wet and dark
as one expects in July,
these will be the memories
I will take out to enjoy,
to taste, to smell,
to relive in front of the fire.


lemon zest
lime juice
hot drinks
for winter days

honey mixed
with memories
of summer,
hay rides
and shearing sheds

of saxophones
and cool jazz
and long black
barely restrained
wild ringlets

memories and connections
and almost no-one left
to understand them.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Before the Concrete Sets

I have been following Twisted Stitches and Hazelmade and Katwise and loving their clothing for quite a while. Today I discovered that Katwise also has a blog. With crazy writing, and pictures of her crazy clothing and crazy house and crazy buses, and I know that if I hadn't become, in childhood, a terrified-of-being-different, boring, jeans and black t-shirt kind of person who has aged into a boring, grey, fat old woman - this is the sort of person I wish I could have been. Not in quite the same way, because I was never a Grateful Dead fan, but colourful and colour-filled and fearlessly me. Too late now - I'd look a complete dork if I wore clothing like that and danced around singing (badly)and shit.

I wish I had learned to play music. I wish I had learned to sing. I wish I had learned to dance. I wish I had written more poetry. I wish I had worn the clothes I loved and the colours I loved and the fabrics I loved. I wish I'd said to more people, "Hey, I like you - would you like to meet for coffee on Tuesday?"

I wish I hadn't let my life be ruled so much by what I thought I should do. Ruled by fear of looking a fool, being rejected, tripping over my feet, getting things wrong. I wish I'd told certain people to just get the fuck out of my life. Now, I'm so set in my ways that I just can't bring myself to wear inappropriate colours and clothes. My body's not up to dancing or learning to surf or riding a unicycle. I do act 'inappropriately' sometimes, but not as often as I would if I followed my inner voice.

Pretty much I am happy with my life now. I love living here and doing the back-to-the-land thing. I have interesting friends. I have old and loyal friends. I have sons and grandchildren. I have a husband, without whom life would be seriously empty.

But if you are still young, hear me and listen - be who you are, now, before the concrete sets.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

June Reading


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
A funny love story about an old Indian-born English Major and an English born Pakistani woman. The reactions of their families, friends and the local villagers make for a bit of thinking about cultural differences, but it is neither too shallow nor too intense. Not quite 'fluff' but an easy winter fireside read that is quite satisfying.

Gith by  Chris Else
An easy but uncomfortable read. Well written but a bit too creepy for me. An NZ author.

Dinner at Rose's by Danielle Hawkins
Another NZ  author. An amusing romance. Definitely winter-time fluff, but reasonably well written.


The Exercise Book - Creative writing exercises from Victoria University's Institute of Modern Letters edited by Bill Manhire, Ken Duncum, Chris Price and Damien Wilkins

The writing group I go to intermittently has been using this book recently and it has lots of good trigger ideas. There are exercises for a range of genre, and some that deal with revision and editing. A worthwhile book of interest to beginner writers and the more experienced. Sadly though, it still hasn't got me doing the most important thing of all: writing EVERY DAY!

One of the exercises we did was based on The Ian Sharp Poem, which Jenny Bornholdt has used with children in schools. Ian describes himself in third person in terms of various things: a parcel, a toy, a landscape and more. We did our own versions, describing ourselves, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed doing this as I usually hate exercises of any kind, especially the 'you have 10 minutes to do this' kind!

The Cally Brown Poem

Cally Brown is parcel of seedlings
wrapped in wet sports pages
from Monday’s Waikato Times
secured with green rubber bands
saved from last year’s asparagus.

Cally Brown is a sandpit
with buried matchbox cars
a faded yellow bucket
a broken red spade
and a couple of ice block sticks.

Cally Brown is an orchard
with four white Peking ducks
beside a garden with rows
of carrots and beetroot and
broad beans and sweet red onions.

Cally Brown is an old Toyota van
with room for shovels and a scythe,
bags of fallen leaves, new plants,
trees, children and grandchildren,
love, and baskets full of memories

Cally Brown is a home-made book
with crinkly rusted paper
bound with brown hemp twine
embellished with pages from old books
pressed leaves and chook feathers

Cally Brown is a pile of old jerseys
just waiting for transformation
into wild patchwork hoodies
with crazy ribbons, buttons, beads
and totally unsuitable colours.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Light Returns

It's the shortest day plus one. I hurt my back yesterday but although it's still hurting, I can't really complain: I haven't got the flu like my oldest son; my chooks are alive, the sun is shining.
 My neighbour, Otis, arrived over today with his last chook - another neighbour's dog had dug under their fence and killed their second to last chook. Which makes 25 killed chooks in 4 years. He hasn't been able to catch the dog in the act but she's been seen coming and seen going, and the other neighbour has admitted in the past that the dog had killed their own chooks so..... But this time he's back in denial. Otis asked if we'd adopt the last chook, and I agreed but said she'd probably get seriously harassed until the new pecking order was established - best practice is to never introduce fewer than 3 new hens to an established flock. However, Otis felt that would still be better than being killed by the dog! Well, the new lady strutted into the middle of the flock, had a brief fight with my number one and is completely settled in.
 The bees are out and about and bringing in food including bright orange pollen - you can see some on the legs of a bee just going into the hive.
 Grapefruit ripening: it will be marmalade time soon.
 Limes: hard to see, but they need picking and using now.
 Lemons galore.
 When we moved here, my mother-in-law gave me couple of rooted cuttings of a plant which 'is great for covering banks.' Nice to remember her by too.
 The washing's on the line drying in a gentle breeze and warm sun.
And poor me - I'm 'stuck' sitting for most of the day in a chair with a wheat-bag on my back, looking out at my bush and 'my' mountain. Mid-winter can be pretty good.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Solstice Catch Up

Looking back I discover that I haven't written about my garden for five months! I have been out there working our land though.

We had a reasonable summer garden, though we have resolved not to use peat pots any more. The courgettes, pumpkins and cucumbers did not do well, and this was the second year that we'd had problems. The only ones that did well were the cucumbers that sprung up self-seeded from the previous year. As I cleaned up the garden at the end of the season the penny dropped. The peat pots had not disintegrated the way they are supposed to, and thus the plants could not spread and develop their roots.

It was a bumper year for my peas and beans though, and also the capsicum. The tomatoes were sufficient for day to day use, but I wasn't able to store many, just a couple of bottles of sauce.

The big thing was that I cleared all the dead plants in good time, have spread a lot of mulch, and planted winter things for only the second year - though still not from seed, instead buying seedlings. Maybe next year. I had broad beans, onions, leeks, garlic, spring onions, lettuce, a variety of brassica (including pak choi, after Simon told me it was yummy - Simon - vegetables yummy? - have to try them then!)
Last week I went outside to plant some more garlic and a few remaining spring onions which have been bravely fighting to live since I planted out the rest of the punnet a couple of months ago. I went to get my garden bag with my gloves, tools etc. - oh no! I hadn't hung it up on its hook last time and everything was soaked. Including half a paper packet of broad beans and a packet and a half of peas - soaked and sprouting. So I had to spend a whole lot more time hoeing some garden space and planting seed carefully so as not to break off the wee shoots. The bag has been scrubbed and is almost dry again.
 The chook run has become more and more overgrown. The flax bush has grown so much I could hardly get in, and couldn't get the wheelbarrow to the right place to clean out the hen house. It had to go!
 The 60th birthday party bunting that I had transferred to the run to deter the harrier the year I 'grew' my own chicks, had become torn and bedraggled and needed to be untied from the trees and discarded.
 An early winter weekend was perfect- sunny but not too hot.
This summer we bought a moveable fence to extend the run. It could be an electric fence, but we don't bother - the chooks don't get out through it anyway. They do clean up the ground - especially good when the nashis were dropping on the ground and starting to rot. Anyway, the run has had it's winter clean up.
 My bees are a sad story: I put strips in one hive early, as it was showing signs of varroa, but I was late putting them in the other two, and they were too weakened to survive the massive wasp attack we had this year, along with much of the rest of the country. We killed five nests, but hardly made a dent in the numbers attacking the hives.So I lost two of the three hives. It is heartbreaking, especially when I know that it was partly my fault for letting them get weakened like that.

Inside, I have been undoing and re-knitting the jersey I gave up on last winter. I don't feel bad about that since I discovered that my sister Elizabeth, who is an awesome knitter, has also undone hers to reknit - it was obviously a not well written pattern that I got from her. I've been playing with paper and books, and just bought myself an overlocker, so will be having fun with fabrics when the wet weather keeps me inside.

Today is the shortest day and so far, despite a stressful time over the past six months, I have had no hint of depression. Life is good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May Reading

We Shall Not Cease: The Autobiography of a Conscientious Objector by Archibald Baxter.

This is one of those 'must read one day' books that's been on my list for decades, ever since I first discover James K Baxter's poetry. Recently it was the book reading on National Radio and after missing listening on quite a few days, I got it out of the library. It's a very slim volume but it took me several weeks to read it - I needed lots of downtime from the horror, and lots of thinking time.

The horror is partly due to the calm way in which Baxter recounts the events of his incarceration, and enforced time on the front in WWI. Baxter and his co-objectors were not just imprisoned, but also starved and tortured for their beliefs. Baxter had particularly bad treatment from some who could understand the religious objector - "because my religion is against it' - but not someone who just believed that all war and killing is wrong. It is only near the end of the book that some of Baxter's feelings show through.

The book was published first in 1939 at the beginning of WW2, and re-published in 1968, during the Vietnam war. It's interesting as a documentary, but it's real value, in my opinion, is in the thinking it promotes. As Baxter said when he sent a copy to one of his fellow objectors, "In memory of days we can't yet afford to forget."

The Happiness Project: or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

I've been reading quite a few books about happiness and positive thinking over the last year or so, driven by my continuing efforts to keep depression away. Most reinforced my thinking about the 'born again Amway' mentality of most positive thinking promotions which say that if you visualise and believe the good messages (lies?) you tell yourself, you will get what you visualise, and if you think negatively you'll never get what you want. They don't usually seem to go into detail about how people bring disaster on themselves, like fire, famine, flood, earthquake, tsunami, although even expressions of that occur occasionally. As mentioned in my February review, Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret,   stated that disasters like tsunamis can happen only to people who are "on the same frequency as the event." The messages of Positive Thinking, The Law of Attraction, and the like, feed the smugness of middle class First Worlders. They cannot be taken seriously by anyone able to open their eyes to the very real hardships faced by the less priveledged, for example, problems of the Third World.

The Happiness Project came to my notice via  our local Facebook page, The Raglan Noticeboard, as people asked to borrow a copy. I accessed it via the Hamilton Public Libraries. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that it describes the personal search of one woman, over one year, to try to make her present life better. This is not a book about a grand journey, an exotic adventure, a trip to sit at the feet of a guru in India, a dramatic career change: it's a story about making small changes to make the life she already had happier and better appreciated. Many of the ideas I had already come across, and implemented, but I really like the structure she put them into. My structure would be different, as would everyone's: it's not so much a self-help book, as an exploration of how one woman helped herself. As such, I have found it far more helpful than any 'self-help' book! There's no magical formula, and quite a bit of challenging hard work, but I find that inspiring. 

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: a memoir of going home by Rhoda Janzen

I loved this book!  And, according to the cover, so did Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love. At forty two Janzen was told she had to have a hysterectomy.  Because of medical misadventure, she was left incontinent for six months. They then moved to a rural community and two months later, her husband of 15 years left her for a man he'd met on '', and she was left living in an expensive house she could no longer afford. After a time, she decided to go home for a year to recover - home being with Mennonite parents. The book is an exploration of her failed marriage, of her childhood and of her family's religion. It all sounds very grim. But it isn't! It is interesting, informative, thought provoking and endlessly funny. She doesn't blame her broken marriage totally on her husband, she examines the good in her parents and their religion, as well as the bad. It is interesting, informative, thought provoking and endlessly funny. It is very easy to read, yet not at all shallow. Highly recommended.