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.

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Can we come in please?

Can we come in please?

It’s a quintessentially New Zealand scene; cattle munching grass, next to a new world-class greenhouse (behind), in the city of Christchurch, second largest city in the country.

I don’t know if those calves were staring longingly at the relative shelter of the greenhouse or at the tasty plants inside, but they stood there watching us all morning.  They’re the owner’s “cattle beasts,” because if you own grass, then why would you not own sheep or cows to eat the grass?  Exactly.  So they do.  (Clearly, cow pies on the lawn aren’t a problem if you’re wearing your gum boots.)

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!

Testing, testing, NZ medical system

When we were expecting Naomi I thought to myself “Good.  I’ve had one baby in the USA, now I’ll try the prenatal care and birthing system in New Zealand.”  I was pleasantly surprised how well the NZ midwifery system worked.  I felt that if I had run into complications that care would have been efficiently referred to an obstetrician, but the midwives I worked with were professional, skilled, and personable.  And the post-baby support beat the US system all hollow.  I’m a NZ birthing system convert.

I recently got to test the general medical system in NZ out….not that I have much personal experience with major medical problems in the US, so probably not a fair trial.  This test was a bit more rocky than the baby test.

April 2016 I started a problem that was eventually diagnosed as disc between two vertebrae bulging out and pressing on nerves, causing leg pain.  It sounds so simple in that description, but living with the problem was misery for months last winter, and I wallowed around in the NZ medical system waiting for one appointment or another… 4 months before getting an MRI (and therefore a correct diagnosis) and 9 months before getting approval (funding approval) for a surgery to correct it.  I’ll spare you the details of the wallowing.  I might do better the second time around, but probably not.  Basically the problem wasn’t an emergency (not life threatening), so rather than your first port-of-call doctor (a general practitioner in this case….well, after physiotherapists couldn’t do any more) ordering an expensive MRI scan, they order an appointment for you to see a specialist…and 6 weeks later when your appointment comes, they order and MRI for 4 weeks later….then wait again for a follow-up appointment.  You get the picture.  Health care is slow because it is rationed.  Economics is considered.  Unlike in America.

But in January when the approval for a surgery finally came through, I was actually feeling better.  Gradually, ever so incrementally, my back had improved to the point where I could mountain bike, and after that it got better on its own, slowly but steadily.  By late summer I was back to standing straight, not to mention back to hiking and rollerblading and all the stuff I love, and feeling that perhaps the slow-and-economical health care system was ok after all.  It’s financially sustainable at least, unlike the American system.

BUT THEN, that disc bulged again.  I don’t know why.  I didn’t DO anything.  But all of a sudden I was right back to where I was a year ago, limping around, not sleeping well, unable to do anything fun.  The only difference was this time I took more pain killers, because we were booked for our big trip back to the States and I just had to cope.  And this time, I already had all the contacts in place.

While in the States I was able to organize a new MRI appointment for the day after we got home, and an appointment with the surgeon two days later.  The funding approval was still valid from January.  He didn’t really have space in his surgery list for me, but he said it was a quick job and he’d squeeze me in the next week.  I felt like you do when you’re 40-weeks pregnant, when even the process of childbirth sounds better than the prospect of staying pregnant.  Cut open my back and take out that lump of the disc?  Yes please, that sounds great!

I don’t have many photos to share of that process.  I suppose I should have taken a picture of the knitting I was working on for hours before it was my turn for surgery, looking forward to the relief of the anesthesia.  Or the cheerful OR nurse with the bright blue eye shadow who said she had had the same problem (“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” she commiserated.)  No picture can show the relief of waking up and having the squirmy-can’-t-sit-still leg pain gone.  Just gone.

Sorry, this might gross some folks out….but did you know that disc cartilage is fiberous? That is the little piece that was causing me so much grief. “Can I see that piece of disc?” I asked the recovery room nurse. “You’ve already seen it twice!” she exclaimed. Had I? At least the last time I could focus properly.

I lucked out that the operation was at St George’s hospital. It’s pretty posh, and I even had my own room. Just one overnight stay, and then I was home.

That was a week ago, and I’m back at work now.  (Not back to vacuuming yet….thanks Jeremiah.)  Moving a little slowly, but feeling tremendously much better.  The surgeon says there’s a 95% chance that that will be the end of the saga.  A few cases re-occur, but if it does, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  In six weeks from now I should be able to get back up into the mountains to backpack, maybe in time to catch the end of the snowy season.

I guess the NZ medical system did work for me this time….eventually.

Alaska distilled

We returned from the States July 31 and I’m just managing to get photos up of the second half of our vacation in Alaska, which could be distilled as “Fish and Cousins.”  At least they aren’t fishy cousins!

About a year ago Jeremiah’s oldest brother, Ben, moved with his family from upstate NY (where we grew up) to Sterling, Alaska.  Ben and Jeannette have 13 children, so in the interest of travel efficiency we decided to make Alaska Hub Shaw, and asked Jeremiah’s parents and siblings if they could join us there.  Plus, July happens to be Salmon Season in Alaska….

Our friends Mark and Maria drove all the way to Anchorage to pick us up in their campervan, which became our home for the next two weeks. We stayed with Mark and Maria when we came through Alaska five years ago on our way to New Zealand.
They live in Soldotna, a town 15 minutes down the road from Sterling.

I’ve never before experienced a road trip in a campervan–it’s quite a luxury to relax on the bed in the back while the miles slip by and someone else drives. Thanks Mark!

On our way out of Anchorage we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center where all manner of Alaskan animals are kept, some destined for re-introduction into the wild, and others enjoying a long-term home because for some reason or other they’ve become unfit for wild life. We happened upon the bears at feeding time, both brown bears and black bears. A brown bear was chomping on a whole (plucked) chicken, bones and all….it certainly gives a good demonstration of not only its appetite, but also the power of its jaws.  Once arrived in Sterling, we parked up the campervan outside of Ben and Jeannette’s house along side the campervan where Nana and Papa (Jeremiah’s parents) were staying.  Maria even lent us her car, so we were all set up for both a place to stay and for transport–super generous!

We caught up with Mark and Maria a few times, this time at Kenai River Brewery. Maria is about as interested in breweries as the kids, but Mark is a big brew fan.

Over at Mark and Maria’s house for dinner one evening, we admired all their Alaska artwork on their walls. They have amassed quite a collection since we were there five years ago. It’s neat to see how they celebrate their local community, whether it was in Owego, NY (where we met them) or whether it is in Soldotna, AK.

It’s been two years since we’ve seen all the cousins, and we studied names ahead of time. I’m from a family of only four, but I remember appreciating if people could get our names straight. Here (left to right) is Andy, Boaz, Luke, Nathaniel, Ben (father), Mercianna,

The nice thing about a huge family is that “running the kids through the showers” doesn’t actually involve me doing any showering. The olders are quite capable and paired up with the youngers, resulting in clean scalps without any input from Aunt Molly. Uno with the youngers was a civilized affair, turns taken and rules followed. Uno with the olders was a contact sport, I’ve never seen the game played quite like it! But then again, I never had brothers.

Speaking of never having brothers…my own mother always warned me about water fights with boys, and watching the shenanigans of this crew I can see why. Talk about escalation. Ben and Jeannette remain as peaceful as Buddha though the war may rage around them. I suppose as a parent you would have to, to preserve one’s sanity. It brings up an interesting question about child rearing–is it better to let kids feel the natural consequences of their actions (if you throw water at your older brother, he will drag you face first into the frigid Skilak lake), or to intervene and attempt to teach a less-natural-but-more-wordy way of dealing with conflict? I don’t know.

The adults, enjoying the water show.

Naomi had a great time with Elizabeth (three years old, same as her) as well as with Mercianna, who is a little older than Milo.

Naomi is stubborn. Surprise, surprise. Sometimes when something doesn’t go her way, she just stops in her tracks and refuses to walk. With my uncooperative back I couldn’t carry her, but often Merci would come to her rescue.

Despite being rough with one another, the big boys were really sweet with the little ones. Here Naomi is perched on Elijah’s lap.

One evening we brought our kids into town, and Caleb, the oldest son, came along.
We stopped at the town market and wanted to have a wander with the kids, but ours were crabby and just wanted to sit in the car and watch the tablet. “If you come out,” Caleb wheedled, “there might be something nice like ice cream.” He treated them to the ice cream truck, and afterwards happily sat in the car with them watching Octonauts. That’s a pretty special 18-year-old!

S’mores with cousins, definitely an experience to treasure.

POPCORN and s’mores, to be complete. There’s quite a gang of popcorn thugs! Clockwise from the hat are Levi, Luke, James and Nathaniel.

One evening we went on a hike with some of the olders. Well, Jeremiah and his sister Missy went on a hike, I puttered along behind the gang nursing a sore back and hoping that the loud crew ahead of me had cleared out the bears from the vicinity of the trail. How in the world are you supposed to tell the difference between a grizzly bear attack and when he starts to eat you? ? Wouldn’t missing an arm be a bit too late to start fighting back? This helpful sign was at the trail head.

There is some fantastic hiking to be had in the Chugach Range, and originally Jeremiah and I had planned to take a couple days away and explore….but my back going bad just before our travel put a kibosh on those plans. However, I did make it up this far along the Skyline ridge.

Here’s the hiking crew at the top. On the way back, barreling down the trail, they nearly ran headlong into a bear. Fortunately it was a black bear and not looking for trouble, and it moved off.

Jeremiah spent quite a bit of time fishing, both with the cousins and his dad, and with our friend Mark. The reds weren’t at full tilt until nearly the end of our trip, but here he is with his three-fish-a-day limit out of the Kenai River.

If only every day dawned blue like this….

Barbara Lavallee is an Alaskan artist who I love. Her characters look so cheerful and full of happiness and wonder. Here’s her take on salmon season in Anchorage. Pretty spot on for Soldotna too.

Papa (Jeremiah’s dad) is not really much of a fisherman, but even he squeezed into a pair of waders and got into the action. He even managed to catch some salmon, eventually!

If you are an Alaskan Resident you play under different rules than the sport fishermen. You are allowed to “dip net,” or stand in the river with a giant net scooping up salmon as they migrate up the river. As “head of household” you are allowed 25 fish, and 10 or 15 more per additional person in the house. In other words, you can fill up your freezer. I have an enduring memory of the dip netters at the mouth of the Kenai from visiting 5 years ago with Mark and Maria. Mounds of fish heads on the beach. Children running and playing in the frigid ocean water. We made a pilgrimage back to the site this time, and though the fishing wasn’t quite as lively, it was still a sight to behold.

Someone was well on their way to bagging their harvest.

Alaskan residents from the interior come to the coast and set up camp to get their yearly quota of fish. Jeremiah thought it looked like fun, camping with a purpose. To me it looked cold, fishy and uncomfortable….but if the kids had buddies and it was a family tradition, I guess I could imagine it.

The beach had a tide-line of scales. The level of fish carnage made me wonder how any managed to get far enough up stream to spawn.

When Jeremiah asked me what I wanted to do and see in Alaska, my number one desire was to see salmon spawning. To that end we made a pilgrimage to the Russian River, to a well-known viewing spot at some falls. Sure enough, the fish were jumping. They’re crazy! They launch themselves up these waterfalls, crashing into rocks and getting swept back down in the current. A bunch were stacked up in the pool below the falls, scales turning brilliant red. I took a little video. It probably won’t look as exciting in replay as it was in person, but for me seeing these energetic fish was definitely a highlight.

The walk to see the fish was about 5 miles round trip, and the kids did great. Here’s Aunt Missy with Elizabeth and Naomi.

Nana and the kids, at the fish waterfall.

My other obsession was glaciers. Portage glacier was accessible with a boat tour, and we dragged the kids along. Glaciers are receding rapidly, they won’t be as easy to see in the future….but the kids don’t grasp that. Neither do the Alaskans, apparently, who drive massive trucks and don’t bother about recycling.

Cheese! Nana, Papa, Aunt Missy, and us at Portage Glacier.

Cheese again! This one is Exit Glacier, and one of the most interesting things about it is that along the access road to the tourist parking lot are signs that show the end of the glacier in the late 1800s and through the 1900s. It’s been shrinking rapidly. It feels a bit funny to be posing with big grins in front of what is essentially an endangered species, gleefully ignoring the rising ocean and the part we just played in it, flying half way around the world on a big jet.

Homer Spit is about two hours from Sterling, the halibut fishing capital of the world. Ben has a beloved boat he dragged to Alaska all the way from NY, and he had been working on getting it going the whole time we were there. Just at the end of our visit the engine was given the thumbs up and all twenty of us hove off with two campervans, a boat, a truck, a car and a ton of fishing gear for an overnight at Homer.

I think it’s a challenge packing for a camping trip for our family–I was very impressed with the logistics Jeannette managed to get her crew fed and bedded down in Homer.

The boat was launched promptly upon arrival, and a contingent went out in search of halibut.

Moms and youngers stayed back on the beach, admiring the boats….

…..walking around the spit….

…and chatting while the kids played. I haven’t spent a lot of time with Jeannette before this trip, but this time we really enjoyed each other’s company, talking about families, relationships, children, husbands…the stuff of life.

No halibut on that first run, but they came back with a good haul of salmon.

The next morning a second shift went out early and this time they found halibut.

Here’s the less glorious part of fishing–cleaning fish. None of the kids were that keen, but the dads did their duty and packed all the fish away.

The local authorities at Homer provide very nice fish cleaning stations and big bins for disposing of fish scraps. I suppose if the scraps are left around it becomes a major bear hazard. I think all these unsavory parts go to the land fill…..tells you we live in a country where people have plenty to eat.

So there we have it, Alaska distilled. Cousins.

Fish.

Cousins and Fish!