Monday, April 30, 2012

Halloween Aotearoa

 It was the young people who made Kiwi Halloween special this year. They were so inventive with their carving of apples, kumara and pumpkins, and it was touching to see their cards written beside the lanterns and candles. Often it was grandparents whom they were remembering.
 There was a special area for those who had died over the last year.  This woman is remembering her mother.
I had seven people on my list, their ages ranging from 17 to 95.
Three eleven-year-olds came along and lit the pumpkin lanterns they had carved during the day. They sat and watched the flames burning, after writing cards for those who have died.
 Halloween developed out of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, the Day of the Dead. The lanterns looked eerie in the darkness, and yet somehow friendly too.

 A young man carved a butternut pumpkin and then painted around the eyes, to look like the tree gods he'd seen in a TV programme. He brought autumn leaves to scatter all around.
He even carved a kumara. It reminds me of a cheeky pixie. People lingered on the street and nearby benches. Once again, it was a warm vigil, filled with love for all those dear ones who have passed over. This is the true Halloween. By holding this event each year, and linking with people all over NZ who are commemorating it, I hope to restore the resonance with the old festivals.

I heard on the radio about a man who has reduced the amount of fizzy drink consumption in poorer areas, not by protesting, but by creating an alternative. He's supplied houses with free water coolers. The kids think it's so 'cool' to drink from these, and their friends come round for drinks. Fizzy drink consumption has plummetted, and water consumption gone right up.
This is the principle behind Kiwi Halloween: creating a positive alternative, that people love so much they naturally want to do it each year as autumn deepens and pumpkins, apples and kumara have been harvested.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pumpkin carving

 Inside the buttercup pumpkin, once the lid has been removed, a golden flower awaits discovery.
 Cutting out the lid is the first step in carving the pumpkin for Halloween. Here in New Zealand Halloween falls on April 30. Each year I hold Ponsonby Halloween on the street. It's happening tonight on Ponsonby Rd, from 7 pm till 8.30 pm. Families will be dropping by, and anyone who wishes to remember their loved ones who have died. (I'm doing it a day early this year)
 I carved a second pumpkin, a butternut - much easier as it has quite a thin skin.
The grey crown pumpkins are harder, so I'm going to leave the big one (that I grew out at the bach), and just take the others. It's time to pack my car with broom (for sweeping the pavement), mats, poster boards, candles, and the concertina that I'll play while people arrive to light their candles and lanterns. There's no telling how many will turn up.
The sun is peeking out right now, but it's a day of showers and wind also. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Today is Anzac Day, a national day of remembrance, in honour of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought heroically at Gallipoli during the second world war. It has now been extended to include all those who have died fighting for their countries.

This year, thousands have attended dawn ceremonies in cities and towns throughout Australasia. When I was in the Girl Guides, we always put on our uniforms and marched to the Cenotaph, where I struggled to fight back tears as the clarion call sounded.
Even though the men in our family returned from the war, one of them was much changed and later died at the peak of his career. My father was held back by the government, because he worked in an essential service, but the man whose place he took went to the war and was killed. This rested heavily in my father's awareness.
The timing, on April 25, is fitting, for this is our season of dying into darkness, and on April 30 we will be marking the Day of the Dead, now known as Halloween.

The dead are always with us, like shadows in the twilight, flitting in and out of our awareness.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Autumn light

 All is forgiven, and forgotten. We may not have had a summer this year, but autumn is generous with warmth. Just before sunset each evening, my home is flooded with golden light
 which casts mysterious shadows
 with colours deepening into russet,
 rendering the melia foliage golden as well,
 kissing the trunk of the flame tree
and bathing the jade plant with gold. Mellow is autumn's word. On these autumn evenings all trouble is forgotten and I bask in wellbeing and joy
The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.
It is not that we seize them,
but that they seize us—Ashley Montagu

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Autumn beach games

 It's one of those golden autumn afternoons, and down at the sheltered little beach nearby, the weather feels almost as warm as summer. Mira and I start by collecting pohutukawa leaves and admiring their colours. The yellow ones tend to be spotted, the red are glowing, and a few tiny new green ones complete the picture.
Here are tree branches from the fallen pohutukawa, and she is big enough to climb them now,
and find a perch from which to see the world.
Then she runs with her bucket into the sea. It's tricky when you are 3 1/2 and trying to juggle your purse full of precious things on one shoulder.
 But somehow you find a way, because you're nearly 4, and you know that you can do things today that you couldn't do last month. Running up on to the sand, you empty your bucket of water, making a splash that stays, in the form of a water-blot.
 You make one trip after another, enjoying the game of bringing the sea to the land. Granny joins in by digging holes, which you fill with sea water
 and gleefully call 'swimming pools'. Oh what fun. Your leggings are wet through, but who cares. Granny has them drying on a warm rock in the sun.
Now you take a stick and make lines in the sand. Granny says that they are roads, and brrrm, brrrm, motor-car Granny is driving along. You squeal and go faster, then you turn around and draw a line at right angles. Granny can go no further. You are smiling from ear to ear. You have the power to stop someone bigger than you, just by drawing a line in the sand.
How sweetly the time passes in the golden light of autumn, when old and young play together with whatever nature provides.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fires and friendship

 I took a friend out to the bach for the weekend. We enjoyed our first fires, with pine cones burning brightly.
 Weeding the garden together, and harvesting my one pumpkin.
 Walking to the beach, enjoying the freedom of open space, and the sweep of the lagoon and stream against the black sand.
 Ripples of wind on the water,
 frothing of surf
and plenty of kelp washed up on the shore. This family was taking it back to get their garden ready for the planting of garlic at winter solstice. They told us about the importance of watering the garden through the spring months of September and October, then letting it dry and shrink back a little in readiness for harvest in December. I thought of all the hanks of kelp that I've gathered over the years for the bach garden, but for today I let my arms swing free,
and enjoyed another warm fire in the evening, with pine cones gathered last week. We ate feijoas straight from my friend's tree, golden delicious apples and dark red plums during the day, and in the evening a hearty dinner, sharing rich conversation about lives well lived, with many interconnections. Autumn is such a satisfying season.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chestnut memories

Here's another autumn delight: chestnuts have arrived.
I prepare a feast of chestnuts and baked new seasons butternut. As they emerge from the oven, and I cut open the first chestnut, that freshly roasted smell brings a memory wafting in.
I am in Cornwall, on my first trip to England. My husband and I have rented a little thatched cottage for the winter. We are weary of travelling adventures and have decided to winter over in Leryn. He is going to write the Great New Zealand Novel, and I am going to - well, look after him I guess.
I took lots of walks, scuffing through the autumn leaves in the forests that were quickly turning bare. One day I scuffed my toes against something hard - lots of them. When I returned to the cottage, the pockets of my dufflecoat were full of chestnuts.

Not something I'd ever cooked or eaten before. But my trusty Penguin Cook Book that accompanied me on all our travels, had the answer: Chestnut soup.
First roast the chestnuts.
Then shell and skin them, and scoop out the flesh. No, don't eat! Save every morsel for the next stage.
Which is to put the flesh through the mouli (and yes, I found one in the kitchen). It turned a discouraging purply-brown, but never mind. Sautee onions and other vegetables in a pan, add stock, and then the chestnut puree, and voila! you have the most nutritious and filling soup that you could ever wish to taste.
It was good, but hard work.
I did it once or twice, but what with typing out the Great Novel three times, cleaning, cooking, washing and all those things one did before Germaine Greer came along, I decided it was the kind of dish that really needed maids to make.
And so now, I just roast the chestnuts, and dig out the flesh and enjoy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Trails & treasure

 I love the way the autumn light stretches its long arms into my apartment. In the morning the sun reaches and touches forgotten places, bringing warmth.
Trails of light. Maybe that's what gave me the idea. Then there was the brightly flowering buttercup tree that I found after pine-coning.
I was wondering how to introduce the little one to her first treasure hunt. Every year at Easter I used to do one for my other granddaughter, until she grew too old. Now, at 3 1/2, I thought Mira might be ready to begin. She was away at Easter, but now that she was back, it was time to start.
'Find something yellow under a cushion': that was the first clue. Cushions flew like sea spray as she tried every one, and then under the very last cushion: a yellow flower.
'Now find more of them, and follow the trail.' Trail is a new word, but it was quickly learned. She ran from one flower to the other, picking them up, dropping them, and picking them up again.
 The trail actually lead out on to the balcony, through the living room, down the hall and into my bedroom wardrobe - but I brought the yellow parcel out again to photograph it for you. Clue: 'the treasure is the same colour as the flowers.' Squeals of delight, and eager unwrapping.
And here it is - the Easter gift. We don't do sugary stuff for our little ones, so I found a book.
It was a hit. We sat down to read. Little Miss Sunshine visits the King of Misery, where she is arrested for breaking the rules: no smiling, no laughter, no chuckles and no giggles. But she takes a marker pen and rewrites the rules. With a little practice, the King of Misery learns new habits and his Kingdom becomes the Kingdom of Laughter.
We certainly had plenty of chuckles, giggles, smiles and laughs as we sat down and read together. And we didn't get arrested! The Easter treasure hunt tradition is now launched. Each year the clues will get harder, until they end up as rhyming couplets. Years of fun lie ahead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pine cone memories

 I know this pine forest well, because I used to live nearby. After a run of fine days, I knew that the ground under the pine trees would have dried out.
I also knew where the tall trees were,
 the ones that drop plenty of pine cones,
from their heads high up in the sky.
The smell of the pine needles brought back memories of playing in a pine plantation as a child. We treated our collections of cones as treasure, hid them in 'nests' in our dens, and sometimes raided each other's hoards. We didn't have many bought toys - almost none in fact, but nature gave us all the raw materials, which together with our vivid imaginations, resulted in hours and hours of happy play.
As I emerged from the pine trees with my bags full , I saw a buttercup tree in flower. Such a cascade of yellow blooming in autumn gave me a happy feeling, and also an idea.
In my next blog I will reveal how I used the flowers to brighten a child's day.