Golden weather

Autumn in Canterbury can be savory.  Golden days where the mean burn of the sun is gone and the heat is welcome.  Calm winds; blue skies.  Grass has turned green again.

This afternoon we went back over to the school grounds, kicked a soccer ball, and hung out.

Last Sunday I drove up to Castle hill and biked the mountain bike trails. A golden, peaceful day.

Last weekend was also the Chinese lantern festival in Christchurch. The Avon river was swarming with dragons, gaudy floating lilies, and people slurping asian food from cardboard take-away containers.

One afternoon I dragged the kids up to the summit rd overlooking Lyttleton harbor for a picnic lunch. “Don’t take this settled weather for granted,” I tried to tell them. “Winter will come and the wind will be cold.” They don’t look past the moment and anticipate the chilly winter coming. Maybe that’s a good thing.


A new compatible family

I’ve talked to Sally for years at a craft group we both frequent. We saw them in Murchison at a kayak club weekend. Her husband Nathan joined us for the Old Ghost Rd bike ride in January. But this was the first weekend trip we tried out as families. It’s a test of sorts: 1. Are kids compatible? 2. Are husbands compatible? 3. Are our ideas of what constitutes a fun activity compatible?

Check. Check. Check.

I lack a real group photo for this trip, but here are the kids. Aaron is 8, Jessica is 4.

The husbands both like four-wheel driving. Our Rav4 isn’t a “real” four wheel drive–no snorkel, not super high off the ground, no super-low gear….but it did ok on this trip into Dillon hut along the Taipo river. Jeremiah was grinning.  I was tense.  Pretty typical, I guess.

The woods part of the drive was very pretty–Lush west coast bush is completely different than beach forests of the east coast.

The weather turned wet one afternoon, and the kids hunkered down to draw in the comfort of the hut.

Naomi and Jessica were like two peas in a pod–they giggle together over things that only four-year-olds find funny.

The plan was to drive upstream into the hut, let the wives paddle down, and collect us at the bottom on the way out. But we were also joining the whitewater canoe club for their Sunday morning paddle so the timing worked out better to do our paddle the afternoon before, and Nathan graciously drove down to pick us up. Sally is a much better paddler than I, and I hadn’t been on the water for the past two months, so I was nervous.

Not nerves without cause, as it turns out. I capsized pretty quickly at the start, but managed to stay upright for the rest of the river. It was definitely bigger than I had anticipated.

The guys got out on a hunt, first bringing the boys for a little while, then going out on their own after dinner. No meat was gathered, but they got a good walk in.

The Arnold river the next morning with the kayak club was much tamer (and warmer).

The kids plunked their lines in the water and got some imaginary nibbles. They’re addicts in the making.

When siblings go right

Milo has decided to play the part of caring big brother after Naomi got a bee sting.

There are plenty of times–memorable times–when siblings go wrong (more about that below).  But this is one lovely time when siblings went right.  Naomi got stung by a bee while we were biking at the Halswell Quarry, and we had to turn around and come home.  “You know,” I told Milo, as he complained about not getting to finish his ride, “your sister is TOUGH.  There aren’t many four year olds who would bike home after getting stung by a bee.”  He must have taken it in, because later I overheard him repeating this boast to Jeremiah.  He also switched from “little sister got in the way of me doing what I wanted to do” mode to “caring big brother” mode, even reading his school book to her.

Other days, it can be more like this:

“It’s school crossing!” Naomi informed me.

I glanced out the window in time to see Milo run down the driveway with his friend Cameron on his heels.  His mom and sister rounded the bend.  This looked official.  I opened the front door to field the inquiry.

Milo rushed at me: “Can Cameron come over this afternoon?” he demanded, before darting off on a circuit of the yard.

“The boys were hoping for a play date.”  Clare stated the obvious.  “Milo could come to our house.”

“We want to play in the tree fort,” Milo put in.  Hum.  There’s no tree fort on offer at Cameron’s house.

“Ah, yes….well, Cameron can stay here,” I offered.

A couple minutes later Milo came raring around the corner, brandishing Naomi’s new stickers in triumph above his head while she squealed in protest.  “Milo!  What are you doing?  Give that back to Naomi!  One…TWO…..!  He threw the sticker sheet in her general direction, then stepped on her container of beads, spewing them down the hallway.  “Milo!  In your room!” I pointed menacingly and took a threatening step toward my son.  He sprinted to his doorway and stood there, grinning.  I gave him a few minutes, then went to talk things over.

“Milo, I won’t let you be a bully.  In order to come out you have to say you’re sorry to Naomi for snatching her stickers, then you can pick up the beads and put them in this container.”  I thrust a plastic jam jar into his hands.  He tossed it on the floor.  “Well, that’s what you have to do; say sorry to Naomi and pick up her beads.”

After several unsatisfactory attempts at a sorry I let a cursory attempt stand, reminded him about the beads, and retired to the living room.

“Naomi, I’m going to put your beads out the window,” I heard his gleeful voice taunt from the dining room.  I ignored the threat.  Often he’s just angling for attention.  The noise crescendoed, and upon investigation I discovered beads in the weeds below the window.  Incredible.

“Is he like this when he goes to your house?” I asked Cameron, shaking my head.

“No.” Cameron widened his eyes.

I thought of the studies of social structure with chimpanzees where dominant males tear around the group, chasing their comrades up trees, tossing sticks into the air, beating their chests and generally making a miserable racket.

That’s exactly what Milo has been doing this afternoon.  Asserting his dominance on his home turf.


We’re no better than apes.


Weight of inertia

There comes a time when a procrastination mounts to such a weight of inertia that a project is stuck.  Immovable.

That’s how the blog has been these past couple months.  The longer I wait, the move behind I fall, and the less savory the project appears….Maybe this is what mounting credit card debt feels like?

This is my attempt to become unstuck.

  • Over Christmas we did some cool trips.  We drove to the west coast via Arthur’s pass, stopping at cave stream on the way.  We spent some days at Okarito beach with the Pritchard family, then some more days at Lake Kanere in our new glamping tent.  We did a couple nights at Spencer Park, just here in Christchurch.  It was fun.
  • In January I got out on some awesome weekend trips–St James Walkway in Lewis pass, and the Old Ghost Rd bike ride on the west coast.
  • For Waitangi Day we went up to Golden Bay (at Pohara), camping, biking, fishing, playing.
      Low tech map of recent travels.  I tried a fancy electronic one, but the inertia…you get the picture.

And summer has been warm!  I’ve enjoyed the evening bike rides at the local hill.  Warm afternoons with the doors open.  Wearing shorts.  I don’t think there has been any summer we’ve spent in NZ so far where I’ve had more opportunity to wear shorts!

I do have fantastic pictures from these trips.  But whether or not they get shared, at least now I can move on.

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.