Category: Diary

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.


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


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


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.


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.



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


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?


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.


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.

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’ ( 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??

In March 2014 I wrote an article about the health of our waterways, & had entered a piece of fibre art into the Nelson Fibre Art exhibition called ‘Downstream.’ I’ve just been reading an article in the Listener about a scientist called Mike Joy who is taking a stand for the wellbeing of New Zealands fresh water resources, here is the link:

Our Creek Millstream

I’m interested in the study of species found in the water that act as indicators of water health or otherwise. I’m going to do some research of my own & report back what I find out. At the moment I can’t even identify many species so shall have to get familiar with those creatures we may hope to find in our own creek & other waterways. I have noticed that there seem to be few koura or freshwater crayfish around at the moment & this is unusual as we often see dozens in one spot. We also continue to have large rafts of algae in the slower running places, which block the stream & exacerbate growth of duckweed etc which further blocks the flow, hard to tell if this is a result of upstream pollution or simply that one of the large willows fell down & there is more sunlight warming the water & feeding the algae.The link below is informative on the process of checking the invertebrates in a given water supply. (benthic means at the lowest level, eg. the bottom of a stream bed, including silt.

Now it’s April, I have had one foray into the creek with a net & bucket, but alas also with leaky gumboots, which dampened my enthusiasm. The leaky boots also hindered my attempts to find critters to identify since I am a total sook about cold water. I took a few photos, & identified a couple of things,(I have meantime lost the piece of paper with their names on,) so on the whole it was not a hugely successful outing. We have some intrepid friends visiting this weekend & shall have a more thorough go at finding  some creatures & identifying them. Hopefully I can add some more useful info after that.

Critters from creek march2016 005 (Copy)

Click to access Macroinvertebrates_and_water_quality.pdf

Farewell to Rifkin

Our old dog Rifkin died peacefully last weekend. She was a beardie, bearded collie, 14 plus years old.

It’s a long time to share one’s life & I just wanted to put a wee tribute to her here.

DSCF2186 (shrunk) jan 2011 kaiya 023 (shrunk) DSCF1574 (shrunk)

Rifkin was the third beardie we have owned, & we still have  Didgit, (#4) to keep us company. Finding Rif was one of those wonderful, serendipitous occasions: we had been looking for a beardie pup for sometime. The night before we were due to go to Palmerston North to see someone off at the airport, I had a dream. I dreamt that we found a puppy, & I was carrying her, soft & warm, with her head resting on my shoulder.

te onepu postcard 048 (shrunk) te onepu postcard 065 (shrunk) Blog 14 10 008 (shrunk)

When we were in Palmy, tired of shopping, we decided to visit a pet shop on the outskirts of town. It was a place we used to go to with our daughter, when she was a student. As we arrived in the carpark I suddenly recalled my dream, & said to Geoff ‘I should warn you, I think we’ll find a beardie pup here.’ And so it was… what a special beginning. Rifkin was named after much deliberation & argument, after a gaffer or some such on a Michael Palin doco. She was frequently referred to as ‘Whatamess’ because her long fur & large hairy feet seemed to collect all manner of garden debris & spread it about the house.

Didgit 8 months DSCF2189 (shrunk) book pics 040 (shrunk)

She was a most gentle & patient soul, sitting for ages while I’d clip clumps of mud from between her toes, or cut tangles out of her coat. Rif was also very smart, in later years she learnt to play soccer, using her nose & front legs to dribble a ball, & also to bounce a ball back to you with her nose. I’ve written about her recovery from a tumour nearly 3 years ago, after that she always barked like a hoarse seal, which was just as well since Didgit has such a loud bark it makes our ears ring & the windows rattle.

In the Winter one of our favourite games was kitchen soccer, a rowdy, mad game with much scrabbling & barking, as a tennis ball was rebounded off the side walls of the kitchen & both dogs would try to get it. Rif learnt to hold the ball in her mouth, tip her head up & bounce the ball, so she could catch it again. In more recent months she got a bit cautious of playing with Didge, who would get so excited she’d send Rif’s legs out from under her.

Last week two amazing things happened, that kind of close the circle. I had a distance healing with Chakra Dance Vicky, she told me she got a message about loving animals but letting them go when the time was right. Because it seemed obscure, she didn’t tell me until after Rif had died. In the meantime my Aunt rang me with a poem from a dog to it’s owner, saying goodbye. It felt very special to receive such clear messages that Rif was ready to go, & for us to let her. She died at home, peacefully, with our arms around her, in her favourite sunny spot. We feel so blessed to have had her company, love & loyalty, her trust & joy de vivre.

Rifkin (shrunk) may, giles 015 (shrunk)

We still think we see her or hear her around the place & it will take time to get used to her absence.

January in the garden.

Today we have rain, what bliss. Our poor gardens have been hanging in there, the borders have only been getting enough water to keep them from complete wilting. It looks like we’ll have several days of relief, & even if there is not enough rain to really water the ground the plants & us get some respite. I went out early this morning and took some photos, I could just about hear the gardens sighing with relief!

a storm comingasparagus ferns 1happy frog in rain 1Tree Dahlia stem gathering water 1

It’s been a busy month, we have had a combined family exhibition at the Hastings Community Arts Centre. Nine family members, ranging in age from 12 to 87. It feels  very special to share this with my Mum & Aunt  & I hope when I’m in my eighties I could be part of such a venture. When we made plans for this, of course, it was in the Winter when we had spare time, & the reality was that we were all pretty busy & it was so hot we could barely move. Luckily we found a supply of iced coffees to sustain us through the setting up.

millstream poster 

The vege gardens are thriving, we have used quite a bit of mushroom compost this year to mulch areas, & we found details of a way to plant tomato plants, which although a bit more complicated at the time, seems to be having good results. We’ve also beeen brewing up elder leaves as an insecticide to keep the psyllids at bay, so far it looks promising. Of all the veges we grow, tomatoes are probably our mainstay, & if we can freeze a whole lot for the Winter we will be very happy

.tomato crop 1 Summer Garden 1

The herb garden has been a mixed bag, our Arnica crop has been amazing, loads & loads of flowers. We’ve learnt that they need to be split up & replanted at least every second year, but preferably every Spring. Meanwhile our new planting of St John’s Wort has been a failure, from what I can find out, we have a fungal problem called anthracnose, which kills the stems at ground level, so that whole stems of fine looking plant die off over night, it’s very worrisome.  In the last few years, it seems we have more problems in the gardens, the psyllids/ virus on tomatoes & spuds, anthracnose, moulds on the alliums, raiding birds eating half ripe fruit: it’s a fraught business being a gardener.

Unripe Elderberries 1Amazing Arnica crop1

Luckily the positives far outway the negatives, & just stepping barefoot out the door, into the herbs & flowers never fails to lift my heart, what a privilege it is to live this way. I think back to my childhood in England, where our outdoor area was a square of concrete, with room for dustbins & coal bunkers, & the plants growing there grew in the cracks in the walls, I feel so very blessed

.Tui by deck

Turn of the wheel

The wheel has turned, & we are resolutely looking at Spring. My wishful dreams that we would be all tidy in the gardens with time to spare have evaporated! Suddenly everything is growing, weeds, blossoms, tiny bulbs, lambs, catkins, willow leaves, that awesome sense of shift & hidden movement as sap rises & life returns.

English Violets Magnolia stellata

Primroses Swallows return

We tidied our boxes of seeds the other day & put all the really old ones in a bag, which I shook out around the edges of the gardens. Many of these were Aquilegias from the days we ran the nursery, Nora Barlow, Nora’s Sister, Little Warwick, Red Star, doubles, singles & clematiflora types, if only 1% germinate we will have some treasures.

This is the time to get seeds sown, we spent a happy couple of hours sowing seeds in the greenhouse today, & we are even in phase with our moon calender, which says from now to the 7th Sept is good for plants above ground. We have sown punnets & pots of tomatoes, peppers, curcubits, & other veges, plus some herbs like Burdock, Valerian & Cardoon, plus some odd packets of very old seeds we hope might grow.

It’s also the time to start seed potatoes sprouting, (see chitting potatoes in blog) this makes sturdy sprouts, ready to grow fast once they are planted in about 6 weeks time.

We had our first, modest feed of Asparagus this week, early in the season, & so delicious with butter & black pepper. Our ratbag sheep got into the gardens & stripped all our beautiful brassicas bare, so now we have stumps where once there were heads of broccoli & cabbages forming. Very depressing after such a good start. We might get a few late heads of Broccoli from them. We had the last word  with the sheep, two wethers, which are now in the freezer! We are getting tough!!

unruly flock Brassica stumps

This year we are altering our vege growing, no pumpkins, we never eat enough to use what we grow. Only early spuds to avoid/minimise the psyllid problem, & a new super feed system for our tomatoes, which includes fish heads, aspirin, bone meal & worm castings, fingers crossed.

Finally I just want to say what amazing big skies we have here, they are stunning, here are a couple of pics to inspire you.

skies Aug14 019 (shrink) skies Aug14 004 (shrink)

We had a big frost last week, & went out to take some photos. Rugged up against the cold, in thick jacket, hat & gloves it was possible to appreciate the delicate beauty of the early morning. Giles had discovered some photos online of frozen bubbles, so we spent some time playing with that idea, & blowing bubbles onto the roof of the car. Most pop quite fast, but the ones that stay very slowly freeze, with those lovely fern-like patterns that frost makes. As gardeners we are happy to get some good frosts to help clean the garden of nasty bugs & also to provide the chilling that many of the plants we grow, need, to  anchor them into their seasonal cycle. Most of our garden & herb garden is planted in deciduous plants, trees & shrubs, which all enjoy a good frost & a rest over the colder months.

Bubbles & Frost

Frosty MorningSoft Morning Light

Our plants might be resting but we are not. We are re-organising our herb garden in a major way. The central bed had become totally overgrown by a tenacious mix of St. John’s Wort, Solomon’s Seal & Couch grass. Geoff has dug this out & we have sifted through the soil to pick out any roots left behind. We’ve planted a new bed of St. John’s Wort, where it is surrounded by lawn , so hopefully it will be contained.  We’ll plant annual herbs & vegetables in the old bed, so we can dig out any Couch etc that shows up. We’ve also doubled the size of our Arnica bed, so we should have a good crop this year. Next on the list is to clean up the Meadowsweet bed & split the plants up, as they are very congested & not producing many flowers. That area is also rife in Couch Grass, so we shall have a good dig around & mulch were we can. Mulching certainly seems to help keep the Couch under control, as it comes up to the surface, under the mulch, & is easy to pull out. We use old cardboard boxes or thick layers of newspaper, & cover these with leaf mulch or similar, heavy cover.

Couch roots under pavers Equisetum hyemale Cleared beds Couch & Taro

Our bath pond is also in need of a good sort out, it has a variety of Horsetail in it, E. hyemale,whichalthough not as rampant as E. arvense, still spreads & has nearly filled the bath. We shall have to dispose of the unwanted roots very carefully, probably on top of a bonfire heap. We are hoping our frogs will return in the Spring & be delighted to find a bit more space in their pool.

New St. John's Wort bed Tidy Herb Garden