Thursday, 20 April 2017

A death ~ "Ellen has left us"

My mother Ellen has died.  It was expected.  This is the story of those final days and her death, which I share in the hope of providing some insight and companionship to others on their own such journeys.  It is a journey we all take sooner or later, each in our own way. 

For Ellen and me it was the end of a long hard road for both of us, my part of which began in ernest when she had a fall at home and, being in great pain and unable to get up, was hospitalised.  That was three years ago.  From that pivotal point onwards we trekked together through various hospitals and rest homes in her home town, then moved her to a rest home in the city where I live and her house was sold.  Once settled into that rest home room she used to say that her room was her house, so I did what I could to make it worthy of the name.

There had been much good and warm companionship between us during those three years but it did involve a lot of work, which became increasingly arduous towards the end.  My mother never ceased to thank me for my efforts saying she couldn't have managed without me, and I knew this to be true.  I was glad to do what I could. 

Her life ended in hospital, with an infection from which it was not possible for her to recover.

A week earlier when I had been preparing to visit Mum at the rest home I felt exhausted and ill.  She hadn't been well either, and I guessed my visit would very likely be tiring and attended by the usual cluster of difficulties and comlexities, but even as I said "I don't know that I can manage this today", I immediately added "but I must".  Years earlier I had assured Mum I would see her through to the end and I wasn't about to shirk my load.  Off I went.  I arrived to find her barely able to form words and unable to rise.  An ambulance was called.  Her feet did not touch the ground again.  So began that last interminable week in which time seemed to warp endlessly in one direction and in other respects to rush past.  Looking back I don't know how I managed it.  I just knew I had to.  And I am glad that somehow I got through it. 

Numbers of doctors and many nurses attended my mother.  Part way through the week it became clear that she was not going to recover.  Quite apart from the raging infection she could not swallow either food or drink, she continued to be unable to rise and and cried out sharply when moved; incontinence worsened. She had had enough, refused further medication and intravenous fluids, and care became palliative.  Even had she wanted to continue treatment things were not going to improve.  Her GP and I as well as the hospital doctors talked it all through and knew it, and so did EllenAlthough the care was good it was still distressing to see her so diminished and suffering in all these ways. 

Her GP and I had established an Advance Care Plan with her well over a year before so we were prepared for this eventuality and accepted it.  Her vicar was contacted, and as he was on leave the curate attended her a number of times as did the hospital chaplain.  Mum was ready to go and wished it. 

Those last two nights, knowing that the end was very near, I stayed the night, sleeping fitfully on a reclining chair pushed against the side of her bed.  Nursing staff came in regularly to turn her and check hygiene and comfort.

I remember watching the moon rise in the sky from where I lay, and observed that from time to time it seemed to jump a bit higher so I knew I had at least dozed.

From time to time I got up and moved about quietly.  In the streets far below a few miniature people and cars came and went.  I wondered why the university library blazed with light throughout the night...  Rain washed the streets and clouds drifted across the moon. 

I remember thinking wearily that in times to come I would probably look back on this as a rich experience, followed by the thought that at that rate I had better live that appreciation right now, and stop wishing it into the past!  That thought steadied me and helped me readjust.

The day before Mum died she was largely unresponsive, sleeping much of the time, and her breathing very laboured for lengthy periods before settling down to normal again.  Family gathered round and came and went.  I came and went.  My uncle, a retired doctor, remarked to my aunt that it was unlikely that Mum would last the night, "but you never know, just don't count on it".  We all knew it wouldn't be long now.  I settled in for the night.  Lights were turned off and everything grew quiet. 

I was more tired than I can say, but hardly dared sleep.  I knew I must get some rest though, even if only a little.  To help me doze I took a fragment of a sleeping pill.  I pulled a blanket over myself.  Reaching across to Mum I tucked my hand in hers. 

Sometime in the early hours, feeling Mum's hand clammy and unresponsive in mine and hearing her laboured breathing I struggled up from sleep feeling that I must get up and do what I could to ease things for herDawn was yet to come and save for a little light from the partly open door of the bathroom the room was in darkness.  Although her eyes were partly open she seemed unconscious.

Creeping around in the dim room I went to the brightness of the bathroom and wet a facecloth under the hot tap, then carefully sponged her face and hands, talking sweet nothings as I did so.  I gently brushed her hair, smoothed her face with her favourite face cream, and gently stroked it into her hands.  She seemed to be lying awkwardly.  I fetched the nurse and she came with another and they checked and shifted her to a more comfortable position.

I felt restless and teased out, so made myself a hot drink and had a few bites of a sandwich before settling myself back on the recliner.  Suddenly I felt sick, really sick, and wondered if I was going to vomit.  Reluctantly I sat up, hoping to settle it by shifting my position and attention.  It was still dark and still night time.  No good.  I lay down again.

Suddenly Mum began making the most awful noise, her breath a hoarse tearing sound.  I ran for the nurse, who came immediately.  "She's starting to go", she said calmly.  She checked her briefly then left me with her.

I sat with Mum reassuring her as best I could, holding her limp hand and stroking her gently: "It's okay, Mum, you are quite safe...  I love you... It's okay to let go..." 

I was okay but anxious, so went back to the nursing station and asked for someone to sit with me.  The nurse returned immediately and I was grateful for her quiet presence.  

Those rasping breaths become irregular and further apart.  I continued to reassure her as best I could. She did not regain consciousness, just her eyes partly open, her hand unresponsive in mine. The rasping breaths dragged on.  She did not move or give any flicker of recognition, but I comforted her anyway, remembering that hearing is the last sense to go, and hoping that she heard me.  I stroked her arm, her hair, her back, and held that cool limp hand in my firm warm one.  Then the nurse thought she had gone. There was another long pause after which came another rasping breath.  As she let go one more breath I saw her tongue flop sideways and knew it was over.  She was out of that body, finished with it and gone.  She had gone.  Only the husk of her old body remained, perished. 

The nurse checked with her stethiscope, and called the duty doctor.  The doctor checked with hers, then composed herself and said quietly "I am sorry for your loss".  I could see that she was; that we all were, and at the same time the relief was immense.  Ellen had made it through that great gateway and, in so far as these things can be ascertained, her passing had been peaceful.  Tears flowed, a measure of the intensity of the occasion, and the gravity of it.  It's a huge thing, the ending of a life, and for me the ending of the life of my mother; that one irreplaceable bearer of life who had carried me from the very beginning was gone.  She had left.

Relief washed through me with fresh tears.  I had managed to see the job through.  I had accompanied her along that last hard stretch of the road as well as I could and had seen her across the threshold.  I was very grateful to have lasted the distance, to have been able to help, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything.  

That impulse to get up and help my mother, to attend to her comfort that one last time, was perfectly timed so it was just as well I paid attention to it, and the subsequent nausea passed as soon as I knew what was happening.  One of the nurses had said that family often know before staff do when a patient is dying, and I have am sure that nausea was my body's reaction to my mother's life force beginning to collapse.  I was right with her, and it felt as if the energy of her life had begun to go backwards, and then unravel.  When she died her life didn't seem so much to cease as evaporate.  It felt very complete, entirely natural and absolutely real.  I had no thought at all that perhaps she hadn't died and might just have drifted to a deeper level of consciousness.  It was over.

My sister arrived.  Alerted by my call some twenty minutes earlier, she had rushed to be there, but by then Ellen had gone.  I was glad to have her with me.  We stood by the bed, tears streaming and comforted each other as best we could.  Mum was so completely not there anymore, just this little worn out body in which she had lived those eighty plus years and which could no longer serve her.  It was worn out and in death was not even all that recognisable.  I was glad she was in her own nightie, though, which was so much her own.   
I asked the nurse to call the chaplain to do the commital.  It was 5.30am.  This was important.  Ellen had been preparing for her death over the past year through discussion and prayer with her vicar, and now she had crossed that great threshold.  I needed a priest to say the words, directing her soul from this world to the next and saying words of reassurance to whatever elements of her may have hovered near that she was safe to fully let go, and indeed must go, and also the words that gave assurance that we too, those left behind, were cared for and comforted.  
While we waited we began to pack Mum's things, and I made some brief calls to those who needed to know.  The nurses turned Mum on her back, and made her tidy.  We were assured that nothing personal goes with the patient to the morgue.  

I told the nurse I wanted to take Mum's rings, and duly signed for them.  I slipped them off Mum's hand without any twinge of strangeness - it was still her dear hand.  She had gone, and I knew she had wanted me to take care of them.  We had talked about all such things long ago.  I slipped off her possum fur socks, one of the few comforts left to her in those final days, and tucked them in my bag.  She didn't need them any more.  
The chaplain, having been roused from sleep, was there a very short time later, and quietly, in the bar of light from the bathroom door he spoke the commital and read from the Bible the time-honoured words of Psalm 23, of which these are some: 
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil; for thou art with me;  
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me [...]  
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: 
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
It was done.  It was simple but complete.  Later I would discuss details of the funeral with Mum's own vicar, but for now the little ceremony made all complete. 
We continued with our packing, bundling up clothing, toiletries, books, music, photographs and pinboard, and my overnight things.  Mum had been in hospital only a week, but we had needed all  these things.

When we were ready to go the ward was still quiet.  Mum lay silently on her back.  My sister cuddled her good bye one last time.  I fretted briefly that Mum might be lonely down in the morgue without us.  Views on this point differ and I hesitated, but I knew I had to let go and firmly remembered the priest's words exhorting her soul to go forth on its way.  She had prepared for this and had wanted to go.  She had gone.  The day ahead would be demanding and probably difficult and I needed some semblence of rest in order to deal with it.  I accepted that I had to leave. 
My sister and I gathered up our bags and baggage and made our way out of the hospital to our cars and the new day.  The dawn had come, and I was exhausted.  As I drove home my sister kindly followed in her car to make sure I got there, before heading to her own home in the opposite direction.  Later that day we would clear out Mum's room at the rest home and meet at the funeral directors to go over details but for the next few hours the most important thing was rest.

With Ellen's death the part of my own life which I had shared with her, which during those last three years was a big part, also came to an end.  There was still a great deal to do, attending to details of the funeral and handling the remainder of her belongings and so on, but that old way of life, which had included all the other people who had helped her and the places associated with her care, had also gone.  As well as suffering great loss I felt strangely disoriented, and after several months still feel it.  Writing about it has helped, but it still takes time.  There are no shortcuts. 
In the years before Mum's death two dreams stayed with me and I thought about them often, one was my own, and the other was a dream of a very old lady at the same rest home:

I dreamt I was in a warm swimming pool supporting my elderly mother in my arms.  While she basked she dreamt she was a young girl happily swinging herself on a swing, and singing to herself.  Then she died.  There I was in the swimming pool holding her body.  That was all.  I must say that it made me very cool about any notion I may have had of getting into any pool with her, therapeutic or otherwise, and I was relieved that the situation never arose!  I mentioned the dream to a friend and she sensibly suggested that perhaps it was metaphorical and could mean that for the remainder of Mum's life I was going to hold her in my arms - until she died.  And that certainly did turn out to be so.  Also, at the time she died she was wet with perspiration.  I like to think that the content of the dream may have been complete in that during that last hard stretch she may indeed have been dreaming of some happy and carefree time.

The second dream is the one of the old lady, who knew her only slightly.  I am grateful to her for sharing it with me.  She dreamt that she saw a very beautiful woman in a long green dress.  That seemed to be all.  However, she added that the next time she saw Mum come into the dining room she recognised her as the woman in her dream and said to herself "There she is".  I thought how special it was that somehow in her sleep she had perceived Mum's beauty and presence despite her elderly and withered appearance.  It occured to me then that perhaps this is how it goes, that as our bodies age our inner strength and beauty and all we work towards and strive for, accrues and that when the body reaches it's natural age and dies the full harvest of inner beauty is realised.  A very wise old nun told me that she had observed that the greatest beauty comes at the end, and despite my mother's withered and suffering body, I did see this in her.  So I like to think that at the time of her death the moment of the beautiful woman in the green dress had also come.  Who can say.  I hold these thoughts in an open hand, so to speak.

Staying with my mother throughout the experiences that lead to her death was demanding in every possible way but it was valuable and good.  I had been fearful about it, that I might not be able to cope; I was not in good shape at the time and could so easily have missed much of those precious last days, been less involved, but I did manage to be there and keep going.  It was indeed a rich experience, and when the final moments came it was okay. 
I encourage others in similar situations to stay the course and do what you can to provide help and comfort, even if indirectly.  All deaths will be different.  Nevertheless the chances are that you may be as glad of the experience as I was.  I hope so.  And when we presevere even if or when it does prove difficult we know that we have done what we could to help, for surely what we all want is for those we most love and trust to be with us at the end. 
I have a great deal more to share about all this, but that will have to wait for times to come.
In the meantime other articles in this series can be found via the link below:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Cauliflower and broccoli ~ freeze easily without plastic wrap or bags

Cauliflower and broccoli are easy to freeze for storage and require no plastic wrap or bags.  Whether buying them cheaply when plentiful or growing your own, freezing is a great way to continue to have a good supply easily to hand.

Late this summer I had the great good fortune to be given a cauliflower by Peter, a generous neighbour.  It was a beauty and easily the largest I have ever seen being about the size of a soccer ball!  They don't keep all that well, losing their delicate flavour and crispness fairly rapidly, so I needed to do something with it quickly.  (If you don't much like these vegetables you may not have had a fresh one properly cooked to just the right amount.) 

I had a quick look at what other people do.  The methods I came across all used plastic wrap or bags, which I avoid completely.  There is absolutely no need for either.  I found that waxed paper and cotton or linen tea towels work perfectly well, with the result that when defrosted and cooked that fabulous cauliflower was as delicious as the day I received it!  

I have since used exactly the same method with broccoli and found it equally successful. 

Here is my method:
  • Chop the cauliflower or broccoli into pieces which are the size you will want for later cooking.
  • Place the pieces into a steamer over or in an adequately sized pot of rapidly boiling water.  I suggest you get that water fully boiling before you place the steamer over it, as you want cooking to be rapid and accurately measurable.
  • Keep that water at a rapid boil water for three to four minutes. 
  • Remove from heat and tip the cauliflower or broccoli into a colander or large sieve and dunk this in a sink of cold water to stop further cooking and chill veges thoroughly.  If your steamer has a handle at the side you won't need a collander or other draining container - just dunk the whole thing. 
  • Allow to drain
  • Tip veges onto a clean dry cotton or linen tea towel

  • Once most of the water has drained spread a fresh tea towel into the base of a freezer drawer or other large container such as a baking dish which will fit in the freezer.
  • Spread the pieces of cauliflower or broccoli keeping them in a single evenly spaced layer 
  • Fold over an edge of the tea towel to cover them and lay out another layer of cauliflower or broccoli on that, and continue until all of them are 'tucked up'.  
  • Leave them to fully freeze, say overnight.

  • Once frozen they can easily be plucked off the tea towel and you have your free-flow vegetables:

I always weigh this sort of thing so that if I'm following a recipe or creating something new I have a reasonable chance of replicating it!  So, it's out with the kitchen scales:
  • Lay a piece of wax paper on the scales, of a suitable size for folding and wrapping veges into parcels of a convenient size.  I find 100 to 150 gram parcels of veges suit me well.

  • Lift the paper with veges on it and fold it up into a parcel or place it directly into a container which can take a lid; fold the paper over if you haven't already, and write the weight on it.  I usually use ice cream containers.  Yes, I know this is plastic, but it is a reuse and can be reused many times!

  • Fill up the box with as many parcels as it will hold, 
  • Put the lid on and label it so that it can be easily identified and include the date.
  • Now it is ready to go into the freezer and you are done, apart from the clearing up, of which there is hardly any. 
Your delicious vegetables are then only a step away, and will have all the flavour and fresh consistency as they did before frozen. 

Tip for gardeners: 
Cauliflowers, broccoli and cabbages belong to the brassica family, which attract white butterflies in the same way that candles attract moths; their caterpillars can cause a lot of damage as they munch through tasty fresh growth!  With this in mind Peter has a large framework around the area where he has his brassicas, over which he places fine-mesh netting.  This prevents white butterflies from getting anywhere near them.  The result is that these vegetables are entirely free of their depredations.  Nice one, Peter!

To find my other articles about food preparation click on the link below:
To find my articles about gardening click on the link below:

Monday, 7 November 2016

Garden makeover ~ state house unit / semi-detached

Having a garden is essential to me, so when I look at a place as a prospective resident this is an important consideration, especially with regard to landscaping.  

In the last couple of places I've lived I've been fortunate in having permission to do pretty much what I liked.  In the place before that the contract specified "No landscaping", which was fine as I knew that from the start.  In the place where I live at present I discovered belatedly that the owners notion of the joys of having a keen gardener as a tenant did not include what I had in mind at all, and the resulting misunderstanding has resulted in an impasse.  Hence my advice to other gardeners who are tenants is to check, check and re-check and if in any doubt to get an understanding about that written down as part of the tenancy agreement. 

In this enforced hiatus I have been looking back on gardens I've created in the past and drawing together a record of those achievements. 

It's possible to make a big difference to an undeveloped property if one has some kind of creative vision to follow and an interest in putting in the work to make it a reality.  It need not be costly or difficult, but it does require quite a lot of effort over a period of months or years.  One-week garden makeovers don't interest me.  The joy I derive from gardening is of a slowly evolving project each part of which suggests other parts with the whole developing naturally over time, often in ways one could not have foreseen.

In this article I want to share what I achieved in the grounds of a former state housing unit.  That property had been purchased along with neighbouring units by a private owner who then rented it to me.  The place felt comfortable but had no garden established at all other than an uneven lawn and some overgrown shrubs on one boundary.  I had very little money but quite a few plants in pots which I had brought with me. 

When I first looked at the place I could see the potential but needed an assurance that I could develop the garden before deciding to take on the tenancy.  I asked the landlord if this would be permitted.  "Go for your life" he responded, and pointed out a considerable mound of topsoil out the back which I would be free to make use of.  And so I moved in and set to work.

I show photographs relating to one area at a time which I hope makes progress easier to follow.

At the time that this first photograph of the front yard was taken I had already done a great deal:

Gone was the half-round timber garden framework; the ground where I wanted to put my borders proved to be stony and the only tool I had which was effective was the sharp pick end of my trusty grubber which I applied enthusiastically; a load of manure had been spread; and the first of many loads of topsoil had been barrowed onto it.  In the corner I placed my first plant, a native toe toe, which gave me joy every time I looked at it.  It turned out to be rather too large in habit for that corner and I eventually removed it, but in the meantime I enjoyed it to the full!  That black mark on the right hand of the fence was used engine oil, which a thoughtless former tenant had dumped on the spot.  A kindly friend sanded the stain off the woodwork and I dug out a great deal of contaminated earth.  My garden was on its way!

I do like gardens to be mounded up from the edges, and the ready supply of topsoil enabled me to achieve this:

Here is the same corner at a later stage:

And a little along to the right proved to be a good position for my irises:

Underneath the front of the unit the garden was also coming along.  Here it is early on:

And here it is after a year or so:

I loved that hebe, and the neighbouring white Japanese anemone looked great with it:

Just inside the gate was a damp shady area.  The lawn there didn't do well so I put in a mounded bed.  Pavers added into its edge gave push chairs (and people) room to get in the gate and turn.  I spread topsoil on the lawn at the side of the path to make it level with it and therefore safer.

That corner garden took a while to get established.  I added in a border under the hedge at the right and filled it with spring bulbs.  Having a good entranceway lifts the tone of a place when you come in the gate...

... and is easy on the eye from any angle:

A later project came with the installation of a small round garden in the front lawn.  I created this to provide suitable placement for a long wished-for birdbath.  Not being about to afford to buy one I set out to make my own, the details of which you can find here:
Although that particular birdbath had a brief lifespan due to accident it was a successful project and I look forward to making another at some stage.  That article is one of my most popular so if you are keen on making one it could be worth a look.

Making the shape for the round garden was the easy bit, but even that took a lot of work.  Here I am getting going on it.  It got bigger as I worked!

Thinking that the birdbath could stand on some kind of little cairn I sourced some stones from a farm quite some distance away.  However, instead of buidling the cairn I placing the stones in a circle with the earth mounded up inside it.  There's my hypertufa birdbath:

It wasn't long before I became dissatisfied with the circle, realising that the rocks were somewhat out of place in that there were no others in the garden.  I rearranged them as you can see below.  By that time the birdbath had suffered a demise, having been tripped over and broken, but the lampshade I had used as the mould for it served well enough in its place.  Later I added stones into the birdbath to make it shallower:

Here is the little garden from ground level:

I was never entirely satisfied with this little plot but learnt a lot and enjoyed the process.  That's what gardening is all about - for me, anyway, and in keeping with the philosophy of nothing venture, nothing win.  I particularly love working with rocks and always have done.

The garden went through many phases, some of them successful and others not.  The photograph below shows that the garden had become untidy and the tomato vines disorderly.  The tomatoes had not had a sufficiently long hot period in which to finish ripening so I decided to see if I could transplant them into pots...

... and place them in the garage which was warm and dry and got some sun.  It is not a process that I would recommend or repeat as it was far too difficult - bits of vine trailing in all directions, and although it may have resulted in a little more ripening than otherwise the fact that I can't remember tells its own story!

The area outside the front gate was one I started early on.  Frontages set the tone of a place and a barren frontage suggests a degree of deprivation.  How much better to be welcomed to an area that is well planted and attractive.  By the time this photograph was taken I had filled in the existing boxed area with topsoil and manure and put in some young plants:

In the fullness of time those plants became well established and I added a rose bush.  How much better it is!  The area is a lot softer and looks as if someone cares about it, which was quite right!

For those passing through the gate it was seen from this angle:

The suitablility of plants for an area is something I have learnt by trial and error.  The bed in which I planted these shasta daisies, well manured, proved to be far too narrow for them; they took off with considerable vigour in their new home.  They were beautiful, but each year I needed to nip in early to tie them up, and each year I seemed to be a little bit too late to do it effectively!

Gradually I worked my way around the grounds developing different areas little by little.  The area between the back of the house and the garage was handy for storing my extra potted plants as it was sheltered and easy to water.  It hadn't always been like that.  When I moved in it looked like this:

The landlord put in a fence to divide the grounds of one unit from the other.  He liked building fences and was good at it.  I was doubtful about the value of that particular division initially but ended up agreeing that it was helpful.  It provided good shelter.  The narrow border against  the house to the right was well established by the time I took an interest in the remaining in-between plot.  You can see my extra plants sitting in there in their pots.  I decided I wanted to plant most of them:

Gardening always requires quite a bit of moving things around.  Before I added in additional topsoil I had to lift all those pots out:

A stack of spare cobbles out the back provided a source of stepping stones so that weeding and access was easy and clean.  Due to the narrow area I had to put the plants in fairly straight lines, something I usually avoid, but the different structure of neighbouring plants would provide the variation I wanted as they grew:

And so it proved to be:

As they put on more growth everything became more dense.  There was a lot going on in there!  It became one of my favourite parts of the garden.  Just passing, which I did often, was a source of pleasure and refreshment:

The one remaining part of the garden I have yet to talk about was actually the largest and, as is so often the case with large areas, treatment of it was more challenging than the smaller ones.

Whereas the front garden of the property was rather boxed in with fences and even a gate that latched, the back was completely open to a roughly shingled drive which followed one boundary and then curved around behind it providing access to other flats.  The part of the drive adjoining the front garden was both fenced and hedged, but the back was not, and our landlord was keen to put up a fence.  Fences have their place, but I did not want one in that position where it would have created deep shadow and a sense of enclosure.  I thought this could be better handled through the planting of a border.  However, it was a considerable length, about 50 feet all told, and would be a big job to establish.  I put it off and put it off until one day I got seriously ticked off by a neighbour's visitors backing onto 'my' lawn to turn their car, quite unnecessarily.  It was understandable though, as there was nothing to show that anyone valued it particularly.

This early photo shows just how open that area was when I first moved in.  That's our washing line at the left.  The view across to the neighbours' back yard was all very well while those particular tenants were there and kept it tidy...

... but after they moved it became unkempt.  At that point my landlord fulfilled his wish to put in a fence along that boundary.  You can see ugly tyre marks on my lawn, the result of a late night incursion by a local idiot. 

Soon after this incident I decided to level that stretch of lawn.  An energetic sister gave me a hand.  I had been wanting to do this for a long time as every time I walked across it its uneveness annoyed me.  I had no clear idea of how much work it would take or how much soil would be needed but just got stuck into it!  I had thought that it felt much more uneven than it looked, but apprearances can be deceptive: it was far more uneven than it looked, and after emptying thirty barrowloads onto it we gave up counting!  That seemingly endless mound of topsoil out the back was a great resource:

Digging and carting all those barrowloads was solid work, but raking the fresh topsoil evenly across it seemed to take more effort, perhaps because we were tiring by then!  It was great to have someone to help.

Before we spread the topsoil the old strip of carpet that had formed a path from the back door to the clothesline had been removed.  I was glad to see it go as it was unsuitable and shabby.  My work in the garden inspired our landlord to put in a proper paved path in its place.  It was at a different angle and smartened up the place considerably!

I had thought about that border for a long time.  Early work on it was every bit as arduous as I expected:

I could not have done it without my trusty grubber:

Once I got the strip dug over and seedlings planted the difference it made was considerable: 

That difference grew along with the plants.  Although not visible in this photo I had planted carefully spaced shrubs and grasses as regular intervals which would show up more as they grew.  At this stage the most visible show is of flowers, mostly marigolds, which self-seed easily.  I had also tidied up the outer curve of the lawn by cutting it back with the spade:

Here the border is getting a little more height:

As is common in rented accommodation there came a time when we realised we needed to move and the slow process of selecting and potting up those plants I wished to take began once more.  There were rather a lot, but the garden was still full and I left it in top-notch tidiness.  We had been there three and a half years.

I took these final photographs on the morning of our removal.  Look how beautifully those grasses have filled out and the hebe shrubs growing up nicely, all their leaves defined by frost!  You can see a few of our removal boxes lined up at the left.  

I really loved that garden, and the back border, which had been so tough to get started, had become a favourite part of it, a crowning achievement.  The repeating pattern of planting shows up best from this view outside the back door:

Those big grasses are carex, the seedlings of which had come from an earlier streamside garden in another city.  They get very big and tall.  Although they are best suited to a wet situation they did very well in this much drier spot.

How much had that garden cost me?  Not counting the cost of vegetable seedlings, which I consider part of housekeeping expenses, perhaps $100, most of which was supplied by the landlord for the purchase of a small number of shrubs.  The rest of the plants came from earlier gardens and from friends, family and neighbours.  Gardeners are among the most generous people I know, partly because plants by their nature grow and multiply, but also because gardeners enjoy sharing what they grow.  It's a great way to share. 

And so I was off to my next home where I created a new garden on a hillside near a beach.  I'll write about that another time. 

If you enjoyed this article you might like to look at my other gardening articles.  They can be found via the link below:
A look at a very different garden I landscaped, this time for someone else, can be found here:

      Sunday, 19 June 2016

      Celery and corn soup ~ or chowder ~ distinctive and different

      ~ Recipe updated to include pumpkin ~
      My soups tend to be a bit similar to each other.  This one, which is mostly celery, cream style corn (partially liquified corn kernals / maize), and a chickpea flour sauce, is quite different and very flavoursome.  An added bonus is that it is simple to make: 

      In the past I've used an ordinary milk sauce as a base, and this was the first time I had experimented with the chickpea flour sauce.  It worked a treat!  Both are good, but I think the chickpea flour sauce is quite a lot better both in texture and flavour.  

      This soup can be termed a chowder due to its creamy sauce and chunky vegetables.  (I think that's right!)
      Celery is a tasty vegetable, but rather hard to store due to the length and bulk of each plant or bunch. 

      I have been told that standing the bunch in a jug of water can work well, but when I've tried this after a few days the whole thing has begun to wilt.  I prefer to store mine in the fridge, carefully wrapped in layers of tea towels and nylon bags to keep it cool and crisp.  My success in this respect has been variable, probably dependent on the freshness when purchased.  This evening when I got out a bunch I had carefully put away a bit over a week ago the whole thing, although still beautifully green, had become rather floppy.  It was time to cook it up.  Celery soup or chowder is a good way to use up a large quantity of this sort. 

      I use a lot of milk but like to know what the alternatives are and to experiment with them, which in this instance produced better result than the original recipe.  The use of chick pea flour makes this vegan.  I'm gradually building up my repertoire of vegan food.

      Ingredients and method: 
      I use two pots / saucepans: one for the soup, and one for boiling up the darker leaves and stalks from which I then use the liquid. 

      • Celery - I used most of one bunch.  500gm of it was suitable to go directly into the soup pot 
        • The remaining darker leaves and stalks, which might have been a bit bitter, I put into the separate pot with 2 cups of water and boiled it all up so that I could add the liquid to the soup later.  If using, strain off the pieces of celery and use the remaining liquid.  If the chowder seems the right consistency without it, you can freeze the stock for use another time.
      • Vegetable oil / margarine / butter - a tablespoon or two - sufficient in which to saute the pale chopped celery.
      • Curry powder (I use mild) - 2 tsp  
      • Pumpkin - 150 grams - chopped - optional extra.  I added this when I last made it and it was even nicer.  I have chopped pumpkin wrapped in waxed paper parcels in the freezer with the weight noted on each one.  I didn't think to check how much this was in cup measurements -  perhaps one, one and half, or two.  The amount isn't all that important unless you wish to replicate what you've cooked, in which case it's very useful indeed.
      • Corn, cream style - 1 tin - 410gm - this is partially liquified corn kernels - 'maize' if you live in the U.S. of A.
      • Cold water - about 2 cups.  The temperature of the water is important - see method below.
      • Chick pea flour (also known at gram flour, besan, or garbanzo bean flour) - half a cup
      • Salt - 1 to 2 tsp - as desired. 
      • Chop the stalks and pale leaves, putting aside the darker outer ones along with the dark leaves.
      • Put these dark leaves and stalky bits into another pot with 2 cups of water, and boil them so that the celery water can be used later.  Keep this separate for the meantime.  This will easily produce 2 cups of liquid which can be added to the soup once the other ingredients have been combined and cooked. 
      • In the second pot melt or heat the butter or oil.
      • Add the remaining celery and cook it gently, stirring it so that it doesn't catch on the bottom of the pot.  Cook only until the celery has softened a little.
      • Add the curry powder to the celery.  
      • Stir in the creamed corn.
      • Into a water-tight container put 2 - 3 cups of cold water filling it no more than two thirds full.
      • On top of this cold water place the spoonfuls of chick pea flour.  The cold water will enable it to combine with the flour which will thicken as it cooks.
      • Close the lid tightly and shake it vigorously.  This will combine the flour and water.  This is the simplest way I know of combining flour and water into liquid form and saves the hassle of fussing around with lumpy and oily messes - never mind that 'real' cooks might faint at the suggestion!
      • Add it to the soup pot while stirring.  
      • Add about 2 cups of celery water to make the soup a good consistency.
      • Have a taste and add a little salt if desired.
      The dark celery leaves, boiled with water.  I added some of the water to the soup later, and put the rest in the freezer.

      Last time I made this I served it with toasties: toast spread with tomato relish, then chopped tomatoes, lots of fresh parsley and then cheese - grilled until the cheese browned slightly.  It was a very satisfying and tasty meal.

      Chick pea flour is higher in protein than other flours, contains no gluten, and is good for thickening.  It has a distinctive flavour and is good in savoury dishes.  I recommend it.  The Wikipedia article linked to says that it can be used as a replacement for eggs in baking, which might be worth trying. 

      Meanwhile, enjoy your soup!

      Friday, 10 June 2016

      Rice custard ~ baked ~ delectable!

      This delicious dessert has been enjoyed by everyone who has tasted it.  It is particularly suitable for those who are frail or convalescent as it is easily digestible.  I first tried out the recipe for my frail and elderly mother, whose small appetite challenges us to find new and inventive ways of getting carbohydrates and other nourishing food into her.  She loves it.  It is also great way to use up that cup of left over rice - as long it isn't much salted.  Needless to say, the rest of us made happy inroads into it as well and it has become a favourite!  It's delicious hot or cold, and not too sweet.

      Baked rice custard with jam and cream, a special treat.  What an indulgence!
      In the photographs I hope you can see that the whole custard has held together well and a thick layer of baked custard formed on the top.

      Ingredients and method:
      • Cooked rice - 1 cup.  I use Basmarti
      • Salt - 1/8th teaspoon - if desired
      • Eggs x 2
      • Milk - 2 cups
      • Sugar - 2 tablespoons
      • Vanilla essence, a few drops if desired
      From this you can see that the basic custard is a simple ratio of 1 cup of milk with one egg and one tablespoon of sugar, so it's easy to vary the overall quantity.

      I start with warm rice and milk so that the mixture is warm when fully combined and placed in the oven.  This ensures a predictable baking time.  If starting with cold rice it can be put it in a steamer or the microwave to heat up a bit.  Just be sure that the rice and milk are not so warm as to begin to cook the eggs before everything is combined and in the oven, or you could end up with rice and scrambled eggs! 

      Set the oven to 160 degrees Celsius / 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  
      Beat eggs and salt, add sugar and then warmed milk.  
      Put rice into a buttered casserole dish and put the liquid over it.  
      The dish containing the custard is baked in what is called a bain marie, or water bath.  I have found the best way to do this is as follows:
      • Place a large and empty baking dish into the heated oven.  Mine is enamel. 
      • Place the filled casserole dish into this baking dish
      • Once the oven rack bearing the tray and baking dish has been pushed into the oven and everything is in place use a jug to carefully add warm water to the baking dish until it is perhaps half full.
      Bake for about 30 minutes or until gently set.  

      Do be careful not to overcook it as if set hard it won't be nice at all.  To test that it is sufficiently set open the oven door and with a carefully protected hand gently lift one side of the casserole dish and tilt it.  It should still quiver or at least move a little.  When removing the casserole dish from the oven take care not to slop the hot water from the baking dish.  This can be removed later when the water has cooled.  Just remember that it is there before you use the oven again - and yes, I've done it: slopped cold water everywhere when whisking the dish out to make way for something else!

      I've added another photograph so that you can better see the handsome Temuka pottery bowl I've served it in, a design which has a favourite glaze from years gone by. 

      My other recipes and foody articles can be found by following the link below:
      Articles in my Elderly and Dependent series can be found by following the link below: