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.

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A slight stubborn streak

We have about a tantrum a day with Naomi at this point. Often times it’s unpredictable what will set her off: Being made to do something she doesn’t want to do is the main theme, but 9 times out of 10 she’ll good-naturedly clear the car of her bric-a-brac after an outing, just not today. It was probably the fact that I told her she couldn’t come inside until she was carrying that purple sweater. Too much force, in her opinion.  It was an ultimatum, and I could see her jaw set. Thankfully we were home, so I went inside and made a batch of granola while she spent the next 45 minutes howling.

Some la-ti-da experts say you should never leave a kid to themselves when they tantrum, that you should stay where they can see you so they know you haven’t abandoned them. Hum, hope that’s working out for them. Needless to say, I don’t ascribe to that belief. I checked on her from time to time, but it’s not like I couldn’t hear exactly where she was. As could the neighbors. And their neighbors.

It really wasn’t short sleeve weather so she eventually decided to come inside and bang the broom on the door in consternation. Without the purple sweater, I might add. I guess she won that one. Milo came home, wanted a snack, and that little change of subject seemed to snap her out of it. She was giggling just a minute after his entrance, plotting peanut butter on banana with chocolate sprinkles.

I guess I understand to some degree.  I hate to be pushed around as well.  Nothing makes my hackles rise as much as someone lording their authority over me unnecessarily.  Eventually she’ll realize that being asked to pick up her sweater (asked nicely, I might add) doesn’t really require 45 minutes of high energy protestations–save that energy for more important battles.

Jeremiah was gracious enough to pronounce that she’s just like me.

What are those kids up to?

Swimming lessons! With pink goggles, of course. I have bagged the impossible–simultaneous swimming lessons for both kiddos.
(By the bye, check out Naomi’s shirt. The movie Frozen has a cult following of little girls. Never mind that Naomi has never even seen the movie, she knows the theme song and the names of the princesses.)

Contack. It was a game I played with Poppop, my grandfather, and wanted to teach Milo. Jeremiah got the triangle pieces from China, I got the number stickers from America, and I painted them in New Zealand. Global trade, even in craft hobbies. And then Jeremiah found the genuine vintage game on e-bay for cheap….. Luckily Milo likes the game.

Cherry blossoms are starting–Spring! With the typical fickle weather I’d expect. It sleeted today. But the day we biked in Hagley park was lovely.

It was also lovely the day we went biking to McClean’s Island. The 10 km loop isn’t really a challenge for Milo, but last year Naomi found it difficult. This time around she did great. Didn’t whinge. Didn’t stop. I think this summer will be the summer of family bike trips.

Milo won the rugby player of the year award for his team, and boy, is he proud. I’m proud of him too. Like I’ve said before, it’s neat to see your kid do something he’s passionate about, and do it well. I’m going to give him a chance at soccer though, since with his genes (well, my short genes which he has inherited), he might not have as much fun with rugby when the tacklers get bigger.

It doesn’t get much better than spinning in a pink and purple frilly skirt worn over top a pink dress.  If you’re a three year old girl, that is.

And just in case it looks like our lives are too happy….here’s a taste of a tantrum. I spared you the video. The issue is that mommy required her to sit on the toilet and TRY to squeeze something out before bed. And she didn’t want to. And I told her she had to try before she could leave the bathroom. And she didn’t want to. Then she didn’t want to leave. Basically just didn’t want to do what I wanted her to do. Next time I might just risk the wet bed.

Occasionally, stay-at-home-motherhood is golden

Last Thursday Naomi and I brought Milo to school. She chose her own outfit, as she always does. If one dress is good, then surely a dress AND a skirt is even better….at least so reasons Naomi. A dress, a fairy skirt, a purse, a stripey sweater, a fluffy pink hat, and two babies, bringing Milo to school.

The forecast for the day was lovely, so we headed up to Hagley Park to check out the daffodil bloom. They’re starting!

Naomi knows the term “selfie.” Such a 21st century child!

I sent a girls-in-daffodils picture to Jeremiah, and he suggested that we meet him for lunch in a cafe in town.  Naomi found the walk very long.  Towards the end we passed a bunch of flash new buildings with glass facades, and she stopped to admire her reflection, adjusting her skirt, preening here and there.  “Oh, I didn’t know we had fairies in the city!” and old woman exclaimed as she walked past.  Naomi beamed–that was clearly the effect she was after.

Spring is long and slow here, and officially it hasn’t even begun yet….but don’t tell these precocious crocuses that. They are erupting from the grass in Hagley park, reminding me of a patch at Cornell under an oak tree that emerged each spring. I love them!  I’m pretty lucky to have a day at the park with a lovely little girl, and lunch out with my hubbie.  This was a good stay-at-home mom day, for the record.   

Rugby season finished

The kids played their last game of the ripper rugby season this weekend–stellar weather for it too! Here they all are, with their Classic Kiwi names: Kupa, Jackson, Cameron, Jordy, Charlie, Ollie, Zach, Jonty, Keegan, Milo, Lachie, and Robbie. It’s been a really nice group, and I’ve enjoyed talking to the other parents during practices and games.

Our team (Thunderbolts!) are on defense in this photo.  If you have ever wondered what the game actually looks like, check out this video clip.  Unlike American football, a “tackle” (ripping off a tag at this level) doesn’t mean the play stops–it just means the ball has to be passed back to another team mate to continue running.  The gist is pretty simple, but at the professional level there are lots of other rules around fouls and such.  Maybe if Milo sticks with the game long enough, I’ll learn all the ins and outs.

This is a good game for Naomi–a chance to watch someone play on their tablet, eat snacks, and drink hot chocolate.  Ah, the life of the younger sibling.

Mr. Competitive isn’t afraid to dive for the rip, so I see lots of laundry in my future!

Michigan lake

“Hey, do you think there would be a lake house somewhere near Chicago where we could go for a week?”  We were in the planning phase of our trip, trying to figure out a Hub Harro, and come up with a vacation plan that would be fun for all involved.

“Chicago is on Lake Michigan, honey,” my mom reminded me.

In the end my parents found a house to rent on Diamond Lake, about an hour southwest of Kalamazoo, not the big water of Lake Michigan but a warmer, tamer lake surrounded by vacation homes.  My three sisters made arrangements to come, and my uncle, aunt, and cousin from Chicago came for the weekend as well. A regular family reunion!

The house was a sprawling lake cottage, built in the 1800s and added on to ever since, a comfortable wood-paneled abode (with wifi and Netflix!), with nooks and crannies for everyone.

A short walk down the road was the shared beach, warm and safe for kids.

We had told Milo not to bring his soccer ball to America, that surely Aunt Becky would have one, so imagine the dismay when we woke up on our first morning in warm summery America and we couldn’t find a ball to kick around. Easy fix for that, suburbia has plentiful shopping. The Diamond Lake house had a generous expanse of grass for lawn games.

Big Lake Michigan was less than an hour away, so we took a couple day trips there. I love the sand dunes near the lake. I have great memories of jumping down sand dunes in my younger years, and though my back wasn’t giving me leeway to do much besides hobble, I still like the mountains of sand we had to slog through to get to the water.

The Harro family always pockets a ball to toss on the beach, a tradition I need to rekindle with our little family. “Woof!”

Hugs from Abi!

Down there at the end of the table is my uncle Ted, Aunt Gretchen, and cousin Duncan. They treated us all to lunch at this fantastic little cafe, after our play at Lake Michigan. We used to call Uncle Ted “Uncle Visa.” In my younger years, he was one of the uncles who would splurge for treats, and pay with his credit card. Those were the days when my parents, ever slow to adopt technology, still budgeted in cash, and we assumed paying with plastic was reckless. I have this distinct childhood memory of going with him to the grocery store to buy ice cream, analyzing the prices for half gallons, and advising him which was the cheapest. “Yes, but this one is the BEST,” he said, reaching for some fancy creation in a round pint container, and flashing his Visa at the cashier.  Quality matters.  Good life lesson, Uncle Ted, thanks!

The day after our Lake Michigan trip Uncle Ted rented a party boat on Diamond Lake–it fit all of us simultaneously! Captain and first mate there.

Lounging on the boat!
There’s Milo, cousin Duncan, Aunt Gretchen, Dara (Aunt Susanna’s partner), Aunt Susanna, and Omi.  

There was a shallow section of the lake where boats anchored and swimmers jumped out into the warm water. Naomi fell in love with Aunt Kelsey’s sun glasses.

Milo turned out to be quite the tepid swimmer. He complained of being hot when we first arrived in America (head plus humidity is something new to him), then had no tolerance of even mild water chilliness. So he lounged on deck, surveying the rabble below.

After that first sunny weekend we had quite a fair bit of rain while we were there. Warm rain, gentle with no wind, very different than we get in New Zealand.

We did puzzles, read books, and watched DVD’s of James Herriot, TV shows from the 1980s. We all knew the stories and how they were going to end, as we’ve read the books and seen the shows countless times before, but that doesn’t diminish our enjoyment….another peculiarity of the Harro clan.

Aunt Rebecca and Aunt Kelsey played kids’ Cranium several dozen times, until Milo declared himself the master of the frog jumping challenge.  

One morning Rebecca and I took the kids to a little local playground, dodging the rain drops.

Those grain elevators make a bit of an unusual backdrop for a playground.

Every American summer vacation includes s’mores!

S’mores in all their gooey glory.

We had a couple beer tasting opportunities, much to Jeremiah’s delight. The craft brewery scene seems to be doing well in the States.

Our 12th anniversary rolled around while we were there, and we went to Bell Brewery in Kalamazoo to try a flight of their beer.

The owner of Bell Brewery has collected paraphernalia from all over the world to decorate the pub. That Wedding Ale was one of my favorites–it had honey in it and you actually tasted the honey in every sip.

We went to Lake Michigan another afternoon, this time to a town beach (hence the crowds). It was the strangest weather I’ve ever seen–fog off the lake, but very hot out. Almost like steam. It was bizarre.

There’s a carousel at this beach, and ice cream stores…and we visited both.

There are few things that I miss about America, besides family. On this trip I was reminded about fireflies. They’re fantastic. This picture doesn’t do them justice, of course, but imagine a grassy field at dusk alive with gently fluorescing dots gently streaking around. And that’s completely normal, a part of every warm summer evening. Sorry NZ glow worms, you’re out-shone.

Chicago Harro Highlights

I felt like gripping Jeremiah by the shoulders, staring him in the eyes, and declaring “THIS is why I’m the way I am.  See?  I’m NOT weird.  For my family, this is NORMAL.”

Jeremiah and I are from the same town.  I could have seen his family home across the river if the trees weren’t so thick.  We’re both Americans, similar socio-economic class, each with two parents playing basically traditional roles in the household.  Yet sometimes my “normal” seems so different from his “normal” that I wonder how cross-cultural marriages ever survive.  The family of origin sets our expectation of how a spouse is “supposed” to act and react.  And there’s nothing like a family vacation to pull that into focus.

Our parents and siblings used to all live in upstate NY, and visiting the families was relatively straight-forward.  But now that the kids have grown, both our parents have gotten rid of the big family houses.  Jeremiah’s folks have moved up to a cabin in the Adirondack mountains, and mine have moved to a little two bedroom in Chicago near my mom’s parents.  Our siblings are scattered hither and yon.  This family get-together was going to take more effort than in previous years.

We opted to try and create a “hub” for each family, and have the remaining family members come to us.  The first two weeks of our trip we spent with the Harro family.  We started out in a suburb of Chicago with my parents, then went to a lake house in Michigan that my parent had rented for a week, where my sisters living in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts came to meet us.  Hub Harro.  

Chicago is a big city. The greater metropolitan area has 9.5 million people,the third largest city in the USA. That’s more than twice the population of whole of New Zealand. My parents live an hour train ride from the downtown area, and one of the first evenings after we arrived, my sister Rebecca, Jeremiah and I took the train down town to a food festival called Taste of Chicago. We hit the city right at pedestrian rush hour. The gleaming sky scrapers towering over the hurrying suits and ties certainly reminded me that we weren’t in friendly little NZ anymore.

At Taste of Chicago we promptly lost (or had stolen off us) a strip of food tickets, but we did enjoy the best people watching of the whole trip. Inner city folks are just so colorful, and my plain jane brown hair with unfashionable shorts and sandals don’t hold a candle to the creative decor the locals flaunt. I was too scared to ask anyone to actually pose for us, so unfortunately I haven’t got photo examples of what I mean.

I did, however, get a portrait of these two dudes, who were casually hanging out in the park eyeing up the crowds. I even had the nerve ask them who the heck they were, and why they were carrying all the military gear. Apparently they’re part of the Chicago police force, just there in case any terrorist decides to try something. “If you see us running, you just run the opposite way,” they advised us. Yes sir.

The food festival was set up in a park on the Lake Michigan shore, with big impressive buildings being engulfed by big impressive clouds. Also a novelty, the summer evening stayed warm. I had told kiwi friends before we left that I was looking forward to being WARM, and the Chicago summer didn’t let me down.

This is my mother’s garden, with their cozy house beyond. They live around the corner from my grandparents, and visit them daily.

Naomi admired the garden, and so did dozens of folks that came through on a garden tour. My mom has kept a pretty flower garden for as long as I can remember, and my dad appreciates it as well. It’s not the English formal garden style that many Kiwis favor, more the whimsical cottage garden that I grew up loving.  And with the heat of a Chicago summer, stuff was growing FAST.

We were back in Chicago for a couple days after the Michigan lake house, and spent another day in the city, this time with the kids. Lucky chicky, getting a ride from Abi.

Maggie Daley park in down town Chicago is similar to Margaret Mahey playground in Christchurch, but bigger. I was glad we had a high adult-to-child ratio here, seems like it would be an easy place to lose a kid in all the fantastic tunnels and towers and slides.

Trump Tower. It’s real. It’s gleaming. And it’s sitting proudly along the picturesque Chicago Sanitary Canal that was so polluted that its direction of flow was reversed so that it no longer enters Lake Michigan. Hum. Neither  of our families talk much about politics, so we actually heard far less about Trump and his tweetings while in America than we do while in New Zealand.  It was a refreshing break.  

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream for all. Do you know that they don’t sell kiddy cones or even single scoops? If I had been smart I would have paid for a double but asked for just a single for the kids. But maybe the realization that one CAN have too much ice cream to eat is a healthy thing for kids.

Back in suburbia we went to spray parks (Aunt Becky loves spray parks).

And we went to playgrounds (Aunt Becky loves playgrounds too).

Aunt Kelsey baked with the chillens.

And bought them cool sunnies.

We ate family dinners (those are Harro-sized portions, most definitely).

And generally enjoyed being a family unit. Grandparents rock.