Archive for the ‘home’ Category

One of the changes I made to the backyard here last year was to take out the old fishpond. It was a feature my ex-husband put in about twenty-five years ago. For the last twelve years, I have been responsible for the pond he left behind, feeding the fish, replacing dead ones, and doing the stinking job of cleaning it out every six months. With the warmer temperatures and a much warmer winter in 2021, the pond needed cleaning more often, and frankly, I tired of doing it. In the interest of “doing less” in 2022, (one of my New Year’s resolutions), I decided to remove it.

I gave the goldfish away and emptied the pond. Underneath the plastic liner, I found the edging was made from native hardwood and was still sound. Naturally, I kept the edging, thinking I could turn it into a raised bed.
As November and December went by the deep cavity left by the pond slowly became filled with clay (debris from other garden projects). A small clay mountain in my backyard was not the replacement for the fishpond I had been anticipating. Time to start the process of transforming the clay into friable soil suitable for growing vegetables.

Where I live the area is quite well known for being built on clay. The topsoil was stripped when the land was developed back in the 60s and it generally takes a lot of work to create viable vegetable plots. In the past, I have simply bought in topsoil and compost. But, since I created my compost heap last year, I wanted to employ that resource for this bed and endeavour to work with the clay. I began by moving the hardwood edging I had saved into place.

Under ordinary circumstances, if you aim to turn the dense ground into soil good enough for growing things, you would start working compost and organic matter into the dirt, and within a few years, you would reach the objective. However, there is a quicker way. The magic world of mycelium. This is a type of underground fungi that holds soil together and integrates all landscapes. Mycelium is known as the great molecular soil disassembler of mother nature. It was the first life on the planet billions of years ago, preceding soil and plants, a ‘microbial universe that gives rise to a plurality of other organisms.’

You can transform clay into ‘the good oil’ using compost alone, but if you add mycelium then you accelerate the process exponentially. Mycelium can even convert stone into soil. The oxalic acids and enzymes it produces grab calcium and other minerals, forming calcium oxalates, which are the first step in forming soil. *If you want to know more about mycelium, check out the work of Paul Edward Stamets, an American mycologist, and entrepreneur who sells various mushroom products through his company. He is an author and advocate of medicinal fungi and mycoremediation.
To find mycelium for your garden projects, all you need is a small amount of tissue, which can be found in the ground of old-growth forests. Or you can contact the Stamets website for purchase details.

The first step for my bed was to sprinkle lime over the clay. This is known to break down heavy ground into the soil eventually. I watered this in well. Then I lay on top of the lime old partly-rotted branches and sticks from elsewhere on our property. I watered this in also. For mycelium, I didn’t want to go digging in the public forests because it’s illegal. Instead, I went to my lovely compost heap. Now, as it happens, I’ve been lax and have failed to keep turning the contents regularly and what this has done, unbeknownst to me, is allow the mycelium to grow. The sign of the presence of these fungi in the ground is when the dirt is spongy. I used a spade to get down through the layers of compost and discovered spongy ground. Then I dug out my very own mycelium. Score!

I spread this precious network of cellular architecture on top of my partly-rotted branches on the clay and covered it with some of the lighter material from the compost heap. Again, I watered it carefully. The mycelium should now produce the oxalic acids and enzymes and form the calcium oxalates that will accelerate the desired changes. I set bricks beneath the hardwood edging to give the raised bed more stability and strength.

Last but not least, I laid some old palm fronds over the top to give the contents some much-needed shade from the intense heat of our summer sun. Now, all that is needed is daily watering to keep the mycelium and compost damp, so that it can do its good work. I’m excited to see what takes place and shall be keeping an eye on my soil experiment. Once, I have established friable rich ground in this bed, then the planting can begin. Yay!
If you have kids who are gamers, they will likely already know about the benefits of mycelium. My sixteen-year-old said, ‘Mycelium, oh yeah, I use that sometimes playing Minecraft.’ Gotta love that. Happy gardening.

What sort of soil do you have? If clay is an issue, what have you tried to change the condition? I’m open to further tips.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius


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The other day, upon entering our garage, a bee zoomed towards me. It circled, flying towards me again and again. I thought, what odd behaviour. Two days later, we caught three bees inside the house. Odd. Then, I was weeding when I heard buzzing and looked up. There were hundreds of bees flying in and out of our chimney!
It turns out, I learned later, that the first oddly-acting bee was the “scout,” sent to find a new location for the swarm.
The bees’ new home was in our chimney stack.

Cue the frantic Google search. The first beekeeper I spoke to expressed dismay. “Chimneys are particularly difficult,” she said. “We may not be able to remove the bees from there. You may have to call the exterminator.” I said, “I don’t want to harm the bees.” She asked, in all seriousness, “Could you live with them?” I didn’t have to think about it. I quickly replied, “NO.”
I love bees. But if there is such a thing as too many, then this was that situation.
The beekeeper recommended The Bee Club. I contacted their website. The next day, a nice older gentleman arrived. It was like seeing the cavalry coming in. I was so pleased to see him, let’s call him Don.

Don walked in armed with a bee suit, handheld smoker, a ladder, and believe it or not, a vacuum cleaner which he had attached to a clear plastic box.
I told him about the lady asking if we could live with the swarm. Don said, “That’s not a good idea. The honey and the wax attract vermin. The hive will grow until it’s too big for the chimney. After the swarm departs the hive will die, attracting more vermin. And once you’ve had wax in your chimney, it attracts more scouts because the bees smell the wax.”
Happy days. Not.
Don took one look up and said, “I don’t know if I can do it. That’s a tall chimney, and I have to be able to see down into it.”
Oh boy! I was “thinking the right thoughts” over that one.

Don looked up again. He said if I had a ladder, he could climb onto the roof then put his ladder against the upper stack. I brought ours out of the garage. Gamely, he went up to our rickety old ladder. From the roof, Don set up his collapsible one against the stack and was able to get high enough to look inside. Lifting the metal plate that sealed the stack, he peeked underneath. “Okay, this might be possible.”
Thank you!
We handed him all his equipment under strict instructions to only hold the smoker by the bellows as it is hot. Then we stood back to watch the show.
First, Don used his smoker, burning a mixture of humus material and pine needles. He puffed under the lid and around the chimney top. He lifted the lid slowly. “This hasn’t been here long. Maybe two days at most. They haven’t made any wax.”
Whew. What a relief.

Don lifted the lid, and hanging beneath it was a cluster of bees, somehow hanging together. I imagine they were surrounding the queen, keeping her safe. We onlookers gasped. By holding the plate above his plastic box, Don gave it a sudden bang on the side of the box, and all the bees fell in as one. He put the lid over the top, and he had bagged the queen and most of the workers. It was amazing.
Then Don switched on his magic vacuum and started vacuuming bees out of our chimney to join the others in the plastic box. After five or so minutes, he said, “I could keep on vacuuming two hundred more bees, but if I do, the ones in the box will asphyxiate.” So he sprayed fly spray inside to kill the bees remaining and laid a concrete block over the hole.

Don had rescued most of the swarm, even the queen. He had rid our chimney of bees. Thank goodness. And all of this is voluntary work for a man in his golden years. Wow.
What was he going to do with our bees? Don told me he was taking them to a new beekeeper who lived nearby.
I got an email from him yesterday, and he said our bee swarm is settling in nicely to their warm hive. We should expect a jar of honey in our mailbox soon. Happy days.
When I put this story on Facebook, I got quite a few responses from friends who had had similar dramas happen with bees and wasps on their properties. Have you ever had trouble with beehives or wasp nests? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ~ Aesop


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Do you have a garden bed that is in a difficult spot in your garden? Our rockery in the backyard is in a challenging position. Located behind the house, it offers drought and flood and full shadow for most of the day. Previously, we had had a dragon tree in the rockery and a young native tree that was already much too large. The job of transforming the rockery became my “lockdown project.” Change it. I would. And, here’s what I did.
The first casualty was the young tree. With the potential to grow into a grand chieftain, I removed it from the rockery, leaving a long oval-shaped dry bed featuring a lone dragon tree at one end and a spindly sapling at the other. The proposition of making this awkward bed into ‘something’ was daunting. With gardening, you have to attempt to forecast into the future how plants will grow and envisage the potential outcome. In the end, you throw the dice and leave it up to nature. Who dares, wins, right?

I started by simply clearing the weeds and scraping off years of detritus to reduce the bed to a blank canvas. The old bricks which had formed the edging had sunk into the ground over time, nearly disappearing in the mud. I dug these out, cleaning them as I went. Then I packed soil around the edges of the bed, putting the bricks back on top, thereby lifting the edging clear.
There are a few ways to go about laying the foundations of a garden bed. You can plant intensely and not worry about weeds. Or you can set down weed matting, adding bark. Or you can do what the landscapers do, lay a layer of bark at least 400 mm deep so the weeds can not grow.

In the case of the rockery, when I tried to lift the top layer of weed matting, I discovered another, even older layer of matting much farther down. So rather than excavating, I opted to leave the matting in place. If you use a weed mat, you will need to add blood and bone to the soil to correct the PH balance of the soil before adding the mat and the bark on top. So I treated every plant with a good dose of blood and bone mixed in with the potting mix.
My father built the rockery wall out of bluestone in the early 1960s. He needed a retaining wall to create a flatter area in our sloping back garden. The wall was higher than it is now, but over the years, the top tier of bluestone had been robbed out and used elsewhere.

One of my first jobs was to hunt out the rogue bluestones from every corner of the property. Then I lay the stones across the bed to create a stepping stone path, imagining my grandchildren hopping from stone to stone one day.
The rockery is a raised bed. Therefore, it’s helpful to use drought-tolerant plants. Cacti and succulents are ideal. Being situated in the lee of the house, I also needed plants that could handle shade. Ask at your local garden centre for suitable plants for the conditions in your bed. In our case, I planted a line of Buxus hedge trees, which are hardy. Along the front of the rockery bed, I dug in yellow grasses for colour and contrast.
To square off with the lone dragon tree in one corner, I moved my ponytail palm from the front bed into the rockery. Being at the other end of the bed to the lone dragon tree, it makes sense. Huzzah!

Then I planted a dwarf apricot tree. My sister donated a hydrangea, and I planted a few of my mother’s orchids. If you choose to plant an orchid, use the proper potting mix (similar to bark). They do well in the shade.
I still had a gnarly stump in the rockery and an unwieldy section of the tree trunk that was too big to cut with a chainsaw. In the case of immovable obstacles, why not turn them into features? Beneath the dragon tree, I set the section of the trunk upright. Then I turned both the stump and the trunk into wood sculptures by decorating them with my father’s aerophytes (air plants) and rocks.

The last stage of the transformation was to spread bark in between the plants and the stones. I think it looks great. Yesterday, my three-year-old granddaughter came over to visit. When we took a walk in “Nana’s garden,” she automatically dashed over and hopped from stone to stone across the rockery bed. It was a wonderful moment.
I hope you have gained some inspiration for your difficult garden beds. Let me know your stories.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt

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Currently, we are in lockdown level 4 in New Zealand. I have been watching the news (I normally do not watch it at all). It is easy to spend time worrying about businesses trying to pay staff during the lockdown, all the overworked essential workers, and our healthcare system under pressure. You feel for the parents working from home, especially the solo parents, those with small children, the lonely old folk, and the teachers trying to teach online. It is not an easy time. However, I have noticed a heartening difference in the way people in my neighbourhood behave. The first time we went into Level 4 lockdown in 2020, when out walking, other walkers and runners would look down or away while crossing the street to avoid you. This time around we are still keeping our distance, but the other people out exercising have looked at me and waved, calling cheery hellos, and smiling behind their masks. I think there is a collective understanding that we have been through this before, and we will get through it again given the right attitude.
There also seems to be a realization we need each other, and we are more aware that we miss those human interactions when we are confined to our bubbles.

A lot of people get swept up by the fear and stressed out. I rang the doctor this morning, and the receptionist said Kia ora like she would bite my head off in one gulp. The stress is real. We have to find coping mechanisms that work for us. I always tell my friends to shut off all the devices in the house and pick up a good book. Looking back, I realized that apart from taking long breaks from the news, it was writing and reading that really helped me through the lockdown in 2020. The same coping mechanisms will help get me through the lockdowns in 2021. I have a few excellent books on the go at the moment. I’m reading, Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman, Spirit Animals Fire, and Ice, by Shannon Hale, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare (thanks to fellow writer Susan Baury Rouchard for sending me that one).

If I find myself panicking, I turn off the devices, then do something I love, whether it be reading, gardening, walking, painting, or just watching a movie eating bon-bons.

Yesterday, a friend said, It looks like things are going to be turbulent for a while. I replied, We have to hold onto our joy more tightly. There is nothing we can do to alter what is going on out there. But we do have control over how we react and act while we are in isolation. There are a few tricks I have learned since 2020 about how to keep my family’s spirits up while we’re in isolation.
My Top Tips:
Limit news updates/turn off your devices
Paint your toenails (and your kids’ toenails – my boys think it is hilarious)
Sleep in! (For a lifelong early riser like myself, this has been a revelation!)
Wear bright colours. (I have shelved all the grey and black in my wardrobe. It is a simple trick, but it makes me feel happier to wear all the brightest clothes I own)
Bake!

Read! (Maybe I will make progress through my tower of to-be-read novels)
Coloured lights! (Drag out your fairy lights, or any twinkle lights and have them on all day as well as at night)
Flowers. (I pick flowers daily on my morning walk along the verges and alleyways and set out mini posies around the house)
Music! (Play your favourite tunes, sing-along, and dance like nobody is watching)
Talk! (Phone your loved ones. Talk across the fence to your neighbours. Sit and talk with the family members in your household). Check on the people you know.
Work in the garden
Dress up in crazy clothes (it makes the boys and I laugh to wear silly hats)

Exercise
Do something creative (my friend said she has started writing limericks because they make her think and make her laugh)
Do a jigsaw (My father’s favourite pastime is fun and calming)
Meditate
Write a gratitude journal
Be kind
We will get through this, just like we have done before. Stay calm and carry on and remember to hold onto your joy tightly!
What are your top tips for staying positive during lockdown?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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As we traverse this very unstable time, it is so important that we keep track of our real joy and our vitality. ~ Jai Dev Singh
 


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The weekend before last, I hosted my girlfriends here for a garden tour and a picnic lunch. What I needed was a dessert that could do double duty as a delectable after lunch treat and a take home treat for my guests. Cookies, or “biscuits” as we call them down here in New Zealand, seemed the perfect answer.

Whenever the occasion calls for cookies, I always go to my favourite ever treat, my legendary chocolate walnut cookies. It’s a dreamy dessert I concocted years ago when I got sick of making plain vanilla biscuits. I’m a big fan of adding nuts to baking. When I first devised this recipe, which is basically a richer version of a chocolate chip, I used macadamia nuts to contrast with the brown of the chocolate. But in the interests of making them more affordable, I changed to walnuts with some pecans thrown in for a variety of taste and texture.

Ingredients List:

125 g butter

¾ cup Demerara sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence or extract

1 large egg

1 cup walnuts and pecans, roughly chopped

Kingsize block or 125 g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

2 cups organic white stone-ground unbleached flour

1 tsp baking powder (organic if you can get it)

Solid pinch of Himalayan salt

Here’s how to make your cookies:

Cream together butter and sugar until lighter and texture. Add egg beating well. Add a generous pinch of salt. Sift flour and baking together, mix into butter and sugar mixture. Add chocolate and nuts, mix to combine.

Form into small balls, setting them out on an oven tray. Flatten slightly with a fork.

Bake at 190 degrees Celsius for 12 minutes.

I made these cookies the day before the garden tour. Once they had cooled fully, I filled the cookie jar for our table at lunch. Then I packaged two to three cookies into each small cellophane bag. These I popped these into my plain brown paper bags.

I added a fresh sprig of bay leaves from our amazing bay leaf tree to each bag. And then I could send each guest home at the end of our lovely day together, with cookies and fresh bay leaves. Everybody loved it. People like a slight gesture and it makes them feel special. Mission accomplished.

Enjoy!

If you try them, let me know what you think…

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom. ~ Thomas Carlyle

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When I moved back to “the old homestead,” the house my father built in 1962, I had grand designs for a large vegetable garden. The plot would cover the whole right corner of this quarter acre section. It still hasn’t happened. I pictured it in that spot because growing up, I remember my parents tending vegetables there. They had rows of raised beds with a path down the middle. If mum and dad were not at work, they were tending the garden and they produced a lot of fruit and vegetables from this small property. I aspired to do the same.

That was before I had my two youngest boys. A sunken trampoline took up residence in my designated vegetable plot. Life became crazy busy and somehow eighteen years went by. Our only vegetable patch has been a narrow strip of earth in the front yard. And we spend a small fortune at the greengrocers every week. My two teenage boys eat enough fruit and vegetables each day for a small rhinoceros. I thought, I have to find a way of creating a vegetable patch. After some research and conversations with knowledgeable types, (friends and family members), I came up with a plan. I built my own raised bed and you can do it too.

Here’s how:

Start by choosing where the plot is going to be, and how you want it to look. It seems obvious, but if you’re not clear, you will waste valuable time later when the builder arrives. It will cost more and make the process a lot less enjoyable.

I chose an area close to the kitchen.

Measure the area so you know how much wood you’ll need. Research your timber, as most woods will need painting to help them resist water and soil. Some people line raised beds with thin rubber sheeting as well. *Tip: I ordered macrocarpa sleepers. They are more expensive than other timbers, but the macrocarpa doesn’t require painting or lining. The high resin content makes it resistant to rot, and being untreated with chemicals, the wood is not harmful for the vegetables. Originally I’d wanted the raised bed to be the height of two sleepers, but because my chosen wood was so expensive I made it the height of one sleeper instead. *Look for the native resinous timbers that are available in your area.

Next, dig out your patch of ground. Why dig? There are greeblies (official term) that live in the grass and upper topsoil that are harmful to vegetables. If you try to put your soil directly on top of your lawn, the vegetables will not thrive. You’ll need to dig down at least 5 -7 cm and remove the turfs. *Tip: Water the area of ground to be dug beforehand. It softens the soil and makes it easier to dig.

Take a rake and level the exposed soil. My chosen area was on a slope, so I levelled as best I could. Then hire someone to do the building if you can’t do it yourself so the structure will come together properly and stay straight.

Figure out how much soil you will need. *Tip: ask the builder. That’s what I did. I ordered a cubic metre of soil from a landscaping company, half a cubic metre of topsoil to give the bed density, and half a cubic metre of the lighter “garden mix” of composted soil. *Tip: topsoil will still have weeds in it, so it’s worth buying the expensive composted material for the top layer.

Lay the topsoil in the bed first then fill with the garden mixture soil heaping it up into a generous mound. *Tip: it needs to be extra high as it will settle with time.

Sprinkle handfuls of fertilizer (I used blood & bone) into the top layer of soil, mix it in with a garden fork, and then rake the surface smooth. Mix with compost if you have it.

Water the soil and cover the mound with bark mulch. The mulch keeps in moisture, deters birds, and it also retards the weeds.

Now, it’s time to plant the vegetables.

Last, but not least, you need to construct a netting tent to prevent birds from pecking your new plants out of the ground. The netting will act as a light frost cloth, protecting your plants from frost in the mornings, and do triple-duty, acting as a shade cloth to keep out some of the harsh sun.

I used sturdy bamboo stakes, bird netting, and twisty ties. It was easy to wedge the bamboo stakes into place with bricks in the corners and sides of the raised bed. Then I affixed the bird netting to the stakes using twisty ties.

What do you think?

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. ~Audrey Hepburn

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No matter how bad the year has been, I always try to take time on December 31st to think about what I’ve achieved during the year and all the things I have to be grateful for. My dear grandmother used to say something wise at the end of every visit. As I would reach the door, having hugged and kissed and said our farewells, reminding her when I’d be back again–the following Thursday for our weekly lunch and afternoon together–Gran would say something wise, usually the same few old sayings over and over. I never tired of hearing her say them. I felt I needed to hear the words that often to get the message. And one of her favourites was to say, “Remember, my dear, to always look for the silver lining and you will find it.” I loved that saying then, and I love it now.

I remember, Gran, I hear you saying the words and it helps guide me in my life. You had certain wisdom you passed onto me that has become part of who I am and how I deal with things. In the most horrible of situations, I try to look for the good that can come out of it. My grandmother was a great believer in “the power of positivity” as she called it. Gran believed and often told us about the transformative power of having an optimistic attitude. She was an ardent admirer of the Methodist minister Norman Vincent Peale’s work, and The Power of Positive Thinking was her favourite book, one she often quoted from. She would grab her well-worn hardback copy, kept in a bookcase by the front door, and open the plain blue cover to thumb through and read aloud a much-loved quote. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

I respected Gran’s enthusiasm for the topic and warmed to Peale’s ideas immediately. I have several Norman Vincent Peale’s inspirational books in my library and refer to his wisdom often. It helps to have tools such as these when looking back on 2020, as I was doing last night.

As I say, I take the time on New Year’s Eve to appreciate the twelve months gone before. When I looked back on the year we’ve had, it was hard at points to see the good in it. Man, it has been and continues to be a struggle. 2020 took a toll on me. The strain and anxiety around the whole Covid situation was intense, my concern being for my two younger boys. Both are at high risk. Nathaniel, the youngest, is asthmatic, and Samuel lives with a condition called “wet lungs,” caused by his aspirating food and fluids. Both boys were/are highly susceptible to infection, and Covid would be a death sentence. So we lived through months of tension and strife just going to the store.

At the same time as being confined to my home with two huge teenage boys and an adult nephew underfoot, I was editing The Last Tree and revising the first two books in my series, The Or’in of Tane and The Sasori Empire. I had a release date that kept getting pushed further and further back because it took so much longer than expected. Home, property, and kids went neglected as I slogged my way through editing day and night. It turned into six long months of stress and toil, PAINFUL in the extreme. I thought it would never be over, and I vowed I’d never release three books at once, ever again.

But I got there, releasing The Chronicles of Aden Weaver on October 10th. That was a big win for me in 2020. The book launch was the culmination of fifteen years writing this story and pursuing a dream, and I’m proud of myself. The trilogy sits on my bookshelf, the crowning achievement of 38 years writing for children. I’m glad I achieved that goal. Now I have these books and my children to leave as my legacy to the world which is a good feeling.

When I looked back, I saw other blessings too. I’ve made positive changes for my health and wellness. I doubled my meditation time, so now I start every day with twenty minutes of meditation, and I have more barefoot time in the garden, which helps me feel grounded. The boys are well and have done more reading. When schools reopened, we found a carer supporter, so Sam started Special Olympics basketball, and Nat made it into “A-team” in volleyball. All good things!

Gran you were right, I looked for the silver lining and it was there. What’s your silver lining?
Here’s to 2021. Happy New Year!

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Change your thoughts and you change your world. ~ Norman Vincent Peale

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

December 2 question – Are there months or times of the year you are more productive with your writing than other months, and why?

Yes, definitely the winter and autumn months are the most productive for me because during those months I’m indoors more and the shorter days keep me at my desk, whereas in spring and summer I’m hopping outside all the time at every excuse just to do things in the garden and feel the warmth of the sunshine. Spring is my favourite season of the year. I love the blossoms and flowers, the cool green shade of new leaves, the scents on the air.

Working from home in your jim-jams with a view of your garden, outside the French doors it’s hard not to hop outside and run around barefoot regularly.

In particular, I find the start of summer distracting. For us here in New Zealand, summer begins in December, which is also the beginning of the festive season. Coloured lights are going up outside houses and within. The lighted trees are appearing in living rooms, including ours. The decorations festoon the shops and there are wonderful gift ideas everywhere I go. I’m not one of those people who can do Christmas shopping all year round. To me, that is something you do in December, when there’s glitter and greenery in every mall and the cupboards at home become hiding places for gifts and gift-wrap. I like to make a master list around this time of the folk I want to buy a little something special for, and that includes family, friends, teachers and all the various bods who help my son with Down Syndrome throughout the year.

Then a few days of each week leading up to the 25th, I go out and slowly make the rounds of all my favourite stores. I don’t rush in, buy the thing I want and rush out again, I like to window-shop, walk around and look at the decorations and all the wares. I savour the experience. I like to take my time over every gift and think about that person and consider them. Then I get to go home and wrap the gifts beautifully. It’s lovely.

Shopping in crowds gets a little stressful, however. There is a lot to do in the festive season. It’s busy. Everyone rushes everywhere. Doing the grocery shopping yesterday, there was a lot more traffic on the road, the car parks were fuller and the queues longer. But you expect public places to be more crowded, and you adjust to it as you go along. Buying your groceries takes a lot longer, but that’s okay. I even enjoy the hectic side. It’s only Christmas once a year and after the shit year we’ve had this is fun.

It’s almost impossible for me to get any writing done in the festive season, so productivity plummets through early summer to mid-summer.

Usually after Christmas there are family jaunts to the beach, picnics, road trips and get-togethers. I will typically pick up the pen and paper or the laptop again, in February to start my writing year again. I’m lucky though, as I don’t do this to make a living. I write at the weekends when my kids are elsewhere. If I was a professional writer, I would have to put butt in the chair and do the hours.

I really prefer to be a part-time author at this stage. I’ve been raising kids all my adult life. On Sunday I turn fifty-six years old and it feels like I can see 60 coming up fast. I don’t want to spend my entire life hunched over a computer. I want to be out there enjoying my days as well, so for me, being non productive is important to my well-being. Then I feel I come back to my writing with extra energy, fresh eyes, and a new appreciation of life.

How do you feel about your productivity and why?

Keep Writing!

Yvette Carol

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Albert Camus once said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”

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The city has gone quiet and the noise from the motorway barely audible. In New Zealand, we are officially on lock down as the government helps everyone in the fight to contain the Covid-19 virus. We have four weeks ahead of self isolation and with luck the government will step the nation down from a “Level Four Alert” to a Level Three. It’s okay. I can hear more of the bird calls and the songs of the insects. It sounds poignant. Some people say they don’t like the quiet. I love it. I haven’t seen the streets this quiet since I was a kid growing up here in the sixties. The stillness feels peaceful, which is just what we need as we curl inside our family “bubbles” and prepare to hibernate.

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Essential services are still running. I ventured out yesterday to do the grocery shopping, and it was nerve-wracking. Police outside the supermarket, hazard signs, and perspex barriers between us and the checkout operators.

How do I cope with going out in public? I take preventative measures.

There are face masks available at some local chemists. I’m doing my best to follow all the preventative measures. The boys and I are washing our hands regularly and using Hand Sanitizer. We keep a distance of two meters from others in public. When we get home we shower, wash the clothes we were wearing and put shoes and coats out in the sun. We wash all the groceries, fruit, vegetables, and the packaging of processed foods in warm soapy water. There are many things we can do to minimize the risk.

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It is still scary. Every day we hear about new cases of people infected. I hope my family will be okay. But yesterday, while in the supermarket, two men sneezed and did not put an elbow over their faces. In another aisle, an online shopper was putting goods in his basket and did a sneeze over the goods he had collected. Horrible. Though sneezing is not a symptom of Covid-19, when there is a deadly virus around, any sign of illness is off-putting. If they’d had face masks on they wouldn’t have shared their illness with us. I realized how little control I had over the situation and for the first time I was afraid. There is an invisible danger every time I leave the house, and yet I still have to enter the supermarket and grocery store to get supplies each week.

How do I cope with the fear? Deep breathing helps. I sometimes say a mantra. I find meditation helps me stay on an even keel, so I’ve been meditating more than usual.

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After this week’s sneezing incident, I’ve taken the boys’ father up on his offer to do the shopping for both households for the duration of the lock down period. The fewer people out there, the better.

Yet, as social animals, we still need social interaction. It can get lonely in isolation. Thank goodness for modern technology. People have been reaching out to each other, face timing relatives on Skype and meeting with friends online. I’ve heard from friends, family, and Toastmasters colleagues. I’ve had videos sent to me via Facebook of friends singing. My old friends from schooldays are meeting up via Zoom room this Friday night for “virtual drinks.”

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This week we had our club’s first ever online Toastmasters meeting, and it was great fun. In among the fear, there have been positive things that have come out of this extraordinary time as people find new ways of connecting and supporting one another.

However, there’s also such a thing as being too plugged in. With world news at the moment, I think less is more. I sat and watched the BBC news with my son the other night and afterwards I felt almost unable to function. Stress lowers immunity function. I think for now, a light touch with the news is necessary for one’s well-being.

If we give in to the fear, we spiral downward. We have to stay strong mentally and emotionally and physically. That’s the only way we can be of service to our families. We have to persevere, keep our spirits up, the morale high.

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How do I keep my spirits up? I gravitate towards things I enjoyed doing as a kid.

I read books, watch movies, draw pictures, doodle, write stories, listen to music, sing, dance, go outside into the garden, plant things, and spend time with my family.

The boys and I have done their schoolwork together, gone for family runs, and we’ve played board games. I’ve seen whole families out biking to the park, couples walking dogs.

We’re reminded we can get through this together, and we will. How about you, how are you doing?

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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The darkest night is often the bridge to the brightest tomorrow. – Jonathan Lockwood Huie

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 * There are free counselling services in New Zealand. Call or text 1737. Check what’s available in your area.

I inherited a fishpond with this property. My ex husband put the pond in during the ten-year period he was living here, and as usual it was one of his do-it-yourself creations. He’s always been a fish guy. When he left, I took over care of the pond and scores of fish.

Slowly, as the last eleven years have gone by, the fish stock has dwindled down to two survivors. I’m not a fish guy.

The pond admittedly was looking overgrown. I had cleaned it out a few times, but the plastic liner was getting old. Last year, with all the rain we had in winter, the pond filled up to the brim as it always does, but this time the water was brown. I didn’t know what to do. So I rang the ex husband. I said, “Isn’t the brown water going to kill the fish?” He said, “Well, it’s not good for them. You need to replace the liner every ten years.” I said, “Thanks for telling me.” Oh, dear! There was nothing I could do because the garden was a sea of mud the rest of winter.

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I hadn’t seen a sign of the goldfish since then and had assumed they were both dead. 

We’ve had a hotter than usual spring and summer in New Zealand and pond water evaporates fast in the heat. Instead of refilling, I thought I’d let the water mostly evaporate naturally, as the fish were dead. I was planning to fill in the hole in our lawn. This week, I poked around in the fetid water but there was no sign of anything living. So I started emptying the rest of the pool with a bucket. When I got down to the last inches, suddenly there was a flash of red. There was a survivor, just one, but, hey.

Suddenly, I was back in the fish business. I had to figure out how to recreate the ex husband’s D-I-Y pond and save the goldfish.

by Gary Cook

It wasn’t difficult at all. In fact it was fun. In the interests of sharing how easy and cheap it is to create your own fishpond in your backyard, I thought I’d share the steps with you.

Instructions

Start by digging a hole in the lawn. Don’t just dig a boring square or an oval, do something off-beat and interesting. Dig down in stepped levels. Think of fish as intelligent beings in need of mental stimulation (and water and food). Who wants bored fish, just hanging there? Give them something to do to keep them feisty for as long as possible.

Line the hole with plastic. Here’s a tip. Don’t go to the landscaping section of your hardware store, the pool liner they had there would have cost $150 for three meters. Go to the building supplies section. I bought a roll of black polythene, which says on the label is suitable for lining rock pools, 2 x 5 meters for $10.50. There might even be enough to re-line it again in another ten years.

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Place stones or bricks around the edges to hold the plastic down.

Go to your local pet store to pick up supplies. You’ll need a fish! I bought a mate for our poor survivor.

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Buy fish food and oxygen weed, water lilies and pond grass and so on, things for the fish to hide under and to eat. Fish will eat anything. My parents used to supply their ponds with aquatic snails but I don’t bother. They were fish guys, I’m not.

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When putting your pond together, try to create a few areas with rocks that provide shelters for the fish to hide under and that are also fun. I try to position rocks to make shelves they can swim around, and I put one of those sections of old ceramic pipe on the bottom to create a tunnel for them to swim through.

Once the rocks are in place, three quarter fill the pond to allow for rainfall, if you live in a dry area then fill higher, and add your pond weed. Next, sit the goldfish into the pond still in the bag (and bucket) to acclimatize them to the temperature of the water for an hour before you release them. Hey, maybe I am a bit of a fish guy.

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Plant grasses and ferns or flowering plants around the edges of the pond. Don’t forget to put wire or protective mesh over the water or birds and cats alike will dine, and hedgehogs will fall in, trying to drink the water.

I need to add more rocks around the edge of ours to cover the plastic but I think it looks good, and it only cost twenty-five dollars. Anyone can do it!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing. ~ William Shakespeare

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