Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

I’m writing this at my desk, with the wide open large skylight above me, and the window behind me – creaked open after a winter closed tight against the cold, wet and wild southerlies – is poised to bring in a cooler breeze, though so far without luck. The sky is blue, and the sun is heating the house, and outside I can see butterflies and hear the tui and other birds chattering away.

After I renewed my driver’s licence (a quick and efficient process, though one that, annoyingly, doesn’t allow me to approve the photo they take for the licence) in town this morning, my husband and I decided, for a change, to drive around the harbour for lunch. The water was blue and calm, and the temperatures warm, and we wound our way around the bays, amazed at this uncharacteristically balmy November weather. Even the pohutukawa are all coming out weeks earlier than usual – I’m hoping they’ll still be in fierce, red bloom when the overseas family arrive in a few weeks.

We stopped at a café that has a lovely view back across the harbour to the city. We found seats under an umbrella to shade us from New Zealand’s fierce UV rays, and enjoyed a delicious lunch of decidedly summer vegetables and flavours.

An elderly couple sat near us with their glasses of chilled white wine, and we looked at each other in disgust, wondering why on earth we didn’t think of that!


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I need to keep it short and sweet on today’s Microblog Monday, after my last post, which was not a microblog post, despite it being about Microblog Mondays.

I’ve broken away from my usual modern literature reading in the last month, to read some enjoyable and interesting non-fiction, including Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, and most recently, Sue Perkins’ Spectacles.

Some thoughts about aging, the first being the need to plan well in advance, and to make decisions before you think it is necessary, because by the time you need to have made some of these decisions, you’ll be much less capable of doing so.

Secondly, people often talk about maintaining dignity in old age, confusing it with pride, and implying that this is only possible when you are independent. However, I become more and more convinced that true dignity is being able to admit when you need help, and to accept that with grace.

The weather is warming nicely, and we’re all starting to be a bit hopeful that this year we might actually get a summer, after the disappointments of last year.

With spring well and truly here, with bright light earlier in the morning and later at night, the need for spring cleaning is becoming more and more obvious, and will need to be tackled soon.

I may not have cleaned, but I’m feeling quite smug that I only need to buy three more Christmas/birthday (thanks to my sister and a sister-in-law who both have birthdays on 20th December) presents before the end of the year.


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(a continuing series)

Create a list of your top favourite costume choices for this year.

I’ve never been into costumes, and never had the need to, especially as Halloween is not something many of us engage in here, certainly not those of us who don’t have kids or nieces/nephews in the same town.

Show us your pumpkin before and after whatever you chose to do to it.

Putting aside the fact that this sounds semi-risque, I think that the before and after of a pumpkin soup, which could be a particularly boring post (not that this is knocking it out of the park!) given that there are pumpkin recipes everywhere on the internet (even though I make a yummy one – hint, don’t ever use potato), and the before and after of pumpkin gnocchi (which I’ve written about before), would just be repetitive, though the mere thought of it makes me salivate.

Share a slow cooker recipe you love.

Besides the fact that it is spring, and slow cookers are going into an annual hibernation as we say good-bye to slow food and hello to salads and barbecues, I don’t own a slow cooker, because I would need to be organised and plan meals ahead to use it, and I tend to cook whatever I have in the fridge, usually as a quick curry or stir-fry, and besides, where would I put it?

Give 10 reasons why you’re glad it’s Fall.

I’m not writing this one for an obvious reason, given that I live in New Zealand (kinda the reason I’m not writing any of the other posts too), and I’m not glad it’s Fall because a) it’s not, and b) we never call it Fall here, as the correct word is Autumn; though to be fair I might write a version of this next April, as I can be quite fond of autumn, but only if we have a decent summer, and that’s never guaranteed … though today it is at least looking (and feeling) promising.

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Often in New Zealand we are so hopeful for spring to arrive that we decide 1 September is the first day of spring, but it hasn’t really officially sprung yet, and truth be told, there is always at least one more winter storm to arrive before spring really sets in in October, but there are signs, and it might be premature of me, but I think right now they’re worth celebrating.

On our morning walk this morning, the tui were all going crazy, flying in and out of the vibrant yellow kowhai trees in flower, often the first sign of spring when everything else is grey and bare.

We had a rough weekend, but I went out on the deck today to try to get a shot of one of the aforesaid tui, as two of them were chattering and clacking in our tree, and although they flew off, it was warm enough to wander around in my socks and snap away some of the lovely camellia flowers in our garden, also a harbinger of spring.

As we’re getting back to normal after having a winter filled with our own travel and with travellers arriving here, I feel the urge to spring clean and start afresh.

The first asparagus spears have peaked through the soil in my friend’s garden, and I can’t wait for more to arrive, and to find them regularly in the supermarket, as I eat seasonally, and I’m getting a little tired of the winter vegetables which have all been so expensive this year.

And as I write this, I look out at the wonderful spring light that is shining through our new fence on the driveway, and through the macrocarpa trees, and feel hopeful.

I know that spring can also bring other things, including fierce winds and dust and pollen and allergies, and the temperatures will stay low for a long time yet. But today there is a hope that it is coming, and that lifts my spirits.

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(a variation on a theme)

kowhai spring

  1. For weeks, throughout the city, I’ve been enjoying seeing splashes of yellow from the blooming kowhai, and even though they’re ending now, the yellow is there on the footpaths and roads and in the gutters – just a reminder of the passing seasons.
  2. I need sunglasses again to drive, though I fight against it, squinting my way along the road.
  3. There is asparagus in my fridge, and I’m starting to think about salads, and less about lamb shanks.
  4. It’s birthday season for family, and friends – so many of us have October birthdays, and it is lovely to be able to share it with them all, celebrating surviving another year on this planet.
  5. After months of living in a uniform of jeans (blue or black) with black woollen tops, dressed up or down with jackets or jerseys, it is hard to make decisions about what to wear, never knowing if it will be a last icy blast from the Antarctic, or if summer temperatures will tease.
  6. Pasta and chardonnay nights have resumed every Thursday.
  7. The cruise ships have returned to the city, though I haven’t seen any yet, and I always wonder at the hardy souls who risk coming to New Zealand in spring.
  8. Wellington’s spring winds have returned.

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It’s a long weekend in New Zealand this weekend, as today is Labour Day, and we’ve had a reasonably lazy time of it, enjoying a dinner with a friend on her birthday on Saturday, but we have suffered too for getting up way too early (4 and 5 am respectively) on both Sunday and Monday to watch World Cup rugby games (ie I almost forgot it was a #MicroblogMonday). Unlike the rest of Wellington that disappeared this weekend, we beat the rush and escaped last weekend, to Napier and the Hawke’s Bay, where we stayed in Ahuriri, an area that was lifted in the 1931 earthquake that the town, in a hotel with views of cliffs across the Bay, the Pacific Ocean, wharves, containers and cruise ships, tugs and fishing boats, and locals and tourists in kayaks and yachts.

Apart from bookings at a couple of highly recommended restaurants (one’s first class reputation was entirely justified and a highlight of the weekend, one was interesting but a bit disappointing), our weekend was unplanned. A small but stunning installation at the new art gallery and museum, focusing on the state of immigrant, itinerant workers in the region’s vineyards and fruit orchards, was a highlight, as was the very small basement exhibition on the earthquake, which featured the Morse Code transmissions from the navy ship – HMS Veronica – that was in dock at the time of the earthquake, and which led the first rescue attempts. A walk through the blossom and flower-filled streets afterwards had me looking up at the fabulous art deco buildings built as a result of the earthquake, now a tourist attraction in themselves.

The major reason for visiting the region – other than warm weather and a break away – is wine, and vines abound, along the coast where we enjoyed dinner, and along the Gimblett Gravels area that produces such fabulous Bordeaux-style blends, and more recently wonderful syrah that are fast disappearing out of our price reach, along with excellent chardonnay, tropical sauvignon blanc, riesling and more. Wine-tastings were, of course, compulsory, but these days if we are driving they have to be limited, so we only visited a few (though still managed to fill the boot of the car with some old favourites, and – always a treat – some new discoveries). A local farmer’s market on Sunday morning saw us tasting and buying treats to take home, from delicious macarons – consumed that night – made by the dejected but resilient Frenchman (the All Blacks had demolished his side earlier that morning in the World Cup quarter-final, but he was already joking that he had a black jersey ready for next weekend), to passionfruit and lime curd, Christmas and toffee and ginger puddings, olive oil, and plum sauce.


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For five or six blissful months, I have (mostly) felt safe from the sun. In the winter, I am covered up, out of the sun. But when I’m in it, I’m relaxed. This is not the case the rest of the year. Last Sunday, a lovely day, we considered walking over to our favourite brunch place. I sighed. It is October, spring is in full force, and I knew that if I was going to spend an hour or more outside in the mid-day sun, I would need to cover up, and use suntan lotion. We took the car.

New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. We (mostly) have temperate climates (if you can call Australia’s regular 40 degree plus temperatures temperate), and very active populations that spend a lot of time outdoors. The man-made ozone hole over Antarctica extends over New Zealand and parts of Australia. It is beginning to heal, but will not be healed until 2070. In the meantime, exposure to the sun in New Zealand brings real risks – risks that you do not see in Europe. Peak UV intensities in New Zealand are about 40% greater than at comparable latitudes in Europe. I shudder when I see Europeans baking in the sun in the northern hemisphere, smeared with oil, something that went out of vogue in New Zealand by the 1980s. Fair-skinned northern Europeans (and their descendants who have spread throughout the world) are at risk everywhere. Sunbathing and a tan – any tan – is a recipe for wrinkles and leathery skin, for freckles and moles, for skin cancer and death. I’m not being melodramatic. A friend of my husband’s, about our age, died of melanoma two years ago.

My father too died of metastasized non-melanoma skin cancer. I have his pale Irish skin and green eyes. I burned badly as a child and teenager when we didn’t really know any better, but I’m very cautious of the sun now. Sunscreen is essential – carried with me during summer, always in the car (I love the high SPF Neutrogena spray cans that go on and stay on dry), and I won’t buy a moisturiser or makeup that doesn’t have SPF protection. Hats too are important. If we’re going to be out for a long time, we might wear long sleeves, and a collar to protect the hard-to-cover back of our necks. Sitting outside for lunch is one of the joys of spring and summer, but I need shade. Huge umbrellas at a café table, or picnics under a tree, are perfect.

I get annual skin checks. Earlier this year my GP removed two moles, just to be careful. I have tried Mole Mapping, but frankly, I have so many moles and freckles, it seems like an impossible task. I try not to be too paranoid, but being conscious of the risk makes me alert and cautious. I hope that’s a sensible balance. Certainly, getting our skin checked regularly is the bare minimum we should do. Today’s National Skin Check Day campaign has reminded me it is time for my annual check.

Spring and summer. They bring light and warmth and hope. But they bring danger too. Beware!

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