20 September 2010


A thousand apologies for neglecting everyone we care about for so long. I won’t try to explain my absence from your life, nor make excuses for it, as it is all the usual mundane stuff of daily routines, combined with a lack of self-discipline. Please forgive me though, and know that my silence has not at all been a sign of indifference.

As a broad summation of the last one and a half years, 2009 brought for Paul and me a sense of connection with the people we had been getting to know since we shifted to Southland (three years ago now); while 2010 has brought contentment and satisfaction with what we are doing here at McLeish Road.

A key for us last year was Bonnie being 14, and so legally able to be left in charge of her younger siblings. Paul and I whooped it up by joining a Bible study group, a wonderful time for us each week, of adult conversation, chock full of arguing and laughter. Plus we try to make good use of the travelling time (40 minutes in total) by attempting to complete a cryptic crossword before arriving home again.

And I did lots of solo gadding about, with finishing off my beekeeping course, providing occasional respite care for our nearly-adult nephew in a wheelchair, and two North Island trips. Despite all that excitement (or maybe because of it), I managed a rather gloomy outlook on the home front. I felt desperate for the autonomy of owning our own block of land, and was irritated by the décor and layout of the house we live in. Praise the Lord! All is vastly different this year. Nutty asking prices for ordinary to unappealing land continues to keep us out of the market, but we have decided to not assume that Southland is our final earthly destination, and wait to see what eventuates at some unknown time in the future when this house is no longer available to us. We have surrendered our long-held dream of owning our own lifestyle block and/or small-scale horticultural operation, and look on the future as a treasure to be discovered, be it town, country, or housebus.

The latter is Paul’s consistent contribution to such conversations, but I think we need to start jettisoning children, rather than acquiring them, before a housebus can be a go-er. For indeed, we are adding another worker to the McLeish crew this year, due to arrive early in October (though not expected to start work straight away). Anticipating that at least some of your questions and comments will reflect some of the responses we have had down here to our news, here is a previously prepared reply: Yes, we do know where the stop button is; and no, I don’t think six will be much more work than is five (for me – but it will mean more work for Bonnie, Quinn, Lily, Elliot, and Sacha!). To tell the truth (a habit I don’t seem to be able to break), it was a tad surprising to find ourselves facing a fresh round of parenthood in our forties, but I am now thoroughly excited, and feeling just as expectant as I look (which is RATHER). A new baby is a dream come true for Elliot, and a combination of fascinating and upsetting for Sacha, who won’t know how to define herself once she is no longer the youngest.

Sacha turned five back in April, and loves to skip and dance about the house. Her favourite solo activities are drawing and playing board games against herself; but really, she’d much rather be doing something, ANYTHING, with Lily. Sacha is one of the more organised members of the family – she has a checklist of tasks she must complete each morning, and delights in ticking them off – and naturally understands the concept of tidiness. It was my goal this year to have Sacha reading independently by the time the baby arrived, and we are just about there.

Lily turned nine in June, and is starting to be her delightful self again after going through the usual highly-strung eight-year-old-girl phase. For Lily, it is a blessing to be the middle child, straddling that gap between big ones and littlies, as she loves to join in swordfights and treehouses with Quinn, and evening poker games; but also delights in games of horses and dogs and babies and queens with Sacha and Elliot. She wants to listen, whether I am reading out loud “A Tale of Two Cities” or “Stories For Five-Year-Olds”. Lily started learning to play the recorder this year, under my tutelage, and the violin under the extremely infrequent tutelage of an eleven-year-old friend. She is the person I am most likely to be talking to if you hear me saying, “Come on, hurry up”.

Elliot has just turned seven. Back at the end of last year, when I still thought I would get a Christmas letter out to everyone, I mentally composed a section of that letter, entitled “In Praise of Boys”. I don’t precisely remember now how it went, but the bits of it inspired by Elliot were along the lines of boys going into the bathroom to clean their teeth, and coming out half an hour later with a greater knowledge of fluid dynamics and buoyancy, but still with dirty teeth. Elliot is many things, all of which add up to a handful; but one of the things his is, is a spinner, whether it be toy tops on the kitchen floor under my feet or plates and glasses at the dinner table. He hates (really hates!) meat, things he has never done before, and scary movies; he loves (really loves!) fruit, aeroplanes, and cuddles with Mum. He no longer drives me into the pits of rage, tears, and despair, partly because he has grown up a lot in the last year, and partly because I have too.

Quinn is about to turn twelve. His contribution to “In Praise of Boys” was going to be the need of boys to put their hands and feet into other people’s personal space; their inability to see dirt as a foreign object, whether it be behind their ears, smeared across the table, or on the bottoms of their shoes; and their constant need to test the limits (of what their bodies can do, of the patience of their mothers and sisters, and of the general stretchability, breakability, and inflammability of a variety of objects). I realise I am implying these are all negative qualities, but I do it for literary effect only. I consider Quinn to be an investigator of the very best kind, and perhaps he will one day get some highly paid job because of his great skill in lighting fires with a magnifying glass.

Because it took us a while to decide on which would be our core subjects in our home schooling, and what materials we would use, Bonnie began her disciplined studies a little on the late side. However, having finally worked out what Paul will oversee and what I will, and how to get the whole system operating, we have been way more organized in getting Quinn underway in the same studies. Added to that, Quinn always puts in more work than is required of him in music practice (keyboard) and maths, and so relishes nipping at the heels of Bonnie in these areas. He is very much looking forward to puberty, so that he can catch up with her in height too.

Bonnie will be sixteen at the end of the year. While she is diligent in completing all her work inside the house (both housework and studies), it is the outside work she enjoys the most. She is a great (paid) help in the garden; loves any kind of animal work; knows the individual personalities and ages of our 19 laying hens; helps me in the beehives, and is hoping to get some work for a local commercial beekeeper this summer (it will probably have to be unpaid work, as there is not currently a lot of money in beekeeping); was an enthusiastic worker in last summer’s family project of building a shed under the tutelage of a 15-year-old home-schooled lad; earns the wheat we feed our hens by helping to weed paddocks for her uncle; and brought home several ducks for the freezer this duck-shooting season. We will continue over the next couple of years to look for opportunities for Bonnie to gain a variety of farm work experience. But she is no slouch inside the house either, cooking a main meal for us all at least once a week, and seeking to perfect a range of bread-making techniques (including crumpets and English muffins). No doubt she will carry most of the load of the kitchen and laundry work for the first few weeks after the baby is born. Besides all these everyday things, Bonnie has three main goals for the next year: finish working towards getting her restricted drivers licence; acquire a firearms licence once she turns 16; and get a passport, and raise some money to pay for airfares to Indonesia next winter. A couple from church have been invited to help out at a camp for Indonesian university students wanting to improve their English skills, next July, and can take a small group of others with them. Bonnie is quite sure she wants in on the action.

I guess that just leaves Paul and me. Me you already know about, as I support all the above individuals in all the above-mentioned (and more besides) activities, and there’s not a lot of time for much else. I try to make sure I get outside and do at least one job in the garden every day, both to keep on top of things in the garden and to preserve my sanity. (This year has been most unusual, in that there have been very few days when going outside was not an option.) Paul continues to juggle two part-time jobs doing mostly fun stuff on computers with one full-time leisure schedule of completely fun stuff on computers (none of which seems the slightest bit fun to me). He has also played a bit of indoor cricket this year, and joined a choir. Because our corner of the world is largely populated with dairy farmers, the choir doesn’t practice all year round. They begin rehearsals in February, perform several times over the winter (including in the local prison), and then lay low until the next year.

We sold all our goats last year (we ended up with three females and two kids), because I wasn’t coping so well with how much time and attention they needed, though I still miss them a great deal. Our animal adventures (and catastrophes) now centre on four sheep, whom we tried to get in lamb this year. One of them looks just as overloaded as I currently do, and should present us with at least one lamb soon. We suspect she got pregnant to a neighbour’s ram that got through a fence uninvited. The other three were supposed to mate with a friend’s prize ram, specifically visiting us for that very reason. Unfortunately, he woke up dead one morning, halfway through his stay, and we still can’t tell for sure by the look of our girls whether his business here was successfully completed before his tragic demise.

When I began this letter, it had the tag “July2010” in its title. I am desperate to retitle it with “August” rather than “September.”

Well no, it turns out I wasn’t up to that either. So I am just going to bail out abruptly, rather than land this letter gracefully.

Lots of love to you all, from Naomi.


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