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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A perfect end to a perfect day. 

After waking at my normal time and reading for a bit, I got up late. It was my birthday after all. Weather forecast had a bit of everything coming, so I was thinking of a lazy day. Perhaps finishing my book and Tara and family might come for lunch. She wasn’t sure but would let me know. I had said I wanted no fuss. We’d have a party in the summer time. It’s too blimmin cold this time of year.
I watched Simone packing all sorts of goodies into the chilly bin as they planned to meet friends for morning tea at the park, but she assures me she’ll be back for lunch, and my scones. That’s odd I thought. Morning Tea with friends on a Sunday, as I watched container after container being loaded in. How could they even eat that much for morning tea? “Who are you meeting for morning tea?” I asked Kahu as I made my porridge. “I don’t know” Kahu said with a quizzical smile looking up at me. That’s strange I thought, as I buttered my toast.
When, with great fanfare Tara burst in the door with her children close behind, wearing party hats and a special one for me. “Oh you’ll have to get changed, she noted, looking me up and down, and don’t muck around ’cause we’re leaving at 10 on the dot. “Where are we going?” I asked. “I don’t know, she answered, we’re waiting for a call”. “Pardon?” “Hurry up Mum! Get changed, get changed!” she bustled me off. “Make sure its ‘active wear’, ” she shouted behind me, as I headed up to the bedroom.
Chee, on speaker phone wished me happy birthday and the rules were thrust into my hand on my return, to discover we were going on a treasure hunt. Tara had by now whipped the kids into a frenzy, as it was decided who was to be in which cars, seat belts on, motors running and we waited for a text. Simone left in a flurry with Gilbert, getting away before us, as Tara and I contemplated the first clue.
I was rural when Nanny T went to me, and I still am rural too. I gave reading, writing and arithmetic, which can help you get out of the poo. Need to hurry to me now, no one should be here as it’s Sunday. I’m en route to uku water, if you’re coming from Puke Hill way. Even though nanny hasn’t been with me, since before she became a teen. You’re all welcome to come and spend some time, and see a place Nanny has been.

“Puni School?” I looked at Tara. She didn’t seem so sure. “Its got to be” I said as she hesitated at the corner waiting for more info. Beep the next text came in…
– How much does anchor 1 litre lite blue cost at Jay and Hansas old place? 10 points
– what was the 3 digit code for a 1 litre lite blue? 5 points
– take a group selfie at the Mauku school with the sign in the background. 10 points
– take a group video at the Puni rugby club all singing a song! 20 points
We quickly turned right so as to pass the dairy en route to Mauku school and I raced in with Lagi to the fridge with our party hats on. I snapped a pic of the 1 litre milk and smiling broadly, waved cherrily to the staff behind the counter.
“Do you reckon we can phone a friend?” Tara asks as I’m racking my brains for the code. I had almost erased twenty years of owning a milk distribution business and all its now useless detail. Despite searching all the recesses of the filing cabinets in my brain, I came up with nothing. I dialed Damen’s number. “Hi Dame, How are you?” “Good”, he answered warily. “I was just thinking about the milk run and what the codes were for the milk. Like a 1 lite lite blue, I continued, as if I had all the time in the world. What would that code have been. I was just wondering mate.” He gave a little chuckle but hesitated. “Just a clue mate, just a clue”.


We try to remember the codes for milk

“Well, do you remember a 2 litre?” he asked. “Ummm 500? or 501”. Silence was on the end. So was a 1 litre 511, 512. I reckon its 512? Damen was still quiet. “Might be”, he volunteered. “Thanks Mate!” 512 seemed the most likely, but there was a nagging doubt. What was the order. Breakfast then blue or blue then breakfast. Did lite come before green? God we lived and breathed these codes…how could I forget that!

We arrived at Mauku school, where the children went to play centre, as Monie’s group snapped a pic, and we were taking ours as she wheel spun outta there. Debating what the song should be, it was decided Happy birthday would be the fastest and as we arrived at the Puni Rugby club, they were driving off. Shit they were fast and where’s Renny anyway! We jumped, out raced through Happy Birthday and cursed seat belts as we checked everyone was buckled up.
Pulling in to Puni school Monie’s group were getting out, so they took the points for first there. Ren arrived soon after and we meet Paul for the first time as she is teased for her late arrival and non ‘active wear’ get up as she wears a gorgeous deep green, thigh high dress and knee high blue suede boots on bare legs. Milan peels off into her group and can’t keep his grubby shoes off her boots, much to her horror and our delight, as we all negotiate our challenge of taking four balls over the jungle gym, tapping the green ribbon for extra points, before letting them go down the slide.
Ren’s group do it in 6 minutes as Tara whispers we have a definite advantage not being first on this one, as we watch them stumble at every problem. Monie’s team is next and when the way is clear I have a go at the jungle part and swing off only to discover what was incredibly easy when I was 5, is now incredibly difficult as I am hanging inert, unable to move forward or back and simply have to just drop to the ground. Our turn is next and with a fair amount of cheating we manage to do it in just over 3 minutes but Monie’s team has just edged us out, so we are placed second.
Back in cars Monie has gone to the bottom driveway for a quick exit and Tara attempts to block the other driveway but Paul slips up on our right side as Ren winds her window down and yells out “Give way to your right” and gives us the finger before winding it back up. “What!” Tara and I look at each other when suddenly Monie takes off and Paul immediately follows as the next text comes through.
When Uncle Damen grew out of his clothes, he gave them to Tara to wear. Then Tara she said “you ave them Chee”, who gave them to Ren with care. For you see at this place there was no Aunty Monie, she simply had not yet arrived, and so Mum and Dad and their so far four children with a German Shepard lived inside. So head up on East and then take a turn, up to the great big tall tree. Find Mum and Dad’s first big purchase, and go and have a look see.“Our house at Totara Ave” I tell Tara. “Go faster”, Lagi encourages his Mum. “No, she answers, we don’t break the speed limit…” The next text gives us our tasks.
– What are the opening hours of the delivery doors at the old Woolworths? 10 points
– who used to be the store man in the back of Woolworths? 5 points
– group selfie with 2 blue 2s at 222 in the background. 10 points
– group photo at Bledisloe park playground. No one can be touching the ground and the photo needs to be taken by someone else so everyone is in it. 25 points


We shoot around to the back door of Countdown and while I’m still trying to open my phone to camera, to take a pic of the hours rather than writing them down, Tara yells out, “Got it Mum, as we pull away. Who was the storeman?” We are both racking our brains and I can’t believe I can’t remember it for the life of me. I keep trying to remember his wife’s name hoping that will trigger his. It begins with a T. “Was he PI? Toa?” Tara yells at me, “Tia? I’m sure it was Toa, or like Toa” she demands. I feel like if I don’t try too hard it will just slip into my consciousness, but it doesn’t. Dammit!
The next one has us completely stumped. 222. what the hell does that mean? We both have no idea. We decide to carry on as we might get to the next spot first and get those extra points anyway. Wait a minute we have to get a pic, taken by someone else at the park. Monie and co are already there. Damn there’s no car parks, we lament as the play ground is full of families. Tara shoots past Monie to the next lot of carparks and is about to slip into the only free one when I yell. “No, it’s for disabled!” “Good to see our ethics are still in place.” Tara laughs, swerving out again and parks on the side. “Get the kids up on the seat”, she yells at me, running over to a woman with a toddler. She hands her my phone as we climb onto the seat and Tara quickly runs back, but slips in a mud puddle that covers about 4 sq metres and deep enough, that as she slides in, a wave almost comes in before her. She lies completely still and I get off and step into the puddle and stretch out my hand. “Are you alright ?” I ask. “Yep”. she answers tentatively as she expels the breath she had been holding and then takes my hand to pull her up. We step up onto the seat and I am holding out a muddied hand as she turns her back slightly to the camera so the pic gets it all in. An old towel from the boot is stretched over her seat and we are off again.

Astanding on the table

Tara’s back is covered in mud as she slides in for a pic

We take a pic outside our old home and delight in how beautiful it looks. The leadlights and new extended veranda and French doors. I remember the wide hallway and we can see they have added a huge new bit at the back. I almost wish someone is here so we can peak inside. I glance around the houses and remember Jack and Rosemary next door and how we chatted over the fence as we both hung washing out. Connie and Tory on the topside with the swimming pool and old Fred and Maureen in the house opposite. There’s Keitha and Dave’s on the corner looking every bit as grand as it did and memories flood back of our early days. The sound of children’s laughter and play as they nipped between houses. It was a real street of families and what a great start to my life as a Mother surrounded by wonderful strong women.

A totara ave

Outside our first home with the new and improved veranda

Wheri asks for a photo to be taken of her on her polaroid instamatic camera. I sneak behind to be ‘in shot’. Sorry but not sorry! Hilarious as she watches the photo develop and she’s looking closer to see whats behind her.

It’s Sunday lunchtime now and there’s barely a soul to be seen on what was such a busy street of young families with a healthy mix of other children’s Nana’s and Grandpas that we all happily shared. Tara takes us up to the bush as I tell the story of when Uncle Damen went missing and was found after a couple of hours and how frightening it was. I tell Tara there weren’t many days that I didn’t walk up here. A five minute burst of fresh air or quick wander through the bush on a hot day or an hours picnic on the grass at the edge. It was my sanity in the craziness of four children born in seven years and the fifth, Simone, born soon after we left when Damen was nine.

AAt the park

Tara’s activity is to collect bits from the bush and decorate frames that we slip our Polaroid Instamatic shots straight into.


A Lagis note

Nice little comments are added to each pic. Awww, Thanks guys….


Its a fun interlude before we stop for prepacked lunch at a different park. One that is a couple of acres and full of swings, slides and a flying fox, with a bike track and heaps of families enjoying it. We leave enough time to stop at McDonalds for coffee and the next text comes in.

On the side of the hill, where it all began. The home of many, and one Trish trash can. A basic home, kitchen with dirt floor. But much laughter and happiness, never wanting for more. So now all these years on, to the Burrow make haste. For the next stop and activity, there’s no time to waste!

– What is the street address of the place Uncle Chee was born? 10 points
– how many of Nanny T’s kids and moko were born there? 5 points
– how much does it cost for an anchor 2 litre blue from Pravina’s old shop? 10 points
– what was the 3 digit code for a 2 litre blue top? 5 points
– take a group selfie outside the Indian hall on Ward st showing as many teeth as possible. 20 points
“Johnies, I’m sure of that!” and we pass the hospital to be sure of the street address. Did many a visit there I did! Not only to deliver our babies but years of helping other new Mum’s get started with breastfeeding. I used to give talks on ‘being a new Mum’ and even did one a day after delivering one of ours before going home.

Agroup pic

Monie’s group get their Blue top 2 litres

We dive into Pravina’s old shop and they laughingly tell us the other two groups have already been. My hopes are dashed at being first there. We go the long way to get a selfie at the Indian Hall and don’t even take seat belts off as we take our selfie while still in the car. We’ve realised thats how Monie is gaining time on us. We are laughing aloud and still trying to remember what Woolworth’s storeman’s name is when we round the corner and see another car coming down the hill. “Thats Monie, I yell at Tara, Put your foot down so we get there first”. Tara floors it and we are shrieking with laughter as we arrive at the same time but Monie with the right of way, skids in blocking our entry to the house and we have to go in the top driveway. We jump out of the cars all laughing when Johny appears at the doorway, looking a little perplexed. No doubt wondering what the hell all the commotion is. We are all talking at once and he is smiling. “Of course I know its your Mother’s birthday, he smiles. I was going to text her soon. Come in, come in”, he steps aside as we confirm no one has told him this is happening and that we all should appear. Ren’s task is…” We are to reinact the first meeting of Gilbert and I, fact or fiction…


Sara and Johny are enlisted to judge first, second and third. There’s points to be considered after all. My group look at me. “Surely you remember?”. “Well, yes….We met at a dance at the local hall, I believe they were playing Van Morrison’s ‘Brown eyed girl’,” I added mischievously. When something reminded me we had met many years earlier. In fact when I was three and he was six years old. Gilbert’s Father had asked my Dad to help build his steel framed shed and someone switched the power back on while Dad was completing the wiring. He yelled as he got shocked and Graham, who about was 11 years old was standing nearby, quickly raced over and switched it back off. So as Gilbert and I apparently were there, that’s our first meeting!
We act it out with Tara playing Grandpa Louie getting shocked. I’m Goong Goong and Tara shakes very convincingly like she is actually getting electrocuted. Lagi is playing Uncle Graham and switches the power off. Leilani decided she doesn’t want to play act this afternoon. All three plays are hilarious and Johny and Sara leave the room to confide and return with us as the victors, and who cares what happened to the others…
Its pouring with rain now and we know the next clue is about to come in and are readying ourselves to leave. Then it comes…

Roast beef sandwiches warmed in microwave, rhubarb, or mince and vege pies in her speckled oven tray. A lovely warm smile is guaranteed, when she meets you at the front door. Sometimes, without her false teeth, but love and great conversation for sure. A racing car driver, who never really grew old, stories of his adventures will forever be told. It’s always a good time to call in and say hi, where they both lie together looking up at the sky.
Remembering Mum, Ren starts to cry as lightening cracks through the sky and we all realise its the grave side we need to go. The next txt beeps and we see our tasks.
– Group video on the top of puke hill telling a joke. 30 points
– how much for a head of broccoli from the vege shop at the the roundabout on Manukau Rd, opposite the new countdown? 15 points
– how many people have scored a perfect 300 at the ten pin bowling alley at the cossie club? 25 points

“OK, I say, its too wet to go to the graveside with the children. How about we give that a miss and go straight to the Cossie Club?” Everyone agrees. and we jump in the cars ready to sort out the task points. After a quick joke up on Puke Hill, we drive down. Suddenly the rain clears and the sun streaks amazingly through the sky. “Left here to the grave side”, I tell Tara. “But didn’t we say we would skip that bit?” she asks. “Bugger that, I say. It’s stopped raining and we need those extra points.” Tara whips up the road and soon we are at Mum & Dad’s grave side, lost in our own quiet thoughts. “Nana would have loved this”, Tara says as we make our way up to Gilbert’s grandfather’s grave. Its looking a little worse for wear as Mum tended that head stone and many others for the close to forty years she tended Dad’s. I decide I should come and spray wet n forget on it, as we head back to the car.
The Cossie Club is a great diversion for the kids who are all rather tired now and we don’t even have to give them any money as they play with all the games happily. Its a welcome rest for us all as we laugh about the treasure hunts we used to organise for the kids. There was the time Gilbert and I organised a rally just like this. We ended up for a swim and BBQ at Miranda hot pools.

“You can’t get more than 300 can you?” I ask the girl at the counter hiring out shoes and balls. “I have no idea, she answers. I just started here and you’re the third person to ask me that!” We relax for a bit and then the next text comes in. Man am I tired and so ready for a drink. I ask Gilbert if he knows if we are ending at the village bar and he immediately and surprisingly says, “Yes” . He’s not very good at keeping secrets I remember.

The journey, well it’s almost over, and you’ve done so well to be here. Time for some kai and surely a drink, maybe a wine or a beer! So teams, make your way to The Village, not a town, in a place that’s no longer so small. Where a dairy with fnc is now a 4 square, where paddocks are now houses galore. When you’re there be sure to reflect on the hunt, I really do hope you’ve had fun. Get some more bonus points on the way then count up to see who won!
– Collect 3 leaves from hunters bush. 20 points
– group selfie where we stopoed to get choc blocks on the way to music lessons. Opposite the golf course. 30 points
– what colour is the house at number 20 Helvetia rd? 10 points
– why is this house significant? 10 points
– Nanny T’s grandpa would make what kind of lunch on a Sunday after church for them all? 
A) beef B) lamb C) chicken? 10 points
– was it A) roasted B) boiled C) fried? 10 points
No 20? That’s Nana & Grandpas I assume though I didn’t know the actual number. I never pass there without a glance in and remember them. “Through the roundabout, I tell Tara and go straight to the Village”. No Mum we have to get selfies at no 20. She stops and I try to take one inside the car as she’s furiously texting and demands I get out and do it outside. What the? I get out and do it and she yells out, “Take a better one!” so I go back. What’s her problem, she wanted to do them inside before? Seems she’s not in a hurry any more but I’m tasting a ‘whiskey n dry’ in my mind and can’t wait to get there.
“Now where’s the place we got choc blocks on the way to music….?” Tara muses. “I don’t care, I tell her. That’s the Caltex station, but we’ll go straight to the bar.” “No, no, we need the points!” she prompts. “Forget the points. Left here. We’ll take a shortcut.” I cut her off. “But Mum…” “Nah, straight to the bar.” “Well, we’ll stop and get the leaves at Hunter’s bush,” she decides. “Bugger the leaves. We’ll get to the bar first and get those points, I say. Quick left here!”

ARenny group pic

The kids are busily collecting leaves at Hunter’s Bush, hehehehe….

We pull up at the bar and the place is packed, even more than I expected. “Lotta people here,” I tell Tara. “Will you know anyone Mum?” Tara asks coyly. “I expect so, I answer nodding at a couple going in. Lots of locals here on a Sunday. Probably see Pete n Lee as well.” I go straight to the bar while Tara’s texting still. We get drinks and I grab one for Gilbert knowing they can’t be far behind. Let’s go in here, I tell her as we head into the other side. The place is packed and as I look around for a space for our group I see Lai, Josie and Puea, Willie…what the hang? As it dawns on me, I look back at Tara who is grinning from ear to ear. What a fabulous surprise! “I couldn’t keep her away any longer.” Tara apologises loudly to the group. “She wouldn’t do any of the last clues!” “Oh, who cares about clues.” I laugh as I move from one to the other for a kiss and a chuckle about the day. What a day it’s been. I’m actually buggered. It’s been full on since 10am when Tara arrived and so much fun. The afternoon sun is streaming in to the bar. Platters of food arrive and more drinks. What a perfect end to a perfect day.

A At the bar

Thanks Kids, I loved it! The only thing missing today was Damen, Chee and their families. We’ll all be together in October for the other part of my present. A garden working Bee. Can’t wait.

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The Anniversary of Dad’s passing

Dad died suddenly in a car accident at just 49 years old. 29th May 1978. It was an unbelievable shock. As I write that, I see myself then at just 19 years old. I was smack in the middle of seven children. Maree, the oldest was 25 with two babies and Marica the youngest was just seven. Barely a year before, Dad had handed me over to my new husband at our wedding.

Dad asks Nana to dance at Colleens 21st 1974

One of my favourite pics of Dad. At Colleen’s 21st. He absolutely loved to dance and here he has encouraged Nana, Mum’s Mother, up onto the dance floor.

As often happened in small communities news spread rapidly. Gilbert was truck driving and hearing it on the RT, came straight to me where I was teaching at a Kindergarten. I was in the sandpit with the children when I looked up. It was unusual for him to visit, but I just assumed he was passing. He stopped and spoke to the head teacher before coming to me and he guided me gently into the staff room saying he had to tell me something. I had a foreboding because of his manner, but could never have expected what it was.

Gilbert told me Dad had been in an accident and to get my bag, we would go. He held me as I cried, but couldn’t answer my questions. I pulled myself together once we got in the car. I needed to be strong for Mum, but became distraught when Gilbert turned South for home, not North for the hospital. Gilbert couldn’t tell me anything, but when I kept insisting we go to the hospital, he simply repeated, we needed to go to Mum, not the hospital. I didn’t get it. If it was bad like Gilbert was leading me to believe…I was confused. My mind couldn’t quite comprehend.

Johnny told me a little while ago he had taken the day off high school. Tony had said “if you’re not going to school then you may as well make yourself useful here”, and got him prepping at the takeaway bar he ran with Mum. Dad drove a van doing deliveries. It was called ‘Fast Freight’. Dad and a mate, Laurie Hyland came up with the idea. The fore runner of todays courier van, he would pick up and drop off stuff as fast as he could. This job was right up Dads ally really. Going fast was in his blood.

Tony told me recently someone had rung Mum and said they thought Louie had been in an accident so Tony and Johny raced to the site, and Tony quickly realising it was bad, told Johny to stay in the car. They then drove to Mum and broke the news to her. How hard must that have been.

Lindy told me she was at work when our cousin came and told her, so she and Chip dashed home.

Maree told me she had dropped Karen to school and Tracey to Kindergarten when she got a rather strange call from an old family friend, asking if she had heard any news. She hung up thinking that was a strange call, when Tony phoned to tell her. No doubt Marica and Michael have their versions too. Every detail so clearly remembered.

When Gilbert and I pulled up at home Mum was walking in a daze outside and I remember her telling me Dad had died in an accident. Dad gone? The whole thing was too much and as each of us arrived, we sat and cried. Stunned. Disbelieving through the next few days, nodding as people held our hands and told us how sorely he’d be missed.

That first day Mum handed me a notebook of phone numbers of people she needed to tell. She was just numb. She hardly spoke. We sat on the side of their bed and I sobbed as I relayed the news to old family friends with her at my side. Nobody could believe it. Neither could I, even as I delivered the news. Mum and Tony organised much of the funeral. Tony was just twenty two years old, organising his Fathers funeral. It wasn’t fair, but he stood tall and shouldered the responsibility.

Mum had wanted to see Dad, and against all advice, we went to the funeral home and saw Dad in his Sunday best. We lined up against a wall, as far from him as we could after being ushered in. Silence. We stood there unsure of what should happen. We had never done this before. Such a strange feeling. I stepped forward. Closer and closer until I was at Dads side and touched his face. So cold, and the colour was wrong. Much too pale for his Arabic features. I fingered the silk of his tie with tears flowing freely as I heard Michael in the background protesting loudly to Mum that I shouldn’t be up there. I shouldn’t be touching him. “Make her stop” he begged.

Mum however stepped forward also and encouraged the others too. We all cried, but I remember, you had to try and keep yourself in check. Not let it go, as who knows…You might not be able to pull yourself back in, and then what would happen? You might not get control of your emotions. You’d be a mess forever. We were grown ups now. It was alright to cry, but just little sobbing quietly. That was OK. Not a screaming heap, like I was fast falling into. I was perhaps the most emotional of all, and even now am the most likely to cry over anything. My reaction was possibly scary for the others. Crying was for babies, not adults.

We left Dad there. That was protocol. The next time we were with him was at the church, but now the lid was closed. That was how it was done back then. There was no more real goodbye. Such a stupid British stiff upper lip way of doing things. I bet my Croatian and Lebanese ancestors never sat around the edge of a room with a hanky dabbing at tears quietly, and I know my Irish ancestors definitely didn’t! How did things get so distant and cold? How was it we pretended it wasn’t a big deal. That someone simply wasn’t here any more.

The church was filled to the gunnals, inside and out. Speakers were put up so people outside could hear, though I was oblivious to that. I heard later it was one of the biggest funerals they’d had and police were diverting traffic.

I remember coming out of the church and there were people everywhere. It was all a blur as we went to the cemetery. That final goodbye as Dad was buried was incredibly hard. Poor Mum. Just turned 46 and Dad 49.

Someone, with the best of intentions took Marica away for much of the time. Crazy when I think now that the best thing is to be together, to cry and share stories and say goodbye. Not stifle it back as you make endless cups of tea for visitors, or accept cakes that stick in a throat too dry to swallow. Eating to fill a belly that has no hunger.

Car 49

I believe it was Tony Buller who got the bright idea to paint the leopard onto Dads race car and he immediately became ‘Louie the Leopard’.

In the race team he was often used to come up the rear and bump off the competitors, so other team members could take the lead. He was the one the public loved. The one they cheered for.

I wouldn’t say Dad was famous but he certainly was well known. Not for his doing any greater good, but for his escapades, dare devil-ness and even now when people hear his surname, if they were involved in the world of cars and racing, then they know of him. Was it weird that he was forty-nine when he died and his race car number was 49?

The older ones who really knew him are gradually falling away now, but the stories have lived on. When we meet any old timers they love to share a memory and they are most often funny. Its good to laugh. Its good to know he touched so many lives in a fun way. I’m sad now that I never really knew him as an adult. I was 19 years old. Had not long left home, just married and was really just starting to ‘know’ him. I was always sad that our kids never got to know him. He adored children and they would have loved him. Now we would never be able to hand our babies over proudly to him, their grandfather. Never to see him rock them as a baby, to dance with them, play his piano accordion or tell them his stories, and I’m sad for that future they lost with him.

At Red Dawson's wedding

Mum & Dad at Red Dawson’s wedding.  Chee thought Grandpa looked like a movie star.

But I was always mostly sad for Mum. She was heartbroken. He wasn’t the best husband. He had his faults and she knew them well, but she loved him more than words can say.

He signed off his last love letter to her before they married. “Goodnight little sweetheart. Yours till hell freezes! Louis x x x x x x x

She told me much much later that just before his death she was worried about something and she had cried. What if he wasn’t around to help her, and he had held her and said, “I’ll always be here, alright? I’ll always be here”. That was just a few days before he died. She told me it took her about three years to stop being so angry and sad. To stop crying herself to sleep. The nights were the hardest, bought up in a world where you ‘grin and bear it’. It was the first time in her life she was to sleep alone. All her life she had slept with her sisters in a double bed, until she married Dad. It wasn’t till she went to a ‘coping with grief’ weekend that she could move forward.

True to my form the tears are flowing freely as I write this. I still think of Dad as we pass the spot where he died, and I’m grateful for that instant death. His dog, Rom a constant companion, killed with him. Thrown from the vehicle. Micheal apparently retrieved him, and Johny helped bury him. That would have been hard too.

The roads are different now. Realigned and widened so visibility is better. I get why people want to put crosses at the place of death as that’s the place I most often think of him. I never visit the cemetery. There is no solace in the grey rows marching down the field, marking death, after death, after death.

I read the other day of an app you can get where you get a reminder every few days that you could die at any moment. You would think it would be a morbid sort of thing to get, but they say it makes you stop and smell the flowers. To be grateful for each day and all that is in it.

Why am I thinking about this now? Because the 29th of May 2018 is the 40th anniversary of his passing, and our family gathered with yet more great grandchildren at the old homestead where Dad grew up, where we also grew up as he took over half the farm, and where Johny and Sarah have since raised their family. We stood and laughed over shared memories. The amount of times we moved the bricks, how careful we had to be with the water, the parties and Lindy sneaking out the window…that was a pretty high window Lindy! I can’t help but feel like a young girl again there.

Dinner was peppered with some of Dads favorites like Fried rice and Nasi Goreng that he got Lindy to bring home from her job at the takeaways, and Lindy had made Mum’s Lebanese cabbage rolls.

We ohhhed and ahhhed over Johny’s alterations and imagined the house warm and toasty, when it had been freezing when we were children. We were amazed at the master bedrooms new ensuite, comparing it to where we had nine of us with one bath and toilet in the same room, when we were young, to the three or four bath/shower options now! Amy marveled how small the house was for a family of nine, while Lindy marveled that Johny had kept the same wallpaper in the back toilet that Mum had done.

We watched a DVD Tracey had made of the days of racing with Ivan Swain who pointed out he often raced Dads No: 49, and we laughed uproariously as Tony clicked through reels of family slides. Lindy with her blonde hair halo in her communion clothes, as she assured us she could have been a nun. Dad chainsawing right beside the washing blowing in the breeze. God, he must have made Mum angry!

Tony with his arms around yet another dog and Micheal in the go cart. Our children were amazed at all the pictures of dogs, as we argued over whether it was Rom or Peter or Fritz or Patch or Remus or Loot or Jason… Who would call their dog Jason? Most of our dogs were pre-loved and pre-named.

But most precious of all, we were thrust back to a family, with a heap of kids and extras around a table. Full of life and laughter. So many memories there in that old place. Thank you Johny and Sara for opening your home once again.

ASCD&O assoc

I just might give my memorabilia another outing May 29th. Dads badge from the very early stock car days. Auckland Stock Car Drivers & Owners Association.


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That will be several hundred thousand dollars, thanks…

Channie goodbye

We were Christchurch bound to help Chee and Annie move into their new, OWN, home. There had been much effort perusing available properties with pros and cons weighed carefully. Under floor and roof cavities inspected carefully with a builders eye, and no stone unturned when the decision was made. Offer was accepted and suddenly it was time. We were ready to pack and clean, unpack and admire.

They give cakes with mortgages now!

The new house has the requisite veg garden and a potting shed, glass house, slash tool shed made from old window frames. The very best kind. Outdoor spaces for summer shade and winter sun. A large new garage, with a door opener no less, almost brings tears of joy with its beautiful floor stretching metre, after metre into a long driveway, providing hours of fun to two little girls on their bikes.


Time to find new homes for everything

Tara n Sifa’s move into their city house was the same, but different. Fresh paint and new carpet with the promise of beautiful floorboards beneath it suited them to a T. A tiny footprint meant careful planning inside and out. Engaging a landscaper’s advice first giving clear instructions and in just a few short years, the outside looks amazing. An architects advice for the inside also meant a clear way ahead, and a budget.

Both homes with some room for improvement, they will do just fine for the next part of each whanau’s journey.

I remember well the homes we looked at to buy for our first home in 1979. Some were new and tiny, with their low ceilings and boring layout, skinny halls and no storage. Then there were the ones that had been remodeled to the point of not being sure where the front door was or how you accessed a lounge through a bedroom. Oh there were beautiful ones too that we could never afford, but then we were always drawn to the older homes. The bungalows with good bones and a top line of lead lights, solid timber doors and brass fittings. In our price range these mostly needed work, but they were loved family homes and spaces we could see ourselves in.


An old photo of our first home forty years ago

Our first home was built in 1940, had two huge bedrooms and a large sun room on the side with windows that pulled right back to make it a veranda and sat on a quarter of an acre with plum, feijoa, apple, pear, lemon, grapefruit and a walnut tree. The kitchen had pull down flour bins and was painted in mint green with brass handles and a speckled green bench. The lounge was beautiful with a semi circle window seat with lift up lids for storage and every room had jewel like multifaceted lead light windows that lit the room up with the lower afternoon sun. It cost us $27,500 if my memory is right!


Piano lessons in the hallway

The master bedroom was so huge, apart from our King size bed, we had a bassinet on my side, a single on Gilbert’s side and a cot in the far corner. Children came and went from various sleeping arrangements as they wished. Not every one’s cup of tea but it worked well for us. We completely renovated every part while retaining its originality. We oiled timber, repainted sills, re carpeted with a patterned axminster wool, and built a new rimu kitchen. Then Gilbert decided we needed to move. We were expecting our fifth baby and had always said if we moved, it would be to the country. With my new kitchen and double oven, at first I told Gilbert he would have to sell me with the house, but soon became excited at the prospect of a new beginning in a new space.

We gathered up our jars of feijoa chutney, plum jam and guava jelly made from our very own trees and moved to the country, to a house that resembled a bit more of a house ‘for removal’ as it had not long been plonked there, than a loved family home, and we started again. Also built in the 40’s but with sheep grazing right to the door, both inside and out was a bit of a mess. Thirty years later and only the lounge ceiling remains the same. Everything has been improved and for now it still meets all our needs. We have created some great memories here. Lets see what the future holds…

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I work in a wok

Hot days at work are sometimes like being sauteed in a wok. I could skip summer and go straight to a very long Autumn. I love Autumn. It’s my favourite month by far.

“What a lovely holiday you must have had!”. Some people exclaim when they see my deep tan making me look like I have been pan fried. In fact we work in a slight depression, where almost all areas have been concreted so any wind wisps above us, and as the sun sizzles down relentlessly, the passive heat from the concrete reflects up, making sure we are tanned to an even mid brown on our undersides as well. Some of us diligently marinate in a sunscreen before morning tea, but I have misgivings about rubbing a chemical concoction onto the biggest organ I have each day. I’m lucky that my Lebanese genes ensure melanin comes to the surface protecting me and confusing those unsure of my heritage. I have been asked if I am Indian more than a few times, but mostly the assumption is I am New Zealand native Maori.

I reminded my chiropractor I couldn’t come on Thursday nights as I am going to Te Reo classes. “Oh yes”, she remembered, “hows that going? Is it coming back to you from when you were young?” I smiled. “Not really, my Dad was Croatian-Lebanese, and my Mum was Irish, so we never spoke Te Reo at home.” She was a little embarrassed and said she expected people were confused and I probably have it happen all the time. Funny how we need to have a tag.

I arrive home after another scorcher of a day and sink into my favourite lounge chair with a magazine on my lap. I only need to read a few lines before I know will slip into a nice comfortable nap when Wheriko, who is sitting beside me intently writing in her lined exercise book, begins to hum quietly, and its just enough for me to look over. “What are you writing?” I ask.

“Well, Nanny, she starts, I am planning my birthday. Its in 5 days and I have so much to organise. We had a meeting…” she goes on.”Who had a meeting?” I ask, intrigued as to what is going to happen at this auspicious birthday. “Well, Me and Kahu, (who is 7) and Tai, (who is 4) and Kaea, (who is 1)…she continues,  were working out what kind of music we should have at the party”. “Ohhh, and what did Kaea think?” I ask, smiling at just what a one year old would have chosen.

Kids at Calendula

We went to Calendula cottage for lunch, much to the delight of the children.

“Well, Wheriko looks up from her notes, Kaea and Tai didn’t stay for the actual meeting because they got bored waiting, while Kahu and I were getting ready for the meeting…”

I chuckled to my self imagining the two older girls preparing as if for a real board meeting while the two young ones had more pressing matters, like how they should stack the seventeen matchbox cars Tai had into a box and still be able to close the lid.

“So what did you decide?” I ask, now not terribly interested as my lids slip down and I begin to drift off as she explains. They first discussed what music the cousins, Milan, (who is 9), and Lagi,( 6), Marie, ( 8) and Tui, (5) might choose if they had been at the meeting. I doze for a few minutes and stir as she is still rabbiting on about music called ‘marmalade’. “Is that a kind of ‘Jam’?”, I ask. Wheriko looks over at me, unsure at what I mean and at my mischievous smile, rolls her eyes. “Nannnnnyyyy”.

Wheris bday

Birthday cake to die for. Simone made about seven layers and each of a different colour, so when cut, a rainbow effect delighted the children and amazed the adults!

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