Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: A New Year

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”
Neil Gaiman

This season has been a particularly wonderful season for wild carrot which became 'my' flower back in 2011 and so seems appropriate to accompany the quote from Gaiman, which expresses beautifully what I hope for this year. 2014 is going to be extremely challenging as Mac and I rearrange and restructure our lives.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Endings and Beginnings

I don't usually do Christmas letters, and on the rare occasions that I have, it's been more of a New Year letter, or even a February letter. But the past twelve months have been a strange time, so I decided to write about it. I won't call it a Christmas letter / blog because I decided a few years ago not to do Christmas - instead I invite people to come if they wish to our place for Not-Christmas. The last couple of years were fun for me because we had lots of people at our place on 25 December, just hanging out and socialising: family, family of family, and friends who, for a variety of reasons decided to be with us. This year, after a complaint from one member of the family, I haven't invited anyone, but just asked family what they are doing, and told them we'll be at home as usual. Hopefully, they'll all come out to spend some time with us and with each other. If anyone else turns up, I will make them welcome too.

Last year at this time, Mac's boss at work (and others) were made redundant. It was all rather unpleasant, and in addition, we knew that Mac's level would be the next to be re-structured. We expected to hear in March, but time dragged out and I pushed it to the back of my mind. It's been very stressful, especially as Mac decided right back then, that if they offered redundancy, he would take it. He said he didn't want to work any more, at least not in that sort of full-time, employee way.

Anyway, now, a whole year after the first layer of re-structuring it has happened. He finishes work tomorrow. It's scary.

At the beginning of April I went and saw a doctor in Hamilton. He's alternative, but is a registered doctor who gave up his place in a medical centre to devote his time to private practice in which he addresses problems through diet and supplements. I went in the vague hope that he would do something to make me feel healthier than the gradually wearing away feeling I'd had for a long time. As a result I have a greatly improved digestive system, almost no joint pain (very occasional, and so negligible as to not qualify as 'pain'), and, best of all, no depression. No depression despite the fear and uncertainty of not knowing how we are going to live from now on. It has been a lot of work holding myself together, but I know that without the change in my body's health, I would have struggled in vain to remain semi-stable and depression-free.

There has been sadness in the year with the death of my brother-in-law and friend after a long battle with cancer. I had known him for 43 years. I saw him two days before he died and said goodbye. It's hard. It's hard to see some one you've known and cared about for that long die, and, in addition, it brings awareness of one's own mortality into sharp focus. Other friends have also had hard times: injury, illness, marriage and children problems. I should count myself lucky, and I do, but it all adds to the scariness of the future. I don't want to get ill or die yet: I have thrown so much time, throughout my life, into the deep chasm that is depression, and now that I have finally climbed out I have so much I want to do and enjoy before I die.

Friendships seem to have changed a lot this year too: partly because I have changed, and my day to day life has changed; and partly because they have changed. I found the same thing happened at various times in my life, such as when I first had children, and when my last child went to university and then left home. I have stopped going to some activities, and I have started new activities. Some of my friends have gone to work, gone travelling, got into new relationships, have new family circumstances. Sometimes it feels like 'everyone else' is expanding their horizons, while mine are shrinking. Some have moved on to such an extent that I have had to accept that they no longer want me to be a part of their lives. That's hard, but I also know that there are people that I too have left behind.

So, apart from improved health, what else is good? I have enjoyed Wednesday nights going with Steven to listen to jazz in Auckland. I have enjoyed a couple of book making workshops - and making books again after a bit of a hiatus. I enjoyed a great year in the vegetable garden last year, though this season is not looking so great. My bees didn't do too well last year, but so far things are looking better this year. I've enjoyed my beekeeping friends and my permaculture friends, old and new, and hope to see more of them over the next year. Womad was again one of the highlights of my year, and I bought tickets for womad 2014 before we knew the details of Mac's redundancy. I am determined to enjoy it as best I can as it will probably be the last we attend. We also spent last New Year's Eve at Papamoa at a reggae concert, which was great - as well as good music, it was one of the best atmospheres I have experienced at such an event. From now on, I will probably have to restrict my live music happenings to Raglan, but fortunately there is some good music to be enjoyed here.

From now on I'm going to have to limit activities, especially those which require petrol. Visits to Hamilton will be mainly for shopping, looking after grandchildren and visiting family in the time between those. But I am going to enjoy spending more time with Mac, getting more done around home, with a helper to do stuff that I can't do on my own. I had my first market stall the other day, selling books, and have booked in for two more. One of the things that my years of depression have done to me, is whittle away the small amount of self-confidence that made it through my childhood and teenage years, and that first stall was very hard to do. Without Mac's encouragement, and that of a few friends and family, I couldn't have done it. I was so scared of a whole bunch of really unlikely possibilities (like, of some random person coming up and telling me my books are shit) that I ate almost nothing but chocolate for days before hand! (Don't tell my doctor, please!) Mind you, I didn't drink even one glass of the two bottles of whisky I've been given, so that was good. So I'm looking forward to giving it a go a couple more times before, and also to starting up my Felt store again.

I'm looking forward to more swimming and walking with Mac, more creativity, and just finding joy in the simple miracles of life. I'm trying to think of it as a new start to a new adventure with new opportunities.

Friday, November 1, 2013

October Reading


The Sending - Book 6 of the Oberneytn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody
Not a lot more to say about this other than it's more of the story reviewed in September. I look forward to the last book, when it is published, hopefully next year. I wish she had just done a preview chapter in each book telling the story so far, or just a message saying, "go read the other books first," rather than trying to incorporate the pre-story in each successive book. It makes these later books slow moving and somewhat annoying. But I want to see what happens so will keep reading.

Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons
After her husband's death, Lilly takes a trip to her lifelong favourite place on the coast of main, where she spent her holidays as a child, and met and married Cam. The book is an exploration of her past and present, which is a form I don't usually like, but it is written well enough that I felt very involved. However, I didn't like the ending.

No-one You Know by Michelle Richmond
Ellie's sister was murdered, and she turned to her trusted professor to talk through the experience and her feelings. He betrayed her by using her words to write a bestseller about the murder, and in which he pointed the finger at another academic, who was, however not charged. Decades later, Ellie happens upon the accused man, who still protests his innocence, and Ellie starts investigating. I loved this book for its lack of over-dramatisation, its lack of rabbit-out-of-the hat surprises, it's lack of involved sexual relationships - it is all so realistic and possible. And yet the ending is still, in fact, a surprise. It's really more a book about people, with murder just a setting, than a book about murder itself.


The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz
I haven't read all of this book - it will take a long time, and I probably won't ever read it all. I have Katz' Wild Fermentation already, and have found it most useful, but this book takes the subject to another level. While still full of practical advice, it also provides a lot of fascinating information about a huge range of fermented foods. It is, in fact, exactly what it says in the sub-title: "An in depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world with practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beans, meats, and more."  I look forward to years of reading when my copy arrives from The Book Depository.

Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking by Jill K. Berry
This is all about using mapmaking almost as a journalling tool. It shows how to use mapmaking to create art maps of your self, experiences, grief, hopes, plans, memories - whatever is in your mind. As well as suggesting techniques and starting points, it also offers some information about traditional mapmaking, and has a gallery of maps by contributors from around the world as inspiration - including New Zealander Hillary Barnes. I'm looking forward to some rainy weather so I have an excuse to play inside. Actually, I've invited a friend to come over for a play-day, we just have to organise a date. She may well find it useful in her work with children and young people. It's a beautiful and inspiring book.

Monday, September 30, 2013

September Reading


The Obernewtyn Chroniclesby Isobelle Carmody 
  1. Obernewtyn 
  2. The Farseekers 
  3. Ashling
  4. The Keeping Place
  5. The Stone Key
This is a series that my son, Jeffrey, and I have enjoyed since he was a young teenager, and both of us are re-reading it before reading the last book published, The Sending (2011, which we somehow missed before. The last book in the series, The Red Queen is due out next year. Although the books are designated 'young adult' by the library, Jeff (23) and I (62) both still enjoy them. As you can see, I've been on an Obernewtyn binge - helped along by the fact that I've been sick with a nasty cold virus thingie for a month, and unable to do much else but read for a lot of that time.

The series is a post apocalyptic story set generations after a global nuclear holocaust. The main character is a young woman who has paranormal powers, as do her Misfit friends. On one hand the story centres around the freeing of the people and animals from the secular Council and the Religious Herder Faction, which involves most of the people in the books. However, there is also Elsbeth's personal journey, as The Seeker, to fulfil a greater task to free the world of the possibility of the Destroyer gaining access to the deadly 'Beforetime' weapons.

The series examines all kinds of issues around duty, responsibility, discrimination, slavery, racism, species-ism, religion, love and more.

One of my other sons finds the books annoying because he feels that Carmody keeps inventing more paranormal skills, but on re-reading I think that in the main she merely develops the skills, as would happen once the Misfits start using and exploring their abilities. In addition, the books become longer and more complex as they go on, which is understandable given she was only 14 when she first started the first book.

I enjoy the books and would recommend them to anyone from around 12 years old  who likes fantasy books.

Room by Emma Donoghue

An entirely different kind of book than the Obernewtyn series! This book was recommended - with warnings - first by a woman in my Raglan book club (women in their 60s - 70s) and then again by a 42yo woman in my on-line unschoolers book group (people in their late teens - 60s.)

To quote Laura (the one who recommended it to the on-line book club):
To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world....
It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack's imagination - the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe beneath Ma's clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night, in case Old Nick comes.

Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience-and a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.
 It is a story of kidnap, abuse and escape, yet there are no graphic descriptions: the book is about coping mechanisms, about survival, about love.

It was shocking and thought provoking, especially reading it so soon after the hideous revelations of the Ariel Castro case in the US. However, it is also a story of courage, hope and the power of love between mother and child.

I highly recommend this book to anyone at all.

The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte

Again, a completely different sort of book. This one is about an Australian woman, Vera, who married a German zookeeper before WW2, and became a zookeeper to, at the Berlin Zoo. The book covers the time from 1943 - 45. They struggle to look after the animals as staff are recruited to the army, and then foreign forced labourers are sent to help them. The book is about fear, horror, friendship, relationships, love, suspicion, trust and, most of all, survival. It has an horrific ending, which somehow seems more appropriate than a happy ever after scenario.  It is a fascinating book as it shows us war from perspectives far from those we usually encounter. Again, I highly recommend this novel.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


When I was 18 my friend's boyfriend was drunk driving when he crashed his car, and he walked away unhurt. She was paralysed from the neck down and died of pneumonia a year later. It was a tragedy, such a waste of potential: we cried and learned from this not to drink and drive. But we had only known her for a few years, and we were young and still had no sense of the inevitability of death.

Last night my brother-in-law, Mac Bell, died. From my current perspective of 62, 74 seems way to young. I said goodbye to him on his birthday, two days before he died. Like all of us, he had both good qualities and flaws - but what was important to me was that I enjoyed his company. I enjoyed the discussions, sometimes arguments, that we had. He had a different outlook to mine on many subjects, but there was always respect for each other. He didn't speak without consideration, and could amend his views if you gave him good reason. He was very knowledgeable about many things, but that didn't make him a know-it-all - if I knew more about something, he respected that. I knew him for 43 years. I miss him already.

At my age, the death of a friend you have known so long brings grief that wells up through your whole body, not just in your throat and eyes. It also brings a heavy sense of my own frail mortality, an awareness that I could die today or soon - or I could live another 40 years. There is a personal reality to death that wasn't there when I was 19.

Last night, also, my oldest chook died. She laid 3 eggs this season: tiny, the size of a blackbird's egg. We have the space on our place to allow our old ladies to live out their lives in retirement, and I had been watching her comb start to turn a dark purple and her blindness become almost complete. If she had seemed unhappy I would have put her down (I've done it once before) but she spent her days standing by the feeder and the water bowl, or sunning herself and enjoying a dust bath. Usually, dead animals get disposed of fairly unceremoniously here, but today my oldest hen was buried under rich, black soil in a grave I dug while weeping a farewell to her, and to Mac Bell, and to my friend, Lalage, and to my mother, my father, my aunts, uncles, friends who have all enriched my life, and then died, leaving behind both sadness and gratitude.

Farewell, Mac aka Peter McGruther Bell.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Does one actually ‘need’ a cell phone? Probably not – we (society) managed without them until very recently, and I didn’t have one until 1999. However, working on the assumption that in this day and age a cell phone is, if not essential, certainly very useful, then I will say I ‘need’ a new one.

My current cell phone isn’t broken entirely, but while I admit that I use it mainly for texting, I would like to be able to use it as an actual telephone. Which I can do if I am in my car, or if I put it on loudspeaker so all around can hear what the person on the other end is saying, although s/he may not realise that. The speakers have given up the ghost you see, although whether that is out of spite or because of physical damage, either way it is from dropping it too many times.  It is annoying both to me and to people calling me, to have me answer the phone with, “Hi, my speakers are broken, please call me on my land line or text me.”

It got me thinking though, about how much has changed since I was a child. As a small child I didn’t use the phone – I couldn’t reach it. As an eleven – twelve year old I spent many hours talking to my friend Jan on the phone, but there was no privacy, nor comfort: I stood next to the phone, or sat on the wooden floor by it. The phone was in a large square-ish entrance way, with doors opening to outside, the bathroom, a bedroom, and into the large sunroom / enclosed verandah which acted as a hallway to the rest of the house.

Our phone looked very like this one.

The phone hung high on the wall, at adult level. It had no dial, just a receiver, a handle and bells. We were on a party line, which meant there were four phones in four household that all used the same line to connect to the exchange. We each had our own number: the Lloyds were 14S, the Churches were 14D, we were 14K and the Kearneys were 14 something, but nobody called them and they didn’t call us. To call someone, you used Morse code, so to call the Lloyds you used the handle to make the bells ring three short rings. The Churches, being D, were long-short-short, and we being K, were long-short-long. When you heard the phone ring, you could tell by the code if it was for you. To get the operator to put you through to someone on another line you did a single long – but if you made it too long, she would growl at you. It was like having four phones in a house these days – if you picked up a phone when someone was already using it, you could hear the conversation, as could the operator in the exchange.

One day Mum was a little bemused as Mrs Kearny rang and asked if Mum would bring something from the village for her. It was odd as the Kearnys kept to themselves and had hardly ever spoken to Mum before, but Mum wasn’t one to be rude, so agreed.  When we got there, Mrs Kearny asked us in, and chatted awkwardly for a couple of minutes, then asked me if I liked ice cream. I said that of course I did, where upon she asked if I would like one. I was confused as in those days, fridges had a small ice box only, domestic freezers had yet to be introduced. She led us to the other end of the house, through a door onto an enclosed verandah, warning us to be careful of where we stepped: looking down, we saw that the floor boards were rotted, there were holes and splintered wood, so we had to pick our way along, stepping only on the beams. At the end of the verandah stood a second hand shop freezer, and inside there were ice cream shop sized packets – four different flavours! The whole request to Mum had been contrived simply to show off the new acquisition.  Even at that age, about eight, I remember being shocked to the core, and asking Mum on the way home, “why would they spend that money on a deep freeze instead of fixing the floor?”

Mrs Kearny might not have talked to anyone much, but she knew all about everyone, because she was an avid listener to other people’s conversations. When you wanted to make a phone call, before starting to ring, you lifted the receiver and queried, “Working?” and if someone else was already using it, they would say ‘sorry,” and you would hang up again. But when we rang there would often be double pick up clicks and then Mum would say, “Sorry working,” and then start talking to the person she rang. But often you would have been talking a while before you heard a noise and realised someone was listening in.

The operator was also an avid listener, but she was pretty open about it. “You want to talk to Mrs X? Sorry, she’s in Hamilton today seeing her gynaecologist, won’t be home until about 3, I heard her telling Mrs Z.”  Obviously, we all tried to avoid personal conversations as much as possible!

However, we didn’t have much choice in how to communicate: physically face to face, phone attached to a wall (no cordless, or long cords even, back then), or mail. The mail went as it went – no fast post or couriers. Overseas mail went airmail or surface mail – as in, it went on a ship. No texting, no internet, no emails, no Skype.

When Mac and I went to England and Europe in 1975 for 18 months, we wrote letters to our parents, and an occasional letter to a friend. We rang our parents on Christmas Day, and that constituted our Christmas presents to them, so expensive it was. The calls were made from a phone box outside the local pub, because we didn’t have a phone in our flat.

I love today’s variety of ways of contacting and connecting with people. I love my friends all over the world who I have met via the internet – the unschoolers and beekeepers and homesteaders and book binders who I would never have met in ‘real’ life. I love the ease of re-connecting with old friends with whom I have lost touch. I love being able to text one of my sons with a quick comment about something I have seen or heard that they might be interested in, especially when I don’t know what they are doing and don’t want to bother them with a phone call about something trivial. I love being able to call someone when I’m lost (though the GPS unit in the car takes care of most of that now) or broken down or at A&E, or whatever.

So, yeah, I need a new phone, and it seems silly to get a simple basic $49 phone when there are smart phones available with internet and cameras and bells and whistles, but there are so many phones and so many plans and so many providers and I’m scared I won’t be able to learn how to use one. Life was so much simpler back in the day, if you broke down, you walked. If you were admitted to hospital, they called someone. Maybe. If you were lost, you stopped and asked people the way, and if you were lucky you got the right directions, if not, you asked someone else. But that was all hard work too.

A new phone. Time to buy one, and time to book one or two of the sons in to give me tutorials, I think.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


All the talk about beggars in Auckland, and the new by-law outlawing them if they "are deemed intimidating or causing a nuisance" had me thinking. Who gets to decide if any particular beggar is "intimidating or causing a nuisance" - is it the Council, a council worker, a policeman, or just any one at all who chooses to say "I feel intimidated?" or "That person is a nuisance to me?" But then I started to think more about begging in general.

Then two weeks in a row I saw a man (I say a man, because assuredly he is more than a beggar, just as I cannot be defined by a single aspect of my life) begging near where I was meeting my son for lunch.

My first gut reaction was one of revulsion for a society in which some people feel the need to beg.

My second thought was that at least he was being honest and direct - asking for money. Let's face it, there's a hell of a lot more people out there mugging people, breaking and entering, or stealing via investment scams.

Talking to people about this, it seems like most people feel that begging is somehow worse than shop lifting, handbag snatching or home invasion. What is it that gives people this gut feeling that begging is scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel?

And yes, before you ask, I did give him some money.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Reading

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green

 A deceptively simple tale told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old imaginary friend (Budo) who was brought into existence by Max now 8. Max is 'on the spectrum' and suffers from people who don't understand him, and in some cases, especially at school, people who are unkind and bullying. Max is kidnapped and it is up to Budo to rescue him, which is difficult given he can only talk to other imaginary friends, and can't affect the physical world. Superficially it could almost be a children's book, but it isn't. It is a book about friendship, choices, individuality, morality, love, grief, death, mental illness, acceptance - life, in fact. It is a really easy, delightful read yet has substance. Highly recommended.

Knight Assassin: The Second Book of Talon and Assassination in Al Qahirah by James Boschert
I didn't realise until I started reading Knight Assassin that it was the second volume of a series. Usually I find that extremely annoying, but this time I realised that I had already read the first volume a few years ago. The story lines in these books are very unsurprising and the characters not particularly well developed, but the background knowledge shows in the detailed descriptions of clothes, architecture, weapons, food, everything! They are a fascinating way of learning about the period of time of the Crusades and if you are interested in a bit of light, easy history, these books are well worth a read.

Bend, Not Break by Ping Fu with MeiMei Fox

The story of two halves: Ping Fu was born in China and lived there until she was 25. She suffered under Mao's regime - poverty, physical beatings, emotional abuse, rape - yet survived, looking after her little sister as well. After the cultural revolution ended she went to university, but wrote a paper on the way female babies were abandoned and killed by parents wanting a son but restricted to just the one child. The paper escaped the academic world and made it into the general arena - all over the world, in fact, and she was told to leave the country. She went to America, and after doing a course in English, studied computer science. The American part of the story is mostly about her rise in the computer world - she is now President and CEO of Geomagic, Inc. This a fascinating book about someone just nine years younger than me, who has had to struggle yet who has made it in the world in ways I never even imagined. I am happy in my life, and certainly didn't finish the book thinking, 'I wish that was me,' but I am filled with admiration. The one thing that really had me gobsmacked though was when I got to the end feeling that I had a good idea of what this high powered business woman was like: I continued reading for a moment before I realised I had past the end and was reading the acknowledgements.  "To my coauthor, MeiMei Fox, whom I met at Burning Man in 2010." Where did that come from? Burning Man? I realise that this book only scratches the surface; there are way more layers to her than are shown in this book!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Expressing Feelings: should we or shouldn't we?

After a small conversation on Facebook, I want to write again about depression. And about how our culture makes life so much harder than is necessary for those of us who suffer from it.

As I child growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was told off and punished for showing my feelings. If I got angry, I was not shown how to express it in an acceptable way, but rather, I was smacked and sent to my room. If I was unhappy, I wasn't smacked, but I was sent to my room until I 'cheered up' and wasn't going to spoil everyone else's day with my long face. I even remember being  happy and dancing around the house, and being told to "go be happy somewhere else, I'm not in the mood." Thanks, Mum.

So when I was depressed at age 16, it took a while before I told anyone. In fact, it was only after I spent a couple of hours waiting by the railway track for a train to throw myself under, that I finally asked for help - you know that you are a total loser when the train fails to show up.

My mother took me to our GP, who told me to pull myself together and stop upsetting my poor mother or he'd send me to Tokanui (psychiatric hospital) and make sure I got electric shock treatment. Message: don't show your feelings. No one else wants to know about them. Or in today's terms - just harden the fuck up.

So I spent the next 35 years suffering from bouts of depression. And my husband and sons suffered too. No one else really wanted to know. Especially as I had nothing to be miserable about, not like___________ (fill in the blank with just about anyone else's name.) I had several more episodes where I came very close to suicide, but I'd learned my lesson well - I had no right to these feeling, I had no right to upset others, I had no right to put myself out of my misery. I guess I'm glad - life is so good now.

Anyway, at age 50 I asked for help again, with encouragement from three friends. Counselling certainly helped a bit, but then the counsellor told me she couldn't help me any more, that I was now as well as I was ever going to be. Which was pretty depressing in itself, because I didn't feel that much better.

So I struggled along for another 10 years, better than I had been, but still fighting the Black Dog a lot of the time. Three years ago I had another major depressive episode, which for the first time included major anxiety and a panic attack. I got help - I've gone into that before, so suffice to say, I am better now than I can remember ever having been.

I believe that some people have a tendency towards depression, but that environmental factors also play a large part. For me, I have discovered that dietary factors have a big effect on my state of mind.

But most of all, the lessons I learned as a small child, and which have been reinforced by others (including my parents, my doctor, and 'friends') for decades, made it incredibly difficult for me to ask for help. How much happier would my life have been - and the lives of my husband and sons - if I had gotten help when I was sixteen? Or twenty six? Or thirty six? Or forty six?

I have tried not to teach my children that they should hide their feelings from others or themselves. I didn't want them to suffer as I have. I want them to feel able to express their feelings and ask for help if they need to. I don't want them to be told to harden the fuck up - nor to be told that they are 'gay' for expressing positive feelings. It doesn't matter that it's a friend and 'it's a joke' - every time it is another twig on the fire that burns the soul for those of us who are not comfortable with our own being.

Connecting with Sun and Earth

This morning I went to my weekly yoga class - although 'weekly' is a bit of a misnomer, because I had missed four weeks due to illness, grandchildren and laziness.

While we were doing the asanas, the teacher kept telling us to focus on imagining connecting with the earth, and with the sun above us. I found myself imagining standing on the grass facing slightly north of Mt Karioi, and wondering why I wasn't actually there!

So home I went, and after a quick lunch, got out there and connected with real earth and real sun. I weeded for three and a half hours, and planted two beautiful hellebores that I bought at Wairere Nurseries at the weekend. It's been a good day.

Note the cool gardener's bag I bought at Trade Aid last week.

July Reading

Well, July reading, but first a book from November, because I just found my review sitting there in draft form!

Louise Nicholas: My Story by Louise Nicholas and Philip Kitchin
The story of Louise Nicholas, who was raped by policemen over a number of years, as told by Louise, and by investigative reporter Phil Kitchin. It is a horrible story of the intolerable situation of women raped, and left with nowhere to go to complain, because of the determination of other police to cover it all up. It is also the story of an amazingly courageous woman, with an amazing family. It is written with alternating chapters, one by Louise presenting the personal story, and one by Phil presenting his investigation as a journalist. This works really well. Louise's writing is simple and personal which, despite the extraordinary subject matter, would become irritating if the whole book was just her writing. Phil writes like the journalist he is, which again, would get irritating if the whole book was written as a series of articles. Together it works. I found it hard to put down, and despite the horrendous, matter of fact descriptions of the rapes, is an important read. It offers much to consider about the nature of society, the foolishness of trusting people just because of their job, and about the importance of loyalty and how loyalty must have boundaries. Louise sets such a wonderful example to us all: she didn't give up on exposing the truth; she didn't give up on herself; and even after all she has been through, she doesn't give up on the police, recognising and acknowledging that there are good cops. This is one amazing woman. 

And so, on to the books I've read this last month - and we'll just have to forget about all the books I read from December to June!


The Adoption by Anne Berry
Lucilla discovers when she is 14 that she was adopted, but it is not until she is in her late forties and her adoptive mother dies that she obtains information that enables her to search for her mother. The story is told from the perspective of Lucilla, her natural mother, Bethan, and her adoptive mother, and examines mother - daughter relationships, and other family relationships. It is well written, and best of all, it does not have a sickly, happy-ever-after ending, but rather a hopeful and unexpected ending. I really enjoyed this book.

So Happy Together by Maryann McFadden
Claire Noble is a single mother and history teacher. She has also been trying to care for her aging parents. Claire is engaged to Rick Saunders, who is offering her both security and the opportunity to travel. Before their wedding, she is planning to spend a summer at Cape Cod studying with a well known photographer.
However just before she is due to leave, her estranged daughter suddenly shows up pregnant, and her father's health deteriorates. Eventually, Claire, her parents, and her daughter, all go to Cape Cod, and the book revolves around the relationships between the characters, their own personal development, and again, the examination of inter-generational relationships and contrasts. I really enjoyed this library book, to the degree that I bought a second novel of McFadden's to read on my Kindle.

 The Book Lover by Maryann McFadden
Books have been Ruth Hardaway's passion all her life, and she has owned a book shop for 30 years. Lucinda Barrett's life has fallen apart around her, and so she decides to go after her dream for one last time. She has submitted a novels to many agents and been turned down, so now she decides to self publish and to publicise it herslf also. She drives across the country trying to get book shops to take her book, and eventually meets Ruth. This book is interesting because although it seems implausible, it is, in fact, what McFadden did with her first book, which proved popular enough that a publisher approached her and took over.
The book is about relationships, both the romantic / lover / marriage sort, and friendships. It doesn't have the depth of So Happy Together but is also quite good - I would say it falls somewhere between the previous two books above, and the three below.

The following are all reasonably well written, but lack anything for the mind to feed on.  They lack depth of plot and character, and, should be saved for those days when you need something easy and non-challenging  for a day in bed with a cold or a tummy bug.
Dune Road by Jane Green
The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick
Artistic Licence by Katie Fforde


Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat by Carol Altman 
As someone who lives on a life sentence style block, I like reading about other people's experiences as they live in a similar way but in different places. This book had the added interest of being set in Tasmania, where my oldest son's partner grew up.  Carol and her partner moved from Adelaide to Neika, 18 kilometres south of Hobart. Carol is a journalist, and so although I didn't learn lots of tips for country living, it is well written and fun to read. It would be a good read for anyone considering a move to the country, as it covers the first year of their life there, with salutatory tales, many of which apply where ever you plan to settle.  An enjoyable read in front of a winter fire.

Backyard Bounty by Janet Luke
Janet, her husband and three sons moved from Auckland to Havelock North to a house on a suburban section - but it is not like the usual section! She grows her own food, and after about five years living there she made a New Year's resolution that, for four months, they should eat only what she grew, or could barter for with food she grew. This book is about that four months, and also about her food growing, particularly her animals. She has the usual family cat and dog, but also food animals: hens, quail, rabbits, dairy goats, a worm farm and bees. Having met Janet, and been impressed with her energy I was interested to read more about her, and would recommend this as a good read for anyone wanting to become more self-sufficient in food. I like that at the end of each chapter there is a link to YouTube clips - and if you are lucky enough to have a new phone or tablet with the right apps, you don't even have to type the link in, you can just show the little square thingie, which I am sure has a name of its own, to you phone / tablet and watch away.
The one thing I didn't like was that she self-published, and there are typos, grammatical errors, misplaced apostrophes, and a stylistic awkwardness, all of which would have been easily corrected by a good editor. It isn't too horrific in this aspect, but it annoyed me because to some extent it spoiled an otherwise interesting book.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

This is Not a Garden Shed

We have a double garage but no garden shed. In the garage the Important Stuff is kept

This is Important Stuff, even though it could be mistaken for a garden shed.

 I am allowed one small corner to keep garden stuff in. It is a corner, not a garden shed.

The rest of my garden stuff is kept here. This is not a garden shed.

Then the wind blows.

This is not a garden shed.

This could be a garden shed. It just needs taking out of its packaging and erecting somewhere outside the garage.

When we bought our land, someone told Mac, "make sure you build the garage before the house, or you'll never get one."  Pity they didn't tell me, "make sure you build the garden shed before the garage, or you'll never get one."  Sigh.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall

What do you see when you look in the mirror? For as long as I can remember, I have seen nothing but flaws. Most of the time I would deliberately avoid looking in mirrors or shop windows. The house we live in has a long passageway and is dark at the bedroom end, so we hung a long mirror at the end to reflect light: for thirteen years I always looked at the floor when I walked to my room.

It wasn't simply that I didn't like what I saw - too skinny (a long, long time ago) / too fat / too grey / too wrinkly / too big a nose / too big a mouth / breasts too small (again, a long, long time ago) / breasts too big / hands too stubby / finger joints deformed / papery old woman hands / etc etc etc - it wasn't just that I saw all my faults and didn't like them. It was that the sight of myself made me sick, as in nauseous, close to vomiting. There have been times when I have taken that hallway mirror down and stood it face to the wall.

This feeling has been there to some degree since I was five and a half, changed schools, and became known as 'Peastick' for the next ten years. It is tied to the depression I have suffered from most of my life. Like the depression, the self-hate has always been there, sometimes to a lesser degree (that's the time I can go shopping for clothes), sometimes, as I said, to the point of turning the mirror to the wall.

Last year I heard that my GP was leaving to go to a different practice, and I was told that under his contract he was not permitted to tell any of his patients where he was going. My depression was more under control than it had been for decades, but the news sent me straight into a panic attack. In the panic-stricken days that followed I decided that I couldn't cope with finding a new GP - I have had a number of bad experiences with doctors. Consequently, my crazy mind concluded that I would just have to get healthy so that I would never need to visit a GP again. Like that's ever worked for anyone!

Still, off I went to see a doctor who diagnosed leaky gut. He has told me to stop eating gluten, to eat more protein (I've been vegetarian for 40 years) and has given me a bunch of supplements for detox purposes, to heal, and to recolonise my guts with the right micro-organisms. This doctor had recently left his general practice to specialise in this sort of work in private practice.

Without going into detail, I will say that my digestive system is significantly better, my joint pain has reduced to a very occasional twinge, and I have lost a few kilos.

But more important is the change in my mental health. The doctor says that leaky gut is invariably accompanied by 'leaky brain', and that many people find relief from depression when their leaky gut problems are addressed.

To start with I thought that I was feeling better simply because I had been given hope. But it's midwinter and I catch myself singing while I work. I am making books and doing other craft work again. I didn't have even the slightest meltdown when my computer broke down (those close to me know how big that one is!) I suddenly noticed the other day that I no longer count items of clothing and pegs when I hang out the washing. I no longer count my steps when I am walking alone in the street. In fact the only times I'm counting is when I'm doing things like knitting - k23, m1, k1, m1, k23........ There is no hint of even a tiny black sink hole in the back of my head where the depression has retreated but lingered in good times over the past decades.

And when I look in the mirror, even though I still see the white streaks in my hair, the wrinkles, lumps, bumps and surplus fat, I no longer feel nauseous. I just see a smile on the face of a contented, ordinary woman.

Life is good.

PS I found my old GP and have re-registered with him - he had taken over the general practice of the doctor who is guiding me through these changes!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Life on the Land in June

It's nearly the shortest day, and I know that the worst of winter comes in July, but still, days like today are miraculous. It's great to be reminded of how lucky I am to live in such a lovely place.

 When my friend Susan and her family moved back to the States way back at the beginning of the century, she dug up her wedding anniversary rose and brought it to live with us. It hasn't grown well in our winds, but determinedly keeps on growing - and today I found one bloom, near the base of the plant.
 These bulbs came from my friend Margaret,and what a sweet reminder that spring will come round in its time.
 I first got pineapple sage from my mother, and have had it every since. She died nearly 25 years ago, so I guess I've had this lovely winter flowering herb for about 35 years. Can you see the bee? They can't get down into the flowers, so they nip a hole in the base, and steal the nectar.
 Gorse. A weed. Yet it has a delicate and delicious fragrance - and it is buzzing with bees at this time of the year - a staple of their winter diet.
 The other winter staple is tagasaste.
 You can see some of the bees with the pollen they have gathered in pollen sacks on their legs.

And the bumblebees make sure they get more than their fair share.

The one last ancient chook left. She's blind in one eye, and the other eye isn't so great either, but she can still find her way to the water bowl and the Grandpa's Feeder, and although she quite often falls asleep standing up, she still enjoys a bit of sun and a dust bath. She's served her time as a great layer, so I don't begrudge the old lady her retirement.

 It's pretty hard to tell the difference between the new chooks (hatched at the end of January) and the older girls. Of the six who have almost made it to adulthood, I still don't know how many are roosters - I think half, but still can't be sure.

 These are two of the young ones.
 The nashi leaves are still lying on the grass, and there's even a few clinging to the tree.
 Will our sugar cane make it through the winter? I've been out covering it with frost cloth, and we have planted lots of tagasaste around (see the electric fence standards used as markers.)
 The little grapefruit tree is promising a good batch of marmalade, as long as the pesky possums don't get to them - hence the trap.
 The lemons have suddenly started ripening up - we have gone from almost enough to too many in just a week.
 And way, way too many limes.
 The garlic, three types, is planted.
 Can't wait for spring peas - I've never grown them at this time of the year before, but they are looking good.
Assorted greens, which may or may not come to anything.
The broad beans are growing well and some have started to flower already - that garden will be alive with bumblebees shortly.
 We have chard,
 and carrots,
 and leeks,
 and parsley,
 and excessive amounts of New Zealand spinach,
 and rhubarb
 and Cape Gooseberries
 and Chilean guava. ( As well as the harvested onions, pumpkins and potatoes.)
 I have relocated some of the strawberry plants (and re-homed about a hundred and fifty so far.)
 But it's a glorious day, perfect for sitting in the sun.
 Morning tea: lemon and honey drink, gatherings from the garden, and a handful of almonds (not home-grown, but home soaked and dried.)

Life is good.