The First Fish

“What are you guys doing at Easter?” my friend Laura asked.

“Oh, nothing big, we’re saving money for our trip to the States in July….maybe camping on the Banks Peninsula,” I responded, unenthusiastically.

“You could always come up here to Nelson,” she offered.

I looked at the forecast.  Tropical cyclones had been bringing flinging wet weather at us for the past two weeks, the forecast was dire, and Laura’s new house is ample and warm.  Camping really didn’t sound that appealing in comparison.  “Yes, please!  Let’s go for a weekend to Sunny Nelson!”

We drove up Thursday night in the rain and listened to the comforting sound of rain on the OUTSIDE of their roof all night.  The next day Jeremiah and Laura brewed a batch of home brew while Jordy and I took the kids to the Wearable Arts museum.

Here are Audrey and Naomi posing next to a dress made out of plastic buckets. The kind of bucket that can be purchased at the Warehouse for $1. Did I mention how much I LOVE the wearable arts show?

Here’s an elaborate costume (replete with pet dog who never poops on the grass) made entirely of plastic coated wire. The kind that’s inside your house walls. I LOVE it!
“Let’s start with the movie!” I suggest. It’s the compilation of last year’s show, which I got to see in person. The memories came flooding back as I watched the flamboyant costumes on parade, even the deep feeling of envy that the performers had such lithe use of their bodies (mine was quite painful last October, no weaving or turning or hip waggling due to that darn disc in my back).

This was the Baroque-themed section of the display.

Wouldn’t you want to prance around with a lit-up petal skirt? Audrey would!

Or how about a ram’s head mask made of metal filigree with matching wings? Yes please!

ANYWAY….back to the rest of the weekend. Laura has a hot tub on her deck!

In the past there has been significant friction between Milo and the others, but Milo behaved himself this weekend, making the parents’ time that much more relaxing.

Saturday dawned gloriously and we went with Ben and co. to some fishing ponds near the Waimea River. (Ben is Jeremiah’s hunting buddy who lives in Christchurch, but was up with his family the Grandparent Homestead near Nelson.)

Ben’s nephews had just pulled two fish from the ponds when we arrived, and one more was dragged out a bit later. A pleasant surprise, since the word on the street was that the ponds were devoid of fish. That was, presumably, why no one else was there (we later found out that the ponds are not open for fishing except for some very few-and-far-between days in the year….ignorance is bliss). Despite our best efforts “we” caught was weeds. I say “we” because Molly doesn’t fish. I brought my knitting and sat in the warm sun on a bench overlooking the cloud reflections in the pond, occasionally helping a small child pee in the grass.

SOMEONE had pulled fish from those ponds, so on after a rainy day on Sunday, Monday morning we had another go. The rest of us were still messing with tackle when Milo cast his lure. “I have a bite!” he shouted. We glanced up. Sure enough, it looked genuine–the pole was bent.

“Get a look at THAT!” The fish flopped energetically.  I plied the camera.  The fish managed to extract itself from the hook, wiggling perilously close to the water’s edge.

Good thing Laura is a veteran fisherwoman. She grabbed that slimey fish and wacked it over the head just the way she has wacked Alaskan salmon since she rolled out of the cradle. Thanks, Laura! That’s a bit of motherhood that I have failed at.  Definitively.

“He got his first fish,” I told my colleagues at work the next week. “He’s an addict,” I proclaimed, rolling my eyes. “Kids who fish aren’t on the police’s Wanted List,” my boss put in. Ok, point taken. I may not share a love of fishing, but I appreciate that the hunter-fishermen get outdoors with a goal to catch some food.  The salmon was tasty.  

Thank you, Laura and Jordy, for hosting us over the holiday weekend!

Green mountain therapy

Ah, the New Zealand Alpine. I’ve missed it. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been tramping, but my back is feeling much better and I planned a weekend hike with some girlfriends. We headed up to Lewis Pass Saturday morning and lucked out with the weather.

We were looking for a not-too-difficult tramp that included least a little high country, so we settled on a morning walk with just day packs up to the Lewis Tops, lunching in the alpine tussocks, then back down to the start of the St James walkway where we’d pick up our overnight packs and head to a hut for the night. My hiking companions this weekend were Steph (Australian) and Irmana (Spanish).

When you look closely at the alpine ground covers, you have to be impressed with their variety and toughness. I had on a coat and gloves, and it wasn’t even winter. These little guys get alternatively scorched by the sun, frazzled by the gales, and petrified under snow….and yet they look cheerful. Some are even making berries.

The Lewis Tops walk continues for a few miles over this ridge line. There is a hut up here somewhere, a tiny “bivouac” two-bunker.
About 12 hours after starting you eventually reach a bigger hut in a valley (so the map says). I’m going to come back some day and do it. Some gloriously still day. Maybe the wind stops up here on occasion? It was remarkably chilly up where the clouds were skimming low and we were glad we had decided NOT to tent up here. But I’ll be back.

Lewis Tops

It was hard to turn around, but turn around we did. “The path goes ever, ever on…over grass and over stone….and I must follow, if I can….” JRR Tolkien.

The good part about going down is heading back into the trees. Lots of people don’t like hiking through forest because they find it boring compared to the outlook of the tops. But I don’t get tired of the GREEN.  Especially the dappled green of a sunny day.  I just love it.

The St James walkway has very luxurious swing bridges. We crossed two of them. You don’t take bridges for granted on NZ tramps, as may of the trails involve wet-foot crossings!  I had promised the girls a flat hike in, but I obviously mis-remembered from last time.  “Undulating” would describe the route better.  I have to say it felt flatter on the way out, on rested legs.  

Across one bridge sits a little clay man on a stone (yes, he has man parts), laughing at you as you bounce across the bridge. Whatever he is made of weathers pretty well; I remember him there from a couple years ago!

Cannibal Gorge Hut. So named because lots of human bones have been found in this valley, a trading and raiding route for Maori tribes coveting greenstone from the west coast. There’s speculation that the people were eaten after losing a battle. I wonder what Man tastes like. Ug. This hut has never been one of my favorites, maybe because of the name, or maybe because last time we were here it was completely infested with mice.

No matter about the Ghosts of Cannibals lurking nearby. We lit a fire and passed a cheerful evening. Did you know that Old Man’s Beard lichen makes an excellent fire starter?

The frost was heavy on the grass in the morning, the first I’ve seen this year (being a city-dwelling low lander these days).

Frost is beautiful, when you’re personally warm at least.  Which I was.  Hurray for good gear (thanks to Jeremiah for that).

A three hour walk in the morning brought us back out to our car. This part of the forest has green above and green below, a mature southern hemisphere beech forest. They’re good for pondering, these forests. Is there something inherently contemplative and restful about the color green? It seems that way to me.

So, I’m back in the hiking business.  It’s great.  Really great.  I feel like I have my identity back.

The last of the autumn sun??

On Saturday I took Naomi to Rapaki beach, while Jeremiah took Milo fishing. We got there a bit early (I forgot about the time change!) so we had to wait a bit for the tide to recede and expose the warm springs. We sat side by side in the calm air with the sun warming our backs, Naomi quietly munching a snack, with me just quiet. It was peaceful. I resisted the urge to text Jeremiah and find out how HIS time was going.


Eventually another family turned up and Naomi gained a playmate. But since they were Iranian and didn’t speak much English, the quiet morning continued.

We left the beach reluctantly–the forecast for the week ahead was for chilly rain, and so far it has come true.

The gender divide

“The girls did a play today,” Milo said, wrinkling his nose. “They put on dresses and twirled and called everyone over to see. The second time only the girls came.”
“You could watch and clap and tell them they’re pretty,” I suggested, thinking I had a teachable moment for future relationships.
“When girls do a show, they don’t actually DO anything. They just get up there and talk. It’s SOOO boring!”
Girls think that “just talking” is the stuff of life. Boys think talking is purely a means accomplish something tangible. It’s an unbridgeable gulf, it seems.

“Come give me a kiss, I’m going to work!” Jeremiah called out, donning his jacket.

Naomi: “Why?”  Yup, she’s into the WHY phase these days.

Dad: “To earn money.”

Naomi: “I’m going to earn money.”

Dad, amused: “Oh yes, what are you going to do to earn money?”

Naomi:  “Mommy work.”

For a split second my brain makes a wry commentary about the lousy pay rate of “mommy work,” but swallowed it.  Instead I ask her:  “What is mommy work?”

Naomi:  “With plants.  And Milo can do daddy work, designing bridges.”

It’s interesting.  At three years old she has already decided that there are “girl jobs” and “boy jobs,” based on what she sees grownups doing.  Why this propensity to split the world into male/female??  And she’s happy to be a girl!  And do “girl jobs”!

Bonus pet

I have a pet cat. Well, she’s sort of my cat. She lives outside, and I feed her. I also got her spayed, which is a bit of an intimate thing to do to a cat that doesn’t belong to me…so I suppose she’s mine. Her name is Jenny. Genevieve, but we call her Jenny.

She showed up in the garage last winter with two wee kittens tucked into our bike trailer, and I liked her because she was such a dedicated mother.  We found other homes for the kittens and got Jenny’s “baby bed taken out” (as I explained it to the kids), and Jenny hung around.  Cat food doesn’t cost that much, and she’s independent of my care in every other way.

It was a summer evening the first time we heard the metal food bowl getting shuffled around the concrete patio after dark.  We got ourselves a bonus pet.

I don’t know if the hedgehog is a he or a she, nor does it have a name (yet–any ideas?). But if the food bowl is left on the ground it’s a regular visitor. I like it. Like Jenny, it’s independent and low maintenance. “Independent, low maintenance, AND prickly….just like you!” my parents cackled over skype. Yeah, maybe. I like skunks too….

The days of our lives

Our lives consist 99% of ordinary stuff, the unexciting tasks of mundane life.  Occasionally there’s enough humor in an exchange to prompt a giggle, a tiny tidbit of normality that’s worth celebrating.  Below is a random collection of a few recent ones.

“Mom, can you cut my nails? It hurts when I put my finger in my nose.”
The request comes from the back of the car on our way home from preschool. I guess she’s been doing some nose excavations while at school….

Jeremiah and I were brewing a batch of beer Saturday morning when the kids came out asking for lunch. “Right, I’ll get you a sandwich in a minute,” I promised, as I checked the pH of the cooling wort. I must have said “just a minute” a few times before they disappeared, prancing back with fully laden plates, pleased as punch with their independence (and their chocolate cookies).

Here’s one of the many forts Milo’s building these days. Hurray for removable couch cushions–they’re the main structural element for most of the creations. “You know, when I was your age, I used to LOVE building forts too,” I told Milo. “Were you good at it?” he wanted to know. “Yes, I was good at it.” I don’t objectively remember how good at it I was, of course, but that’s besides the point. Milo seems to think that daddy’s good at building things and mommy’s not, an unfair judgement which I’m doing my best to shift.

It’s the fate of the second born, to be always one step behind the older sibling in doing new stuff.  The advantage (though she doesn’t know it yet) is that nothing is REALLY new.  She’ll have been going to this massive classroom filled with 70 rapidly moving red bodies for two years before it’s her turn to don the uniform.  

Why did the pre-schooler cross the road?

Attention Milo’s mum, your pre-schooler is at the school crossing.”  The loudspeaker cut through a bike repair conversation with a New Entrant teacher.

“Oh, that’s me!” I exclaimed guiltily, rudely ending the chat about bent sprockets and setting off at a trot towards the school gate.

To tell the truth, I was too busy talking to even hear the announcement—the other New Entrant teacher had to repeat the message.

I peeked over the fence and saw Naomi standing with the principal on the OTHER side of the road crossing.  Highway 76.  Whoops, Parenting Blunder 101.

“Thanks, Mr. Topham!” I said, as I took Naomi by the shoulder and pulled her aside.  “Remember, you can NOT leave the school gates without Mommy,” I reminded her, strategically loud enough for the principal to hear.  To tell the truth, I’m not sure I had ever thought to tell her that before.  I had been lackadaisically searching for her though the year 1 and year zero classrooms before the announcement, realizing that she had done a runner but thinking she was probably playing with some cool toy in a nook somewhere.  Or maybe out waiting at the school crossing, since my subconscious realized that she was bold enough to do that, but every other time that she has beaten me to the crossing she has waited on the school side….

Mr. Topham (the principal) was gracious, but goodness knows what he was actually thinking.  These American parents, don’t they teach their kids road safety?”  or perhaps “These mothers spend so much time jabbering that they don’t even keep an eye on their kids.” 

I have, however, been working on bike safety on the way to the library. Do I earn bonus points for that?

Naomi’s latest social development is play dates–both hosting and being invited. They’re entirely more peaceful affairs than Milo’s play dates; no wrestling, no racing. The biggest controversy is over who wears the pink dress-up. I left Naomi at her friends’ house for two hours one afternoon, while I worked cozily on the computer and sipped a coffee. I used to have interludes of quiet like that EVERY DAY while Milo napped. It really is true that you don’t know how good something is until you lose it.

Every night Naomi tucks Nina and Scarlett into the safe wall-half of her bed, while she sleeps precariously on the outer half. Strangely Milo, who has never been very affectionate to his stuffed animals, has started to copy her.

Gardening is a patience-testing activity for a child. Just a week after Milo planted his lovingly-watered carrot transplant he was asking if it was ready to pick. Thankfully, he soon forgot about its existence until this week, and it really WAS ready to pick. There’s a very proud gardener.

A breath of high(ish) air

Look at that autumn outlook over the port hills! It was a golden sunny day, not too hot nor too cold, and without wind. The bike tracks up to Summit Rd from Halswell Quarry are still closed after the big fire, so Sunday I drove around the base of the hills to access an open track further east. I haven’t explored the tracks over near Rapaki Rd much (I’m adverse to driving in order to exercise) so I’m exploring most of these for the first time. This time I tried going east from the summit. I’m not a “black diamond” mountain biker, so not too far along this particular track I gave up hefting my bike over the rocks, instead climbing straight up through the dry grassy seed heads to the summit of this little peak. There’s something about getting to a high outlook that’s super satisfying.

Turning the other direction, you get a king’s view over the city. “That’s right,” you think to yourself, “all those people down there are breathing the smog, going about their daily lives, and I’m up here above it all!” Until I ride back down, of course, and resume my own daily life like everyone else. It’s a refreshing interlude nonetheless.