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mentor when the New Zealand Society of Authors awarded me a mentorship to work on my novel 'The Orange Garden' (as yet unpublished).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!