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Usually, New Zealanders get irritated when we are ignored. It is common when overseas to have to explain to people where our country is in the world. And for goodness sake, New Zealand is often even dropped off world maps. But this week, we’d far prefer to revert to our more familiar incognito status.

The common theme in the media here is shock. It’s the first word almost anyone uses. I’m not so surprised, though, that this happened somewhere in the world, given events in recent years. Given international travel, social media, media agencies that irresponsibly support extremist attitudes, changing rhetoric, and right-wing moves, there is nowhere now that is truly immune from that. Not even here. But with a progressive government, and a diverse and accepting society, until now we have always felt safe in New Zealand. (Well, except for natural disasters.)

For me though, I almost instantly reacted with anger. Anger that Christchurch, such a beautiful city, a city where I lived for five years during my university years, where I met my husband, and where I visited just a few weeks ago, should go through another major trauma when it is still recovering for the devastating earthquakes only eight years ago.

I was and am angry that a person or small group of people could be so cold and calculated. Anger that they could betray our country, betray our promise to those who were targeted that they would be safe and accepted here.

I was angry at the NRA (which extends its influence beyond just the US) and other weapons peddlers. There is a gun shop – the first I can ever remember seeing in our city – that opened about ten minutes away a few years ago. Almost every time I have driven past it I have resented its existence. It has never seemed to fit this city, this country. But on Friday afternoon and over the weekend, I felt overwhelming anger at it, its owners and staff.

And then, as we learned the shooter was Australian, there was even more anger at him. Anger that he would bring his toxic hate to our country, harm our citizens, ruin our reputation. And anger at their government’s policies over decades (centuries really), at their recent treatment of Muslim refugees, and the outrageous rhetoric of other politicians there that have legitimised this hate. And I’ve been angry at some of the people I know there who have supported some of these policies, and some of these attitudes.

And then we learned of his “manifesto” of hate, and of his admiration of Trump’s approval of white supremacist movements, and my anger surged anew. Anger at the language the US President used only hours later that echoed those of the shooter. Anger at those who apologise for Trump, but still support him and the racism he incites. Anger at those who may not apologise for him, but still support him openly whilst decrying any responsibility for the acceptance of this hate. Anger at those hypocrites who expressed their sadness in the media or online, and those who had the gall to accept condolences, whilst refusing to denounce his comments, his white supremacist supporters and his policies. Their silence, their hypocrisy, makes them complicit. And so I am angry at them too.

Social media is flooded with images, new profile overlays declaring love, strength, and echoing our Prime Minister’s words that “They are Us.” People share drawings of kiwis crying. I haven’t used any of these. It’s not really my style. And whilst I have appreciated my overseas friends who have done so to show solidarity, or who have sent messages, these actions don’t feel significant enough for me to encompass the depth of my feelings. They don’t express my disgust, my grief, my anger. And so I have abstained.

I don’t usually write posts such as this either. But I feel now, more strongly than I ever have, that silence is inappropriate, it is acceptance, it is collusion, it is complicit. So if you’re reading this, and you recognise yourself in my earlier paragraphs, know that I see through you too.

And if you have been one of those who sends love and support and is equally horrified and angry, know that we are strong, we are decent, and we are full of love. That’s what we have seen throughout New Zealand, and – mostly – around the world, since Friday’s events. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the way we have responded. I am proud that this has not been politicised here. I’m proud of our Prime Minister, who has been articulate and compassionate and decisive. And as my anger abates, exhausted, I am deeply saddened that it has been necessary.

 

 

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A lot of people wrote about International Women’s Day (IWD) last week. I may be a bit late, but I was interested to see what discussion there was about it here. I’ve since seen a lot of articles, and I’m still making my way through them. One piece particularly made me think, and it is probably why I am writing this here and now. This article talked about celebrating Women’s Day rather than Mother’s Day. As a non-mother, I appreciate this sentiment and wish I had thought of doing this too. After all, the most wonderful, caring, generous and talented women I know are not mothers either, and they deserve to be celebrated. And the wonderful, caring, generous and talented women I know who are mothers are also so much more than mothers, and they deserve to be celebrated too.

My husband and I are among the few people who still get the local newspaper delivered. (I do that because I like to read news that has been curated independently of my own interests and biases.) On Friday, the front page heralded International Women’s Day with a big headline that said, “Our day, our voices” and quoted our former Prime Minister, Helen Clark, saying, “None of us should rest until the serious inequities and injustice many women face around the world are overcome.” There were photos of many prominent women on the front page, including two of our three female Prime Ministers, and inside a two page spread with statements from 18 women about the day and what it means to them. It included the two PMs, the Minister for Women, Georgina Beyer (the world’s first transgender mayor and former Member of Parliament), local body politicians, the National Council for women, representatives of charities, sex workers, sexual assault victims, authors, sportspeople, ethnic groups and businesswomen.

They all had some great comments, and a few where I guess I rolled my eyes a little. For example, a couple of women, one who ran New Zealand’s largest company at one time, talked about growing up being told they could do anything.  However, one did qualify her statement by noting she was lucky, though it wasn’t clear how. And the former CEO qualified her statement by adding ” … when we had equal opportunities.” And now she works on empowering women. I hope she’s successful in that too, because I don’t like rolling my eyes when women are helping women.

A day after IWD, there were photos of a ceremony where our current Chief Justice (a woman) was standing down, and her replacement, another woman, was sworn in. We have a female Governor-General, a female Prime Minister, and a female Chief Justice, as we did in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It seems unremarkable to me now (or perhaps, still just a little remarkable or I wouldn’t mention it here). Perhaps I’m just happy at what “normal” in New Zealand has become.

Back to the original article. I guess I related to a sentence in Helen Clark’s statement the most, though equally a number of the women shared the same sentiment. She said,

“… I celebrate progress to date on gender equality, but also reflect on how much more remains to be done.”

 

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Apparently, more wealth means less empathy. I wonder if I should be surprised that this is news? Surely it is quite obvious?

A friend I haven’t seen since 1981 (!) has suggested we Skype. I’m thrilled but have a small degree of hesitation. How come everyone else manages to Skype with good lighting and look great?

Why is it that no matter how many pairs of shoes I have, there were none that went with my dress (for a recent wedding)? (Fortunately, I found the perfect pair that was not too fancy so I can wear them more casually too.)

Does everyone else manage to go paperless easily? I never quite trust my devices, especially when it comes to travel bookings, and whilst I might use my Air NZ app to check in and board a flight, I always have a printed copy as well.

Is anyone else surprised that it is March already? Argh. I don’t think I’m quite ready for summer to be over.

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I recently finished the “line a day for three years” journal my niece gave me. Each day, it gave me a prompt for a quick response. I didn’t fill it in religiously every day but would almost always go back to complete the previous days’ questions. When I was not travelling, I rarely left it longer than a few days. It was nice to have – I felt as if someone, somewhere, cared what my answers were!

The three years I had this were not my best. They were far from my worst three years, but nonetheless, during the last three years I broke my ankle and was pretty much house-ridden for six weeks, my mother died, my mother-in-law died, I felt weighed down by the responsibilities of caring for our in-laws, I was on an unsuccessful job hunt, and had only one big trip to enjoy anticipating. So yes, as I flick through the book now, I can see that for much of the time I was feeling gloomy. Even when I wasn’t, a lot of my responses were about my in-laws. Or Trump. I’m sure you get it!

But there were happy notes in it too. Questions about funny things that had happened recently reminded me and made me laugh, including things my husband had said. Also, prompts about the last compliment I was given came up about every four months, so I had to find compliments a number of times. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes I couldn’t think of anything. But a lot were blog related, so thank you to anyone who has ever said something nice here or on my other blogs. It means a lot! Two compliments mentioned that I didn’t look my age, which I find hard to believe. And my great-nephew said that I was funny. Three years later, I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or not!

One of my favourite prompts was to note what the last nice thing you did just for yourself. My responses were always simple. A coffee and some time with a book. Taking some photographs. Successful diet days. Mini-moments, just for me. They’re good to note, to be grateful for. Otherwise, with everything else going on they can be easy to miss, easy to forget.

I enjoyed having these external prompts* and those few moments to write in the book before I would start whatever task I had come to my desk to complete. But now it’s finished, what can I replace it with?

 

* I know that sounds hypocritical, given my regular “blog posts I won’t be writing” about prompts that miss their mark. 

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In New Zealand, the month of January* brings with it a degree of liberation. January has a lightness of burden that comes with the departure of the previous year, along with all the negatives that arose with it. There’s a relief that the year is over, and so too is the busy Christmas season that – as much as I enjoy it – comes with obligations and duties as well. The sense of relaxation that the year proper doesn’t really begin until February, delivers the freedom that this is a time of limbo when we can step away from our normal lives, and do whatever we want.

It brings an often unfamiliar warmth with it that is wrapped in promise; the promise of summer fun, of beaches and ice-creams and nature walks, of chilled wine and drinks on the deck, and barbecues with friends and family. The warmth brings freedom too, from extra layers of clothing, from huddling inside, from the need for heat. It’s a time when we wear carefree clothes, and thrust open our windows to the summer air and its scents. Our shoulders drop, our necks lengthen, our backs straighten and we stand tall.

In my city, January brings a beauty only matched by Septembers’ kowhai blossoms, starting with the pohutukawa flowers in the first week or two. Long gone in its native environments to the north, the New Year in Wellington sees red trees everywhere. As you know, they lighten my heart and make me smile and exclaim with joy. As they fade, the agapanthus blue flowers burst forth. Hated by conservationists, as they are native to Africa and are therefore an invasive species here, they have been much-loved by the city’s gardeners. Hence, they are ubiquitous throughout the city, including my own garden, inherited from the previous owners. Their blue flowers, like the pohutukawa’s red blossoms, are a welcome shock of beauty in this evergreen town filled with native plants.

As the year in front of us stretches out as yet unspoiled, January delivers a sense of hope for new opportunities. This January was the first time in several years I have been able to embrace this feeling, and as February arrives, it hasn’t yet dissipated. It is, I have to say, very welcome. And as the year passes and opportunities fail to manifest and inevitably the sense of promise fades, the warm memories will linger.

 

* Inspired by Kim’s beautiful piece on January in the frozen north.

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Reading: I’ve finally finished The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, which is my first book of the year and my first book in a long time. I read only half of my 30-book target last year, a dismal performance that I hope to improve on this year. I’ve just started The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq (NOT the one by Alan Greenspan! and hope it won’t take me months to finish! Blogging and family events last year really sapped me of any reading energy or motivation, but this year I am already finding that I more time and enthusiasm for books and blogs. That makes me happy.

Watching: I’ve also just finished watching The Australian Open (tennis) every night, so I’m trying to get back to a more normal daily schedule. Before I got sucked into the tennis, I was binge-watching The Good Place, a fun comedy with equally fun plot twists that was just what I needed. There’s a lot of good quality TV about to start up. There are all the Oscar films to catch too. But with the hot sunny weather at the moment, it seems wrong to hide inside in the dark to watch a movie. Mind you, we might be seeking out the air-conditioning of a cinema soon.

Listening: I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Eddie Izzard reading his memoir Believe Me. It is really lovely. He’s reading the book, but he’s adding a whole lot of spontaneous footnotes, which are funny and often really touching. I am thoroughly enjoying this as I go on my walks around my suburb’s hills.

Following: I was following the tennis. There is summer cricket on, but I’m not really a cricket fan. And I’m fed up with politics, so right now I’m just following writers and people I know and like and admire, and on social media I am following a few photographers who inspire me.

Drinking: Lots of water. Today I’ve made some fruit iced tea (or it will be iced once it cools enough to add the ice) to keep me hydrated (and to replace lunch). We’ve enjoyed some of the scrummy wines we bought when in the South Island just before Christmas too. Brennan Wines is my new favourite – they do some lovely wines, and we had a nice vineyard lunch there too. Unfortunately, they’re a smaller producer so as yet I haven’t seen their wines here. (Note to self: Must go check out some of the wine stores.)

Eating: Seasonally. And of course, at this time of year, there is wonderful produce. My favourite summer vegetable medley is on the menu tonight, with eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, and cherry tomatoes dressed with mustard and balsamic vinegar. Yum.

Anticipating: We have a wedding anniversary next week (one that ends in a five), and so we’ve booked a favourite but expensive (so we haven’t been for a couple of years) restaurant for dinner. Then a week later we have a family wedding to attend, which will be nice because I’ll get to see my two nieces who live in Australia. And we plan to head over the hill at some stage to enjoy the vineyards and olive groves with friends. So February is looking like a happy month.

Contemplating: How I want to spend (and fund) the next five years or so of my life.

Loving: The relative freedom of the warmth of summer, the ability to get out in nature (we went for a walk on a new track yesterday), and the long summer evenings. Summer in Wellington doesn’t last too long, so we’re soaking it up (whilst complaining about the heat at night) while we can.

Still unashamedly copying Loribeth’s regular series.

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A few nights ago, just as I was about to go to bed, I looked out the window and noticed a stunning moon. The moon was big and bright and surrounded by interesting looking clouds. So I rushed and got my camera. Though by the time I had set it up on the tripod, the clouds had gone.

“Never mind,” I thought. “This is an opportunity to practice moon shots, and to see if my new lens is any good for it.”

So I stood outside on the deck, and snapped away. I got distracted when I saw some mist hanging in the valley, and snapped away at that too. Then I decided to try my hand at some star shots, and played some more. I discovered that a 30 second exposure is sufficient to prove that the earth is turning (ie, far too long to photograph stars!) and got a decent photo of what we call The Pot (which is also Orion’s belt but the northern hemisphere’s version is upside down and so not the cooking pot/saucepan that we see here).

It was a beautiful evening, and I was still in the strappy sundress I’d been wearing all day. By this time, I knew it had been a mistake to dash outside so quickly. I was starting to itch. But the clouds had returned around the moon, and I had to try that too.

Finally satisfied I headed inside, with an urgent need for medication for insect bites. It took ages to get it on and even longer to begin to feel some relief – perhaps another hour. I felt distinctly unwell.

So I’m not 100% convinced that I want to photograph the supermoon tonight. Lesson learned though. If I do venture out, I will be wearing insect repellant!

Footnote: There were no photos good enough to show you.

 

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