Almosts

When I travel, the almosts of life are easier to see. More movement means more decisions, more decisions mean more ‘what could have been’ moments.  Intricate plans are woven then unraveled, like the braids in my daughter’s hair after a good day’s play. There is an ease and flexibility, but also mini-regrets and what-ifs poking their way into my heart at every turn. These things haunt me sometimes: the sign we didn’t heed for the Tiny Historic Bungalow, the summit hike we were too tired to take on, the rope swing left dangling for another day. It is a feeling that is deeper and more complicated, somehow, than the FOMO of the modern world. I am in love with what happened, but also fascinated by what didn’t come to pass.

Our friends from home came to visit us over Christmas and we spent two weeks in a two family convoy, road tripping around the South Island.

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Many plans were made! Some were forsaken (much to Joel’s dismay. He is the chief-numero-uno-plan maker), but many beautiful things went down.

Tramps,

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beach days,

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sunsets,

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kayaking,

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so much swimming,

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dance parties

danceparty.jpgAnd all the other stuff, of course: the tantrums and tiredness, the car games, the hanging around, the joy of discovering things together.

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And there were some near-misses, some just-abouts, some almosts.

There was the day that Joel and Angela witnessed three tourists quietly drowning in this  glacier-fed river at Hokitika Gorge.

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Joel and two other guys jumped in and dragged them to safety, but the eerie moment hung over the tourist-filled riverbank for the whole time we were there, even after funny family shots in the freezing cold water, and chatting with a young American painter (here’s his painting of that same spot).

On another day on the trip, Lyla almost fell headfirst down the side of a steep, stump-strewn ravine. We were at the halfway point of a hike and high from Joel and Adam’s feats on a particularly epic rope swing.

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We were milling about, getting ready to head back, when there was a loud cracking sound, and as I turned to see its source, time slowed down, as it does, in those moments. At the top of the cliff, I saw only the bottoms of Lyla’s little boots, and one hand clinging to a tiny vine that barely had its scraggly roots in the earth. Then, as I moved towards the edge, her little, scratchy voice: “Help!”

Adam was closest and quickest, and grabbed her foot, pulling her up with only a few nasty scrapes*. After a bit of a cry, and lots of hugs, she was skipping along the trail, holding Grace’s hand.

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We all continued on, trying to shake the various awful possibilities out of our heads. As Adam and I chopped veggies for dinner later that night, he remarked on how each of the adults needed to go look at the ravine afterwards, to assess what almost happened. It was true. In the slightly shocked aftermath, we all trod carefully to the edge and peered over, one by one. How steep was it? How much danger? What might have been?

I am not saying that these are things to dwell upon for long. We take risks, we learn, we hopefully use the knowledge as we move forward. Lyla now knows that a branch’s strength should be tested before jumping on it with all her moxie and might (especially on the edge of a cliff).  But there is a chaos, an unknowable multitude of forces that we can’t control, no matter how smart or experienced we are.

So now, back ‘home’ in Upper Moutere, I am left holding of the fragility and chanciness of our lives.  Everywhere we go, we make choices, and continually, agonies (and ecstasies) are narrowly missed. And those almosts flit around us, like tiny, sparkly bugs**, lighting the way forward.

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*Thanks, Adam.

**Thanks, Ang.

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The Sentinel

Tramps (a.k.a. hikes in New Zealand) are great for getting past small talk, which usually runs out in the first few minutes. Over the next couple hours, the mind takes an amble of its own, and as a family we tend to cover quite a bit of ground. We tell stories of our youth, make up games, soapbox about screens, practice secret handshakes, justify our political leanings and brainstorm marketing ideas for Apple’s next line of smartphones. (We particularly liked the idea of naming models after apple varieties like Braeburn, Eve, Empire, Jazz, Honeycrisp, etc.)

Although our kids seem to hate tramps before we actually head out, they always come around in the end. It’s a mystery to me why they still haven’t learned that they actually like hiking. Still, we persist. On our last tramp above the Marlborough Sounds, we listened to Julie talk about Shakespeare. Specifically, she talked about the nature of a Shakespearean tragedy; it is not inly about death, but about the acute feeling that accompanies the loss of great potential: what could have been. We all know that sick feeling, how no amount of wishing for a different path can change the past. And yet we persist.

Outside our window is a Shire-esque, lamb-strewn paddock with a backdrop of the Kahurangi mountains. Just beyond the paddock is a gigantic, regal gum tree that stands watch.

The only problem is that it has been horribly disfigured by an over-zealous arborist. The canopy has completely disappeared and only the trunk remains. Their chainsaws couldn’t get around it so they left it there to rot, which won’t happen any time soon.

The city arborists were called to remove branches that were obstructing the highway below. They promised they would only trim it. Our landlord cried for 4 days when she saw their handiwork. A less majestic tree would simply have disappeared into the chipper but the mighty sentinel refused to be felled, and still stands guard.

But in its mutilated new form there is a strange beauty. It now harbours a nest for newly hatched birds. It is a defiant landmark on the Moutere Highway. It is a reminder of what could have been. It watches over our family and reminds us to make the best of the good times. This real-life Giving Tree has seen better days, and yet even in death it persists.

Chickens

eggs.jpgOne of the great pleasures of my life is eating fresh eggs. This sounds like hyperbole but I love food and an egg is usually the first thing I eat everyday. When I first tried eggs outside Canada I realized that the cheap supermarket eggs are the equivalent of a Domino’s pizza or a Labbatt Blue. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pig in shit if you offer me a slice of pizza and a Blue after a hockey game but I also realize there are other, more refined, places to go on the pizza and beer front. I perfectly poached country egg is more like a King Slice arrabiatta and Dragon’s Tears Stout. It’s a beautiful thing really. Buttered fresh bread, salt and pepper and a self saucing protein glob of rich goo and I’m a happy man.

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(Fun fact: in NZ “egg” is a mild insult. It is a lighter, more playful way of calling someone an idiot.)

The owner of our house has a chicken coop and 6 hens. She generously shares the eggs and lets us participate in the care of the chickens. By the way, the term ‘animal husbandry’ is either an exalted term for managing the affairs of livestock or more probably a window into the concept of managerial marriages of old – just another beast to tame, domesticate and maximize yields of progeny.

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The girls named the hens and I really took to caring for them. Maybe it filled a hole that leaving Flashman at home created or maybe it just brings me in touch with the idea of managing resources which directly aid to the sustenance of life (rather than being paid in a universal currency to alter and manage computer files). Anyhow it wasn’t long until I asked around and found a farmer who sold me a couple pullets to call my own and add to the flock. Luckiest hens in the world. They free range all day in the NZ sun and chill in the shade of the gum trees uncovering squirming or crawling goodies at the roots. Then for supper we feed them grains, corn and layers pellets in the evening. We even cut up our kitchen scraps into hens sized morsels for dessert. Spoiled!

We tried to name them but there were just too many options. Since I’m a proponent of ranked ballots I figured this was a teachable moment. We all suggested names and wrote them down. Then we all had 4 votes. 2 votes were worth one point and 2 votes were worth two points. It was gratifying to scrap ‘first past the post’ in some small way. After all the votes were counted we ended up with Gandalf and Taco! (We are making our way through The Hobbit before bed.)

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Taco happily settling in to her new home.

Life was good. The eggs were divine. Occasionally Gandalf’s magical eggs were double yolked. And then one day the was a knock on the door of the house. The glass sliding door, and not at regular knocking height. It was more of a peck actually. It seemed Taco and Gandalf were much more adventurous than the other hens.

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The wise surveying eyes of Gandalf.

Our new hens also seemed friendlier than the others and often ran over to us for love (probably food but it felt like a more noble bond). This all seemed cute until Taco shit on the carpet. Enough of that. So we brought them back over the fence and plugged what we thought was the hole. When I bought them I asked the farmer to clip their wings so they wouldn’t be able to fly, so we figured they were getting under somehow. Then began a frustrating yet challenging war of wits. Everyday I would plug a potential hole in the fence (they have quite a big area to range) and by afternoon they would show up with their stupid little faces wanting to hang with the grown-ups. Shit on the deck was my main concern, but there is also a road nearby which doesn’t see much traffic, but it does see cars going at chicken-killing speeds. After about a week, we thought we had licked the escaping problem and were focusing on new issues like the chickens laying in the reeds by the river instead of their nests. We outsmarted them on that front by putting a golf ball on each of their nests to cue them to add to their clutch. all was peaceful and productive in the land of free range chickens.

Then, two days ago we got a text from one of our friends that there was a dead chicken down the road, wondering if it was ours. Dread ensued as Julie and I walked 100 metres down Harley Road to a brown pile of chicken to confirm what we already knew. Taco was no more. She had met her inglorious end at the business end of a speeding car. Although not learned in forensics, I can say with absolutely certainty that she didn’t suffer. I felt gutted and didn’t really feel like writing this post but I guess it is all she has in this world as a testament to her short life. That and her last egg that sits on my counter waiting to be poached.

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The Intrepid Taco the Chicken (Too soon for “why did the chicken cross the road” jokes in case you were wondering.

 

 

Are the holidays coming?

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Christmas and Hanukkah are coming and I’m wearing a T-shirt! It’s so hard for me to believe that Christmas is in just 16 days and Hanukkah just three. Usually at about this time back home it’s snowing and here it’s only getting hotter. The summer holidays are in just ten days! The other day the hill we drive along turned brown because it was so hot. Every day at school I long for the 20 minutes we get in the tiny pool. And every day after school I wish we were going to the beach or to a pool. There are just no signs I’m used to that show it’s even December, let alone Christmas and Hanukkah! So many great things are coming at Christmas and you’d think I’d be crazy excited for it but I barely even believe that it is coming. We do have a Christmas tree, so that’s a sign, but it’s only about three feet. Everything’s so different here even the holidays, that have been the exact same all my life, show very little similarity.

 

Yoda the driving instructor

Driving on “the wrong side” of the road is still a bit of a novelty for me. It’s definitely more enjoyable in rural Scotland than say, the chaos of downtown London. I think we had already left Toronto when we realized that we didn’t even know which side of the road Kiwis drive on.  It turns out it’s the left.

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Leaving the Auckland car rental lot Julie coached me through all the turns and roundabouts. I wondered how long it would take before the act of driving on the other side would just ‘flip’ in my brain. I’m 2 months in and it still hasn’t happened. I don’t turn on the windshield washers most days when turning, but I find it curious that I mentally can’t just hit a switch in my brain that takes the existing driving subroutine and just reverses it. I still take a moment before pulling out of the driveway to check in with myself and not pull into oncoming traffic. Every time I come to an intersection I slowly check both ways twice, just to be sure.  You know that feeling when you’ve been driving for half an hour and suddenly realize you’ve been in a trance? Not much of that. Only one small rule has changed in the driving algorithm but I feel like I have to learn a lot of it over again before I can hit autopilot. I must unlearn what I have learned.

Habits are hard to change. Even when your life depends on it. That’s why London sidewalks look like this:

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I’m getting there, but I occasionally lapse by approaching the passenger-side, keys in hand and then have to surreptitiously cross over to the driver’s side, hoping nobody noticed. Regardless, I still feel confident enough taking up the role of parent volunteer driver, taking a car-fulls of kids from the girl’s classes on field trips.

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Room 3 class trip to the Centre of New Zealand
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Room 4 class trip to the Centre of New Zealand
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Both Room 3 and 4 going to the pool.

Lyla showed me this cool (8 minute) video from an awesome YouTube channel we watch together called Smarter Every Day.

 

The basic idea is that the host has a bicycle that turns left when the handlebars turn right and vice-versa. It is impossible to ride. He has never seen an attempt last longer than 2 seconds. Even though his brain could ride a bike with ease, flipping a single variable tipped the whole process into disarray.  There is a metaphor in there somewhere…

Driving is different in more ways than one here.  Here are some of my favourite flips:

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Traffic in downtown Motueka
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Looking for the trailhead
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Parking at Tata beach
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Spotted on the Highway

 

 

Seriously.

Be like the nature of phytokarst

When you leave home your head and heart fill with adventure and hopes. You imagine a life filled with the new and exciting, the inspiration of difference. You imagine how changing your environment can change the way you look, feel, and move in the world.

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But taking your family to live in a mythical-seeming land on the other side of the world is not all kayaks, sunshine and pavlova.

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We have all the regular everyday annoyances: crying over times table practice, fighting over dishes, worries about money.

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We go grocery shopping, Joel swears at his computer, the internet sometimes drops out. I still lie awake some nights with discomfiting thoughts: North Korea, sexual predation, and the thing that someone said yesterday at the barbeque that stung. You get it. Life in New Zealand is still life. Last week I had the feeling that the everyday grind was starting to make us all feel a little less magical.

On top of the usual stuff, there are new stressors: trying to fit in, navigating a new, small community with all of its inherent politics, wondering how we will feel when we return, if our lives will be changed for the better or worse.

A new place sloughs off old identities, but sometimes leaves us with our darkest spots exposed; we are vulnerable here, and it can be lonely. I felt like maybe the stress of being new was starting to outweigh the delight of this gorgeous place we had landed.

Why were we here, exactly?

So, we planned a day out. We would drive over “the hill” to Golden Bay, and hike to the Rawhiti caves, then hit the beach. The day started a little cloudy, but as we drove out of town and up the windy mountain road, the sky cleared. Still, as we started the steep climb on the hike, Lyla complained a lot, Joel got snappy, and Camille and I sighed our way up, wondering why we couldn’t all just get along.

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Why was no one noticing the huge Jurassic ferns that lined the trail? The electric blue sky? The simple joy of being on a sunny hike, with nothing to do but move your muscles to the top?

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Okay, here they were looking up, at least.

Finally, we made it up the mountain and it seemed worth it. The ancient cave opened its mouth to us, lined with pinkish grey stalactites, like too many weird monster teeth.

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As our eyes adjusted to the dark, you could see that some of them curved out of the black pit, making their way towards the light, the way a tree branch might grow towards the sunniest spot of the forest. These were phytokarst, a strange mix of mineral and algae, which gave the rock an almost living quality.

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Normally, gravity is the only force acting on the minerals in a stalactite as they form over hundreds of thousands of years. But these are stalactites with a difference! The mineral-laden water that drips to the tip of the rock formation is attracted to the tiny bits of algae on the sun-facing side. Eventually, the mineral hardens, following the path of the algae and creating a light-seeking finger of rock.

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It was the kind of thing that screamed out for a metaphor.

We hope that travelling will let a new, more brilliant, better version of ourselves come through. We hope we will gain new perspectives. But we carry our dark bits around with us: our old ugly habits, insecurities and fears. And sometimes, far away from the people and things that shore up our identities, those demons grow, like a shadow slowly growing as the day grows long.

But here were the phytokarsts, growing slowly but surely out of the dark, turning their faces towards the sun.

 

IMG_20171118_123230On the way back down, Camille was filled with questions about the nature of truth, setting off a philosophical discussion that will last years, I am sure. Lyla led the way back to the car, singing to herself as usual, and only getting into one, short-lived huff.

The cave had reset the energy, brought us back to the wonder of our new home.

The rest of the day was literally golden. Joel found us shelter from the wind on this little private gem of a beach.

Tata panorama.jpgWe ate a smoked salmon pizza, slathered with garlic aioli in a café with cool murals.

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We drove home as the sun set into the windows of our trusty car (now with roof racks!)

So we are still here. Doing homework, taking out the garbage, fighting with our darker selves. Trying to keep growing towards the sun.

 

 

NZ has a flag problem

Vexillophile (word of the day meaning flag enthusiast) Roman Mars has a great TED talk about bad municipal flag designs. He takes a topic that on the surface most people wouldn’t find compelling and makes a case for why it is. YouTube video of his 18 minute ‘podcast’ on the TED stage here.

In summary he notes that flags are important symbols to humans that take a shortcut to the limbic system and have the ability to inspire pride, in-group loyalty but also ferocious hate.

He points out that a good flag should be designed in a 1 inch x 1.5 inch rectangle which is roughly the proportion of how we see a flag on a pole in the real world. The corporate world has figured this out and most modern logos need to be successful memes or die.  And yet when committees assemble to create a flag that tries to please everyone we get monstrosities like this:

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Gross! For bonus points find the 8 flags within this flag.

Here are the rules of good flag design:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Use meaningful symbolism
  3. Use two to three basic colors
  4. No lettering or seals of any kind.
  5. Be distinctive

I have a suggestion for an additional rule:

6. Don’t make it look similar to the flag of the country next door.

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Firstly, it has the Union Jack in the corner so already it is a flag within a flag. Remember rule 1. Flags should be simple not meta. It screams colonial. It says nothing of the Maori or the landscape or the distinctiveness of the kiwi character.

At least it is better than the 1868 version.

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BTW it’s “En Zed” not “En Zee”.

Speaking of 1868 this was Canada’s:

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And this is Ontario’s flag in 2017!

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So boring. In fact I doubt most Ontarians could identify it let alone draw it, so how is it supposed to instill pride? (Answer: it doesn’t) Counter these with what Roman Mars considers the gold standard in flag design:

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So in 2014 the National Party of New Zealand proposed changing the flag if elected. They were, and over the next year 10,300 submissions were made and then whittled down to a long-list of 40 by a government appointed panel. Later in the year there was a national referendum that asked the question: “If the New Zealand flag changes, which flag would you prefer?” and it included these 5 shortlisted designs:

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My favourites aren’t among the shortlisted but these are miles ahead of the current one.

Option A (which screams compromise) won and in 2016 another referendum was put to the people to choose between the new “Silver Fern” and the old flag. Boring pants won 57% to 43%. It’s time just hadn’t come.

I get it. I live in a country where some Queen of something is on all our money even though I haven’t met a single person under 60 that feels any allegiance to her (even my brother-in-law who had to swear allegiance in front of a judge to become a citizen).

And so I feel that although New Zealand is this exciting new country that is constantly evolving and rich in identity, it is still filled with a generation of people tied to it’s colonial history and not quite ready to make a break with the Blue Ensign.

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Failed flag design: “Modern Hundertwasser Koru” by Tomas Cottle

When they do, and I’m sure they eventually will, I hope it will involve a ‘koru’ which is a Maori symbol representing a new unfurling silver fern frond and symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace. Or two peoples coming together. Or a cloud. Or a wave. Or the tip of a jester’s shoe. Or a hypnotist’s spinning wheel. Or… you get the idea. Sorry, rant done.

Here are a couple of actual submissions that didn’t make the long-list. Don’t laugh too quickly though. Remember: Boaty McBoatFace.

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” Gains” 
Designed by: Logan Wu
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Sheep and Hokey Pokey 
Designed by: Jesse Gibbs from Canterbury

From Jesse Gibbs submission:
‘This design represents all of NZ because we have lots of sheep and love hokey pokey ice cream. I even included the blue and red to keep all of you naysayers happy.

Changes within and without.

Well now that we’ve slipped into a version of routine I can now take stock of the changes in our life over here. Firstly, they fall into two broad categories. 1) How the place we are in is different from home and 2) how we have changed due to our new circumstance. For example, in the first category I’m constantly amazed at the difference in prices. Some things like food are 2 to 3 times the price here. Doing the grocery shop can be painful for me but ceding control to Julie who doesn’t share my affliction with spending, means that food purchases are based on a meal plan and not on what is on sale.

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On the flipside we can go indoor rock climbing until our arms fall off for under $5.

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In the second category of change it is us that is different. We have modified our lives to adapt to our new reality.

Some observations of differences in the first category:

People aren’t on their phones as much. In fact we were at a country festival last weekend and I got separated from Julie. I picked up my phone to call her and suddenly felt self-conscious.  I looked around. Despite hundreds of people, young and old, walking around there wasn’t a single person on a device. It creeped me out that that creeped me out.

Phone and data plans are cheaper and simpler in NZ. I’m sure the reasons are complicated but we are paying half as much for our plans here than at home.

Tax and tip are included. Sure the prices are higher but what you see is what you pay. This is good.

No homework on the weekend. Yet.

High and rising minimum wage. $20 by 2021.

Your employer must contribute to your retirement savings and you aren’t allowed to take it out until you retire.

The relationship with the Maori seems based on respect rather than tokenism. This is obviously complicated and will take a long time to absorb properly so I won’t comment further.

Roundabouts. Sure, they eat up a bit more real estate than intersections but they are fun and greatly improve traffic flow.  Cheaper than bridges.

People deal with chilly homes when it is cold. Because our winters require central heating the concept of temperature controlled homes is omnipresent and was something I took for granted.

Bare feet. Kids go barefoot. Outside, in the streets, in stores. The first day I saw Camille go to school barefoot I asked “Where are your shoes!?” She shrugged “whatever”.

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Coffee. There aren’t as many places to get coffee and certainly not cheap coffee but when you do get coffee it is good coffee.

Metal roofs. Everyone has one and they make so much more sense. Why are they so expensive at home! More investigation is needed – stay tuned.

Meth. Also called ‘P’ here. I haven’t see it but many talk about it as if it is a national crisis. All the houses we viewed made sure to get their meth inspection certification. They say it’s easier to obtain than marijuana. Epidemic or puritan over-reaction?

Clear-cutting. You often see patches of hillside that have been stripped bare and the ominous trucks of fresh timber barreling down the narrow roads. Here nature and man live so close together and I can’t help but wonder how sustainable the collision is of this ancient land and the rather new machinations of international economics.

Trees and birds. The trees are prehistorically massive and produce comical shapes to my eye.

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Tree-climbing heaven.

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The birds are beyond plentiful. They are always singing in the background and often songs that sound more like 8-bit video games than living creatures. A few times they have slammed into our windows. The lucky ones leave an imprint of their squish on the window, the unlucky ones fall to the ground and promptly die.

Halloween is different too. They just aren’t as hard core. The costumes are a slapdash affair and there are no pumpkins (this makes finding the houses that give out candy difficult). Also, it is warm and light out. Weird but more relaxing. I wonder what Christmas on the beach is going to be like.

All of these things seem novel at the moment and it is easy to be rosy when looking at the very surface of a new place. It is much harder to get a deeper look at it’s subtleties. Also, I know I will be leaving and some problems, if I even see them, will only be temporary for me. But this is a problem with all travel and I hope that at least our extended stay will give us a finer-stroked and honest picture of this place.

But equally interesting to these differences is the change that we’ve created for ourselves by taking ourselves out of our Ritchie Avenue rhythm.

In this second category of change it is us that has modified ourselves to adapt to our new reality. To me nothing represents this more than the thinness of my wallet. Not so much that I’m poor but rather it’s contents has been greatly reduced due to our simplified finances. My wallet contains: 1 bank card, 1 loyalty card for the supermarket, 1 health insurance phone number that I hope I never have to use, a $10 bill (it’s largely a cashless economy here), a kid’s tooth and a band-aid. My thin wallet makes me happy. Like a newly cleaned room, it’s simplicity breathes calm into me.

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My wallet hasn’t been this thin since I was 12.

Like canoeing across lakes and making jigsaw puzzles, baking bread is one of my favourite activities because I have a Pavlovian response to the fact that I’m doing something that requires a lot more time.

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We also bought a cookbook by NZ chef Al Brown and are working our way through various recipes like cottage pie, self-saucing pudding, and butter-date crumpets.

We have less stuff. Like being in a hotel room, I absolutely know where everything is. This has its bad side though. Trying to source a screwdriver becomes a mission rather than a drawer pull. I’m constantly trying to figure out whether I need to buy something or not for the time we are here. For example: our place doesn’t have a blender. Do we just go without a blender for 7 months or do we buy one? (Spoiler alert: we bought a used magic bullet for $1.50) What about bikes? Kayak? Roof rack? Desks for the kids? Egg poacher? Sweatband? Hammock? A whiteboard? Paintbrushes? Waste baskets? Shelves?Oh oh, you can see where this heading…

All in all we are trying to use our time to both try out new things but also create better habits that hopefully we can bring home with us and rely on when the demands of more work and actually having family and friends to share our lives with are added back into the mix.

 

Hello Nelson, Goodbye Nelson

Many months ago instead of dutifully watching my girls enter their school I turned to Jeremy (fellow drop-off dad and kiwi insider) and said “Hey, where in New Zealand should I live?”. He knew nothing of the plan but responded “Nelson, it’s the sunniest place in the country, it’s surrounded by 3 national parks and vineyards. Also, there is a burgeoning craft beer industry”.  Well that was easy. From then on we decided that the town of Nelson, NZ was going to be our destination.

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Cut to the day before our arrival in Nelson. Despite months of looking and weeks of intense scrolling and emailing we still had not found a place to stay – nor had any leads. Staying in a motel was our only option and even those were packed because apparently the “World of Wearable Art Festival” is a thing and lots of people travel to attend. Then, finally, during dinner at a Thai Restaurant with atrocious wallpaper (see below and spot their logo for bonus points) our first lead panned out.

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A small but furnished temporary flat was made available to us for a couple weeks while we searched in earnest for our ‘permanent’ home.

And so we pulled into Nelson the following day with an actual destination to feed Google Maps. We’ve been learning to be wary of Googs since arriving but we found the place just fine. It was miserable out. Raining, chilly, and Lyla was pale from car-sickness.  Surprisingly it was the same temperature inside as it was outside, 8C or 46F. I scanned the wall in vain for a thermostat. Jeremy hadn’t mentioned the part about kiwis being in denial regarding winter.  The funny thing is we Canadians think of ourselves as hardy folk, and for the most part we are, but it really only applies to being outside. Single digits indoors means power outage to us. Sure we can brave -40 with toques and parkas but we need to return to a temperature controlled house – as any civilized human would expect. That night the girls slept with 4 layers on, 2 comforters and 2 blankets.

Even though we had arrived we still hadn’t settled. We now poured all our energy into finding the perfect place.  As the days passed the perfect place became a place, and then anything with a roof. Apparently Jeremys the world over were recommending Nelson to their friends. Nelson is a popular place to live. Because it is built in amongst hills, bordered by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, cheap sprawling suburbs aren’t an option, and the town council has restrictions on new housing. The result is a property shortage.  This was compounded by the fact that we didn’t need a place for a full year and it had to be near a school that accepts international students. I could go on but it would be equal parts boring and bourgeois. We were at the point where we were considering moving on from Nelson, not just to the outlying towns but anywhere in New Zealand. Then, I’ll admit it, for the first time we were wondering if maybe we had made a mistake. But the night is always darkest before the dawn.

We got the magical email from a house owner one evening and the next morning we jumped in the car and drove north to check out a small rural property 45 minutes away. The previous day we had acquired a 2-disc CD from the Salvation Army titled: On the Road Again – Songs for Roadtripping.  We popped it in and let Willie Nelson and Roger Miller serenade us as Nelson faded out behind us and we headed into sheep country proper. We were afraid to be too confident but Spring was in their air and you know how that goes…

So goodbye Nelson. We weren’t fond of your single glazed windows but loved your quaint strip, gardens, your insanely beautiful beach and the several little hikes originating from downtown (including one to the ‘Centre of New Zealand’.

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And here is us leaving our temporary flat in Nelson where every night Lyla prepared fancy deserts and we watched movies about either New Zealanders or Marvel superheroes. (Spiderman Homecoming, The Fastest Indian and Boy were stand-outs).

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So now, finally, we have arrived and are settling in.

We have a perfect little house amongst towering gum trees, fields of hops, grapes and frolicking lambs.  We are halfway between a tiny village called Upper Moutere (quixotically pronounced Moo-tree) and another tinier hamlet called Lower Moutere. We even have doubled glazed windows and a thermostat!

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The girls have bright bedrooms on the main floor and can watch the sheep from their beds.

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Julie’s office:

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My office: (where I am currently typing this)

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There is one more ‘room’ in the house that Lyla wants to share with you but you will have to wait for that.

For the first time in my life I am living in a place that isn’t walking distance to anywhere but at least it isn’t too far a drive. The girls’ school is a 5 minute drive away but we’ll save more about that place for another post. The Riverside cafe where we get our fresh raw milk and proper coffees is 8 minutes away. Most importantly ping pong at the Upper Moutere Community Centre is 5 minutes away and squash (both the sport with courts and the produce at the grocery store) in Motueka is just 13 minutes away.

So now with all the bureaucracy of moving to a new place done we can finally start living in it. We are reveling in this gorgeous bizzarro Game of Thrones world. Summer is coming…