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.

The last of the mojitos?

The deck is being replaced and I’ve pulled out the mint which was further threatening its flagging integrity by growing up between the planks. It was also making its way along the edges of the house and making a bid for the territory of the rhubarb. While the rampant mint smelt lovely when it was crushed in the french doors, I had to admit that it was better contained in a pot.

Some pieces with roots were saved to plant. It will be a while before there is sufficient for cocktails, however. Some leaves were picked to use later, but they are looking a little the worse for wear, despite being in a cool spot. I have a flourishing pot of Vietnamese mint, but I guess it won’t do for a mojito.

A further blow to the prospect of mojitos is the scarcity of limes. My young lime tree had one lime this year, having had six last year. It has been fed and mulched and is showing new growth and plenty of flowers now. I have had no luck finding any limes at the local shops recently, although a month or so ago there were plenty of NZ limes, and imported ones too. For tonight’s mojito, I used the last half of a lime which was lurking in the fridge.

Note the scallop-edged china cupboard or cabinet handle (broken) beside the vase of mint leaves. I found it in the soil dug up for cement piles under the deck. It looks Victorian. It joins the jar full of other fragments of interesting china discovered in the garden (see earlier post ‘Digging Deeper’, July 16, 2021).

Double take

I picked up these pine cones near the beach some months ago. They are smooth to touch and look as if they have been lacquered, unlike the usual dry, dusty cones which are collected in sacks to sell for fundraising and which we burn on our fires.

These cones reminded me of the neat little cone my dad made into an owl when we were little. He varnished the closed cone, inverted it so it was point-side down, and added spindly legs and bead eyes. It sat on the glass shelf arrangement called a shadow box on our living room wall.

If you look closely at the photo, you can see that each scale of the cone has two grooves, each holding a seed which looks a bit like a coffee bean. Most of the seeds had dispersed when I found the cones.

I had put a third cone on the outside table. While the deck is being repaired, the table has been moved onto a paved area exposed to the elements. It rained heavily not long after, and I did I double-take yesterday when I noticed the cone had closed. It was a spine-tingling moment of wonder. How could something I thought was dead move its scales to protect the seeds inside? I knew that pine cones open as they dry out. That’s why sacks of pine cones bulge more and more as the cones inside expand, and they make cracking sounds as they open wider if they are in the sun. But to close up in the rain seemed to suggest a mind at work!

Scientific studies have been done to show how pine cones react in wet conditions. It’s quite nice to have a rational explanation, but it’s still an awe-inspiring phenomenon.

I have also learnt that you can hang a pine cone outside to predict dry or wet weather.


For the miracle of a garden and a blue sky on a warm day.

For McLaren treating Betty and Mabel with due respect.

For my nephew splitting logs for me early yesterday.

For my niece sharing photos of her little boy and that he loves books too.

Travis Wetland Walk

Spring is a great time to visit this restored wetland, but it’s about more than the triumph of new growth over winter. It is testimony to the hard work of Anne Flanagan, initially, to save the land from housing development, and the ongoing efforts of many volunteers to replant and maintain the habitats (from sand dune to swamp) which make up the reserve. The city council bought the land in the early 1990s and employs a ranger to oversee the work. Weeding is probably the biggest job, the ranger told us. As the trees establish and drop seeds, the new seedlings have to be allowed to thrive.

After the showy brightness of our Springtime rose gardens, it takes a little while to retrain the eye and appreciate the variety and scale of native plants. Many of them are flowering, discreetly. This stream looks as if it is covered in some sort of algae, but it is a native fern which floats on the water. Close up, it is a complex combination of trailing soft roots and tiny fronds. The flag iris to the right, however, is not indigenous.

Mānuka is flowering (alongside introduced buttercups) and we saw the last area of original mānuka on the Canterbury Plains. Plants being re-established include totara, ribbonwood, lacebark, various coprosmas, kōwhai, mataī and kahikatea. Bees are about.

Many birds have chosen to settle here or to return each year. A recent one is the Cape Barren goose which has self-introduced from Australia. Since it was not brought to Aotearoa by humans it is considered a native species. Spoonbills, pied stilts, Paradise ducks, swans, little diving scaup, kingfishers, warblers and pukeko are some of the established birds. We stood on the bank of the large lake and watched short-finned eels cruising by, while Welcome swallows swooped low across the surface of the water to feed on insects.

Even though, if you look closely, you can see houses in the distance, this view all the way to Te-Poho-o-Tamatea (Port Hills) gives some idea of what it could have been like for Māori – before Europeans arrived with a different view of what land was for. I couldn’t help feeling sad for what we have lost, but hopeful too for the future of this place.

Acknowledgements: The walk was organised by the WEA. Our expert guide was the very knowledgeable environmental advocate Colin Meurk who humorously identifies with the mataī tree in its various manifestations (from a tangled mess of twigs to a giant of the forest) and finds it a useful metaphor of ‘patience and humility’ as he wrote in a chapter in Tree Sense which ends with this inspiring sentence:

We need to acknowledge now, before it is too late, the strong physical, political and spiritual links between trees and place-making, well-being, strength and power, alongside humility, steadfastness, wisdom, patient long-termism, sustainability, and kindness to people and the planet. Like never before, it’s time to think like a matai.

Meurk, Colin D., ‘Think Like a Matai’, p167, Tree Sense ed. Susette Goldsmith, Massey University Press, 2021.

Explosive growth

That sounds rather unpleasant, but I’m talking about the incredible Spring growth in the garden. The plants are practically invading the house, pressing against the windows. When I’m looking out it’s like being in a forest – with the comfort of a couch.

I took the first photo on October 12 and the second one this afternoon. In the second photo, the house has almost disappeared.

The broad beans are bursting out of their dome. The snow peas and lettuces are pushing against the roof and sides of the greenhouse. The broccoli has outgrown its protective netting and, consequently, the chooks have been nibbling the leaves.

Clematis is pouring across the front fence, and banksia is billowing over the back fence. The chooks wade through the long, lush grass.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ pops into my mind when I’m out amongst this explosive growth.

RIP Popcorn

Popcorn – the picture of good health

Popcorn died unexpectedly this morning. She was huddled on the top step to the nesting box breathing noisily. I stroked her and talked to her. She was puffed up and her comb was dark red.

I went inside to google the symptoms. There were the usual references to internal parasites and blockages. One site said that sometimes chooks just do die suddenly. That proved to be the case, as she simply fell off the step.

Yesterday, she was on the back of the chair looking in the window. Later I could hear her ‘popping’ up and down to reach the lettuces in the vertical planter. She dust bathed, enjoyed her treats and hung out with her other three mates all day.

Popcorn eyeing the tomatoes last summer

She is the last of the three rescued chooks who came to live here (temporarily, at first) in January 2020. She is now with Betty (No 1) and Dora in the chicken graveyard under the lilac (which is flowering beautifully). The second little flock of three, which came from my niece in Dunedin, remains. Is it my imagination, or do they seem subdued, this morning? Popcorn used to boss them about a bit, so they may have to re-think the pecking order.

Popcorn in charge

We are subdued too. Popcorn was the ‘star turn’, entertaining us with her antics. She was the first to investigate anything new and the first to run to see if I had anything for her when I was picking salad leaves in the garden – as she did yesterday.

Post-moulting, the new feathers grew abundantly this year

It will be very strange without her. Rest in peace, Popcorn.

Post Script:

Popcorn’s star turn in the after-life