Sunday, 30 December 2012

'Their Sound Is Gone out ...'

And their words unto the end of the world. (Handel's Messiah)

In 1997 Radio New Zealand invited writers to send short stories based on the text of G.F. Handel's Messiah.  Both Bart and I had often sung the choruses as members of Dunedin's Schola Cantorum (now City Choir Dunedin) and I submitted a story with the title of 'Their sound is gone out into all lands and their words unto the end of the world.'   This was aired on Boxing Day 1997, and beautifully read by Kate Harcourt.

 The story is about a Dutch woman (Juulke) who decides to visit her dying mother in Holland, and the extended stay waiting for the quiet ending of life.  Flying back to New Zealand Juulke thinks about her mother's life, about the village where she was born with its legends, its history and the lonely graveside she has left behind.  She remembers her own experiences as a young immigrant. 

 The story is probably too long to put out as a blog but I have thought a lot about the above words of the chorus and about the words we use when we face new challenges.  Sometimes we are fortunate to share our fears with friends, sometimes we have to dig deep to rely on our own strength so that we can cope again, to find meaningful living at our own end of the world.  Here is an excerpt from this story:
"She thinks back to a Christmas story her mother told her years ago. She thinks about the legend and its tale of love. Her stay in the area of her birth has made this story alive again.

  Think back child, her mother had said when she sat on Juulke’s bed on a cold Christmas Eve, telling her the story from the past about a girl named Stella. Think back to the days when there was no electricity, no running water, only wild morasses and forests around the small huts in which people lived. There were the landlords but they were a law unto their own, they had servants to do the work.

 But there was one family who were set as an example for the other villagers. The father and mother went to church, the children attended school and did their tasks in the house. Then one day the mother died and however hard the father tried to keep his family together, he found himself wanting. There was the washing, the scrubbing and the cleaning, how could he do it all and work so hard on the land as well? He found a woman to marry him who turned out to be a bad stepmother for the children.
 On Christmas Eve one of the daughters escaped from her stepmother after she finished her duties in the house. Stella had polished the furniture, washed the floors and peeled the potatoes for the evening meal. She wandered over the fields, far, far away, all the time dreaming about her real mother, talking to her in the cool frosty air, her breath showing from her mouth.
 As she approached a mound in the clearing of the forest, she heard the sound of Christmas bells ringing beneath the piece of elevated soil covered with small bushes and trees. Stella could hear her heart beating, when she heard a voice saying:

Move on Stella, do not be afraid, we bring peace.”

  Slowly she moved forward until she stood in front of the mound.

 Oh, but then, she saw something she could not have imagined in her dreams. Through the wide open door she saw a long table, decked with a white damask cloth on which stood tall silver candelabras, their candles flickering softly, gently in the quiet winter air. Around the tables women danced, floating in white robes, a pure and heavenly radiance around them.

  With their hands they invited her to enter and together they sat at the table with its pure white tablecloth and ate the most beautiful meal she had ever tasted. There was tender white roasted pork, its crackling glistening in the candlelight, there were the freshest of green vegetables on gold dishes, the juiciest of bright orange carrots, roasted chestnuts. They laughed together, the air was cold outside but inside the mound it was warm, cheerful and merry.
 When it was time to go, the women gave her a silver candelabra with three candles to light her on the way home. Stella walked carefully, clutching the precious silver in her hands and hardly dared to breathe for fear the flame would be extinguished. As she walked she remembered the words of the women in white : you will find peace.

  As the plane moves through the still night, close to the silver stars, close to the white moon, Juulke remembers her mother’s voice, all those years ago when she was a child listening to the words of the Christmas story. Even now her mother’s words are with her, unto another end of the world.

  She thinks of the warm summer Christmas she will have. There will be enough food on the table, the wonderful spring lamb with its mint sauce, a decadent dessert. The Dutch Christmas cake with its golden pastry and rich filling of ground almonds.  She thinks of the story she will tell her grandchildren at Christmas, a story from the other end of the world about a girl finding silver and gold beneath a plain looking mound and taking the treasure home.

Their sound is gone out into all lands and their words unto the ends of the world.

She thinks about the riches her mother gave her, the wealth of silver and gold stored within her which she will take to her new home to treasure and nourish. This will be a wealth created from inner richness found in the darkness of death and loss, in the shadows and in the light of Christmas."

Rowan berries, Autumn 2011
 Warm wishes to you all for a blessed New Year.

Thursday, 20 December 2012



It starts in October: 'Mum, Advent Calendar!'   'Yes, darling, I'll start looking.'
On 1 December she opens the first window of her Advent Calendar and from then on every morning I get shown the picture she has just retrieved.  There's hope.

It is unbelievable touching to see Miriam's face whenever I mention anything with a connection to 'Christmas.   Our 50-year old daughter still likes me to put out a saucer with milk for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve.  She believes in reindeer who travel on roofs.  She categorically denies any suggestions that there is no Santa Claus.  And I have never wanted to break that faith. Who am I to suggest something differently? Others have tried but I am glad she believes in magic, in wonder and in looking forward to receiving gifts that are given lovingly.   The child that slumbers in my soul also wants to believe in good things.  To wake up on Christmas morning with joy and wonder to receive the gift of still having family, friends and good neighbours.

This will be a poignant Christmas for our family.  Miriam believes in those miracles created by love.  Unconditional love.  But now we have reached the stage in our life where we have to let her go - today we heard that her name has  been placed on a waiting list to go into permanent residential care.  It will be so hard to let her go.  I can only do this by believing in the miracle of receiving strength, wisdom and grace.
Miriam's Madonna

The following is an excerpt from my book The Madonna in the Suitcase (2009, pp92-93)

 One Saturday morning in September, while you were sipping your cappuccino, I asked, ‘Would you like to make me a painting of a Madonna? I thought it might be nice to send it as a Christmas card to our family and friends. Everybody loved the other card you made.’

Your body language and the expression on your face was clear enough.

 I said, ‘Of course I’ll pay you!’

Your face changed into a smile.

‘Think about it.’

 Nothing more was said about your plans for a Madonna Christmas card.

 In October you were invited to be a delegate at an IHC conference in Tauranga where you would be interviewed about your art work. You’d had quite a bit of publicity by then: the IHC in Dunedin had bought a number of paintings for their office and for some flats and the clients enjoyed your work.

 I’d also written an article about you and your art which the Australian Women’s Weekly published in September 1997. A similar article was published in the IHC’s Community Moves in October 1997. Later I used some of the material for a short story which was produced by National Radio. Although you enjoyed hearing about these exciting happenings you stayed calm and focused and did your work.

 After you’d told us about the invitation to go to Tauranga you said, ‘Can I get a suitcase, please?’

 The day before you left for Tauranga we dropped off a suitcase for you. You straightaway packed it with everything you'd need for the next few days. I wanted to ask you about the Madonna but thought the better of it. You had enough on your mind.

 You rang us soon after your return, your voice full of excitement about the conference. ‘I’m home! Can you pick up the suitcase? No room for it in the flat.’

 ‘We’ll be over after dinner. We want to hear about the conference and the interview.’

 We arrived in the early evening. You beamed as you and Janine gave us a cup of tea, and, once we’d heard about your experiences Dad picked up the suitcase and put it into the boot. I hugged you and Janine, and after we’d settled ourselves in the car I wound down the window ready to wave goodbye. But I knew there was something you wanted to tell us. And then you said, an edge to your voice, ‘The Madonna is in the suitcase.’

 My mind jumping from Tauranga to a Madonna, I said, ‘What? Oh, I see! You did it? That’s wonderful! Thank you! I’ll ring you.’

 When we got home we opened the suitcase and I cried. There she was: your Madonna, proudly showing her child to the world. There was no meekness, but only a mother holding her child safe in her arms from where it could look out into the world.

 I said to Dad, ‘Aren’t we lucky she told us about the painting? We would’ve put the suitcase into storage and might not have seen it for years.’

 ‘She would have reminded you about the money!’

Remember how we sat down together and wrote those Christmas cards, you writing your name on them as well? The cards went to our families and friends in New Zealand and overseas. And even now, each year we get cards saying, ‘Miriam’s Madonna will have pride of place again amidst our Christmas decorations.’

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


 Approaching the longest day

 After having celebrated Christmas for 53 years in the southern hemisphere I still have this quiet longing for a winter Christmas.  As a young mother in the early sixties I was quite homesick until I realised it was up to me to start 'traditions' rather than long for the way I had perceived the festive season of my childhood.  Guided by the Dutch 'Margriet' Cookbook I learnt how to make Weihnachtsstollen and Gevulde Speculaas.  I defied the challenges of working with flaky pastry to make almond rings (Kerstkrans) but sometimes the almond mixture would burst out of the pastry - to great delight of the children who could nibble the sticky sweet mix left on the baking tray.  Later I became more sensible and now I use ready-made pastry to make long 'sticks' which I spread with apricot jam and decorate with red and green dried cherries.   And each year we say: oh, this is good!

Made in Germany, the Christmas Star below (small light bulb inside) was given to us in 1992 by Bart's sister Lien and her husband Piet.   Each year on the first Sunday of Advent we hang it in our window with Flagstaff (see blog 'A Certain Hill') in the background.  A huge Herrnhuter star hangs high up in the renovated Frauenkirche in Dresden. 

Our Herrnhuter Christmas Star
Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve
I put candles in the windowsill
For a few hours their shape is safe
Until the sun contorts them.
Midnight is the best
Time to burn candles in a window sill.

Contrasts of hemispheres
come together
In memories and food.
For tea we eat home-made Christmas bread
Thick slices of
Covered with brandied butter and icing sugar.

Darkness brings an image of closeness,
A forgetting of bright sunshine and bended wax
But sometimes memories come back of
Walking my dog in thick snow on Christmas Eve
Going home to
A house with a roaring fire and aniseed milk,
And candles in a windowsill.

Huberta Hellendoorn
December 2012

Late summer sun disappearing behind a Dunedin hill

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Te Puna Women's Refuge


 Lesley Marshall of Editline was my mentor when the New Zealand Society of Authors awarded me a mentorship to work on my novel 'The Orange Garden' (as yet unpublished).  I have previously mentioned the tremendous support I received from Lesley and am still very grateful for her suggestions while I was working on the novel.  A few years later I completed an on-line Editing Course through Northland Polytechnic where Lesley was my wonderful tutor.

As Lesley writes in her letter below she has offered a Christmas Raffle where funds go to Te Puna Women's Refuge. Her gift to the winner of the raffle is her time to help a writer with critiqueing a novel or any similar piece of work.  Several years ago Lesley lost a son and this is her way to remember him.
Fantastic, Lesley.  You are truly amazing and I treasure the time we had together.  And that novel will be out next year, hands on heart!!! Most likely Amazon but then ... why not?  Thank YOU!

Dear everyone

As I've been doing for some years now, I'm offering a Christmas raffle for a critique in memory of my son, with funds to go to Te Puna Women's Refuge.

To enter, simply send a cheque (made out to Te Puna) to me (Editline, 20 Beverley Cres, RD 9 Whangarei 0179), and I'll put you in the draw. Alternatively, you can direct debit money into Te Puna’s account (Account: 123101 0056429 00; name: Te Puna o Te Aroha Women’s Refuge) and let me know what you’ve paid them so I know how many chances to give you.  If an overseas writer wants to enter they can donate to their local refuge equivalent.

I'll do the draw on 16 December so that gives you over a month to get your entries in. The critique is for a novel or any similar piece of work, and the winner can send it any time in the next year, either on paper or by email. The costs for entries are as follows:

One chance = $20; 3 chances $30; 6 chances $40; 10 chances $50.

I hope the refuge makes lots of money - I know they get very short of food during the festive season, though one year they used the money to create a children's playground for the families there, and another year they bought clothes for the children.  Whatever they use it for, rest assured you’re creating a lot of joy with your entries.

A heartfelt thank you from both me and the refuge.

Lesley Marshall

PS If you have a blog, I’d be very grateful if you’d pass the word round further – the more entries, the better Te Puna’s Christmas!  


Monday, 26 November 2012


"A human being is part of the whole called by us universe , a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty...We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive." - Albert Einstein

In this blog I want to focus on the idea in the quote above about widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  As parents of a disabled child we were given the opportunity to love and teach her even though 'friends' felt it necessary after Miriam's birth to suggest she should be sent to a 'home' away from her natural home.  Was she not beautiful enough?  

After Miriam had a stroke in 2001 just before she turned 40 she could no longer work in a sheltered workplace, she could no longer go to her art class, but she was accepted in the Community Learning Centre's Class for Adult Students with Special Needs.

During the past winter we heard that the Community Learning Centre in York Place would no longer qualify for government funding.  Twenty years ago it was set up by a group of parents who had a dream that their disabled children deserved a place to keep on learning after their main schooling was completed.  Supported by the Ministry of Education through Logan Park High School the Community Learning Centre has been the only Class for Adult Students with Special Needs of its type in New Zealand.  A prototype. 

 And now change is afoot. The government has refused to support this Special Needs Class.  Trudy Scott and several parents have tried to find funding to continue the amazing work but it now seems that their efforts have been in vain and we were shocked to hear that this was happening.  Trudy and her staff have done extraordinary and amazing work with this class.

I remember Miriam's homecoming after her first day at CLC : she was enthusiastic and keen to show what she had done that day. This attitude and keenness has never changed in all these years.   Monday, Wednesday and Thursday - such special days for her.  Returning home on those afternoons she shows us her diary which has been meticulously filled in by the staff.  She writes in this diary what the highlight of the previous night has been so she can tell the class about it.  As parents we delight in seeing Miriam's pride when she has completed a Craft project.  Each day has a structured programme: reading and arithmetic are on Monday mornings. News is every morning, speaking and listening and asking questions.  The students feel secure in knowing that all the programmes have structure and routine whether it's Reading, Cooking or Shopping for lunch.  Wednesdays are special because the staff teach the students how to prepare and cook lunch and this process has been even more worthwhile because of the choice they have in what to prepare each week.  A choice of making decisions, being part of a decision-making process!   How many people do have that choice?

Miriam and Trudy with newly-made scarves

For us, as parents and full-time caregivers, it has meant a lot to know that our daughter has been kept occupied in a constructive way Trudy and her team of valuable helpers.Their  devotion, patience and compassion to Miriam and her class mates cannot be measured in dollars.

 I hear stories about the X-factor: I wished that more people could take a lesson from Trudy and her staff learning how to respect and treat people with disabilities.

Not only Miriam's life but also our lives will be changed for the worse if the closure of the Community Learning Centre goes ahead. How will we, in our mid-seventies, manage? We cannot leave her at home by herself any longer. But our biggest concern is : What will Miriam and her fellow students do all day? Where will they find acceptance? Where will they continue to be part of a team, sharing the excitement of a completed project? Who in the community will make them feel worthwhile?

Trudy and her team have not restricted their personal desires and affection for people closest to them.  They have embraced each class with a love that goes beyond understanding.
Trudy Scott and Miriam at Miriam's 50th

Saturday, 17 November 2012



 The Dunedin City Council's swimming pool in St Clair is a treasure.  The Moana  Olympic swimming pool is also a fantastic asset to our city but whenever I swim in the St Clair hot salt water pool I feel I'm riding the big Kahuna.  It felt literally so one morning when Michael Phelps was practising his butterfly in the lane next to me (oh yes, this really happened several years ago!).  I remember wishing I had a tenth of his physical strength!  But he was very nice!

 In this pool I feel a different person.  I watch clouds ending up in challenging shapes, sometimes hiding the sun.   Seagulls sit on the walls, screeching for food (no, not me, darling, I'm too old!). 

  After I've done my lanes I sip an espresso.  It is unbelievably beautiful to observe the highways of sunlight on the still ocean, to feel warmth on my face as I listen to the roaring surf beyond the concrete wall.  The rhythm of the ocean, so similar to the patterns in our life.  Sometimes calm, sometimes so devastatingly rough. But, we know that a change always follows.

  I watch the other swimmers, some moving along in the water using strong strokes, others taking a slower approach and I think of patterns that people bring into our life.  What do we send along?  And so I'm back again at that point where there are always the memories.  Again and again.

Photography by Mackenzie Green

 I wrote the following short story in 1996.     At that time most of our Dutch friends were still alive and I wanted to honour them.   When we arrived in Dunedin we were young and totally inexperienced but they took us into their homes and into their hearts and we learnt a lot.  It wasn't always easy to be 'the young ones' but we knew that we were extremely fortunate to have 'landed' among such a generous and spirited group of compatriots.  To this day Bart is still grateful for the skills in carpentry he learnt from Dick van Barneveld while Adri fed us on gorgeous buttery shortbread.  Skills in the automotive area Bart learnt from Jan van Eunen - doing valve grinds on our old 1938 Ford and later on the 1952 Ford Prefect.  Another friend, Ko Roos, bought a shop and everybody helped in creating it (not only in our eyes) the best fish-and-chips shop in Dunedin.

 Talking with Bep Naus about books was a special treat while Dick Naus kept us on our toes with his dry and witty comments.  Connie and Bob van Raalte, the earliest immigrant couple in this group, supported every one with whatever needed to be done.

Even then, and certainly now, long ingrained habits might have changed but I vividly remember those early days of sticking to 'how it was done'.

The Birthday Party
In 1960 a young Dutch wife arrives in New Zealand and finds, when it comes to birthdays, she must still follow old traditions. 

  The weather is glorious, an autumn haze covers Flagstaff and Mount Cargill and I want to stay outside. The wind is gentle, and around me bellbirds practise their winter song. Oh well, I suppose I’d better go inside and start to bake for my birthday guests. But first I have to look at that dandelion floating on the soft northerly, away and away. It has escaped its earthly hold and now flutters away, slowly releasing its fluffy bits in search for a space of new growth.

 Once inside I think, Shall I make a Dutch Apple Cake? But which recipe shall I use? The one in my Dutch cookbook or a Dutch version in the English language? I think of the new growth inside me. There are no signs on my body yet but I know it’s there, slowly growing to perfection in a safe and warm place. I wonder how I’ll cope looking after a baby. I think I’ll make a Mocha Cream Cake too, layers of sponge filled with a mixture of cream, brandy and coffee. I know it will be popular.

 My mother is far away. I pick up a few autumn leaves, their colours deep brown and golden yellow and bring them inside to send to my sister in the northern hemisphere. There they’ll be celebrating the arrival of spring. The Palm Sunday procession, Easter eggs, new growth on trees. I don’t really mind. I love this country. What I do mind is the celebration of Dutch birthday parties. Every year it is the same story. Birthdays are so important to Dutch people, it is as if they want the whole world to know that they have managed to reach another year to drink Dutch gin and eat lots of salami.

 I ask my husband, 'Will you get the drinks?'

 'What about glasses?'

 'I bought lots of glasses at Woollies today. I only broke two bringing them home on the bus.'

 Now here they all are, sitting in my living room, the men on one side and the women together on the other side. These people have taken over the role of my family, but I hadn't realised that there are family rituals which must be observed. Never shall ye first serve a cold drink on a Dutch coffee evening. No. Definitely No. It has to be as follows: two cups of tea or coffee must be offered, with mocha cream cakes and Dutch apple cakes and good old brandy snaps. Milk, sugar and cream are offered on a side tray but remember, never bring in the cakes first. Always serve coffee and tea first, then, when everybody has their hands full, you can serve the cakes. This ritual is sacred.

 'Who wants tea? Who wants coffee?' I ask. Heads are counted on my fingers.


 So, that is six tea for the ladies and six coffee for the men! I go to the kitchen, fill the cups and serve them to my guests.

 'Miep, would you like some sugar in your tea?' I ask.

 'No,' says Miep. 'I've decided to stop eating sugar - my clothes don’t fit me anymore. I have tried all these diets and they are no good.'

 The other women react the same. Annie says, 'I made a beautiful butter and almond cake last week. The butter is so beautiful, I can’t get enough of it. At home only my mother could afford to eat real butter, the rest of us had to use Blue Band margarine on our bread.'

 In the meantime I see the men take four teaspoons of sugar. Then, since the cups have been distributed I may sit down and listen to the drift of the voices around me.

 I enjoy this time, sitting and listening to the voices, their backgrounds showing in individual sounds of dialect and origin. I hear the strength in these voices. They've had to become strong to make a living in a different world. They made a conscious decision to leave their home country many years ago, for whatever reason. I see one devoted couple who were not allowed to get married in Holland because of archaic parental ideas of class differences. They got married shortly after arrival in New Zealand.

 Poverty at home was another reason why one couple left their homeland. Now their real estate value will ensure a life without money worries.

 Time for serving again. I distribute the second cup of hot liquid for the evening. I gather the cups. I leave the saucers on the side tables, so I’ll know which cup goes on which saucer! The previous ritual of serving coffee and cake repeats itself and then everybody is again eating and sipping coffee or tea. I listen.

 On one side, one of the men says to his neighbour, 'I looked at a car last week. You want to come tomorrow with me to look at it?'

 'What year is it? As old as Methuselah?'

 'Ja. There's quite a bit of rust, but I think I can fix it. The motor sounds good and the suspension is a bit shaky but it should do me for a while. It's at least an improvement on what I’ve got now.'

 On the other side the political discussion. 'Labour is no good!' 'Ja! But just don’t think that National will give you the right treatment. These bloody politicians are all the same, all out to get something they want themselves, they don’t care a toot about us. It’s the same everywhere else.'

 The women are in the middle, amusing themselves with a comparison of housekeeping techniques. Annie says, 'No. You must not use that soap powder. That is no good. I always use Persil and that is the best.'

 'Jannie, did you try the new mayonnaise?'

 'No,' says Jannie. 'I always make my own. Is much cheaper and much nicer!'

 Then clothes are discussed. Annie says, 'I got a nice woollen remnant at Penroses this week. Enough to make a skirt out of it.'

 'What sewing machine have you got?'

 'I have an Elna. It is the best.'

 The discussion moves on to knitting patterns. 'Miep, I like your cardie. Did you do it with four ply?'

 'No,' replies Miep. 'I used the new double knitting wool. I got the pattern from the English Womens Weekly.'

 'Have you seen anything of Joop and Japie lately?' I ask.

 Annie’s answer is quick, 'Ja. I came there last Sunday morning at 11, but there was nobody home and the beds were unmade.'

 I am secretly glad that my windows are high. Yet I feel inferior when I listen to the older women talking. Will I need eight or ten years to sound confident like them? They are good mothers and know what to do in and around the house without any advice. They have an amazing routine of housework. Washing on Monday, Tuesday ironing, Thursday is baking day and Friday the house gets cleaned for the weekend. I’ve tried to adapt a routine myself, but it never works. I want to read.

 I listen to the discussions around me.

 One of the men asks, 'When will you start the renovations?'

 'Ja. I have all the timber in the house. Next weekend I take the chimney between the two bedrooms down, and then I can make three bedrooms out of it.'

 Quick and without reservation comes the reply, 'I’ll come and help. Give me a yell when you’ready to start.'

 People have not forgotten their skills in using the Dutch language, yet when they make statements I hear Dutch words verbalised with an English ending. It's so much easier to relate things that happen to us with a mixture of Dutch and English. I wonder how we will speak our native language in thirty years?

 Drinks time. I gather the cups and plates with leftover cakes and take my time in the kitchen to tidy them away before my husband takes over. He will look after the drinks. While the smoked sausage simmers away, I cut chunks of cheese. The smoked sausage will later go on another plate. I must remember to serve it with mustard.

 My husband asks our guests, 'What would you like? We have whiskey, brandy, wine? Or a sherry?'

 'Give me a jonge jenever.'

 Oh! Help! We forgot to get the gin! Can we ever live this down?

 Around us discussions and arguments flow and glow. Deliberations about cars, houses and renovations keep the men busy. The women discuss the progress of their children, school friends and relationships with neighbours. I think of my sweet elderly neighbour who couldn't pronounce my name and suggested I’d change it to an English name. I wanted to please her but it did not feel right.

 I bring the bowls with freshly roasted peanuts and other nuts. Another ritual. Always serve the nuts first with the drinks. After having served the nutty things I may bring in the plates with fried minceballs.

 'These mince balls are so lovely. What did you put in them?'

 I answer, 'Oh, just a bit of this and a bit of that.'

 'Did you get the spices from Holland?' one friend asks. 'No. I just made them up. Have another one.'

 The arrival of alcoholic refreshments seems to be the right time to start telling jokes. 'Did you hear the one about Sampy and Mosey and the mince balls?' 'No. Tell us.' Some jokes are just not translatable. Some of us are better at it than others. I try to tell a joke but as usual I start with the ending and can’t stop laughing. That becomes a joke. We are lucky. The tradition of our background is kept alive by relating stories from our past.

 I have a quiet time now. My husband serves the nibbles and more drinks. I reflect on our luck to have met these people so far away from our home country. It has made the transition and adapting to a new lifestyle a lot easier for us. As in any family, I observe the underlying currents of criticism and irritation between the various friends. Yet there is a loyalty. Not only to each other but also to the country we have chosen as our new home land. Newcomers with fresh criticism are told, 'You’ve come here to make a new life. Now adapt and make the most of living in this beautiful country.'

 They see us as the young ones without any experience and there's plenty of constructive advice on buying a heater or a hat. But how lovely it is to get an invitation to spend a Sunday together with good friends. At work I heard girls talk together on Monday morning, 'We had a lovely drive on Sunday and afterwards had tea at Mum’s.' I felt envious. But now we have offers of a trip to Taieri Mouth for a picnic on the beach or an invitation to come for coffee.

 Most people agree that it is much better to live in New Zealand than in Holland. I dare not say that some days I miss my family and feel homesick. I miss the autumn trees, the dark winter afternoons with candles on the windowsill. I know what the answer will be. Perhaps it is also their manner of saying things. It sounds direct and without feeling, but already I have learnt that feelings about home can be brought out in jokes. Behind the tough image lies a sensitive and caring temperament.

 The time has come for us to share our big news. Just before the second round of drinks is served my husband and I stand up, 'We’re going to have a baby.'

Congratulations and exclamations fill our sparse and simple living room.

 'I’ll knit you some booties.'
 'How are you feeling? Have you got morning sickness?'
 'Come and spend next Sunday with us.'

 We don’t have family in our chosen country but we are lucky to have good friends. It’s well past midnight. Time to serve soup with mince balls.

 We end the evening with a warm bowl of soup and keep the inner glow of meeting with friends alive a little longer. I think of our baby. Next year I can take part in the discussions about children.

 I look forward to the next birthday party. It will be at somebody else’s house.

 I will listen.

Thursday, 1 November 2012



On Tuesday night our house seemed very quiet. No background noise of a constant TV sound - The Bill, Miss Marples, Shortland Street.  In the morning we took Miriam to the McGlynn Centre in Mornington for two weeks of respite care.  In July she had her last respite care at ISIS and in September it seemed as if she managed the new situation reasonably.  But this time I've noticed she has been quite anxious - any new situation affects her.  We talked and I explained that whenever we face something we haven't done before - a new school, a new work place- it is very normal to feel daunted by what will lie ahead.
Yesterday morning I dropped off a few things at the Community Learning Centre and Miriam looked happy.  The staff said that she had arrived quite cheerful telling everybody about her new haircut.  What a relief.

Yet I do miss her and her surrounding sounds.  But this is also a good time to work on those plans to tidy cupboards, wardrobes, shelves in Miriam's bedroom and in other parts of the house.  When I started work on my adult novel 'The Orange Garden' I was given a mentorship from the New Zealand Society of Authors.

 After a few months I was told by my special mentor, Lesley Marshall from Whangarei, that I was an organic writer and that I should never try to plan too much what I was going to write about.  Aha, this was such wonderful advice as over the next years I learned that I wasn't only an organic writer but also an organic packer, housekeeper, cleaner, gardener, and I'm sure this will affect many more life situations.  Am I lucky to be 'organic'?  Don't know but Lesley's words have made my life a lot easier, I don't get flustered when I walk from one cupboard in one room to another in another room, trying to be organised.  I start at one end of the house, then think of something else, and I find myself at the other end.  My sister Eef calls this tutten  - the Dutch word for puttering, pottering, perhaps not achieving anything drastically but still working on the good of the whole???  And if the result is not obviously visible, at least I know I did something.

So here are my plans: tidy my study, especially the table which is covered with so much administrative stuff relating mainly to Miriam's care, create a new spot in the garden (sunny in the morning!) and attack those cupboards and wardrobes as the mood takes me.

 Part of this plan will mean that there will be quiet time too, a 'just-one-moment-nothing' time, feeling the sun on my body (I've taken my Vitamin D this morning! Miriam normally reminds me), read a few articles in the new Life and Leisure and sip coffee or anything that relaxes me.

 The photo below was taken when Eef visited us in 2009 and we took her to several South Island attractions including Bluff, the end of the world.  It was magic to stand there.  To know that somewhere out there is the Antarctic with its wonders.  This amazingly wonderful 'whole' continent must be saved for future generations.

My sister Eef, Bart and I at the end of the world in Bluff!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012



 A few years ago my brother-in-law, Wim Ruiterkamp from Vorden, sent me an excerpt from De Stentor, a regional newspaper in the province Gelderland.  This newspaper wanted 'Greetings from emigrants' and Wim suggested I'd write something about our experiences.  The result was that De Stentor published an article about our family and the effects of emigrating .

 I have attached the above article as I know that my blog is read in The Netherlands.  It is easy to use the translation facility although the result is often not quite the way the article was written. I did enjoy writing this little bit of memoir although it was challenging to keep to the number of words required.

After living 52 years in the same country, the same city, the same suburb I can only say that I love Dunedin.  But I still remember the first years when so many issues came together producing the effects of home sickness.

On m.s. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, May 1960

 Write about settling in a new country?  Which aspects to use?  Language, housing, home sickness, work place, new friends?  Here are a few very random thoughts:

Language :   Together with German and French languages we had studied English for five years at high school.  After high school I had also worked as an au pair in London.  Yet, after arriving in Dunedin it was hard getting used to this 'other' language, many words and nuances being very different from the formal foreign language we had learnt. 

Housing :  In May 1960 I wrote in my diary: 'With the overnight ferry 'Maori' we cross to Lyttleton and from there we have an unforgettable journey by train to Dunedin.  Flat land, valleys, mountains covered with snow, so much to see.  Little huts in remote places. I say to Bart that we might end up in a similar hut that night.  In Dunedin eight people from the Opoho Presbyterian Church are waiting for us on the platform and Dick van Barneveld, an elder in the church, takes us to our first home in Dunedin.'

How lucky we were.

  We had left Holland at a time of housing shortage. What a thrill it was to rent a four-bedroomed house for just the two of us.  To be able to close the door on a room with 'stuff' that needed sorting but never was!  Together we danced in the hall!

  Early 1961 we rented a 100-year-old wooden house with three bedrooms where wallpaper on scrim walls moved during stormy times.  This house had its own character, a loo outside didn't bother us, and we made it our home, and were proud to show newly-made friends our painting and wallpapering skills.  We stayed there until February 1966 when we bought our first home.

Homesick  :  Oh, yes, I was homesick, don't mind admitting it.  It is a long time ago now but I still remember wanting to talk to someone, for someone to acknowledge that homesickness was a reality I had to learn to live with.  Letters from home helped, and my letters to our large families became 'newspapers' according to my sisters.  A real blessing was to have access to such a fantastic library (I mention libraries in a previous blog) and I read and read and read those first years and still do.

Workplace  :  Bart started work at the Dunedin Botanic Garden the day after our arrival in May 1960 and six months later he got a job at the Otago Catchment Board which later became the Otago Regional Council.  I started work at the laundries in the North East Valley and soon learnt another way of speaking English.  The girls in the office enjoyed teaching me their skills and I'd come home at night, spouting new words and Bart telling me that it was better not to use these words in 'proper' conversation.  After six months I applied for and did get the job as secretary at the Wool Research of New Zealand, and stayed in this job until shortly before our first baby was due.

Friends  :  We were lucky to meet older Dutch immigrants who took us under their wings, ready to help settle.  When I started work I made other friends, extending our circle, and gradually the warm rippling effect of friendship became wider.  I have an old recipe book, totally chaotic.  If I want a certain recipe I have to browse through lots of loose papers.  I don't want to change this because every time I look for a recipe I see handwritten recipes given to me by friends who are no longer here.   Elvis Presley is not the only one who sings that 'Memories are made of this'!

Back to the Dutch article:  In this article I mention that occasionally I'm aware of having one leg here in New Zealand and the other leg in the Holland of my past.  Leading a double life?  Not really.  These are also feelings of reality, of having my life being geographically and emotionally divided.   In the beginning it was hard not to mention the past, we'd come here to make a new life so we were told to only think ahead.  Soon I learned to put a cover on my 21 years of living in the northern hemisphere.   But times have changed, we have become more cosmopolitan, people travel more and I just love watching Asian students walking together in town, laughing, having fun and talking to each other in their native language.   I still cannot do this, whenever Bart and I are in town we use the English language.  Old habits??

Below is the first chapter of my nearly completed novel The Orange Garden.  I hope to put it out as an e-book before too long.

"On the morning Anna and Roland climb into the waiting car. Neighbours huddled in winter-coats pulled over pyjamas, slippers on their feet, have come to say goodbye to the girl they’ve known since she was born. The gears of the Mercedes crunch as the car begins to move into the distance, red tail-lights glowing in the dark.

 Anna takes Roland's arm, squeezes it tight against her breast. She turns slightly to look through the back window of the car. Other cars are waiting on the village square and they speed behind them, following through the flat landscape, through the little villages with the narrow streets and across the newly built bridges spanning the wide rivers. As they reach Amsterdam, Anna stares through the window at houses; rows and rows of houses. The straight streets, the lights, people riding bikes on their way to work.

 At the end of the day those people will return to their homes.

 Inside the car it is warm, but the dampness of the streets seems to filter into Anna’s body, the cold clinging around her as snow covers a mountain after a heavy winter storm. The coldness; the damp and the fear. The fear of leaving.

 But there’s excitement too, moving cautiously at first, slowly building and heating the marrow of her bones; already her fear of the journey ahead is dissolving. Roland shouts, ‘I can see the ship.’

 Anna's fingers touch the large gold clasp of the three-strand necklace of coral beads her mother fastened around her neck when she turned 18. Her mother's voice, 'This necklace belonged to my grandmother. It will keep you strong and protect you from ill-health. You must wear it.'

 Roland puts an arm around Anna’s thin shoulders, tightens his grip. ‘We’ll make it.’ She smiles up at him. They stand close together for those last moments; Anna, Roland and their sisters and brother milling awkwardly together. They have never done such a thing before, never said goodbye not knowing if and when they will see each other again.

 And ahead of them is the ship. The Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Anna keeps glancing towards it, checking that it is not moving. Soaring above them are the giant chimneys, yellow at the base with a black band at the top. The portholes are like multiple dark eyes and Anna can smell the salty seawater. She clutches Roland's hand, ‘Look at the lifeboats on the top deck of the ship. At least if the ship sinks we can get away.' Roland squeezes her hand, 'You and your imagination.'

But the memories are still with Anna. Bombs. Droning aeroplanes. Hiding in a cellar. Danger is always around. There is a man standing, now, at the gangplank and people begin to move forward giving him their tickets. There is desperation in Ada's voice as she cries out, ‘I’ll miss you, Anna. I’ll miss you so much.’  There are hugs, kisses and tears. Roland's brother, Jaap says, 'You must write. Every week, promise?'

 Write soon.

 High up on the top deck Anna and Roland look down at the small figures below waiting close to the railings. Waving. Waving and calling, Goede reis, tot ziens.’  Bon voyage. Farewell. We’ll meet again.

 Roland has his arms around Anna’s shoulders, ‘It’s really happening. Our new life. I’ll work hard, Anna. I’ll make a go of this.’ ‘We'll do it together,’ Anna says.

 Roland walks to the bow of the ship, his long legs confidently swinging. She remembers a freezing night, remembers those long legs. She'd decided to go to the skating rink and, circling the large, frozen area by herself, she heard her name called out. ‘Anna. You’re back! How are you?’

 A tall young man in a green anorak skated towards her. Roland. Turning her feet inward, she braked. He shook her hand. ‘How was London? You look so different.’ They skated, talking till the rink closed. Slowly they biked towards the village where Anna lived. As they reached her house Roland touched her arm, ‘Come with me to the film tomorrow night?’ ‘Why not?’ Anna had said, already composing a letter to Lucy in her mind. ‘He's lovely. You won’t believe how he’s changed since we left school. He's so thoughtful. He asked if your fall on the ice had left any scars. He’s not too shy. He's good-looking. He’s taking me to the film. O la la. He even kissed me.'

 Lucy, her best friend since the first day at school. Already Lucy has become a memory. Already home has become the place where things happened in the past. Roland walks towards her on the deck. A wide grin on his face. Anna opens her arms, 'I love you.'

 Our family is on the quay. Tomorrow I won’t see them. Neither tomorrow nor next month. Not next year. Their faces and bodies will become only images to be remembered as they are now in future years. They will return to me like flashes in a silent film.

 She remembers the visit to her aunt. Remembers Tante Clara's fearful expression as she clutched Anna's arm, ‘But do you really want to go so far away? What sort of a country is it where you’re going? Are there really more sheep than people? Do they have streets there? Is it safe, Anna? Will you be safe?’

 Is this how it will be? And is this really what she wants? What has she done? Will she ever see her mother again? If she and Roland have children will they ever meet their grandparents? How will we be able to afford to make the journey home?

 Goede reis, tot ziens."

Monday, 15 October 2012


Across the Valley

"A certain hill or mountain can offer a deep emotional focus to a person's life or to a family or community." (Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, 1992)

We count ourselves fortunate to live opposite a 'certain hill'.  Opening the curtains each morning means the start of such a focus.   Each morning the view is different whatever season or weather is displayed outside.  Each season brings its defined highlights.  When the children were young we'd all go for walks to the top of Flagstaff.  Over the years our sons Foster and Ray did take many long hikes, including the Pineapple Track.

Spring 2012

In spring my eyes go beyond the blossom-covered apple trees outside our living room window to Pine Hill, a hill suburb of Dunedin, then on to Flagstaff with its growth of manuka, totara and other native trees as well as paddocks dotted with sheep.

Plum tree blossoms with bare apple tree branches.
A punga (tree fern) in foreground.

Towards the summit any forest vegetation stops and dry tussock plants take over. I should also mention that there is a valley between Pine Hill and Flagstaff. The northern motorway winds its way towards Waitati and ultimately to Christchurch (approx 360 km from Dunedin).

 A few days ago we woke up to a sprinkling of snow on top of Flagstaff. In spring the hill sides are covered with bright yellow gorse, so beautiful to look at but so destructive with its rampant growth. Scottish settlers brought it to New Zealand, hoping it would help make them feel less homesick but the climate here is most encouraging to plant growth and a lot of work is involved in clearing this beautiful 'weed'. Oh, yes, I know that feeling so well and indulge in it occasionally by buying bunches of tulips at the Farmers Market.   Getting up early on a clear summer morning is always a treat. I sit on the balcony and have my camera ready. Often there's a haze but every now and then the sun defines a certain cluster with manuka trees on the hill. Being able from this distance to see 'through' the tall slender trunks makes that part of the slope mysterious. I think of the night life that will be there, possums, weasels, wild cats that thoughtlessly have been abandoned.

Long white cloud

 I love watching the long white cloud (Aotearoa) making its way from Mt Cargill to the west. Sometimes this cloud hangs between the two hills and sometimes it's edging close to the summit of Flagstaff. I remember how in the early sixties top dresser planes were active over those hills. Miriam would be in the pram (the Plunket nurse said that fresh air was good for her) while I hung the washing, listening to the zooming of busy-bee planes in the distance. This was a companionable sound but it often made me think of the threatening drones of planes over our village in the east of Holland during the war years.

Early morning sun hits Flagstaff

 When Miriam isn't watching television she does her Word Find puzzles at the dining room table. Since she came back home to live after the stroke I've tried to bring the outside to her mind by pointing out cloud formations, different colours of clouds depending on the weather and the different times the sun reaches the top of Flagstaff after rising above Signal Hill (visible from the other side of our house). So, in the middle of winter, while I'm rushing in the kitchen getting breakfast, I hear her voice, 'Mum, the SUN.' Around the shortest day it's just before 8.30 a.m. From then on we watch the lengthening of the days by the time we see the dark pink shine on top of the hill. From our living room we see, on the shortest day, the sun disappearing behind an area of Flagstaff at 4.20 pm, often preceded by the most amazing sunsets. Then it's time to light a candle, go to the kitchen and start preparing dinner.

Late sun, Mount Cargill on right.

I took the following photo in June 1999 from our balcony, shortly before our 40th wedding anniversary and just before we travelled to Europe for the last time.

Sunset over Flagstaff, June 1999

Weeks later the sun hits the hill top from a higher point in the sky and we can see more clearly the gap between Pine Hill and Flagstaff. Each time I look at the hills across the North East Valley an emotion demands attention. The beauty of defining sun rays, the chilliness of snow, the demanding yellow of gorse. I cannot ignore these views. And when occasionally I have a 'down' day I quietly lift my eyes onto those hills and know that I will be comforted.

The seasons have a way of running parallel to our emotions. Winter blues, spring and autumn storms, peaceful summer evenings. For me those hills are an inspiration for accepting whatever the day brings.  That 'certain hill' has been and still is a memory and a focus for all of us.

Thursday, 4 October 2012



While staying with friends in Cromwell (September post 'Respite Care') I was inspired to write a poem.  Well, here it is, as well as another photo of snow in Central Otago.  I love the shadows of clouds on hills.   Ever since I was a child I see all kinds of things in clouds - animals, faces and flowers - and watching the reflection of the shadow of clouds on hills gives everything another dimension. 


Last night's snow on Central Otago hills
Cheryl Moana Marie roaring
into the spring morning.

No sun-drenched shore but a shearing shed
on a Cromwell farm
men guide blades
while women
strong as amazons
lift fleeces warm from sheep
weather-worn side up
finest merino plucked at the edges
the body-clean white wool spread out.

The team in unison
their bodies in rhythm
moving, turning, lifting, shifting
classing, biffing, throwing into bins to
match the white thin-fleeced strands.

Outside bales are stacked up for foreign shores
while sheep wait.

October 2012

This time we were waiting ...

Since I have my mind on animals, I'd like to share one more photo of a cheeky tui during winter time.  The white bowl (sorry, Janice!) has since been replaced by a beautiful $2 pottery bowl I found in a second-hand shop.  While Miriam does her Word Find puzzles at the dining room table she loves to watch tui and bellbirds as well as silvereyes competing for drops of sugar water.

Winter 2010

Today's entry is called Shearing and Sharing so I'd like to share one of my short stories which appeared in Sport 17, Spring 1996 .  I'll never forget the excitement I felt when the letter arrived saying it had been accepted.  I suppose it had that feeling of freedom of having found acceptance of my writing which I'd always wanted to do but thought I never could.

Free-flying tui and bellbirds, we look forward to your return next autumn.