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.

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.

 

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?

 

44 Kentucky Road

I always imagined I would enjoy a rural life–and I’m finding that I really do like it.

This morning we listened to the chickens loudly cackling, announcing the presence of a few more fresh eggs. There were five eggs hidden under the bushes and one chicken still laying, so we left her–and the eggs–alone.

Yesterday in the middle of laundry, our water ran out. James and Anne have a huge cistern–20,000 litres–that is usually kept full with rainwater, but it was empty that morning. We showered at the lodge and brushed out teeth with bottled water. There was still water in a smaller tank, so John filled a rubbish bin with water and we dipped into it to flush the toilets.

This morning we called to order water. While James was making the call, we noticed that the Internet was down. Then John couldn’t get the toaster to work. We finally figured out that the power was out too. About that time, the water man told us that he couldn’t give us a time for the delivery because the power was out in Cambridge, 15 km away. It was a pretty big outage, covering all the the Waikato and even up into the Cormandol.

Annie had an ultrasound scheduled for this morning, so that was off as well. Fortunately, the power came back on within a couple of hours; the water man came with with 1300 litres and pumped them into the cistern; AND the ultrasound was back on schedule. (Baby looks fine. Gender not revealed, though a “guess” has been placed in a sealed envelope.)

 

 

 

This afternoon, we did more laundry, hanging it all out to dry, which is fun on a sunny summer day. (It’s not so fun in the middle of winter.)

 

 

Charlee had her bath outdoors in a plastic laundry bin.

Lizi feeds the chickens once a day. There are nine hens and four chicks. Two of the hens are on maternity leave, even though their chicks are surrogate chicks ordered from Raglan. They are truly free range, sometimes even venturing into the house!

 

After dinner, I walked the length of Kentucky Road, 2K, in the cool evening, watching the sun set, turning puffy clouds pink. There are seven farms along this road, ranging in size from small to large. Two are working farms (beef, goats and dairy) and the others are more hobby farms. Anne and James live on the smallest “farm”: Two calves, one sheep, 9 hens and 4 chicks, two cats, and one dog.

 

Living the dream here on 44 Kentucky Road.

Christmas al fresco

We celebrated Christmas today. We had cinnamon rolls with fresh eggs; read the Christmas story from Luke 2;  enjoyed watching Charlee open her presents and played the new game that was James’ gift, King of Tokyo. James and Anne gardened and clipped the chickens’ wings. We went swimming.

 

And then we had a lovely dinner of roasted chicken, roasted vegetables and pavlova–outdoors.

 

Its been overcast and rainy since we arrived but we haven’t minded. We needed time to get over jet lag and enjoy little Charlee.

 

She is a busy little girl with a beautiful one-dimple smile, white-blond curls, and a solid, strong body. She inherited agility from both James and Anne: climbs confidently, wanders freely, and handles the animals with ease.

Her Christmas presents were a bike, a baby doll (w/cradle, quilt and baby paraphernalia), a stuffed singing elephant, and a coffee-maker wooden toy. The bike was from her parents and later that day, James made a ramp for her! John made the cradle and I made the quilt. She is a busy little mama, caring for the baby. Good practice for the real baby coming in June.

Anne and James are now away on a two-day vacation, the first time they’ve both been away from Charlee overnight. The three of us are managing to keep up with one busy little girl.

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas! (It’s finally over :-)!

 

 

All I want for Christmas…

A week or two before Christmas John asked me if there was anything I wanted for Christmas. I replied, “All I want is for it to be over!”

The next day, I listed all the “new” things in my life: a new house with new furniture, a new piano and a new hot tub, as well as a garage I can park in, a first floor laundry room, a master bedroom suite and a fantastic kitchen. I really didn’t need anything for Christmas. (Though I still desperately wanted it to be over!)

December and early January is a difficult time in our house. The combination of winter weather mixed with the holidays (and John2’s birthday) means a lot of added stress. It started early in December this year with John2 obsessing about gifts, both for himself and for others. He loves to give gifts, but also loves to get them. His wish list start sounding like a list of demands for a calm Christmas. And once we get through Christmas, his birthday is ten days later, with a different set of expectations. We must go ice skating on his birthday; we have halibut and baked Alaska for dinner, and there is another wish list. This year I had Lizi give him his Audrey Hepburn calendar as a Christmas gift, which bothered him. I also tried changing the menu.

Anyways, we made it through the month of December, Christmas and John’s birthday.

Now we are packing, and getting ready to celebrate another birthday (Anne’s) and Christmas in New Zealand. It’s too expensive to mail packages and Annie is a lot more relaxed about gifts and traditions. They were traveling anyways, spending her birthday and Christmas on the South Island with James’ family.

We are sewing and building and still ordering things on Amazon while we are un-decorating our house and packing for summer. Two weeks of white snow and arctic temperatures will give way this week to a heat wave in the 30s. Next Monday (January 15) we will start our journey to the other side of the world, arriving on the 17th, with a day lost on the way. (We’ll pick it up on the way home.) Maybe we’ll celebrate Anne’s birthday on January 21 and Christmas on January 25th. Or maybe not.

We are all so excited to see–and hug–Annie, James and Charlee so much that the rest seems inconsequential. We’ll spend five weeks with them on their “farmette” eating from the fruit trees and garden, caring for the animals, and loving on little Charlee. And we’ll get mid-winter tans as well 🙂 Our first New Zealand summer!

P.S. John2 will be home alone for five weeks. Please pray for him–and if you are nearby and feel “called,” reach out to him with a phone call, a text, a meal, or an invitation. His phone number is 630-200-0415. He may or may not answer it, but will likely listen to your message and may return your call. Or maybe not.

Denali Finale

When we left Petersburg, we considered changing our tickets and going straight home-to deal with a crisis at home. We decided against it when we looked at the cost and were advised against coming home to “rescue.” We carried on.

 

We spent a rainy day in Juneau. We decided to rent a car, which allowed us to drive out to the Mendenhall glacier, shop, and stay relatively dry. That evening we boarded a flight to Anchorage, where we rented another car, drove to the mission guest house, and tucked ourselves in bed.

The next morning I had breakfast with my friend, Sharlane before she went to work. The weather didn’t look good for the trip towards Denali that I had planned, but we decided to go for it anyways. We packed for a possible overnight and headed north.

Six hours later, we arrived at Denali National Park and gleefully stamped our retirement Passport book. On the way, we stopped and took just a couple pictures of the great mountain. We could see most of the massive mountain, but the top was obscured by clouds. It’s hard to see but it is there in the center of the photo.

 

In 2010, during an 8 hour layover in Anchorage, Anne, a friend, and I had made a spontaneous trip towards Denali. We stopped more than 100 miles from the mountain but were still awed by its majesty. I wanted John to have that experience.

He (and I) had a completely different experience of Denali.

It turns out that one of the best places to see the mountain is from a distance. For one thing, the road that leads into Denali National Park is located on the east side of the mountain range that runs almost straight east and west. To cut down on the impact on the environment, travel within the park is limited a to a bus system that we didn’t have time to access. (The shortest tour was 4.5 hours; the full tour was 11 hours.) Cars were only allowed to the visitors center, the campgrounds, and a fifteen-mile stretch of road.

We took an evening and morning trip up the park road and a two-mile hike at Savage Creek, in wind and rain. Autumn was in full bloom in the park, with red brush, yellow aspens and green pines. Stunning. Our pictures can’t possibly do justice to the beauty we experienced. We really enjoyed the vast and beautiful landscape.

 

 

 

 

 

It was a fitting finale for our Alaska adventure.

 

 

 

 

*One of the things I love about Alaska is that there are three highways: 1, 2, 3, forming a triangle between Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Tok, which is just east of Glennallen, our first home when we lived in Alaska. We have transversed Hwy 1 between Tok and Anchorage several times; part of Hwy 2 to the Sourdough Lodge; and now we’ve been more than halfway up Hwy 3 towards Fairbanks. My goal is to make the whole loop next time we come.