Ode to Seven Years

I’ve sometimes wondered what it’s like to be completely happy being yourself. That would be life as Naomi lives it.
Naomi recently turned 7. She loves being a seven year old girl.
For her birthday party she went with some friends to Clip and Climb, a kids’ climbing wall.
She is quite a social creature overall. Here we have 5 mermaids in a row!
This Friday is Book Character day at school, which happily coincides with Halloween the day following, so the flamingo costume (from “Pea and Nut”) gets two uses.
Cheers, my darling. Here’s to being seven!

Delightful mini spheres

This pansy was covered in perfect spherical melted frost drops, glisteningin the morning sun. I passed it planter yesterday on my way into work, and actually doubled back to take a photograph. I wonder what microscopic characteristics of the petal surface make it so hydrophobic.

Caressing the cherry blossoms

Delight of the day: Under grey skies and a miserly easterly wind, these earliest-of-early cherry blossoms signal that winter will end, and it won’t be long until it does. The Hagley Park blossoms aren’t even cracking yet and the cherries in our garden are still barren, but these few trees I pass on the way to pick up the kids from school are always the very earliest ones. Today I reached my hand up to caress them, squeezing them lightly in my palm.
I was surprised at how soft and moist they were. Somehow they look like they’ll be cotton candy dry, but they’re fresh and new and alive.

Mt Herbert under blue skies


Last weekend was the first clear lovely weekend we’ve had in what seems like forever. It can’t really be that long since we had fantastic weather during our lockdown into May, but I’m tired of being cold.  I jumped onto Carrie and Irmana’s planned hiking day Sunday, and we headed up to Mt Herbert, the highest point on the Banks Peninsula. I’ve approached it from the Kaituna Valley once and Orton Bradley park another time, but this is the first time I’d started at Diamond Harbor.

The trail is a straight forward track up through sheep pasture to the summit.  Every year it is closed for lambing August-October, right about when the weather is getting warmer and we’re wanting to plan such a hike, so we squeaked it in just before the closure this time.  It really is a better track to do on a clear winter day anyway….there’s no water and no shelter, so it would be a scorcher in the summer.

We ambled along, chit-chatting about home renovations, flannel sheets, the size of the closets, and children, stopping once or twice for Irmana to stretch her back which has been bothering her. My knee started to niggle and I made a mental note to book a physio appointment.

Last week was the first time someone referred to me (in my hearing) as “middle-aged.”  I thought I didn’t deserve that term until I turn 40, but I have to admit that the wrinkles around my eyes and propensity to retire early to bed under an electric blanket all point to the same direction.  And, if I admit it, so do our conversation topics.

I remember when other people talked about cranky joints and the pleasure of taking a kid-less outing to the grocery store. I listened to them, smiling, comfortably bemused, wondering what it was like to get old.  Ha.

I guess if I am to be uncharacteristically optimistic, “middle-aged” means there’s still half of life left to live.  Here we are, approaching it with a smile.  

Prickly delight of the day

Perhaps it was reading about Mrs. TiggyWinkle as a child, or perhaps it’s because I respect porcupines and skunks and all peaceful, unhurried defensible creatures of the world, but I have a special place in my heart for hedgehogs. The English settlers brought them to NZ because they reminded them of home, and while DOC suggests that we trap them because they have been known to eat bird eggs and even chicks, I welcome them into my yard. They eat mostly bugs and slugs and snails, which I don’t begrudge them.  And they are SO CUTE.  For a person not easily moved by cuteness, I think they’re adorable.  They waddle-wobble as they trundle along at their own pace, pigeon-toed and snuffly.  Also, since they don’t hustle, they’re photogenic.   So here’s to our resident hedgehog, the Delight of my Day.  

Social Isolation: Day 25, squirreliness

“Mom, Mom, I found a fake egg!” Naomi called as she ran across the grass. Half a second later she had squeezed said egg and it was shockingly genuine, and dripping all over her fingers! Best we can figure it was a duck egg, laid by a confused duck under a tree not too far from the Avon River.

We had gone to Hagley park with two goals in mind. Firstly, the kids were excited to find a pile of leaves to jump in. This little gully caught the windblown leaves naturally, saving us the effort of collecting them.

My mission for the excursion was to collect more nuts. We discovered this tree last week and I really enjoyed the few I had gathered on a salad with the last of the garden’s cucumbers and tomatoes, and I wanted more. They’re a good deal of work to shell, but we have an abundance of time on our hands at the moment….. The shiny smooth nuts are addictive to gather, and I felt rich as I stirred them with my fingers, clinking against one another satisfactorily. I kept saying I was just about finished gathering, but then I’d spot another, and another, and I’d be scurrying to hoard them like an industrious squirrel. It was rather like trying to leave a blueberry field when the picking is really good but the containers were full….just this last handful….and this one too….and these are too good to pass up. Mom used to call, “come on girls, I don’t have enough money to pay for more than this!” Except these nuts were FREE!

Torrey pine, from the USA. It grows bigger pine nuts than the ones you can buy in the grocery store.

Social Isolates Day 13: clothes are optional

“You wanna play Floor’s Lava?” Milo queried. Naomi did, and for some reason it looked like more fun without clothes. Now that we’re home all day, every day, I don’t bother making the kids get dressed unless they’re going outside the yard.  I did have to draw the line at sitting on our furniture without undies.  Yuck.  My standards are low, but they’re still existent.  

Social isolation: day 2

I found this awesome animation on you tube with a great description of how covid19 works.  I love science, even sinister science, and I’m totally impressed at how well the Kurzgesgat group clearly communicates complicated biology.  Plus I believe it’s always comforting, on a certain level, to better understand what’s going on.

Kurzgesgat does topics about biology and physics.  Maybe I’ll finally understand quarks.  Binge day, coming up!

Quail island

It was in the depths of the winter when we first made the plan to go to Quail Island with the Trick-Pendles. There’s an old hut there that DOC recently renovated, but the proximity to Christchurch means it must be booked well in advance. With the hut a mere 500m from the ferry jetty, it sounded like an achievable weekend for all concerned, so we locked it in. Note: this is old history now, the date for this expedition was 7-8th December.

Lyttleton harbor was made by 3 different volcanic eruptions in the ancient and more ancient past, and what is now Quail island has been covered with lava the times in geological history. But now it’s a mild grassy knoll a short ferry ride from Lyttleton harbor.

We hired a sea kayak from the canoe club, put the kids and the gear on the ferry with Emma and Ian, and paddled over amidst a rain squall.
The weather brightened after a cup of coffee and we went down to the beach for a paddle.
The sun was strong enough to warm the water in the hose and inspire me to a “bath,” much to the amusement of our friends.
The kids played, as kids do, around the hut. Naomi and Amelia preened their hair while perched on tree stumps… and went a wee bit wild.
Milo and William built weaponry and practiced on pine cone targets.
All the kids played soccer as the moon rose. The lights in the background are Lyttleton.
Historical plaques declare the utilitarian uses of the island, among them a training ground and quarantine for dogs going to Antarctica, a prison, and a quarantine facility for lepers at one stage and cholera patients at another. Our even boasts a boat grave yard. A mostly sad history, though now it’s just used for recreation. We strove to lighten the atmosphere with good old silliness.

Sometimes you’re the windscreen; sometimes you are the bug.

“Sometimes you’re the windscreen.  Sometimes you are the bug.”

I contemplated the truth in that old Dire Straits refrain as we drove back to Christchurch Sunday night after a weekend trip in the back country.

I knew which one I felt like.

In the back of my mind I knew I was being melodramatic, but why, oh WHY, did trips with the family always seem like such hard yakka?  And how could I change that for next time?

There’s a three day weekend in October to celebrate Labour Day.  [That’s right, this story is a month old already.]  Since it had been a while since we took the family on a hike, we decided it’d be good to go on a family adventure together.  We weren’t very proactive with plans, for various reasons, and the very week of the holiday found us still looking through maps and bouncing ideas around.

Part of the problem with weekend plans is that we all have very different ideas of what constitutes a good weekend.  The kids want to watch cartoons in the morning, see their friends all day, possibly at a playground or a skate park, and eat lots of candy.  Mom and Dad want to adventure in the back country, climb some hills, work up a sweat.  Mom wants a break from cooking, Dad wants to eat meat; Mom wants to make impromptu plans, Dad wants careful planning and execution.

West coast weather wasn’t looking too promising, and we wanted to limit our driving time, so we chose a trip out the back of Hanmer, at one end of the St James cycleway.

Jeremiah got the gate combination from DOC, and we decided to drive in as far as the Rav4 would go, then bike the rest of the way to the hut.

Turns out the car made it all the way to the hut, which was already occupied by teenage boys, but the weather was nice and we set up tents in the grassy paddock nearby.

“What do you want to do this afternoon?” I queried Jeremiah.

“Let’s bike up over the saddle to the Waiau River,” he suggested.  I looked at the hill.  The kids would most definitely be walking their bikes, but maybe that would be ok….I hoped. [this photo isn’t of the pass, just the cool bridge that crosses the river before the pass]

Turns out it wasn’t ok.  Not only did they NOT ride their bikes, but they whinged and carried on, even when I walked their bikes for them.

So we left their bikes by the side of the road, caught up with Dad, and told him we needed a change of plans.

We walked a little bit up a ridge line, but first one, then the other decided that walking up hill wasn’t for them.

We left them to stew in their whiney attitudes and eat the rest of the candy in their bags while we walked up a little higher.

Then we turned around and walked back down.

Back at camp we decided a foray to the local hot pools was in order.  Natural hot pools aren’t usually the vision of paradise on earth that one might dream of, what with the bacterial slime, the sulphury smell, and the sand flies, but this particular set of pools was about as good as they get.  People have built up the edges around the hot spring seep, so the water is contained and lots of people can fit in the deepened pool.  Sand flies can’t swim, we told the kids, put your shoulders in the water—but not your face or ears, or you might catch a protozoa that swims to your brain and makes you DIE.

Kids don’t mind muck, or the threat of brain parasites, so they quite liked the pools.

Jeremiah’s not much of a hot spring fan, so he cooked sausages, which we ate while reclining in the water.  Not a bad way to end a day.

“Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger, baby; sometimes you are the ball.”

Yep, that evening we were the slugger.

During the night the Norwest picked up, rattling the tents and putting boundaries on the plans for the next day.  Until you’ve experienced a New Zealand wind you might not appreciate how much of a show stopper it can be.  We hunkered in the shelter between the two tents for breakfast and thought about strategy.  No exposed hill walks for us.

We decided to go for a leisurely valley walk, Jeremiah with his gun and binoculars, kids with an eye for rabbit highways.

In the end that part was brilliant—we found rabbit highways, state roads, back lanes, condominiums, porches, porticos, and no shortage of rabbit toilets.  The kids were amused imagining the bunny dramas, while Jeremiah scanned the hillsides for bigger game.

Back at camp for lunch, we took stock.  The wind was, if anything, increasing, and the clouds were starting to look suspicious.  We decided to break camp, hit the hot pools one more time, and head home that evening.

On our drive out we were passing the best 7 km stretch of the whole St James cycleway.  Cognisant that we were ending the “biking weekend” without doing much biking, I suggested that we drive to the hilltop, park, and bike down the easy grade decent to the homestead.  My memory of that stretch was a sweet hardly-push-a-pedal glide with a smooth surface and effortless speed, just the kind of ride kids would like.  I’d have to bike back up to get the car, but that seemed a small task.

The catch was that the westerly had really turned into a gale.  We parked the car and felt it rock in the wind.  “You really want to bike with the kids in this weather?” Jeremiah queried.  Yes, I wanted to.  “I’ll just run back up, it’ll be easier than biking in this wind,” I offered.

Near the trail start the track turned sideways down a hill, so the wind was at our elbow, and at the same time there was a slight up-hill grade.  Naomi slowed to a stop and the whinge started.  Milo and I plowed along, laughing at the gusts, but Naomi wasn’t restarting.  I left my bike and jogged back.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea to bike with the kids in this weather,” Jeremiah posited.

“The wind’s at our back, it’s all downhill, and we have rain gear—how freaking easy can it get?! Let’s go!” I commanded.  So we went.  Whenever we got to the slightest incline, I heard Milo behind me moaning about the hill.  Naomi basically checked out and coasted the whole way, underneath her waterproof hood I couldn’t tell if she was enjoying it or not, but I thought it wise not to stop her and find out.  We reached the bottom, I parked my bike with the food basket, and turned around to run back into the wind.  After 10 minutes I glanced over my shoulder to see if I was making any headway, and there was a full arched rainbow stretching over the valley, through the flinging raindrops.

“Sometimes it all comes together, baby; Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all!”