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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Finding memories

My husband and I are spending hours every week sorting out his parents’ house, trying to ready it for sale, hoping we can do it next month, but doubting that deadline! Along with the frustrations that they never dealt with their 58 years of stuff in their house, there are small moments of nostalgia, of amusement, of memories that make us miss them. For example, my husband has been working on cleaning out the garage, and all the alcoves under the house where my father-in-law stored wood. Not firewood, but wood that could be used for construction. Sure, he was a child of the depression, and so was frugal and saved things he thought he might need. But, as D said, “there was never a wood off-cut that Dad didn’t keep!”

It has taken us at least two trailer loads simply to deal with the rubbish pieces of wood he had stored away for decades! And of course, in the garden shed there are dozens of tools, many duplicates – one that works, one that doesn’t, but he couldn’t throw away!

The couple was frugal, did I mention that? His wife was also a collector, and a meticulous recorder of items. Did you guys have cards in cereal packets? They’d go through different series, of sports, or animals, or locations. I discovered on the weekend that my mother-in-law seemed to collect them all (she had four boys, so they ate a lot of cereal!), and kept them all, carefully sorted and labelled in boxes. Why, I don’t know. For whom, I don’t know. But she hated throwing things away that she thought might have some value to someone. Unfortunately, she never made any effort to find out who might actually want them. It was the same when I helped her sort out her clothes once. She proudly pointed out a pretty shift dress that she had from the 1960s. It had been kept for so long that it had come back into fashion, and I said that we could give it away to a charity shop which might be able to sell it. She was horrified, as it felt like she was throwing it away and wasting it. But she never really understood that it was being wasted just sitting in her wardrobe for the last 4-5 decades!

I found a lovely wedding anniversary card my father-in-law gave to his wife back in the early 1970s, the year they had been separated for weeks (months?) when he had gone on a world trip for his business, and he expressed his distress at being apart. After some weeks away (and clearly after he’d sent the card), he missed her so much that he wanted to come home early, and instead she farmed out the boys to her sisters and went and travelled with him. That was their longest ever separation, and they were devoted to each other. They had their 60th wedding anniversary a few years ago, and received cards from the Governor-General on behalf of the Queen, and from our PM.

Sadly, I also find item after item that was unused. Things that were bought, but were deemed too special to use. Simple things too – for example, unused souvenir tea towels bought from a trip to Australia, covered in bright Australian birds. Or gifted tea towels or towels or the table linen she had bought when she was a young woman, before her marriage. Some years ago she gave me her crystal bowls and glasses, because she wanted to clean out her kitchen, and she never used them. I use them regularly, and I think she liked coming to my house for Christmas and recognising the bowl holding the raspberries and strawberries, or the little silver tray that I served the Christmas mince pies on. But I was never 100% sure that she didn’t disapprove just a little, thinking that they were “too good to use!”

A reminder of price inflation struck me in the kitchen too. I guess my mother-in-law didn’t like ginger, as I found this box of spice with the price 12 cents on it! Given that the current price, same brand, is $2.39, and that I don’t recognise the box, I’m dating it around the 1970s!

But the item that inspired this post was a simple pencil. It seemed especially appropriate to talk about at the moment, as everyone is or has been watching or talking about The Crown recently. It had been used, sharpened down to where the first letter printed on it was almost lost. Clearly the sense of occasion surrounding the pencil won over the desire not to waste it. The words printed on the pencil are still clear: “Souvenir of Coronation Elizabeth II, 2nd June 1953.” It was a treasured possession, hidden away in a box of miscellaneous keepsakes, including the wedding anniversary card mentioned above.

We’ve only just started looking at their photos, but that’s going to be an effort in itself. My husband opened up a photo album of their trip to Thailand, when they spent six weeks staying with us and exploring the country. Funnily, they had photos of our apartment building and the holiday home that we don’t have. We never took these photos, because we were living there and never thought about it. But now, 30 years later, we were delighted to find these! My in-laws weren’t hoarders, as such. Their house was always immaculate, with a place for everything. Of course, as their four boys grew up and went away, there was a lot of room to store things! It makes me shudder to think of my own house, the things I’ve shoved into drawers because I might use them one day, or simply because I can’t bring myself to throw them away, and ten (or 20? … gulp!) years later they are still in the same drawer, with other things also discarded-but-not-really-discarded on top of them. I come back from the in-laws’ house knowing I need to clean up and throw things out myself, but I’m tired, with an aching back from bending over sorting out drawers and boxes and cupboards, I sit at the computer instead and blog! I’ll get around to it. Someday.

I suspect that’s exactly what my in-laws said to themselves over the decades, too.

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A road trip is, for a photographer, a series of missed opportunities. More so, when it is raining, which was the case as we headed north a few weeks ago. The rain and the mist created an ethereal atmosphere, the trees and the hills fading into layers of grey. I love that look – I always have. I was dying to catch it with my camera, but it was teeming, and so I wasn’t getting out of the car as my camera isn’t weather-proofed. Nor, to that matter, was I. So we drove up the coast and then headed into the hills in the centre of the island, just enjoying the scenery, taking artistic shots in my head. At least that way I couldn’t blame my camera or my poor photography skills for not being able to capture the beauty of what we were passing.

We stopped overnight in Taupo, which is only ever an overnight stop for us, and for so many domestic and international tourists. We secured our lake-front motel unit just as it started to rain again, meaning that the walk I wanted to take after five hours in the car didn’t eventuate. We sat inside and watched the black swans and ducks glide around on the calm water aas the rain fell steadily. One day, we’ll stay for longer, go for some walks in the nearby bush, check out the geothermal sights of mudpools and geysers (as it has been 30+ years since we have done that), and maybe finally get that walk around the lake.

After a few more hours drive the next morning, we arrived in Auckland. It’s been a long time since I have driven into the city there – usually we arrive by plane for business or a quick weekend away – and so the experience of the dense but fast traffic on the motorway unnerved me! I felt like the country bumpkin come to town, despite the fact that we’ve driven in and around much larger cities overseas. But since my rainy-day-but-very-gentle accident last year on our local motorway, I’ve been a much more nervous passenger – to my husband’s frustration. We both arrived at our central city hotel with some relief!

We were in Auckland both because it was a) on the way, and b) to indulge two passions, namely the Husband’s love of casinos (I am so grateful we don’t have one in Wellington!), and good food. So my husband headed off to the casino for an hour or so in the afternoons and later at night, when I had the chance to curl up for a nap, or read my book. During the day we walked through gardens, went to the museum, indulged in some food nostalgia with Thai food at lunch (lunchtime Thai food is very different – or should be – from dinner-style Thai food), and decided not to do any shopping!

After a very good meal and pampering experience at Sidart, NZ’s Restaurant of the Year last year, we drove further north. Apart from my sister’s wedding 11 years ago, I’ve only been north of Auckland once before. (I’ve been to Paris more often, which is shocking to me as I write this!) When we there for the wedding, I saw an area with vineyards and native bush and boats and coves and artists and potters, and vowed to return to spend more time there sometime in the future. We had planned to make the trip this time last year, but father-in-law care issues put paid to that, as did COVID in March. So it was good to finally get there, and prepare to relax and explore.

And that’s exactly what we did, as I anticipated here. We relaxed, and pottered around the region. It’s only an hour or so from Auckland, linked by one of NZ’s few toll roads (the fee is a whopping $2.40!), and I’ve heard of so many of the beach communities, which are the weekend playground of Aucklanders. But during the week in the middle of the school term and university exams it was perfectly empty, with just a few travellers doing what we have been told to do – go out and see New Zealand, and try something new. It is spring, and so the weather was warm, and typically we could have fine weather then torrential rain followed by sunshine again within a few hours. That at least meant that we could take things easy with a long lunch or coffee or nap on the couch as the rain came down, before heading out again.

One of the favourite things we did was visit a winery with a celebrated sculpture trail. “It’ll take you about an hour,” they said at the ticket desk, but that didn’t make allowances for a camera happy couple who enjoyed the art and the natural surroundings and wandered slowly. The art was interesting; amusing sometimes, weird others, breathtaking, and puzzling, and exactly what art should be. The natural backdrops were perfect, and the pathway led us through the native bush. This sculpture in the midst of the bush refers to the ghosts of kauri trees, so many of which were felled for their timber before restrictions were put in place. The sadness at the thought of the lost kauri (and those which are currently under threat by a spreading fungus) led to joy as the path wound up into a young(ish) kauri* forest. As we walked to the top of the path, we walked through gates with bells, reminiscent of the torii gates in Japanese temples, yet in a uniquely NZ environment.

The trail begins and ends at the Brick Bay winery restaurant, the Glasshouse. so of course we stayed for lunch, blissfully happy at the warm day, the sights we had seen, the water lilies and the pond and sculpture in front of us, and the particularly nice pinot gris I enjoyed. In fact, the food was just as good as everything else, and we booked to return a day later, when we knew the weather was not likely to be conducive to anything except a long lunch and wine-tasting!

We visited many of the seaside settlements, some more appealing than others. One was clearly the base for the rich and famous from Auckland, although I don’t really understand why you would want to recreate an upper class suburbia at the beach. But elsewhere there were endless inlets and coves, and uncluttered hills with winding roads and fabulous views, which is where I would built my holiday home if I had the money.

The famed local market was a little (or a lot) disappointing, perhaps partly because a) I found some gorgeous hand-made jewellery and didn’t buy any, and b) it was so much smaller than I had expected. I’d anticipated hours of happy wandering and tasting amongst artisans and fresh produce and food, and it didn’t deliver. Still, it was fun it itself, and the crepes we had for breakfast there were delicious! And a visit later to a local handmade pottery place saw the acquisition of a lovely large platter that – surprise of surprises – we both really liked.

The only other disappointment was discovering “Charlie’s Gelato” (albeit without the required apostrophe in their roadsign, which almost stopped me trying it but not quite!) on our last day there. It was only a few minutes from where we were staying, and was so good!  The summery temperatures were perfect for gelato, and it would have been hard to resist if we’d gone earlier in our stay. (As you might know if you followed my Lemons to Limoncello three months in Italy, I adore gelato, and ice-cream generally). Maybe that’s a good thing!

An outing at a regional park brought us unexpected delights too. We’d hoped to walk some of the seafront trails, but again the rain arrived, so we only had fleeting stops at coves in between the rain showers. But the sheer number of pukeko, a native swamp hen, roaming free was surprising, and so many of them had young chicks, all fluffy and black and awkward and cute. We couldn’t stop smiling at them.

We called in at my sister’s place in Tauranga over the weekend to see them, catch up with almost-teenage Charlie (!) and watch her volleyball game, see their new kitchen (which still needed a few finishing touches, including plumbing!), have a good catch-up, enjoy the beauty of their region, and of course to pick up some avocados from their orchard.

There was one more stop before we arrived home, but it was very special, and so I’ll write about that another time. The important thing is that we got home in time for my husband to go to golf, and for me to open a bottle of chardonnay in blissful solitude.

* I’ll write more about kauri on a Thursday Tree blogging day – they deserve more than a passing reference.

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#15 of Blogging with Friends

My mother was born a Rose, and I always envied her that. It’s a beautiful name, but she then became a Rooney, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. It was common in the small farming district where I grew up thanks to my grandmother and my father and his brothers and my cousins. Otherwise it was not a common name – not one I saw in the media, or read in books, though not as unusual as that of friend who was the daughter of Dutch immigrant. But it was odd enough that people generally asked to hear it twice, and were uncertain how to spell it. I used to have to say “like Mickey” but not everyone understood the reference, despite all the replays of his movies that were shown on Sunday afternoons in the days when NZ only had one TV channel. By the 2000s, especially in Europe, it got easier. I remember in 2007 being amazed that a German hotel receptionist just nodded, and said, “yes, like the football player!” It was my first experience in many years when I didn’t have to spell the name, or think carefully whether the person listening would understand if I said, “double O.” (NZers typically spell things this way, saying “double L” or “double S” for example, but we’ve been told that others don’t do that.)

That double O has been problematic for much of my life. For some reason, a lot of people see Rooney (my surname) written down and automatically change it to Rodney. It makes sense when typed or written in upper case, but it annoys me nonetheless. A Cambodian official used to call me Rodney, which bugged me slightly, and I’ve had air crew look at my boarding pass and say, “Welcome aboard, Ms Rodney!” That’s a minor gripe though, compared with the habit a bunch of kids developed in high school, lengthening those Os, adding a few more, intoning my name and that of my cousin (in the same year) to mock us or embarrass us. When I got my AFS scholarship to Thailand, my class bought me a T-shirt with a NZ logo on the front. I was thrilled till I turned it around, and found they had written my name with four – FOUR!!! – O’s on the back. I took the T-shirt to Thailand, and wore it, and so of course, that meant my AFS friends adopted the same habit of lengthening my name, though with – I hope – more affection than mockery.

There’s obviously something about that particular combination of consonants and vowels, as ten years ago or so people started ending words with “ ….arooney.” (Search, for example, the word “fabarooney.”) I’ve even heard Stephen Fry do it on QI! I remember my friend saying it to me casually in a conversation, not even realising until I laughed and pointed out what she was doing!

And I’m not even going to begin to discuss what happens when a woman with a name beginning with an R spends a lot of time in Asia, where they have pronunciation difficulties with Rs and Ls, interchanging them frequently. Think about it.

Still, it is my name. I chose to keep it (or rather, I chose not to change to something new) when I married, sticking to my principles, happy to remain the person I’d been since my birth. I’ve never been Mrs <Husband’s name>, sticking to Ms or preferably just my first name and my surname.

And now I have another name too, also a flower name. Whilst I was given the name in 1980, I never really used it until I began blogging. I’ve been Mali (Thai for “jasmine”) for over 12 years now. I quite like the fact that I am Mali to so many, and I know I will answer to that when (I am being positive here) I eventually get to meet so many of my fellow bloggers and readers.

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