Mabel was the chook who took over Dora’s role as look-out for the flock. She stood up to visiting dogs and put them firmly in their place (quivering inside the door).

Betty and Mabel tell McLaren who’s boss

When the new deck was being built, Vera inspected the work – even wandering in the open door and looking at the startled workers from inside the house.

It was, therefore, surprising that Mabel should suddenly go downhill. Perhaps she was grieving for Betty who had recently died, or grieving for her loss of freedom. Once the deck went down, Mabel and Vera were confined to their run and, extensive though it is, the run does not include their favourite haunts: the garage, the deck, the lawn and the raspberry patch.

Whatever the reason, she became more withdrawn, puffed up, eating little, and spending most of her time on the straw under the henhouse. Vera spent a lot of time with her.

She died on Christmas Eve. She has joined the illustrious company of Betty I, Dora and Popcorn under the lilac tree, with Betty II nearby under the roses.

Vera, who was the lowest in the pecking order before, is the sole survivor. Her appetite is good. She seems to enjoy sitting in the warm hay in the run, or under the henhouse (where I have placed a mirror to help her feel less alone).

In the last couple of days, I’ve let her out onto the lawn for a couple of hours as there is no grass or clover in the run. She enjoys sinking down into it gracefully like a lady in a crinoline and spreading her ‘petticoats’ in the sun.

Out in the world, there is a shortage of eggs as poultry farmers adjust to the new animal welfare rules and ‘battery’ farming is banned. I have no plans to replenish the flock, however.

This little flock, a Christmas gift, will do for now.

Harriet, Hester and Henrietta


A small thing’ – really?


talk or act frivolously.

“we will not trifle—life is too short”

Google Dictionary, Oxford Languages
The finished trifle, photo bombed by a Christmas elf

You have to wonder why this creation is called a ‘trifle’. It’s a complicated assemblage of ingredients over two days – well, this version at least. The particular trifle I undertook to make for Christmas dinner is called Strawberry Daiquiri Trifle. It involves jelly, sliced strawberries, vanilla bean custard, sponge fingers, rum and lime syrup and a final layer of whipped cream and macerated strawberries. I opted out of making the sponge fingers and vanilla bean custard and sourced them in two different supermarkets – and topped up my white rum supply while I was out. My penchant for cocktails seems to have influenced my choosing this particular dessert.

Then began the making of jelly, refrigerating (I had to remove a shelf to fit the dish in) and waiting before adding strawberries, more refrigerating (overnight), making rum and lime syrup into half of which went more strawberries to soak overnight and, next day, layering the custard, the sponge fingers drizzled with rum syrup, and more strawberries, and more hours of refrigeration. No trifling matter.

Before serving, a topping of cream and macerated strawberries is added. The end result is anything but ‘a trifle’. It weighs a ton. But it does look spectacular.

My niece caught me looking very pleased with the result…or is that expression a consequence of too much bubbly?

Grasping an invisible glass

My sister looks delighted too – not to mention delightful.

The trifle aftermath is less spectacular. The structure that makes it visually pleasing collapses into a mess of custard, cream and soggy strawberries as soon as you dig into it. That visual disappointment seems to affect the taste which is perhaps unbalanced, although some texture from the sponge fingers and the subtle flavour of rum and lime are perceptible.

Despite that, I and (I suspect) the Christmas elves, are happy to have the left-overs for breakfast – and perhaps a trifle more for lunch today, Boxing Day. On a philosophical note, perhaps the greatest pleasures of our lives are, in sum, made up of everyday trifles.


It’s the time of year for brightness and abundance. Summer Solstice was this week and we’re on the downhill slope into the fullness of summer.

I arrived home at dusk recently and found my back garden glowing with the white flowers of feverfew. I’ve heard of people favouring white flowers in order to achieve this breath-taking effect. Now I know why.

The myrtle tree is covered with white flowers too – although recent rain has subdued it somewhat. The feijoa has very festive flowers, as does the fuchsia. The sweet peas are out and smelling wonderful. The Ake ake is a festive look in a vase, which I discovered after pruning it a little and deciding I couldn’t just discard the flowering stems. A kind friend gave us Christmas lilies.

Even the Strawberry Daiquiri Trifle I’ve begun to assemble, like a work of art, has a glowing layer of strawberry jelly.

Merry Christmas!

All hands on deck

The new deck seems larger than the old one. Perhaps it’s the wider boards. Or the lack of clutter. I finished painting the new rails and step edge today. The new step down to the lawn makes all the difference for access from house to garden.

The old deck was rotting and unsteady. The landscaper removed the old boards and we could see why. There was hardly any bracing underneath.

My nephew, a builder’s apprentice, spotted the issues immediately and the family rallied. He and his dad got to work and put in many bolts, new bracing, and concrete piles. Others in the family collected supplies and laboured. I removed all the mint spreading underneath, and wisteria which had wound its way towards the house. I dug out a lot of dirt and repainted the lower weatherboards and the deck edge.

The chooks inspected the work.

This was the chooks’ last chance to be on the deck, as I decided they must keep off it and they needed to be out of the way while the work on the deck was being done. I extended their run and they now have a large area with plenty of shade and shelter and even access to the garden shed. They seem to be getting used to it and they still get all the usual treats! I am no longer on constant ‘chicken-poo patrol’ cleaning up the deck and lawn.

The deck installers, two young Yorkshire men, took twelve hours to complete the deck with ‘the boss’ helping with the final push at the end.

I supplied fresh rhubarb muffins and homemade elderflower cordial (“That’s well good,” said one) and, later, cheese and crackers and ginger beer. I was worried about them working so long in one day, but they seemed to take it in their stride.

The new deck is as steady as a rock and, with no chooks on board, it is a pleasant place to sit outside.

RIP Beautiful Betty (No 2)

Hens have a way of fixing you with a look:

Betty, August 2022

As she got older, Betty’s feathers darkened. The pattern on her back was distinctive and reminded me of wholegrain oats.

She came to live at our house in March 2021 from Dunedin, with her two flock-mates, Mabel and Vera.

Her previous owners came to visit from time to time.

Will renews acquaintance with Betty

For over a year, we had a flock of five hens and plenty of eggs. In the last few months, however, egg production has stopped permanently. These brown shavers are bred to produce and then die, basically. Now Betty is gone, there are two left.

Betty had been sick for a week. I had to carry her out of her house each day and she would sit in a quiet, shady spot all day, sipping water and only occasionally showing an interest in food.

Mabel and Vera sat with her a lot during the day. She would walk back to her house each night – until the last two days when I had to carry her. She passed away last night.

There was an ‘open casket viewing’ before burial.

Mabel and Vera pay their last respects.

The chicken burial plot under the lilac tree is quite crowded now: Betty No 1, Dora, Popcorn. I buried Betty nearby under some roses where there is undercover of violets and Solomon’s Seal.