Little Lambs

One more New Zealand story:

Near the end of our summer visit, James took their lone sheep down the road to another farm “to get knocked up.” When I returned in winter, Merida still was living down the road, but one afternoon James and a neighbor brought her home, looking very pregnant. She spent the first hour or so in the paddock bleating loudly, as she missed her mates. Soon afterwards, I noticed James and the neighbor backing the trailer into the yard again with a second, smaller sheep.The bleating stopped.

I was really hoping Merida’s lamb would be born before I left. Our “little lamb” Simee was born six days into my visit and we purchased seven chickens and three ducks in the weeks that followed. I thought a lamb would make a perfect ending. It didn’t happen.

A few days ago, James found not one but two black lambs, a boy and a girl, that had been born during the early morning hours. Anne skyped me when they all went out to meet the lambs, a call I took sitting outdoors at a nice restaurant in Geneva, having dinner with a friend. It was a short, but fun call as I shared in the excitement. I got to watch Charlee hold one of the lambs (briefly).

 

 

 

Simee’s baby quilt has a “sheep” theme. Ever since my first trip to New Zealand, when we visited the Bruce family sheep farm, I’ve been drawn to sheep motifs.

I made Charlee a big girl bed quilt in a safari pattern to go along with the elephants and giraffes that decorated her room

and decided to make the baby quilt in sheep fabric with similar, though muted, colors. Here is her quilt, with Merida and Maudie in the background. (Maudie is also “with child” but probably wont have her lamb until October.

Here are the new lambs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And some pictures of our other lambs (on Simee’s quilt, wearing hats I knitted for the girls and Charlee’s baby doll.)

(Sorry not sorry for all the pictures 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gumboot Gramma

The last part of my takeoff plan was to change into a pair of ankle boots for the flight. I’d put them in the car with my suitcases, etc. Only I didn’t: I dropped one of them on the porch as I was carrying things out the door.

Which meant I arrived in the middle of New Zealand winter with a pair of sandals and some cheap slip on shoes that were neither warm or comfortable. Last February I bought gum boots (formerly known as Petersburg sneakers) for a caving trip so these have been my winter attire on a daily basis.

Here I am starting out on one of my favorite activities: taking Simee for a walk in the buggy. Charlee and I also venture out frequently, for a walk down the driveway and sometimes on the road. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlee also has an issue with shoes and wears gum boots most of the time as well.

 

 

 

One day we wore our gumboots to help James clip the chickens’ wings. He spent the last few days enlarging the chicken coop and run to keep the chickens and the dog separated, as Obi has killed six of their chickens in the last few months and scared the rest so that they are no longer laying.

Yesterday we bought five new chickens and separated them from the remaining eight. Within hours the “old” chickens had all flown out of the coop, which is why we needed to clip their wings this morning. Charlee and Gramma held the chickens while James clipped and then we changed roles and I clipped some as well. We clipped the new chicken’s wings as well, so they start off not being able to fly.

The next day, we put on our gumboots to help herd the sheep into a new paddock. Merida and Maudie needed new grass, so we put up a new fence and then chased them through the gate (after several tries.) I’m still hoping Merida delivers her lamb before I leave.

Today, we wore our gumboots for a hike to the goat farm at the end of the road. We saw goats getting milked, billy goats, pens of baby goats (“the keepers”) and even watched one kid being born. What a smell–and what an experience.

Gumboot Gramma will be headed home on Thursday, leaving my gumboots behind. I will miss all these adventures (and my family here) but I will be happy to exhange them for a pair of sandals and six more weeks of summer.

Peepo!

Here’s a little grandbaby
One, two, three,
Cuddled in her gramma’s arms
What does she see?

PEEPO!

She sees Gramma’s crepey neck
and a great big smile.
She sees her sister Charlee,
but only for awhile.

She sees her Daddy watching
eyes pleased and shining bright
She sees her Mommy resting
from the long, long night.

Here’s a little grandbaby
One, Two, Three
Laying in her basket
What does she see?

PEEPO!

She sees the blanket Granny made
Hats and sweaters knit
She sees the soft warm lining
And tiny little mitts.

She sees the sheep quilt
made with loving care
She sees the soft warm sheepskin
Fuzzy as a bear.

Here’s a little grandbaby
One, two, three
Snuggled in her Mama’s arms
What does she see?

PEEPO!

She sees loved ones gathered round
On Skype, Facetime, and here,
She surely will be blessed with friends
And family that will care.

She hears them say her name
Sim-e-a A-re-li
You can call her Simee if her
name’s too hard to try!

I thought I would adapt my favorite New Zealand childrens’ book (PEEPO! by Jan and Allan Ahlberg) to announce the arrival of Simea Areli Bruce, born at 1:15 a.m. on Monday, June 25th weighing 6 lb 7 oz (or 2.91 kg). It’s full of UK-isms like “grandma pegging washing on the clothes-line to be dried” and references to cots and pushchairs. The gramma in the book also looks a bit like my Gramma Christie.

She was born after a long night and day–and second night of labor, moments before they were going to go for a c-section. At the last minute, they checked once more and found her ready to deliver! Simea was born fifteen minutes later–naturally. This has been a huge blessing for Anne as she enjoys recovering from a normal birth.

Dad, Mum, and baby are home and doing well. 

Winter Solstice

June 21 10:07 p.m. begins the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. While you are all enjoying a long day (hopefully) of sunshine, I am waking up in the dark and eating supper in the dark (5:06 sunset.)

It is actually a fairly mild winter here on the North Island with daily temperatures in the 50s. Still, I slept the first night in warm pajamas, my merino (wool) poncho, and mittens! I dug the extra space heater out of the storage today and will fill my hot water bottle before going to bed tonight. Right now I’m sitting about 14 inches from the woodburning stove.

James and Anne were throwing off their covers last night and Charlee was running around in bare feet and a diaper this morning. I’m blaming my inability in handling the cold on the fact that only a few days ago I was enjoying a heat index of 105 F.

This winter solstice is odd in another way: the countryside is lushly green and there are flowering bushes along the roadside. Lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange trees are heavy with fruit, though Anne says the oranges will be sweeter in a few more months. I’m also going to plant garlic on the winter solstice. Apparently here it is supposed to be planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest day. My garlic at home was planted October 15 and should be ready to harvest when I get home.

Wikipedia says this: “The winter solstice (or hibernal solstice), also known as midwinter, is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year.” I’m kind of liking the hibernal name. Getting over jet-lag means I’m doing more hibernating than usual. The cold is giving me an excuse/reason to stay in bed even longer. They are saying colder weather is likely after the solstice 🙁

Anne was born on the shortest day of the year, December 21, 1991 (northern hemisphere.) We’re expecting her baby to be born soon–maybe not on the shortest day of the year, but close. I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

Fathers’ Day Gifts

It’s been a really long time since I last wrote a blog—an interval much longer than I usually go between posting. It hasn’t been for want of raw material.

When I last wrote John2 was coming home as our “guest”. He wasn’t thrilled with the concept, but was relieved to be home and accepted our conditions. One of those conditions was participation in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) 9:00-3:00 Monday through Friday. We chose a program in Hinsdale which required early wake up times, almost an hour commute in rush hour traffic. He and I figured out how to make all this happen: a wake-up smoothie.

Overall, the program gave some structure to his days and helped him look forward to the next treatment phase, which is a DBT program involving individual and group counseling, as well as continuing work with his life coach. It also will include our participation in his counseling on a regular basis. (Previously he avoided groups and didn’t want us involved.)

I have had a couple of good conversations with his therapist. In one session, he recommended that I read two books: Anatomy of an Epidemic and Saving Normal. Both deal with the way we have over-diagnosed and over-medicated mental illness in America over the last few decades. They were scary books to read—and yet, hopeful too. Emotional Management, LLC, has worked with many people, helping them learn to manage their emotions successfully and in some cases, decreasing or getting off medications (a long, slow process.) I wonder if this is the “abundantly more” than I have been able to ask or think (Ephesians 3:20?)

The last six weeks have been difficult and tiring. John has been fairly cooperative, but his moods still went up and down based on circumstances, relationships and car troubles. I stayed up late and got up early, monitoring moods and medications. I also worked a bit more than usual as our staffing is really short at the moment.

I was also preparing for another trip to New Zealand. Knitting, sewing, shopping, and planning to be gone from home for a month. I finished quilts for Charlee and the new baby, diaper inserts, and a baby carrier for Charlee’s doll. I collected items on Anne’s wish list: Annie’s Fruit Roll-ups, Swiss Miss, REI socks, etc.

I am on my way—finishing up the first leg of my journey as I write; preparing for the long flight to Auckland. I’m traveling alone this time (which makes meeting weight limits on luggage harder!) and also traveling to winter (warmer clothes weigh more.) I dread the cold nights, but can’t wait to be there to help with Charlee and welcome a new grand baby. Anne had two due dates—ten days apart. I am arriving on the first one, hoping that the baby is born sometime in the middle.

I also left on Fathers’ Day leaving John with the “gift” of Johnny, whose name actually means “God’s gracious gift.” I’m sorry-not-sorry to be leaving home at this time. I really do want to support and help John2 in this transition, but respite is appealing as well. Please pray for John these next four weeks as he steps into a somewhat different role in the home.

Of course, I also want to help Anne and James. I’m not indispensable in either place and my heart is very much in both places. I’m so glad that my heavenly Father is present in both locations, caring for my family across continents and time zones.

As we were singing worship this morning in church, I was reminded of my Dad who in his later years would sit (not stand) in the pew and raise both arms to the Lord in praise. That was not his style until much later in life but I loved to see these glimpses into his heart and relationship with the Lord. Such memories are a wonderful gift. Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I’m so glad I got to watch you grow sweeter and kinder as you aged.

 

Be Our Guest

We have a new guest room in our home. This weekend we welcomed our first “guest”–Johnny.

He spent the last ten days in the hospital, following a particularly bad manic episode. We will spare you the details, but we still want to share our news so that you can join us in prayer for the days ahead. This week there will be several appointments and then he will start an outpatient program the following week.

We have renewed hope for Johnny’s future. Our hope is not in the programs, doctors, counselors or anything that John and I plan for Johnny. We’ve pretty much come to the end of our ability to trust John, ourselves or others for the change needed. Our hope is in the Lord.

May I tell you my story?

The first sermon of 2018 at the Edge Church challenged us to “Make Room” for God, miracles, relationships, and ministry in our lives and in the life of the church. Afterwards, I prayed with the ministry team, asking God for a miracle in Johnny’s life this year.

Later, as Lent was underway, they launched a series of sermons on the biblical practice of fasting. I began fasting and praying, specifically for John. In April, I decided to try a 21-day partial fast, called the Daniel Fast (no meat, no dairy, to grains, no sugar=basically a vegan diet. It wasn’t particularly difficult to eat less or skip meals, but coming up with a diet of vegetables, fruit and legumes was a bit challenging. I bought a spiralizer and two cookbooks, but most of the recipes still included meat or cheese so there weren’t a lot of options–and very little variety. I’m pretty sure I could never be vegan.)

The last day of my partial fast happened to coincide with John’s manic episode. John and I were up all night with him and finally called for help as the sun rose the next morning. I was more than a little stunned, but still sure that this was more than a coincidence. It is not how I imagined God would answer my prayer, but I was able to trust that somehow this would “work together for good” in spite of how things looked at the moment.

I woke up at 4 am the next morning and immediately thought of Johnny, now a resident of a chronic psych unit. I got up to pray for him and started reading my Bible. I’d been reading a lot of the lament literature–Psalms, Jeremiah and Lamentations. I was looking for verses about a “new heart” which had been my specific prayer for John–tho I often told God I wasn’t sure how to define a new heart. I noticed Ezekial 36, reading verses 22-38 and then read chapter 37, the Valley of Dry Bones.

I didn’t take it as a promise from God for John but as a beautiful picture of what God could do in his life. It was extremely encouraging in light of all that had transpired that day. You can read it yourself and imagine my encouragement, my hope.

John was, of course, miserable in the hospital. He begged to come home and for the first time we weren’t sure that we could let him return home. His counselor told us to clear out his room and make it into a guest room, so we spent a couple days doing that. Although we visited John when we were able, our best conversations took place over the phone. Gradually, we walked him through the events of that night (he doesn’t remember much) and then, through his goals and ours, long and short term. He had one short term goal and that was to come home, but we were slowly able to work through a negotiation process together. We talked with his counselors, doctor and life coach and the case worker at the hospital and feel confident that we’ve got a good plan in place. Even so, we know that unless God gives him a “heart of flesh” and his Spirit within, all the plans in the world will likely fail.

Will you pray with us? Choose some phrases from Ezekial 36 or 37 to ask God to fulfill in John’s life. Pray for us. Pray for a miracle!

 

P.S. One of my good friends told me this joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Three, but only if the lightbulb wants to be changed :-).

 

Two Hot Tubs

Just a few days ago, I sat in a hot tub overlooking Big Bay. The weather changed every few minutes from blue skies and sunshine to light rain and clouds, and then back again. Every hour or so, a big jet would fly over, heading out from nearby Auckland, beginning a journey to other lands. I would be on a similar plane later that day.

 

Our bach consisted of two small buildings hanging (quite literally) on the edge of a sandstone cliff. A small white picket fence surrounded the property and kept Obi and Charlee safe from falls. Two steep driveways led to the road (one so steep we couldn’t get up it in Annie’s van!) The path down to the waterfront switched back and forth to a small grassy landing, lined with rocks and a lot of seaweed. Tides changed our view throughout the day, as did the changing weather. We saw many rainbows as the sun filtered through the light rain.

John and I claimed the smaller building, a 9 x 12 room with a whole wall of windows/doors facing north towards the bay. It had room for a bed, a chair and a couple tables. We moved furniture around to make room for a small mattress for Charlee and shared it with her. So sweet to share our space–and bed–with her our last two mornings.

In New Zealand, a bach is usually a rustic cottage on or near the coast. (On the South Island, they are called cribs.) I’m sure there are lots of really lovely bachs, but probably not in our price range! This one was pretty basic, except for the hot tub.

Today, I looked over the edge of another hot tub at a completely different view: evergreen trees, a grassy winter yard (no snow!) and blue skies. We’re back home, getting over jet lag, and feeling a little stunned to find ourselves back in the U.S.A. Even though we got on that plane and flew for 11 + 4 hours, its hard to fathom the distance between here and New Zealand. (Is anyone else still amazed by the fact of overseas air travel? It seems so common and yet, surreal.)

Coming home to a “new” house might have contributed to this odd feeling. Surveying some of the damage to said house probably also had an impact. (John2 didn’t do well on his own.) An enthusiastic welcome at the Birkey house and Charlee’s new level of response when Skyping will probably help us ease back into our life. As the week progresses and normal activities begin to take over, I’m sure we’ll feel better.

That, and a hot tub with a view!

Last Supper

Today was our last full day at Cherry Lane Cottage–and it was a full day. I made cinnamon rolls for morning tea and Anne made bao buns with twice cooked pork for dinner. They were amazing. She’s quite a good cook.

 

 

Charlee and I took a fun walk in the rain, in the cutest little rain suit you’ve ever seen. Anne first saw these in Petersburg in 2010. When I was there this summer, I looked for them and then searched the Internet, finding them on Amazon (of course. If you really want to see how they work, check out this video of Oaks and Olive demonstrating (make sure you make it at least halfway through the video. It is worth it.)

 

Lizi fed the chickens for the last time. She has really enjoyed the animals here–chickens, cats, cows, sheep and the dog–but I think she might like the chickens the best, especially the four little chicks. 

Grampa spent the day finishing a big girl bed for Charlee. She was quite the helper throughout the day and with the final production. She will sleep in it tonight.

 

Tomorrow morning James leaves early for a whitewater kayaking trip and we are going to a bach (not a typo) about an hour southwest of Auckland. Annie’s friend Emily is flying in from Canada tomorrow evening. We’ll spend the next two days playing at the beach and then they will drop us off at the airport on Thursday afternoon. I thought that might make our parting a little easier.

Cherry Lane Cottage

James and Annie’s address is 44 Kentucky Road, Karapiro, 3494, New Zealand, but at the end of her driveway is a sign with a sweeter name: Cherry Lane Cottage. We haven’t found the cherry trees yet, but there are plenty of other fruit trees on the property–lemons, grapefruit, fig, apple, avocado, fejjoa and peaches. Anne has also planted a mandarin orange tree, a lemonade tree (seriously), and grapes, raspberries and blueberries.

 

 

 

 

 

What fun it is to bake here at Cherry Lane Cottage. The first week we made cinnamon rolls, homemade marshmallows, and bagels. Last week Anne made a pear pie and today I’m going to try a peach cobbler. John just picked a bag of peaches from the tree. We are also in the process of freezing peaches and blueberries (purchased yesterday at the Blueberry Cafe.)

Yesterday and today, I processed 5 HUGE zucchini (corgettes in New Zealand) and made zucchini bread and muffins. I will freeze the rest for later recipes, or maybe donate some of it to the ABS Lodge. (I ended up with something like 20 cups of grated squash.)

 

 

It’s so lovely to have a ready supply of fruit, especially lemons. John makes lemon cordial every few days so that we have always have lemonade on hand. At home, I rarely have lemons when called for in a recipe, but here they are always available, at least in season. A small glass lemon squeezer is easy to use and quick to clean up. The best part is that all the rinds can be fed to the cows and chickens or dropped into the compost. The same goes for all the excess zucchini parts. No waste.

And eggs. There are six laying hens at the moment so we get about 3-5 eggs most every day. We know where one of the nests is, but we have been having a hard time finding where the others are laying. They cackle loudly after laying but we haven’t been quick enough to figure out where they are laying. This week John and Anne worked on the chicken coop, with a goal of keeping the hens out of her garden at the very least and also to get the chickens laying in an accessible place. I’m really going to miss having fresh eggs for breakfast and baking.

There is one thing, however, that I will not miss about farm life: flies! We bought a three- pack of fly swatters and have pretty much worn them out. John built a screen for one of the kitchen windows and is thinking about a door screen as well. It’s so lovely to have the doors and windows open, but not so nice to share our space with the flies.

We have about ten days left at Cherry Lane Cottage. We hope to spend at least one more day at the beach and our last two days at a bach near Auckland. It’s going to be hard to get on that plane to come home. We will miss the warm weather, the fresh eggs and fruit, but mostly Anne, James and Charlee. Good thing we’re coming home to more grandchildren. And spring is right around the corner, eh?

 

Glow Worms

We just got home from an adventure: a middle-of the night visit to the glow worm caves in Waitamo.

ABS (Adventure Bible School) has been gone for 4 days: hiking, camping and abseiling. Tomorrow they will go caving. We joined them yesterday for a late night hike.

I’ve actually seen glow worms on at least four occasions. The first time I met James, he took Anne and I in a night-time kayak trip down the river so see glow worms hanging on the overhanging trees. During the wedding trip, James and Anne led us across the field near the ABS lodge and down into a ravine. We walked up and down and through a foot of water (where eels lurked in the dark!) to a small cave with a waterfall, open sky and hundreds of glow worms. I’ve been back there twice: once when Anne led Marilyn and I to the caves and again, the night before Anne went into labor.

For all these years, and all these visits, we’ve wanted to go to the bigger glow worm caves at Waitamo. We heard stories about the ABS adventure, including a worship service inside the caves. It never worked out–until this trip.

We met the group around 9:30 p.m. after negotiating miles of curvy switchbacks as the sun went down. By the time we started our hike, it was totally dark. We basically bushwacked for about 40 minutes, up and down, on a rough trail. When we neared the caves, we turned off our headlamps, joined arms and side-stepped our way into the cave. We found seats on a narrow ledge of rock and sat in silence for awhile, taking it all in.

At first, glow worms look like a dark sky full of specks of iridescent light, kind of like the night sky full of bright stars. Looking up at them, I started to see a bright light surrounded by a kind of halo. Viewing them at eye level looked like hundreds of silver/white ornaments in huge clusters, each with a bright center.

In reality, they are simply the excretion of ATP from the bum of a maggot-like larvae, the lights designed to attract flying adults at the end of their life cycle, to be used as food/fuel for the mating and reproduction process of arachnocampo luminosa. They really are quite ugly in daylight.

Still we marvelled at God’s extravagant creation. All this beauty–for what? I’m guessing He just loves creating beauty, even hiding it for hardy hikers (and paying customers who can see it by boat or other means. That’s what I’m planning for my next glow worm experience!)

After midnight, John and I left the group at the trailhead and headed back to town to stay in the Huhu Chalet, a tiny tower AirBnB, with a second floor bedroom with a 30ft ceiling, a steep stairway to the first floor kitchen/bathroom. In spite a comfortable bed, we didn’t sleep well–aching joints and muscles reminded us of our advancing age.

There are no pictures with this post, as there is no way our phone/camera could do justice to the beauty of the glow worms. Instead, here are some interesting links to glow worm pictures and information. Actually, I don’t think the pictures–even the best ones I could find on the Internet–really capture what glow worms are like in real life. Guess you have to come to New Zealand to see them.