All posts by Irihapeti

I live on a 3-acre property with my husband, 1 cat, 11 hens and a wide range of birds and smaller critters (the latter, uninvited). We are trying to have as small an ecological footprint as we can, and have installed solar panels for our power needs, and collect our own rain water. We are self-sufficient for vegetables and fruit. My time is spent writing, gardening and day-dreaming.

Late October Promises a Change in the Weather

Warmer Weather

Entry to the vegetable garden is through the hidden gate in the stick fence.

Time has scooted by. I last wrote in June and since then, South Head has experienced days, weeks and months of disappointing weather. Strong winds that have swept branches off trees.  Downpours so heavy that gutters have overflowed, whole sections of the garden borders have been submerged, and fragile seedlings have been battered. We’ve had numerous power cuts and the gravel road outside our property has been chewed up by logging and stock trucks, or on the rainless days (I hesitate to use the word ‘sunny’), clouds of dust have drifted onto the solar panels, propelled by any car that takes the slope down past our place a little too fast.

While I can’t do anything about the vehicles going past, November is in the air, and perhaps the weather will finally settle.

The garden, overall

The easterly gales of the past few days have done their dash, allowing the sun to finally slip out from under her korowai of clouds. After lunch today, the temperature climbed from 17 to 24 in the space of 30 minutes. I was intending to study, but instead of once again putting blogging on the back burner, I chose  instead to defer my study . 🙂

Spring blossom: Feijoa between apple

Of course the gardens don’t care about the miserable weather, they’ve just carried on doing their stuff. In fact everything is horrifically lush, and it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the weeds and the lawn mowing. Nothing holds the natural world back; last time I posted we were still collecting feijoa and now they’re back in bloom for the next season of fruit.

Two seasons’ avocados.

It’s the same with the avocados. We’re still harvesting the crop from last year’s flowering, while alongside them on the tree, the new baby fruit are starting to set. I guess this at least shows we had some windless days. It’s difficult for bees to pollinate flowers when its blowing a gale.

More blossom: Cherry, lime & pear.

Fruiting cherries don’t do so well this far north, they like a hard frost, but our two struggling trees still manage to produce some blossom. The same can’t be said for limes. The two lime trees are smothered with flowers, despite being afflicted badly by citrus borer. And there’s nothing nicer than seeing the first plump buds on the pear tree.

This year I was determined to raise all our flowers and vegetables from seed. I’ve had some disappointments – baby plants being dug up by blackbirds, or chewed by beetles, slugs and snails. Some have failed to germinate, but I haven’t give up. Some I clearly put out too early, even though we don’t experience frosts this far north. My earliest gherkins, zucchinis and squashes just sat in the ground looking sorry for themselves before finally curling up and dying. But, I’ve had many more successes than disappointments.

Things we can eat

Broad beans

Broad beans – towering in the garden, and puréed.

The broad bean plants were only a few centimetres tall in June, but now we’re consuming their crop. I like to nuke the beans into a paste with a little butter and miso. The plants themselves have grown far taller than we expected. The seed packet suggested staking them at one metre, but they’ve kept on growing, and now reach to over two metres. Every time a wind has howled in from a new direction, we’ve had to scurry outside to re-tie them.

Tomatoes

Some of our 25 tomato plants. To the left is our first ‘baby’ bloody butcher.

Our tomatoes are many. I think I counted 25 out there. The three varieties I chose to sow this year are Black Krim (a delicious heirloom variety),  Bloody Butcher (a good all-rounder) and the cherry tomato, Indigo Blue Berries. The first fruits are forming and I can’t wait to have fresh outdoor tomatoes again. Proper tomatoes. Through most of winter I’ve resisted buying store tomatoes as they just aren’t the same. Tomatoes are just about my favourite plant to grow. They’re so easy, and so versatile, and after having lived in Dunedin for 25 years, I still haven’t quite gotten used to growing them outdoors.

Garlic and Egyptian walking onions

The garlic and onions are going well. This was one of the patches we completely covered during winter.

It was April when we put down the groundcover on a complete length of the vegetable garden. This activity certainly paid off and the patch is now home for garlic, onions, lettuces and tomatoes. We’ve mulched them with compost a couple of times already, but it’s already difficult to see where it was. Compost mulches will be critical as the days grow warmer. They protect and feed the plants, and keep the moisture down in the soil when the summer sun is doing its best to evaporate it off.

Grapes

Grape, Albany Surprise

This grapevine has been slow to get established, unlike the white variety that grows rampantly on the northern side of the barn. The grape is Albany Surprise and in my opinion is far superior to the white grape, due to the sweet and spicy flavour of its juicy bunches. The vine is looking really good this year, with numerous  clusters of fruit.

Gardens new and gardens relocated

The new melon bed, with our first seedlings, a dozen rock melon plants.

Ben has dug me a brand new garden – a bed for melons. We’ve tried to grow these before and we just put the plants in the back paddock and left them, assuming they’d survive. Well, they didn’t. Or actually, they did, but I think all they produced was a couple of tiny, tiny fruit. This year we have a dedicated bed filled with compost and in sunlight for most of the day. I’ve raised seedlings of rock and watermelon, and am hoping for the best!

The bed is in the middle of the lawn close to the house so we can easily keep an eye on it, but already the sparrows have been in and have tossed the compost around. Fingers crossed the plants will get their roots going and dig in before they, too, are evicted. Only the rock melons are planted  for now; I need twice as much space to fit the watermelons in as well.

Strawberries

The strawberries stand a better chance of producing a crop, away from the vegetable garden.

Another task we achieved since June was to dig up our congested bed of strawberries. We selected a few strong plants, and replanted them beneath the lemon verbena. We’re hoping that they’ll do better there, especially with the netting cover. Usually our strawberries get picked to pieces by the blackbirds who nest in the trees near the vegetable garden.

Beehive update

The olive trees are covered in flowers. Bees collect pollen and nectar.

One of our three hives failed over winter. We lost the queen, and think that she most likely died of natural causes; she was never a strong queen. We weren’t completely surprised, as even before we confirmed the loss, the hive had very little brood. So we cleaned up the hive and surrounding area and last weekend added the honey boxes to the brood boxes.

The two remaining hives are buzzing! And on days like this the bees are out and about collecting pollen and nectar. There are so many plants in flower this time of year that there’s nothing to hold them back. Standing beneath one of the olive trees, earlier today, all I could hear was the satisfying hum of the bees.

Plants of the flowering kind

We cleared out the garden by the pathway using our own compost. Lettuces are sprouting everywhere amongst the dahlias and poppies.

My new project has been to clean up and tidy the strip of garden alongside the pathway in front of our kitchen window. It has always been a problem due to a nasty weed (a bulb) that I haven’t been able to eliminate. I’ve been trying for years.

Ben became so fed up at the hours I’ve spent in this small area, that he suggested digging out and removing all of the soil, and replacing it with compost and new soil. It was the best thing we could have done.

I love this new garden and even though it’s still early days and there’s not much flowering there yet, I can see it from the kitchen window and it always cheers me up. An amusing extra is that the compost was filled with seeds from the vegetable garden. Lettuces, dill, coriander, even a couple of tomatoes have sprouted. I doubt that the dill can stay there for long, but I might leave a couple.

I’ve planted the majority of my basil seedlings there, as well as pinks, dahlia, zinnias, poppies, bellis, and viola, so it will be a cottage-cum-kitchen garden. I’m looking forward to posting some photos once the seedlings begin to mature.

A trio of flowers: Bird of paradise, aquilegia and Emma’s rose.

Despite the shambles in my various flower beds, it’s still lovely to see the spring flowers. Every flower gives me a good feeling.

California poppy, Thai Silk Mixed

Whether it’s the poppies I’ve raised from seed, or the blossom on the fruit trees. Each flower is a promise of something… a pure splash of colour, a beautiful aroma, or a juicy piece of fruit.

Native Garden

Our small ‘native garden’ is lush with ferns.

I thought I should mention our small native garden. This is situated in an area that was just weeds and junk when we first bought the property. It’s got to the stage now that trees self-sow, and our original specimens are reaching up to the sky.

Not bad for less than ten years of growth!

Garden reality and reminiscing

View of the garden looking north-west. Kumara mounds in the foreground.

The garden is still untidy and there’s always more to be done. Sometimes it feels that for every step forward, there are two steps backwards. Once the weather begins to warm, which it’s doing now, everything just takes off.

This time last year I was staying at Mt Maunganui with Dad, and regularly visiting Mum in the rest home. While I was there, I was yearning for my garden, so I can’t complain about the work now.

My love of gardening and of having a garden began when I was a small child. In the early years Dad kept a vegetable garden, and we had fruit trees. From Mum I picked up a love of the beauty of flowers and trees. I regret that Dad never made it back to my garden. I’d always imagined a time when he would see out his last few years here, pottering around doing the outside things he liked to do.


On a garden rake
Dad tows me between the rows.
Moist earth, a bird cries.

(26/10/2021)

June Already!

Changing of the Seasons

The view out the bedroom window, mid-morning.

The Weather

It’s been windy over the past week or two, with several drenchings of heavy rain. Each morning I wake up to  the sound of the noisy sparrows in the totara outside my window, and try to guess what the weather is like outside. I part the curtains and see the early morning trees dark against the bedroom window, the thin first rays of light filtering through. I get up and start thinking about what I have planned for the day.

Despite the inclement and changeable weather, when the sun does appear, it’s unseasonably warm, often reaching 20 or 21 C. And once the clouds peel back, the washed-out blue of an early winter sky reveals the bright sun, scattering a saffron veil over the fields of maize husks, and polishing the freshly-mowed lawns to a luminous lime green.

Gingko tree with leaves turning.

Last week’s persistent Nor ‘westerly has gone.  Such a wind buffets the house, rattling the windows and clattering seed pods and dried leaves onto the corrugated iron roof. It shakes the Gingko by the front gate, causing it to shed its yellow leaves in a spectacular manner; they rise up into the air on a puff of wind, only to be tossed over the wire fence and onto the gravel road beyond.

It’s definitely been time to get the wood burner cranked up and we’re really appreciating the work done over Summer to cut and stack firewood and kindling.  Getting the fire to the best temperature can be a challenge… too hot and we have to start peeling off clothing items. This somewhat defeats the purpose.

June! It’s hard to believe that we’re so far through the year. Sometimes I wish that we had the occasional frost, but everything just keeps on growing up here in the ‘winterless north’.

The Garden

Growth in the ‘vegetable’ garden (or should I say, ‘weed’ birthing unit) has slowed down quite a bit. Of course this is normal with the shorter days and cooler evening temperatures. The recent rain has left the soil too wet to work – thank goodness we are on a hill and it will quickly drain away.

Vegetables

The carrots and slow-bolting coriander sowed towards the end of April, have sprouted. But the same cannot be said for the golden turnips. These members of the Brassica family usually pop up through the soil within a week, but alas, there’s no sign of them. It really perturbs me when this happens to fresh seeds… when not even one germinates. Why would that be? Is there a creature in the soil that really loves turnip seeds and has munched them all up?

Left: Detail showing aphids on the broad beans; Right: Broad bean seedlings in a range of sizes.

The additional broad beans I added to the row alongside the three baby plants have also struck well. This is something I’m really pleased about as there’s nothing nicer than a velvety broad bean puree, blended with a little butter and generously seasoned with  freshly-ground black pepper and sea salt. I also love the look of the mature plants with their pretty white flowers with their black ‘eyes’, and the way they attract bumble bees. I noticed clumps of aphids on the tender leaf buds… was happy to wash them off with a stream of water.

Fruit

A bowl of Feijoas, recently collected.

I’ve been surprised at the size of the feijoas I’ve seen for sale in the supermarkets. They’re so small!! Ours are almost finished, but there are still a handful falling heavily onto the grass each day.  And while we do have small ones, our larger ones weigh about 100 grams and most of our fruit weigh over 70 grams. Our two feijoa trees are so deceptive – in March we peered up into the branches and we really thought that this year was going to be a ‘rest’ year. I guess the fruit were hiding amongst the leaves.

The two avocado trees. Fuerte on the left, and Hass on the right.

It’s always rewarding for someone who didn’t even see an avocado until around age 19, to see them fattening up on the trees outside. I was introduced to this luscious fruit by Tina, the mother of my Chilean friend, Ceci. Tina spread some avocado flesh on a slice of toast for me to try. I really didn’t like that first taste – it seemed too bland, and the texture was unusual. I was living in Wellington at the time, and later moved to Dunedin where I resided for the next 25 years, and you certainly don’t see avocado growing outside that far south!

Our two avocado trees are the reason we started with our bees. We had a couple of years of many flowers and no pollinators. Fortunately (thanks to the bees) don’t have that problem now, and while our trees don’t have as many fruit as last year, this a good thing, as the trees are still young.

Left to right: Mandarin, Tahitian Lime and orange ‘Navelina Flame’.

The fruit on our citrus trees is also ripening well. Ripe limes have been falling, and the first mandarins are definitely ready – I’ve eaten a few. The juvenile navel orange has a handful of fruit, finally. Can’t wait to taste those!

Fig ‘Mrs Williams’, resting after a productive season.

Some  of the fruit trees are taking a well-deserved rest. For example, our fig tree; it looks like a sun-bleached skeleton amongst all the greenery. It’s hard to believe it was so productive last season, with its plump pink-fleshed fruit. Or that this tree was driven over in reverse by Ben on the ride-on mower when it was a mere toddler. It’s so tall now that we’ll be challenged when it comes time to protect the new fruit in Spring/Summer.

Flowers

Because I was away for most of last year, and for part of this year, the flower garden is in a bad state. The annual weeds have formed a dense carpet on the bare soil, and the perennials are well-established, BUT, even so, I’ve found some bright and cheerful offerings amongst the jungle.

Bromeliad circle – always colourful

Ben’s Bromeliad circle brightens up the entrance as you come through the gate. He’s planted them on the stump of a Redwood that used to grow adjacent to the driveway.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Erin Rachel’

And in the corner of the garden that we are letting revert back to native plants, a hibiscus that I’d forgotten about completely, has produced a couple of flowers. We recently cleared away a lot of dead branches and that most annoying noxious weed, ivy, and the increase in light must have been beneficial for this beautiful flower.

Still harvesting the chilis. In amongst the Habanero is a solitary Bhut Jolokia.

Winter Thoughts

The garden is mostly at rest, but the signs of new life are everywhere. I have the feeling that I’ll have to get a wriggle on and get things organised… so much to do, so little time. For starters, the shortest day is traditionally the time to plant garlic, so I’ll have to get those beds ready. There are perennial flowers that really should be dug up and divided. The roses need pruning. And what about writing, when on earth am I going to get on to that?

Dad’s in care, living out his last few weeks, day by day, hour by hour. My focus on gardening is (I’m sure) the way I’m managing the range of thoughts that go through my mind. Dad has always loved the land and growing things. In fact, one of my early memories is of standing on the end of the rake while Dad earthed up the potatoes in the vegetable garden. I remember sun, and the complex smell of the warm soil, that it was fun and I felt happy.

I wrote this on Sunday as I lay in bed, trying not to think about the huge thing that wants to be thought about…


Chasing Sleep

Tonight I feel sad. Dad’s by himself. Tossing and turning even in his dreams under thin covers on a plastic-sheeted bed. His body leaks fluids and his brow is hot. Alone, and maybe lonely. I wonder if he thinks he’s in a hell of some kind. 

Mum’s gone on ahead and us kids are in our own beds tonight.

I’m by myself, too, but this time there’s no chance that Dad will come home after dark having walked from Wallaceville Station, to quietly push my bedroom door open, his silhouette shaped by the hall light, to sit on the edge of my bed and wish me goodnight.

0035, 29 May , 2021


Back to the Garden

Monday of Anzac Weekend is drawing to a close. A three-day weekend, based around April 25th, Anzac commemorates the New Zealand and Australian forces ‘who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations’. The first Anzac Day commemorated the Aussies and Kiwis who served in the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I.

The weather has been the best kind of Autumn weather – sunny and calm – the perfect weather for garden and hive work. Because I was away from home for such a long time last year, our vegetable garden has fallen into an abysmal state. Weeds, weeds and more weeds. I was beginning to despair about what to do, where to start.

The garden plot prior to putting down the weed mat.

Vegetable garden

Last Wednesday I heard a very informative and interesting podcast on RNZ, “The Abundant Garden, Niva and Yotam Kay“, which inspired us to purchase a large piece of weed mat, the aim being to suppress and kill the weeds on a designated section of our vegetable garden. If we leave this in place for an appropriate period of time, all the nasty weeds underneath should, in theory, have died. Goodbye to Convolvulus arvensis and Kikuyu grass, as well as to a myriad of annual weeds.

The plot after stapling down the weed mat.

It’ll be interesting to see what’s underneath (hopefully nothing) when we lift the mat in a few weeks. For now it’s an instant tidy-up of a large section of the garden. I like it very much!

My straggly Ginger (Zingiber officinale) prior to digging up. Asparagus in the background.

I also had to dig up some Ginger rhizomes. I planted these a couple of years ago, maybe more, and have done nothing more than weed around them, and apply the occasional bucket of compost. Recently, I researched on what you’re supposed to do with these plants and discovered that I should lift them, clean them up, keep some for using in the kitchen, and hold some of the new rhizomes back to plant for the next season. Because they’ve been almost completely neglected, the rhizomes are very small, but I  feel optimistic that i can do better next season.

My somewhat feeble ginger crop. Definitely going to do better next season!

The other minor task I achieved was to clear a small bed and sow three rows of seeds. This patch was a jungle of weeds, mostly Fumitory, Oxalis and Fat Hen. Buried beneath were some sad-looking dwarf butter beans with dried pods. The soil was in really good nick – evidence of the amount of compost we’d applied back when the beans were producing. I cleared it all and sowed slow-bolting Coriander, Golden Turnip and Carrots. I’d had the seeds sitting around since last season so will be curious to see if they’re still viable.

My newly sown plot.

Habanero chili

Thank goodness we planted a few Habanero plants in Spring!

Preparing Habanero chilis for drying.

April seems to be the most favourable month in South Head/Te Korowai o Te Tonga for harvesting chili. Habanero are our all-time favourite peppers; they are satisfyingly hot, but also have a delicate, floral flavour. Each year I grow as many as I can and either dry them for adding to just about every dish (even my lunch-time rolled oats), or freeze to make Bob’s Habanero Hot Sauce, a recipe I discovered a few years ago, and a family favourite.

The dried Habanero chili product.

Last Winter we ran out of dried chili and it was a very sorry state of affairs. Nothing I can buy from a store is even remotely as good as our own dried chili powder.

Honey bees

Ben holding a healthy brood frame.

As well as garden work, I needed to check our three beehives for American foulbrood disease (AFB), prior to Winter. This is a regular task for which I have undergone training and refresher courses.

The complete eradication of AFB is the aim of the NZ honey industry. Fortunately our hives are clean, but if I’d found AFB in any of them – even in just one frame of one hive, I’d have been legally required to destroy all three hives. Every last bit of them. Hives, bees, frames, the lot!

Hive A’s Italian queen can clearly be seen in the top left of the photo.,

The bees are looking good for heading into Winter, with plentiful supplies of honey and pollen. We even sighted the queen bee in our first hive – a beautiful Italian lady.

Musings

The weekend has ended with some tasks completed but many still written up as ‘To Do’ on our kitchen whiteboard. I do feel satisfied that we’ve completed some of the long-overdue activities, but there are so many more. I often feel that my gardening practices are ‘all over the place’. That I dart from one job to another and never quite complete anything.

I guess the secret is to enjoy the task at hand – the process of preparing the chili, or checking the bee frames, of sifting the soil or picking out the tiny Oxalis bulbs – and not to worry about what I cannot complete on any given day. Tomorrow is a new day. I’ll have plans for what I wish to achieve, but something will come up and I’ll go off on another tangent. But perhaps this is okay.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Time No See

And so a year goes by…

It’s been an age since I’ve written anything. In fact, weirdly, it’s been almost exactly a year since my last entry; I just checked the date. 21st April, 2020. Although by the time I post this it’ll no doubt be a day or two later.

Sign outside a dairy during lockdown

The last time I wrote, New Zealand was still in Covid Lockdown – Day 26. I wonder why I stopped writing? It was most likely a simple case of ‘life out of my comfort zone’, overwhelming me. What a year 2020 was!

Catching Up

Dad and I did take our mini road trip – we drove the 160 km south-west to Te Kuiti to visit my uncle (his younger brother) and my aunt (his wife). It was a very pleasant day, sunny and not too hot. Dad wasn’t that well. Back then he was tiring easily; I really thought he didn’t have long to go. He dozed on and off in the front passenger seat, while I enjoyed the unfamiliar, undulating road through the King Country. I’ve always liked road trips.

We’d wanted the visit to be a surprise (a Percival thing) so didn’t call ahead. Well, not exactly. Before we left, I rang up and pretended to ask for someone else, just to be sure they were home. Wrong number. How embarrassing. As we drew into their driveway I saw the curtains twitch, and then my Auntie (who I’d actually never met) came out. She’d guessed who I was. I’ll have to accept that all Percivals look the same.

Sadly, we didn’t manage a trip home to South Head, although I know Dad would’ve loved it. He didn’t want to travel too far afield while Mum was still alive, and by the time she was no longer here, he wasn’t well enough.

My time with Dad at Mount Maunganui lasted until New Year’s Eve 2020. Up until then I’d spent more than 200 days with him, only taking breaks when I had appointments back home, or on one occasion, when he sent me away. It was a strange time for me. I’m not sure what I was thinking back in February 2020 when he first rang me to tell me he was sick. I just had an overwhelming urge to be with him and to take care of him. So I started ringing him every few days, and it seemed to me that he was becoming increasingly unwell. I kept asking if he wanted me to come and stay, and in the end he agreed. I’m not even sure now, that he was aware of saying this. In my mind, I was ready to stay with him until he died, if necessary, and I said this to him several times when we sat in the evenings, chewing the fat.

What I found initially was that he hadn’t been eating well and was struggling with making his own meals. His hearing had gone and although he had fancy new hearing aids, he didn’t know how to put them in. His sight was deteriorating, particularly in one eye. Because of this, he missed many cues, such as expiry dates on food. I can still remember the evening I arrived. He said he’d just made a scrambled egg, and laughingly told me that the first egg he’d broken was black, and the second one was completely dried up and stuck to the inside of the shell, The third one looked okay so he’d cooked it. I looked at the egg carton – the expiry date was 4 months earlier.

Our days settled into a manageable routine. A cleaner came in to wash the floors, shower and toilet on Monday afternoons, so I tended to disappear when she arrived – I could usually count on an hour’s break and I’d often drive to Bayfair. Living in a town with a mall was a novelty, especially at first.

Each day I’d prepare or cook Dad’s lunch and dinner. Breakfast was under control. For his whole life, he’s eaten four Weet-bix softened with boiling water and finished off with milk and sugar, accompanied by a cup of instant coffee. For lunch I’d usually make tuna or ham sandwiches, or a cup of instant tomato soup and lavishly buttered toast, or something leftover from the previous night’s meal. Dad had his TV programmes he liked to watch (WWE, in particular) and I had my computer upstairs in my room.

Reflections on the beach during an evening walk.

I tried to be disciplined and walk for at least 40 minutes each day. At least twice a week, I’d head down to see Mum at her residential home. There she’d be, in her wheelchair, only able to use her left side, doing her crosswords or watching a game show on TV. I think it drove her crazy with boredom. We’d pack away the goodies I’d brought and talk for a bit. Dad was often too tired to go and see Mum, and all Mum wanted was for Dad to visit, so it was difficult. The day she died, February 7th, was their 68th Wedding Anniversary. I usually went away from Mum’s, feeling despondent. How cruel to have a stroke and to be paralysed completely down one side.

As the weeks and then the months went by, I began to get weary. I’d started out so enthusiastically, so filled with purpose and energy. But it’s difficult living with an old dude in his 90s, especially one as independent as my Dad. He still wanted to do everything he’d always done. Take out the rubbish, prune the shrubs, visit the supermarket, pay his own bills, make his own bed, dry the dishes , ride his e-bike. He wanted to maintain his independence and he fought for this. And when I first arrived, Dad actually got better. Initially he was tired and frail, but the regular wholesome meals began to put flesh on his bones, and I think it was a revelation to discover that he didn’t have to iron all his clothes any more. I just folded them and there was NO WAY I was going to iron anything.

About 3/4 through 2020, Dad’s health started to decline again. For starters, he couldn’t ever just relax, he always had to have a project. I spent hours with him trying to fix his stove top, with the damn thing still turned on and Dad blindly waving around a screwdriver near the live wires. I had to help him re-hang a door in the living room, and use his drill press to mend something else that he was working on. There were electrical gadgets in pieces on many of the available surfaces and he did repair them.  He was always dismantling his mobility scooter and fine-tuning something or other. And he had his own ways, his own rules… such as not putting out the glass recycling bin unless it was full, and not putting it out if even one bottle was higher than the rim. Not showering until the evening. Putting the mats ‘just so’. Picking up any dot of lint or fluff from the carpet. Turning the internet off at night (to name but a few). I didn’t mind adhering to those things. His house, his rules. 

Then around November, he gave himself a hernia by insisting on lifting something that was way too heavy, even for me. This had a huge impact on what he could and couldn’t do. 

Meanwhile, I was totally exhausted and my sleep was almost non-existent. I was useful for Dad, could negotiate the trials and tribulations of phone banking when there’s no longer a local bank, no longer cheques. I could sift through the sandy soil of his garden and try to plant flowers that wouldn’t thrive. I could help him sort through his recycling and make small talk with the nurses from the hospice who’d visit occasionally to check on how he was. I could whip up any amount of tender meat casseroles and overcook the broccoli and the cauliflower, reduce the silver beet to a pulp. I was excellent at whipping potato and at serving dinner right on 6 pm, every night without fail, but I just ran out of ‘oomph’. It was time to leave Dad and return home. Task unfulfilled. Job incomplete.

Today

Just today Dad moved into a residential home. That plan I had of caring for him until he died, was a naïve one. It may have been devised with the best of intentions, but was completely unrealistic. If nothing else, 2020 has taught me a hard lesson.

COVID-19 DIARY 06

Day 26 of the Lockdown

Mt Sunset
Mount Maunganui at sunset

And So the Days Grow Shorter

New Zealand’s total number of Covid-19 cases has now reached 1440, with 9 new cases in the past twenty-four hours. The end of our Level 4 lock-down had been penciled-in for midnight this coming Wednesday. Instead it’s been pushed back until midnight on the following Monday – a week from tonight. And even that could change.

Time under lockdown conditions has certainly rattled on by, although I’m not sure why I chose that particular verb, as not much has been rattling hereabouts. To say that it’s been very quiet would be an understatement. But life has changed, despite this. For starters, the days have grown shorter, as New Zealand has gone off daylight savings, which means the mornings are a little lighter, and the evenings noticeably darker. And I’m starting to discern that my father’s days are also beginning to contract.

The same questions run through my mind. How to measure the precious remaining moments? How to support without being over-bearing? How to help without being intrusive? A month ago I didn’t really understand what was at stake. I worried that he’d wear himself out working on one of his projects in the garage, or digging rubble in the garden… but now… now that he can no longer do those things, I wish that he still could, and that I’d rejoiced about it instead of fretting.

I heard on TV today that it takes a certain number of days – 66, I think – for a person to grow accustomed to a new routine. But I’ve already grown into the strange unhurried ways of this new existence. This slowing down.

I burn the midnight oil writing or studying, and sleep late in the mornings. I spend my days doing the chores, making up parcels for Mum, walking, thinking, and hanging out with Dad. He and I laugh a lot, but also share sad moments, especially when one of his poignant memories bubbles up to the surface. Sometimes it all makes sense, and at others, it makes no sense at all.

We’d really like to take a mini road trip together. To head up home to South Head for a couple of nights. I’m still hoping that this can happen.


Dried leaves of Autumn
lie scattered by the roses.
Gilded offerings.

(13 April 2020)

 

 

COVID-19 DIARY 05

Day 13 of the Lockdown

Quiet Mount at Night

All Quiet

New Zealand’s total number of Covid-19 cases has now reached 1160, with 54 new cases in the past twenty-four hours. The nation is holding its breath to see if this is the beginning of a leveling-out. Each day we listen to the 1.00 pm update to hear the announcement of our new numbers. It’s a crisis for small businesses, and lonely for those of us parted from family and loved ones. We’re desperately hoping that it will all be worth it.

Having got that off my chest, life goes on as usual.

I’ve had a quiet day, feeling tired and disinterested in venturing out. It’s crazy with such beautiful, autumn weather and the beach so close, but sometimes it’s just too much effort.

Moon over Bay of Plenty

The barometer is dropping with rain promised for tomorrow afternoon. With this in mind, I forced myself out for a walk after tea. Now that daylight savings has reverted, it’s already dark by 7.00 pm and tonight I started by walking to the beach so that I could see my beautiful friend,  おつきさま, otsukisama, shining across the Bay of Plenty. (That was me practicing my Japanese, by the way.)

dark night with palm

From the beach I walked north-west along Marine Parade until just parallel with Motuotau Island, then turned back into the town centre. It was calm and mild with a slight breeze. The main street was deserted, but extremely well-lit.

I listen to music when I walk, and this dispels the eeriness of the empty city.  But the lights still shine – fluorescent, neon and LED, their sharp and often brilliant colours reflected in the polished shop windows and on the glossy leaves of the palms.

When I returned home, Dad was asleep on the sofa with the TV blaring. I eased the fridge door open and poured a glass of rosé. I’m sure that my alcohol consumption since being in lock down has counteracted any value gained by walking.


Today’s Haiku… written earlier today.

In a pool of sun
my father lies fast asleep
Walking in the past

Jane Percival (07/04/2020)


 

おつきさま – an honorific term for the moon

COVID-19 Diary 04

Day 11 of the Lockdown

No Photos This Sunday

New Zealand’s total number of Covid-19 cases has now reached 1039.

It seems that my significant other and I have reversed roles – while he’s been creaming honey and steeping batches of kombucha, I’ve been press-ganged into the role of ‘Apprentice Home Handy Woman’.

As such, I’ve spent the past couple of days learning such new skills as belt-sanding, and countersinking (using a drill press). The saying “Don’t give up your day job”, definitely drifted in and out of my consciousness while I was using the belt sander. The wood we were working with was an ancient piece that Dad had found under the house. Being dry and very rough, it took quite a bit of effort for me to make an impression. My beveled edges were wonky and my sanded top, undulating. Not that it actually mattered as the piece was eventually disguised beneath white paint and sealer.

What we were actually trying to do, was to rebuild a shower box that had been cut apart when Mum became wheelchair-bound, more than seven years ago. With all the hardware stores closed to the likes of us mere DIYers, we were working with whatever bits and pieces of timber and aluminium, Dad could find in the garage. And, the end of a roll of duct tape. If only I’d taken some photos!

Anyone who has had the perseverance to read my very haphazard blog over the years, will know that I always include photos… but alas, not tonight. In fact, the reason I’ve been tardy with writing is because I haven’t had the time to take any. Perhaps I’ll make up for it tomorrow.

But if anyone is interested in how we’re coping with the lockdown, I’d say that here in Mount Maunganui, things are fine.

It’s quiet, and my life is very regulated – but then this was the case before our lives were restricted. Spending time here keeping my father company has a particular routine that I would not dare to change. I’m content to fit in with him, and I guess I mustn’t have high expectations (as far as excitement or variety is concerned) as I’m perfectly happy the way things are.

My sister in law is in Japan, also spending time with her elderly parents. We both decided to write a haiku, and here is mine…

Beyond my window
karoro fight over scraps.
Scavenger brigade.

Jane Percival, 05 April 2020


 

COVID-19 Diary 03

Day 06 of the Lockdown

On the way to the beach
Through the burbs to the beach.

Too Sunny to Stay at Home

The 1.30 pm update states that we have 58 new Covid 19 cases, bringing New Zealand’s total to 647. Sadly, we had our first fatality yesterday.

This morning I decided it was high time I did a supermarket run – quite a few essentials were running out.

I arrived at the local New World at around 9.45 am, not sure what to expect. But it was a case of ‘business as usual’, except for the fact that staff were monitoring the overall numbers of shoppers inside and only allowing a person in when someone else left. There’s been a great deal of raruraru about panic buying and price gouging, but I saw no evidence of either. I was disappointed to see that the flour and yeast shelves were still empty, and surprised to see that all the instant gravies were gone, too. Does anyone use that stuff?

fruit and nut copy

After lunch I took a small parcel down to Mum at her residential home. There’s not much I can take, but Dad and I each wrote a note, and I threw in a snack pack of Salt & Vinegar chips and a Whittaker’s Fruit and Nut bar.

Speaking of food, Dad sat me down this evening and told me that I’m feeding him too much. (Actually, I’m also feeding myself too much!) There are always ice-creams and cheesecakes in Dad’s freezer, cakes in his fridge, and biscuits in his tins. I’d assumed they were for him, but I think they’re actually his supply of treats for when Mum was able to visit. So I’ll stop making the jellies and opening the tins of peaches, and dishing up the salted caramel ice-cream. And I’ll reduce the sizes of his portions. And I won’t give him biscuits with his cups of tea.

After dropping off the parcel I kept on going to the beach. After yesterday, I knew I’d have to go there each day that’s sunny. It’s such a carefree feeling walking at the edge of the waves, and the noise of the water and the birds is so in your face that you have to be totally present. It’s hard to think about worrying things such as COVID-19, or Dad’s cancer, or Mum’s lonely existence.

paddling
Happy feet in water.

One of the kinda cute things is the Teddy Bear Hunt people are promoting to distract the small children when families are out and about in their individual ‘bubbles’. I hadn’t really thought of it until I came upon a house on a corner with a whole array of soft toys, and a blackboard notice as well.

I’m not sure how I’d feel about standing at the end of my driveway at 7 pm, clapping (although I think the sentiment is great), but I do like the idea of the teddies and trying to spot them when out for walks. This could be partly due to missing my grandchildren. They’re so vulnerable, and all so far away, and I miss their hugs.

Teddy view
Stay happy and smile – you have a big heart.

Once again, the beach did its job and cleared my head and heart. It also had a therapeutic effect on my tired feet and ankles. It’s corny, I know, but I have to acknowledge that I’m living in a very beautiful country.

I worry about what will become of us all after this virus has had its way; the economy, the less fortunate, our airline (I love to travel!), our health workers, people living alone, people who are scared, or unwell. I think we have a habit of just keeping on and not stopping to think, perhaps until now. When there is so much to think about.

the glorious sea
Today’s view towards Mauao.


 

 

Covid-19 Diary 02

Day 05 of the Lockdown

View to the South
Nearing the end of my walk.

A Breath of Sea Air

The 1.00 pm update states that we have 76 new Covid 19 cases, bringing New Zealand’s total to 589.

Last night around 9 pm there was a storm out to sea. Sheet lightning lit up the eastern sky in sharp flashes, and brilliant zags of light spiked downwards. Dad and I stood on the porch and watched, counting the seconds as we waited for the next rumble. The still air and unusual light reminded me of a long time ago in Nebraska, when I gazed up to the sky on a similar night. The big old leafy trees in the avenue were picked out in street light orange as they stretched over the luminous green sparks of the fire flies. I had that same hard-to-define feeling of premonition – of a life poised, teetering on the edge.

first view to the north

About three-quarters through today I was standing at the kitchen sink sorting through yet more stamps, when the heat of the sun through the window drove me outside. I grabbed my sneakers and headed for the beach.

What a day for a walk! And despite being alone, there were enough people doing the same thing, to feel somehow connected. With so much space, there was never a risk of getting too close to anyone. It felt like a ‘normal’ day – kids were swimming, and a couple of surfers bobbed on waves close to shore.

 

surfer and bird
Bird and board reflections.

Heading home, I spied clouds accumulating to the west. Perhaps we’ll once again have stormy weather in the evening. I don’t mind. The weather will make itself known. It likes to remind us of where the power really lies.

Stormy hills

 



Walking on the beach,
Maoau rises black against the sky.
Seagulls screech and waves break, and
we smile as we pass each other.
The beauty and the wide open space
providing a false sense of security.


 

Covid-19 Diary 01

Day 04 of the Lockdown

Mt Maunganui 28 March 2020

Heading into the town centre.

All Quiet on the Mount

Sitting each day in Mum’s little room with the curtains half-drawn (to reduce the glare on my screen), watching the seagulls across the road strutting around on the patchy coastal grass, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder.

I headed south to the Mount about five weeks ago to keep my ninety-one year old father, company. And now that we’re in lockdown, it’s turned out to be a timely decision. My routine here has been reduced to the bare essentials of: sleeping (or trying to); a slow wake up (usually between 8.00 and 10.00 am); the preparation of three daily meals and the occasional morning or afternoon tea; washing and drying the dishes; and watching very loud TV in the evenings. My alone time is filled with studying Japanese, sorting NZ stamps, walking, and playing Hidden City – a somewhat addictive computer game. And I have plenty of time to spend with Dad, which is the best part of all.

In the first few weeks I diligently took a 30-minute walk every evening. I’d follow Maunganui Road to the end of the town centre and back – about 3 km, making the most of the clean, flat, paved pathways; a complete contrast to the dusty, hilly, gravelly road at South Head. A couple of days’ rain broke the exercise habit until yesterday, when being stuck indoors all day drove me outside.

The sun was beginning to dip below the Kaimais as I set off, striding briskly towards Maoau. Maunganui Road was quiet, all the shops and bars closed save two solitary dairies. There were others about, but only a handful… some singles and couples and a threesome consisting of mum, dad, toddler in a stroller and a dog. I guess that’s four. I looked at everyone to see how friendly they were – one or two smiled, but the rest avoided my glance. Like magnets we repelled each other the requisite two metres.

The previous Saturday would’ve been completely different. There’d have been crowds of people spilling out onto the street from bars, or seated at tables on the pavement, and teenagers weaving along the footpaths on clattering skateboards, causing the punters to curse or leap out of the way. The backpackers would’ve had a clutch of tourists sitting on the pavement outside, smoking.

As I drew closer to Dad’s, I encountered the neighbouring family, also back from a walk. We chatted from a small distance and they told me they’d just witnessed a heated argument in the dairy across the road. Someone getting wound up about people not keeping to the correct space apart. I guess we may see more of this, and the reality is that this unusual situation is already causing anxiety for some people.

stamps 01