Tag Archives: Books

A review of the book: “Sanctuary – the discovery of wonder” by Julie Leibrich


A winter virus gave me “a space”, Sanctuary, to read this book from beginning to end. Prior to this I had dipped in and out of it and had thoroughly enjoyed titbits and contemplating the photographs.

But this big book of 226 pages and 172 references is a rich, deep, satisfying and stimulating read. It was a decade in the writing and covers much of the author’s life experiences.

It is a well ordered book that circles from the first section: “Wondering about Sanctuary”, to “Illuminating Sanctuary”, to “Protecting Sanctuary” to “Wonderment of Sanctuary”.

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I doubt there was a page in Julie’s book where I was not drawn in, encouraged to wonder, to absorb or marvel or question.

Her home on the Kapiti Coast is where my newly widowed mother sought sanctuary, in her new home and environment for the remaining 15 years of her life. The beach, the sea, the birds, the sky and the looming guardian of Kapiti Island are strong links to me and my understanding of this special environment.

The section of Julie’s book where she writes about a poetry course she ran for people suffering from the effects of stroke, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease, I found particularly poignant. No matter our age or physical condition, our soul remains a sanctuary.

Not only did I find this immensely reassuring but also a wonderful example of compassion. To take time, to give careful attention to detail and to offer attentive presence, gave rise to illuminations from these peoples’ spirits.

The book is full of detail, research, images, references, journal entries, poetry, anecdotes, peoples’ thoughts and experiences. Julie’s writing skills are exemplified in her in-depth exploration of words, concepts, beliefs and experiences.

The thoughts and contributions of Julie’s friends and acquaintances sit easily among those of influential writers and thinkers across the ages. Sanctuary is not the domain of the highly trained, specialised or profoundly learned and wise; it is for every one of us as human beings.

Sanctuary (from the Latin “Sanctus” meaning Holy) can be found anywhere and in limitless ways. It is not limited or definitively prescribed. As the title “the discovery of wonder” indicates  – discover what works for you, what gives you inner space. The cover of the book is a contemplation on this very issue.

I found this book to be one I want to own so that I can return to it again and again for my own personal and spiritual understanding and development.

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Note: For an in depth review of Julie Leibrich’s book that I enjoyed reading go here:


Doggy Buddy Reader

Our local Public Library has an extensive summer reading programme on offer to children in our city.

One delightful event is the chance to read to Koko, a beautiful and well-trained, 7 year old Retriever.
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Koko is also a Pet Therapy dog and regularly visits the Rehabilitation wards in our local hospital with her owner.
I was keen to go along and observe such a special occasion. Dogs are incredibly good listeners and Koko was right in tune with the youngsters who sat near her and read books to her.
Apparently dogs are used in some primary schools to encourage reluctant readers to practice their reading skills with a gentle, non-judgemental, no-fail audience.

Koko’s owner was happy to share lots of information about Koko and her breed and to demonstrate how well trained Koko is.

Koko will be back for more Buddy reading next week.

“The Colour of Food. A memoir of life, love and dinner” by Anne Else

“The Colour of Food” by Anne Else is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in 2014. Its popularity was indicated by the wait I had until the local Library copy became available to me. I see on the cover of this easy to hold book, that it is already an International EBook bestseller.
I love adopting a comfy reading position, holding a book, turning the pages and referring back and forth amongst the contents with ease and at a pace that suits me.
From the first chapter I was hooked. I particularly enjoyed reading of Anne’s many and varied experiences of eating food as a child, as a new, young wife struggling to learn the tricks and art of cooking and then how being exposed to different cuisines from around the world her love of food and cooking developed and grew into a passion and a pleasure. The internet now allows her to share her creativity and pleasure with food via her blog:

At times the experiences she describes around love are very intimate and evoke emotions across the spectrum. There were many times as I was reading when I would pause and reflect on my own life and experiences, as signposts in her words touched me or pointed me back to a link in my past.

I follow Anne’s personal blog and her life without her beloved Harvey so some parts of this book already felt familiar. I also have Harvey McQueen’s “This piece of earth” on my bookshelf which meant I already knew of their special love and companionship and some of their enjoyment of food and cooking together. This familiarity certainly enriched my reading of this memoir.

So much social history is detailed in this book and when I look at my late mother’s recipe books which contain many of her mother’s recipes it is obvious that food provides a rich feast of detail on how we live our lives and how life changes. From my own experience I can well remember the advent of Kai Si Ming ( really mince with a stack of sliced cabbage and a packet of chicken noodle soup stirred through it, but a new idea in Mum’s kitchen) and Coleslaw! Cabbage had always been cooked to a very unappetising gooey mass before shredded raw cabbage came into vogue.

So reading this book was a treat, in a way food should be, and it was a surprise when I turned the final page to find the memoir’s end. As all good books do, it left me with questions unanswered and plenty to reflect on especially around what constitutes “women’s work” and our need to be creative, while also using our education, training and skills. I’ve spent time since finishing the memoir considering the many and varied aspects that food and the preparation and serving of it play in our social, emotional and psychological lives.

And like a very good meal this book left me wanting more. For good measure Anne includes 24 recipes to sample, ranging from very simple to exotic, but with her guiding hand all very achievable. And to tempt readers further she has included two lists of books which have inspired her. These include Memoirs and Recipe books.

I’ve already jotted down her “Fresh Courgette Salad” recipe as I watch the first small courgettes ripen on my plant. Yum!

Eyes, cameras, explanations

Matthew Johnstone asks this in his calming book “Capturing Mindfulness – a guide to becoming present through photography.”
“What grabs you visually that you can’t fully explain?”

This photo that I took on Saturday, from a high vantage point above the Pauatahanui Inlet has the potential I discovered for some observers to wonder aloud about what they are seeing in the image.
When I was allowing my eyes to wander on Saturday there was something about the kowhai tree that grabbed me. When I loaded the photo up on to the computer I thought I could easily explain what I had seen with my eyes and what the camera had recorded.

But another person offered a different explanation of the image and suddenly I saw a whole new utterly intriguing and evocative possibility.

Matthew Johnstone speaks of being “photopresent” and in the main, this is exactly how I approach going about with my camera. I allow my eye and sometimes my heart to notice and for the action of clicking the shutter to flow from that space. It is a restful, easy space that has that soothing quality of flow most of the time.

The end result is an image which can occasionally have an inexplicable quality to it offering further contemplation and I really like that.

As a postscript: Matthew Johnstone has written the “Black Dog” series and “Quiet the Mind, Capturing Mindfulness”. He has a website here:

“Tui – A nest in the Bush” by Meg Lipscombe

Tui - A Nest in the Bush by Meg Lipscombe.

Tui – A Nest in the Bush by Meg Lipscombe.

Regular readers of my blog know of my interest in and love of Tui and other native New Zealand birds. As a child Tuis were very rarely seen but the persistent and devoted action of many people and organisations now sees these birds arriving in my garden and surrounding neighbourhood in increasing numbers. It is a joy.
So I was delighted to spot this newly published book in the Public Library. Meg Lipscombe’s stunning photos of a Tui nest and the breeding cycle have filled in more gaps in my knowledge of these colourful, spirited birds.
Meg lives in a remote part of New Zealand and discovered to her delight that she could photograph a Tui’s nest from her home’s balcony.

Female Tui sitting on two eggs.

Female Tui sitting on two eggs.

What followed was a successful recording over 37 days of newly laid eggs through to an empty nest as the fledglings took those final steps to growing independence.
Tui fledglings almost ready to leave the nest.

Tui fledglings almost ready to leave the nest.

Meg spent time speaking to the adult birds so that they grew accustomed to her respectful presence. For the reader she journalled about her observations.
The book is a first to capture this breeding cycle and it is not surprising to learn that Meg received a Fellowship from the Photographic Society of New Zealand in recognition of the excellence of her photographs.
Rick Thorpe wrote a very full and informative Introduction for the book covering many aspects pertaining to the bird, to its significance to Maori, to the health of our native forests and the critical importance of continued conservation efforts.
Anyone wanting to learn about Tuis will find this book, with its remarkable photos and written information, invaluable. It is a book to share with young children, for older children and adults to read and explore and enjoy.

Friday Poem: “Fair February” by Christina Ferens

This poem by Christina Ferens comes from her haunting, soothing and beautiful book: “ The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady”

Fair February

“ Farewell to February, her fair charm,
Her golden tresses, cut and gathered!
Long days the men enticed have laboured,
An eye to the sky till day was done,
To win her favour, combed and bound,
Lying invitingly upon the ground,
Awaiting embrace, to be lifted up,
Laid high in chambers dry and airy,
Lofty, full to bursting – February,
To be remembered all the year
For her warmth and her bounty.”



An Indescribable Beauty

I have just finished reading “An Indescribable Beauty. Letters home to Germany from Wellington, New Zealand. 1859- 1862. Friedrich August Krull”, published by Awa Press, Wellington, New Zealand.


I heard an interview late last year with Mary Varnham (of Awa Press) who has family connections with the Krull family. Mary described a book that was written by a young German man who immigrated to Wellington, New Zealand in 1859. She mentioned how much he had loved the native bush, the abundance of beautiful birds, the beauty of the settlers’gardens already thriving and how he had traveled within the North Island describing what he saw and experienced.

I have spent all but 6.5 years of my life in the Wellington area. I love the bush and our birds and wildlife. I have always enjoyed history and I am an avid genealogist. I needed to read the book.

I was not disappointed. Here within the young Friedrich’s wonderful letters were mention of the gale winds that prevented his ship entering our harbour, earthquakes that regularly shook the ground, steep hillsides and difficult terrain to travel across, place names that are so familiar to me and also many surprises.

I did not know that there was once a hot water area near Wellington city at a place named Kaiwharawhara, nor did I realise just how many native parrots had lived in our bush – Kaka and Kakariki I am guessing from his descriptions.



His meetings with Maori (indigenous peoples of New Zealand) were warm and fascinating as he and his companions attempted to understand vastly different cultural ways.

The book has been published with extensive and very informative footnotes and contains many illustrations from the era in which he wrote his letters back to Germany.
The illustrations are described as fully as possible in notes and all are taken from The Alexander Turnbull Library collections.

I learnt so much from this delightful book and I have copied this piece from the Awa Press website blog as it gives you even more background information:

15/ 8 / 12; 4:57:01 PM
I call it my folly. It’s one of the loveliest books we’ve produced and it probably won’t make a cent. With any luck it will just cover costs, although, given the luxurious paper and quarterbound cover, even this is in doubt. I’m talking about An Indescribable Beauty, which Awa Press proudly published this week. Unfortunately, the author, Friedrich Krull, won’t be able to attend a launch party – he has been dead for 98 years. The book contains the letters he wrote home to his mother in Germany from Wellington in 1859 and 1862. Friedrich was 22 years old.
Sometime after the invention of the typewriter, the letters were translated into English by a person unknown. Last year the crumpled, yellowing sheets were handed to me by one of Friedrich’s descendants. When I read them I quickly realised these letters were a taonga – vivid, perceptive, and astonishing. I believed many other people would enjoy as much as I had this young man’s account of his life and travels in the colony on the verge of the New Zealand Wars. An Indescribable Beauty was born. Not many people realise that Germans were the second largest group of colonial settlers in 19th century New Zealand. There were German settlements from one end of the country to the other, and many New Zealanders have German ancestry. It is my hope that reading Friedrich Krull’s letters will inspire them to research and learn more about their own family histories.

The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady by Christina Ferens

Rae Roadley and Christina Ferens have kindly allowed me to repost Rae’s latest blog post.

Meet Christina Ferens, author of ‘The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady’
by Rae Roadley

As a writer about rural life, I was recently asked to review a book by another Northland writer, Christina Ferens. The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady is glorious; it’s both a meditation and a celebration of the birds, animals, and plants which many of us see every day and don’t give a second thought.

Her writing is excellent and inventive – she expresses her observations with clever originality. Her writing is also gentle, insightful, loving and reminiscent of a past era when people lived at a slower pace than most of us do today.

After the book launch at the Takapuna Library, Christina emailed to say she was pleased with my review (of course she was, it’s a fabulous book) and that she’d even referred to it during the launch. I asked Christina if she’d share some background about her book and life and she agreed.


Hi Christina – thanks for agreeing to be part of my blog.

My first burning question is this: your book includes many fabulous photos. What sort of camera do you use? Is it so tiny you can carry it with you almost constantly or do you set off on photographic missions, set yourself up and wait for the magic moment – or is it somewhere in between?

Not a pocket camera, but with the view-finder essential for bird photography and an extraordinary zoom capacity, the Fuji Finepix is light enough to be almost constantly round my neck. To capture those spontaneous moments, I soon learned to have it switched on and zoomed up before even setting foot outdoors and to leave it on till I was literally back inside, regardless of the drain on the battery. That way I caught the lovely pair of greenfinches so close when I was on my way indoors, finished for the afternoon as I thought.

Your writing is poetic and engaging. Do you scribble your thoughts in a notebook or do the words come to you when you sit at your computer? Or do you take a laptop into a paddock?

Thank you for the compliment. Nothing so organised as a notebook or even laptop!
I like to mull the words around in my mind when they come to me and to have pen and paper on hand wherever I am. By the end of the year I had a whole hand-written manuscript.

Is there a particular time of day when you write?

For the purposes of the diary, I would already be gathering up my thoughts by mid-morning and by late afternoon I was usually ready to wrap up my entry for the day. If I write a poem, I can be sure to see it during the ‘night watch’, the lines written clearly against the darkness so that I can make improvements which elude me in light of day.
I am quite used to writing in the dark!

What led to the publication of the book? Had you written a diary for some time and realised your scribing could grow into a book – or what? Was it your idea or someone else’s?

Certainly my own idea and one which had been germinating since I came across an old copy of “The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady”. I imagined doing something beautiful like this for New Zealand and shortly afterwards, very late in the year, happened to move house to the perfect setting. On New Year’s Day I got out pen and paper.

A daily diary is a huge commitment. How did you manage to keep it up?

The enormity of what I had undertaken (the relentlessness, even, of the constant observations) came home to me one afternoon in March. By next morning I was as determined as ever  and come the frostiest morning I was outdoors first thing in dressing-gown, gumboots and parka! I was having a love affair with words as well as with my subject, and I was spurred on by the knowledge that I was creating a unique record. Then, I had the advantage of hemisphere; with spring falling two-thirds through the year, followed by summer nesting, my involvement continued to grow and I was provided with a natural climax to the book.

Did you happen to count the number of species in the natural bird sanctuary around you?

There are 48 species of bird detailed in the appendix, and some gained the limelight more than others. I gave myself a rule that any mention at all was to shed an additional light or describe a new aspect of behaviour. By the end of the book, the reader should have built up a comprehensive knowledge of the birdlife.

What makes this book different from any other ‘bird book’ I’ve read is the fact that the birds seem to take on their own personalities. Can you comment on this?

There is certainly an intimate perspective to this natural history. A fascination for me, in observing the same bird families over the period of a year, is that different idiosyncracies did emerge, highlighting loyalty and personality beyond our own. The swallow couple, who nested opposite our front door, is a case in point.

Do you have an entry in your diary – and book – which is a particular favourite and which perhaps evokes fond memories?

Probably the last one, when I seemed led to the right spot at the right time throughout a day of memorable happenings that enabled me to draw in many of my main ‘characters’ and so ‘tie up all the ends’ in a satisfying way.

You must have been delighted to have your book as one of the best animal books of the year in the NZ Herald Canvas magazine. Has it been reviewed elsewhere?

The first review (copied below) ran in ‘”Bay Chronicle’”and ‘”Northern News’” and your own review for ‘”The Northern Advocate’” also ran in seven other provincial newspapers from ‘”Northern Age” to ‘”Oamaru Mail”.

Your book is published by Faith House Publications. Can you tell us a little more about them?

Being a books editor, I have set up my own publishing house by this name to produce my books, wall calendars and floral cards.

Is there a website where people can buy the book?

http://www.whitcoulls.co.nz If Whitcoulls are out of stock, purchase thru: cferens@clear.net.nz

What other writing have you done or had published?

“Where the Wind Wills” is a smaller book in which I first took natural history as a subject for literature. This time it is a whale at the ‘front door’, in the first of a series of seven unique and stunning environments  from Island to Deep Country, from Ocean Beach to The Farm. This book includes my own pencil sketches rather than photographs, and also the original poetry. My first published poem appeared in “New Zealand Bookworld” many years ago.

If you had a word of advice for a writer, what would it be?

My advice is to visualise clearly the concept of the book and even, if designing it yourself, create the whole book in your mind’s eye from the outset, and then to write a list of goals and guidelines that will bring it into being.

Can you tell us a little about your farm – its size, how long it’s been in your family, etc?

Actually we rented the one dwelling on a farm being used as a run-off and bounding a vast sheep-and-cattle station. The farm is about 175 hectares and the beauty of it (apart from its very special plantings, such as a gingko tree by an unfrequented stream-crossing) is the extent of the wetlands that attract the birds. I never lost my sense of wonder at it all, being city-bred, and I think the success of the book derives from this wonder. I am told the book has opened the eyes even of those who have lived in the country all their lives.

And lastly, you live in rural Northland, but I have an idea your place is more remote than ours. We’re about 20 minutes’ drive from the nearest town – how far away are you?

We are still only 20 minutes’ drive from the nearest town.

Thanks for taking the time to share, Rae.

I’m grateful, Rae, for the opportunity to look back on the steps I took to achieve my goal. The journey was the best part.

PS: And here’s my The Northern Advocate review.

Christina Ferens lives on farm in the Far North where she notices the nuances of nature and writes about them – every day.

She also takes photographs, sometimes going to great trouble to capture that magic moment in time when, say, a turkey chick sits on its mother’s back or a drinking yearling is reflected in a pond.

The result of her labours with pen and camera is a glorious book that’s both a meditation and a celebration of the birds, animals, and plants which many of us see every day and don’t give a second thought.

Her writing is excellent and inventive – she expresses her observations with clever originality. Her writing is also gentle, insightful, loving and reminiscent of a past era when people lived at a slower pace than most of us do today.

Christina has an encyclopaedic knowledge of New Zealand birds; her skills even include determining whether a female or male blackbird “gave voice”.

Written as a journal, with one chapter per month, the book is peppered with photographs, mostly of birds but also of livestock and the countryside she clearly loves. She describes it as the Taheke hinterland.

This is not a book to be read in a rush, in fact, it would be my preference to keep it on my desk or at my bedside and read her observations as a daily ritual.

It commences on New Year’s Day (these are her notes from 2008) and the first entry details the antics of a fantail, a shining cuckoo, and a pair of nesting swallows whose fledglings need no longer “fling themselves with parted beak half over the edge of the nest in a limp effort to keep cool, for the man-of-the-house has kindly placed a piece of wood on the clear roofing above to protect them from the unrelenting summer sun.”

That excerpt – paragraph three in this 250-page, large format book – gives a sense of the pace and tone of what is essentially a diary. Entries rarely exceed 150 words; some are shorter. The typeface and layout make for an effortless read.

It would make a gorgeous gift. Yes, I know, suggesting any book would make a gift can seem to be damning it with faint praise, but that is not my intention.

As I have written this, with the book open beside me, I have felt my blood pressure settling, my mind calming and my mood lightening.

The book is a treasure that would be loved by anyone, but I imagine it might bring special joy to anyone who is say, in a rest home, in hospital, incapacitated, or who is locked in a corporate life – leaving home and arriving home in the dark with the intervening hours spent in a multi-storey building whether in Auckland or Hong Kong.

Anyone who lives on farm will identify, as will those folk who have left the family farm and now reside in an urban area.

The blurb likens the book to The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, written by Edith Holden in the early 1900s, published in 1977 and a best-seller. The Country Diary of a New Zealand Lady deserves that same good fortune.

Rae Roadley

Feast for bird and garden lovers

For most of us, busy with other things, seasonal differences are what we notice in the nightly weather forecast, but with this book author Christina Ferens invites us in to observe a feast of change that happens while our attention is elsewhere.

A day-by-day record of life in and around farm hedgerows and gardens takes us through the seasons of mating, breeding, rearing and feeding that busies the lives of birds and insects; all of it observed in fascinating close-ups and illustrated in a profusion of full colour photographs.

It’s also a sharp reminder that life at this level is lived in a jungle. Wasps and birds predate on insects, birds predate on each other, feral cats and possums predate on most things while overhead the big raptors cruise, looking for anything they can lift off the ground.

Christina identifies particular nests at risk and records the small wins as mothers fight fiercely to protect their young or the sad posses when they fail to prevent their eggs or chicks being snatched.

The entry for the first day of January is almost lyrical. “A fantail flew closely above my head as I stood in the shadow of the banksia, at the entrance to the lawn, and a shining cuckoo whistled sevenfold welcome to a new year just hours old. All day the welcome swallows flit about the rafters of the pergola where one pair tends a nest atop a wooden support; excited cheeping comes from two nestlings whenever a parent bird flits by. Sometimes they flutter in one spot, hummingbird style, taking insects from little spiders’ webs.”

Every day of the year is described with the same attention to detail, with birds identified in an appendix and their status, whether protected, native, endemic or introduced.

Christina Ferens lives in the Taheke hinterland, in Northland. Her love for the area and its natural beauty shines through on every page.

Bob Molloy Bay Chronicle; Northern News

“The charm of the language lends it to being read aloud … The other thing I really loved … is that you can get the picture of the stillness of the days and the intense heat of a Northland summer … there is just this quietness of nature … and I think it is a clever writer who can depict that.”

— Helen Woodhouse, Takapuna Library Manager, speaking at the book launch