Makes no sense to me

I open my eyes suddenly after having dozed back off once in the spa. I feel less than energetic and my ‘sleep ins’ are not helping, but rather seem to be making me more tired. 

Its an hour after dawn and the rising sun spotlights the line of gums while I sit in welcome shadow. The Jacaranda tree is resplendent in its summer dress of mauve flowers and I have stirred because of the buzzing, as it is thick with bees. I watch lazily as the fat bumbles disappear right into the flower trumpets, and slip out again. The sun shimmers off their lacy wings as they turn to the next flower. Too busy to care about me and my lazy ways.  

I can’t much be bothered with fancy yoga moves this morning. Every quiet moment I find my mind drifting back to the events of the last few weeks. Its been a roller coaster of emotions as we bid farewell to a family member. I try not to think about it, but like an itch I am trying not to scratch, it keeps reminding me its there. Slipping into my consciousness while I’m quietly weeding or thinning the lettuce.  

I have come full circle, and no doubt I will do a few more rounds as I try to make sense of the loss. We are left with nothing but assumptions and questions. Questions we will never know the real answers to. Just the view through our tinted lenses. We are filled with a sense of disbelief, and yet it is too true. 

Some days I shake my head at his stubborn stupidity and wonder how it got to those cross roads. How he could have thought it was the best way to go. Some days I feel real anger at the empty promises he grasped at, and those that extended a hand when he was most vulnerable. Some days I am just sad that his mind played tricks on him and for those he left behind as they try to make sense of it. Sometimes I even think it is his choice and who am I to question that choice. Only this thought gives me peace. 

Christmas comes. New Year goes quietly as night slips into day and work looms ahead of me. The seasons will soon pass and life will go on. Summer will be hot and I will wish for rain. Autumn will be glorious as I plant new trees and prepare for rest. Winter will be filled with wind blowing ripples over puddles, quiet projects, reading and planning. Spring will be hectic as the kitchen garden jostles for attention once more. Every year is different, and every year is the same.  

I have already drawn up a calendar. It hangs above my desk with my hopes and dreams for 2018.

Tara explained ‘passion planning’ to Lauren and I. The things that excite and rejuvenate. I have scribbled pictures with changes to the garden. I have mind maps with ordered lists and dated them. I have cupboards to clear to make life less cumbersome. I have stories to tell, a twenty year old diary to transcribe, photos to sort and much more. It looks like I have enough planned for three years, and suddenly I’m excited by it. I will once again greet each day ready to fill it with the things that make me happy. I will stuff each corner with fulfillment, relaxation and joy. I will welcome good friends, good wine, good food, and be thankful my life is full and with purpose.

The children’s voices and laughter will fill the silences when they happen. We will still talk of him and shake our heads. We will share our thoughts often, because we love talking and yet we will watch each other more closely for the unspoken words. Of course we will try and keep that door firmly closed. But most of all, we will be alright.  

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That moment in time…

Inevitable as it is and many times more expected the older we get, it still takes us by surprise doesn’t it. Even as Mum prepared us in the years before by telling us, if we saw she was losing her mind we were to ‘hit her on the head with a hammer’, we laughed. Even as we saw her struggles in the last few years and we knew her time was close, we just couldn’t imagine it….and even though we knew it was to be, and we wanted it for her… we selfishly didn’t want it for us.

Their passing, one moment in time, takes us back over our years together. Our childhood, our teenage years and our new parenthood. When we understood for the very first time what it was like to be a Mother or Father. OUR Mother or Father, and here at this point, it is that we stop seeing them as Mum or Dad, but as an adult. An adult with dreams and schemes and coping with marriage, families and finance, good health or bad, whatever life threw at them. Hopefully at this point we judge them less harsh as we appreciate that they coped with life’s challenges in the best way they knew how, just as we must.    

I couldn’t have imagined the gaping great hole Mum left and yet am so thankful that we had her for so long, into our own grandparent hood. That she was a strong figure in our children’s lives. That she was such a positive and fun loving person and we got to share that as adults. That she kept pretty well for most of that time and that she got to choose her time to go, with dignity, which was one of her biggest fears.

November, the anniversary of Mum’s passing, is such a lovely time in the garden and so much of what I see here as I wander, is because of Mum. I see the cuttings, that were nothing more than three dried up sticks, now flourishing hydrangea bushes. The fushia tree that ‘pops’ up everywhere, she gave me as the birds love it. The brick paving she surprised me with one day as she planted it in Mondo grass.  The rhubarb came from her. Hang, even things she didn’t plant she took credit for. “Look Tricia, the carpet roses I gave you are doing so well!” Ummm I bought those. 

And what about the cordyline terminalis that I have almost dug to China to get to the bottom of I can’t get rid of it. “Can I plant this anywhere Mum?” I asked. “Yes, by the pond would be lovely”, she said. When later it was threatening to engulf the pond she swore she never said that! Or the white climbing Rose that shreds me at pruning time with its huge thorns, that I thought I sliced through at ground level and somehow the thing keeps growing. She delighted in every aspect of the garden and whenever we visited we had to do a garden tour, no matter how busy we were, or uninterested. No matter where I walk here, there is a piece of her in every part. I marvel too at how much I learn’t from her and what a great gift that knowledge and joy of gardening is. She celebrated every success, no matter how small. 

Perhaps death makes us realise our own vulnerability. After Dad’s passing when I was just 19, I used to avoid funerals like the plague as I became so distraught. Not necessarily over the person who had died, but my own loss previous. It was embarrassing to be sobbing uncontrollably when I may not even have met the person who had passed. Perhaps I just have a well tuned empathy response. I make an effort now I am older and wiser and know how comforting those words are, to be surrounded and to feel a sharing of the loss. I am still an embarrassing cry baby however.

In the last year people who are special to me have lost their parents, and I feel so sad for them, that over the next few months they will go to make a phone call and then remember they are no longer there. They will pick up something they were given and remember the giving, but hardest of all they will feel the finality of that life.  They will feel that gaping hole. Hopefully soon they will also feel a special warmth that comes with those memories and the time they had. 

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Waxing and Waning

I have decided to follow the moon calendar for real. I tried this before, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t like being told when to do things. Plant this week but not the next. What if I didn’t have plants to plant this week, but I do next week? Weed when the moon is aligned. What if it rains all week and I don’t feel like weeding? Maybe I feeling like seed raising then…It was all too much bother with its waxing and waning business that made no sense to me. Until someone gave me a 2017 garden diary that contained a lunar garden guide. Half the year had passed but the first week of the month was for planting I noted. Maybe I’ll give this a go. It seemed a bit easier all being mapped out for me. So I gathered the slips of things I wanted to plant. Bought some potted seedlings to get a head start, readied the seed raising trays with paper and mix. Tidied the plastic house bench. I did everything to prepare for the week of planting. I did everything, but plant.

I was so excited the week it started and happily wrote in the diary each night what I planted and noted when the seeds first popped up. The seedlings went into the beds. Peas straw tucked around their legs to keep them warm and to buffer the coming rains. If I saw some weeds I let them be and carried on with cuttings and transplanting. Suddenly the week was over and now I was supposed to be weeding.  

I looked around and began to weed. You would never run out of spaces needing weeding here, but what was magic was that the weeds slipped from the earth as if through butter. I couldn’t believe the ease of pulling long dock roots, black ink plants taller than me and huge hemlock. All with forked tongues, no longer holding on to the earth. I doubled my work rate and weeded madly around edges and hedgerows, under shrubs and old bath tubs. It was incredible. “Of course it is, Anne at work said. The roots have let go as the plant sap rises”. How come I didn’t know this before? This is a revelation.

The problem with a garden ten times, or more the size of the average family garden, is the work load. A constant feeling that if I don’t keep at it, it will all grow to Africa, and then where will I be. Up shit creek is where, I can tell you. Everyone wants to make light of work and this definitely made a difference. I kept working. 

I had a pile of pongas I had edged the chicken run with, that the damn hens were scratching away at underneath. I lugged them out again. That was a stupid idea I thought to myself as I stacked them up. Then I took the broken concrete out of the citrus grove that was supposed to reflect the warm sun up and make the citrus feel like they were in sunny Servile. Another stupid idea I had. Now I used them to edge the hen run to stop the hens escaping under the fence. Try scratching that out I told them. 

Now is the time to rest, the diary informs me. Put your feet up and rest. OoooKay. I get out pencil and paper and make lists. I look at my pile of pongas and think a walkway will be cool. It could curve tantalizingly towards the centre of my small planted bush, leading the children straight to the middle and a native Puka tree with low, low branches that are easy to climb.

Then I walked around and around my citrus grove. Four trees had died after rabbits had chewed their roots and it was a nightmare to keep the whole area mulched, when suddenly a picture unfolded in my mind as I remembered a property on the Waiheke sculpture trail. I will reorganise my citrus grove and its nearly the right time to plant out that hedge I wanted to help create a Mediterranean micro climate so my citrus WILL think they are relaxing in sunny Spain, not wallowing in a swamp, with a clay pan preventing their feet from drying out.

I perused the books on hedge ideas and spotted a bay hedge. Wow! I have a whole bucket of Laurus Nobilis Mum started. I nipped outside to check if they were still alive and there they were thriving in an old bucket. Good on ya Mum I whispered as I counted out eighteen, foot high Bay Tree plants. I grabbed a piece of paper and soon had a plan. A pathway will curve around the citrus trees and I will fill the centre with Lavenders, Rosemary, Thyme, Camomile, Santolina and edge the pathway with Lemon Balm and Peppermint which will be a mown track. If the peppermint strays too far into the path it will simply be mown. I might even slip in some marigolds and other annuals. Each tree will have a mulched circle at its base so fruit won’t be lost. OMG I’m so excited about this. I search though my odd bits and pieces I have been propagating and find I have got almost everything I need. 

I plant the new citrus trees and ring each tree with chicken wire. I check day after day after day, and so far no rabbit damage. Gilbert’s knocked a few of them off and Adrian next door tells me I’m not to worry if I hear him shooting. He’s catching them sitting in circles in broad daylight on his lawn, as if they’re having a meeting. “I’ll never point it at your place he assures me”. I’m hoping between them the rabbits will decide to move on.

It’s like all the pests have moved to our place. There’s a group working hard locally to make our area pest free and I can’t help but feel we are letting the side down badly. On the other hand while not everyone liked my rat story, I did get some positive comments. Better to be doing something than nothing, that’s for sure!

Now back to the moon. What’s she doing this week. . .

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Don’t judge me…

So, I’m hanging out the washing and have a distinct feeling I’m being watched. I glance around and it turns out a bloody great rat is sitting there watching me in the morning sunshine. I stare back at him and can’t quite believe my eyes, but it is. He’s just nonchalantly sitting in the sun and even my movement as I lift to hang the next thing doesn’t seem to faze him. I get out my phone and think I’ll take a pic but he dives off. Obviously camera shy.

I had talked to Andrew about our rat problem and his desire we make our little village pest free. Andrew lives way on the other side of our village. About 10 km away and is surrounded by native bush. Sounds unrealisitic but I’m not arguing. He thinks if we all keep setting traps and be vigilant, we can do it. We discuss rats habits and make a plan to set more traps, to not leave food lying around in the hen runs and management of compost bins and wormery. Jeepers as I run through what’s available I realise we’re like a flippin supermarket for rats. At the end of summer I popped the pumpkins on the fence and when I went to get one to make soup, I turned it over as it was so light, to find they had gnawed a hole and eaten all the middle out. It was hollow for Gods sake!

My beautiful pumpkin, completely empty.

Then today I decided with the ground still too wet to do much, I would turn the compost and the ready one could be popped on the new beds as soon as it dried out a bit. I have three bins. Third bin was empty so I began to turn the second bin into it. Standing in there I was busy shoveling when two rats dived out and ran around and around my boots. I smashed one over the head with the shovel and the other rat had hit the back wall of the compost bin and bounced back onto my boot and jumped up, about to run again, when I forced the shovel down onto his middle. Number two down. I stood there breathing heavily and screamed a mighty scream as the adrenalin needed to escape. I imagined all the cortisol running around my body and was amazed at how quickly I had reacted. I can barely catch or kick a ball.

My compost bins. One, Two and Three for three stages of composting. Interlocking boards made by Damen for me close to twenty years ago mean I can change the bins for each stage. 

A shiver ran through my whole body as I stepped out and just stood there staring at them. Almost full grown but still with the soft downy fuzz of a young one. Was two the whole family or were more about to spring out. I debated going back up to the house, but for what? I gingerly poked around the outside and now on alert, every shovelful had a pause. It’s one thing to instinctively kill a couple of rats, but to be deliberately contemplating killing was another thing altogether.
Of course I couldn’t just let then go them free. That would be ridiculous and as long as it was a quick death? I imagined Andrew telling me what terrible pests they were to ease my conscious. I remembered that man I talked to at work one day with Buddhist beliefs telling me that every living thing had the same rights to live. He marveled over the fragile wings of a bird and its strength and tenacity. I smiled thinking of those two having a discussion about it. Then I remembered my eaten out pumpkins. My corn stripped on the standing stalks and with each shovelful I imagined one, two or three jumping out at me and wondered if I could once again get more than one. By now I was determined none would get away if I could help it.

They were eating my chokos right off the vine dammit!

I was fully pumped when it happened and number three turned out to be the last. A quick smack and it was over. I disassembled the nest and marveled how she had gathered pea straw and shredded paper and made a cosy place to have her babies. Then I wondered where hell was she? Did she watch me from afar. Another shiver ran down my spine. I called out to the cat but shook my head thinking poor old Jebus who was now almost toothless and very probably deaf or just ignorant never came when we called him. You just happened to see him from time to time and he wouldn’t be much help. As I work, I’m thinking its time to get a new cat.

Almost lunchtime, I headed up and took off my gloves as I picked up an old choko that I had dropped on the path. Heaving it towards the first compost bin, I watched as it sailed through the air to see if it would go in. To my shock it hit a massive rat who must have been sitting on the top. It jumped with a squeal, its thick tail arcing in the air as it spun around and jumped out of the bin diving to the ground. I stood there, stock still taking in what had just happened when it shot past me on the path and into where my old pots are precariously stacked. Eyes wide and once again after the ‘event’, another blood curdling strangulated scream left my throat. Heart still pumping I took my boots off and headed upstairs.

There was commotion around the table as everyone was setting the table and preparing for lunch. Still breathing heavily I asked who heard me scream because no one, had come to see if I was alright. Twice! “I would have come if I heard you”, four year old Tai assured me. “I’m sure you would have Tai”, I said as I sat down. Exhaling I realised when I turn that bin I might just have some surprises in store for me. Arrggghhhhh!

My fresh compost teeming with worms who do all the work for me. 

After lunch, out I go and staying outside of the bin this time I’m swing shovelfuls over and soon forget about my rat problem. Switching to a fork I’m digging up wonderful great worm laden twisted piles of sweet smelling compost. That’s the thing about compost. If its made well it will smell sweet and be black and rich and amazing. And as I marveled over this I suddenly heard some squealing and lifting my fork was horrified to see four baby rats pierced onto the tines of the fork. I’m not sure if this was good luck or bad but quickly dispatching these into a nearby bucket I reluctantly plunged it in again and this time came up with another four. It was hard not to retch at the violence of it but at the same time, it was amazing and plunging in again and opening the nest right up I eventually got eleven. I was somewhere between elated and disgusted with myself, but just for about 30 seconds. I had a ton of work to do and just had to keep moving.

At afternoon tea Gilbert’s eyes were wide in disbelief and he promised to be better at trap setting and checking. He didn’t actually say, but I think he was proud of me. I saved us from more than a dozen adult rats, about to hit the ground running. Murder aside. I did good! We shared a chocolate bar with our coffee as we both contemplated our next jobs.  

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Every night before bed, I put my lipstick on. 

I got the call that Annie seemed to be in labour, and while it was stop-start, everything looked like it wouldn’t be long. My bag had been packed to dash at a moments notice, and the time had come. Who knows when is the right time. Annie had said, “you just have to be there…you just have to be”. “I will be on the next plane” I told her. It had seemed impossible that I would make this birth as the midwife said it would likely be fast, given once she went into established labour with the last one, it was only about 3 hours before delivery. So I had sent them a note, just in case I didn’t make it.

OK guys…I wrote… I’m going to do my best, but in case I don’t get there, here’s my thoughts on birthing. Trust your body. No one knows how long each stage will take but be sure the body knows exactly what it is doing and we are simply facilitating this process. Amy had said for her second birth she felt stronger and more confident and remembered thinking. “Bring, it, on!” She was ready physically and emotionally. I laughed when she told me and remembered thinking that for Tara’s birth too.

Women often get into a ‘Zone’ for birthing at the end. Brain waves slow down. Outside pressures, noise, activities fade away and only the birth is on her mind. The birth hormone Oxytocin is released when all the factors are right for birthing. With each contraction we release more oxytocin which increases the contractions. Then we release beta endorphins which are feel good and work as natures pain killers. Birth is not always painful. It can be powerful, as well as empowering.
You can do this too Annie, you were amazing at the last birth and you will be at this one also. See you soon. 

As if a test of her endurance, Annie didn’t deliver as soon as I arrived, nor did she for day after day after day, despite some lengthy and strong contractions. The body moves into labour proper when its ready, and so we waited.   
Would you have like to have been a midwife?” Chee asks me after I arrive. “A Midwife?, Hell no”, I laugh. I have been privileged to be included in ten of our twelve moko’s births and I absolutely love the role of doula, or mentor to our whanau’s births, but no, not a midwife. 

I was very happy in the days before the birth as I dug the garden over, spread compost, began making a compost bin, trimmed the lawns edges, pruned the grapes with Chee and went for long leisurely lunches. We went to the Sunday Markets and I bought every possible plant I could pop in the newly turned soil. Covered their spindly legs with pea straw and hoped a frost wouldn’t take them. 

“I’ll take the girls for a walk and let you both have some time”, I offered one day. Boots and jackets on, snacks packed we headed off. “We’ll be away for at least an hour, I called back, so don’t worry.” “Where are we going?” Three year old Aneeka asked. ‘We’re going on an adventure, I smiled. Lets see where we end up!” Two year old Piper looked up at me and grinned. We headed down to the Red Zone. I’d remembered going there with Chee and the girls last time. You end up at the riverside and its just beautiful this time of year. We came first to a man with nets out at a little estuary off the river. 

“Hello, I smiled when he looked up at us. What are you hoping to catch?” Unsure exactly what kind of net he had out. “Whitebait, he called back happily. I’ve seen two go by, but caught none so far”. “Do you usually have good luck here?” I inquired. “No, he laughed. I’ve had this net eight years and never caught anything, but then this is only the second time I’ve had it out. The first time was last week”, he continued looking at my probably shocked face when I thought he’d been whitebaiting for eight years and never caught anything. “I’ve just retired and its better to be out than sitting indoors”. I had to agree but there was no time to sit around watching. The girls, quickly bored with our conversation had started off to cross the bridge so I ran to catch up. We watched the ducks first who raced up, just in case we had food, which were soon followed by huge black swans looking at us like ‘we better have food’! I edged closer to Piper, who seeing them about to head in, went back to the water’s edge to rescue her pile of stones, and as soon as they got close I grabbed her up before yelling ‘Get away!’ and got ready to run myself. Shoot they look like they mean business.       

The Red Zone is where the houses were severely damaged during the Feb 11 earthquake. The land no longer considered safe to build on, the people have left, the houses have been demolished, the paths and fences removed, leaving acres of park like grounds with random fruit trees and the remains of established gardens. A rather eerie feeling as we pass along the riverside. What was a thriving community, is now an just an echo of families.  

We pretended we were on an adventure, stopping for our snack to sit on logs and I told stories as people ran past with dogs, and still more set up nets at the rivers edge. Guys drove slowly by asking the whitebaiters how they were doing and we listened to them call back, ‘no luck today’.   

We’d been away about an hour when Piper looked up at me and said, “I want my Mummy.” “OK, I merrily answered, lets go!” We headed off, me sure if I turned right we would soon end back up where we started. We walked and walked and walked. I was sure I needed to hear the local school on my left but I was hearing it on my right. Trying to get my bearings we played eye spy and I told crazy stories trying to distract the children as best I could, but ‘the shit hit the fan’ when Aneeka fell over. “Can you carry me, Aneeka wailed, dropping her body, my legs won’t go anymore”. “Meee toooo”, Piper chimed following her sisters lead. “Hmmm, I can’t actually carry you both but how about you have turns?” As Aneeka had dropped her lip good and proper I suggested to Piper I carry Aneeka first. “OK”, Piper immediately agreed, seeing reason easily. 

I felt that once we rounded the next corner if I couldn’t figure out where we were, I’d have to phone. It was cooler now and neither of the girls would take much more of these shananigins. At one point Aneeka looked up at me a little disgruntled and asked. “Nanny, are you sure you know the way home?” “Oh yes I do. It’s just a little way up here.” No point in all three of us being worried, while I kicked myself for not taking a pushchair. For the next bit I took turns carrying each girl but before we got to the corner, Muzz, Annie’s friend pulled up and nipping across the road headed down towards us. I can’t tell you how happy this made me. “We’re having an adventure, I explained, but actually…can you take us home?” “Of course, Muzz laughed. I wondered when I saw you put one down and pick the other up, if you were OK.” I didn’t know if she could fit us in, but at this point I would have climbed onto the back of a ute and didn’t give a toss about seat belts. We crossed the road and looked on in amazement as she rearranged her seats and belts and we were soon all strapped in safely and delivered home. I couldn’t believe how far we were still from home and doubt the girls will be so keen to go on an adventure with me again. 

Over the evenings I edited my China diary and explored the art of knitting again, fired up by a visit to Spotlight with Evon. We discussed the birth, using aromatherapy, distraction, massage, positive visualisations. We discussed what Annie wanted. A water birth was the first requisite. That was not negotiable. Good strong back massage. Ice blocks and barley sugar to suck on. They were good, she remembered. Everything was ready to go. Chee settled the two little ones each night and we caught up on ‘Game of Thrones’ to pass the time, until Friday night after dinner, we were on. Annie joked about it all stopping again, but we called Evon anyway who collected the two little ones. Not really wanting to leave their Mother at midnight, until dark chocolate was pressed into their chubby hands with promises of a movie. Annie and I fell into a rhythm of breathing and massage and Chee checked the set up. 

With the pool not yet full enough, he guided Annie to the bathroom and looking back at me with a terrified look, quietly conveyed we had run out of hot water. I threw on all elements, filled every pot I could find, as well as one on the fire and calculated whether this might do it. When Annie came back Chee broke the news to her that we might not have enough for a water birth and I really felt for him. “You know what Annie, I spoke strong and confidently. I reckon we just might have enough and this baby’s coming anyway, ready or not.” 

The midwife arrived and testing the water with her hand she tossed the temperature gauge to one side saying, “looking at that wouldn’t be helpful”. She told Annie to get in when she felt ready, while Chee and I added pot after pot to the side with a quick swirl before refilling. It was 2.45am when Jody arrived and 3.17 when baby eased through the birth canal and into the water, gently scooped up and handed into Annie’s arms, whose body was supported by Chee. A truly beautiful way to enter the world.    

How ragged is the body after a birth! I remember that complete and utter exhaustion as Chee and I took turns to stay at Annie’s side to help. We all settled into the lounge. Kept the fire going with warming teas, toast, and bowls of yummy stews as required. On the third night Chee said “You look buggered Mum. You go to bed and I’ll take tonight”. No complaints from me as I showered and readied for bed, but hearing baby in full voice thought I’d check they could settle her before I slipped between the sheets. Chee looked me a bit funny as I reminded them how to wrap her, hold firm so she feels secure with a regular pat on the bum. She was asleep in a couple of minutes. “You look nice Mum” Chee complimented me as I tucked her down. “Pardon”, I answered. I was in jamas with face cream. Was he being sarcastic? “You look nice he repeated, with your lipstick on”. “What lipstick? I said, as I thought back to having smeared Chapstick on before coming out. It’s Chapstick, my lips were dry.” “Ahhh no, he laughed. Take a look in the mirror. I think you’ll find its lipstick”. Pretty funny as I looked in the mirror looking a little like a crazy woman with my grey hair all over the place and Merlot lips. Turns out I had bought Merlot tinted Chapstick, ‘hydration plus’. With no mirror to guide me I had roughly applied what indeed looked like lipstick, which from then on gave us a nightly chuckle. 

Baby is a little gem, doing all the right things with her two big sisters keeping an eye on her progress. New additions to a family are such a momentous occasion made even more special when shared with love around a family. Our twelfth grandchild in almost ten years.  I headed home knowing they were coping well and that I would be back for another week in less than a months time, as we had pre booked a trip down.  

I am always amazed at how different each birth is, and yet how much the same they are. Three gorgeous girls for them, three years and under, each one already with their own distinct personality. This will be one heck of a roller coaster at times! They will have their hands full for a while, though fully supported by their village, I have no doubt they are up to the task. 

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Sometimes I’m a Mermaid¬†

I slipped on the deck one morning, running across to grab some lemons, and as I ran, one leg slipped out behind me twisting my knee as I hit the deck, my thumb wrenched back as I tried to stop myself. Still, I kept sliding and letting my lemons go rolling ahead of me l desperately try to stop myself from careering over the steps to the concrete below. I stop on the top step. There is no time to waste as the Gilbert’s in the car with the motor warming and I wince as I gather some of the lemons I am taking to Amy, limp to the car and slip in the seat. “I just slipped on the deck” I say to Gilbert as I put my seat belt on. “Aha”, he says, his thoughts on other things.

Every morning that I spa I stretch and make up exercises that I think will help. I twist from the waist side to side and pretend I’m a mermaid keeping my feet together and drawing my knees up. I make like a starfish and then do scissor legs. I have no idea if this will help anything but it feels great. I love the water. The birds are too busy to watch catching their breakfast insects. Occasionally Paddy the dog will stealthily sneak up and pop his nose over the edge of the spa and if particularly curious will jump up to look in. Given he’s about a 50 kilo Ridgeback and about five foot tall if he stands on his hind legs, I nearly have a heart attack as if a shark has just loomed up over the edge of my boat, and losing my grip sometimes I go under enough that my gasp almost has me taking on water. “Get out you bloody idiot”, I yell at him when I realise my life wasn’t in danger at all, and he lumbers down, still panting happily as if I told him I love him.

The jets switch off automatically after ten minutes and I know it’s time to get out. It’s a marvellous way to start the day and I’m warm with blood pumping. Sure as hell beats doing exercises I think, as I pass Gilbert who is doing squats in front of the TV.

My knee is not right and there is a spot in my back that feels like it’s on the verge of going into a spasm and I decide maybe this mermaid business is not working. Maybe I need some physio to help me along. “I’m at the end of my frozen shoulder unfreezing, my back feels tight, my hip is giving me jip, this finger locks up and this thumb aches. I’m generally feeling quite old and stiff”, I confide to Helen, my new best friend. I sound like a whiney old moaner. She marks all the problem spots on a picture of a body and takes notes. It’s not looking good, this body picture and lines of notes. “…and I hate exercises, I continue. I would shovel compost for an hour happily before doing exercises, but I love spas. Can you give me things to do in the spa?” I ask tentatively.

“I certainly can, she replies full of smiles. That’s perfect for what we need to do for you. We need to get you stretching and lengthening your muscles which have to some extent become short and tight. The hot water will help with that.  We need to keep you doing the things you enjoy, and strong and this is entirely achievable.” Wow, so glad I asked!

I smile. I’m excited. I have a prescription for exercises in the spa! She gives me the full check over. She finds out where I want to be. Do I want to take up running, or biking? Hell no! Its pretty simple I explain bringing it right down to basics. “I want to be a fitter, slimmer, stronger more supple me. Yes that’s it in a nutshell”. Now she smiles. “Ok”, she says and so we begin. I am so happy doing my stretching most mornings and I feel absolutely fabulous getting out all warm and ready for breakfast. Its funny but after a very short time I am feeling fitter, slimmer, stronger and more supple. I’m not sure if its just in my head, because as she puts me through my paces I still can’t do the things she seems to want me to do. Like touch the floor or reach past my knees when I go side to side and even when I try to do it, I feel surprised that I can’t. Helen explains its about the long term. We’re not so much just fixing a problem but keeping me in better physical health going forward. 

I tip toe out to the spa in the dark as the moon bids me goodnight, slipping past the tree line. I have much to be grateful for.

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A poke in the eye with a sharp stick. 

Over a period of a few days I noticed whenever I counted the hens, one seemed to be missing and each time as I debated looking around for her, I heard her squawking up in the hen house and assumed she was laying. After a week or two of this, I realise its always the same hen missing, so go and check. She’s there alright, but shes eyeing me up funny and I get in to have a better look and see she has a puss filled ball stretching from the side, over one eye. I approach her from her bad eye side and pick her up to take a good look. I can’t see any other way around it but to pierce the ball so the puss can escape. I mull this over as I take some food up to her. 

A vets bill is out of the question but I am to go to town later so drop into the chemist and say. “I have a funny question. I have a hen with a scratch beside her eye that has filled with puss and is now covering her whole eye. I’m thinking I sterilse a needle, pierce the swelling so the puss can escape, wash with a little saline solution and smear some bactroban on the wound. Does this sound like an OK plan?” I ask. He smiles and I know he lives on a small block also. “It’s a good plan, he nods. You can use Iodine too if you have it”. 

Later I say to the children. We have an operation we need to do on a hen and I may need some helpers, at which they become very excited and assure me they definitely want to help. 

I sterlise a needle, thread it into a paper towel and hand it to Wheriko explaining not to touch the sharp end. I hand the bactroban on the end of an iceblock stick to Kahu and tell her I will need it after I have cleaned the eye. She nods. To Tai I hand a small water bottle I have filed with a little warm saline/salty water. “This is to wash away any puss that comes out”. Gumboots on, my nurse aids are bubbly with the importance of it all, chattering as we go out the back door. 

We have discussed at length what I am going to do and why, and no one seems particularly fazed at the prospect. I easily pick up the hen who is outside this time feeding with the rest, tuck her under my arm, keeping my right arm free. “Needle!” I ask Wheriko and the children gather around, but as I pierce the bubble that sits over the eye Wheriko squeals, “Oh Nanny, that’s horrible. I can’t look!” she cries and runs behind the other two who are having second thoughts now. “Paper!” I call and Wheriko forgetting she is even holding it, has refused to come forward. She shields her eyes as she leans forward but steals a glance I notice. Kahu is also backing away. She doesn’t want to come any closer. I press the ball with my latex gloved hands and puss starts to come out. “Water, Tai! Water”. I need it now!” Tai stretches his arm trying not to step any closer than he has to. I squirt the water over the area. “Ointment!” I call. “Ointment”. No body moves. “Ointment, Kahu I need the ointment”. She brings it over and squeals as I smear the bactroban over the ball that isn’t as tight now. All three have decided they don’t want to be vets assistants any longer. 

“Don’t be silly I say. Is it better I help the chicken or leave her to die in pain?” “That was probably painful” Wheriko looks at me accusingly. “Well maybe not as bad as you might think. She didn’t fight or squeal much”, I answer. “Nanny she yells, You just poked her in the eye with a needle!” “Ahh no, it looked like I poked her in the eye, but I was careful to break open the little sac of infection over the top and not actually poke her in the eye, so not the same thing”. None of them look too sure about this.

There she is on the left. Looking much better!

To be honest I squirmed myself and said a few sorry, sorries under my breath. It was possibly one of the more horrible tasks I’ve had to do, but once I was holding her I knew I had to finish the job. I was surely rewarded when I went down a few days later to see her bounce out of the hen house and run down to me with the rest, in anticipation of the scraps I had. I had to look twice to be sure it was the same hen. I can see a thin skin over her bad eye but she looks happy and healthy and I stroked her as she snatched some scraps up and I felt so relieved. I’m not a hundred per cent sure she isn’t blind in that eye, but I think it was better than letting nature take its course in this case, and I think better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!   

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