Archive for the ‘Just life’ Category

Three weeks ago, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece came to stay. We had a lovely time, walking around the harbour on the one day we had beautiful weather followed by authentic Italian pizza, introducing my niece to the concept of  yum cha for lunch (it was a hit!), and a day later, going out for Vietnamese for dinner in the city. And on two of the coldest, bitterest days we have had this winter, there were several successful shopping trips. By night, we were cosy at home, with the heating cranked up, nice wine, and home-cooked Thai curry and (the next night) lamb tagine (to round out our international eating tour), and good conversation.

And of course, when we needed some quiet time, we would all delve into our devices, in which we read about COVID-19 cases skyrocketing around the world, and even closer to home (in Melbourne, Australia, where another niece lives). I read about the despair of my international friends in the UK and US at their fellow citizens or governments, or the cautious reopenings in Malaysia and Thailand. And in Japan, my AFS sister was finally released from her Tokyo apartment to visit her in-laws in the country, relishing her day out in the garden. Perhaps because my social media is full of these offshore friends and family, my life has felt particularly surreal, simply because of its easy conviviality, its normalcy.

We walked into stores displaying COVID-tracing bar codes, and – along with 99% of Kiwis – didn’t scan them. We ate in crowded restaurants. We weren’t bothered by the crowds, or by the occasional sniffle or cough from someone else. So far (and I always say “so far” because I am well aware that nothing is certain), we are free of community transmission. And as we hugged hello and five days later hugged good-bye, I knew how lucky we were and are, to visit friends and family, to be able to travel freely within our islands.

I do however feel a degree of survivor’s guilt, whenever I think of my friend isolating in DC on her own, and my sister-in-law and another friend going through cancer treatments on opposite sides of the world, and a niece about to give birth in a pandemic in Australia. Rest assured, I am not taking our freedoms for granted. I know it could all go away again soon.

But we’ve now been out of lockdown longer than we were in it. We’ve had approximately 80 days since our last community transmission case. It feels completely surreal, that today we are so free, and yet the pandemic rages offshore. John Clarke, aka Fred Dagg, told us in the 1970s, “We don’t know how lucky we are!” He was right. With a cultural inferiority complex, mMost of the time, in New Zealand, we don’t know that. But today? Yes, the difference today is that right now we know just how lucky we are.

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I’m in the midst of a big change. I’ve taken the plunge. Decided it was time. Decided if anyone has a problem with it, it says more about them than it does about me. Still a bit nervous, but not enough to stop doing it.

It was the lockdown, you see. Seven weeks when I only saw my husband, or neighbours on walks, or friends/family on Zoom. Gradually, as the weeks went on, I got used to it. Became fascinated by it. Realised I quite liked it, in a strange – to me, at least – kind of way. Then our lockdown ended, our communities declared COVID-free, and I had no reason to be shy, to stay inside, to stay away from people. I took tentative steps out, feeling a little exposed.

I hoped it was obvious enough to seem deliberate. I was aware of the double standards around it. Fine for men, but questionable for women. Fine for blonds to show theirs, but not for brunettes. I waited a bit longer. I was coping so far, and the longer I waited, the more it became something that seemed doable. Great reactions from a friend the first time we met post-lockdown encouraged me to continue.

Winter helped. Cold weather encourages hibernation, scarves and hats, shoulders held high around our necks keeping us warm. But that made me wary of taking the next step.

Finally, last week, it was time. I couldn’t delay any longer. Time to see if I could really do it, or if I would backslide, leaving the big decision for another day, month, year. So I took the plunge, dived in, got rid of the old, and emerged anew. Looking fresher, younger even, which was unexpected. Looking authentic. Surprisingly, to me at least, feeling authentic. Feeling free. I didn’t see that coming.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I have embraced the grey/silver/white. It first started appearing in my mid-20s, so it has been with me a long time. I don ‘t regret colouring. I’ve heard (and seen) a few self-righteous mid-50 year olds possessing only a smattering of greys and silvers in amongst their mostly dark hair criticise those of us who have coloured. But they didn’t have to face that in their 20s or 30s or even 40s. So I don’t criticise anyone for colouring. I just always knew it was coming. I didn’t want to be my aunt, who coloured her hair jet black into her 70s. When she finally grew out her dye, she had beautiful soft white hair. It was rare to see a Thai woman with grey or white hair, but the black hair on 70-and-80-year-olds never looked natural or right to me.

Ultimately, colouring perpetuates the image that ageing is a bad thing, that women need to be young or appear young to remain attractive. I knew that of course. But peer pressure and judgement is powerful. I’ve read people who have said they are embracing the grey because they don’t care, using a hashtag #greyhairdon’tcare. It’s not that they don’t care about their appearance, as implied by judgemental others. What they don’t care about is society’s obsession with youth, particularly for women, and society’s obsession in controlling how women should look and behave. They – perhaps I should now say WE – don’t care about the peer pressure, the double standards (the “men look distinguished, women look old” lying distortion of beauty), the way our appearance is so often related to value. It’s so wrong. It’s so sexist. It’s so discriminatory. I’m so over it all!

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Right Now

Reading: I struggled with reading during March, when the pandemic was ramping up, the rest of the world began shutting down, and we then closed down towards the end of the month. Like so many people, I became a little obsessed with reading articles, until I finally stepped away from my devices (where I read my books too) to try to escape from reality. So I did not finish one single book in March. By April we were in full lockdown in NZ, and although case numbers started going up, we knew we were doing something proactive, and there was a degree of comfort cocooning at home. I finally finished Bridge of Clay, by Markus Zusak, which had taken me a while to really get into and begin to enjoy. I decided some happy easy books were required to get my reading mojo back, and read a book that shall not be named, before getting into the lovely The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne that whisked me to Ireland, and Eleanor Oliphant is Complete Fine by Gail Honeyman which had more depth than I expected from the title and cover art.

A friend raved about Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton that, like Bridge of Clay, is about teenage boys in Australia living tough lives. I enjoyed the location, the matter-of-fact integration of refugee/immigrant families into the story, and the writing, although it was a difficult read (emotionally) at times.

I discovered too a detective series with a difference, set in Italy and based on the art world, by Iain Pears. The series is called the Jonathan Argyll series, which annoys me a little because as far as I am concerned, the main character is the female Italian detective, the secondary character is perhaps the male Italian detective, and Jonathan Argyll has more of a bit part. But he’s English and male, so gets top billing! Now, aside from that, I read the first two of this series in May and June respectively, and will read the rest. They’re simple, fun, but perhaps a little predictable. But I love the settings, and the subject matter is interesting. Definitely a cure for a missing reading mojo, and I’m saving the next book for when I need it!

I finished with Jodi Picoult’s A Spark of Light which tackles the issue of abortion in a southern state in the US. I didn’t love the structure of the book, as it works backwards, and I felt frustrated that I didn’t know the ending for most of the book, until I got to the Epilogue which wrapped it up for me! (If only I had checked the Table of Contents I could have saved myself some angst!) It covers a range of the issue’s complexities in the different characters, and I found it wasn’t quite as harrowing as it might have been. It’s worth reading regardless of your particular take on the topic.

I’ve read 19 books, 48% of my target for the year, and Goodreads cheerfully reminds me that I am one book behind schedule. No pressure! I quite like to be reminded, because it is very easy to be sucked down by the internet article vortex, and forget to turn back to books.

Watching: It’s been a great time to finish various series we had been watching, and to binge-watch a few others. I raced through a few series, but my favourites were probably Ozark, Marcella, and the second series of Dead to Me. I’m still mourning the end of The Good Place, and dip back into it again when I just need to feel better. The Prodigal Son is pretty gruesome at times, and a bit formulaic at others, but Michael Sheen is brilliant in it and well worth watching. My husband and I like to watch a programme together every evening, and together we’ve been through the latest series of Billions, and just started the latest season of WestWorld, but our highlight has been an entire BBC (I think) series, George Gently. It’s a detective series set in the 1960s and 70s which we recorded and have watched together, and is sad, and infuriating but beautifully done too.

Oh wait!  I’ve just had a look at different streaming services, and I completely forgot that Killing Eve has come and gone since I last wrote a Right Now post, and the last season of Flack, and Normal People, which I think I liked better than the book. (I know!) The book is excellent, but the characters were a little more likeable in the series, and it’s pretty faithful to the book.

And of course, almost every day I’ve caught up with the animals in Africa, via Wild Watch Live. I’ve seen little hyena cubs grow and emerge from their dens, at first wobbly on their feet, and some tiny lion cubs start to grow and join the pride, playing with each other and their mother. And it is always a joy to just sit and listen to the birds and sounds of the African bush.

Listening: Superb autumn weather and lockdown walks around my neighbourhood gave plenty of time to listen to audiobooks, and I raced through Kafka’s Metamorphosis read by Benedict Cumberbatch and How to Survive the Roman Empire, by Pliny and Me by Hattie Naylor. Every day during the lockdown at 1 pm I would try to remember to listen to the daily briefing from our Prime Minister and the head Health official, reporting on the status of cases within NZ. Those have ended now, but we still get more regular press conferences and comments that are covered by Radio NZ National, and there’s a comfort to being informed regularly by our leaders. I listen to the radio most weekdays, as it gives a nice coverage of current events, arts and literature, and local music. In the weekend I often listen to relaxed Spotify playlists if I’m writing or editing photos.

Following: The spread of the virus, closely followed by extreme stupidity, around the world. It has not been a particularly satisfying exercise.

Drinking: Not too much. We stuck very much to our routine through lockdown and as we came out of it, trying to ensure that there are two-three days that are alcohol free every week. I went seven weeks without a barista coffee, bu have had one or two a week since then.

Cooking: Oh, the cooking! Over the lockdown, and before we could get back into eating takeaways or going out for lunch again, I enjoyed cooking and meal planning and rather belatedly got into baking. I made for the first time:

Chocolate Marshmallow Easter Eggs, Sticky Cinnamon Buns, Chocolate Peppermint Slice, pizza dough (for homemade Margherita Pizza), Roti Canai (a flaky flatbread), naan bread, focaccia bread, and thanks to a blogger friend from Slovenia, Bread by Klara.

And made some old favourites: ANZAC biscuits, chocolate chip cookies, lemon slice, cheese scones (almost weekly)  beer bread, hot cross buns (though a new recipe).

Eating: See above! Since all our restrictions have been lifted, we’ve gone out for dinner a couple of times, have enjoyed takeaways (burgers, fish and chips), and have enjoyed a couple of lunches out too – Chinese food, an Indian curry, Subway etc. In fact, yesterday I added up how much we spent on buying food out of the house yesterday and it was a bit shocking after a couple of months of none of that. No wonder so many cafes and restaurants have gone out of business. I’m doing my bit to help them out now!

Wearing: The winter wardrobe is well and truly out, as I largely live in black long-sleeved thermal tops under jackets, cardigans, fleeces etc pretty much from May until October. Winter jackets are out, and I’ve even had to resort to a scarf one day already!

Anticipating: A visit early next week (I obviously wrote this last week – it’s today!!!) from my sister, niece (the famous Charlie), and brother-in-law. We haven’t seen them since November, so looking forward to exploring Wellington, eating out, and just catching up.

Trying: Not to get depressed about the international situation, focusing on what we can do here instead.

Loving: Living in New Zealand. We’re lucky. We’re far from perfect. We have an election in September that worries me. But at the moment, we have no COVID community transmission, and that means, compared to much of the rest of the world, we are free. And I’m very thankful for that.

Still unashamedly copying Loribeth’s regular series every few months here on A Separate Life.

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