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.


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.  

And the mountains still remain…. especially Mole Tops

“Do you have plans for Queen’s Birthday weekend?” Carrie asked me, just after NZ moved to covid19 level 2.  “Want to go on a tramp?”

Did I ever!  The last time I was out on an overnight excursion was months ago, in that other lifetime of normality we had before The Pandemic.

NZ celebrates the Queen of England’s birthday the first weekend in June, always on a Monday because that’s much more convenient than her actual birthday.  I feel a bit silly celebrating the monarch of England’s birthday as an American, but whatever, it’s a good three-day weekend mid-winter.  Long live the Queen.

Because it’s winter, we planned two weekends and three tramps.  Three different locations in case we had to switch around to miss the rain/snow/wind, and two different weekends in case the first one was entirely not suitable.  It’s an insurance formula that works well for winter.

By principle, I do not check the weather maps for the weekend until Thursday.  I hate looking at them early, waffling on a decision, and having to look at them and make a possibly entirely new decision on new information again later in the week.  But this time I broke my rule and looked on Wednesday, and the weather looked calm and dry over almost the whole south island for most of the weekend.  What luck!  The forecast held, and on Saturday morning we launched up to hike Plan Number One:  Mole Tops in the Nelson Lakes region.  It’s a bit too far to drive for just an overnight, but having two nights out made it worth it.

Here’s our hiking route: Pink is the first day, hike up the forested ridge to the alpine saddle, then stay at Mole hut a little way back down the creek valley. Day two hike up to Mole tops and have an explore, then walk down to Tiraumea Hut for the night. Day three walk over to Durville Hut at Lake Rotoroa, where Carrie’s husband would meet us with his dad’s boat and bring us back around to where we left the car. Winter days are short, same as in NY winter, but the distances were achievable with the daylight available.

The first bit of the walk was in lovely mossy beech forest, with old man’s beard lichen clinging to the branches as we got nearer the alpine zone. It was probably 10 C, perfect temperature for climbing, and our conversation ranged over all the important topics; relationships, kids, work, and the best color for a car.  

There was no wind when we popped out of the tree line and looked down at the hut in the valley below, so we loitered up there, brewed a cup of tea, and basked in the sun.

As we turned down the valley, the shaded bits had hard frosty ground, and we expected the hut to be in a cold pocket near the creek. But whoever situated this little hut had winter sun in mind–it caught the last of the afternoon’s warmth through it’s window and when we poked out heads inside it was toasty warm. Unfortunately, it was also occupied by three sleeping bags, and there were only 4 bunks. Shucks. We amused ourselves for a few minutes trying to guess the nature of the party who would return there that night–there were foot traps hanging in the porch, but also a bag of Hummingbird coffee, and a couple Harrington’s pilsners stashed below the step. Hunters, but not bogans, it seemed.

Fortunately we had a tent, so we set it up in a little flat space and started our dinner in the hut before the occupants returned. As hunters, we expected them back after dark, but they surprised us by trooping it around 5:00, having seen no animals on the tops all day. They were very civil though, and good company, but the hut had no extra space and we soon retreated to the warmth of the sleeping bags in the tent, a round of Quiddler by headlamps, and an early sleep.

It was a clear frosty night, but we stayed reasonably warm and waited to get up until the hunters had vacated the hut, so we could us it for breakfast. Taking down a frosty tent is cold-finger business, so we were relieved to climb back up to the warmth of the morning sun.

We left most of our gear at the saddle and climbed with light packs up to the alpine tops. Once you climb up it’s remarkably easy going, with low grass and tiny alpine herbs to walk on. With no wind and full sun it’s like strolling along on the roof of the world.

We kept remarking how dazzlingly lucky we were with the weather. Could have just as easily been blowing a gale and driving snow and ice….but we got lucky.

The tops there are like a big undulating plateau, pocked by tarns, with the mountains drizzling off in steep scree runs on the western side.

Despite the sun’s warmth, the tarns were iced over pretty solidly and they weren’t melting at all. Not strong enough ice to walk on, but still solid enough to make the watery world underneath absolutely still.   It was so clear that I watched a tadpole wriggling along, and wondered how it could be so seemingly energetic in such cold water!

We peaked through a window in the ridge at the mountains beyond, looking up the Durville valley to the south and planning future routes.

Sometimes the ridgelines are narrow and brittle with sketchy drop on both sides, but we found a simple scramble route up to an old trig point where we sat and observed other people walking about below us. It was remarkably busy up there; at least 9 other people besides us were striding around, taking advantage of the primo weekend.

We finally left the tops in mid afternoon, with just enough time to walk down to Tiraumea Hut before dark.

The frost was still crinkly hard on the low pockets of the clearing and the mist was creeping in, but when we opened the door to a very tidy little hut with several inviting stacks of dry kindling left by previous considerate trampers. We spread out the wet tent to dry, cranked the fire, and played a round of Quiddler after dinner.

I SHOULD have taken a picture of the Durville hut boat dock with Carrie’s husband, sister in law, and nephews there to meet us the next day at noon.  Definitely boat taxi service with a smile.  Also smiling up at us from the clear lake waters under the dock were half a dozen gigantic eels, and we shuttered to think that we had jumped in this same water just this past February after our Blue Lake walk.  No temptation to do that this time!

The wilderness is a comforting reminder.  A virus might run through most of the world’s population, the economies of the world may have groaned to a halt, and the fabric of human society may be ripping, but the mountains still rise, the moon still waxes, and the trees still grow moss-laden in the forest.

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.