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Making Leaf Mould

Leaf Mould in the making.

Autumn is well and truly here, many of our trees and shrubs are changing colour and the first leaves are dropping. Over the last few years I’ve got in the habit of collecting up the fallen leaves, using the push mower and catcher, this not only chops up the leaves but adds in grass clippings, which help everything to break down. Our main trees for leaves are Chestnuts, Birch and Gingko.

I have an area about 1m square, wedged between old hay bales and comfrey plants, it has a bit of sacking or cardboard boxes on the bottom and is in semi shade. Each time I mow I pack the leaf mix into this space, tightly, paying special attention to the sides. Just like making compost  you want to keep the mix moist but not soggy, and packing it in helps hold the moisture. Put a cover over it, a cardbox weighed down would do.

Once the leaves are all collected the heap can be left to work its magic. I find the center is ready to use in early Summer, and I move the edges in to the middle then to keep it in a pile, so it can carry on breaking down.

As I clear out the last of the previous seasons collection it is a dark rich loam, with abundant worms, and weed free. I like to put big handfuls around trees and shrubs in large pots, and as a mulch for special shade loving plants like our Golden Seal, Hostas and ferns.

It’s a great resource, very satisfying to make and adding nutrients & organic matter to the soil, which help to hold moisture over our dry spells.

Losing an elderly parent

A Death in the Family, a journey through grief and finding a unique way to celebrate a long life.

Dec 20th 2021. This week my Mum died. She had just turned 92 and had lived with us here at Millstream for the last 34 years. There are two reasons I’m writing this blog, firstly to share the important things we have learnt about strokes, hospital process, and planning for a funeral, many people who have talked to me over the last few days have said ‘they didn’t know what they didn’t know’ about dying and afterwards. Secondly, writing is my way to process and honour my own experiences.

I guess when Mum first came here we had no idea she would be here forever, and despite our ups & downs we have got along pretty well. When she first came here at 58, it was to make a break from an unhappy marriage, her second, and she arrived in a fragile state saying she just wanted to live a quiet life in a caravan. Within the week we had found her the caravan she wanted and decided where to put it in the garden.

Over the years her little home expanded with a bedroom and porch, greenhouse and storage shed, and a beautiful garden surrounding the whole place. Mum had simple needs and was very content pottering in her garden, feeding her birds and sewing like a demon, most recently making re-useable bags from sheets and linens gleaned from the local op shops, she and I also worked together sewing masks..

Born in 1929, she was evacuated from London for some time during the war, then at 14 she left school and worked in a laundry, ironing uniforms for the forces, long hours and heavy work. Her work ethic never waned and she would complain bitterly if she was tired and needed a nap in the afternoon, seeing it as being lazy.

Just over 2 weeks ago Mum had a stroke, and we found her just a few minutes later lying in her garden, barely conscious. Myself and Rauna, our ‘Bonus Daughter’ (Giles’ partner) were at home, we’d been having a tidy up at Mum’s place. The ambulance was called, as I sat holding Mum in the garden, it started to rain, it was quite surreal, sitting there, holding up an umbrella, water dripping around us, and down my back, waiting for what seemed an age for help to arrive. The new covid restrictions meant that I couldn’t go into the hospital with her. She stayed in the A&E department until late the next day, and no-one could visit until she was put in a ward. The complication of this was that no-one at the hospital had any idea what state she had been in before the stroke, and at that time she had trouble speaking clearly and was confused, (not surprisingly). I had several long conversations with different Doctors, covering the same ground of what was Mum’s normal state. In retrospect it seems all this information was recorded first time round, but the systems for communicating information seem stretched, and not always ideal.

Eventually Mum  was settled in the stroke ward and my sister, Viv and I got to see her. In the ward we could visit one at a time and only once a day, we were so grateful that we weren’t in lockdown, when Mum would have been on her own. To aid communication we wrote a sign to go by her bed so that we didn’t need to repeat info, and that if we weren’t around staff would still have an idea of her needs. Several of the staff commented that it was a great idea and they’d like to use it. We also put a collage of photos of Mum with us and grandchildren just to say that she wasn’t always in the state she now found herself in.

It was hard to understand what she was saying, but the essence of Mum was very much still there, a bit cheeky and wanting to know everything that was going on in the ward. Two added effects of the stroke were that she couldn’t swallow properly and needed thickened drinks, which she thought were disgusting, along with the pureed food, and if we coaxed her to eat or drink, she’d say “you eat it then”. More alarming  was her breathing. She would breathe normally for a minute or so then stop for as long again. The only indication that she was still alive was that we could see her pulse beating steadily. This had happened while I sat with her in the garden, waiting for the ambulance, and each time she stopped I thought she had died, in many ways it would have been her perfect place to die, in her beloved garden with the Tuis in the flax bush and a sense of peace. In the hospital we got used to her breathing and would just stop what we were doing or saying and wait for her to start up again.

The third day was her birthday, cards and greetings from her Grandchildren and family, a few presents but she could barely register them, she enjoyed having the cards read, she always treasured cards, especially home made ones, and she asked a few times what was wrong with her, and where she was.

Viv, Geoff and I often had the exact same idea at the same time and we moved through decision making,  and processing what was going on together, we felt like a good strong unit. I’d woken up the day before Mum’s stroke and thought that we should decorate her casket soon, when I mentioned it to Viv a few days later, she had had exactly the same thought. Mum had bought a kitset casket,(that is a rectangular box, rather than a coffin which is shaped) maybe 18 months ago, I think she got it on Trade Me from a place in Feilding for about $400. She had chosen a paint colour ( Resene Paints told me they supply the local coffin club with paints, and were not surprised by my query.) and had spent time with Rauna collecting pictures from gardening magazines to decorate it. We had never had the heart to get it out and decorate it before now. Mum was very proud of her Funeral Fund, which she had been adding to over the years. She had $4,000 put aside, and of that we still have $1,000 left, after all expenses, which we will decide what to do with later on, when things are a bit more settled. We didn’t set out to save money, but the choices we made to be true to Mum were simple and home made, which felt perfect, and we are sure she’d appreciate that.

Day 5 So on a sunny Saturday morning we set up in the garden and painted the flat pieces then collaged many pictures on to it. All Mum’s favourite things, plants, birds and nature, it looked beautiful and we arranged the colours like the chakras, starting with red at her feet up to purple at her head. We could tick it off of Mum’s ‘to do’ list finally.

There was a lovely bedspread with wildflowers and poppies on it, which we decided to line it with when the time came. I looked online for how to do the lining but it all looked a bit flashy, lots of silk and pleats. In the end Tim, from Tim Hutchins Funeral Home and his team put in the lining and made a cover to go over Mum’s lower half, it was perfect.

Part of the health system is that we needed to look for  permanent care for Mum, at hospital level, if she survived. It was a confusing time for us as it didn’t seem that Mum would recover but on the other hand she might go on in a kind of half life for an unknown time. It was distressing to think of her, dependent on others for her care and unable to communicate clearly. There was no way our set up at home could manage her care without major alterations, and even then the prospect seemed hugely daunting.

We looked at a number of options, looking for a small scale set up, which looked homely and wasn’t too slick. The one we liked best had colourful images of the rooms, and even a visiting dog. Sadly we thought if Mum had been in good shape she would have loved it, outings to have fish and chips at the beach, sing alongs and film nights. Many retirement villages have hospital care set ups, but these are mostly used by residents in the village, so most local places had no vacancies. The Social Worker at the hospital gave us a list of options , which had vacancies at the level of care Mum would need. Apparently there is a Government subsidy for folk who don’t have much in the way of savings, and Mum would have been able to pay the rest from her pension. In the end we met with the manager of our chosen option, she looked at Mum and suggested we wait a few days before moving forward. I think it was obvious to her if not to us that Mum was dying.

We were lucky to have a couple of friends in the Health sector, who I talked things over with and we decided that the way forward was to ask for minimal intervention. To keep Mum pain-free and calm, and let nature take it’s course, in the words of her Doctor “Gently, gently’ it was a huge relief to be on the same page and that we had a way forward. It was a real conflict to acknowledge that was where we were headed and make that call, even though we knew it was for the best outcome for Mum. The other valuable suggestion was that we get a number of someone who we could contact if need be, and would be our liason with the hospital staff. This was very useful and reassuring that we could make contact if and when we needed to.

One issue we avoided, but could have been tricky was that we were asked if Mum had Enduring Power of Attorney. which she did not. In effect if she had gone into care and been unable to make decisions needed for managing her finances and care, we would have had to apply to get enduring power of attorney through the courts, and probably it would have been a slow process. Geoff and I have named Giles as our POA, as our solicitor succinctly put it “in case we go gaga” It’s simple to add in as part of setting up a will or revising one, and a good idea to do in advance, and especially so for our parents.

I found it useful to keep a bag packed with things I might need, ready for unexpected trips to the hospital, as well as a mask, glasses, food supplies, warm jersey, phone etc I kept a notebook there too. This was really handy for recording names of staff I talked to & what was said, so I could report back to Viv. I also wrote any questions or ideas in there too such as things to take in for Mum. I took in a piece of her favourite dragonfly curtain one day, another day a bunch of fresh herbs to remind her of home.

When we had the group meeting at the hospital Mum was asking for a Pimms, the Doctor said it would be ok to bring her some, so the next day I made a Pimms up with all the trimmings, packed in a coffee cup tucked in my bag. I was a bit nervous that I would get into trouble. When a nurse came into to see Mum, she said, “oh, it says on her notes that she is allowed Pimms!” So I produced the one in my bag, and dipped one of the sponges on a stick in it for Mum to suck. It was obviously approved of as she had about six helpings, probably a couple of teaspoons worth. If I’d waited until the next day I don’t think she would have taken it.

  Each day she got a bit less, less words, less eyes open, less eating or drinking. Eventually she was put into a single room, Viv and I would take turns to visit, Geoff often was our driver, and he would go off into town to fill in a few hours. The room was peaceful, with a big window and a fan to keep Mum cool. We took in a CD player and played some of her favourite tunes, including  Nat King Cole, Albatross by Fleetwood Mac, and some of our gentle music for settling her down. It mostly seemed like Mum was in a gentle dream, surfacing now and then to squeeze a hand or tap her foot to the music or raise her face to enjoy a cool flannel, she looked hardly recognizable with her false teeth out, and breathing with her mouth open all the time..

Day 12. On Saturday morning there was a call from the hospital to come quickly, Mum was going. Viv, Geoff and I dropped everything and rushed in, a 20 minute drive to Hastings. Thankfully we were all allowed in now, and we arrived  thinking we had been too late, only to be reminded that Mum’s breathing was erratic and she was not ready to go anywhere yet. The hours in that tiny room passed quickly as we took turns to sit by her, hold her hand, cool her down and talk to her. Geoff made two trips out for food supplies to keep us going, and we settled in. Towards evening Mum got restless, she would try to put her arms up in the air, and one leg would escape the bed, we joked she was practicing her Tai chi, but she became more distressed so was given extra sedation and pain relief. She had a permanent driver into her tummy and this gave her regular doses of meds, which then were topped up if needed into a line in her arm. Next day the extra doses she’d been given the day before were added into her driver to keep her comfortable.  One of the staff said it was very common for people who were dying to reach out like that, and she thought they could see loved ones on the other side and were reaching out to them. Who knows if this is so, but we liked the idea of people waiting to welcome Mum.

After 18 hours at the hospital we were exhausted and relieved when a nurse told us to go home, the down side of that was that as Mum was not dying right then, we had to revert to the one person at a time once a day system. This was distressing as we had found it so much easier to share the care and support each other. Fortunately this was revised by the Palliative Care Manager and we were allowed to go in twos or threes. Viv and Geoff went back in later in the day, but I couldn’t go, I felt completely wiped out and had my usual sore throat that tells me when I need to rest up.

Monday: I got spend a few hours with Mum, giving her a hand massage and playing quiet music, It felt like a gentle loving time, and very special for me. The song I played and sang to her was called “Let your Heart be Known’ by Steve Gold, an acoustic piece, it’s such a beautiful song and I play it now to connect in with Mum .

Viv’s grown up children got to go in to say goodbye to their Gran which was very special, and Giles and Rauna went to see her one last time. She seemed to be much the same as before, when we asked how long this could go on for, no-one could say, days, weeks maybe? That was a very daunting prospect both for Mum and us.

Tuesday morning: an early call from Viv to say that Mum had died peacefully about six oclock. Mixed feelings of relief and sadness, and some trepidation of what needed doing next. At the hospital all three of us were allowed in, and we sat with Mum for an hour or so while the death certificate and another form allowing for cremation were compiled. Geoff got hold of Tim the funeral director, who he had been in contact with over a few days and it was arranged that he would pick her up from the hospital morgue. Because of the covid restrictions he could not pick her up from the ward. Two nurses came in to wash Mum and put her in a clean nightie. We left and went to get breakfast and have some time walking in Cornwall Park while we filled in time before going to the funeral home.

At 11am, about two hours later, we went to Tim’s and after filling out more forms, Viv and I followed Tim into a private room where Mum was on a trolley. We wanted to help dress Mum, so with Tim’s guidance we managed to do so. It wasn’t so difficult or upsetting as I expected, in a way a continuance of the care we had been giving Mum. She looked very smart in her best red dress, and Tim and Blane even managed to give her the “Judy Dench” hairdo she wanted.

We had re-arranged our spare bedroom to accommodate Mum and a mattress either side, plus seating on the spare beds. We set up some of Mum’s favourite photos and ornaments and some candles. It felt like a very warm and peaceful space to bring her home to. Since she had not wished to be embalmed, and we felt comfortable not to keep her too long, we decided to just have her at home for 24 hours. We had a couple of text/email groups we’d been keeping in touch with and let people know they could come and say farewell.

It was a magic time, Mum looked very regal, and her casket was lovely. Many friends and family visited, there were tears and laughter, stories told and retold, other people shared their experiences of parents dying, some good, some distressing. A sense of shared life milestones, shared fears, shared love, it felt just right. Our friend Gine came and sang some beautiful songs, Mum would have loved that. Food was shared, and eaten at strange times, tequila was drunk, (Mum’s favourite tipple) tea and cake, cherries, meals cooked for us. Feelings of being looked after and blessed.

There was a brief moment of confusion, basically because we hadn’t read Tim’s invoice, which stated a private ceremony at Millstream. We were expecting to go to the crematorium for some kind of farewell, but had made no plans what to do there. When Tim explained the dilemma, it was a much better option to celebrate Mum and send her off from here. So we gathered together and people spoke or read out a poem or quote, it felt so much better and personal to be at home. One song Mum loved to do as a party piece was The Old Sow, we played a version by John Williamson, and it had us in stitches.

When the time came, Mum’s lid was put on and we carried her out to the car, with a waiata and a haka to see her on her way.

We waved her off down the drive, since we could not go any further with her. At 2pm the time we knew she would be cremated, we managed to sing a reasonable version of the Gypsy Rover, (not all the verses) and we drank Mum’s health and wished her a safe journey until we meet again.

Now it is over a week later and the reality that Mum has gone is still elusive. The caravan and garden she has lived in for so long, feels so much her space and we can imagine that she could be out shopping. I think it will take us all a good while not to look out for her when we walk past, not to think to take over tasty tidbits, or any one of many small acts that connected us. I feel sure that she is catching up with many friends and family who have already died, we joke that she’ll be enquiring about the state of the sewing facilities and is there a greenhouse? Where ever she is now I feel sure that her strong and generous spirit will be happily engaged in the next part of her adventures.

We send her our love and blessings.

Mum

Emerging from the coping place

The finality of absence

After holding it together

Not remembering to unbind my heart

Grief and guilt and relief

Sidled together, taking turns

Embrace them all

Heartsore, lonely and uncertain

Celebrate a strong life

Stroppy, intense and insecure.

Hold that complexity

Of what it is to be human.

I am my Mother’s daughter

18.4.2022

Action is the antidote to anxiety and despair. One ‘theory’ is that we can change our habits if we stick with it for three weeks. So here’s the challenge, starting with the easiest habits to change, food and waste food. Of course many of you will already be aware of these habits but there are many others who haven’t got around to thinking about climate change, especially whilst we also deal with covid, so this might be a nudge in the right direction.

Mark the boxes of one or more changes you can work on, and tick any boxes that you are already doing. This gives you an idea of how you’re doing. Persevere for 3 weeks then pass the challenge on to someone else. Of course you can repeat with new choices, or move onto the next area. As you move down the challenges, they become more complex and some are costly, so just pick those you feel comfortable to have a try at.

The idea is that if enough of us make small changes, together we can make a big change, this is not a new idea but definitely worth reminding ourselves that we can make a contribution and it may be bigger than we expect.

At the end of each article there are references and links for you to learn more.

FOOD: We all need it, but it is possible to improve the way we shop, so here goes…

  1. Minimise packaging: choose items with less plastic. Recycle soft plastics, check out ‘soft plastic recycling scheme’ to find your closest drop off point.*
  2. Recycle bags: reuse bags from bulk bin purchases, use cloth bags for vegetables etc 
  3. Meat: cut back, even a little bit is a good start. Try cutting back meat portions, or if meat-free meals are a new idea, try to introduce one meat-free recipe each week*
  4. Free range or organic: If you are eating less meat perhaps you can afford to buy free range or organic. Bostocks Chickens work out great value and chickens and fish do not produce methane.*
  5. Fish: Eat only sustainable NZ fish, this seems to be Lemon Fish and Gurnard in Hawkes Bay. Sadly Tuna is not a good choice. It seems that Salmon is ok at this point in time.
  6. Locally produced: Buy as much food that is locally produced and in season, supporting your local community and cutting back on food miles.
  7. Grow your own: if you don’t have a vege garden, even growing some silverbeet or lettuces in a bucket is a good start. Learn how to grow sprouts, alfalfa and moong beans are easy.
  8. Eat healthy: it’s good for you and your family. Takeaways now and then not every week. Vegetables are cheap and good for you, and often works out less expensive. A general guide is to shop around the outer edges of the supermarket where the unprocessed products can mostly be found. Beans and lentils are a great addition helping to bulk out meals and add nutrients .

Link: For some great, simple recipes, check out:

Growing Veges
Growing Veges

FOOD WASTE: Possibly one of the simplest but most effective changes we can make:

  1. Bread: one of our most common items at the dump. Don’t throw away bread crusts, freeze them to use later. Dry them for breadcrumbs, turn them into croutons for soups, make a vege loaf. Make bread pudding or Bread and Butter Pudding* Don’t forget to recycle the bags.
  2. Leftovers: use them up for lunches or freeze*
  3. Cook extra: Cook enough for a couple of nights, even extra pasta, rice or spuds makes the next meal easier.
  4. Shopping list: Shop with a list and buy what you need for the next week or two. Of course your usual staples like rice and pasta get to stay.
  5. Storage: Store food so that the newest is at the back of the pantry or fridge (don’t forget the freezer) and you can easily use up the older stuff first. Check your fridge contents every so often to ensure nothing is expiring or about to go to waste.
  6. Stocks and soups: Learn to make stock or soups using the odds and ends of veges, meat bones etc.
  7. Composting: Learn about composting, a worm farm or bokashi, to feed your gardens. Or you can set up a system with family or neighbours, or share community gardens.
  8. Best before: You can use food items which are after their best before date as long as they look and smell Ok. Stuff past it’s use by date is not OK.
  9. Cleaner: Citrus peels can be added to a jar of vinegar to make a fresh smelling cleaner.*
  10. Fridge supplies: Try making a “what-have-we-got-left-in-the-fridge meal” instead of having a set plan for what you want for dinner?
Mobile compost heap

Links:

STUFF, STUFF and LESS STUFF: Recycle, reuse or pass it on.

  1. Habits: Adopt the new shopping mantra “do I need this?” or “do I want this?”. See the Buyerarchy of Needs (it’s a mouthful I know). See also the link below about Fast Fashion and its impact on the environment.
  2. Quality: If you are purchasing a new item, try to get the best quality and most durable option.
  3. Minimise plastics, recycle whatever you can, especially useful if you don’t get your rubbish collected. Check out your local dump’s recycling and also your local Environment Centre*. Also reuse your plastic bottles to get refills of hand soap, washing up and laundry liquid, oils and vinegars etc.*
  4. Give away: Pass on items that are no longer needed to others, or op shops, as long as they are in good condition.
  5. Babies and young children: If you have a baby or young children, get or make some soft cloths instead of disposable wipes, carry some damp ones in a bag or pot when you go out. Revisit reusable nappies, there are some great ones available now. Check out Trade Me or local online garage sales.
  6. Mend or repurpose: there’s loads of info on google these days on how to fix things.
  7. Sharing: Are there some items you can share with family, friends or neighbours? A bit challenging but there might be something, make sure you all agree on the terms of sharing such as maintenance and repairs.
  8. Takeaways: use your own coffee cup and keep it in the car, also some containers for takeaways if you are allowed.
  9. Paper Towels: Toilet paper and hand towels can be purchased in bulk by mail order and come without extra packaging, Greencane for example supply these made from sugarcane and bamboo.

Links:

OUR ENVIRONMENT: Bigger picture stuff, not all of us can do but any step is a step in the right direction. For those of us lucky enough to have gardens there are some simple changes we can make

  1. Litter: Don’t throw rubbish out of your car window, or leave where it can be blown around. Pick up any rubbish you see when out walking.  Much of the rubbish on the roadsides gets washed into storm drains, then into our waterways and eventually into the sea.
  2. Donate to a cause that supports protecting our natural environment, eg. Forest & Bird, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund others?
  3. Learn about methods of gardening that do not rely on pesticides and weed killer, and this will encourage a wide range of bugs and birds to live in your garden.
  4. Mow your lawns less often, now there’s a challenge!
  5. Mulching, using old cardboard boxes, newspaper etc topped with dried grass clippings,dried leaves, hay or straw. Bark mulch is Ok for flower beds. Keeps weeds down and prevents water loss in hot weather.
  6. Plant trees, or find someone to plant them that has the space.

Links:

Kowhai

WATER: A most precious commodity, what can we do to avoid waste and keep it clean?

  1. Rubbish: Be aware of your rubbish and where it goes, see previous challenges.
  2. Don’t leave taps running if you don’t need to. Choose eco function on washing machines or dishwashers if you can, only rinse dishes that are seriously dirty.
  3. Washing dishes: If you don’t have a dishwasher it’s more economical to wash dishes in the sink or a bowl rather than under a running tap.
  4. Rainwater collecting: Consider setting up one small rainwater tank, maybe off a shed or garage roof. It could collect into a dustbin sized container and could supply you with fresh drinking water, or water for your plants.
  5. The 4 minute shower *
  6. Use eco friendly cleaning products and hair and shower washes, or just plain soap, don’t forget the carwash suds ( if you wash your car!) *.
  7. Grey water: Can you set up a system for reusing your grey water from showers, washing machine etc
  8. Composting toilet: We saved the best to last… why not install a composting toilet? They save water and do not need processing in big sewage ponds which often end up polluting our waters. The compost created can be used after a year or two for feeding trees and shrubs. 
Our beautiful stream

Links:

POWER AND TRANSPORT: Another biggy. There’s a lot of information out there about how to cut back our use of cars, which is fine if you live somewhere with walking and cycling access, but much more of a challenge as rural dwellers. Luckily we can all do things to cut back our use of electricity.

  1. Use a clothes line rather than a drier
  2. Switch off lights etc when you are not needing them. If you have a heater on, keep the doors shut, and close curtains at night to keep the warmth in.
  3. Streaming: Apparently if you watch movies at a slightly lower definition it can effectively save power.
  4. LED bulbs: Replace regular light bulbs with LED bulbs.
  5. Screen time: What about a screen free sunday each week for everyone in your home? Perhaps it would be a good time to pursue some other interests, or have some old fashioned family time playing board games or going for a walk.
  6. Oven: If you have the oven on, use it to cook several things at the same time.
  7. Driving: Trips to town, try and do all your jobs on one trip, that’s an optimistic thought. Carpool for outings.
  8. EV: Explore the option of getting an electric or hybrid car, this is sure to get easier over the next year or so, and there is a government subsidy for new and imported cars. The pros and cons still need to be ironed out.
  9. Solar Panels: If you own your own house it would be great to investigate getting solar panels. Also check you have good insulation, and generally check out your home’s resilience.
  10. Investment: If you have money invested, check to see that it’s being used ethically to support the changes we need to see.
  11. Paint it white: Did you know if you paint your house roof white, an average roof of 100sq metres can reflect enough sun in a year to cancel 10 tonnes of CO2, or approx 2.5 cars worth. The concept has been around for a few years but the jury was out as to whether this helps or not. Now it seems it’s a good choice, guess what we’ll be doing soon?

Links:

Solar Panels
Solar Panels

KEEPING IT ALL TOGETHER: Most importantly in these challenging times, we need to look after our own sense of wellbeing and find some positives. We are so blessed to live in New Zealand, and that’s a good start for being grateful.

  1. Support: We all need a support group of like minded friends or family to share experiences with, both good and not so good. You could join a group to learn new skills.
  2. Gratitude: The old cliche of counting your blessings. It’s now been proven that focusing on the good things in your day, before you go to sleep, helps to improve your mental health and optimism. What were your 3 best things today? Share them or write them down.
  3. Outdoors: Time in nature has been proven to give us a better sense of wellbeing and more positive health, even seeing trees outside the window counts. Best of all, take time to walk through the bush or along the beach, or simply walk along the road and admire the variety of gardens there.
  4. Screen time: What about a screen free sunday each week for everyone in your home? Perhaps it would be a good time to pursue some other interests, or have some old fashioned family time playing board games or going for a walk.
  5. Creativity is great for one’s wellbeing, whether it’s listening or playing music, doing something arty, writing, gardening, reorganising your space, singing, sewing or knitting, dancing, anything that you can put a bit of yourself into. You don’t need to be good at it, just able to lose yourself in it.
  6. Resilience: It’s not an easy task, but being mentally prepared, and understanding the predicaments we face, ultimately helps us be stronger and more resilient come whatever may. Resilience is about being prepared in our homes, and in ourselves.
  7. Meditation: really just another word for being present here and now and not lost in thoughts of what ifs and wherefores. Check out youtube for some options too.*
  8. Keeping afloat: It’s a balancing act between keeping up with the latest information on climate change, covid and so on, and getting bogged down feeling overwhelmed. Doing any of the things on these lists will help you to feel a bit more hopeful for our future, and will be adding your small changes to a whole lot of other peoples small changes and that adds up to a big change.

Links:

Finding beauty in the garden

Mastering Mask Making

You should be able to whip up a mask in under 15 minutes. This style has four layers of cotton, with a pue cleaner for close fitting to the nose. We used soft garden tie for the ear hooks, but you could use elastic or hair ties, and you can also make longer ties to tie behind your head. Follow the orange thread to see where you’re working.

You will need:
˖ 1 x fancy pants piece of cotton fabric 30×27 cm or the like (non-fancy stuff will also do…)
˖ 1 x plain cotton fabric for the inner layer, 30×27 cm
˖ 1 x 15 cm pipe cleaner
˖ 4 x 15 ties (or elastic/hair ties etc) 

Step 1: Fold inner fabric in half to 15x20cm and insert pipe cleaner into place.

Step 2: Stitch pipe cleaner into place.

Step 3: Fold outer fabric in half – right side in (27×15) and ties on the outside.

Step 4: Stitch sides and turn so that right side and tie are outside.

Step 5: Insert inner fabric so that the pipe cleaner is at the very top and the fabric sits flat.

Step 6: Stitch along top to hold in place.

Step 7: Stitch along the bottom as well, and make sure to catch the inner fabric too. 
Zigzag will do, otherwise fold the fabric to make it look tidy.

Step 8: Iron two pleats and pin ready to sew and stitch in place.

Step 9: Fold mask in half with pleats face down. Adjust ties to suit, store in a plastic bag. 

Step 10: You’re ready to venture out into the big world.

We have taken a huge leap of faith and pulled out our flush toilet, replacing it with a composting loo.

Living in rural Hawkes Bay we have been responsible for our water supply, the wellbeing of our septic tank and at times the unblocking of blocked pipes. Not only did we waste water through the toilet, we had to pay for the septic tank to be emptied and because we use creek water which is rich in lime, our toilet looked gross quite often and needed cleaning with a chisel, and because we tried not to flush unnecessarily it often smelt bad. We watched a video which pointed out that as a population we take 2 perfectly useful commodities: clean water and useful compost material, we mix them together and then create a problem with what to do with the mess.

The retired flush toilet awaiting recycling.

Where our loo is situated there is little space under the floor, so we couldn’t have a larger tank below. after much searching we found a suitable model that meets our needs. It’s a simple system with an outer case & seat. Inside is a bucket, which can be rotated to avoid pile ups! Actually we’ve discovered the simplest system is to save the toilet roll tubes and use those to redistubute any pile ups. We’ve connected the fan into the existing vent and the drain pipe for excess liquid is popped into the greywater system from the sinks, this goes into the septic tank.

 

Composting toilet in place

 Composting toilet in place

The system we have claims not to need emptying very often, but we find for four of us we empty it about every 2-3 weeks, which is not a big deal. We bought a large bale of pine woodshavings for $15 and reckon that will last us at least 6 months. We are using Greencane toilet paper, made from sugarcane and bamboo. I bought a pack of biodegradable nappy liners and we can use these in the bottom of the bucket to stop the drain holes from blocking up.  What we’ve also discovered is that to keep the drainage flowing it’s good to put a couple of plants stalks under the liners, I keep Lily stems and other semi soft stems to use, rather than sticks which will not break down.

Once the bucket is 3/4 full, which is about every 2 weeks for 3 people,  we take it outside with the lid on, (actually we put it into a big bucket in case it dripped) where it stays until bucket number 2 needs removing. We’ve set up two old drums away from the house where we shall empty the buckets and then leave for 12 months to quietly break down.

I keep and old toothbrush inside the outer drum and use this to clean the drainage base each time we empty it, and spray some nice smelling cleaner in there.

There are way more plusses than minuses for this new system, the lack of waste water, no maintenance other than emptying and rinsing out, no smells, and the toilet seat is warm! We shall have to wait and see how the compost turns out, I think it will get used to feed shrubs rather than vegetables, but we’ll see how we feel when we get to that point.

It’s generally recommended to leave the compost 6-12 months before using.

All set to go!

All set to go!

 

Drain for excess liquid

Drain for excess liquid

 

Fan into existing pipe

Fan into existing pipe

 

Our pine shavings

Our pine shavings

 

Wood shavings

Wood shavings

Building Resilience

You will probably notice a transition in the content of our blog over the coming months, away from nature focused posts and seasonal updates, towards something relative to the times we are currently living in.

Given the events that have transpired this year, the rampant confusion and agendas that have permeated so much news we see and read, the lack of transparency from governments in regards to information about Covid-19 and climate change, the fractures that have made themselves apparent within communities and countries, and the division that has taken hold among friends, family and countrymen, it is no wonder that people are feeling a little overwhelmed with 2020 and are looking forward to seeing in the new year.

In the beginning months of this year as we watched Covid-19 spread out around the world, and attempted to find clear information of just what the situation was, what was going on, and what we might expect in the coming months, it became increasingly clear that things were changing in a big way, and that if we wanted to remain safe, we had to follow our own instincts, at least until the governments caught up with the situation and started putting the right procedures in place. Here in New Zealand, we have been incredibly blessed that the government didn’t attempt to hide the facts or downplay the severity of Covid-19, and were instead up front with us, putting human safety ahead of the economy.

It’s no surprise that around the world, the mental health of people has suffered. After all, the ramifications of the changes taking place are huge. Here at Millstream, we were fortunate enough to follow Chris Martenson’s videos where he analyzed current news and information about Covid-19 and the situation going on around the world. It was an anchor for us, knowing that he had no agenda behind his videos other than clarity, we could cut through the noise of news, and felt a sense of safety in our shared perspective.

As part of his series, he often talks about the concept of resilience, and this is something that has really resonated with us. We have begun the task of improving our resilience for whatever may come in the future. As you may have read in our last post, we now have another water tank in place (to accommodate for those years with less frequent rainfall), we have attempted to spend less (putting aside money for unexpected future costs), our power supply is supplemented by solar, and we are experimenting with making new or alternative food options so if we are unable to get ahold of something, we can substitute and not suffer disruption.

So we are building our resilience in material ways, but there is also a certain “mental preparedness” that we are working on as well. The concept of accepting a future that is less bright is not an easy one to wrap your head around, and yet that is just what we need to do. We need to look at the various pieces and recognise that things are changing, that even if Covid-19 disappears next year, things will not miraculously return to normal. Climate change is happening, and we need to be prepared for that. It’s not an easy task, but being mentally prepared, and understanding the predicament which we face, ultimately helps us be stronger and more resilient come whatever may. If we can shine a light into our near future and illuminate just a few obstacles, we will be better off to avoid them, if and when we encounter them.

Resilience is about being prepared in our homes, and in ourselves. As we learn and experiment over the coming years, we hope to offer some insights, suggestions and information that may in turn help you to increase your resilience.

Be safe.
Giles & The Millstream Team

Making changes…

Since Giles & Rauna returned from Denmark in July, we have been consciously looking at how we function here at Millstream, in terms of our impact on the environment, how we use/waste resources, and how resilient we are to changes that may come.

It is great to have four heads working on this, and four peoples’ energies to help decide and make any changes we decide on. This has helped us to be less daunted and more positive about taking action. We want to share some of this process with others in an attempt to maybe help others to feel that even small changes can make a difference, and also to create a sense of community.

Part of our resilience assessment is that we are vulnerable in our supply of water. At present we have 2 concrete tanks that catch rainwater from the house roof, this is supplemented in summer by water pumped up from the stream.  Droughts seem to be a much more likely event now, and indeed we are already in need of a good dose of rain.  So far the stream has always flowed, but it’s not something we can take for granted any more, we feel incredibly lucky to have the ‘Millstream’ run through our land, but we don’t want to abuse it by over use.

The first step we have taken is to buy a watertank for the workroom. This is a 21,000L plastic tank, which was dropped at the end of our drive last week. We’ve also got a second filter system, so we are safe to use it domestically. We already have two small tanks which catch just rainwater from smaller roofs, and these keep us supplied with sweet drinking water.

Other steps forward:

*We have started a fund where we each put in $10 a month to put towards buying more trees to plant around the property and to pay for fences etc.

*We are going to set up a system for recycling jars from our customers, hopefully by November.

* We have been encouraging each other to shop less and have this neat pyramid to remind us, plus peer group pressure!! Our main weaknesses are plants and books. Plants are easy to justify and at least books can be sent back to the op shop and earn some more dollars.

*We are gradually being able to source better options for packaging, we have compostable tapes for packaging, along with recycled boxes. Some courier bags are compostable, but not many yet.

* We took advantage of Solarzero’s offer of free solar panels so we can supplement about 25% of our power with solar.

* We have completed an Ekos carbon evaluation for our home and are waiting for the calculations for the business for the next year.

*We are cutting back our meat eating, not huge anyway. Since we have our own sheep, lamb is always a good option. Giles and Rauna have some good ideas for food alternatives, including making oat milk, then using the oat residue in hummus, bread and biscuits, and we have bought some mushroom growing spawn on dowels to grow on chestnut logs. This is very exciting, and mushroom growing is a Speeden passion! We will have to wait until the Autumn for any crops, but hopefully the logs will keep us supplied for 5 or 6 years.

Just a thought on toilet paper, we have been buying boxes of 48 unwrapped rolls of toilet paper from ‘Greencane’ (www.greencane.com) which are made from bamboo and recycled sugarcane, which seems like an excellent use of plant material and a better option than trees.

On the down side we still have no easy way to recycle soft plastics, and many of our tins and jars are packed in plastic, any ideas??

My Sister Viv, has opened a small gallery in Pukehou. It is called “Artistically Inclined’ which is a clever way of inviting people who are creative, but perhaps in unexpected ways. (www.facebook.com/artisticallyinclinedgallery)

Between us, we hatched a plan to bring some fresh work into the gallery, and encourage people to put their creative thinking hats on. We both love the ocean so the idea of a sea based exhibition was born. Well, because it’s a small gallery we thought that a ‘rolling exhibition’ would be good, so that work can be sold and new additions brought in.

When Viv & I were young, we lived on the coast, in Kent, UK & have both always had a strong affinity with the sea & all the creatures that live in it. I spent many hours exploring rockpools, looking for shells and other treasures washed up on the beach and of course we ate a lot of seafood, winkles, cockles, shrimps , prawns, oysters, scampi, eel and marvellous fresh fish.

We also experienced bizarre sightings, one year the whole beach was covered with hundreds of cuttlefish, they swam about in the boating pond until the next tide. Another time huge cream coloured jellyfish arrived looking like so many string mops. Most exciting was the year the sea froze, 1964 I think. There were big slabs of ice strewn all over the beach, as tall as I was, and no sign of water, just a gentle chinking sound as the ice moved on top of the waves. When the ice thawed it left behind an assortment of unusual creatures, including starfish as big as dinner plates & lobsters.

When I was about 11 or 12, I found a Guillemot covered in oil on the beach. A Guillemot looks like a penguin but can fly.  We cleaned it’s feathers with butter and fuller’s earth and nursed it back to health. It lived in the garden shed and every day I fed it strips of fresh fish, and on fine days it would sit under the sprinkler. We knew we could not release it back to the sea until it had moulted and got new feathers. So the next season I dutifully carried it down to the beach and sadly set it down by the water. It took off without a backwards glance and was quickly lost to sight. As I was  turning to go home, someone came up to me & said “I don’t know what it was that you put in the water, but it’s coming back.” So Gilly came back home & stayed with us for several years.

It may have been that Gilly was a victim of the Torrey Canyon disaster, 1967, a huge super tanker that ran aground spilling millions of gallons of oil. I clearly remember walking our small beach at Westgate and counting over 50 dead seabirds, covered in black oil.

When I was fifteen I got a part-time job in a vets, & over the 18 months I worked there I took home a number of seabirds including a very fierce Herring Gull, a Razorbill and a Puffin, and another Guillemot. Later still when I was in high school in Tavistock, part of the A Level Zoology course included studying marine biology. For 2 years we spent a week each summer staying in a hostel and visiting about 8 different beaches, where we named and counted and measured all the sea life we could see. I used to know all the latin names of the seaweeds and animals, but alas I can’t recall them all now. One of the things I learnt then was the effect that different levels of exposure have on the creatures. Steep rock faces, fierce waves or sheltered estuary beds all provide habitats for different combinations of life.

Ok, back to the gallery…after spending some time looking for images to inspire us, both Viv & I could not avoid the awful truth of what is happening to our oceans & the precious & incredible life they support. I knew about the Pacific Gyre of plastic, but the scale & horror of the plastics in the seas was and is, truly appalling. In an effort not to be totally overwhelmed and despondent I have put together a ‘Devastation Menu’ it has been a lot of work collating information and putting it together, so I thought it would be worth sharing it here. As I was pondering these things I remembered that we had a project at school when I was 12 to paint images from the local beaches and I had collected a big pile of plastic debris and painted them. My attempt at conservation was not encouraged & I had completely forgotten it until just the other day, fifty years on. Things certainly haven’t improved since then.

So below is my latest foray into creative conservation. Thanks for caring enough to read it.

 

This is a link to an article in the local paper about the exhibition:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=12026539

I see too, that New World & The Warehouse are starting to implement collection points for recycling soft plastics. As yet they haven’t reached Hawkes Bay but are available in Auckland, Wellington and much of the South Island. We shall all have to start asking for that option, as it seems almost impossible to completely avoid plastics in our every day lives.

 

Despite my best intentions to write this up as soon as we got home, it’s now two months since we made this trip. Since our previous trip with the ancient caravan, we have made some serious repairs to it. We’ve waterproofed the roof with a rubberised paint, and replaced a whole lot of timber around the door frame, which had rotted to a soggy mess and meant that opening and shutting the door had been a hit and miss affair. So it was with renewed (and not misplaced) optimism that we set off to Paekakariki. We’ve stayed at the camp site there before and knew it would be the perfect base camp. The Paekakariki Holiday Park is set just inside the Queen Elizabeth Park , right at the far northern end of the settlement so it is quiet and rural, with easy and interesting tracks to walk, to the beach and along wooded paths. Of course we chose to go out of season, partly because of our commitments to harvesting herbs through the Summer, and partly because we wanted a quiet time.

View of Paekakariki Beach

Smooth landing

Kapitit Island was the highlight of our trip, we were very lucky to go over on the one stunningly fine day of the week we were away. We booked the trip with http://www.kapitiexplorer.nz/ which provided a ferry trip each way, plus an explanatory talk on arrival. We also decided to take advantage of walking with a guide for part of the day, and this was really worthwhile too, providing us with lots of extra observations and information.

Very good tracks

Geoff and Kaka

Check in time was 8.30 am, and we received a confirmation text about 7 to confirm the trip was to go ahead. Setting off armed with plenty of food supplies, and clothing for every possible outcome, we set off. The weather was perfect, the sea calm and sparkling, the fully laden  boat set off, the trip over taking about 15 minutes. Before we even reached the island we could hear a wonderful chorus of bird song, and see many birds flying around the bush clad hills. It was like stepping back in time, imagining how much of New Zealand would have once resonated with such

rich life.

After the introductory talk about 6 of us set off with our guide, among other things, we saw the debris of twigs and berries that the Kaka leave under their feeding spots, we saw the chewed seed heads of Flak that the Kakariki love to eat. There was a very desultory collection of twigs overhead, which we learnt was a Kereru nest, way up the hill we found a tunnel that was a Little Blue Penguin burrow, it was hard to believe that the penguins would travel so far.

View from track, Kapiti Island

Kapiti Island Beach

When our guide left us we carried on up the track to the feeding station, here we saw Saddlebacks, Stitchbirds, North Island Robins, Bellbirds, a Weka and most excitingly a Kaka, which landed on Geoff’s shoulder. For me that was enough hill walking, so we retraced our steps down to the coast, where we had our lunch and enjoyed watching all the bird activity. It was a magical day out, we highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in conservation and our beautiful bird life.  Next time I think we’ll stay overnight to see the Little Spotted Kiwi and hear the Kokako, there are also Takahe on the island but they were up in the tops in March, so perhaps we’ll see them next visit.The link below is the DOC brochure which shows you all the wildlife to be found on Kapiti.

Click to access kapiti-island-brochure.pdf

Of course we spent a lovely time in and around Paekak, and even venturing into Wellington one very wet day to see the WW1 Exhibition at the War Memorial Museum, and to browse the many temptations at Moore Wilsons, but the other highlight for us was visiting the upstairs gallery above the Cafes in Paekakariki, ‘Alan Wehipeihana Studio & Gallery,’ a wonderful creative space, with all sorts of intriguing artworks and inspiration. We really enjoyed talking with Alan and exploring the large area set aside for artists, what a great place to be creative in.

Just recently we have come across some new creatures in the garden that we haven’t seen before.  Aparasitic wasp that feeds on Lemon Tree Borer, it has striking patterns & distinctive white tips to it’s antenna. One site I found said that it may also feed on Codlin Moth larvae, which would be very useful in our orchard.

Lemon Tree Borer Parasite (Xanthocryptus novozealandicus)

Lemon Tree Borer Parasite (Xanthocryptus novozealandicus)

Green Tufted Lichen Moth

Green Tufted Lichen Moth

We also found a cool Moth, called the Tufted Lichen Moth, it’s not flashy, but using our cool new camera with a microscope function we could clearly see the tufts on it’s wings that give it it’s name.

 

Thirdly we came across a bright yellow ladybird, which was easy to identify. It is a Fungus eating Ladybird, which sounded useful, but apparently it stores spores of  powdery mildew or similar under it’s wing cases over Winter, while it hibernates & so can ensure it will have a food supply. Despite this habit I think it looks very cool & am happy to take my chances. It is always exciting to find something new, & interesting finding out just what it is. These small details of nature are amazing, the strangeness & complexity of it all. I’ve been visiting a website that helps with info & identification  called Nature Watch NZ, it’s well worth a visit.

Fungus Eating Ladybird Illeis galbula

Fungus Eating Ladybird Illeis galbula