Sunday, 17 November 2013


Ploughing on ...

We visited Miriam yesterday.  She is looking so good, full of beans, chatting away.  She'd spell the words we didn't understand, and if we still didn't get the meaning she'd write them down in the side column of her Word Find book.  She is resource full as ever.  The staff at the McGlynn Home have adjusted fantastically to giving Miriam an interesting gluten free diet. 

She'll come home for a meal next week.  That will be the last time for her to be in this house and it will be hard for her to accept this.  As hard as it is for all of us, slowly detaching ourselves from 'possessions', and I mean possessions not in a valuable way but of having been attached to them: some bits of simple furniture, e.g. a shelving unit with plate glass shelves and rimu surrounds holding a selection of vases on the top shelf and all sorts of things on the other shelves, cook books on the bottom one.  A garden table with four chairs.  We know they'll go to good homes.  And then there are the plants in the garden, the abundance of roses right now, so glorious.  The peony rose in flower for the first time, oh, how poignant to pick a huge bunch realising that for me the picking is not only its first but also its last time.  Our wonderful Freyberg apples, a tree planted the same year as I was born.

But we have many things to be grateful for and I will be glad when those intense waves of sadness of leaving behind 53 years in this lovely suburb will be replaced by hopefully happy and new experiences when we move into our unit at Summerset Bishopscourt. 

A few weeks ago Bart had to make concrete and needed to get sharp sand at the quarry down the road from us.
Blackhead Quarry Logan Park.
The new Dunedin Stadium in the background.

  We drove up the hill and as I got out of the car I was amazed to see the end result of the variety of the processes after the initial drilling and blasting of rocks out of the steep rock face.  After blasting, the rocks are transported to different crushers and finally are sorted into different stages of crushed material.

 While there I felt as if I was in a hot and windy alien world. I took some photos and added them to this blog as the processed 'heaps' reminded me of what we're doing right now.   We did cut our tie with this house when it was sold, gradually we cut deeper and deeper with giving away some of our possessions to different organisations, or throwing away things we thought might come in handy one day.  We even had a garage sale.  And now there's going to be the final cut very soon, the house full of bags and boxes selected to go with us.  Bart complains I've taken too many books.  He's right.

 Life has taught me enough lessons to know that not everything will go smoothly but I know too that there will be strength to cope when the rocks are a bit rough or uneven. 
Is this Dunedin or Mars?

Friday, 11 October 2013


It's only one story

I ended my last blog with a photo of the sign that said that our house was for sale.
Craig Palmer, of Metro Dunedin, asked me if I would write something about my experiences of having lived in our house for nearly 40 years.  And so I did and have decided to blog this little story.  Craig sold the house within a week!  He fulfilled his promise to make the sale as painless as possible and I can thoroughly recommend him.
Kowhai in full bloom, October 2013

In 1966 we bought our first house.  A rambling roughcast house which needed a lot of renovations.  We were not daunted.  We were young.  The main attraction of this house was its quarter-acre garden.  We wanted a garden where our Down syndrome daughter Miriam and our twin sons Foster and Ray could play and run around to their hearts content.  This garden became an adventure place for our children, initially playing in sandpits, using the swing in the huge chestnut tree, then moving on to climbing trees, running around chasing each other, always having friends around.

Photo on right was taken in December 1966
 Unfortunately, Doodle, our black, shiny 'sheep dog' was hit by a car.  She loved to chase cars and people on bikes, perhaps training for the sheep that might eventually wander into our street!  At that time we had a white kitten. Doodle's favourite pastime was to pick up the kitten, run to the bottom of the section with the kitten in her mouth, run back and deposit the poor wee thing in the dust under the house.  Whatever we did, she had to follow her hunting instinct.  The kitten survived!

We did extensive work to improve the inside of the house, taking out walls and chimneys to create an open living space.  The garden stayed the same, an open place to use trikes and play soccer and other ball games.  Our whippets, Dody and Muffin joined in the fun. 

Miriam with dogs and Ray and Foster on trikes
In 1973 we decided to have a two-storied house built on our back section and it was a special moment when in September 1974 we moved into our new sunny house.
Foster, Ray and Bart creating a new path alongside our old house (1975)
Bart built retaining walls, for us a priority to keep our house safe.  Later, surrounded by bags of cement, sand and a pile of grey uneven shaped rocks we created rock walls close to the house.  Water and a fine mixture of cement and sand bonded the stones together.  I remember thinking: these walls won't move once the mixture between the rocks has dried.

We created a garden where we could rest and relax between bouts of work, either indoors or outdoors.  Using Kokonga stones Bart made a terrace.  We planted shrubs and trees and flowers that gave an intensity of colours.  There was no organised colour scheme but the texture of the plants created their own images.  I planted a climbing rata against a bank, thinking of the day when I would see its red fluffy flowers amidst the dark glossy leaves.  Near the letterbox we planted a kowhai.  A hamamelis found a place in a corner where it displayed its yellow tendrils in the middle of winter, just before the first spring flowers shot through the winter earth.  I knew that whenever I planted a tree or shrub, a small part of myself secured a stronger hold on living in this new land.

The countdown to leaving has started.  I'm dreading having to say goodbye to our special suburb where we've lived for more than 50 years.  As I move from room to room - sorting, tidying, cleaning - I think of the good times we've had in this wonderful part of Dunedin, the many friends we've made, the old-fashioned caring attitude of people around us.  The changes we've observed in half a century.

And now our apple tree is in flower again.  The beginning of a new cycle, new growth.  I am sure the new owners will enjoy its beautiful apples.  Our Dutch habit of often eating appelmoes (apple sauce)  will have to be modified.  But ... there's always the fantastic Farmer's Market!
Apple tree in 1981


Wednesday, 4 September 2013


This is the last spring we celebrate in this house.  More to follow in my next blog.  Yesterday  I took a photo of our yellow plum tree.  It's a bit like a Christmas card with its radiant display of white, green and red.  In late afternoon I sat on the balcony and absorbed the bridal beauty of this gorgeous tree with the rata and red camellia in the foreground.

Plum tree, native rata tree and camellia bush.
 During the past week our family has been absorbing memories.  Memories of being together as a family with Foster and Frances arriving from Thames in the North Island to take part in the 50-year celebration of the Survey School at the University of Otago.  Foster and I enjoyed being part of Basil Jones' party at The Link on Friday night, a special occasion for both of us.  For Foster it was good to meet up with his 1984 entrance class mates, and for me to see so many students I met during the nearly quarter of a century working at the Survey School.  It was delightful to catch up (and recognise!) people I knew as young students and to be recognised as well.  A warm and sincere time.

 Foster and Frances enjoyed the special Survey School celebration dinner at the Toitu Museum on Saturday night.  This is such a lovely photo of them, dressed up to party.

Foster and Frances ready to celebrate.
 Earlier in the week we had another special memory occasion when two couples visited us, all connected through the School of Surveying.  Ever since I retired we've stayed in touch with Allan Blaikie (Acting Head for several years) and his wife, Mary.  They moved to Rangiora and we have lovely memories of staying with them and being totally spoiled.  We spend a lot of time going back to the old days.  The other special couple to visit us came from Auckland.  As always, so lovely to see them too and to bring back the old days but also focussing on the moment.  Sylvia and Norman Sloper are in the same position as we are: moving house.  Norman's first wife, Pat, was my colleague at Survey School.  She died tragically in a car accident.  Sylvia's husband, Gus, died several years ago and now it is wonderful to see how Norman and Sylvia have found happiness together.  Our children have known these couples for many years and it was a special treat for them to meet up with both couples.

ltr: Mary, Sylvia, Norman, Allan, Ray, Bart, Foster and Frances
 I end this blog with the Metro For Sale sign in our drive.  The start of ending forty years of living in our 'brown' house with its glorious views and more than fifty years in this wonderful suburb.  Howie, the photographer, came on Tuesday afternoon and I saw myself as a 'snow plough', removing unnecessary items before the photos for the internet were taken.  But, he made a beautiful job of those photos as he managed to get my 'certain hill' (a previous blog) in many of them.

Monday, 12 August 2013


 It's an unsettling time, clearing and sorting Miriam's bedroom, her Scotch Chest, her large cupboard which holds photo albums as well as boxes with old photos.  And then there are the coats we have gathered over so many years.  Some quite worn, but oh so comfortable.  I ask myself, how many coats does an old woman need?

 No delicate branch acrobatics for me either while I'm trying to balance my time, appointments, working on Tipping the Balance, a novel for young adults.  It's good to be back 'inside' that historical novel again. 

During day time the kereru is busy in the tree outside my study.  It's wonderful to see the huge bird, trying to balance itself on fragile branches.  The flowers aren't out yet and I hope our neighbour won't cut down this safe haven for birds.
How I love watching this gorgeous creature with its proud chest and delicate colouring.


 At night I look out of my window and see the new moon.  It moves so fast within my dark window, 'sailing' from the upper right hand corner to the middle left.  It inspired me to write this simple poem.

Closer to the moon

The new moon hangs outside my window.
A bleached pumpkin,
peeled, cut, sliced,
processed into soup or stew,
added to an avocado salad.

Do astronauts think of white pumpkin soup
while occupying orbits?

Do they think of wives in kitchens on earth,
taking kids to school,
putting pumpkin pie in lunch boxes?

I wonder whether thoughts of fear and failure still circle them
while being closer to the moon?
Are there racing thoughts of urgent bills to be paid,
of fragile relationships that need mending?

Perhaps they too dream of pumpkins growing
while staying on the ground.

HH 2013

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


 This morning's front page of the Otago Daily Times (our local paper) shows a fantastic photo taken in the Dunedin Botanic Garden of a kowhai tree in flower with a kereru digging into the goodness of the flowers of this beautiful tree. There are also two smaller photos of a tui and a bumblebee enjoying the flowery nibbles on a mild July day.  Mild?  Middle of winter?  Daffodils in a white vase inside, windows wide open, bell birds singing outside while they, together with tui and wax eyes, wait for their daily dose of sugar water.  More details about our unusual weather in this afore mentioned article.

 During the past year I've posted photos of tui sipping sugar water from a large plate on our balcony, photos of kereru sitting on branches of the Vergilia trees outside my study, but unfortunately have never tried to take a photo of a bumblebee.

 The ODT photographers are very good and it's always fascinating to observe how they find special areas in our town that need our awareness.  Daring too!  When in early 2000 Miriam had her exhibition in the Moray Gallery, Stephen Jacquerie (ODT) stood on the pergola rafters to take a photo of her sitting down in our garden surrounded by dozens of her paintings. 

Back and cover pages of book about Miriam

 Tonight Bart and I went to the launch of Raymond Huber's stunning children's book Flight of the Honey Bee with amazing illustrations by Brian Lovelock.  Claire Beynon launched the book in a witty and thoughtful speech.  It was wonderful to be with our friends at this happy occasion.  The book is dedicated to Raymond's and his wife Penelope Todd's first grandchild, Spencer Bond.   What a lucky child he is.  The book has already been translated into the Danish language.  Let's hope it will be translated into many other languages as well.  This book deserves to be treasured.

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Time to prepare

The Helleborus is out!

 We are still in the middle of winter, so far having survived a few snowstorms, high winds, heavy rainfall and, in the centre of New Zealand earthquakes with massive aftershocks.  We think of the people in Wellington and Christchurch, having to cope with these scary rumblings.

 Each year I'm excited when I see the first flower of the Christmas Rose (above).  I planted it nearly 40 years ago.  It's surrounded by several other Hellebore with purple and lilac colours, and taller stems but I just adore this little one.   Here in Dunedin we've had beautiful spring days, temperatures up to 15 degrees C.  and Bart has been in the garden, clearing and tidying as he goes.

 Clearing and tidying is going to be our main task for the next few months as we are now preparing for our big move early next year to the Summerset Bishopscourt Retirement Village in another part of town.  I don't really want to think yet of leaving our very special suburb of Opoho after having lived here for 53 years but we cannot afford to stay here any longer.  In the meantime our focus will be to concentrate on clearing this house with its five bedrooms and keep enough furniture and 'chattels' to fit a small apartment with two bedrooms.   So, after having emptied cupboards and wardrobes we already have left various bags at the Red Cross and other second hand outfits.  There are more to follow.

  Then came a small challenge.  The photo I'm inserting below shows a clean version of a carboy.  You should have seen it before Bart put the hose in it.  When we moved into this house in 1974 I filled this carboy with soil, charcoal (to keep the soil moist) and pebbles in which I planted begonias and tiny ferns and other green bits and pieces.   After a few years, life's hectic pace took over and I totally ignored the carboy and the plants (shame, woman, shame!).  Gradually the plants withered and all that was left was a dark mass at the bottom.  But we cleaned the glass jar with sand soap and garden hose and hey presto: here it is.

Clean Carboy
 When we shifted from the front house which we bought in 1966 to this newly-built house I thought of the John Lennon song 'Imagine'.  And as we carried our few possessions down the drive I hummed 'imagine no possessions' and thought how lucky we were to move into our new home.  Now the time has come to let go of some of those possessions, and I feel grateful that a sense of detachment is slowly taking over.  As long as I've got my family, friends, music and books I'll be all right.

 Now off to the next project: clearing another wardrobe in a room that looks out onto this glorious camellia.

Here's to a spring day in the middle of winter.

Monday, 8 July 2013



Stella and Donald Cullington at DCLC with ltr Nichola Ferguson, Miriam Hellendoorn and Rebecca Thompson

So much has happened but with this blog I want to acknowledge the generosity of Dunedin residents with the result that the Dunedin Community Learning Centre can continue to function.  What a relief it was to hear that the Lotteries Community Funding has offered support for another three years and that so many Dunedin people, after reading the Otago Daily Times' article about the possible forthcoming closure of DCLC, came forward with generous donations.  At this stage I can name a few, the Accounting firm Deloitte; Mrs Dawn Ibbotson; Stella and Donald Cullington; the Junior School of John McGlashan College who gave half the money they raised by their Readathon (GO WELL Boys!).  And not to forget that every time we buy Anchor Milk products their support of fundraising sets in.

There are so many others and at our recent Pot Luck Dinner Trudy Scott acknowledged the other donors.  She writes in her latest news: 'It was great to meet again or for the first time some of our generous sponsors.  They are truly lovely people with caring hearts.'

Oh, yes, Trudy!  You are so right.  And what a relief for all of us, parents and caregivers of your students, to know that our children will be stimulated and supported by you and your equally generosity-inspiring team.

The amazing work of The Dunedin Community Learning Charitable Trust (The Trustees are Christine Thompson, Sandra Boock, Katherine Sturgeon, Paul O'Neill and Eric Shelton) has to be acknowledged with 'gold accolades'.  The Trustees have gone beyond the call of duty to keep the Centre open and their latest effort is a wonderful pamphlet outlining the DCLC's History, Student Comments, Life Skills, Community Based Learning and their Dream for the Future.  Here are some of the photos and Student Comments in this delightful and impressive leaflet:

"I learn things"
"I like swimming"
"I like painting"
"It's fun"
"We make things"
"We have fun and make friends"
"I like mowing lawns"
"It's fun when the Otago Polytechnic students come for work experience"
And more great news:  In the meantime the Fundraising Committee has met to discuss a few ideas in the pipeline and as Trudy writes, 'they are working hard on behalf of us all.'

Thank you all.  We count our blessings and keep believing in miracles.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Wake up to snow with a Maruia thermometer on zero.
Wonderful surprise to see the snow this morning.  Dunedin's hill suburbs are challenging to negotiate when snow and/or ice take over.  Schools stay closed as do the motorways going north and south. It usually doesn't last long and we are still young at heart to enjoy the excitement of a different view.

But Miriam will be worried.  She now goes by taxi from her new abode to the Community Learning Centre and the routine of her day will be interrupted when she can't go there because of the weather.

Since she left home I have missed her so much, and deep in my heart still felt cold fear and concern about the new situation.  I cried a lot, especially when I'd go into her bedroom.   But then came Mother's Day!  Miriam gave me a gorgeous wee box with little gifts (bubble bath and a cookie) she'd made herself at CLC and proudly presented them when she and Ray came for lunch at 12.00 noon.  We had a lovely time sitting together, chatting, eating, drinking wine.   Miriam doing her Word Find.  We'd had our coffee and gluten-free cake (Miriam recently had a diagnosis of Coeliac Disease -  phew!!!!) and just after 2 o'clock Miriam put her Word Find in her bag, looked at her watch, looked at me, looked at her watch again, looked at me again - was she trying to hypnotise me???  I thought of the little word circles coming out of people's heads in cartoons  and I could hear her thinking I want to go home.  I knew this routine from previous situations when we were out visiting so I took her hand and said, 'Darling, you are ready to go back?'

Well, you should've seen her face.  A shining beam, wide gleaming eyes, 'Yes, Mum, thank you.'

And I thought, there is now need to worry any more.  It was as if a heavy load had disappeared.  Exactly two months to the day when she left home she showed me that the routine of her new home had become as important (and perhaps even stronger) as the routine she had with us.  What a gift these few words were.  To receive them on Mother's Day made them even more special.

A few days later I mentioned to my sister in Holland what had happened.  She said, 'Oh, that must have hurt you so much!'   And I was glad when I could say, 'No, I don't feel hurt at all, I can only be grateful that my adult daughter has responded in her own way to this latest challenge.'

Routine means a lot for people with Down syndrome.  I can understand that we as parents have been part of that routine in her life and that we now have truly let her go, knowing that she will keep on adjusting to the changes in her life and in her own way will rise to any challenging situation.  The wonderful staff at McGlynn keep telling us that Miriam is very independent! 

There are challenges ahead for us too.  This will be the last winter we'll have in this wonderful house.  More about that in another blog when I hopefully will be able to untangle some gnarled branches.

This morning's photo of ladder in the apple tree (as in a previous blog!)
One more.  I'm like a child when there's snow, can't stop taking photos.

'Think of those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.'

Monday, 29 April 2013


Miriam has settled in well at her new home.  We meet regularly and it's good to see that she feels confident.  We regularly take her out: a coffee, a doctor's visit, and she'll come home for the day on Mother's Day. I still miss her but have realised how necessary it has been to make the decision to let her go.  There are still enough challenges ahead.

Dunedin Town Hall: The Octet at the RSA Revue 2013

Last Thursday night, Miriam, Ray and I enjoyed being part of the audience as the RSA Choir gave their annual ANZAC Day Revue performance in our newly refurbished Town Hall.  The choir and their guests gave us a fantastic time.  Bart has been singing in this choir for nearly twenty years and we are always proud to see him being part of a dedicated group of men.  I've been trying to get Foster and Ray interested in choir singing but alas, no luck so far.  'Just because you and Dad like to sing in choirs, doesn't mean we do!'  OK, no problem!!  I don't trust my voice any more but am glad Bart can still enjoy this soul-healing pastime.  At the end of June we'll be in the Town Hall again when he takes part in Verdi's Requiem with the Dunedin City Choir.  Oh, to be a tenor!
Bart ready to sing.

On Saturday we had music of a different kind.  Some of our delightful neighbours in the house next door study music papers at the University of Otago's Music Department and on Saturday they had a house-warming party for their friends.  It was lovely to hear their hilarity. Earlier Clinton and Max had wheeled our barbecue away and as trustworthy neighbours we had been asked to 'cat-sit' their equally delightful young cat Jenny.  Victoria came over with Jenny's basket and her toys and we did have challenging fun trying to keep her inside.  But all went well and Jenny and basket went home at 11 p.m.  Miriam was allergic to cats so after our Liesel died we never did get another cat.
Jenny and Rabbit
This has nothing to do with music but on Friday our back yard neighbour's designer rabbit escaped its hutch by burrowing a hole through the grass underneath the cage and started to enjoy our vegetable garden's selection.  It especially favoured the leeks!!  As these neighbours were away Bart put the gorgeous long-floppy-eared creature in our cat-transport cage.  I chopped up carrots and beetroot leaves.  Jenny, on one of her visits, played tic-tac with the rabbit and probably wondered why we had put her playmate in the cage for the night. The next morning the rabbit was happy to explore the rest of the garden and play with Jenny, go back in the cage at night and spend the day having vegetable-freedom until the neighbours arrived home on Sunday evening.

Back to music again.  Sunday afternoon's Verdi's La Traviata on the Concert Programme was a wonderful occasion.  I do hope we'll get to see it here one day as part of the Metropolitan Opera HD Live Series in our Dunedin Rialto Cinema where I was fortunate to watch this afternoon Donizetti's Maria Stuarda.  What a treat it is to sit and listen to glorious music and watch world-class performers who take our minds away to a totally different world. Today, Joyce DiDonato's voice is divine and her singing and acting as Mary, Queen of Scots was sublime, sublissimo!  I admit I sobbed a lot during the second part and even the 10-minute drive home didn't manage to get my emotional level back to normal.  Even now, several hours later, I still can feel it in my shoulders!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


Turmoil in the sky

Tomorrow is ANZAC Day when we remember the men and women of Australia and New Zealand who died in war time, giving their lives so that people in their home countries could continue to live in a free world.  We must remember them.
My own memories as a child in a European country at war are still vivid.  I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to talk to an expert about those often horrific experiences which had left me with nightmares and I feel a deep sadness for those who did not, and still do not now have that opportunity.

The following is a short excerpt from my unpublished novel The Orange Garden where the main character, Anna, visits a War Cemetery in Oosterbeek, The Netherlands.  She then remembers her first attendance at an ANZAC Day Dawn Service in Dunedin.

"Anna drives to Oosterbeek. Near the Old Church stands a monument. Not One Shall Be Forgotten.
Her mind turns back to New Zealand. The Anzacs.
How many graves of New Zealand and Australian soldiers will be at the Arnhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery?
Large trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, flowers everywhere at the graveside. A memorial stone THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE. White crosses spreading endlessly. So many of them. Far too many. Four RNZAF casualties from New Zealand.
The Cross of Sacrifice at the far end. The sacrifice of war. A war that affected so many people. The cross that faraway families of the deceased had to bear. Grieving from a distance.
Around her people turn to each other, hugging, crying. A young man stands next to her. 'I'll never forget this.'
She remembers the day her village was evacuated, walking next to her mother in the long queue, wanting to help push the pram that held Ada. She closes her eyes, sees the foreign soldiers in their khaki uniforms standing outside the large villa, distributing tea and white bread. Lifting her up, 'How little you are. You are so beautiful. This is why we came. To help you.'
Because of their sacrifice, we had the opportunity to make a new life.

Anzac Day in Dunedin earlier in the year. She'd called Belinda: ‘Will you come with me to the Dawn Service?’
I'll meet you outside the Early Settlers Museum.’
In the early morning darkness they gathered quietly around the cenotaph, the air chilly with the first light frost of the season. It was hard to distinguish the faces of old and young people who’d gathered to lay wreaths at the base of the monument. Fresh, green, sharp-pointed leaves dotted with white roses and velvety carnations.
Anna had looked at people standing around her. Had they come to share with others the memories of those who died in the wars? Perhaps even for some those memories were so painful that they still didn't talk about it, didn't allow any silent anger and hurt to surface, afraid of not being able to control that pain.
As the booms of the gun thundered across the Queen’s Gardens, over the city and up the hills, Anna shivered. The daylight gradually appeared as the Returned Servicemen Association's male choir sang Gwahoddiad: 'And He the witness gives to loyal hearts and free, That ev’ry promise is fulfilled if faith but brings the plea’.
Later, their frozen feet slowly thawing near the open fire in her living room, Anna passed Belinda a mug of coffee, ‘That sound. That horrible sound of the gun, reminds me of those guns and the noise of the planes during the war. I'm still petrified when I hear a low-flying plane. Have I ever told you what Dad and I did on our first Anzac Day here?’
Can’t remember, Mum.’
Anna passed Belinda a plate with speculaas. ‘We got up early and walked to the Queen’s Gardens via Anzac Avenue. Dad and I were so moved by the service that we didn’t talk much on the way back, but as we were getting close to home Dad said, “Let’s go to Mount Cargill.”'
We stood at the top of the hill in the hazy stillness of that autumn morning. We didn't talk. It was too hard.’

Leaving the cemetery with its many white crosses Anna walks to the car. She thinks, Belinda did understand when she said on Anzac Day, Those memories are part of you. But she couldn't see that understanding. Not then.
All these years. So much distance between them. Between Anna and her daughter. Thank God she came with her to Holland. Thank God the barriers are dissolving."

Sunset in Wanaka

Friday, 29 March 2013



1937 Freyberg Apple Tree
 This is our special apple tree, not only because it's the same vintage as I am but because of its abundant supply of beautiful cooking apples.  Bart has just finished preserving more than 40 jars of apple sauce (in Dutch: appelmoes) which should last us well into next year by which time we most likely will have shifted to a retirement village.  I can't bear to watch him when he climbs the ladder to pick the yearly crop - he doesn't mind. Friends and neighbours get a good supply and they (and we) cope with the occasional creature that has managed to crawl into the apples although the green 'thing' hanging in the tree is supposed to prevent coddling moth doing its destructive work.
  For people outside New Zealand: the grey metal 'bandage' around the bottom of the tree is supposed to prevent possums sneaking up into the tree at night and enjoying a feast.  Oh, yes, it works!  Just perhaps as a matter of interest in case you've read last year's blog 'A Certain Hill' (15 October 2012, about the view from our house here in Opoho) - you can just see the 'town end' of this hill.  The name of the orange rose is Matawhero Magic which we planted in 2010 at the occasion of having lived 50 years in Dunedin.  It's been flowering magically.

Miriam has now been in the McGlynn Home for more than two weeks and she is doing well.  It's hard for her to accept that this has been a final move.  She keeps asking me: 'two weeks'? which has been her respite care time all these years  and I'll have to tell her that later this year we probably have to shift and that it would be hard for her to cope with the mess (Dutch: rommel!) in our home.  On the surface she accepts this but how much of her doubt is painfully internalised we don't know and most likely never find out. 

I still find this final change hard to accept but it's getting better.  The day after she moved into her new abode, I kept looking at the clock, wondering what time I could ring the supervisor at Miriam's new home to see how she'd been, had she slept well?  Had the taxi been on time for the Learning Centre?  The phone went and there was Nylla's voice, reassuring: 'Miriam slept well, had a good breakfast and was happy when she left in the taxi.'   Such relief.  Twenty minutes later the phone went again: Trudy Scott of the Learning Centre, 'Miriam has arrived in the taxi, she looks well and happy.'

I was allowed to cry, wasn't I?  Tears and gratitude for the care and support of everybody involved in this shift - the two people mentioned above; Margaret, the McGlynn social worker and not to forget Zena, the ISIS social worker who helped us in so many ways.  What a thrill to meet up again with Katherine who now works at McGlynn but had been Miriam's wonderful and intelligent personal carer years ago.  McGlynn are fortunate to have her expertise.  And we, we do count our blessings.

 During this process of adjusting I was not prepared for the intensity of grief I felt.  In an email to my friend Beatrice Hale I wrote about these feelings:
'I thought I had not made Miriam MY life, have written a book about her but still have kept my own life [and interests] all these years. Does caring have this effect on most people when they have to let go?  But I'm keeping the Dutch province of Zeeland's motto in mind: Luctor et Emergo -  feeling (and being) overwhelmed but still managing to survive which the inhabitants of the Dutch province Zeeland have had to do when facing the overwhelming power of water.  And I will manage.'
Here is Beatrice's wise answer.  She knows what she's talking about as she and two other experts have written a book about caring for carers - Family Care and Social Capital: Transitions in Informal Care.  It is hoped that this book will be published later this year (watch this space!).
'You wouldn't be you if you didn't grieve so intensely, and of course you will!  Why shouldn't you?
You are so right, you have made a wonderful life for yourself, and done so much of value, for you and for others.
Yes, caring does have this effect on most people … its the nature of the thing, I'm afraid.  Grieving for loss, with such intense love … why shouldn't we grieve when we all have to move on?  Love and care doesn't switch on and off like a light or a tap.  
Take care of YOU.'
Miriam will be home for Easter lunch.  It will be good.

March 2012: Miriam, Katherine and Bart at Miriam's new home in South Dunedin.

Monday, 11 March 2013


Tomorrow our daughter leaves home. We know she'll be well cared for in her new place of residence where six people live, four of whom are in wheelchairs.  As Miriam has had regular respite care in different places, she seems to accept this change and will, this time too, soon adjust to her new abode. When she left home in 1995 to go flatting in an IHC flat it was hard enough but as time went on we knew she would be all right.  The following is an excerpt from The Madonna in the Suitcase where I write about Miriam moving into a supported flatting situation.
"Inside my head the internal dialogue accelerated to top gear: How selfish of us, you are no trouble at home.  She needs to become more independent.  How can we let you embark on this just because we want to have an overseas holiday?  It’s time to let go; you deserve a break.  What will happen if your medication for the hypothyroidism runs out?  There will be proper supervision.  But will it be proper supervision?  Let go, let go, let God.
We loaded everything in the car, drove to South Dunedin.  Together we arranged your room.  A mosaic image: your face showing your concentration as you fold your clothes and put them in the drawers of the dressing table.  You sort out your books on the wee table next to the bed and carefully hang your clothes in the wardrobe.  You held on so tightly as we left.  I said, ‘You and Janine will have to come for dinner soon.’

‘I’ll ring you, Mum.’

Driving home was a nightmare.  I imagined you waking in the night, missing us and crying yourself to sleep.  Visions of you burning yourself while you were cooking vied with ones of strange men coming into your flat and damaging you forever.  What if there was a power cut?  We had supplied you with a torch but would you know where to find it in your flat?
During this time I worried about what would happen when we wouldn’t be ‘on earth’ any more.  What would happen to you?  How would your needs be met?  And then I thought of you as a toddler, sitting in your high chair, grinning while you were eating spinach and spilling it all over the chair and over yourself.  I thought of you in our tiny house on Signal Hill Road, moving yourself around in the walker we’d bought.  Friends said: ‘It’ll damage her legs when she uses the walker.  She should only walk when she’s ready.’

But even then I realised that we had to help you and that you were strong, and that you would know when it was time to sit down in your little walker.  You see, darling, we trusted you then and now we had to trust you too.  We knew that this decision had to be made and that we had to let go of you to see how far you could stretch yourself."

Miriam at Lake Tekapo, March 1995. Photo by Janice Rowley

 And so tomorrow we'll go through it again, knowing that this time leaving home will be a permanent move.   At the moment my Heart wants to follow its own beat of a mother letting her disabled child go while Reason tries very hard to come up with the right answers.  The meaning of 'Right' in this case being translated as, Oh, yes, you are getting on, you can't keep this up, your husband is ill, you need time for yourself.

  In 1995 many questions went on in my mind.  Since then I've learnt that it is better to live the questions and not worry about the answers.  And I've learnt to  ask for grace, courage and strength.

 Tomorrow we'll also say goodbye to Pauline, Miriam's personal carer for the last eight years.  We will miss her dedicated support and her stories.

Miriam and Pauline

 I wrote the following poem after Miriam's stroke in 2001.  I have changed the ending.

Leaving Home

I see my daughter lying asleep in her bed,
her life force reduced.
I remember her
as a woman who knew
going to town, taking a bus,
buying a Lotto ticket,
a cappuccino and a muffin
at the Muffin Bar.

One day she rang:
I’ve got fifteen books from the library,
I can keep them for three weeks.

Her hair spreads on her pink pillow,
her damaged hand lies still
on the lovingly made
wine-red handmade quilt.
Fingers gently spread,
the thumb apart,
the index finger slightly curved,
the same way she held her paintbrush.

Even in her sleep her presence
demands acknowledgement
of herself, her energy,
her understanding.

Tomorrow I'll have to let her go,
she'll sleep in a new bed
in a new place and her warm night-time smile
may be for someone else.

Huberta Hellendoorn
March 2013

Monday, 4 March 2013


Miriam's Sarah Cake

 Last year Miriam turned 50 and I followed the Dutch tradition of making her a Sarah cake. It was massive.
Bart and Miriam at 50th birthday party

Tomorrow she'll be 51.  It will be a quiet day with friends popping in.   Today her birthday was celebrated at the Learning Centre.  As Miriam now has been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease I made two large cakes for the party today, one Gluten Free chocolate cake and the other a Full of Gluten marble cake, both made with gorgeous Dutch cocoa.  It seems they did turn out all right.

 Wonderful news!  Today the ODT printed a short news item on progress made to keep the Dunedin Community Learning Centre open

 What a relief to know that they're on their way again for at least the next few months and hopefully for another year and more.  One worry less.  Right now there are quite a few other things in our family that need to be worked out and thought about.  Whenever that happens, I have plenty of time to read in the middle of the night or wander throughout the house.  I made a poem and will add it below.


In darkness
I walk throughout the house

It is quiet
in the middle of the night

Shifting my feet I listen
to sounds of snoring, stirring, turning.

On the balcony possums thud 
Nibbling bread meant for the birds

I look outside
But my reflection prevents me
From seeing what’s out there

I want to touch my memories
But they stay as elusive
As the ghostlike shadow
Of my night-time body in a dark window.

Huberta Hellendoorn
May 2012


Monday, 25 February 2013


Pot Luck Tea at DCLC *
Two weeks ago we had a Pot Luck Tea at the Dunedin Community Learning Centre.  During the meal it was lovely to see the warm contact between staff and students, with lots of laughter and jokes.   In this amazingly respectful atmosphere class mates and their parents/caregivers heard about plans to keep the Learning Centre going.  Trudy Scott told us about the Dunedin Community Learning Centre Charitable Trust which has been registered and which can be viewed online.
Trudy said that Step 1will be to apply to The Lotteries Community Board for Interim Funding which will allow the Centre to keep functioning while other avenues of funding will be explored. 

In the meantime Trudy and several Board members are working to divide the names and addresses of Funding Trusts they can apply to.  Board members are also keen to find out what individual funding might be available for the participants in the class.

During the evening we listened to an inspiring talk by Helen and Kevin Geddes about their journey in securing Individual Funding for Kevin's education.  It was very special to see Kevin working on the computer using a computer programme developed by his father.

Trudy ended her talk by referring to my article in the ODT.  Earlier this year she commented on my blog (26 November 2012) about the closure of DCLC and wondered how we could get more people to read this.  Her words encouraged me to send it to the Otago Daily Times and it was published as an Opinion piece on Friday 8 February 2013.   Trudy wrote the following in an Update for Parents and Caregivers:

"On the Good News front, the photo of April and Teresa in the ODT in September, prompted some interest and a generous donation which is already in the Trust's Bank Account.  Huberta' s article last week has prompted 2 more generous donations and last night prompted another.  Huberta finished her article by saying that we are hoping for a miracle.  I believe the miracle has begun."

Oh, yes, Trudy!  We will keep believing in miracles.  It is already a miracle that Trudy and her staff have contracts for continuing their work this year and that they have lots of positive plans including the sale of fish fertiliser liquid.  Watch this space!

GO WELL, YOU WONDER WOMEN!  And, of course, the same wishes apply to the Trust Board!

* Look at the filled shelves with work made by the people at DCLC.  Once a year they exhibit and sell their craft in the Dunedin Gallery.  Let's hope it will happen again in 2013.



Thursday, 14 February 2013


In a previous blog (DOWN AND UP, 21 September) I mentioned I was a great believer in synchronicity.  I will copy an email I received from my friend Cocky in The Netherlands.  This email tells again a story about the way our world has become smaller but also gives an indication of the richness we can invite into our lives by wanting to know how the 'other half' lives, made so much easier now with access to the internet.  It's amazing how an act of kindness received in the southern hemisphere can have a rippling effect in the northern hemisphere.  No, I'm not talking about rugby, which, by the way, Miriam loves.  She knows every All Blacks player by name and whenever a test match is played she stands beside her bed, arms straight down her sides, during the singing of the national anthems.  And, sings along very loudly!

Years ago Cocky made a quilt for Miriam.  It's a stunning piece of work, beautiful colours and rich in the blending and contrast of the materials used.
A true piece of craft.

Miriam and the precious quilt made by Cocky.

Some time ago Cocky was asked to join a quilt-making group which meets in a town close to where Cocky lives.  And here is her account of what happened the one day on her way to this group.  Please use the translation facility, it is such an amazing story.  I will hold on to my belief in the power of synchronicity.

Here is Cocky's story:

Je weet, dat ik sinds enige tijd naar een quiltclubje ga. De quiltmeisjes, zoals ze zich noemen. Bij een 'juf' thuis. Die juf is een kunstenares die zoveel ongelooflijk mooie quilts heeft gemaakt en ook al op heel wat exposities heeft 'gehangen'. De anderen zijn 3 dames,  zo tussen de 40 en 75 met jarenlange quiltervaring. En daar kom ik dan, zonder. Iedereen is behulpzaam en stimuleert elkaar, komt met ideeën. Kortom, een inspirerende, vrolijke ochtend zo eens in de zes weken, waarbij mijn onervarenheid niet als handicap voelt door de behulpzaamheid en stimulans van allen. Veel humor, veel plezier. 

Er kwam via de vrouw uit Gouda die ik destijds ontmoette op naailes en die mij introduceerde bij de quilters een poosje geleden nóg een nieuwe (ervaren) quiltster bij. Marianne. Uit Gouda. Ze komen mij op weg naar Zoetermeer ophalen.

De laatste keer werd mij onderweg gevraagd wat ik gedaan had en ik vertelde dat ik een quilt heb gemaakt. Nee, niet voor mij zelf maar voor de verjaardag van een vrouw met syndroom van Down, met een bijzonder gevoel voor kleuren. Waarop Marianne meteen het woord nam en begon te vertellen over een vrouw in Nieuw Zeeland, ook met Down, die zo prachtig schildert, zulke sprekende kleuren en zij heeft geëxposeerd en heel wat verkocht.
 Toen zei ik: 'dat is Miriam Hellendoorn en voor haar maakte ik de quilt.'
 Marianne (zat voorin) draait zich om en kijkt me met open mond en ogen als schoteltjes, aan. 'Kén jij haar dan?' 

Daarop vertelt Marianne dat zij van Miriam heeft gehoord via haar vriendin Mijntje.  [Mijntje lives in Gouda and is Bart's sister!]

Nóg een toevalligheid: uitgerekend die dag moest ik wat afrekenen met Marianne en ik had het geld ingesloten in de laatste kaart van The Madonna, die ik nog had. Waarom in die kaart? Géén idee. Er lagen nog veel meer in mijn voorraaddoosje. Maar het was wel heel bijzonder dat ik díe kaart voor haar in mijn tas had zitten.

Ik heb Marianne over jouw blog verteld en haar mail-reactie heb ik gekopieerd:

'lieve Cocky,
Onder de indruk van de blog van Huubje ! Verschillende keren blader ik er in en ik word er heel blij van. Mooi geschreven en de foto’s erbij zijn prachtig.
Vanmiddag met Mijntje gefloten en ze was verrast dat ik een kaart van Miriam heb! “Hoe kom je daar aan ?” Harry en Mijntje waren beiden onder de indruk over de ontmoeting.'

Zo mooi hoe Miriam mensen raakt. En dat geldt evenzeer voor jou, lieve Huubje,je ziet het aan de reactie op jouw blog van een volkomen vreemde die schrijft dat ze er blij van wordt.

Wat een verhaal, he. Gideon herinnerde aan de wonderlijke samenloop met de Down Up, destijds en nu dit. 

                                                                    * * * * *

Thank you again, Cocky.   I wish you and your quilters many happy and enriching quilting days.  It's a precious way of keeping up a tradition.
Since it's Valentine's Day (nearly over for us) I will add a photo of a vase with roses from our garden.

Matawhera Magic