Paint the Roses

The Camellias are in full profusion against a pure winter sky.  They win my nomination for Delight of the Day.

We didn’t grow up with these–winters are too cold in upstate NY–so my first experience with their gaudy abundance was at a Planting Fields Arboretum on the northern shore of Long Island, when I was a student at Cornell’s Riverhead research station.  The garden showcased dozens of varieties, with shades varying from white to pink to red, and they seem to really put their heart into the business of flowering, littering the ground with their chunky spent blossoms only to optimistically pop open more buds the next day.  They are sometimes pruned to a single standard trunk topped with a ball of color, and they never fail to conjure up the old time Alice in Wonderland cartoon where the playing cards are frantically painting the roses red or white to assuage the evil queen’s whim.

Snow on the Mountains

This July marked our 15 year anniversary.  We both look very young to be married, don’t we?

I feel somewhat accomplished to have negotiated 15 years of marriage, including some major life stages.

“Negotiated” is a good word.  It means we’ve come through a bunch of obstacles with varying levels of gracefulness, rather like kayaking a whitewater river.  A river has stretches of challenging bits that are exhilarating when maneuvered successfully, stretches of wondrous calm bits in high-walled gorges with crystal waterfalls that you feel privileged to experience…. and then there are those rapids that you enter unawares and at the wrong angle, where you miss eddies and get trounced by unforeseen obstacles and you come out the other end drenched and tousled and in dire need of a chocolate.

15 years of marriage puts us solidly in the middle age category, along with hatch-marked wrinkles under our eyes, various joint aches, a mortgage, a decent sense of who we are, what we want, and an increasing skill set to negotiate meeting those needs when they differ.  That last bit’s worth celebrating, so we planned a trip to the snowy mountains.

New Zealand is in a privileged position during the this global Covid19 pandemic, and we can travel domestically without restriction.  So while we couldn’t jet off to Myanmar for our 15 year celebration (my private wish), thanks to our generous friends’ willingness to have our kids, we could head away to the mountains in New Zealand’s Southland for the weekend.

We aimed our car towards Lake Ohau, a lake formed by the hydroelectric system, nestled into the barren mountains of the McKenzie country. After an overnight at Twizel, the snow on the hills looked promising for a day of skiing.

I have only down-hill skied a handful of times, and not once in the last decade.  As kids we cross-country skied, our family not being as willing to spend the money on lift tickets as others might have been.  But I’ve ice skated since I was a tyke and I’m a proficient roller-blader, so with a bout of uncharacteristic overconfidence, I declared that I could pick up down hill skiing for the day, no problem.

I still own a pair of snow pants, purchased decades ago, with the latest lift pass still attached (Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe, 2007), and Jeremiah surprise-purchased some shiny new goggles for the weekend.  The rest of the gear I rented.  I was ridiculously pleased that the boots were pre-warmed in the rental hut.

When I stepped outside to shove my feet into the bindings I was reminded that downhill skis are really only designed to go DOWN.  I dusted off the old snow-plow stop and set off to the bunny slope, realizing that I’m not as nimble cornering in skis as I am on rollerblades!  I must have looped the bunny slope 10 times before being ready to head over to the chair lift.

Ohau ski field is tucked into the south (shady) side of an alpine bowl, and so has a better chance of snow retention in these not-so-cold mountains than most. And it has a chair lift, an important bonus for a club field.

There weren’t many different trails down that had enough snow yet, but that suited me fine, I was happy to stay on the green one with the little kids whizzing fearlessly past me. Jeremiah waited for me at various corners, like a gentleman.

There’s a section of the basin above the lift that a few people access by walking, so just before lunch we hiked up there to have a peek over the other side. The wind was whistling, picking up the snow, and I was thankful for those snazzy new goggles and unfashionable snow pants.

Jeremiah skied down from the top (keeping his nose warm!) while I walked down on snow shoes.

Probably race and economic class is more on my mind than usual because of the current US news, but I was struck by the fact that both the ski field and the lodge were nearly all white European-decent kiwis, and the price ticket of this type of recreation and the gear it requires takes it out of the range of many NZ families.  It’s a very different scene than the beach, which is egalitarian in its accessibility.

We were having fun, but the wind was starting to pick up so much that the flinging snow made it hard to see and the chair lift was swinging vigorously, so we called it quits by mid afternoon and headed back down to Ohau Lodge.

Being our anniversary we had decided to splurge on the accommodation.  The Lodge is a traditionally comfortable establishment with dinner served in the dining room and views of the lake from our window.  We had a soak in the outdoor hot tub, chatting with the kids and parents who were there.  I have to say, it is sometimes easier to enjoy conversation with OTHER people’s children for whom I have zilch responsibility than with my own kids.  Still, dinner conversations with a 6 year old and a 9 year old are looking up.    

If you had told me 9 years ago that I’d get good family dinner conversation in a DECADE, I’d have swooned.  But now that we’ve been married 15 years, out of high school for 20, we’re starting to count life in decades and can take the longer-term view.  May this coming decade be even better than the last.


Bongo’s Illustration prompt

Over lock down I was looking for an illustration prompt, and ran across one from the Society of Visual Storytelling,

Create one illustration to represent the following story:

Bongo the monkey woke up in the jungle to the sounds of birds cawing and the bright sun shining. He yawned and smiled and felt the hunger in his tummy, which was a bigger hunger than normal, so he climbed down his tree in search of breakfast. He passed the pineapples and thought, “tasty, but I’m tired of pineapple!” He came to the papaya tree and thought  “tasty, but I’m tired of papaya.” He passed the banana tree but thought, “cliche?…as if I’m going to be caught eating a banana!” 

What he really wanted was a big juicy orange but all the orange trees were on the other side of the alligator-infested river!

As he was walking and deciding what to eat he saw Clyde the Alligator floating on the far side of the river looking for his breakfast too! Bongo was so hungry but he couldn’t resist teasing Clyde again, so he climbed the tree closest to Clyde. He crawled out on a branch overhanging the river and dangled his tail. Clyde’s eyes looked up at the tail dangling just out of his reach, licked his lips, and slowly swam under the naughty monkey. Bongo wiggled his tail and dangled it lower and Clyde’s eyes opened up more. Bongo kept lowering his tail more and more as Clyde raised his head out of the water. 

Finally with one big surge Clyde exploded out of the water and gulped down Bongo whole and splashed back down into the river! Clyde got his breakfast!

But: Bongo was a particularly smart monkey so he waited for Clyde to swim back across the river. Then he started tickling Clyde’s belly from the inside. Clyde did everything he could to hold in his giggles but finally he couldn’t take it anymore and busted out laughing – and out popped Bongo! 

Quickly Bongo climbed up into the jungle trees and found the biggest and juiciest orange to start his day off right. Now he just had to figure out how to get back!

Lock-down art

In New Zealand, post Covid-19, our lives have largely returned to normal, though the economic toll will continue to be felt.  I was putting a couple finishing touches on a bit of collage I started two months ago while talking to my sisters in the US today, and I was reminded of how deep in the thick of things they still are.  

It seems a long time ago that I was feeling blue about being nonessential in the workforce. It is good to get out of the proverbial bubble and imagine other people’s lives.
We had friends who had young kids home from school but who were expected to still work normal hours from home, while full time parenting; they had it a lot harder than me.

SCWBI put out an illustrator’s prompt during the lock down– “Cooped up.” I decided to make a scene of Milo and Naomi playing “floor’s lava” one afternoon. We don’t have a dog, but I added one just for an extra dose of chaos.

And here’s a “Half-ass” to round out how we felt about our ability to parent while simultaneously working, keeping the house, managing kids’ on-line learning, do some exercise, and moderate the alcohol consumption.


Social skills academy

Milo and I have been competing in Ticket to Ride for a couple years now.  Today he beat me, despite my best efforts, with a record high score of 480. As you can see, he’s chuffed.

Milo is an interesting creature right now.  He can be very responsible and capable, even quite pleasant company.  Still, he’s egocentric as all get-out.  He expounds upon the egregiousness of everyone else’s actions without a hint of realization that they might well feel aggrieved in their own right by his behavior.  Tonight he had a long tearful moan about the unfairness of his mates and declared that he wants to move to Mars.  I laughed and told him he should look under the playground slide for a Mars Portal, then gave him a hug and read him Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.  He took it in good humor.  A little affection and empathy seems to go a long way with him, but he seems incapable of extending the same to others.  Hopefully it’s all part of the growing up process.  Whether or not he’s learning much academically at school (they seem to have taken it very easy the first week back), school is an academy for social skills.

Oh, and speaking of learning social skills, the kids have both been enamored of the earthier side of humor lately, expelling giant farts with relish and magnifying their burps with wide open mouths.  As parents, we are less than amused.  Naomi had a new friend over this afternoon, a perky little girl who is the middle child of 5, and Milo tried out his silly act with her.  Apparently it went over well, because he reported “Amelia has a sense of humor that doesn’t occur in our house…..she laughs when I smack my butt!”  Fantastic.

The temperature scan gauntlet

With the kids back at school this week, I’m back to work at my usual hours.  Work pretty feels pretty close like normal now, after I run the temperature scan gauntlet.

Everyone must submit to the laser thermometer pointed at one’s forehead on the way in the door.  I still cringe at this.  I don’t like lasers pointed at my head because it looks like a gun.  Plus I remain thoroughly American in my sense of privacy; the site manager is a tall man, and my internal body temperature feels a bit too….personal.  I comfort myself with the fact that the thermometer only reads the outside, because while the average human body temperature is 36.5-37.5C, I’ve never heard anyone with a reading higher than 36.5C.  Tomorrow I’ll wear a hat and crank the car heater to see if I can get up to 37, which is the “send home” trigger.  Yeah…. because if I try to game the system I don’t feel quite so much like a pawn.

We still try to give our work makes some extra space and don’t pass through doorways simultaneously, but it doesn’t feel extreme…..except when it comes to tea and lunch breaks.

Socially distanced lunches feel so….antisocial. It sucks. The little light chit chat enlivens lunch breaks but one person per table isn’t conducive to banter.

Oh, and I guess the other odd thing that remains at work is that the door knobs are perpetually damp from the thrice daily sterilizing.  But I don’t really mind this.

Back to School

“It takes so long to get dressed!” Milo exclaimed this morning as he stalked into the kitchen.  “For two months I’ve been wearing nothing.”

It does take a second or two to put on a tee-shirt, perhaps.  He has been basically living in undies and a bathrobe since March.

“Back to school….worse day of the whole year.”  Clearly he was channeling his inner Eeyore this morning, and he was not thrilled at the prospect of school.

I understand that.  I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of going to work either.

Yet this afternoon when I asked how the school day went, he answered “Good! Better than I thought it would be!”
Fantastic. Optimism triumphed.

Obscurity to Brilliance

No, that’s not my career trajectory, unfortunately.  It’s something much less important, but it gets my vote for Delight of the Day.

All around the edges of the garden, mostly hidden by the shrubbery, are these usually non-descript members of the lily family. They must have flowers, clearly, because they now have these awesome berries….but I can’t remember what the flowers looked like. Obviously not very impressive. But look at them now–WOW! “Voluptious” or “flamboyant” are two descriptors that come to my mind.

They are also fun to draw.

49th day of Social Isolation

Today is the 49th day of Social Isolation.  When we awake tomorrow, it’ll be the 50th day since we started the covid19 lockdown, and we will be in alert Level 2, with a lot more businesses starting back up, and a lot less isolation.  We didn’t know how long the lock down would last when it started, otherwise it would have made a nice symmetrical advent calendar.

This is an epic curve that has been flattened.  Only time will tell if it’s been flat long enough to have gotten rid of the virus in NZ.

Total confirmed and probable cases over time

Molly’s emotional curve has been, shall we say, a bit more curvaceous. And I still have a job, so does Jeremiah, none of our family is currently ill….I can only imagine the roller coaster being ridden by many other people.

And now, for the delight of the day.  This was one of Milo’s school activities this week, and I found it so alluring. Naomi’s fairy is on the left, then Milo’s horned beetle in the middle, then my bumble bee. It’s like concentrating the detailed beauties of a garden and reforming them into something else beautiful. Like paper collage, if you start with something pretty it seems so much more likely to end up with a pleasing arrangement.  Ironically, my favorite flower, a brilliant magenta primrose with a yellow centre, didn’t fit into my bumble bee.  Next time I might need to do a butterfly.