An Introduction – Mine

I was born in a house at high tide, on a beach in New Zealand, in the last few days of the 50’s.

I spent the next 16 years of my life living in the house on the beach on the East Coast of New Zealand.

We have a number of new readers this month so allow me to re-introduce myself.

I am Cecilia. I am the owner and writer here at The Kitchens Garden. Since 2011.

I grew up in a big family. My father had inherited a rambly old house just above high tide from his father. We had a generational vegetable garden, old walnut trees, pepper trees, quince trees and a beach for a front yard.

My grandfather and mother had planted so many trees on our 1/4 acre section it was a jungle. Kids could climb through trees from one end of the property to the other without touching the ground. This was the best challenge on a slow day.

We did not have television until I was 12 years old (and only watched on Sunday evenings for Walt Disney) but Mum had a big old record player built into the corner of the front room so we played records. All classical (Tchaichovskeqy for dancing) or we listened to the National Programme. None of that modern music was allowed in the house. Actually we did not know it existed.

Our lives were noisy and sometimes organised and full of adventure and good food and books.

Everything was collected, reused, saved, darned, handed down, handed up. My mothers pristine linen cupboard was big enough to hide in, her rag bag and button boxes were the stuff of legend.

I would give just about anything now to have her linen closet. But there you are.

I was 14, when my mother went to bed and stayed there. She had contracted TB when she was young. Then a serious car accident. The TB returned, then a bout of glandular fever then a long painful struggle with cancer. Years of it. By the time I was 14 she could fight no more and took to her bed with her books and her writing and art. So, as well as tending to her, and going to school, I was the cook and minder for my brothers and sisters. ‘Chief cook and bottle washer’ as my dad said, trying to be cheerful about it. There were 8 of us all told.

And the beach was our front yard.

Our dog would not to come up from the beach until everyone was home so I did not lose a sibling!

We never had a plastic bag in the house. No paper plates, paper towels or tissues. Everything was used until it became a rag – pots became water buckets, rocks were bird baths. We had chickens down the back. A garden big enough to feed us all the vegetables. A compost heap. Butchers paper and the newspaper were never thrown away.

Mum did all the ordering from her bed and groceries were delivered from the corner store. Our meat was delivered by the butcher. The vegetable man drove a truck around the neighbourhood ringing a bell and I would buy straight from his truck. (Mostly cauliflower and carrots which Dad had a ‘helluva time’ growing). Milk was delivered in glass bottles to a special shady box below the letter box at the front gate by a kid pushing a jingling milk trolley, always early in the morning. Early enough for fresh creamy milk with our porridge (don’t forget the brown sugar). (The first person to get to the kitchen got the cream that had gathered at the top). The newspaper was pushed through the slot by another kid on a bike and the morning was begun.

Dinner prep time was me at the stove and the Littlies ranged on stools around the kitchen doing their homework.

Late evening through a garden gate to the little feed shed. Hints of pins and pale blue in the sky.
Late evening with feathery windy dark clouds. Hints of pinks and pale blue in the sky. Trees lining the horizon.
Late evening with feathery windy dark clouds. JLow light. ohn Deere tractor in the mid foreground. Feed hut to the left. Metal hoop house to the right. Hints of pinks and pale blue in the sky. Trees lining the horizon.

At 15, I could make one chicken last three meals.

Dad worked 6 days a week and by bedtime Sita (the dog) and I had everyone counted, washed, fed, read and into bed.

In the evening Dad always did the dishes with whoever was on the roster so I could start my homework. I loved school.

These were long years with Mum bedridden.

At 16 my Dad asked the church women to mind Mum (who looked like getting better) and the kids, then sent me away to the USA as an American Field Scholar. I was clever. In a way he saved me. He said I could be anything.

So I proceeded to do everything.

Upon reaching American soil I ran as wild as humanly possible and even managed to get suspended for 3 days from school for hanging out the window of the art room with a cigarette!

I laugh now! It felt like the end of the world, then.

Field of wheat in the early evening looking South. Grey clouds gathering overhead. Two wrought iron chairs and a table in the field.

At 17, I returned to New Zealand. Mum was on and off sick, in and out of hospital then in remission for a short period. Soon I met a boy and fell pregnant. My horrified family sent me away to one of the convent laundries that took in wayward girls.

I am gifted with the ability to find joy almost anywhere but it was hard work – work that taught me incredible lessons. Convents are entities in themselves and it was there I seriously learnt the art of sustainable self-sufficiency.

At 19, after leaving the convent (with a broken heart) I married a boy my parents liked and proceeded to have four more children. And ferried back and forth between my home and Mum who deteriorated again. There was a lot of chemo in those years.

Field of wheat in the early evening looking South. Grey clouds gathering overhead. Screen Left: Large Maple tree just coming into leaf. Flat horizon.

But by 28, my mother had died, my father remarried and left the island, I had five kids, was divorced and fiercely fending for myself.

And now here I am years later living off the land in the midwest of America.

Not much money to speak but I owe no-one anything, I have land to work and I have a wealth of knowledge and experience to write about and share.

And I might add, I am living lightly on this good earth with cheerful frugality.


Rain last night. And a wind advisory again today. It is SO windy out in the asparagus fields!

weather April 20 2023 Central Illinois

We all have stories. Have you ever written your story down like that? In a linear form.

It is an interesting exercise and as we have a number of new people it has doubled as an introduction of me and my early years.

Take care and have fun!


(If you have just arrived at The Kitchens Garden and recently joined through wordpress find a way to leave me your email address – we are migrating in a few weeks to and I have no guarantee that you will automatically move across with me – so comment here or email me at or search for The Kitchen’s Garden at SubStack or Instagram or even Facebook and leave me a message there. One way or another I want to be sure not to lose you).

I will let you know when we switch over. I will keep you in the loop. Promise!


64 Comments on “An Introduction – Mine

  1. I am so glad I found you and your blog – love reading about your life with pictures included. I have not done the linear version, however; I do see my life like chapters. I know one thing me and the mister bonded about was that we both almost lost our mothers at young ages (he 15, me 19) and so blessed they are still with us – have their health challenges but every day is a precious gift. Thanks for sharing your story! Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

    • Life as chapters ! Yes! This makes perfect sense. I like that! I am glad you still have your mothers – mothering is a rocky business. Every day is indeed a precious gift.

  2. I love your stories, they stay with me. Like burying burnt pans in the garden, or biting that man on the aeroplane…

  3. Tragic, but heartwarming, like a 1950s black and white movie – most of which are far better than the films of today.
    I hope you keep the old cast and add to it – it’s good to remember Hairy, Mamma, Daisy, Sheila, Charlotte, Poppy, Tane, etc.

  4. So good to read your story. I knew a lot of it, but good to discover more. No wonder you are such a strong, able and resilient person. My story runs so parallel with yours though l was lucky enough to have my mum into my thirties, oh and l don’t have a farm! Thank you. Fabulous farm pictures as ever.a

    • We find each other don’t we. It seems if we keep touch with our inner selves then we have the ability to find others who are like us. So glad you are here! I sometimes wonder how the arc of my life would have spun if my mother had been present in my days.

      • Just reading your description of her Celi makes me think she is definitely in you! And that she helped (and still is) to guide you through your life even though not actually with you. She sounds a bit like a late sixties American hippie. (Did New Zealand also having hippies?) A free thinking, artistic, word loving being with an open heart and mind, and love. My mom was just that too, and I was so very fortunate to have her until her mid-80s. Our moms do guide us.

        • Mum was diabolically catholic. She was almost the opposite of a hippie really. Lovely Kennedy suits and pumps. Scarves. Hair just so. Never without lipstick. I think mum decided to ignore anything that happened after 1950. Bless her.
          It was an interesting period.

  5. I loved reading your introduction. I feel inspired by you to write. I have just retired and started a daily journal of sorts making notes of what I do each day. It is so easy to have the days drift by with no record at all. I tend to do a lot of writing in my head and never has it gone to paper. I am however getting closer to starting telling my story to a journal. Thanks for the inspirations!

  6. I love being reminded of your story. As someone else said, I see my life in chapters. I am lucky enough to be reconnecting with a friend from college (an old chapter) that I have not seen since 1973! Every once in awhile it’s nice to have a surprise like that! Crossover chapters, so to speak :*)

    • Chapters over lapping chapters! I love that! We have characters that keep popping up throughout our lives. Thank goodness for old friends who you don’t have to explain stuff to!

  7. I recently read somewhere that WORK “is love expressed”..and you dear lady have tons and tons of love.

  8. My husband is on Hospice at home and I am asked what I’m going to do after he’s gone. I don’t know yet, having to live very much in the moment these days, but I answer by saying “the next chapter of my story isn’t written yet.” So I very much enjoyed your story and look forward to your next chapters.

    • Oh Sue. I am so sorry to hear your husband has reached hospice. That is so hard for everyone and a very demanding chapter in itself. We send you as many gentle loving pats as possible. Pop in often – we are happy to be here for you.

    • Home hospice is truly a blessing, we had it for a short time. In retrospect I am glad it was a short bit, I did not have to see my John waste away. I believe he decided that wasn’t happening and willed himself away. Not to worry, your next chapter will write itself as long as you hold all your joyful memories close. It’s more than 5 years, I miss him as much as day one but I think of him daily and always with a smile.

  9. This must be the foundation for the memoir when it is time. I can only speak for myself here, because we all have stories and ways to presenting them to the world- some with flowery language and some just as the words come from deep within in as simply the way life was. So special to read these words, thank you.

    In happy pig news, it looks like Freebie has made a wallow! Also soon we will not see chairs and table anymore- the wheat is growing so fast.

    • Yes and again today we have a warm wind. Too windy for laundry or I would be washing the blankets! That wheat is growing so fast in these conditions.

      It really is a difficult day for weeding with the wind too – but after the rain last night they are pulling easily!

  10. I love your story and how you told it. We have some similarities, raised on a farm, worked hard and looked after younger siblings. didn’t have a TV until I was 11, had a baby at 17 and was divorced. I have never told my story in a linear way but I have some short stories with snippets of it that I plan to publish soon. Your story would make a terrific novel. Our stories make us who we are!

  11. We started blogging at the same time and yours was one of the earliest that I follow. Our lives have been so different but isn’t that what makes a friendship? By the have written and run a course on memory writing. this is not writing your life story but record in certain memories over the years. One course that I ran in 2019 was so successful and the people became friends and continue to meet on a weekly basis to share their memories. No sun here today in Wellington. Enjoy your warmer weather, and yes that wheat is griwing fast.

  12. I love your story and some of it matched my own. I’ve enjoyed following you and would love to migrate with you when you make your move from WordPress. Beth

  13. I’ve been away from my blog for so long – but just dipping back in and out and rediscovered you 🙂
    I love the NZ connection and your stories about life with all your animals etc in the US.
    Would love to know where you go next when you migrate to your new site. Claire x

    • Hi Claire! Goodness – so good to see you!

      The Kitchens Garden is getting bigger – now it will encompass The Sustainable Home and to get a landing page for TSH and a bookings page we are upgrading to .org. Hopefully everyone comes with me but there was a period in the years of blogging where the sign ups came in in such a way that I cannot export that period of sign ups. More tech than my little brain can handle! So – thank you so much for commenting so I can makes sure to stay in touch with you! c

      • Thanks Cecilia – and I know what you mean about the tech – I used to think I could understand it – but now – reaching my limits 🤣 tried to get WordPress to accept a change of email address a while back – grr – gave up – need to try again.

  14. I am so glad that one of your descriptions of a salad of fresh greens with a runny egg was posted by our mutual friend Charlotte in Milan that led me here, lo those many (10 or 11) years ago. But I admit I’m a bit concerned that you give no credit to Our John, your husband, who inherited the land you farm. I know he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the blog and so forth, but it does give the impression that you acquired and built up this farm land on your own with your own resources. Could you give a little clarification on how you came to be a farmer in the American midwest? I’m sure your regular followers would greatly enjoy the stories!

    • Thank you so much – I can see that you need clarification. I am sorry that I did not sound sufficiently grateful. My relationship with John is not one we discuss here. That would break my faith with him. Not all marriages are Instagram pretty and full of cutesy togetherness.
      But I did build this into the little farm it is now with the help of woofers, my Mother In Law and my own finances. It feels weird that I would have to say that.
      John is kind enough to mind the farm while I travel. His son and daughter helps him.
      My husband prefers we do not discuss him at all – he has reasons for this request- and we will respect that.
      John does support me and lets me get on with building my dream and I am grateful to him for that.
      So sorry these words sound awkward. This was very tough for me to answer without releasing personal details so I had to do a lot of deleting.
      I am a steward here – I do not own the soil, this is true. It is all in a trust. Without the help of the woofers (I cannot have them here now that John is retired) the farm income is greatly reduced which is why I am trying to build my writing and sustainable teaching to the point where it can sustain the farm that I built atop John’s family land. It keeps us all fed. But not much more than that now. Thank you so much for the comment.

  15. Thank you for sharing your life stories with us, sadness, joy, and a very hard-working life.

  16. Thank you for this story… and all the other stories you have so kindly and generously shared… I believe we learn so much by understanding other people’s stories.

  17. I love reading all of your stories but this one (the older one, the beginning) is the best. It is a time gone by, a time that has a certain simple beauty. Those were hard times but the most beautiful times. I feel that way when I think back to my hometown. A tiny town on a small island in the North Atlantic. I also grew up on the beach, mine wasn’t as warm as yours. In the spring it was chilly with ice flows coming from the North and icebergs and seals on the ice and sometimes a wayward polar bear would float down from the arctic. I’m missing the ocean the salt water in my blood has a pull to it, it is always there in my veins calling to it. You need to write a book, a memoir would be good but you could also embellish and make it an amazing work of fiction too! I have a picture in my head of your house and the beach etc. So if that books gets picked up by Netflix they better do justice to the picture in my head! 😂

  18. The more I read, the more parallels I draw between our upbringings, although they were in opposite hemispheres. Fierce Catholic mother (and father), big family, wild country to escape into, taught frugal ways, nothing wasted, and then, a mother who wasn’t able to carry on. In my own mother’s case, childhood polio, bringing up 4 of my older siblings in wartime occupied Netherlands in acute poverty, seven children, a busy job and then finally, losing the cancer battle. It illuminates so much about you, and why I feel so attracted to this blog, to the Farmy community and the way it resonates for me.

  19. You are such a great writer! Thank you for sharing this with us. And letting us know more about you. I love that you care for our beautiful earth .. it’s people like you that make a difference

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