Friday, December 30, 2016

Merry Everything & Happy Always

A couple of days after Christmas I stumbled across a jpeg that I wish I had found before Christmas. I really struggled with Christmas this year - especially in the "putting seasons greetings out there" department!

My own version - not too Christmasy.

Why did I struggle? I can tell you that, aside from missing family, it wasn't so much a personal struggle. 

It was a struggle for the friends that have lost someone during this last year & there seemed to be so many of them. From the one whose son left this world on Christmas day last year - to the one whose son left in April, the dear friend whose Mum died, an ocean away, a few days before Christmas, the one who buried her husband 2 days before Christmas &  the one whose husband passed on Christmas Eve. Then there is the one who is being nursed through the final stages of pancreatic cancer, by her daughter, along with the lovely lady I have just met that has had to admit her Mum to a dementia facility.
Some of these people I have met & consider friends, others I have known for years online - exchanged cards, beads & emails with & I consider them friends too.

The thing is it's academic as to whether I know them in reality  - or not. I don't need to have sat down with them in person to know that the first Christmas without someone who once was a part of you & your life is just bloody awful - or that a death anywhere near Christmas is always going to become an inextricable part of the whole Christmas thing from that day on.

I don't need to have sat down with them to know that often those trite comments, although well intentioned, sometimes just don't help - or seeing another make a comparison to a loss they have suffered is sometimes a bit meaningless because it isn't their loss. Trying to find the right thing to say, while acknowledging that their grief is immense & overwhelming, yet completely unique to them & not comparable to anyone else's grief, is difficult.

Amidst all the celebrity deaths this Christmas Season I felt most for the people I know. While a celebrity will impact our life to some degree & we will mourn their loss, it doesn't actually change our life the way losing a loved one does.
There is not that sudden shift in our psyche that tells us in no uncertain terms that life, as we knew it up until that moment, has just changed never to be life as we knew it again.

I do know that it gets better - no, that is not the right word. I do know that it gets less intense as time wears on - but I also know that in those first few months it sure as hell doesn't feel like it is going to.

I also know that the last thing you feel is as if Christmas is Merry - or even worth celebrating, & that the New Year that is unavoidably rushing towards you is scary. On the one hand it can't be as bad as the current one because the worst thing imaginable has already happened -  on the other hand it can't possibly be happy because you have lost a part of yourself.

One day, in the future Christmas won't seem quite as bleak for these friends as it does now. The happiness will start to sneak back in - but will always be tinged with a little sadness, & a longing for what once was, at this time of year. 

With that in mind, & rather than being too seasonally specific, I thought that the greeting
"Merry Everything and Happy Always" was rather fitting for the long term, on multiple levels.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Today We Celebrate "Carole Day"

Today, Boxing Day, we celebrate my Mum. First & foremost in our family, Boxing Day was Mum's Birthday.

I'll never forget her telling us when we were younger about one year, when she was a youngster, no one remembered her birthday until after lunch time.
As a child back in England,  her extended family would get together & stay with an Uncle (& Aunt) who was the caretaker for a school over the Christmas season. Both of my Grandparents came from large families & this was the only venue that could accommodate everyone. Mum had wonderful memories of this time - but the 'almost forgotten' birthday had stayed with her, too.

Knowing that, we always prioritised her Birthday over "Boxing Day".
Mum's wish for her Birthday was always to be surrounded by all of her family - but to not have to do any work. As adults we tried to make that happen with limited amounts of success. The time of year & outside invitations would sometimes get in the way - especially as our family got bigger.

The joy of a summer birthday - picnics & cricket with family.

Although I miss her every single day, I have also come to realise that I carry her with me.
On the surface I miss sharing my excitement at new things & discoveries with her - knowing that she is only as far away as a quick message on Facebook, a video chat on Skype or at the end of a phone line. I miss having someone that shared many of the same interests & the same tastes in things as I do. I miss her encouragement in my projects & joy she would show at their completion.

At a deeper level I have realised that I  carry her with me in pretty much everything I do. She is there in almost everything I attempt.
Every book I read I know whether Mum would have enjoyed it or not. Every TV program or series I watch has, in some way, been shaped by those that Mum enjoyed. I can't help but think as I watch Outlander, Wolf Hall & Versailles how much Mum would have enjoyed them.

When I garden & there will be some part of the process that I look up & notice something....& think "Oh, Mum would have loved this one".
I sew & I hear her saying "I wish I could sew like you Deb, I never could sew well"( although that was an absolute crock, she could!!) or I sit with crocheting or knitting, don't like they way things look, so  pull the work undone & change the pattern  - then hear her saying "You are such a perfectionist, Deb!". I can't even get away from it when I go out shopping - I see clothes & homewares & think "Ohhhhh, Mum would have loved that". She had such great, trendy taste in clothes & knew what suited her & what didn't.

I think the only thing we didn't share was her love of cooking & baking.
I'm working on that though & I am pretty sure that she was sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear "texture, Deb - it's all about the dough texture" when I had another go at her shortbread the other day. I know it was her hand guiding me when I made the Mandarin Mousse & had to adjust the liquid to allow for the fact that the jellies here in Australia seem to set a lot firmer than the jellies available in NZ.
I know I was subconsciously channelling her on Christmas Eve when I was making the stuffing, realised that I didn't have any celery & uttered a very specific string of expletives - only to hear Allan say "Yes, Carole". lol!

This morning I celebrated with the perfect Mandarin Mousse for Breakfast, in one of
her bowls! But this time I had made it!
As a very wise friend recently said "Birthdays are all about birth, not how many years one reaches, not about them not being here, but about the fact they were here - that is what we celebrate".

So to the Mum who shaped me in more ways than I ever realised - "Happy 79th Birthday".
Thank you for all of  your beautiful, positive input in my life - for showing me, through example, the true meaning of the word "strength" & for your constant unconditional love & encouragement.

To any family who don't think that "public"(as in within my friends lists) displays of grief or of missing people are appropriate, or that ongoing recognition of special dates are the done thing - you quite obviously didn't understand Mum as well as you thought you did.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Caroles Shortbread Step by Step

Originally published in December 2008 I'm reposting this recipe of Mum's (well technically it was Granny Battens) because a couple of people have asked for it.

It was always a favourite with friends & family, with many people requesting it if Mum offered to make them something for an occasion or event of some sort, often with the comment that no one else's shortbread had that same melt in the mouth texture or tasted as good.
The trick, according to Mum was truly in the texture of the dough & letting the bottom of the shortbread develop a light golden colour when cooking.

One of the things I miss is hearing Mum say "I have to make my Christmas shortbread this weekend"...& then reel off a list of all the people she was making some!

Let the baking begin!
Mum's 'basic' Shortbread recipe:
  • 1/2 lb butter
  • 2 1/2 cups standard flour
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornflour

When I saw Mum squinting at the scales I suggested that she actually wear her glasses.... then quickly took a photo of her when everything was mixing up. She has her shortbread recipe down to an art - & is more concerned with the correct texture than the exact amounts of anything.

Cream the softened butter, & icing sugar until light & fluffy, almost white. (Pour gin & tonic each whilst these are creaming away merrily.)
Gradually add the flour & cornflour, sifted together . Now when Mum says gradually - she means gradually & letting it mix in well between each addition (this gives you time to throw together some crackers & camembert to have with the G&T).
You may or may not use all of the flour, the important thing is to stop adding when you have a soft dough
that has just reached the stage where it no longer sticks to your mixer or fingers, if you pick up a bit & pinch it between them.

Have a sip of your G&T, & empty the dough onto a lightly floured surface & form into a log.


Rolling, rolling, rolling until you have a whopper

Slice, not too thinly (Mum makes each slice about 10mm thick), & squeeze the log back into shape between each slice.
Place on a baking tray that is carefully being guarded by the G&T.

Place in an oven that has been preheated to 150 celsius - 300 fahrenheit for 30 minuteschecking from 20 minutes onwards - if the bottom is lightly golden, it's done! If the bottom is still pale it just doesn't taste the same.

Ahh the part I was waiting for, licking the mixer - a 40 something year old daughter who really only wanted to relive her childhood & see if licking the mixer was the best part of the whole process! Perhaps it's the second best thing - these days it seems that warm shortbread fresh out of the oven is the best part.

** This was my Grandmother's recipe & traditionally it was rolled flat, cut into squares, pinched at the corners & pricked a couple of times with the fork before being baked. I clearly recall 40 odd years ago watching Mum make it that way & it all sticking to the bench top & tearing when she went to put the spatula under it to remove it. With an exclamation of 'bother - there has got to be an easier way than this' she scooped up the lot rolled it into the log & started slicing , the method she uses today.

A link to the original post is below:

Thursday, February 18, 2016


There I sat on Valentines Day 2016 - unsettled. Unable to stay focused on anything...except for the fact that Christchurch had just experienced another Earthquake, just a 8 days short of that dreadful day in 2011 when life, as us Cantabrians knew it, changed.

The ridiculous thing, for me personally, is the way my body reacted the second I read that single status saying "F!#k - that was a big one". When someone from Christchurch posts that - you know that it isn't just another four point something aftershock type affair - we almost got used to those.
No, my body went straight into fight or flight response, heart racing, restricted vision & coiled like a spring while I looked around me trying to figure what to do............. then realising I was 2,504 kilometers away.

With shaking hands I put a call out on Social Media for Christchurch friends to check in. My head said "Family & Friends" by my hands weren't listening. My thoughts were rushing trying to remember that old mental checklist of names of everyone I needed to check on. I missed loads of names. Fortunately I got quick responses on Facebook, saw posts commenting on the quake &, as I was starting to really stress, a phone from my eldest daughter, Michaela.

But what was it with that reaction? That surge of adrenalin, that left me shaking, alternating between tearful &  unable to focus on anything for the rest of the day. Not to mention feeling exhausted for  days afterwards!

I know those experiences haven't truly left me - I get reminders. Helicopters flying over will cause a temporary stillness while my mind takes that brief pause to figure it is not another civil defence emergency. Parking under buildings still always triggers that "what if" in my mind as I go in - & for the most part I will park in the open given the choice. The city here - I don't even contemplate taking my car in - preferring to catch the train, not just for convenience.
Sitting on a wooden deck having a coffee with a friend, & the deck will shake for some reason.....& there it is, that pounding that triggers my body into high alert. These days at least I manage to stay seated. 
The first time that happened it was just a bird landing on the patio out of our sight, such a tiny shudder of the floor beneath me & I catapulted out of my chair & froze - waiting to see if that movement got bigger before fleeing. Thank goodness for the gentle voice next to me that realised what was happening with me & said "it's ok, Deb, it's just a bird", bringing me back to earth.

Back when the Earthquakes first started people used to tell me that I was so strong, & I probably was - I had to be for my kids & my Mum. In the months that I stayed with Mum before moving here, I realised that my "strong" had run out. Roles were reversed. Living out near the beach gave a whole new perspective on how nasty each & every one of those "aftershocks" truly was. They just felt different - so very much harsher than just 6 kilometers inland. An even nastier kind of nasty. Hence some of the references to a city divided.

So almost 5 years on I know that Christchurch has little to feel like celebrating.
Oh yes, the rebuild is plodding along (if you define the rebuild as being focussed primarily in the CBD). The very first estimate of $20 Billion to rebuild (laughable even at the time), escalated to $30 Billion within 6 months & $40 Billion by 2013. But that is only a small part of things.

What about the people? Right from the beginning I have questioned all of this focus on fixing the bricks & mortar, rather than fixing the people. There was support for those that had suffered injury & loss in the early days, those that were suffering because they had been caught in the thick of it - but what about the longer term. 
Initially I questioned it on what I was observing around me - the reactions of friends & family. It was a no brainer to figure that some were dealing with it better than others.

How many have given a thought to the medical conditions that are a direct, or indirect result of continued stress? I didn't need any sort of degree to figure that one - dealing with a partner having what was a rather significant heart attack 3 days after the September 4th 7.1 quake taught me the effects of stress rather quickly. Interestingly this timed perfectly to the onset of my symptoms that were later diagnosed as Hypothyroidism. 
In hindsight I'm surprised that no one ever bothered to look at adrenal fatigue, given the events surrounding us at the time. I honestly wonder how many people are struggling with that - especially as the primary causes are prolonged stress, emotional trauma, lack of sleep....
It doesn't get better alone - & it certainly doesn't help your ability to cope.

Yes, we were strong, or made an appearance of being so - but the resilient, not so much. We were strong because we had no choice - but for the most part "resilient" was a handle that the rest of the country gave us because that is how we appeared to them. I well recall feeling like smacking the next person that referred to Cantabrians as "resilient" over the head by Boxing Day 2011. I also wondered if I was being uncharitable by feeling that way, until I read this today.
I don't feel so uncharitable any more.

A city tired....tired of the "get over it" attitude sometimes seen from the rest of the country, tired of circumnavigating broken roads, tired of waiting, tired of change, & certainly tired of upheaval.

So on the 5th Remembrance of the February Quake - just take a moment before "labelling" Christchurch & Cantabrians. If you must pick labels then patient, enduring, accepting, loving, valiant & inspiring might be better choices.

Try to comprehend what it is like to lose your bearings in a city that was once as familiar as the back of your hand, because those subconscious "landmark buildings" are no longer there - & everything is unfamiliar....often causing you to grieve all over again when you finally figure what it once was.

Try to understand that many choose to say "I'm ok"- because it is easier than trying to explain why they are not....& that in itself becomes habitual.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Joyful Journey

The story of a Mothers quiet encouragement &  an Afghan that has been 3 years in the making.

Back in 2012, not long after arriving here in Australia, I saw a ball of wool that I fell in love with ( nothing new there!) - a nice long run colour changing yarn that would be perfect for the centre piece of some squares I had seen called Noro Circles Afghan. Of course I bought it, well two balls of it - just to have a play with & keep my hands busy in the evenings. I thought perhaps I'd make a cushion out of the squares.

A couple of weeks later it went on sale & I bought a couple more balls in a different colourway & crocheted away until I ran out again.....which was about the time that Mum came over from New Zealand to stay with us. She saw what I was doing & fell in love with it, encouraging me to make the afghan, despite the fact that I said I didn't know if it would ever get cold enough here to use it.
On one of our trips out & about we were in the store that sold the wool looking at craft supplies & she bought me a few balls of it. I guessed that it was on it's way to becoming an afghan rather than a pillow!

I well recall teasing her when she said "I'd absolutely love something like that to snuggle up in" - replying with a comment about the bright colours screaming at her decor. Knowing Mum as I did, I knew her comment wasn't intended as a hint that she'd like me to give her the one I was making, she would have asked outright, it was simply her way of encouraging me.
But the seed of an idea was planted & I figured later I would make her one in some of the more muted colourways available in the range.

So it went on, after Mum went home - when I had a bit of money to spare & the store would have a discount, promotion or sale I'd buy a couple more balls. Slowly the pile of squares grew. Over time the wool had become harder to get & I'd had to search around other stores to get it.

The store chain eventually discontinued the yarn & all of a sudden in mid 2013 I was finished, whether I liked it or not! I started laying it out on the spare bed trying to figure how I wanted to put over 100 different squares in numerous different colourways of the wool together....and there was nothing I could come up with that felt "right"...mainly because I was over thinking it before I even started. After an incident involving a cat, her hair & the disturbance of a semi likeable layout I packed the squares away as Summer approached... & forgot all about it.

Then, in March 2014, I got the call from Mum that she was pretty darn ill. As I made arrangements to go to visit her while she was still "reasonably well" my mind went to the squares sitting there & I knew what I wanted to do with them, but also that I wouldn't have time to sew all the ends in & assemble them before leaving for New Zealand. Believing that she had another 5 months I thought that I'd do it when I got back & send it to her.

It wasn't to be. When I arrived back after her funeral & right up until October this year I haven't been able to face them. It was actually the Jacarandas that reminded me of the squares, & I determined to somehow celebrate Mum's life & mark her journey through it. I assembled the squares into an afghan during the days that were the anniversary of her time here with me.

In the end it was easy - take a leaf out of her book. Because despite every stinking illness, & every emergency surgery & hospital stay - Mum stayed optimistic. She took great joy in life & in those she loved or cared about. She always looked on the bright side & was a beacon of light to friends or family going through anything. She always had time to support & encourage others, no matter what she was going through.

So the layout became easy - push the darker squares into the opposite corners & let the joy & light shine through.

It would have been Mum's 78th Birthday today - I hadn't given her a hand crafted Birthday present of any significance since I made her a porcelain doll "Joey" back in 1993.
I can honour her memory by celebrating her life this way though -

Caroles Joyful Journey

Monday, November 02, 2015

Those Purple Trees

The Jacaranda's have been in flower over the last month - stunning trees at the best of times, but when they are planted en-mass, as they are locally, they become absolutely spectacular!

I spent the latter half of last month celebrating "17 days of Mum" - or rather the last quality time we ever had to spend together when she came over for a holiday just after we had come to Australia.  She just loved the Jacarandas & would always admire them pointing them out in the distance as we drove around - or gasp in amazement as we drove the streets lined with them locally.

One of the Jacaranda lined streets locally.

Sometimes it's a bit difficult to look around this place & imagine what it was like 3 years ago when Mum arrived 3 1/2 months after we had moved here. I wasn't fully unpacked, hadn't replaced any of the furniture left behind in NZ.... & certainly didn't know my way around Brisbane, or a fraction of what it had to offer.
Heck, at that point we had only just got our own car (finally settled in a stress filled rush the week before she got here) & I had been brave enough to drive on the local motorway all of 3 or 4 times....if that!

Never the less on the day of her arrival I'd put my big girl panties on, plugged in the "specially purchased so I could galavant around the countryside with Mum" GPS & braved the even bigger, scarier motorway down to the Gold Coast. Thankfully, after that, Allan was around for most of the bigger trips.
I suspect that Mum never realised how absolutely petrified I was on that particular drive, a suspicion backed up by the fact that when we were almost back home that evening, she mentioned that she'd like to revisit  Robina Town Centre Mall .....which was way back down where we'd just come from. Or maybe she was just trying to encourage me in her own special way ;)

The colour takes on a different hue in the shade.

I've always disliked the fact that she'd arrived to a house that still didn't feel like home, a non existent garden &, after an extremely dry winter, a parched lawn & sad looking trees. I was tired & my energy levels at an all time low as I hadn't yet managed to find a Doctor here that could deal with my stupid thyroid & had run out of my prescription a month earlier - most mornings were a battle just to wake up enough to function in a semi human manner. But eventually my body would catch up with my sluggish mind & we'd get going - Mum often leading the race everywhere. I remember teasing her that she should share her excess energy with me - & I my excess body weight with her!!

We had a good time - loads of laughs, lots of travel, wine o'clock every evening & lots of shopping. Mum was an encourager & an enabler in that aspect  - gosh, how she loved the shops!! We made memories, of course dreaming at the time that we would make more once we were more settled over here. The only thing there wasn't enough of were photos of  the two of us together.

The pops of purple throughout the suburbs really make an impact.

So, this last month has been a bit of a journey in more ways than one. I've revisited some of the memories we did make while she was here....& had a few laughs about some of the smaller memories such as big ass spider that would always choose Mum's shower time to visit the bathroom!! Determined to celebrate her life, rather than focus on the huge space she has left in mine, I finished a project that I had been working on when Mum was here - & there is a story behind that, so I will leave if for another post.

These days gardening seems bitter sweet somehow. Mum was one of the few people that understood my passion for it (heck, she was one of the few people who understood & encouraged my passion for anything!). So as I intermittently plod on trying to liven up what was once crispy grass & overgrown bush, I think often of Mum & wish so much that she could see what I have done. I know it would make her smile - & draw in a contented breath while saying to herself "ahh, Deb has settled into her new life".

As for the Jacarandas' - now when they are in flower they will always remind me of Mum & her visit here.
They are also bright, vibrant & offer up a note of positivity in a landscape of sameness - just as she was.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Blues.....

I've never quite understood why some people don't like Monday - unless of course you are still at school & not that fussed about it. Because lets face it when you are still at school - the weekends are never long enough! But after we've finished school the rest is about choice. Plain & simple.

I have always loved Monday ( I don't profess to have always liked school though....) & I still do. To me it signifes a fresh beginning & often a chance to catch up on the things I didn't get done the previous week.

The only thing I don't enjoy about Monday these days is that they seem to be getting closer together, coming around just that bit too quickly.

The up side to that is that today was a spectacularly "Blue Monday" - everything with even a hint of blue in it was showing off.

My gorgeous waterlily was showing off yet another bloom.
Plectranthus caninus ( Dogbane)  getting in on the act
This poor baby is blue because I can't recall it's name.
Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa - Yellow Passionfruit 
Clitoria ternatea - Double Blue Butterfly Pea is
singing the the top of it's voice.
Argyreia nervosa - Elephant Ear Vine with friendly grasshopper.
Not exactly blue - but she's certainly"In the Pink"
Even the weeds were getting in on the act!

Oh, yeah - I do so love me some Monday Blues & hope that the prettiness involved in this form of "Blues" brings a smile to the start of your week.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Here Be Dragons

I've been meaning to visit a particular location ever since we moved here over two years ago, but for one reason or another had not got around to doing so. A prompt, by way of "it's really pretty right now - the iris are all blooming" from a visiting friend this morning, put a much need fire under me to set off & explore this oasis in the central city.

Tucked away between train tracks & tall buildings, right on the edge of the central business district, lies the oasis otherwise known as Roma Street Parklands. It's magical, really it is. Perhaps especially so at this time of year when the Iris are in bloom & the Eastern Water Dragons are all shapes, sizes & places

This one you might have to enlarge, in order to spot all 5 dragons.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Minutes, Hours, Days & Months.

Yesterday marked 6 Months since my gorgeous Mum left us. I chose to escape...distract myself from that huge tightness in my heart that, at times, threatens to overwhelm me. Especially those days that seem to mark significant passages of time.

Those days that I feel I've forgotten what she sounded like, how she smelled, or the feel of her lips on my cheek or arms around me as we hugged & kissed in greeting or departure.
Yet I still remember what her tiny, wasted frame felt like in my arms on in those final two days all too vividly, along with the final kiss I was ever able to give her  - & those days I would like to be able to forget. They are not the memories that I want to carry around with me.

Isn't it strange though, how over time one can think they are losing the essence of a person so loved, that the person has been gone longer than they were here - yet at the same time it seems like only yesterday that person left. I struggle with that & I know my children, nieces & nephew do too. Essentially we fear we will forget - but we wont.

In our eyes Mum/Nana was a winner &, most definitely, a "keeper".  We simply weren't ready to let her go yet - but are we ever? Her capacity for love knew no bounds - how a heart that big survived in a frame that small is beyond me. Her often naughty sense of humour was almost as large as that heart of hers. Her laugh, when let loose, was an absolute joy to hear - & that is almost what I miss the most.

Our Winner

So for myself, my children, my nieces, my nephew....& all those, close to Mum, that cared I think Marcel Proust, in his letter to George de Lauris - whose Mother had just died, sums it up very well:

Now there is one thing I can tell you; you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your Mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will forever be cast into the past, then you will feel her gently revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you. At the present time, this is not yet possible. Let yourself be inert, wait 'til the incomprehensible power that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more & more.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Busy Bee's and Silver Linings

Osteospermums, the African, or Cape, Dasies - those stalwarts of the perennial garden, always in flower, tough as old boots & can be planted anywhere....right? Not so much here in my part of Queensland - I've been advised on more than one occasion that it's better to stick to the older varieties, rather than some of the newer hybrids, as they seem a bit more heat tolerant.

Of course I was told that *after* I'd tried & lost my favourite "Tradewinds Terracotta" that I'd surprisingly managed to find here ....along with a rather pretty un-named pale terracotta with a mauve centre that looked very similar.
Not to be deterred when I recently found a divine pale lemon yellow variety called '"Flower Power Lemon", I purchased it. You know the saying "I came, I saw, I conquered"? Well, "I buyed, I tried, I failed". (Yes, I know - lame AND bad grammar, but hey it's my blog...)

The plain of fashioned white variety, however, survived the first years heat, then near drowning during January storms & is now going great guns down in the back garden. 

A couple of  single petaled almost "Terracotta" coloured plants that I found are, so far, doing quite well in front of the patio - the Native Stingless Bee's seem to like them too. Perhaps they share my love of that colour....

Small Native Stingless Bee appreciating "orange".

Then, at a Garden Centre in Toowoomba ( a slightly more tolerant climate than down here) a couple of weeks back I discovered this beautiful Osteospermum called Coral Sands.

Osteospermum 3D "Coral Sands"

A bit hesitant to set myself up for another failure I promptly called my friend over to ask the ultimate "will this one thrive - or turn up it's toes" question ....& lost it the second they laid eyes on it!lol! A nearby nursery assistant found me the only remaining plant of it in the nursery. Sadly it wasn't as healthy or floriferous as the first, & some of the flowers didn't have the gorgeous double crest - instead just being the usual Osteospermum dark purple/blue.

The silver lining to getting the plant that I did, is that the Native Stingless Bee's, while not landing on the fancy double crested flowers (probably at risk of getting stuck!) seem to like the plain flowers & it is so important to encourage & keep these little creatures in our gardens.

The un-crested flowers that the Bee's prefer

Hopefully it will come away & thrive - but right now, with the onset of the really hot weather I'm just hoping for survival.

As a gardener, & one that is concerned about the future of our planet, this has been a good reminder in not getting too carried away by all of the fancy new hybrids. While our senses may be delighted by something new & different - our wee friends & helpers in keeping the food crops alive seem to prefer the plainer stuff ;)

Rosa 'Crepuscule'

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Slow Learner

Sadly, that's me! You'd think two years living in Australia, or more correctly Queensland, would have taught me a thing or two about gardening & it's seasons here. But no.
In my defense I do know that winter is the "dry" season (even though it rained for almost 2 weeks solid when I first got here) & that Summer is the "wet" season. OK - so I'm blindly disregarding that fact that we didn't get a single substantial storm or any rain to speak of here last summer.

Somehow I have killed more plants since moving here than I had in the previous 34 years of gardening. On the flip side I have also had significantly more success with striking various cuttings. With constantly warm temperatures germinating most seeds is a walk in the park. Keeping the buggers alive once in the ground is a whole different ball game though.

But nature has a way of telling us....sometimes. The second planting of lettuces last summer simply bolted & as a result we've had fresh, garden picked oak leaf lettuces available all WINTER! Those lovely garden volunteers almost made up for having to buy tasteless store bought lettuces to eat for the rest of last summer. Of course they came up in the exact area that I wanted to try some direct composting in. Rebels!

I can't really complain though - the rest of the garden got the compost treatment so at least 3/4 of it is done in preparation for summer....but wait, most of the stuff I wanted to grow thrives over winter.
Oh, bother!

The curly leafed Parsley that just sat there wilting in the summer heat,  then seriously sulking over Autumn decided to come alive & have a Parsley party mid winter (whenever that is here - who can tell, stuff just never really stops growing) then go positively rampant in Spring.

Gardening & landscaping is big industry here....not to mention expensive. With most soils needing amending somehow before being ready to plant in the sales in  soil additives to remedy clay or sandy soil alone must be phenomenal, then there are more additives required to aid in water retention, fertilisers, plant foods, mulches & the water itself. Then you have to arm yourself for the battle of the squillion & one pests & diseases that seem to thrive here.

Many people just plant in pockets of a "quality" potting mix - but in my experience the plants do well for a while then once the roots outgrow the mix & hit the crappy soil they just become stressed & very soon start failing completely.

One of the traps I fell into was believing that because stores sold certain flower & vegetable seedlings it was the right time to plant them....or that they would survive & (hopefully) thrive here. Wrong!
While some smaller nurseries will have ethics & only sell what will grow locally - big box stores have no such qualms about stocking the shelves with the latest cultivars whether there they are suitable to the climate or not. I've learned that lesson the hard way - more than once. It can become expensive.

Then there is the incorrect labeling of plants - not something I'd normally worry too much about, except when it comes to buying, nurturing & actually managing not to kill a particular rose - a rose I bought as David Austins "Leander"...only it isn't. Lucky for that rose it's another old favourite  "Crepuscule" &, as it happens it's a good performer in warmer climates - so it gets to stay, even if it doesn't quite look or behave as I'm used to.

The trick, I am discovering, is to know your plants (although bare rooted roses can be a tad difficult to identify....) & choose where you shop wisely.
In my case it is more like take everything you thought you knew & either throw it out the window - or fast forward some seasonal tasks by 3 months, rewind others by two & turn the seasons upside down, just for good measure!
I'm still trying to get my head around why some old favourites from my temperate climate gardens will grow here & others won't - or why those that will grow here grow so differently to how I've grown them in the past. It's a learning curve, a very big one - but I'll get there...

....well, unless the Brush Turkey decides to strip another few gardens of their carefully laid mulch.
But that's a whole different story - & one for another time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

To Think...

...That at the time of my last blog post I imagined starting posting somewhat regularly again about my gardening adventures here in Australia.

...That I believed Mum had a few more months left & that we'd have time to talk, laugh & cry again together.

...That the hardest part of my upcoming trip home to New Zealand in a little over a week would be leaving to come home, not knowing if I'd ever get back in time see her alive again.

...That those phone calls I was making to her room in the Hospice were enough to keep me abreast of how well she was doing.

As it turned out none of the above were true.
I arrived in New Zealand just before midnight on the 2nd April planning on some rest before spending the next day & every one of my stay there after with her, only to be told by my brother during the trip from the Airport to Mum's place that I should go to the hospital that she'd been transferred to right then as he thought she was only hanging on to see me. I was stunned - shaken to my core.

I was further shaken when I saw her - a far cry from the photo that had been sent four days earlier, taken when her Doctor brought her dog in for a visit.
Thirty Four sleepless hours later, surrounded continuously by the three women closest to her (my two gorgeous Aunts & myself) she was gone.

The last thing I expected to be doing on this trip was to have to try & compose a eulogy for my Mother.Apparently she hadn't wanted a formal funeral - rather a celebration of her life. While I could respect the fact that she didn't want us to be somber & sad, I found it incredibly difficult to be light hearted & frivolous when my heart was so heavy.  I also struggled with whether I had the ability to hold myself together while reading anything at all out - let alone anything too evocative.
I hope that I did her justice with the following:

And now she rests at peace. The amazing, vibrant, beautiful woman I called "Mum".
Yet she was so much more than just my Mum.  She was Sister, Wife, Nana, Sister-in-law, Aunty, Cousin & Friend. I know that I will not be alone in feeling the void that her passing will leave in my life.

She was also a lot more than just “Mum” to me – she was a friend, confidant, staunch supporter of my many endeavours & of course the ultimate enabler  when we went shopping together … something best avoided at all costs as we would both end up spending more than we should!

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t realise how blessed I have been to have landed the Mum that I did…well ok, maybe there were a few rough patches in my rebellious teenage years, but for the most part I knew I’d scored pretty darn well in the Mother stakes! As I told her, & a number of other people, I couldn’t have had a better Mother if I’d been able to choose one for myself.

I’ve always known that it takes a pretty special person to be able to take on & love a baby that they didn’t create themselves & Mum did that…& then some! Both her & Dad’s capacity for unconditional love was immense – along with their ability for complete forgiveness ( & Heaven knows they had to practise that a few times!).

I always admired the fact that Mum could be upset, hurt or angry about something – work through those emotions quickly, then move on & put those feelings behind her, once again seeing only the good in people & taking pleasure out of the part they played in her life. From that I learned that while we can’t control the way people act – we can control how we react to it….. & that a sense of humour always helps!!

Witty, amusing, slightly naughty – that was my Mum!

I have so many memories of her part in my life (& lets face it – it was a pretty big part, given that she is the woman who has influenced me more than any other) – that it would take me hours just to scratch the surface.
The one that outshines them all though was being brought up surrounded by love & security - something that, when I think back, was like a big warm fluffy, blanket. This wasn’t only provided by Mum & Dad – but also by my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles & Cousins. Family gatherings full of love, laughter, intriguing tales of Malta, England & New Zealand. Then there were the family holidays, &  later the bach at Waikuku, parties & dinner parties. Life was never dull.
Oh, yes – I do remember the bottles of Galliano & Vok, the mixing of Martinis - along with the wines, spirits & great food!!

So I get to add amazing cook, cocktail mixer & adventurous, outgoing lady to the list.

My earliest memory of Mum is of her lifting a blanket & saying “ boo” to me when I was still in my cot…& for some reason sitting completely under my cot blanket when I suspect I was meant to be sleeping (perhaps getting into practice for later years when I’d read under the blankets with a pilfered torch when I was meant to be asleep).
One of my last memories will be Mum saying that she just wanted to be normal – I knew what she meant, but told her “Normal is a cycle on the washing machine, Mum… & you have never been normal – how boring would that be!” I should have added “ You were outstanding”.

So to all of those people who have ever been there for Mum – I thank you.
To my two fabulous (yet slightly crazy) Aunts, Yvonne & Elaine – you have my eternal gratitude. Not only were you there for Mum in those last days – but you were there for me as well, offering care & hugs, sharing tears & laughter at the time when we were all on the edge of despair. I love you both with all my heart!
Of course you do realise that now you have another daughter….don’t you?