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Right Now (#13)

I haven’t done one of these for five months!

Reading: Not much. Not for a long time. I’ve been reading articles and newspapers and blogs, but few books. Travelling tends to accentuate that tendency too, as during the day we’re doing things, and in the evenings we’re out for dinner and walks, or I’m backing up the photos I took during the day. I’m hoping to get back into reading. I have so many “expired” books from my library in my reading app. I’ve started a dozen books this year, and finished only a few! Hopefully in the next few months I’ll get back to it.

Watching: Didn’t watch anything when we were away in May, but since we’ve come back I’ve been catching up. It doesn’t help that the cable TV box we have had for years is being replaced this week, and I’ve had to clear everything I had recorded. Watched the final series of Keeping Faith, which was excellent. Great acting, interesting story-telling, and quite a good conclusion. Yesterday I binged the four episodes of a documentary called Hillary made about Hillary Clinton’s life through to the end of the 2016 election. Enjoyed that too.

And of course, it was the French Tennis Open this weekend. I stayed up on Friday night to watch the men’s semi-finals, and ended up snatching half-hour naps before and between the two matches, and missed most of one set of the Nadal vs Djokovic match because I fell asleep on the couch! Last night I watched the Finals (a great match), that started at 1 am our time, and I finally got to bed about 5.45 am. I seriously need an afternoon nap now!

Listening: To very little again. A lot of our travel in May was in areas with poor radio or internet reception, and so we were just listening to some of the road trip music I have stored in my phone. I’ve been enjoying catching up with national radio articles since I got home, and once an injury to my leg has healed up, I hope to get back into some audiobooks, or even – shock, horror! – consider getting into some podcasts (as normally, I just can’t find the time or inclination to listen to them).

Following: The usual. Progress (or lack of progress) with COVID-19 and vaccinations here and across the globe. News. Photographers I envy.

Drinking: Enjoyed some good wine on our trip at some fancy restaurants in major wine producing areas. We decided we should splash out occasionally on some nice bottles, rather than pay money for average bottles we’d rather not drinks.

Cooking: It’s been a struggle getting back into cooking after a month (almost) away. It’s been nice doing my Thai favourites – Thai fried rice, and Green or Massaman curries – since we got home. I’m need to experiment with new recipes, as I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately. Or just revive some old favourites I haven’t made in ages. I’d like to do a bit more baking too, as – other than the occasional loaf of bread or batch of cheese scones – I’ve not baked all year, and there’s something about homemade biscuits or slices.

Eating: Too much, probably! That’s what travel does for you. We appreciated some wonderful restaurants in Queenstown, both fancy AND casual, trying variations on Asian and Pacific food as well as more traditional fare. It was cold as well, and so instead of a salady thing for lunch when we were travelling, I’d end up trying a southern specialty, a cheese roll, or a  traditional kiwi meat pie. And if we stopped for a break when we were driving, it was too tempting not to have a slice or a custard square with a coffee. Sigh. So all these things are off the menu right now! I am however looking forward to making more soups this winter for lunch. Warming AND healthy. And I plan on making a big batch of pumpkin gnocchi to freeze soon too.

Wearing: My winter uniform of black jeans and black thermal top under jackets or coats or the occasional cardigan. I can dress it up with scarves or jewellery, which is fun.

Appreciating: Our trip. I was so grateful for New Zealand’s beauty, our COVID-free status at the moment, the fabulous weather (even when it snowed, it didn’t affect our travels), and the fact that my husband enjoys these travels as much as I do, and is patient when I want to take photos. We had over three weeks away enjoying the stunning South Island, when we never got bored, loved the scenery and the old gold-mining towns and the lack of crowds and the new places and the old memories. I even enjoyed the freezing frosts at my sister’s house! Oh, and here’s a travel tip: three weeks was not enough!

Anticipating: So many projects I want to do. One is a bit boring (decluttering) but must be done, others are about house maintenance/renovation (kitchen, entrance way, our bedroom etc), one is about blogging (watch this space), a couple about photos and photobooks, one is about language learning, and a few other ideas are slowly percolating. I’m also looking forward to spending some time with a friend who has just taken a break between contracts, and will be free for lunches and adventures (I hope!).

Trying: To grow my hair. It’s passed the really awkward stage when my kinky grey hair was too short to straighten, and so looked like your average old-fashioned 80-90 year olds’ style. Sigh. I’m trying to figure out when to go get it cut to coax it into the shape I want, but think I’ll give it another month at least.

Checking: My health. I’m doing the compulsory regular check-ups that were due this year all in a couple of weeks. Fingers crossed all will be well. I know how lucky I am to be able to afford one of these checks on health insurance, and to get another as part of a national screening programme.

Loving: Being home. Knowing that, after this week (when we have a few appointments), I have projects to occupy me that will also hopefully give me a real sense of satisfaction when (not “if”) I finally finish them!

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

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New Zealand is a beautiful country. It’s a stereotype, but it is true. Of course, most countries are beautiful – nature astounds us, whether in a desert or a rainforest or a back garden – so it is probably an accurate statement to say about anywhere you might go. But – and here I will show my bias – New Zealand is stunning. The South Island, where I grew up, is the jewel in the crown, though the beauty in the north is also varied and breath-taking, and shouldn’t be ignored. The key thing you need to see New Zealand is time. Time to navigate the roads, to include options for bad weather, to enjoy in the scenery (whether on the side of the road, or in amongst it), or to enjoy the food and wine. We just spent three and a half weeks doing that, in the South Island. It was wonderful.

What did we do that was new? Well, we visited a seal colony we hadn’t been to before, stayed in a new town on the West Coast, drove a mountain pass between the two coasts that we haven’t driven for maybe 20 years, stayed in five different places I’d only ever visited on a day trip or passed through, photographed the Milky Way one cold dark night in a Dark Sky reserve, took a cruise in a fiord for the first time, walked amongst the Southern* Alps, and saw some camera shy Little Blue Penguins coming in from shore. Almost everything we did was free too! Well, except for the fabulous food and wine in Queenstown. And last but not least, we caught up with family. They’re a bit camera shy too. Though in retrospect, I wish I’d caught up with a couple more, who are no longer with us.

An adventurous baby seal
No stars today! A daylight view from Mt John Observatory
Walking the Hooker Valley Track
Milford Sound, Fiordland
A childhood memory

It was also the first time we’ve travelled south in May. (Well, except for when we lived there in the 1980s, or brief flights for me to visit my parents when they were alive.) I thought it might be cool, but instead, at first, we had shirtsleeve sitting-outside-eating-an-ice-cream weather. But then I didn’t expect to drive into snow either, although I was thrilled to see it, as we haven’t had snow in Wellington since 2011. I’d thought that the autumn colours might be gone, but they were in full force in many places, delighting me constantly. (Wellington is beautiful, but it is an evergreen city.) So I found a new autumn banner for this blog. (See above!)

Autumn in Central Otago
Snow in May!?!

* An unoriginal name for the mountain range that stretches up the South Island. Not quite as unoriginal as “the South Island” though, I’ll give you that! The official name is Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana. The Maori name means “Mirage of the Ocean” which I think is lovely. FYI, the South Island is also equally and officially known as Te Waipounamu.

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When I was little, my aunt, the youngest of my mother’s siblings, was the height of sophistication. She lived and worked in Wellington, and had lived overseas, in the exotic if small Solomon Islands. To a little girl (and then a not-so-little teenager) she was proof that there was a life outside my small rural district.

More than that, she was proof that you could grow up there, with no money, and the world could still be your oyster. Because of her, I never questioned that I could have a role in whatever field I chose. She showed that maybe I could belong there too, amongst politicians and journalists and businesspeople. She also proved that women could rise in a man’s world, becoming the editor of Rural Report, the daily radio news programme about developments in rural life and business, so important to NZ’s economy then and now.

At one time, I would have said her role as a successful woman  influenced me the most. But these days, I’m not so sure. As I see the advantages that the children of my friends and relatives have because of the experience and careers of their parents, the confidence and even entitlement they have that they deserve to be in these worlds, I see how much harder it was for us. Without Irene as an example, I might have questioned my worthiness more. And believe me, imposter syndrome has me doing that quite often enough!

She also told me, and taught by example, that you didn’t have to be a loud, aggressive journalist to succeed, to get the answers you wanted. That gave me confidence to know that I could achieve the same or better results as a male diplomat or business person by approaching things differently. And experiences proved that.

I still remember the beginning of a line of a feature written about her in “The Listener,” the first time I’d ever read anything about a woman from Waimate in a national magazine.

“You’d think that Irene S had never placed her elegantly-shod feet in anything but an executive shag-pile carpet, but …”

That line just showed me the possibilities of life.

Irene wasn’t a constant presence in our lives. She lived far away, and she wasn’t a great correspondent, and phone calls were rare. But when we saw her, and her gregarious, funny husband, and cool, creative daughter, we had her attention. She never looked down on us. She was calm and kind and, as her sister-in-law said this week, full of grace. A Strong, tranquil, Rose.

We lost Irene this last week. In reality, we lost her some years ago, a particularly difficult situation for my cousin D to deal with. As D said once, “words had been her life, then very quickly words were taken from her.” Her dementia was much more unkind – no, cruel – than that my mother suffered. Her end was peaceful, and for that I am grateful.

My heart this week has been with D and B. Memories of Irene have comforted me, and I hope will continue to comfort them through the next days, weeks, months and years. We were lucky to have her in our lives.

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