School holidays

School holidays roll around remarkably quickly–the kids have 2 weeks off at the end of every 10 week term.  I take some days off of work, I trade kids with friends (I have theirs when I’m home, they have mine when I’m working), and we send the kids to some holiday programs.  It’s always a bit of a juggle, but this time it was enjoyable too.  On days that I’m home we step out of the normal routine and see friends that aren’t in our regular school-time loops anymore–friends from preschool and family friends.

One day we went into the Hagley Park and met Naomi’s friend from preschool.

Another day we met some family friends at Halswell Quarry. There are lots of painted rocks hidden around public parks in Christchurch–“Chch rocks.” They are for finding and rehiding for the next kid to discover, and Milo got right into the game.

One day we went into the new city centre library, multiple stories of books, kid activities, and cool architecture. We happened upon a free workshop on making rope from cabbage tree leaves, and Milo went a bit fanatical that afternoon, twisting a rope that reached almost around the house.

Another day we went into the big city centre playground. “I’m bored,” Milo whined, “can you buy me a slushy?”
What?! Kids can be simply soul-destroying. “I’ve taken you to the Biggest Playground in the Southern Hemisphere (as they say), AND brought along a friend for you. Your boredom is NOT my problem.”

That afternoon we came home and had a couple hours of intensive drawing–that’s my style school holiday!

Naomi has been counting down the days until her birthday for a few weeks, and the long-awaited event was the culmination of the holidays. Here we are making her cake–marshmallow cake, as requested.

Naomi chose ice skating for her birthday party this year, a fortunate choice since the weather that particular day was rather rainy. She’d never been skating before, but she loved it.

And she liked her cake–essentially chocolate covered candy, what’s not to love?

We got her rollerblades for her birthday. She’d been asking for them consistently for some months now. I was a little bit worried that she’d take one fall and decide they weren’t for her, but she stayed in them for almost the whole day. I’m looking forward to hours of happy skating in our future.

Today was our last casual morning, making Sunday pancakes with Dad. Tomorrow the routine returns.

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Biking Stour River

Our current phase of life doesn’t lend itself well to spontaneous weekend trips.  To go on an overnight tramp or kayak or bike trip, the weekend needs to be staked out on the calendar weeks (sometimes months) in advance, when the spouse’s calendar, the hiking companion’s calendar, and the companion’s spouse’s calendar is still free.  Clearly, we can’t schedule the sun’s part in this orchestration.

That’s one of the many reasons I enjoy planning activities with Sally.  As a native of England, she lives by the adage “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”  She’s not going to ditch weekend plans because of a spot of rain, or a deluge really….but we may shift locations to avoid the worst of the river crossings.

Which is just what we did looking at the weekend forecast on Thursday night.  We had bantered around ideas for a few hikes in Arthur’s pass, but the Metservice radar looked particularly unfriendly for that region.  We thought we could detect a little relief from the precipitation if we went a bit further south, so we set our sights on Stour River, about 1.5 hours southwest of Christchurch.

As we drove we kept peering hopefully through the flopping windshield wipers.  “There, there’s a light spot in the clouds up there,” Sally observed, optimistically, pointing at the sullen sky.  The drizzle would ease for a few minutes before resuming again.

Still, when we arrived at the car park the misty precipitation hadn’t turned into anything worse, and it wasn’t windy.  We zipped up our coats but didn’t don rain jackets.

There were several small river crossings on the track, and I had rather hoped to be able to bike across them with dry feet.  Sally was more pragmatic.  She whipped off her boots before each ford, preserving dry shoes for the next day’s tramp, and I decided to follow suite.

We made it to Manuka Hut for lunch, and decided to keep moving to Double Hut, not far up the valley.

At Double Hut there were residents already in place–though they weren’t there in person.
They had stacked all 6 mattresses under their 3 sleeping bags and we surmised that they were hunters, from the empty bullet shells lined up on the window sills.

 There weren’t lots of beer or whiskey bottles and they may have been a perfectly pleasant bunch, but the afternoon was still early so we decided to head back to Manuka Hut, where we’d probably have it to ourselves.

It was a bit drizzly on our way back to Manuka Hut, so we were happy to arrive (again).

There aren’t many trees in the Hakatere and most down wood was wet from the recent rain, but we scavenged some dead standing wood out of a small tree and Sally built a fire. It was more for ambiance than warmth, since an open fire doesn’t warm the hut like a wood stove, but it was still good.

While Sally tended the fire (one match start!) I cooked dinner.

We were thankful for warm sleeping bags that night. One of the luxuries of sleeping in a hut without other guests is the opportunity for a sleep in. I didn’t wake up until 8:00; it was great.

It’s hard to tell, but this is the dawn of a sunny day, before the sun has peaked over the mountain to warm the valley.

We spent a little time basking while eating breakfast

Enjoying the sun that was a pleasant surprise given the previous day’s weather

We packed lunch and climbed the ridge behind the hut

Climbing gave us a great view of the massive glacial valley spread out below us, with the ridges of rock that the glacier hadn’t obliterated strung out between the gravel-filled valleys with hanging terraces.

The mountains in the other direction were covered in snow. I had debated about bringing my snow shoes, hoping to make fresh tracks, but we didn’t go high enough to need them.

It’s fun hiking with a geologist (Sally), because she has good explanations for the landscape we’re gazing at, and doesn’t seem to mind my rapid fire questions.

Snug photo/lunch spot, before the wind picked up.

Since we had biked up the river valley the day before, the way out was a gentle downhill, almost imperceptible, except to make the biking a breeze.

Dry foot ford!

Hurray!

Wet foot ford, but not too soggy.

We finished out ride under sunny skies. when we got back to Christchurch, we learned that Saturday there had been downright wet, and Sunday morning had been drizzly. It makes the trip away that much sweeter to have escaped the bad weather!

Winter blue skies

Broom and gorse are invasive species in New Zealand, so I know I’m supposed to despise them. But I can’t help but admire the brilliant egg-yolk-yellow flowers against the saturated blue winter sky, so blue that it feels alien.

I was biking the Kennedy’s bush track to the summit road on the last official weekend of winter.  The flowers give off a heavy scent, warm and musty-fruity; they SMELL as yellow as they look.  I remembered the first time I saw broom, in Argentina; masses of yellow flowers with red highlights.  I don’t suppose introducing that crimson genetic variation in the New Zealand population would be a popular move….

“Here, I’ll get up.”  The man move stiffly as he vacated the style steps, and I hefted my bike up and over.

“Haven’t I seen you here before?” I inquired.  The face and cultured accent triggered a memory of a conversation at the style on top of Kennedy’s track from months before.

“A long while ago I used to bike up here.”

“Ah, I used to run up here, and now I bike.  I guess it’s the age progression.”  I laughed, ruefully, remembering the former days when I had trotted agilely up and down this track, training for a marathon.

“Yes,” he chuckled, “and now I’m sitting here, getting up the energy to walk back down.”

“Down’s easier than up; you’ve got gravity on your side,” I countered, cheerfully.

“Yes, and I have rather too much help from gravity these days.” He patted his ample stomach.

I continued along my route.  It wasn’t early, but almost no one else was out.  I had the Flying Nun trail to myself, and feeling bolder than normal, I swooped around the cobbled corners and even tried a tiny jump or two.  With no one riding my tail, I felt zippy all the way down the Loess Rider trail through the forest in the Adventure Park.  “Maybe I’m finding my groove,” I said to Jeremiah later.  “Or perhaps I’m just getting over confident and am cruising for a big fall.”

“That’s what a negative person might think,” Jeremiah retorted.

Oh well, maybe so; I think that all the same, I’ll still enjoy riding.

The next day was Father’s Day, and Jeremiah’s choice of activity was to take the kids on a mountain bike ride.  I pondered the difference between my perspective on Mother’s Day, when I wanted a BREAK from being a mother.  “It’s called not called ‘Mothers’ and Children’s day,’ after all,” one of my friends had quipped.

But Jeremiah is made of different material, it seems, and he wanted to spend the day with the family.

The kids really haven’t been excited about biking since our Christmas trip last year, a 5 day ride on the Otago Rail Trail.  In face, they’ve been on what amounts to a bicycle strike.  When Jeremiah announced the plans for the day, they moaned and grizzled.

They only started to resign themselves to the idea of a bike ride when I let them pack their candy treats for the outing.

They bickered all the way there in the car, but surprisingly, when we launched down the gravel trail at Bottle Lake Forest, they were cheerful.

And stayed that way for the duration of the trip!

Maybe the hills were easier, because their legs were a year older, or maybe the lure of the self-chosen lollies kept Naomi’s spirits up.  Whatever the reason, Naomi rounded the last corners of our 90 minute ride bubbly and cheerful, and announced:  “I love my bike!”

“Zoom, zoom!”

That sounds like a win to me.

 

Tiny triumphs

It’s easy to focus on the things in life that aren’t good.  It’s the definition of a pessimist, I suppose, and in defense of pessimists I think focusing on potential problems is the first step towards fixing them….  But I admit that the habit can encourage a grey outlook on life.

This week’s work has seemed full of uncertainties and unsolved problems, with a few personal dimwit moments thrown in (such as spending half an hour enlisting the IT guy’s help to fix a power supply to the microscope light, only to find I had the dimmer nob turned down).  So maybe a “simple win” story is in order, just to lighten the mood.

“Oh, you’re smart!”

Who doesn’t like receive such accolades?

I had headed into S house at work, where the rockwool crops were growing.  The roll up door zinged open on command.  But instead of dropping shut behind me, it stayed open, allowing the cold breeze to ruffle the plant leaves inside. Not ideal….

I called Jackie, the grower in charge of the area.  He pressed some buttons to manually close the door, but when opened it stayed up again.  The error message read “object in sensor.”  “What does that mean?” Jackie wondered aloud.  English is his second or third language.

“Hum, maybe something is blocking the laser beam here at the bottom of the door, so the door thinks something’s in the way and it won’t close,” I reasoned, poking at first one and then the second sensor.  At the second a moth caught in a spider web had fallen over the little black nob.  A flick, and it was gone.  The door closed. Triumph!

That’s when Jackie came out with his pleased announcement.  As simple a fix as it was, I glowed.

 

 

Architecture of a holiday

No Kiwi would travel all the way to America for shorter than 4 week’s holiday.  It’s one of the charming things about the culture, and we took full advantage of it as we applied for a month’s annual leave and our employers didn’t bat an eye.

This time we went to the New York, and, remarkably, got see all our parents and siblings on both sides of the family during the course of that month.  I have three sisters (Kelsey, Rebecca, Susanna) and Jeremiah has 4 siblings (Ben, Missy, Isaiah and Moriah).

We started in the Adirondacks with Jeremiah’s parents.

The Shaws invited the Harros up to join us for a few days

During the Harro’s visit we drove down to Massachusetts to see a circus Kelsey used to work for.  We stayed with Susanna and Dara overnight, then went came back up to the Adirondacks.

(flick between this and the photo above and you can see everyone smiling with open eyes)

I had a work conference in Ohio that I jetted off to for a few days, while the kids stayed with the Shaws and Jeremiah got out on a hike with his brother.

Soon after we visited with cousin Ayla, Moriah and her husband Aaron in Glens Falls,

then went down to NYC for four nights to see my Mom and Dad’s new digs in Harlem, and attend my nephew Emerson’s baptism…..

and ride the subways…

and cool off in fire hydrants, like genuine city kids….

When we went back up to the Adirondacks, Missy and Eric (Jeremiah’s sister and brother-in-law) had arrived down from Nova Scotia

Sue hosted a big family gathering at their place where we got to see some of the extended family, and interspersed during our time in the Adirondacks we paid visits to the grandparents

and great grandparents

and enjoyed casual Adirondack days.

Microscope magic

Ha! There’s something alive down there!” I fairly cackled with glee.  I love the stereoscope.

Looking through the magic oculars had revealed a hidden world.  A critter crawled past and I tried to count its legs.  I could only see 6, but it had the plump body and quick gait of a mite.  And those clear plump mounds with the beautifully and precisely placed white speckles, those must be its eggs.

Look in the centre of the photo for the translucent precisely speckled egg.

I picked up a leaf off my desk and peered at it again.  Nothing.  I could see nothing.  As a kid I had always prided myself in having good up close vision, even if at distance I struggled, but this time I saw precisely nothing.  I got out the 10x lens and squinted through it—now I could make out little white flecks that could be plant hairs.  I popped it under the scope, and suddenly there was something.  Lots of somethings, in fact.  I chuckled again and bounced in my seat.  Wow, they were tiny!

But what kind of mite could it be?  I tried googling and got a list of invasive-pests-to-be-aware-of…..I sure hoped we weren’t the first to find an invasive pest.  That would be complicated.  But an image search was reassuring—those mites from Chile were red, not clear like the ones I was seeing.

Then I remembered that cyclamen mites and broad mites are microscopic, so tried an image searching for broad mite eggs.  There they were, those perfect speckled domes!  “Ah-ha!” I exclaimed out loud, hoping somebody else in the office would share my enthusiasm.  No one noticed.

I started an email to the commercial crop manager.  I guessed that he wasn’t going to share my thrill of discovery, but I had to tell SOMEBODY.  I clamped the phone holder onto the ocular and focused on a particularly tantalizing egg, then snapped a photo of a microscopic herd of mites hiding in the nook between two plant veins, and was immensely gratified to find that the photos were decent quality.   I tacked them to the email.

The operations manager walked past to the desk.  “Hey, want to see something cool?”  He humoured me, and glanced at the photo.

“Nice.  How are you going to kill them?” he queried, right to the point as per usual.

“Oh, probably try Avid, it’s the only miticide we’ve tested on this crop.  Multiple applications….there are a lot of mites and Avid doesn’t kill eggs…..but aren’t they cool?”  He nodded and moved on.

Just then the grower in charge of the plants walked into the office.  “Hey, want to see something cool?”  I pointed to the picture on the screen.

“Wow, what are those?” he asked.  He has wonderfully expansive facial expressions, and shared my excitement.

“Broad mites!  You know those twisted bronzy leaves we thought were from high EC?  They’re full of mites!  And look at this!” I held a leaf under his nose.  “Can you see anything?”  He shook his head.  “No!” I chortled, “but here, look through the lens!”

A whole mass of mites fits in the crotch of a tiny leaf vein, nestled in among a few plant hairs.

He peered, mezmerized, at the leaf that was teeming with microscopic life.  “That’s a good a discovery!” he said.  “We would be waiting for those shoots to grow out after we water the pots, and we would be saying why these shoots not better, because the problem is really mites.”

Yes!  He understood the picture, and the gravity of the situation we almost found ourselves in.  I giggled.

Later that night I continued to talk Jeremiah’s ear off about the mites.  “Here, just LOOK at these beautiful eggs,” I adjured him.  “They’re gorgeous!  And tiny! and….Oh, and how was your day? ….signed a contract sounds good…..in Kaikoura….hey, I wonder if those mites can carry disease?!  Oh look, it says here the females are quiescent and the males carry them around on their backs until they’re ready to mate.  I actually saw that!  I SAW one carrying another when I LOOKED DOWN THE SCOPE!”  He nodded and smiled.  He was trying to share my excitement.

I can’t quite put my finger on it myself.  For some reason I find that miniscule world that is chocker full of life, and precision, and beauty to be terribly alluring.  And the thrill of discovery at a successful yet unexpected diagnosis never gets old.

It’s so good to love one’s work.

Transformed by white

We’ve had two days of strong southerly rains in Christchurch, making me think with sympathy of the emperor penguin dads huddled in the dark on the antarctic ice, where the weather system originated. This morning a hard frost covered the garden but the sky itself was clear. NZ is a commonwealth country, and, God Bless the Queen, we had Monday off today.

We refurbished some old pairs of gaiters and waterproof pants for the kids, and headed for the white hills.

“How much longer until we get to the snow?” Naomi wasn’t thrilled with riding in the car fully clothed in her outdoor gear. “We’re not sure, hun, we’re just going to drive until we get to snow deep enough for sledding.”

We reached playable snow by lake Lyndon, so we peeled off the main road and drove a little bit around the lake to a mostly smooth hill that didn’t end at the road or pricker bushes.  The snow was crusty and our flimsy plastic sleds weren’t up to the task, but we turned them around and rode them backwards after the fronts had broken apart. 

The highlight of the day wasn’t actually sledding, it was building. As the sun spent time on the snow it became a bit more malleable, and we could cut building chunks. Naomi is posing, but the wind break was really Milo’s project.

Yesterday someone else had been up there and built a major igloo out of snow blocks, most of which was still intact.

Jeremiah occupied the igloo much of the day, making hot chocolate and doling out sandwiches.  The wind was brisk and inside the fort was much more cozy than outside.

Our dear friend Mr. Kennedy has recently shared some photos from our childhood, and among them was this one, a snow cave we made at Sunnymeade circa 2002. The top layer of girls is Jennifer, Sarah, Susanna and Rebecca.  

Another ancient picture of a pair of cheesy grins, just for sh__s and giggles. Today I strapped on my snowshoes and trudged up the hill, eliciting a friendly comment from a woman that “I must be from somewhere cold.” She had never seen snow shoes before. Yep, there’s much fun to be had in the snow.