Training to be a Gold Star…The Financial Ramifications

We had excitedly arrived up the night before as planned, and our car was valet parked. We were told however that our hotel was down the road and to be back in the morning ready for a 9am start. Who needs a taxi, we laughed, and decided to walk. Hadn’t we walked all over Europe! We headed off to find it was at least half an hour up and down steep hills. I had worn stupid shoes thinking we were staying at the hotel we were parked at, and was really cold, tired and hungry when we arrived at the hotel. A little surprised we were shown our room, more aptly called a ‘cupboard’, and looked at each other in disbelief. We had to climb from the end to get into bed. It was sooo hot like we’d stepped into an oven, and the shower was over the toilet like a camper van.

I called reception. “We’d like to pay extra to get a better room.” “That’s all there is.” a bored voice told me on the other end. I phoned again. “I can’t get the aircon to go. The switch doesn’t do anything”. “There is no aircon”, he said. “I can’t breathe!” I exclaimed, like a spoiled child. He told me to open the door. “I can’t sleep with the door open!” I replied incredulously. He was getting annoyed, and so was I. I phoned again. “Do you have any fans?” I asked politely. He said he would get one brought up to me and while I stood in the one square metre of floor space waiting with the door open, he arrived, plugged it in and we looked at each other… as the whirring began.

We stood for a few seconds with the fan whirring loudly. “We’re not staying here and we want our money back.” I said, as Gilbert flushed the toilet and came out. “Fine” he said, and we left.

We tried every city hotel and everything was booked, so we walked up hill and down dale, back to our car and headed south. We found a room in a motel in Penrose and said we wanted to see the room first. A key was passed out a tiny window, but it looked like a drug deal was going down with the local gang. We handed the key back without looking and left as the police arrived. Exhausted, we drove home and climbed into bed at midnight after a poached egg. We decided we would leave pretty early and have a fabulous breakfast at the hotel where the conference was.

It turned out a half million people were also making their way into the city at the same time as us, and we spent most of the next two and a half hours stopped at various stages on the motorway, while I wished I had bought my knitting. Arriving and car parked again we were too late for breakfast, so headed to the conference room where everyone had done the introductions and started the ‘lauded’ sales training.

I looked at the sample questions as others read them aloud. I must have looked a little perplexed as the facilitator headed towards me. “What’s the matter Tricia? he asked gently. You look a little confused”. “I guess, I offered, it’s not language I would normally use”. “Oh?”, his eyes opened wider and he tilted his head slightly forward encouraging me to continue. “Well, I don’t think I’ve ever used those words before in my life”. “What words?” he asked, looking at the sample board. “Well to ask someone what are the ‘financial ramifications’, I said, stumbling over the words as I read them aloud. ‘What are the financial ramifications for you as a family?’ I don’t think I’d feel comfortable saying that and I guess I could find my own words, but it’s a bit heavy to ask a customer that, isn’t it?”

“No, no it’s not heavy, he stated, looking back at me, I’m wondering Tricia if you are seeking approval? Do you like to be ‘liked’ and not want to rock the boat Tricia?” I felt very uncomfortable right then as everyone’s eyes centred on me and waited for an answer. He leaned forward towards me and tilted his head in. Lifting his voice even more. “You have to ask yourself what level of commitment you have to become good at your job”, he continued, raising his voice as the rest of the trainees looked on. He came in closer with his voice rising and I began to lean back as he looked like he might climb over the table.

His pasty skin and floppy hair coming over his forehead, his eyes boring into me as he came so close I could almost touch him. I felt like I might begin to cry as I tried to hold my ground and in a shaking voice, said like a seven year old, “I suppose I do like to be liked…. I don’t know!” Helen sensing my distress came in with a reassuring voice. “We don’t want to change you Tricia, we want to help you sell, using our tried and true method.” While my attention was diverted to her, the slimy being slithered back to his central spot and asked if anyone else wanted to contribute to the sample questions. No one did.

At the end he asked us all what level of commitment we were going to give to the selling techniques we had learned. One Hundred and TEN percent!  some answered enthusiastically. When it got to Gilbert he said, “About 80”. Everyone was silent. The trainer looked at Gilbert with steady eyes. I’m not sure he could believe someone would say that. “Eighty per cent! EIGHTY PER CENT!” he repeated louder. “Is that going to cut it Gilbert? I don’t think eighty per cent is going to be good enough. What does everyone say? Is eighty percent good enough?” People looked uncomfortably at each other. “Gilbert, can you give a little more perhaps?” Gilbert looked him straight in the eye.”No, he said self assuredly. We have a lot going on in our business and I will aim to give eighty per cent to this”. “OK”, he answered, nodding. Perhaps seeing he had met a brick wall. “…And what about you Tricia? What are you going to give?” “Hundred percent” I answered, quickly averting my eyes. The day had not made me stronger, more clever, or even more skilled at selling. 

Hundred percent was the correct answer. I do seek approval, and did want to be liked, sooooo. It was a no brainer. I just wanted to get out of there.  That was Day One of our training seminar.We laughed as we headed home but I shuddered thinking of having to go back the next day. We told each other what a dick he was and then all night I had vomiting and diarrhea. We got up at five am, we had planned to beat the traffic but I looked miserably at Gilbert and said “I can’t possibly go”, as I crawled back into bed.

The next promotion I had record sales (for me). They patted themselves and each other on the back and congratulated me for taking all the training on board. “But I’m not really doing anything different”, I offered. ”Oh you must be”, they nodded. “You have made such great strides”. They were full of smiles and continued to ask ‘which things I had done in particular’. “Well I didn’t really use any of the techniques”, I quietly protested. “Yes you must have, they said. You have probably picked up things and are unknowingly using them. You’re doing so well. I’m so proud of you. You’re going to make all your targets!”

Could it be true. Did I turn into one of them? I felt such a fraud. I was selling more but didn’t quite know how. “You have gained confidence”, Helen assured me.

Now we had to have weekly zoom training. Dammit. We were to be ready by our computers at 9am. I had no idea how to start zoom, so had to wait for a young staff member to come in. Up and down the country we all sat in our offices waiting for Katherine with a K and Catherine with a C. Sara with a cold and William who knew A LOT about selling. Pete who didn’t sit still but carried his phone around as he ventured outside to smoke at times. Sandra ate all the way through each session. Chips were the worst. It was disgusting, and Claire who held her phone down low so we got to see up her nostrils for the most part. People answered phone calls and fiddled with their laptops or talked to others as we tried to concentrate over the chatter. We felt like the only diligent learners. We did all our homework on time and waited quietly while the others mucked around. I lamented to Gilbert as we drove home one night. “OMG it’s terrible. They are all like surly teenagers that don’t want to be there. She asks them to read aloud from the text book just so we can get some focus, only to have them refuse or make excuses about not feeling well”.

One week we discussed Goal Setting. Ooooh, I love goal setting. Finally something I’m good at! I sat forward in my seat and hoped she would pick me. But she didn’t. She went round each of them asking what goals they had set personally and for work, explaining that personal goals can drive work goals. I listened intently. I had no work goals whatsoever. OK, I can set some work goals I thought. I sat back a little. Anne shared how she has never set goals… past thinking she’d like to ‘do something‘ and decided she had done that subconsciously so she could never fail. No one would know. “Good on you for evaluating and being honest! You are making such good progress”. Helen gushed.

William told us he had set goals to buy a new car last year and now he has to keep to his targets or he can’t make the HP payments. “Well done!”, everyone enthused. Apparently it helps to have goals that are large, and the secret, I discover, is they must involve money, or they are not really relevant to your sales aims. I thought quietly about my goals. To get my garlic in before the end of June. To finish sorting our family photos. To tidy out cupboards and boxes of half finished projects…Hmmm these are not going to cut the mustard I realise. None of my goals are money related at all. I don’t particularly want a holiday in Rarotonga, I just want to have some days at home. I don’t want a new car. My old one still goes. I sit back even further and thank God Helen doesn’t ask me.

The next promotion I don’t do so well, but we are all told it’s a difficult market as I offer our sales results, eager to hear theirs and see how we compare, but everyone mumbles about it being average and no one gives any numbers. I feel cheated.

The next week we talked about prospecting and cold calling. This was their jam.  I listened as they bragged about how many cold calls they made each day. “What about you, Helen asks me smiling, what’s your challenge Tricia?”  “Well, I don’t understand ‘cold calling’. Do you mean you call people from the phone book?” “No, Helen assures me as everyone smiles at my naivety. It’s not that at all. You can access people’s numbers in lots of different ways”. Her suggestions weren’t unethical, but I squirmed just the same. Only one was possible to me. I stopped short of making a commitment.

The next week my computer dies just as we start and I secretly hope we will miss this session, but Anne gets hers up and running in a jiffy. We’re back on. We discuss positivity and its importance in being a successful sales person. We went around the group, but no one had much to offer. “What about you Tricia? You have had a bit more life experience than the rest of us”. I was old enough to be a Mother, or Grandmother to most of them. “Can you give us some examples perhaps?”

“Well, I offer. We have a person on our team who tends to be very negative and we start our weekly meetings with a reminder to everyone that we need to be ‘solution focused’. That way the negativity drops away as we are looking for solutions as a team.” “Oh that’s a wonderful term. ‘Solution focused’. Helen writes it down. “Now we’ll look at problems you might be having and see if we can be ‘solution focused’ like Tricia says”, and we spend the rest of the time looking at everyone’s problems.

I miss two weeks for one reason or another and we are back into it. This week we are going to talk about our ‘Need for approval’. Our phone rings in the office and I dive for it at the same time as Anne reaches for it. She puts her hand out, gesturing she should take it to free me up for the session, but I’m out of that room before she can blink. I finish the call and slip back into the room. “Ahh you’re back Tricia. Now you have a very high need for approval so maybe you could read us the next passage.” I read it out loud. They are like affirmations I can say aloud each morning. ‘I’m not trying to make friends’. ‘I have enough friends of my own’. ‘I am being a trusted advisor’.

Yes, Helen nods. So can you think of any situations where you have seen your ‘need for approval’ affect your sale? I shake my head miserably and wonder how I can get out of this.

The next session covers ‘self limiting beliefs’ and it appears I have a heap of these. I learn about ‘spontaneous’ buying, where you might see a beautiful new TV and just think Oh I’d love one of those, and just buy it! I shake my head. I would never do that. “Oh, Helen asks, how do you buy then? “Well, if we NEED something, I’d look at all the options, sizes, colours, reputable brands and customer feedback. Probably takes me three months”. I know this is not what she wants to hear. Hmmm, she suggests I practice spontaneous buying. She gives me homework. I’m to buy something spontaneously. She suggests even looking at something big like a boat! Her smile is wide and she’s excited at the prospect and how exhilarated I will feel. I’m horrified. A boat! I hate boats! I think hard about how I’m to do this. The day before our next session I go to Liquor land and spontaneously buy a medium priced Port. It’s delicious. I sip my small glass full and spontaneously think I’ll have a second one…

A year later…We are sent a note that we have a compulsory monthly sales training with the great man himself. I don’t recognise his name but I understand ‘compulsory’. I take a deep breath and log into the ZOOM meeting and am welcomed. A few new faces and the same chewing Sandra, the same boasting William, the same nostrils. This was to be an hour and a half. Then I heard his voice. It sent a chill up my spine. He asked if the ones who were off screen could please come back on. “It’s so much harder to run a session if you can’t see people.” We started and I offered some lame thing as my introduction. I started to feel physically sick as I realised it was the same guy that ran the session all that time ago.

I could hardly concentrate or think as the session moved on. I knew he was going to ask me something. He was going to ask me something soon and what would I say? I looked at my phone sitting in my lap on silent and willed it to ring. It didn’t. I pushed the mute button on my laptop. Now they couldn’t hear me. I took some deep breaths. What the hell should I do? I didn’t want him to ask me anything but it would happen, of course it would happen. I saw a button for the camera and pushed it. Now I was off camera. I felt shaky and almost tearful. They couldn’t see me or hear me, but I could hear them. I could hear him. I pushed the button to close the zoom. I was out. I closed everything, and then I closed the laptop lid. Anne walked in. “Are you alright?” she asked. “Yep, I said. I’ve been naughty”. She looked at me, probably wondering if she wanted to hear or not. I told her what I did. “Good! she said, he’s a wanker”.

We laughed. Later I told Ren how strong those feelings were. How I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t even hear his voice. I felt physically sick and I was taken straight back to that day a couple of years ago where he had a go at me. “Mum, she said gently. That’s a Post Traumatic Stress Response. Your body is telling you to get outt’ve there”.

So I sat right down and wrote a letter and told them about PTSD….how it’s not OK to treat people like that and how I would not be attending any more sessions. How while I think we can push past our natural instincts or fears, I also believe in listening to your body, and mine was definitely telling me it’s not my thing. I am fantastic at a lot of things, but I will never be a gold star sales person…nor do I want to be.

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Easter Treasures

Easter is often a time we gather as a family. I love how once the little ones are in bed we can relax with a glass or two of a soft red, made better with a nutty dark chocolate and the evenings stretching as we slip into autumn. As I write this I’m remembering Easter gatherings gone by…

Many years ago Gilbert and I planned a car rally for the kids and mates at Easter when they were all teenagers. They were told to bring togs, warm clothes and gumboots, and were put into two groups, so each group had a driver and a car.  We had set it up at the various places the day before and I think we possibly had more fun doing that! One clue had money in an envelope which took them to the bakery where they had to buy a pie to get their next clue from Sai, a lovely Cambodian man who was happy to play the game.  One clue took them to a letterbox where Gilbert checked for lots of cobwebs to be sure it wasn’t used, another a hike up a hill to a lookout in Bombay, demerit points for speed…and on it went, until they reached the end at Miranda hot mineral pools, and I must say I was a bit anxious about how they would all fare as we relaxed there quietly waiting by ourselves. I’ll never forget the excitement as they rushed in laughing and we had a wonderful BBQ as they retold their stories of finding the clues.

One year more recently the grandchildren came down on the Friday and with many of them with one food intolerance or another, we had a ‘treasure hunt’, rather than a chocolate egg hunt. “What kind of treasure?” Amy asked. Damen looked at her and said “Mum’s treasure”. Haha! Yep. I pulled out the stash I had and as there are so many little ones I made the clues lead them to pieces of ribbon. The one who found the ribbon kept hold of it, but you could only have one ribbon. Once you had your ribbon your job was to help the others find one, until everyone had one. They were paired, so a younger one had a buddy to help. Some of these clues have been recycled from when their parents were little….of course I still had them!


Here’s the first clue:   ‘The first place to look today is by the hens, amongst the hay’. I had barely shown them the ribbon they were looking for before they dashed like lunatics to the hen house and were back with Kahu waving her strip.

Second clue: ‘When the rain comes down, it fills up… so when you’re thirsty, you can fill your cup’. Wheri was gone like the wind, unfortunately to the wrong water tank and the rest followed Milan in the other direction, who had no idea what the clue mean’t until Wheri returned empty handed and realised it must be the top tank. Definite advantage living here…

Third clue:We use it every day but never for play. Don’t be outfoxed, your ribbon’s in a box’. This took some time and they kind of wandered around a bit perplexed. I ended up doing some nodding in a certain direction to get the ball rolling and Tui caught on very fast, while the others looked at me kind of strangely, flicking my head.  It was the driveway.

Fourth clue:If a fence had a gap, what would you do? Cover it up, now there’s your clue’. Wheri tried to get everyone to discuss their thoughts and work as a team, but Milan started running straight for the front gate with most of them in hot pursuit. No ribbon there, so they just wandered around a bit until Monie and Ren tried to push each other out of the way to get to the next gate. The kids ran screaming after them, though seemed to have no idea where they were going or why. It was pretty hilarious and it was finally found at the bottom garden gate.

Fifth clue:This ones hiding around a table. Lift it carefully, if you’re able’. Kahu spotted it first and gave Tai a helping hand as he was ready to dissolve into tears having not found anything yet. Whew, disaster averted.

Sixth clue:The colour is black, its easy to see. A little something high in a tree’. Lagi had spotted this dangling black belt earlier and had it before you could blink. Though there was some controversy as to who should have this one, I gave it to Lagi.

Seventh clue: ‘Up and down, we use them every day. You’ll have to jump if we take them away.’ Now this was the steps and seemed way harder than it needed to be. The kids just stood there, mouths slack. No idea. Ren and Monie just kept repeating. “Hmmm, up and down every day. Hmmm, what do we go up and down?” Pretty much had to tell them or we would still be there now. No idea!

Eighth clue:You’re going to have jump for this one, The colour is red, we’re nearly done’ So Milan is the only one who doesn’t have a ribbon now, and the rest are scrambling around trying to find it and there it is a red ribbon in a tree. Milan grasps it happily. “I have one more”, I announce. It was for Kaea the littlest one. 

Ninth Clue:By the pond is a rock. Tucked under one, is a sock’. Kahu dived and grabbed it out immediately for Kaea.

Now I offered them to come into my sewing room to choose from the spread of ‘treasure’ on my desk. There were necklaces, bracelets, broaches and ties.  Tui ummed and ahhed over the selection and finally chose a tiny teddy. I thought at one point she might say, “No thanks, it all looks like rubbish”, but she seemed to love the Teddy. Tai couldn’t decide between the two prettiest necklaces on offer, and then took a kiwi badge, which he later swapped. Milan grabbed three old ties and was the envy of the others who hadn’t seen them rolled up in the corner. Everyone seemed happy in the end.

Treasure hunts are something Mum did fairly regularly at our place when we were children, and again when the grandchildren gathered.Treasure usually consisted of old costume jewelry and a few lollies to share. It never all went to one person. With my adult eyes her ‘clues’ and ‘prizes’ were pretty average, but I remember everyone very excited and we loved it just the same.

This Easter we celebrated Mum’s birthday as we have around this time every year for more than twenty years, bar 2020 with the Covid interlude. We’ve usually wined, dined and danced the night away with Mum. After she passed away in November 2013, and since then we carried it on in her memory. Traditionally they were just Mum with her daughters and daughters-in-law but Mum would sometimes invite an old friend of hers to share an evening full of laughs.

We decided to invite the next generation of girls to this one and all but a couple were able to be there, which was really special. Lindy rang and said she wanted to come now (11am!) “Jeepers, I said, don’t come yet or you’ll be given a cleaning job!” Sara texted a little before time. “Is it OK if I come a little early?” We were all pretty excited. Everyone chatted and nibbled on the finger food to start with.

Mal’s disco lights helped the party atmosphere.

It was a lovely catch up with the younger ones especially and a great way to remember Mum and her general awesomeness.

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Time to say ‘Goodbye’

It seems to me strange that death is not talked about more openly and almost not accepted as a natural occurrence. Even when someone elderly dies, it is spoken of as ‘too soon’. Most of us fear death, even when wished for, and even when it’s time.

I’ve mostly viewed death as a natural cycle of life. Like plants in the garden which are sometimes long lived, but sometimes age or disease takes them sooner than we want, and so it is with our pets, and more sadly…. those we know and love. I believe losing pets especially, but also plants as we garden growing up, gives us a better understanding and acceptance when we lose a loved one, and we do our children no favours to shield them from these life experiences.

It is a rare privilege to be sharing either births or deaths with families, and recently I was able to support my sister, brother in law and their two beautiful daughters as they moved through some heart wrenching times as his body, ravaged with cancer, succumbed. With Hospice support he was able to remain to home which I believe helps hugely as family surround and care for each other. By the end he was ready, and while the three most important women in his life held a hand, moistened his lips, or simply spoke quietly to him, they dreaded the moment they knew was inevitable.

When it did come, it was such a beautiful and gentle passing, as his breathing eased, his chest stilled, and in the silence, we realised he was gone. The realisation was hard, but also a tinge of relief that his pain had ended. Everything had been done to make it better, but it just wasn’t to be. At around 70 years old, when he should have been entering his golden years, he was leaving.

Within death there can be so many positives and this is where my focus was, being there for the three left behind, as they were there for him to ease his pain and make his passing as gentle as possible. I felt my role was to help them be the rock for their Dad, as he had been for them over their years together.

I wanted to share this with you because even though death is a common occurrence, we mostly face it with trepidation as something unnatural and unknown. It will happen to us all, either as the death of a loved one or facing our own, and while often you are ushered through a kind of three step dance, where your loved one is sick, dies, and then you get on with your life without them.

Every day brings unknowns. Every day there are decisions to be made. Some, a massive upheaval to our lives. So much change as we struggle to keep something normal. We deal with these in different ways, depending on our own make up and personalities, or the choices available to us at the time. I felt privileged to be a positive part of one of the biggest upheavals, and one of the most important memories they will have. The passing of a partner and a parent.

Karen believes in the after life, so she didn’t express her loss in a negative way. Instead she self assuredly shared some beautiful thoughts over the days… that were comforting. She found joy and laughter in every day and in every action. Not meaning she didn’t also feel loss or sadness, but she embraced death as a part of life and I loved listening to her reasoning and thoughts. She shared with us all, including her Dad in his final days, that Nana (who had passed five years earlier) dropped rose petals in the garden where she walked so Karen would know she was with her. “What will you do Dad?”, she asked. “What? he asked, you want me to throw roses around?” “No, Karen laughed, then I wouldn’t know if it was you or Nana!” They decided together he should instead toss leaves. This was fitting given he loved the bush. This would be a sign to the girls he was near they decided. 

After his passing in the evening, we sat in the lounge with his body overnight. He was to be collected in the morning. Karen explained to us the freedom her Dad would now have. Free from the every day constrictions of a body and an earthly life. He was free to sit with the birds and enjoy the warm breeze from anywhere he chose. Not only here, but anywhere on the planet. He was free to roam and enjoy. He loved the bush and the natural world. It was refreshing and delightful to consider. Tracey told us, now that Dad had passed, she could share how he had given her his eftpos card to draw some money out a few days ago, and how she couldn’t find the card once at the bank. Her absolute horror at having to go back to tell him she had lost his card was such that she simply withdrew it from her own account. Once home she confided in Karen, who told her not to worry, the angels will find it for her. Tracey said she just looked at Karen and thought ‘OK. We’ll leave it at that then’. We were all laughing at this as she continued… “a couple of days later I was walking inside, when close to the front door I spied the eftpos card on the ground. In clear view!” She could hardly believe her eyes. Dozens of people had been and gone. We’d had some mighty rain, yet here was the card inexplicably just lying there, like it had just been dropped! She picked it up and running inside told Karen who smiled, and said “I told you the angels would return it!”

Over the days as they planned the funeral, at every turn it was, ‘Would Dad want that?’ We discussed embalming, a natural casket, burials, cremations, and all the things that go with funerals, as they worriedly wondered, ‘What would Dad have wanted?’  A Rimu casket was chosen to show his love for native timber as a craftsman and a bushman. They decided to play bush and bird sounds,” rather than music for his arrival and exit. Such a beautiful idea!

At the funeral directors the next day, Maree and I waited for his body to be returned after embalming, when the girls came in wide eyed saying “Dads here! Dad’s here now!” “No, I said gently, but he won’t be long. They expect him back soon”. “No, he’s here, Karen insisted, he dropped a tree!” I looked at her confused, as Tracey behind her smiled and nodded. We went outside as they explained they had arrived into the car park, and as they got out, they turned to a large ‘cracking’ noise, as a huge tree from the boundary crashed to the ground with a ‘whoosh’ of leaves. I turned to look at the line of trees and bent to pick up the branchlets that were strewn on the ground, and I said to the girls…”You’re not going to believe this but I think that’s a Rimu, and I think he’s very happy with your choice of casket!”

This was the sign the girls had been looking for, and boy what a sign!  We looked at each other in disbelief, and then laughed freely, as if we had had a great release. The last few days had been filled with so much tension. Was he comfortable, did he need something… and then the immense and overwhelming sadness at the finality after he was gone, followed by so many decisions.

They had him back home for one more night as the girls gently talked to him and shared some funny and sad stories with me. It was a really lovely quiet time. It was late when I went home to bed, with the promise I’d be back in the morning before the lid was lowered. Before the funeral directors came, Karen added some special things she had gathered to help him make his way into the next life. A truly beautiful way to say goodbye. I was intrigued as Karen explained…

“An acorn seed, for new beginnings. A piece of jasper rock I found, this is Earth’s Mother’s supreme healer. A baby paua shell carrying all the colours of the rainbow. A piece of greenstone that was mine giving energy from my heart, in exchange for the one you have given me Dad. Some turquoise for protection on your journey to come, and my earring… hopefully I will always hear from you.

Such beautiful, beautiful gifts for her Dad’s final journey and I love this concept.

She continued…A hawk feather to help you fly high with the Divine. (The hawk is the messenger of the spirit word to the earth walks, she explained to me). An oak branch, for the knowledge you have passed on. A kauri branch, for the wisdom you had Dad, being the King of the bush, just as the kauri is. Three clear quartz I found on the road, amplifying the power of our energy chi. Bone beads to hold us together, and a cornelian bead – may there be fire!  A piece of smoothly sanded timber, for your skills and a rimu branchlet, for your message to us, and finally a skeleton of a leaf, to represent life’s endings.” I so love this concept of gifts for the next world and chosen so thoughtfully. It was a tender moment as she placed them with him.

Karen’s eulogy talked about her Dad ‘Making her life more’. More, as he was the one who slipped money under a pillow as the tooth fairy. More, by teaching her how to shoot. She described the feel of the gun held firm at her shoulder as she stood strong. Her Dad behind her, guiding her and ready to support her at the recoil of the gun. More, as he explained about bush and birds that naturally grew her love and understanding of the same things. More… in sooo many ways.

Tracey spoke of his hands. Hands that cradled her as a newborn, waved goodbye when she started school, hands that were strong and callused after working with timber. Hands that smoothed the rough things in life….. him making, crafting so many things in his lifetime, and that he passed on some of that knowledge to her. Tracey explained to me later, “As I didn’t have time to make something to put in his casket ( like Dad, I’m a perfectionist, so needed more than a day or two…) so I decided I will find some nice wood that Dad had kept and I will make him a box for his ashes. Then, we will put him in the front passenger seat of his MG I am finishing, and take his ashes to scatter at his favourite campsite in the Kaimanawas.” Derek was a perfectionist sometimes driving you to distraction as he fussed over things being done a certain way.

As she spoke my mind drifted back a few days earlier to the day he said ‘goodbye’ to me and thanked me for being there for his girls. The last time I saw him conscious. He reached up and took my hand. I had known him for most of my life, and yet had probably never held his hand. Instead of the working man’s hand I expected, after chemo and not being able to work for a time, it was soft and tender like a newborn’s.

Derek was a collector, so he had treasured items from his forebears, who had traveled in difficult and lean times to make a new life in New Zealand, carefully saved and passed on, so it might be treasured by the next family. I had always been interested in ‘old stuff’ and how things had been used, and Derek and I often shared stories, like a ‘show n tell’. I had found some glass stoppers and taken the extras to see if any fitted his bottle collection. He explained then why some bottles had the tops or stoppers they had. At a recent visit he showed me a beautiful box with a secret compartment that he was restoring and a tiny crocheted purse that had been among his Mother’s things. Sitting in the palm of my hand, not much bigger than a matchbox, my big clumsy fingers wondered how you would use such a beautiful and delicate thing.

From a bygone era, sitting in the palm of my hand, not much bigger than a matchbox, my clumsy fingers wondered how you would make or use such a beautiful and delicate thing

He had many antiques from several generations, each with a story he loved to share. He was also from the ‘just in case’ generation, so things were held onto ready for a project or a possibility. Stacks of things inside and outside. And so now, as the weeks and months pass, and sometimes with the help of family and friends, ‘his girls’ are tidying sheds, drawers and cupboards, and finding things that he had squirreled away. Sometimes they feel they’ve never seen some of these before, or they remember the connection and retell the story ….and so their new journey begins. While he is not there in person, we can hear his voice as they wonder what to do. What was he keeping this for? Projects that he had planned are now happening in new places. I have taken home plastic barrels that are now set up fermenting fertiliser from comfrey and fish guts, a rubbish bin converted into a strawberry container has now been planted up. I think he would approve!

So many things he would have done automatically, that now must be decided. When would he have ordered wood for the fire so it’s dry for next winter? What did he have those plastic drums for? Why did he keep all that sand?

As we approach the first anniversary the three women will find their feet as they support one another on their new paths. There are a year of firsts and anniversaries to get through. There will be many tears, some anger even, but also much laughter, and this is part of the healing process after the raw wounds of loss. They will find strengths in each other. It will indeed sometimes be difficult. There will be new challenges and some burdens to share, but Dad will always be in their hearts and minds…as he is in many others.

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Mum slipped into my dreams…

Mum came to me in my sleep last night. She slipped into my dreams.
It was kind’ve timely as today is the Anniversary of her passing. Just writing that makes my eyes prick with tears. The memory of that day floods back and the huge gap she left. If it’s possible, it also fills my heart with joy, that she was able to go on her terms and that we had such a wonderful long time with her.

Yesterday I spoke to a group at A Social Impact Summit 2020, about food security and gardening, among other things. I focused on ‘making do’, motivating, educating, and encouraging acceptance of success and failure… all things which increase our resilience, independence and self sufficiency. All things I learnt at Mum’s side. She lived that daily, and because I have set up a new facebook page called ‘The Patchwork gardens’ to share this, I started my talk by sharing Mum’s patchwork quilt… and a minute or two of tears.

That quilt represents so much to me. The huge effort it would have been as she did this in her later years. The fabric was remnants of not just my youth, but hers also as she had used all the stored pieces that had been squirreled away for years, and that out of her seven children, she chose me to gift it to, as sewing had been a skill we had shared.

I’m ashamed to say I had looked at it after she passed and considered it inferior. She had used a mish mash of fabric of all different textures, so a woolen square sat uncomfortably beside a rectangle petticoat, which was puckered by a strip of stretch knit, which struggled to stay flat rubbing up against a piece of cotton. She had used some fabric so thread bare it tore on its first wash. She had made pieces odd sizes, so there was no pattern or rhythm to the whole. She broke all the rules of quilt making, and as I looked at it again, I realised she hadn’t made it to be judged, or to be perfect. As in life, she had used what she had at hand to fulfill a need. Nothing more, and therein was its beauty. It shone with love and I will treasure this gift that reminds me ‘things don’t have to be perfect to function’.

Mum's Patchwork Quilt represents 
Things don't have to be perfect to function.
Mum’s Patchwork Quilt

In my dream, I was standing on the side of the road waiting for something. Looking ahead and looking back. A bus maybe, or someone coming? It was a young me in my teens with long, long legs and a short, short skirt, with unruly black curls and all the uncertainties of youth, as I searched the road ahead.

When suddenly I recognised Mum walking towards me smiling widely. It was a young Mum at about the same age as she would have been when I was in my teens. It was like we had both slipped back in time. She was slim and dressed beautifully with her own unruly black curls, just like mine. I recognised the way she moved. She was relaxed and happy with that certain swing, her head tilted slightly to the right and a smile I knew so well.

I was so happy to see her, I beamed back at her. Was I waiting for her?

When she got close she opened her arms wide and hugged me close before holding me out and she said. “Look at you. You look beautiful!” Then hugged me tight again…I felt her, and then she was gone. Like a puff of air. I had felt her body warmth and then it was empty space.

Life has been so busy. It’s like I’m on a treadmill but sometimes it feels like someone slipped it into high gear and I can’t get off, I just have to pick up my speed and keep running, running, running.

I woke and lay there quietly thinking about it. It was just a fleeting snip in my dreams but had felt so real. She was giving me a message.

She was reminding me to hug myself. To stop and smile. To not always be in a hurry. To not always walk pressed into the wind. To not always be looking forward and back, but to enjoy the moment. The here and now. To slow down, and to sometimes be the child…

Thanks Mum. I was listening…

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Grocery shopping – Tick

As the designated shopper since Covid 19, I find myself after a long sojourn, once again in the role I played for many years. Doing the grocery shop.

Somehow, we seem to have some role reversal, where Monie runs the kitchen and I merely cook from time to time. I no longer bake, and indeed sometimes don’t even care if I eat, finding sustenance in the simple pleasures of wine and cheese…but then I don’t have five children to feed, and she does.

Despite it being a busy day and I’m really tired, I text her, “I’ll shop after work. Send me a list.” Preferring pen and paper myself, she texts me a ‘notes app’, which I open on arrival at the supermarket. I look down the list as it opens up on my screen. “Sorry Mum she texts. It’s quite a big list, just see how you feel”. This is the third time I’ve had to do this and yet I still can’t remember. Does the tick mean buy it, or does it mean its in the pantry, so get the ones with no tick. She doesn’t answer the phone. I look down for clues and not being entirely sure of the pantry contents I text. No answer. I’m in a queue so I have time, but when my turn comes up, I obediently follow the line and head into the bright lights. It’s a strangely silent world now. One shopper per trolley and signs to remind you this is all business, no stopping to chat, don’t touch anything you don’t intend to buy, remember the distancing rules, but above all, ‘Be Kind’.

I stare at the screen that tells me to get asparagus. Ridiculous price, I’m not getting that, as I make a mental note to tell Monie when Asparagus is in season. Zucchini, also too expensive. Mushrooms …not getting. I’m sure there’ll be some in the paddock. Broccoli is not ticked, but surprisingly cheap at a $1 per head, so I throw three in the trolley as I wished I had sown those seeds. Red onions are ticked, yet brown are not. I’m sure it should be the other way, but do as she says. Cherry tomatoes are ticked. Can she be serious. I still have heaps in the garden! Tsk tsk. Must tell her.

The nuts and seeds section tells me to get cranberries, apricots, nuts, unsalted and more, along with almost every kind of seed available. What the hell is she making! Almond slivers and almond flakes, coconut threads and coconut flakes. I think there’s heaps of coconut in that jar at the back shelf. I shake my head. Not getting that. ‘Lolly things.’ What the hell is lolly things? I read on. ‘Assorted Lollies’, ‘More lollies’. Is it someone’s birthday and she’s planning some amazing cake? She actually makes amazing cakes. I read on. Almost everything is ticked. Shit, I know it’s been two weeks and the kids are baking up a storm, but seriously. I try to phone again. No answer. Jesus these kids are glued to their phones yet not answering. Shaking my head I grab pre-packed bags of what she’s ticked.

Fish section. Muscles. Hmmm, hate shelling these bastards, but she does do a nice garlicky wine soaked entree I remember as I lick my lips thinking. Bacon, yep. Chicken for pizza? I look around wondering what the hell she means by this and decide to ignore it. Looks like we don’t need any meat, but then cocktail sausages are ticked. I can’t remember where these live in the supermarket and trying to keep the 2 metre distancing, I check out all the blimmin shelving and at the end see a huge pack. Oh well. It’s someone’s birthday after all, and we can freeze any extra.

Now the dairy section, and she’s ticked almost every kind of cheese known to man. I stand there unable to believe it. Does she know how expensive this stuff is, as I gather up edam, grated, ricotta, mozzarella. Not getting mozzarella I decide as I chuck it back. I’m sure I saw that in the fridge. Mercifully parmesan is out of stock. She hasn’t ticked feta. My favourite. I get that too.

Now I can’t believe it. She’s ticked all the flipping yoghurts. Coconut, protein, greek…there’s sour cream, milk and butter. Next aisle…chips, corn chips…this going to be a party alright. I’m trying to think who’s birthday it is, when I see coconut water. WTF! I’m really going to have to talk to her about budgets. I’m glad I have a credit card on me. This is going to be expensive. Coconut cream, coconut milk, almond milk, reduced cream, condensed cream, milk powder…its like she’s preparing for the flipping amegeddon!

Shopping list

It gets worse…there’s every kind of spread, marmite, jam, honey, peanut butter. I am shaking my head as I check to see if she’s texted me. Cereals, every flipping cereal is ticked too and then all the canned goods. Pineapples, peaches, and then I see almond flour! Spelt flour, white and brown. I stand there looking at empty flour shelves, strangely grateful as the trolley is now pretty damn full. Cocoa powder, Baking powder, Baking soda. I look at my phone again, but if I’m doing the ticked, when I should be doing the not ticked, I’m in bloody trouble as I have a trolley full of stuff I’ll have to return. I’m really tired and can’t find some stuff and starting to not care. I slide my finger up the screen. All the sugars feature, white, brown and golden syrup, maple syrup and even bloody rice malt syrup which I have to hunt for. Did the devil Three year old press a whole lot of ticks while Monie wasn’t looking I wonder?

Raisins, dried fruit, more bloody cranberries and dates…I’m starting to worry she has a problem. She hasn’t even ticked toilet paper! I get two. Chow chow and relish, well I’m not bloody getting that, I just made ten jars of pickle for Gods sake!

Peanut, coconut, and canola oils. I get my favourite olive as well, and then move onto every kind of canned goods on the market. I balance a few different ones onto the top of trolley as a couple of young girls come past each pushing a trolley. “Woah!” The first girl exclaims as she passes and the second turns back to look at my trolley with everything balanced precariously.

I stop and look down the list and there’s every kind of herb and spice, bar one, almost all the pastas… That’s it. I’m seriously done! I’m not getting another thing, and if I have to come back tomorrow I will, but we need to have a talk. I swing by the chocolate aisle and slip a couple of large Whittaker bars down the last gap and head to check out. $659 and I didn’t even get any wine!

“Its taken me two hours!”, I start up as I come in. “I’ll unpack” says Monie as she heads downstairs to the car. “That list was ridiculous, I shout after her. Was I supposed to get the ticks or not ticks?” Incredulously she looks back at me. “The ‘not’ ticks.” We look at each other for a second. “Monie…ticks mean yes… get”. “No, she says, not sure whether to laugh or not. Ticks mean we have it already.”

Arghhhhhh……Monie tells me Ren’s coming to stay. She can do the groceries I tell her. There’s nothing to eat, as we try to fit several flours and sugars into an already full draw!



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Four Weddings and a Fortieth…

It seemed like there had been no weddings in the family for years and years, and then this year we had four. Two on Gilbert’s side and two on mine. One at almost the top of New Zealand, and one at almost the bottom. Two were on tropical Islands, both of which we had never visited before. I consider a wedding something very precious, and to be invited a real privilege, and here we were invited to four!
The first inkling was a ‘save the date’… a full year out!

Wedding no 1…5th January 2019

Blair and Chad’s wedding followed hot on the heels of New Year. They had picked a truly beautiful spot, but also one that was special to their whanau, as it is where they holiday every summer.

We had booked a bach with Tara, and the drive North was perfect, stopping for a snack, drink and stretch of legs a couple of times as well as a food shop just before the last big supermarket was behind us.

We arrived at the bach and were pleasantly surprised as it was just perfect for us!
Along the front length was all the living spaces that opened out onto brick paved areas and outdoor furniture. Fully fenced so we didn’t have to worry about dogs or kids, getting in, or out.

Tokerau Beach

Beach access was immediately across the road and was a typical stunning Northland New Zealand beach. At the end of the beach was what was locally referred to as ‘Coke a Cola lakes’. The tannin’s in the peaty bottom gave Rotopokaka Lake its colour, and the bubbles rising when you disturbed the bottom was uncanny indeed.

Rotopotaka boys

The weather was the best you could have asked for, and a colourful gay wedding at the local winery was superb. Blair and Chad looking gorgeous and happy, with fabulous music by one of the best DJ’s ever… I danced until my hip could take it no more!

Wedding C & B

A beautiful touch was a handmade beaded flower the boys had made over the year for each guest as a way of acknowledging their indigenous roots. Representing also hours and hours of work, it certainly was an honour to be sharing the day and this gift.
Karikari beaded flowers
We had surround sound Cicadas as we bid farewell to Karikari Peninsula. I watched the neighbour’s children making their way down to the beach as we drove away, buckets in hand and towels over shoulders. Their holiday has just begun.

It was a quiet start to the long journey home. Each lost in our own thoughts of the impressive Carrington Estate, the Bach stay and the unpretentious yet still stunning Tokerau beach where the children boogie boarded, tuatuas were collected and we all got our dose of sun exposure for the summer. Agapanthus lined the sides of the road, salt tangled our hair and a sand laden wind whipped into ears, leaving behind a reminder of the annoying bits about sunbathing at the beach.

“Tell us a story Nanny, the children begged as we drove. Tell us about when you went boogie boarding. Mum says you’re the queen of boogie boarding”. “Well… I started, at another beautiful beach called Tawharanui, we often stayed in a Dept of Conservation site, when all the kids were little. There was no Bach, and no fancy stuff like we had this week. Just a long drop toilet and a hose for water, plus our tent of course. The tent was fitted to a frame on the trailer….As they listened with eyes wide, I told them about sliding down sand hills so steep Chee ended up at the Drs with a bruised back. The screams of delight as we rode tall tall waves that slammed into the beach cliffs, only to find there had been a tsunami, but with no radio, we never got the warning. Collecting tuatuas and falling to sleep at days end to stories by candlelight, and finding hedgehogs and possums had raided our stores over night. That was a holiday to remember…just like this one.

Wedding no 2 – 21st June 2019

Save the date and the wedding invite came via facebook. Messages came with gorgeous pictures of sunny climes on a tropical Island a short flight away. Vanuatu. It was quite a decision, as we could only be away a few days with work commitments!
Leading up to the flight I was pretty excited and packed with sunbathing and cocktails in mind. At the airport the group settled, waiting for the last stragglers to arrive. A couple of gins later we headed down to board, finding we were at the front of the plane, while the bulk of the wedding party were at the back end. Once settled and a meal in us, the stranger next to me asked for another beer. The hostess smiled and said “Lucky last” as she handed it over. I had to smile thinking about the crowd down the back!

With about 50 of the wedding party on the flight, many of them children, six I know were under 3 years, made for an interesting four hours. Lindy said there must have been a few people on board that wished they’d been booked a different flight, but we never heard a thing apart from the occasional run away up the aisle being retrieved.

I nipped up to the loo when I saw the unoccupied sign light up and the flight attendant (Ni Vanuatu), smiled, and nodded at me as I went to open the door. Duane had jumped up right behind me and the flight attendant told her to go to the back as this was for first class seats only. Oops. ‘I obviously wasn’t dark enough’, Duane complained later.
As I sat back down, Livie, who had most of her family already there for a different family wedding on the same day, chatted companionably, confiding she would probably need to get up several times to squeeze past me as she had a dickey bladder that needed a regular empty, and that the Dr said she should just tell herself she doesn’t need to go when her bladder demands it. “I tried it, she said looking me in the eye. It doesn’t work! I can lie there trying not to think about it but I still have to go”, she implored. “Aha…” I listened sympathetically. Ten times a night. Wow you must be so tired I thought.

She introduced me to her partner, and then her Mum and Dad behind us. Hello! they smiled through the gap in the seats as I turned. We were buddies by the end of the flight. Turned out we were staying in the same resort, and I was introduced to little Liv who was waiting with pizza for everyone when we arrived. How lovely that they shared it with us. We were all family now! It was ten pm and at the invitation to meet at the bar…we politely declined, and made our way to our room thinking, we were not going to keep up with this crowd!

As dawn broke and the bird calls began, in the distance the strains of hundreds, perhaps thousands of roosters, all competing for the air space and their bit of territory began. I had a Lagoon view and it looked beautiful. By 7am I was sitting on the outside table and chairs. While cool enough to need a shirt over my bare arms, I could tell the day would be hot with a fair bit of humidity. I called Duane, and we swam before breakfast which was a buffet treat, before relaxing by the pool and the occasional dip to cool off.
The wedding day dawned with typical island perfection, and we made our way across the lagoon by boat, arriving to a stunning venue of white, white sands with hot sun, and a warm breeze. Tables and chairs were set ready and gorgeous guests in their beautiful best, with tans perfected before they even left New Zealand’s winter.
Wedding M Marinka and Alex
Marinka and Alex made a stunning bride and groom, and except for having difficulty understanding the local celebrant, it was something special. Tables set on the sandy shore of the lagoon, regular cocktails being delivered to tables, a sumptuous meal that even now, months later I can remember details of, finished with the DJ playing Van Morrison’s ‘Brown eyed girl’ before we caught our water taxi back across the lagoon. We made our way past Livie’s wedding party long over, their marque being disassembled to the strains of our lot singing across the water, and a fire walking display finishing with fireworks. It would be a much longer night for our group.
Wedding M end

It had been five days away but arriving at 10 pm on the first day, and leaving 6am on the last, it was actually a whirlwind three, and a very special memory, we felt privileged to share with Alex, Marinka and co.

Damen’s Fortieth – 14th July 2019
It was July, and Damen’s fortieth was soon upon us. He wanted ‘just us’. A time when we could all be together, and while Ren was enjoying Las Vegas, Chee and his four beautiful girls were able to join the rest of us for a few days. The kids were all ecstatic at the chance to be together again. Dinner was planned. Beds made and wine warming for a winter night in.
July 19 birthday night
“Are you the one who was so unhappy at having to wear a hand knitted jumper, you vomited on it?” Chee asked Damen after dinner…and so began an evening of ‘This is your life’, with Chee as compere. It was hilarious as we relived his childhood.
Nieces and nephews played the parts of invited guests. “Hey Damen, My family moved up from Wellington when I met you. Turns out our Dad’s were best mates when they were young. Nobody could tell us apart and we stayed mates right through High School.” Damen guessing immediately the answers.
Stories were told and gaps were filled in. Old videos played amid disbelief as the children saw their Mums and Dads at their age now. We laughed at hairstyles and clothes, thumb sucking and singing. We remembered old dogs long buried and discarded toys of another era.

The night ended with a magnificent birthday cake made by Amy. As our weekends all together are few, its a very special catch up where children pick up where they left off, time measure heights and achievements as months slip by unnoticed.

July 19 kids on tramp
Children picking up where they left off …Outside and Inside…

Jul 19 kids lounge


Wedding no 3 – 12th September 2019


The invite came via email and while an eon away, it was Bali, so some contemplation and saving was required. We arrived in the evening and had just settled in our hotel room, when Terese called to say she would collect me for the hens night. I had a quick shower and met the other girls at the pool bar before getting a taxi to the club where the rest of them relaxed after a day of cocktails and pampering. Looking like a cross between a fight club and a strip club, with the dance floor set up a higher, the top floor caged, and so many drunk young ones, I had never seen anything like it. They say you should aim for new experiences every holiday!

Breakfast was included and it wasn’t too bad except for the coffee that tasted like tar scrapings simmered. We soon found a cafe just across the road that became our local… for morning long blacks, afternoon beers, evening cocktails and delicious Indonesian curries for dinner.  All so cheap we felt quite comfortable relaxing there with overhead fans after forays into the world of Bali bartering. I felt like an over indulged tourist. Greeted with “Hello! Please look lady”. The bartering was far less aggressive than many other places we have been, besides I could hardly fit anything other than a kaftan while Gilbert happily stocked up his summer wardrobe.

Our hotel was tucked down a side alley. Apartments, villas, rooms, and many with their own pools and privacy. Our bathroom was open to the elements at the shower end, and on one night I was delighted to hear the heavy rain falling into our own private garden. I slipped out of bed and stood, eyes closed and my head tipped back, luxuriating in it. Fat rain drops slipping from the strappy leaves and running over rocks, before swirling away into hidden drains. Then the heat drying it all up by morning, so you wondered if you imagined it.

The Villa pools were heavenly. With the temperature at around 30 it was a perfect heat to get just hot enough to seek the pool to cool off and it was easy to lie out on the deck chairs till heated up enough to slip in again.
One day we hired a van for a group of us and delighted in the green, green, hot and steamy rain forests, coffee plantations and terraced rice paddies, as we drove through villages. Nasi Barak made for a  delicious vegetarian lunch. I requested a visit to an artisan market and was thrilled to find hand made silver smithed earrings to add to my travel collection.
Wedding Z Rice fields
We had our nails done at ‘Base coat’ with high tea on the side. The Mix and Mingle at Cliff house Uluwatu had us sitting almost suspended, cliff side in an incredible venue that overlooked the surf and beach, some 30 metres below with food and a bar tab that kept everyone happy.

Wedding Z reception

Wedding perfection was assured with a wedding planner guiding each step at a movie star venue with an expanse of green lawn, overlooking a long beach of waves rolling into shore, while a sun slipped down in a sky in shades of orange and red before dipping its head and gone.
wedding Z bike
A beautiful bride and groom, with their three gorgeous children, celebrated a perfect week. Beyond the strings of lights we were treated to a clear night sky and a balmy breeze, as we dined and danced, before the bus returned us sleepy to our beds.
We skipped the next days event of ‘back yard beats’ to just take it easy before being whisked home to NZ where we resumed our normal life and wondered if it had actually happened. We had certainly been spoiled, and we thank you Zhayna and Blair for sharing your incredible, beautiful week.
Only the ‘Tree of Life’ key tags I had bought for each of the grandchildren take me back to the warmth, the slipping out of shop keepers grasp and the tan marks, as I wash the gardens grime away, now back in my real world.
Wedding no 4 – 27th October 2019
With lots of staff upheaval at work we didn’t book for this, unsure if we would make it and it was not to be. Our last wedding for the year, Jade and Errol’s at almost the bottom of the South Island in Invercargill. I feel like I was there in spirit with the months previous planning hashed over our smoko table as Lindy’s Jade asked this or that? A different kind of wedding again.
Jades wedding
More country with the vows to be spoken in paddock 186, under the spreading arms of a tree with fabric draped. My vases joined others filled with lavender on tables and enjoying the photos later, made for lots of laughs. Pretty sad to have not got there to share Jade and Errol’s day but Invercargill awaits a visit some other time!
The Tree of Life…gift tags I made for each of the children.
Tree of Life
Representing to me how we are never alone. The trees roots representing those that came before us which have nourished us, even though we can’t see them, we are connected.
The biggest branches represent our parents and grandparents who protect us, whether they are in our every day life or not. Then we can see our Uncles and Aunties and great Uncles and Aunties, along with cousins in the tangle of branches.
In the flowers and seeds we have our future family. Those we have not met yet or maybe haven’t even been born, but they are there, part of our whole.
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Narla holidays in the Country

Just found this… I wrote it after Tara’s dog Narla came to stay. It went a bit like this.
Narla: Hi Paddy. WOW!  So much room, you should see my place, its tiny!
Paddy: Yeah…Oh don’t poo there! They like it on the deck or the path…true.
Narla: What? Thats crazy! My bitch hates it on the path.
Paddy: I know, but the old bitch here comes out every morning looking for Poo. I figure its easy to just put it where its easy to find.
Narla: OK…so just like here…on the deck?
Paddy: Yep…and the good thing is you don’t even have to get your feet wet…

Paddy: You’re kinda cute, wanna play a fun game?

Narla: Yep! What is it?
Paddy: Well I just come over your back like this…
Narla: Hey, get off me! I don’t like that game.


DAY 3                                                                                                                                                      Narla: Guess what Paddy! I found these little squawky things down the back. we should chase them. They can’t even run fast.

Paddy: Jesus, don’t even look at them. The old bitch gets really upset if you go near them. Its ‘the box’ for hours if I go there. But we can do other games.

Narla: I SAID… I DON”T LIKE THAT GAME, give it a rest already!

Narla: What are those huge things in the paddock?
Paddy: Giants, I don’t know, I don’t go there…they’re too scary, and the gate gives me a pain all over when I go through. I’m never going in there again.

Narla: They keep talking to me, but when I talk back that Monie bitch comes out and makes me go in the cupboard. I went in four times yesterday!
Paddy: Yeah she can be scary too, I keep away from her and be careful around the kids. The big one gets me into trouble all the time.  Wanna play a neat game?

Narla: If its that dumb one you keep trying …NO!


Paddy: Did you see the lightening last night? Man I was so scared when the thunder started…but the whole sky lit up.
Narla: Nah, I sleep in the garage. Not scary at all.
Paddy: I never get to sleep in the garage. Sometimes I  scratch the floor all night to try and get them to put me in there, but no!
Narla: Are you sure about the pooh thing. I did two for her in the garage so it would be super easy for her to pick up and she didn’t look happy aye. Cleaned it with that stinky disinfectant? I don’t know if I can sleep in there tonight with that smell.
Paddy: Plenty of room in my box. You can sleep with me tonight.
Narla: NO, and get off me!


Narla: I see what you mean about the girls. Blimin calling me in and shutting the door just when I get there. Then that Monie bitch comes out and screams at me! sheesh!
Paddy: Yeah, but we wouldn’t be locked up here in the box if you hadn’t kept trying to get in the house, ya dickhead!
Narla: How was I to know the kids were playing a game! Anyway I’m going. Your box smells like dead ants.
Paddy: Hey! WTF! How’d you do that.
Narla: Just pushed it… La la la…I love just running around here.
Paddy: Hey come and push it open for me so I can get out.
Narla: …push it yourself…ya dickhead!

Monie: Get back in the box and stop barking, ya dickhead!
Narla: Hey I was just talking to Paddy,  Oh Man…shes mean.
Paddy: Wanna play a game?


Narla: Can you keep an eye out for my collar. The Boss is gunna be cross.
Paddy: Who’s the Boss?
Narla: The boss at my house. Mostly it’s him, but sometimes, I’ve gotta watch out for her. She can be mean like Monie. I thought I was safe with no collar to grab, but Monie just picked me up and carried me all the way to the cupboard. I hate that cupboard. Smells like rubbish.

Paddy: Are you going home?

Narla: One day I guess. If I don’t have the collar I’m screwed tho.

Narla: Wanna play Paddy?
Paddy: Yep! My game?
Narla: NO! Lets just run around…
Paddy: OK.
Narla: Hey while you’re running around, can you watch out for my collar?
Paddy: OK
Narla: I’m gunna miss you Paddy Malone.
Paddy: I’m gunna miss you too Narla. Maybe we could play my game later?
Narla: No…


Paddy farewells Nala

Paddy and Narla say Goodbye



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Back to Nan Ling, China…

Twenty years ago today we went to bed with all our bags packed ready to leave for China in the morning. All seven of us. We were to stay in the Village Gilbert’s Father grew up in and experience the real China. The China of their heritage.
This is a snippet of what I wrote in my diary that day 11/3/99….
My extra, my cabin bag is massive and I’m hopeful I don’t get stopped at boarding. It weighs about 12 kilos! I have practised throwing it over my shoulder nonchalantly like it weighs nothing. While we have divied out some things, in the shoulder bag I am carrying all the main medicines, aromatherapy, homeopathy, basic medic kit, and all our travel papers.
It’s incredible how much I carried in that 12 kilos of cabin bag. In fact it was heavier than the bag I took to travel for six months on our Europe trip. That bag weighed 7.5 kilos!
I carried needles and medicines and prescriptions. Aromatherapy and all sorts of things we would never be able to take on board these days. Gilbert probably carried a swiss army knife! Times have changed in so many ways.
The blog which is daily for the most part is
If you tap on follow it will come to your inbox and you can check it out when you are free.
Its a public site, so if you know of anyone that might be interested. Feel free to share.
For the most part it is as I wrote it, daily in my diary, and occasionally I have guest blogs from others. The changes in China since that trip are massive.  I’m so glad now I was a keen recorder of events, as its been a great ‘journey’ to relive, and hopefully a treasure for the children to read and remember.


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T’was the night before Xmas…

Baby was due mid to end of December, the busiest time of year, so we knew we had to be organised, and organised we were!

A heater was sitting in the corner ready to plug in if needed. New baby clothes and blankets were washed and in a pile on the side board. A box on the floor contained plastic, sheets and towels ready for birthing. I made soups and broth, like I always do for the new Mum, and popped them in the freezer. We checked we had juice, snacks and lollies for the birth and prepared the children a pack as well each. Their eyes huge in delight at the goodies within.

…and yet every day I found new things I needed to get done ‘before’ the birth. Every night I’d take a walk through and check all was in place if Monie should go into labour tonight. Every morning I’d think of a new thing we had forgotten to do and quickly sort that, then congratulate myself quietly, that we were so organised. Monie told me later she was doing the same!

The due date came and went, and we waited, hoping baby would come earlier rather than later, as who wants a Xmas baby? There is no control over these things however. Baby will come when it is ready. It got closer and closer to Xmas and with this being the year all the children come home for Xmas, Monie despaired that it might be a Xmas baby after all!

Xmas Eve morning, we had an inkling baby was on its way, and while Monie relaxed into gentle contractions as the rhythm began, the children played, Lauren finished our Xmas food shop and we prepared the house for the rest of the family to arrive.

Mattresses were laid out in the family room for the little ones and the Xmas tree left in the centre of the room, with its lights twinkling as darkness fell. Labour was in full swing when Chee and Annie arrived from Christchurch, around the same time as the midwife. Stories were read to settle the children, but the air was filled with something special. Something almost tangible. It was different to the usual excitement of Xmas Eve.

There was just 2 year old Kaea to settle, who would NOT leave her Mother, and though so very tired, she knew something was different. No amount of coercion would draw her away, till Monie said, she couldn’t do this anymore. She couldn’t labour and hold Kaea, who was trying to drop off to sleep on her shoulder. Expecting this may happen, I scooped her up, and kicking and screaming, I held her tight to my chest and walked to the end room, as far as I could get from her Mother who now had work to do. I swung her as I sang loud and strong so she could hear me. “This ole man he played one, he played nick nak…” She kicked and fought until I got to, ” he played ten….” and then I knew she would settle, as she ‘hu hupped’ herself into sleep mode. When I got to “he played seventeen…” by which time I was making up crazy stuff, she was dead asleep, and I knew I could sit down. I moved to the family room and asked Wheriko to adjust the lazy boy and fell into it, continuing to rock and gently humming, cause if this one woke it would be all over.

Chee pulled back the sliding doors about then and I will never forget his eyes. It reminded me of him as a ten year old when something special was about to happen.
“Has she had baby?”, he asked excitedly. “I don’t know mate”, I answered, “I’ve been with this one. Did you hear a baby cry?” “No, he answered, I just heard Monie say “Thank God for that!” We both laughed and then Lauren popped her head out to say baby was born. All was well and did I want to come up? I smiled and said “No, Simone needs all the time she can get, so I’ll stay here with this monkey as long as she will sleep on me.” Monies older children headed up to greet their new sibling before coming back to sleep. It was 11pm, so we had just made the deadline to not be a Xmas baby, though just by a whisker!

Baby at Xmas 18

An angel right from the start!

I rocked gently with Kaea’s weight against me, her breath relaxed and regular, as the Xmas tree lights twinkled, giving the room an ethereal glow. I realised I had not read the ‘Night before Christmas’ to the children this year, as I usually do before bed. The children, all sleeping topsy turvey, turned in their sleep, while ‘sugar plums’ danced in their heads. Well, maybe not sugar plums. Maybe ipods….but I reflected that this will be a Xmas Eve we will never forget.


We sent out a note to guess if it was a boy or girl. Can you guess?

It was 2am before I got to have a cuddle, breathing in his new born scent, after Monie had a shower, as they all settled into bed and readied for sleep. Aunty Ren, then following Monie’s instructions, sneaked Xmas bundles to the ends of beds before putting loads of washing on. I took baby in to Gilbert and woke him as I laid the tiny sleeping bundle beside him. A little chubba, like all hers have been, weighing in at a hefty almost 10lbs.

So while I had crowed this would be our thirteenth grandchild, and the eleventh I would be at the birth of, I actually wasn’t at his birth, and Lauren had ably assisted in my steed. The rest of the children arrived through the morning, and though it was a wet and miserable night baby was born, so the day had also dawned. The table was set and food spread, just as the power went out. Candles were lit, and once again I marveled at the beauty of ‘family’ as we sat and shared with an extra babe in arms, in the soft candle light, as thunder rolled quietly over, drowned out with by the laughter within.

I couldn’t help but think how different and beautiful each birth is, and while I wasn’t physically there in the room, I was able to be an important part anyway, and that’s what makes a home birth even more special, as we surround the birthing parents with a tight net. Each filling roles as they are needed at this most special of times. I am so lucky that I am able, and welcome, to be a part of those early, early days of each of our grandchildren.


Sunny days followed with play and BBQ’s

…and Leilanis fourth birthday.

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Sleeep, sleeeep, sleeeeep…

Its 2.30am. I toss and check the time again. 3am. God the nights are sooo long. I remember Mum telling me this and in my carefree ignorance I nodded, as I was often awake with babies and would sometimes nod off to sleep at the table while she talked to me, in the knowledge that there, I was safe. She would watch over them till a scream from one or the other would stir me and I would make moves to head home. Pacing the floor with an upset baby sometimes had me longing for daylight, when it seemed a little easier to manage and some evenings I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed. We had different reasons for moaning about a long night. No doubt she knew mine and I now know hers only too well.


I slip into slippers and a dressing gown, and head out quietly as I jealously look over at Gilbert deep in slumber.  I look at my friend the moon and note its size and shape as I try to become more knowledgeable about its effect on me in particular. “Oh hello, I smile, fancy meeting you here!”
Red sky
Red sky at night, Shepard’s delight. Red sky in the morning. Shepard’s warning. I note the sky has a strong red tinge. Is 3am. Night or morning? I wonder as I pour a cup of chamomile. It’s pitch black and I can’t spa in the dark alone now. Once, years ago, I heard on the radio there was someone prowling around and to be vigilant. We are miles from anywhere, but still. As I lay in the spa that morning I was sure I heard breathing. I held my breath. I was sure I heard footsteps. I lay even more still and peered into the night. I was sure I heard a shuffle and felt eyes peering from behind me. I leapt up, flung the lid over and was taking the steps in a single leap as my towel swung behind me. The door was shut and lock pressed as soon as I was in. I stood there peering back at the night. Perhaps it was a cat, I thought hearing my ragged breath.  Almost definitely a cat I decided, but since that night I cannot spa in the dead of the night alone. I type up a story for the children that is going around in my head and as 5am ticks over, I hear Gilbert rise, wait for him to exercise and while he pushes himself to his limits, I laze around in there, pretending I’m doing stretches.

I keep all the lights off as I slip in so I really appreciate the last of the night sky. Its full of stars. Absolutely full. We are lucky to have not too much light pollution from nearby street lights or buildings. Its 5.45am when I hear the first bird call. Nothing answers him as he tests the night air and I wait for at least another 15 mins before there is another call. I push the jets on and after ten minutes they switch off and as if that has given them permission, the air is full of birdsong.

I’m out and quickly dressed before morning jobs are started. Gilbert asks me what time did I get up. “3 am,” I say as I look over at him. He knows I’ll be exhausted tonight. “Its because you think too much”, he says. “If I wake, I just say to myself, ‘sleeep, sleeep, sleeep’, until I just fall back to sleep” he tells me. “That way no thoughts come into your head to wake you up”. I look at him and wonder how he came up with that stupid idea. Could it actually work? We leave for work at 7.30 as the sun is streaming across the garden. Its going to be a beautiful day!

Post Script: I tried it and it does! It stops thoughts coming in and waking me up even more and its so damn monotone and boring, I soon find myself dozing off again. Now I’m wondering why he didn’t tell me this sooner, being I’ve spent a fair number of years  wandering around the house like a prowler at night…

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