Thursday, 31 May 2012

Two Toothbrushes

The other day I went for a walk just as the sun was setting behind the hills at the back of Dunedin. It was time to bid the fiery orb good-bye for one more day. 

Today we bid Chris and Jenny good-bye for a year or so. They fly out to Australia and from there to Japan. It will be funny / weird to again have a quiet house.
However we have booked tickets to fly north in July and pay Micnael and Kate a visit, as well as my mother.
Always good to have something to look forwad to when the house suddenly goes quiet and once again there are only two tootbbrushes left.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Picking Up Feathers

In March I composed and posted the poem at the bottom of this post.

Since then it has been accepted as this week's Weekly Highlight on the blog 'Frankfurt Book Fair: An Aotearoa Affair' which has been set up to celebrate New Zealand as the Guest of Honour at 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair in October (10th - 14th).

Check out this vibrant blog-fest of writers from (in the main) New Zealand and Germany getting inside the craft of writing to describe what makes writing matter, what makes them as writers tick, what inspires, what connects and what unites us all as partakers of life in this world of ours.

Writers! An opportunity below to participate in a short, short story contest - open to anyone anywhere.

June is FLASH FICTION MONTH in New Zealand, so we are gearing up at Aotearoa Affair for National Flash Fiction Day on 22 June by collecting flash stories — published or new — to post in the June edition of the Blog Carnival. Send your stories our way by 15 June for a Flash Across Borders issue, open to anyone anywhere.


Last night we went to the Dunedin Poetry Readings held at Circadian Rhythm. The guest poets Martha Morseth, David Eggleton and David Howard were excellent. (We are so lucky in Dunedin to have such high-quality poets among us). Emma Neale as MC was articulate and did a fantastic job of introducing the guest readers and rolling the evening along in an organised, friendly and up-beat manner. The two poems (her own) that she started the evening off with, were wonderful and read beautifully. 

As always there was an Open Mic. part to the evening, which is always great value. I felt in the right frame of mind (in the zone, you might say) to partake and of course I read out the poem, 'picking up feathers'. Having Jenny and Chris in the audience added another level of support, making it extra special. (Or super-cool as Jenny would say).

Another thing which really helped was getting the buzzes in my pocket from my phone with Facebook messages from friends saying ... 'Go for it!' in response to me stating that I wasn't feeling too sure about reading the poem out. (So thanks to all of you - you know who you are and where in New Zealand & the world you were when you sent me the messages)


picking up feathers
(for Jenny)
You want to make things
- sew a home-made skirt
from my green pinny, make me
a herb garden - which
you achieved on one of our more
windless autumn days,
before you both left, you and my son
pushing the plants you bought
into earth  - corriander,
parsley, mint and one
you didn't know the English word for

until we got out our English-German
Dictionary, discovered it was rocket
in German, Rucola. You make a chain
of daisies for the van, for good luck.
You want to make feather earrings.
You want to see all
of New Zealand. You were eight
when the Wall came down.
You tell me bits
about your childhood
on the Baltic Coast,

about your parents' old car
a Trabant. A Trabant? I said,
Funny - my Grandad's car,
the one he owned
just before he died,
I'm pretty sure was a Trabant.
What colour was your one?
Light blue, you said. I said, Same!
But they were all that colour,
you said, light-blue
and made from paper.

You walk as light as a bird,
as strong as a lion. The morning
my son and you leave in the van,
I heard your voice as if I was hearing
the voice of a daughter and yesterday
while walking, I started picking up feathers
lost by seagulls in the grass
of playing fields. Only two days
away and already
I have forgotten your voice
how it sounds. How kiwi

your German accent is becoming.
For example how you say 'bed'
the way you hear us saying it.
"I'm off to bid now. Good-night",
you say. Ready for you to make
into earrings, I place the feathers,
soft, grey and white,
on a windowsill where they float
weightless, full of the light
and the distance
of a home away from home.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Patience of Trees

 autumn shades in our trees

- the deeper orange (russet) tree in the background, is a rare deciduous NZ native. Most NZ trees aren't deciduous. A friend did tell us what it was called, but I have forgotten now.

Different words for the shade of orange: burnt orange, russet, amber (but not umber, which is a shade of brown), tangerine, brass, copper .... we are certainly seeing our share of autumn shades just now. 

wild roadside flowers John Wilson Drive, St Kilda, Dunedin

 Yesterday when I picked my grandson up from kindy, I asked him what he wanted for lunch. Without missing a beat, he said, "Sandwiches and grapes".

We were waiting for a Sesame Street video to load and H gave a huge sigh, "I have to be patient lots of times," he said. Yes, I thought, you're learning what life is all about.

Later we went to the Garden where I bought him a Trumpet ice-cream and took as much delight as he did when he discovered there was chocolate!!!! tucked into the bottom of the cone.

this photo was taken earlier in autumn, in Arrowtown at Easter, and shows the first signs of the change in colour of the trees on the hillside above the Arrow River

Yesterday I was impressed by the enormous trees in the Botanical Gardens. I always am impressed, but this time I took a slower, deeper look at them. They appeared like giant guardians, enormous and comforting. I sensed their patience, their science and the confidence they exuded; the faith in their own existence.

On our way back to the car, both H and I saw a 'leaf-fall' from a tree across the road. For a good half minute, golden leaves fell like snow from a tree being shaken by the breeze.

Art deco. jug on windowsill (another Easter photo - taken in my in-laws' home).


Also, yesterday, Chris and Jenny arrived back here (at Base Camp) before they take off again for warmer climes. While they are here, we will enjoy their company - the chats, the meals, the sparking of ideas, of plans & schemes, then when they're gone, I'll pick up my knitting and hunker down. But not too far down - I will continue to write the stories of my life and there are friends and family members to share meals with; still the warm winter days to look forward to; the picnics to be had under bare trees.

taken on Mother's Day, at the top of John Wilson Drive, overlooking a cliff-edge at Chisholm Park Golf Course (Robert's 'local') and Tomahawk Beach 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Mother's Day

Mum and me ...

Mum with her Mum

Mum with great-granddaughter Brittany

Mum with her father after they both won a family tennis comp.

Mum in her 50's

Mum at her 80th birthday party 2010

Mum 2011


Family Tree
(for my mother)
Your hair is no longer red
but is as much a flag as it ever was,
easy to spot among the grey bedstead
-headstones in the cemetery we visit, as you move
your head is as bright as the white chest feathers
of a wading bird.

As always in your eyes that quick spark
when you answer back or give cheek.
You can still make an entrance,
still have a lot left yet to say
about all those years (eighty-odd) tightly gathered.
Sometimes I remember to ask the right questions.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Travelling Light

(Early evening, early autumn view from our house).

In January I wrote:  I trust you will forgive me as over the next few days / weeks ... however long it takes ...  I slowly unspool wound memories of our holiday.

Well ... it took months, not weeks. But I have finally recaptured all I want of our holiday. (There is certainly more, but it is time to move on - the memories will continue to buoy me for a time yet, so I don't regret the letting go of the hard copy version).

(blackbird? and strawberry tree berries.)

Right now, Autumn will soon be over. We have been enjoying the benefits of a warm and mild one this year (after an average summer).

Butterflies such as this one perching on pittosporum leaves just outside the window, are a sign of mild autumn conditions.

Recent mornings have brought mists and / or frosts ... the cold is edging in closer.

(chaffinch, male)

Just to recap the last few months: Michael and Kate flew away to the North Island. Fresh fields, new horizons and opportunities for them. After they left, the house certainly felt quiet ... I really missed their company. 

I wrote this poem at the time. 

(Happy to say, it was published in yesterday's newspaper as Monday's Poem).

St Clair Hot Salt-Water Pool
As I swim, you are both flying.
Air and water, none of us
on solid ground. I swim through
bright, warm salt-water, you two
through cold cloud. I reach out,
my fingers touching blue tile.

I swivel then slowly push through
to the other side. We are all viewing
new ways of seeing, through blue
-tinted goggles, through dull portholes,
into a world held together by its own weight.
Excuse me but are you getting out soon

just I need to know for the showers”,
another swimmer butts into my thoughts.
She is a stranger taking liberties.
Mid-morning rules apply apparently
we are all in this fraying summer together.
I agree to have the briefest of showers

and glance at the clock to check
my progress. I decide, one more lap.
Soon you will be landing,
without surfboards, forced to leave
them behind. All of us then
travelling on, travelling light.

Then our son Chris who had been overseas for two years, arrived back ... 

There was a family wedding to go to. 

And at last we met Chris' lovely girlfriend, Jenny ...

As well, Philip from California came and stayed with us - our first couch surfer! We really enjoyed his visit. He is still travelling New Zealand and going by his FB status accounts and blog posts, thoroughly enjoying himself. 

(a bunch of wild flowers Jenny brought back from one of their outings)

The weather was still being kind, Chris and Jenny were able to make the most of it and explore Dunedin and its many beaches and nature walks. 

Before they left us to also travel around New Zealand, they made us a herb garden. (Grommet the cat as usual right in the middle of the action).

Once again the house is empty. Walks ... picnics ... 

... and a try out at curling (unfortunately it's held on the wrong night for us, so we can't go regularly). 

Today was our 36th wedding anniversary. Our celebration was low key - not even a dinner out. Instead, a night in by the fire, watching TV after dinner (pork chops, potatoes, kumara, and stir-fried vegetables with added fresh herbs from our lovely herb garden - coriander and rocket).

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Food We Ate In Japan

(As I'm writing this retrospectively, it's hard to recall exactly when and where things occurred, but I will do my best).

The first night we were in Japan, at the end of December last year, we celebrated Robert's birthday. (I have blogged about that here). The next day E and the kids then left for E's parents' home where they spent New Year.

Meanwhile ... we spent a few days with Steve both re-visiting favourite places from our last visit to Kyoto and discovering new places. 

We were taken by Steve to a place he'd been recommended for Ramen. Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish. Each region has their own style of ramen. I don't know what the ramen from other districts in Japan are like, but the dish I had in that small, busy cafe on a side-street in Kyoto on that cold day in Kyoto was tasty, welcome, hot and super-delicious.

Later that day for dinner, we stopped at an izakaya we remembered from last time we were in Kyoto, two years ago. Izakayas restaurants are like small bars with their own identity and particular vibe. The waiters were cheerful, energetic and relaxed. We enjoyed a variety of small dishes while there. A lot (if not most) Japanese food / meals are made up of a variety of small dishes.One of the most popular (almost obligatory) side-dishes in an izakaya is the salted bean-dish called edamame bean; a preparation of immature soybeans in the pod. The first time I came across this small-bean dish, I popped the whole bean, pod and all, into my mouth (like I used to do as a kid with young peas) and was told (after they'd stopped laughing) by the people I was with, that this was not the way to eat them. Doh!

One of the new districts we visited with Steve was Arashiyama and Sagano where we enjoyed a wander, taking in ...

a temple and its gardens,

a bamboo grove,

a tea-shop garden,

and ...  The Rakushisha Residence is a thatched hut that belonged to the 17th century haiku poet Mukai Kyorai. Mukai was a student of Basho Matsuo, one of Japan's greatest poets. Basho even composed a few poems here. Mukai named his residence Rakushisha ("fallen persimmon hut") after a storm had taken down the fruits of the surrounding trees. (info. taken from this site on the internet):

An example of one of the customary New Year decorations found in every doorway and gate-way over the new year holiday season  ... 

As we wandered Arashiyama, we ate 'on the hoof', buying our lunch (rice balls & dumplings) from what are called  "Conveenies'. (meaning Convenience Stores).  It was New Year's Eve, so a lot of special New Year's food was on sale. We also bought some popular glutinous, sweet rice, called mochi. Mochi can be prepared as balls or cakes. The mochi we bought that day was stacked like kebabs on a stick.  Every new year in Japan, this extremely sticky rice dish is responsible for people choking to death - especially elderly people . It won't surprise you when I say that when I eat mochi,  I always keep this fact in mind!


On New Year's Eve, at midnight, Steve cooked us hot soba noodles. Eating hot soba noodles (buckwheat noodles) on new year's eve is a custom in Japan.


Our daughter-in-law's meals are always a highlight of our stays in Japan. It is hard now to recall every meal she cooked us.
But one we do remember was called 'parent and child' meal because it consisted of both chicken and egg. Another meal was cooked in a large pot which is placed in the middle of the table for us to help ourselves, eating it with rice. The pot is choc-full of vegetables and meat swimming in a tasty sauce or broth. As always there are the many interesting, tasty condiments to have with it. In Steve and E's case, the vegetables in the dish come from her parents' market garden. Beautiful, healthy vegetables that are a joy and honour to eat.

Takoyaki is a traditional Osaka dish. E is from Osaka and she was keen to introduce this meal to us. It consists of a batter with added ingredients (such as grated ginger, prawns pickles ... but most especially, octopus) placed on to the top of the battered rounds as they cook in the special electric pan (as featured in the photo above).  E biked to the shop to buy some fresh octopus pieces. Meanwhile Steve was entrusted to get the tokoyaki started.
Mmmm. So delicious and very filling.

Another meal we had which was surprising for us, was a take-away paella! Steve and E ordered it along with pizza. As far as I know, take-away paella doesn't happen here in NZ.


Another memorable meal we had was a New Year meal when we stayed with our friend M. and her family. She also prepared us a beautiful crab meal with some fresh crab her son brought around. I've never seen such big crabs and the meal was amazing. Once again, cooked in the middle of the table in a pot we helped ourselves from.

This account of the meals we had in Japan doesn't do justice to Japanese cooking and celebration of food - the reverence and care that is taken over the preparation and serving, the presentation and pride they take in each morsel, each small dish of sauce or side-dish, is truly amazing.

There is an immense history and tradition behind all Japanese food. Through the meals and the cooking of them, they show their hospitality, their respect. It is a way of presenting their customs, their stories, their ancient history and their way of life. It is just what they do. And all the food is so healthy! I'm afraid my descriptions here only scratch the surface.

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...