Summer Idyll

I have been extremely lackadaisical about writing my blog over the Christmas period. Perhaps it was all the cooking and general busyness. Perhaps it was the aftermath of eating and napping. I have become like one of the cats: sunning my belly on the deck and snoozing away the afternoon.

Even though there were only four of us, Christmas lunch with my parents was still pretty complex. Homemade pies with beef cheek slow-cooked in red wine. Ham triple-glazed in cranberry sauce and manuka honey. Corn on the cob. Potato & egg salad. Coleslaw of red cabbage, kale, carrot, celery, and sunflower seeds. Another salad of rocket, parmesan & pear, tossed in garlic salt & balsamic vinaigrette. And then we followed that with fruit salad, ice cream, and pavlova with cream and strawberries. A good (if elaborate) summer lunch. And then cheese and crackers, which became my dinner as well.

I deliberately bought the smallest ham I could find (and free-range, of course). It was 1.6kg (about 4lbs), so we’re still left with quite a bit of ham in the fridge. My husband will no doubt do what he can to make it into sandwiches, and perhaps it will find its want into an omelette or soup, but at least it’s a much more manageable size than the ham we gave away. The leftover salad was taken care of within 24 hours, and there was no leftover dessert. There’s still a lot of cheese, and booze, and chocolate, but everything will dwindle with time. The napping may also have been an side-effect of the ongoing snacking.

After lunch, for some reason my family felt motivated enough to drive out to the lighthouse on the Manukau Heads. None of us had ever been there. Only thing is, it’s a long, narrow and windy road, and it turns out that the gate to the lighthouse reserve closes at 5pm – at least that’s what the sign said. So by the time we’d picked our way up the peninsula we never did get to see the lighthouse, but I look pictures of the landscape just to entertain myself. The feathery grass, the pitted sand bank, the rough moss and bracken. It was quite beautiful in its own way. Rugged and windswept – part of an older world.

It is frankly a miracle to be able to spend both Christmas and Boxing Day with my husband, and neither of us have to work. We went down to the beach on Boxing Day (where I slipped over on a rock pool and sliced my hand open on the barnacles). The beach was virtually empty, which I guess meant that everyone else was out shopping. We wandered around the point at low tide and found a freshwater spring and a small cave. My husband made jokes about hunting for signs of “sea-squatch”. We found oysters and tiny crayfish, but left them alone. It was an idyllic way to spend a quiet, lazy day.

Now… back to that ham.

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Pohutukawa

I knew it was coming, but it’s still wonderful to see the first flush of red on the drive up to the section. The pohutukawa trees are starting to bloom. It’s not enough to photograph yet, but in another week it will be a brilliant Christmas display all along the winding country roads. There are some benefits to spending summer in Auckland after all.

My husband has actually been doing the lion’s share of the outdoor work this week – mowing the long grass at the section, which has taken several days. I joined him for a bit so that we could move the water tank and get it ready to fill with water, but this proved to be a much more difficult task than anticipated. Although the giant plastic tank is light enough that it could be pushed off the delivery truck by just myself and the truck driver, it has settled into the ground in the intervening months, and stubbornly refused to budge. In the end, moving it required the gentle assistance of my car. We got it done though.

Once again, I’m spending my quiet hours working on my application for that job – or rather studying the position description so that I can cover all of the major points in the interview. I so want to get this role, it may be a disappointing Christmas if it doesn’t come about.

I’ll keep you posted. Of course.

 

Big Dry

See, I wasn’t kidding about the fact that the new section is pretty parched. This isn’t actually part of the pasture – it’s the bit that’s been scraped off to put the house foundations in – but you can see how the clay is already starting to flake and crack in the heat.

On days like this the sun is just unbearable. As with yesterday, my husband and I did some work in the morning, and then came home at lunchtime and laid about having a siesta. After just an hour and a half up at the section, working without any shade, we’d both sweated gallons and ended up with pounding headaches. He was laying down weed-mat, and had an allergic reaction to some of the weeds. He gets bad hayfever anyway, and this time his arms broke out in a mass of red welts. The combination of these factors was enough to drive us back home (and to the pharmacy) with very little done.

It was so hot that when we got home we found our (black) cats all snoozing on the back porch in the shade. Eva had even curled up in a planter pot, which was still damp from where I’d watered it that morning. I think if we had a fountain or pool outside they would all have been puddling about in the water to cool off.

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I returned to the section later in the evening to finish the weedmat and water what plants I could. One of the neighbors stopped by to tell me to mow the grass… Yeah, we tend to mind our own business with our neighbors and we appreciate it when they do the same. But I was polite. Politer than I should have been.

Perhaps it was the heat.

Shifting Tide Lines

It has been a day of developments all over the place. From the supposed (and perhaps momentary) halt on the Dakota Access Pipeline, to the shock resignation of NZ’s Prime Minister, many of my left-wing friends have been memeing for joy all day.

But not so fast…

Now that Prime Minister John Key has resigned, we will almost undoubtedly go into the New Year with a Prime Minister who is worse. John Key started out as a day trader – a bit of a Trump-like figure, who sat on a massive capitalist fortune, who made changes to benefit businesses whilst hurting those at the very bottom, and whose silly over-privileged adult children provided New Zealanders with a lot of amusement. However, his politicking was personality-based and cynical – he went for the type of glibness that would appeal to most voters, regardless of his own personal beliefs. I’m not even convinced that he has entrenched political beliefs. His potential replacements are career politicians – true-believers whose positions will be hard to shift, no matter what realities they face.

And as for the Dakota Access Pipeline… Well Obama can now count the remaining weeks of his presidency on his fingers. The halt called by the Army Corps of Engineers can be quickly overturned by the incoming President-Elect. And given that Trump owns shares in the company that is building the pipeline… Well it’s a surprise that anyone is excited about this. Why on earth would he make a decision that would damage his own personal fortune? When you prime an electorate to believe that all government is corrupt, then you can behave corruptly without much fear of consequence…

However… it was an unbearably hot day to be outside. So my husband decided that we should go for a walk down on the beach in the afternoon to cool off. It would have worked, except that the water was as warm as a bath. And I found a little injured sparrow.

He was lying on the beach, breathing hard, with his beak pressed into the sand. When I went up to check on him and see if there was anything I could do, he reacted with a panicked flutter but he clearly couldn’t fly. At least one wing was broken, and I’d say he’d been badly punctured by a cat.

Nature is a very cruel thing much of the time. It reminded me of my little story about the hedgehog. The natural world rarely offers comfortable and easy ways to die.

There was nothing I could do to save his life, and my presence only seemed to frighten him, so I resolved to do the only thing I felt I rightly could. I broke a branch off a nearby pohutukawa tree and, moving quietly and slowly, sank it into the sand beside him. This gave him camouflage should the cat return, and also gave him shade from the crippling heat. Yes, eventually the tide would come in, and he might have to make a choice to either move or remain, but in the meantime he would be more comfortable.

Just because we can’t fix all the injustices of life, it doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to be nice to one another…

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Property Inspection

Thursday is the first day of Summer in New Zealand. It’s so hard to believe that we’re almost up to summer already.

We had a property inspection today. I was expecting it to be in the first week of December, as they seem to come every 4 months and the last one was in the first week of August, but (Bad Jelly) the Property Manager decided to spring it on us a week early and tell me on Friday (right before my big weekend). Just because. I think she wanted to catch us off guard because she likes writing us nasty letters about how I run the garden. She wanted me to have the roses pruned in April…

My husband has been amazing (as always) and cleaned the whole house while I was at work over the weekend. He just left me the grossest bits (at my request) – the bathroom and the cat litter trays. So at least I can feel like I’m contributing more than just the weeding. Plus I got to bring some lavender in from the garden and make the bathroom both look and smell pretty.

In the end, it was several days of work for just 5 minutes of inspection. They wander around, take lots of photos, accuse us of damage that was already here when we moved in, act like we’re the devil and we’re hiding a meth lab somewhere. All the usual stuff that I’ve come to expect from this company. I’m dying for the day when we can tell them that we’re moving out and they can go fuck themselves, but so far they don’t know that we’ve bought a section and are getting a house built. We’ve never rented through an agency before and after dealing with these people I’d never do it again. It seems to be the way that everything goes in Auckland though.

However, now that that’s done, I can spend Wednesday putting in my vegetable seedlings and just generally enjoying my garden time once again. Two weeks after planting the seeds, the black beans have now not only germinated but are quickly out-growing their peat pots. My sunflowers and dwarf green beans aren’t far behind, and there’s also rocket and lettuces to plant out. It’s nice when things work, but also extra rewarding to see food spring up from virtually nothing. Bring on summer…

 

 

 

Storms

Summer is officially only 13 days away, and yet we’re still being hammered with freezing southerlies and rain. I’m wrapped up on the sofa in a fluffy blanket, contemplating lighting a fire, in mid-November.

Poor Wellington seems to be copping the worst of the weather. More and more buildings are being condemned because of the earthquakes, and then they’ve added flooding to that. It’s a miserable end to an already trying year.

And as if to prove that America does not hold the monopoly on stupid, fear-mongering bigots, a fairly prominent New Zealand preacher has proclaimed to his followers that the earthquake was caused by homosexuality… Fortunately most New Zealanders responded with laughter, but someone also started a petition to get the church’s tax-free status removed – which is actually a pretty sensible solution when people widely regard this particular church as a manipulative money-making enterprise designed to make the preacher rich by bilking the poor. Giving him attention now for his offensive comments almost seems counter-productive, but if it at least results in a downturn of cashflow for him then I suppose it was worth it. Encouraging people to actually read the Bible he’s foolishly misquoting might also cause some to stop giving this charlatan their money.

Unfortunately it’s not even the dumbest theory I’ve heard thus far about the earthquakes. A US Navy destroyer (the USS Sampson) has gone to Kaikoura to help evacuate people who were trapped in the coastal town after the roads were destroyed. This is a good thing – helpful, humane, kind. But of course, I’ve actually heard a fully grown adult state that it is not a coincidence that the US Navy has arrived so quickly, because they caused the earthquake just so they could start an invasion…

I know.

I know.

I’m actually sitting here wondering how this person has managed to keep themselves alive this long. Do they have the intelligence necessary to open a refrigerator? Can they figure out how to button clothing? Should I get them some kind of home help to ensure that they don’t burn down their house when they use the stove?… But instead all I could do was shake my head and walk away. Sometimes you can’t even help people without them spitting in your face.

More Earthquake Weather

S’raining.

I swear this has been the coldest, most miserable spring for a long time. All the kitties are inside dying from the rains. Or so they’d have me believe.

Despite New Zealand suffering a 7.5 earthquake yesterday, life goes on much as always in this part of the country. The earthquake hit a rural area of the South Island, and after shocks have been rumbling up much of the country all day. I still haven’t felt one. One man died when his 19th century house collapsed, and another had a fatal heart attack, but it could have been much worse. Roads have been badly damaged by landslides, cutting off some towns. Power was lost in a lot of places, as were phone and water connections. Several buildings in Wellington were evacuated, as well as some schools. The rainstorms that are rolling through today will certainly make life even more difficult for those with broken houses. Repair bills are likely to run into the billions… A 7.5 earthquake is certainly nothing to sniff at, but as I said: it could have been much, much worse.

One shouldn’t be smug, but at least New Zealand is accustomed to earthquakes. We get lots of them. I’ve felt several already this year. A few of them are big and serious, but most are very small and no more noticeable than a truck rumbling past your house. The small ones are really only scary if you choose to be scared. We have building codes (now) that are designed to accommodate earthquakes. (Hint: wood is good, masonry is bad) In general, we can regard earthquakes much like the weather: sometimes inconvenient, rarely fatal, but altogether something that no one can control so you may as well just put up with it.

For those further south, the aftershocks will continue for a few weeks, but then they will rebuild and things will go on largely as they did before. Even the rain will stop. Eventually.

Secret Time

I’m sure there will be too much detail in this post, but why is it that cats cannot seem to respect toilet privacy?

I came home from work late at night and went to the toilet to do a poo. So of course, Scrappy pushes the door open and starts alternately staring at me intensely and smooching and purring around my legs. Then he jumps up on my lap, still purring loudly, and begins smooching my face so much that he’s basically kissing me. It’s nice to be so loved, but it does make it really hard to concentrate on the actual business at hand.

And I have to wonder why cats are so vastly fascinated in humans’ toilet habits. They don’t do this to each other. When one of them needs some “secret time”, the others don’t follow them into the litter box and cuddle up with them – they’re likely to get smacked. Instead the respect one another’s privacy.

But even on a scale of regular toilet-bothering, this session from Scrappy was particularly intense. I mean, he just wasn’t going to let me get on with my own secret time. He was so clingy that he was practically crawling inside my face.

… Oh, there was an earthquake last night at about that time. That’s probably why. There was a big earthquake in the South Island and so my cat wouldn’t let me take a poo without him.

I guess things could be worse.

Trick or Treat

I’ve never understood Trick or Treating in New Zealand.

When I was a kid in Arizona, part of the fun of Trick or Treating was that it seemed like we walked down the street and knocked on everyone’s door. Nice house, scary house, possibly-empty house – it made no difference. All the neighborhood kids were out in the dark, like gangs of tiny muggers, robbing random adults of their candy. It was a community activity and gave you a chance to meet your neighbors (while dressed as a werewolf or Asterix the Gaul). And before anyone suggests that it was a different time and we lived in a safer community: we lived in a poor neighborhood next to the railway lines, with hobos and drug dealers and semi-regular acts of attempted murder. One of our neighbors across the road (an address I’d visited several times, as for some reason we kept getting their mail) got raided by the FBI for being part of a big-time cocaine trafficking ring.

Yes, it was a different time. We collected a big haul of candy and then went home to check all the packaging for needle marks.

However, there is some kind of weird resistance to Trick or Treating in New Zealand. Part of the resistance, no doubt, is because it’s seen as an American thing and therefore bad and a feature of some sort of ubiquitous cultural avalanche. But part of it, I think, is because people just don’t know how to do it right. They’re terrified of pissing off their neighbors and disappointing their children.

Every year, I see tiny handfuls of kids out Trick or Treating – maybe 2-3 kids per street. They are generally under the age of 10. They toddle down the road dressed as witches or vampires (because nobody here seems to be bored of the scary costumes and chooses to dress their kid as Tinkerbell or a fried egg, yet) and only seem to knock on pre-selected doors on a pre-determined route. Nobody ever knocks on our door, and I suspect it’s just because our neighbors don’t know us and therefore can’t be sure that we’re not child molesters (or cocaine traffickers). The parents direct the kids towards the neighbors they know, just because they know their kids will be safe…

Seriously?!?! What’s the point of that? Trick or Treating actually should be a chance to meet your neighbors in an innocent and bizarrely amusing exchange. It’s the one time that the drug dealer probably won’t pull a gun when somebody knocks on his door, because the person knocking on his door is 3 foot tall and cute and dressed as Humpty Dumpty, and only there to steal his Milky Way bars.

Or perhaps I’m just grumpy because now I have to eat all these Milky Way bars myself…

 

I Guess the View from our Imaginary Bedroom Won’t be All that Bad

The sea was lovely and blue today. Calm skies. Not too cold. It’s exactly the sort of day that makes me appreciate this wonderful spot we have.

I even discovered that the supermarket is giving out little seed pads and peat pots with your groceries this week. I stopped on my way home and got basil, celery and kale. I’ve never had much success with celery (way, way too thirsty) but I haven’t tried growing the now ubiquitous kale before. I know it’s meant to be the new superfood, but I’m not much for following the fashion trends in veggies. However, many years ago, when I was living on-and-off with my Dutch boyfriend, his mother used to grow and serve boerenkool all the time. It was actually bloody nice… Did I just do the “I ate kale before it was cool” thing? Yes, yes I did.

After our adventures underground last week, today was going to be all about moving some more permanent residents of the veggie garden. I had strawberries and boysenberries and rhubarb on my list, as well as a few herbs.

Continue reading I Guess the View from our Imaginary Bedroom Won’t be All that Bad