Obnoxious Americans

“Ooh, my accent isn’t really THAT bad, is it?”

Very probably it is.


But it’s not just the accent; it’s the whole attitude.

Every Friday afternoon Milo has soccer practice, and there’s an American dad who brings his son.  I’ve never talked to him before, but this Friday the field was eerily quiet.  Us lonely parents conferred and the word on the field was that Oaklands school gala was on–that’s why only 25% of the normal contingent of kids was present.  Along with very few parents.

But despite the slim field, The American must talk.

(I know what that’s like.)

Thankfully, the American Dad glued himself to another dad, and the poor polite Kiwi was stuck mumbling “hum….ah….yes…um….uhuh…” for the whole hour.  I got the interesting position of being able to listen in while not being an essential part of the conversation.

It wasn’t so pretty.  Opinionated, yes.  Loud, yes.  Forceful; also yes.  The snippets were full of “you kiwis this” and “us, that.”  At one point I caught the American saying “You guys are catching up….you know….advertising, sport….”

Clearly he believes the American culture is superior.

I hereby resolve to cease and desist from comparing the American culture to the Kiwi culture.  No one wants to hear that.  Let alone the Kiwis!

In that spirit, I’ll change the topic. It’s snowing in December! Well, snowing cottonwood fluff anyway.  Can you see the tiny white things in the air?  It’s accumulating in drifts around the trunks, and shimmering in the air at soccer practice. December 1 is the official start to summer in NZ. The forecast is for 30 degrees C tomorrow.
Bring on the Warmth!


Dommett Lodge

“On Guard!” Don’t mess with the hooligans, they clearly mean business.
We spent last weekend with the Trick-Pendle family at Dommett “Lodge,” a traditional Kiwi bach on farm land in Kurow, in rolling hills south of Christchurch by about 4 hours. The kids spent the entire weekend happily killing each other with nerf guns. “I got you in the heart, you’re dead!” “Missed me, only got my leg!” Better them than me; I have absolutely no tolerance for being shot at, even in pretend.

The bach is on a private farm, which you access on a four-wheel drive road past a locked gate. I brought my new spiffy mountain bike and biked in from the gate. The day we arrived was thick fog and I couldn’t see anything, let alone how long it was to the top of the hill. But the next two days cleared up.

Emma and Ian have a real four-wheel-drive truck, but our Rav4 made it ok.

Because the weather was so foggy we spent the first afternoon shooting at a wine box target from the front porch of the bach. Emma and Ian are English, so they haven’t had a lot of experience with firearms; shooting a gun was a real novelty.

The bach was a rustic affair; pieced together from relics of other homes, the side of the house you see here is made of a garage door–open at this moment in time.  Thankfully the sand flies weren’t bad.  The wall in one bedroom even had an electrical outlet–not connected to anything (as the thirteen-year-old video game addict found out when he tried plugging in his tablet).  The true bach style does mean you don’t have to be too precious about the carpet. 

There’s a “kitchen” inside, but that’s just a sink (with hot running water!), so we did all our cooking on the grill on the porch.

We nearly burned the place down when the grease trap caught on fire!  Notice the fire extinguisher Ian is proudly holding–we used it. 

Ian’s goal for the weekend was to build a dam on the little creek that runs past the bach.

Dam builders in action! The small creek was perfect–low enough that you don’t have to worry at all about the kids, but wet enough for water play. Had the weather been warmer I think we would have spent more time in the creek.

As it was, we spent a bit of time in the hot tubs. It was misting that first night and I don’t like getting my face rained on, so I pulled out the umbrella, much to the amusement of the others. Makes perfect sense to me.

The valley with the gravelly river is where the bach is situated, and the second day I took a bike ride up a four-wheel-drive road to this saddle.

From there I walked up to the next knob and squinted at the view.

But I admired the tough little alpine flowers hunkered down among the tussocks even more.

Jeremiah did a little hunting on the station, but despite the lush grass he didn’t see any deer except one on the neighbor’s property, which we were strictly warned not to touch.

“Bring me back a hare,” were Emma’s parting words. So when Jeremiah saw the telltale ears poking up among the grass he took the opportunity. The kids were fascinated.

Ian was fascinated too. On the right are the hare legs wrapped in bacon (the ones that set the grease trap on fire!).

The kids liked the hare, but they liked the marshmallows even better. What makes a good marshmallow stick in a country without trees? Speargrass.

They’re just too cute!

When the kids get along well it makes for a good weekend for the grown ups too.


Mission: Wharfedale by bike

This doesn’t look like Wharfedale hut, does it? There are some NZ huts in lovely settings, but this, alas, is not Wharfedale. It’s the beach at New Brighton where we started the day, with Jeremiah and his friend Ben cutting up deer meat after the previous week’s successful hunt, and me bringing the kids down to the beach for a play.

Actually, nothing really went wrong. The track was just a little bumpier than the kids are used to, it was a warm day (read that as fatiguingly hot to Mr. Red-faced Milo), and as the afternoon wore on the lollies had to come at progressively close intervals.

Naomi was at the point of stopping and sitting on the ground when we hooked her up to Daddy’s bike, after which her demeanor changed completely. “Let’s go, Dad!” she shouted, cracking the proverbial whip as she bounced cheerfully along.

The four-wheel drive track crossed the river at various places, but as it was a warm day, wet feet weren’t a bother. Naomi waited at the river’s edge like a princess, reaching up her arms for her lift over after the bikes had been transported.  She was wearing her “biking skirt,” which means it was short and poofy enough not to get dirty on the tire.

Milo did really well, even through the last bit of uphill single track that required lots of bike pushing, but I could hear the desperation mounting as we rounded every corner: “Are we there yet??” “Almost,” I kept saying, as I inserted gummy candies into his mouth and pushed his bike from behind. Finally we heard voices through the trees and knew we were well and truly almost there.

Upon reaching the hut they both completely revived, swinging on the ladder and noisily claiming bunks. The glorious people with whom we shared the hut just smiled and tolerated the mayhem, even chatting back at times.

For some reason Milo was convinced that salamanders lived in the stream at the hut, and even fancied he saw some as he reached down for skipping rocks. We spent a pleasant few minutes aiming stones at a rock while Daddy cooked dinner.

“When can we get up?” they inquired at sun-up, in a resonating whisper. “Shh! Everyone else is sleeping!” we admonished them. Rustle, rustle. Giggle, squeal. Those wonderful people on the bottom bunk didn’t even voice a complaint.

The bike out was slightly down hill, and therefore easier. We managed to pause from swatting sand flies for long enough to get a group photo before we set off.

The water looks nice, doesn’t it? It was “fresh,” as they say here. Translation: COLD. Jeremiah gamely jumped off the rock three times before I got a suitable photo.


Milo’s not what you would call talkative about what goes on at school.

“Milo, what did you do at school today?” I prompt

“I played on the playground,” I might get.  Or perhaps the classic: “Nothing.”

I can’t say that I was much different, in my memory.  My own mother used to ask me how the day at school was, and I literally couldn’t remember.  I couldn’t be bothered to cast my mind back to period 2 English or period 7 Math.  It was in the past, a whole bus ride in the past, and I wasn’t interested in revisiting it.

So what happens in the classroom has been a big black box to me….until I got to peak in at a window of time this week.

The teachers always email that they love parent help–people to sharpen pencils or put workbooks in order or listen to kids read.  I had assumed that since I had Naomi with me, I couldn’t stay, but I saw another mom staying with a kid in a pram just a couple weeks ago….so I resolved to stay and have a look-see one Thursday morning.

Milo’s regular teacher was away, but his beloved year one teacher, Mrs. Davies, was standing in instead.  The class of 26 kids had an hour before they loaded onto the bus to go to their swimming lesson, and the teacher gathered them up to do an activity that involved making a fold-out fish that looks all nice and friendly until you pull out the crease and reveal the gaping mouth full of teeth.  “Roar!” The kids were delighted.  All except a couple boys at the back who were busy playing with a pirate ship and poking pins into the wall.

Even handing out paper to a group of fidgety six-year-olds is a logistical task.  Then came the job of writing one’s name on the paper, putting the name side down on the ground, folding the paper in half (the fat way), adding an additional fold to make a hidden pocket…..dude, I take it for granted that Milo catches on quickly.  You can’t imagine how many ways a kid can get stuck or distracted during that process, starting with not having a pencil.  Fifteen minutes later the teacher was ready to show the kids how to draw the fish with the hidden teeth in the crease.  The boy at the back adjusted the flag on the pirate ship, his paper forgotten at his side.  The girl in the middle drew the fish lips both on top and couldn’t get the mouth to open.  I tried to help another girl who appeared stuck, only to be baffled when she sunk her head onto her knees and tears began to appear.  Ay caramba.

Let me declare, the teacher was masterful.  She was clear, and patient, and cheerful.  Chipper in the face of all that discombobulated hubbub.  She remembered everyone’s name, and let me remind you–she was the substitute.  There’s a reason I’m not a primary school teacher.  But wow, I sure got a vision of how hard it would be to be a parent of an easily distracted kid.  Or a timid kid.  Or any kid who has a challenge with catching on to new stuff.  Because with 25 other kids in the room, it’s not like the teacher can stop and give a lot of one-on-one time to any single child.  A kid can float along, leaving the job of paying attention to other kids in the class, and where does that leave them?

I considered it a minor miracle that the kids ended up in line with their swim bags, ready to load up and go to the pool. But to the year two teacher, it’s just another morning. Wowzers.

After the class embarked on their pool trip I took the warm hand of my one little girl and we went for a walk in the quarry. She chatted non-stop (wouldn’t know where she gets that trait…), and I paid full attention (nearly) to just one child. Luxury.

We stopped and admired the pink flowers. Eucalyptus blooms.  Look at that beautiful little elf cap ready to pop off and reveal the gaudy pink frizz.  Plants are so easy compared to people.  

Kiddy weekend in Christchurch

I think back about the weekend now and realized that I’m photo-poor, but the memories are good.

It’s a long weekend, as Monday is the Labour Day public holiday, and Jeremiah had planned a hunting trip with the Brotherhood.

We started out Friday evening with Milo’s first soccer practice of the summer season. Naomi is such a good sport about being toted around to Milo’s activities; I guess as a second born she knows no different. We “hung out” on the playground. That’s all the more exciting when I remember that a couple months ago I couldn’t hang at all.

Saturday we met friends at Hagley Park. The photo in this gigantic beech tree was taken just seconds before a park employee told us off for tree climbing. “There’s actually a law saying you can’t climb the trees in the park,” he informed us, though not unkindly. That’s ok. I’m just thrilled that I CAN climb trees again.

A couple weeks ago we met some friends who had painted some rocks and were hiding them around the park for other people to find. Apparently there’s a Christchurch Rocks facebook page, and you can photograph the rocks you find and put them up. Anyway, Milo and Naomi have been industriously painting a small cohort of rocks and we distributed some of them. It’s a hard concept for a kid–to leave your precious painted art for someone else to find and move….

Guess what kind of flowers THESE are?

Chestnut. Pink ones with snazzy yellow centers, how fancy!

Sunday, between looking at houses for sale, we did a little walk up to Sugarloaf from Sign of the Kiwi. Glorious day for it, and the kids were wearing their good attitudes.

And Monday we made the trek out to Tumbledown Bay with some other friends.

I’m sure we’ll see more of these types of photos once Jeremiah gets home. He got his first trout on the fly rod, and was one happy camper.

Four Year Old Week

Kids sure love their birthdays. Naomi turned 4 on Thursday, and she started her day out with a new pink bath robe from Omi and Abi. It’s a pink puppy robe, and she matches her pink puppy….so very wonderfully PINK!

Technically a kid only has one day a year where it’s their birthday, but they way calendars work, it often becomes a birthday WEEK. Her birthday celebration at preschool was the day before her birthday. We did a marathon of kid activities on her actually birthday. And her birthday party is this weekend.  Not that any kid minds having their birthday extended….

I had her actual birthday off from work, and Milo is on school break right now, so in the morning we went to MegaAir. Sounds crazy, right? It is every bit as crazy as it sounds. It’s a ware-house sized building full of trampolines and bouncy stuff, like this foam cube pit. We believe in challenging our kids’ immune systems at every opportunity, and the kids need no extra encouragement to revel in the dried snot stew.

After our jumping we went to a cafe to consume some fat, sugar, and happiness, in the form of caramel slice and oreo cheesecake.

Then we jetted off to a theatrical rendition of The Ugly Duckling at the Court Theatre.

On the way over to swimming lessons we stopped at a fantastic school playground. I remember as a kid not understanding why grown-ups had so much trouble swinging on monkey bars….now I’m the one to be impressed with the kids’ agility. I can manage a pull-up or two, while they’re hooning gleefully around the jungle gym like baby orangutans.  She was so enthusiastic that she wore the skin off her palms.

The pink robe was donned again for fancy dinner attire. She wanted scrambled eggs and pizza for dinner, so I made breakfast pizza in an attempt to combine both. She wasn’t an enthusiastic fan, but she did like the pink octopus cake.

Unseasonable Taste of Summer

No, no, no, I KNOW it’s not summer. But it sure felt like it this past weekend. Sunday we played at Rapaki beach and even dabbled in the actual ocean.  Of course we displaced dozens of crabs and scores of snails in digging out the warm pools as well.

It barely hit 20 degrees on Saturday, but Milo got all red in the face on our little port hills hike, and said it was “Too HOAT.” Little kiwi, he has no heat tolerance! We told him to toughen up or else he’ll melt come summer.

Jeremiah packed the barbie and we charred some sausies for lunch at Sign of the Kiwi, along Summit Rd. Did you know that flax sizzles and pops when grilled? Milo now does.

Troup is having a feed.  The roof was burned off the Sign of the Kiwi last year, but it’s fixed up just like new now.  Actually even better than new–the underneath is lined with metal, maybe making it more fireproof than before, but the old fireplace is blocked off. 

The ball’s ricochets are a little unpredictable off the stones, but Milo didn’t care.  

See that gorgeous trunk that looks like a crepe myrtle? It’s the fuchsia that is native to NZ.

I apologize for the out of focus picture….but this is vaguely what the fuchsia flowers look like. Not quite puffy ballerinas like the ornamental varieties, but recognizable nonetheless.