Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

It is quarter past 10 on New Year's Eve and pouring with rain here in Inglewood so some brave souls are outside setting off their fireworks already. What's a couple of hours between friends? Happy New Year Everybody!

Over the years Paul and I have always intended to send Christmas cards with a Christmas letter. Recently, we succumbed to the fact that we are "busy" parents and so duly tried to send out an email instead--you know what I'm talking about. The generic letter with obligatory photos and updates that are intended to keep everyone on your email list "informed" as to what is going on in your lives. I've always struggled with the fact that if anything, they just skim the surface or worse, are a brag-fest. Note to all: I do love getting those emails, I really do. I read them and love to feel informed on what is going on in people's lives. I always appreciate the effort people go to in writing them. I just find it so hard to get started on them myself. First, it's the font. Then it's the font size. Then it's what order do I write things in, and what do I leave out in order to make it fit one page of A4? Too many decisions and I find the end result very unsatisfying. So this year, it's the blog effort. I shall email the link to all and sundry, and if they don't decide to read it, that's absolutely fine. After all, when I blog, I'm writing for myself first and foremost anyway.

So 2011 began as it ended: a fondue feast and lots of wine. Only the location and people involved have changed. At the beginning of the year we were celebrating New Year's with friends and family in Canada, so enjoyed a traditional fondue with my sister's family. It was a special time. On our way back home to New Zealand we enjoyed three fantastic days at Disneyland in L.A. They say it is the happiest place on earth and they are not wrong. I can still remember that feeling of awe and wonder as I walked through the gates and saw all the colours and beautiful things with the joyful music playing from somewhere overhead. I long to return and I know that every single person in my family feels the same way.

The school/work year started up again in February 2011: Paul teaching all levels of Maths at Boys' High for the 14th year, Sam in year 4, Madeline in year 2, and Violet and Abigail enjoying the last of their pre-school days. They turned 5 on the 31st of March and started school the next day without a second thought. If any two children were ready for school, my girls were. And so was their mother! They started school on a Thursday (not a tear was shed by any of us) and I was working on the following Monday. I had a week of relieving at the high school and then a good stint of relieving at St. Pat's to follow. I felt like I wanted to make the change to teaching primary and was fortunate enough to have a good relationship with my kids' principal who gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet. I loved it. Eventually I was given a permanent relieving position at St. Pat's, teaching one day a week in the senior class. It's been such a privilege to work with a wonderful class of kids and obviously, a huge thrill to be so involved in my own kids' school. And because I've been relieving rather than working full time, I've had plenty of time to walk my dog, go for coffee, go shopping, walk my dog, read, write, go for coffee...get the picture? It's been a good year!

It's been a fantastic year for the kids too, don't get me wrong. Sam has enjoyed his involvement in Cubs and has continued to show his talent in speech-making, named runner-up at the school speech competition this year. Considering that he was competing against kids in years 6-8 as well, this was a huge achievement. He has the advantage over everyone in that he can memorise things very quickly. He is known for reciting stories and facts that he's heard...over and over again. He's just been given a Guinness Book of World can imagine how I feel about that. But yay for Sam, he knows how to put that information to good use. He is also a prolific reader, which is a "yay" thing for his mum, the English teacher.

Madeline has had an excellent year in Room 2 of St. Pat's. I've had the privilege of teaching her and she's a completely different kid at school--quiet and shy rather than bossy and loud. I reckon every parent should have the opportunity to be a fly on the wall at school; it will tell them a lot about their child. Having said that, one quality in Madeline which is common at school and at home is determination. Although it can be frustrating at times when she is determined to make something work but is not quite getting it, I am thankful she has this quality. She will succeed in everything she puts her mind to. She went from reading below her age at the beginning of the year to being well above her age by the end. Honestly, I cannot count the number of chapter books that have thrilled her recently. Such a relief, to have another fantastic reader who loves books. She has also shown quite a talent for drawing and art and proclaims even now that she wants to be an art teacher one day. I intend to foster that enthusiasm.

Violet and Abigail started school on the first of April and have slotted right in to life in Room 4 at St. Pat's. It became clear fairly early on that Violet was catching on very quickly in both maths and reading. Eventually I realised why she was my most troublesome (said in the nicest possible way!) child; she was just so darned clever! And probably very bored! So school was certainly the best place for her and she has thrived, winning the principal's awared in her second term and achieving well above her age in all areas of the curriculum. In fact, we've had to face the fact that next year Violet and Abigail will be split so that Violet can move up to the year 2 class in order to be extended. She'll still be a year 1 and Abigail will move to that class later in the year, but in February we will have four children in four different classes at school. Recognising Violet's cleverness and wit has also made us appreciate her a lot more, especially for her confidence. You can always count on Violet to get things going!

Abigail has shone in different ways. If you need someone to help you, or to clean something, Abigail will be the first to volunteer. She'll finish the job and she'll do it well. If you want a picture beautifully and carefully coloured for the grandparents, Abigail is your girl. She is deliberate, careful, caring and exceedingly sweet but also cheeky and at times very very funny. It is not hard to fall in love with our Abby. It is however hard to get her to try something she's not sure of, especially when it comes to maths and reading. Funnily enough though, she's our go-to girl for anything daring like going on a roller coaster or riding the biscuit behind a boat on holiday. I guess there are different levels of confidence and if anything, Violet and Abigail are complete opposites. But twins. Go figure.

All three girls have dabbled in netball and recorder lessons this year as well as ballet for the second half of the year. Paul and I have made a philosophical decision not to put our kids into too many activities. Believe me, it's not easy when you see other kids given this that and the other opportunity. A little bit of self-doubt starts to creep in that we might not be doing the right thing; that our kids might be missing out. Peer pressure of the adult variety actually (and since this is my blog and not a generic letter, I can say what I like!). But then we just have to look at our kids playing outside, building forts or creating games on our high-performance see-saw (you'd have to see it to believe it) with their friends, and we remember why we made that choice. Kids have to be kids first. They can become accomplished later. But for now, when there are so many social, physical and intellectual demands on them during the day at school, why not let them just play afterwards, instead of carting them here there and everywhere? I know we're not wrong and I know that our kids are growing up fantastically. I am extremely proud of them, if you hadn't noticed.

Paul has continued to teach Maths at Boys High and take on the Christian group and the Cross Country team. The latter is his passion and he's achieved some great results with those boys. The best thing however is that it really isn't about the running results for him; rather, it's about giving a number of youth the opportunity to be part of something that is greater than themselves. I know with absolute certainty he's made a huge difference in many boys' lives. The running results are important too of course and the exciting thing this year is that a team of six of his runners has been chosen to represent New Zealand at the World School's Cross Country in Malta. So he'll be off to Malta with his team and a NZ delegation for two weeks in March 2012. Did I mention it was in Malta? That's in the Mediterranean. Enough said about that. Another opportunity has opened up for Paul next year at school and he will be in charge of leadership at Boys' High. It's something he does so well within his own team so I'm sure he will relish the opportunity to work with boys across the wider school population.

So we look ahead to 2012 and wonder what it holds for us and all. Hopefully a sun-drenched (as opposed to rain-drenched) holiday in the south island in a week's time. We'll be camping in Kaiteriteri while Paul's parents stay in a holiday home nearby. They'll be escaping the earthquakes and aftershocks which still persist. So hopefully no more earthquakes for Christchurch in 2012. Hopefully our kids continue to excel and enjoy life while I continue to find the balance between work and play. Hopefully we survive while Paul is away in Malta (the Mediterranean!). Hopefully Paul thrives in his new leadership position at Boys' High and has an exciting working year. And most of all, I hope that 2012 is a fantastic year of relationship-building between friends. Because that is the most important thing of all.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Snow Memories in Inglewood

Paul and the kids enjoying the falling snow, first thing this morning

Abby, Madeline and Mr. Snow (on a bit of a lean unfortunately)

Buster loving the snow

The sun came out and spoiled our winter wonderland

They said it was coming. Snow down to 300 meters. Inglewood is right on that level so I had two thoughts as I drifted off to sleep late last night, listening to the rain on the roof. 1) set the alarm and put more wood on the fire in the middle of the night. 2) open the curtains so that the first thing I see in the morning is a blanket of white. Just in case. But sleep took hold and I did neither.

Paul's alarm went off at 7 am and he got up unusually fast for a Monday morning. I, on the other hand, rolled over to catch a few more zzzzs. He was obviously on a similar train of thought to mine the night before because instead of dragging himelf into the shower, he wandered into the lounge. The next thing I knew, he was opening the curtains beside my bed with a big grin on his face. It wasn't just flurries that Inglewood hopefuls try to claim as snow. It was a glorious white blanket covering my ready-for-spring garden and it was still falling in large magical flakes from the sky. I jumped out of bed saying, "Oh my goodness; oh my Wow; oh my SNOW!" Paul had the pleasure of waking the kids to show them (apparently Madeline was sitting in her bed reading books and when Paul asked if she'd looked out the window, she was all, "no, why? Should I?"), while I scurried around looking for clothes to throw on and thinking to myself, "what do I wear? What do I look like? Do I need to shower before I play in the snow?" First things first and I ran and took some photos before the kids or Buster put their tracks into the whiteness. Then the phone rang and I was unbelievably asked to work at St. Pat's, which at least answered the question of whether or not to shower and what to wear. But then I wasn't sure if the kids should put their uniforms on or just snow clothes, so the actual getting dressed part of the morning took forever. We finally got there, or at least the kids and Paul did, Buster in tow. And let me tell you, that dog loves snow. Buster scampered everywhere and then rolled around in the white stuff, sniffing, snorting and having a rollicking great time.

Thankfully the phone went again and I was told the school would in fact be closed for the day, which meant I could stop rushing and start playing too. Paul eventually had to leave for work but the kids and I built a big snowman, made snow angels, caught flakes on our tongues and had a wee snowball fight. All those good snow activities I remember as a child growing up in the prairies of Canada, except we had so much snow that we would also be building snow forts and tunnels or tobagganing down the slopes. I used to play for hours out in the snow, bundled into my snowsuit, toque (beanie), scarf, mittens and fur-lined boots. Today, the novelty lasted, oh, about an hour. The kids got cold wet and hungry pretty quickly. I'm not sure if it's because the snow is wetter here or because we don't have the gear. I suspect it's more about the fact that kids today....

Alas the fun lasted but a few hours. Around noon the sun came out and the whole snowy neighbourhood started to steam. And drip. And then turn muddy. But what a great memory.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Definitely NOT a Vomitting Bowl

It's 10:20 pm on Sunday night and I should definitely be in bed. I had very little sleep last night after a dinner party and too much rich food, up early this morning to get ready for singing at church, and I spent the entire day watching the clock for bedtime. We finally got the children to bed and lunches made for school tomorrow when Paul talked me into watching one episode of Hustle. It was too early to go to bed he said. Well one episode turned into two and I seem to have got my second wind. I'm also recalling the events of the weekend and I'm starting to chuckle, so I've decided: I must blog.

We had a work dinner party to go to on Saturday night and because our wonderful babysitter has moved overseas, I had the challenge of finding a new one. It takes a rather special person (and capable!) to look after our brood you see. I was pretty confident in one find, but alas, she was busy and so we were stumped. To be honest, I was pretty tired (have been all week) and wasn't too fussed in the end if we had to bail seeing as it was a recipe challenge and mine was cannelloni--which I love to cook, but not this particular recipe and certainly not for a crowd (imagine stuffing 17 little tubes with mince and you'll get the picture). However, my lovely neighbour Caz came to the rescue and almost made it sound like we were doing her a favour by letting her babysit. Honestly, that's what she said. Lovely. And we couldn't refuse.

So our Saturday began with the girls' first ballet lesson in New Plymouth. Much excitement, much chaos and the fun of seeing friends and going for coffee. Next was a stop at Countdown to pick up the ingredients for the aforementioned cannelloni. I seriously tweaked the recipe to include ricotta cheese, garlic, fresh herbs and fresh homeade pasta and was much happier with it. Home for lunch, Sam on the computer, girls in their rooms for quiet time and I started cooking. I enjoyed the challenge of creating my own cannelloni tubes and it worked a charm. Soon it was time to get ready and when Caz and Lucy (her little girl) arrived at 5 pm, we said, "where's Sam?" It turns out, he'd gone into his room and fallen asleep. Paul woke him up because their dinner was nearly ready and it was time for us to go. He stumbled out of his room and Paul and I glanced at each other but didn't say a word. I think we knew deep down what was up, but didn't voice it because at that precise moment, we would have had to pull the plug and by then neither of us wanted to. We silently convinced ourselves he was just tired. He'd be fine.

Sure enough, just as we were sitting down to soup (the first of 9 courses!), we got the text. Sam had been sick everywhere! Poor Sam. Poor Caz! She didn't sound worried and he was by this point asleep in his sleeping bag so we decided to stay. There were still 8 courses ahead of us! Each one more divine than the other, culminating in tiramisu, my absolute favourite. And it was certainly worth waiting for (and clearly the trophy winner).

Home at 11:00 after a mammoth night of food and wine and Caz and Lucy were still up and in very good spirits. She'd even put the washing on for us and seemed to enjoy telling the tale of Sam vomitting all over himself. The routine in our house is that when you're sick, you get a large stainless steel bowl beside your bed. Sam often gets a headache (as on this night--I'm a terrible mother!) and he might be sick with it, so he knows the routine well. In her wonderfully expressive Scottish lilt, Caz described how she had given him some Pamol, sent him to bed and the next thing she knew, there was this voice shouting out, "BOWL!" Meanwhile the girls were watching "The Sound of Music"--longest movie EVER, according to Caz. That was a good con for sure. Caz ran to Sam who explained he was going to be sick and she ran back to the kitchen, looking for a bowl but of course I'd used every single one for my cooking (and hadn't yet cleaned them!). Apparently she ran back (and I do believe she ran) to Sam and grabbed what she described as a "red plastic-looking hat thing!" Well, that was Sam's fireman's hat. If you know Sam, you'll already be shaking your head and chuckling to yourself. It simply would not do for Sam to be vomitting into his fireman's hat. That's pretty much up there with reading a book to him that his name in it. No, much better to vomit all over himself, his sheets, his bed, everwhere. Poor Sam. Poor Caz! How glad I am that my babysitter was not a 14-year old girl that night. Nice to look back and laugh but I'm not sure that Caz thinks we were doing her a favour anymore.

Oh and Caz, if you're reading this? I know what I'm going to get Lucy for her birthday: "The hills are alive..." Something to remember us by!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mokau Beach Holiday Day 3

Abby's ABCs

She got to the end and asked us how to spell "and," then she asked, "now how do you spell now I know my abcs, won't you come and sing with me." Needless to say, we moved on.

Abby baking bread in the hut

Family photo in the hut

This was our last full day in Paradise. The weather has been absolutely stunning and we have thoroughly enjoyed days in the sun, gorgeous sunsets and crisp mornings. And I have enjoyed time in bed, reading and watching BBC dvds while trying unsuccessfully to get over this bug. I hate to harp on about being sick while on holiday but it is rather uncanny that I haven't been sick for ages and ages and I get struck just days before we go away. But when I think back to the last months since the twins turned five and how quickly those months have flown by, I realise that I really have never stopped. It's only a wonder that I didn't get sick sooner. However, the holiday was mainly about a break for Paul and he's certainly had that: the dining room table on which we were supposed to eat our dinner is now home to several puzzles, all of which are not completed. Not Paul's fault, but the fault of missing pieces. However, no way of knowing that until the puzzle is completed. He's puzzle-mad, that husband of mine. Anyway, I digress. We ventured to the river and the beach again today, this time consumed by making sand creations and shell sculptures. The tide was heading out, the sun was warm and we were pleased to see the hut from yesterday still standing. A group photo was necessary. And tomorrow we must pack up and leave, heading back to Taranaki for more adventures at home. Still 1 1/2 weeks of holidays left and surely I'll be better soon. Surely. I'm counting on it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mokau Beach Holiday Day 2

Sam and Violet discussing Construction plans

The cliff above Sam's head before the explosion and avalanche

Sam and Paul, working on the hut

Ta Da. The beach hut

Our Abby peaking through the gaps in the hut

A ditto day today. More time at the beach building huts and enjoying the warmth of the sun. Except I've been even sicker today so have spent a lot of time in bed reading my book, while Paul has played with the kids and taken them to the playground at Mokau school. My throat is so sore it hurts to breathe and I'm all aches and pains. Nurofen Cold and Flu works a charm but I'm aware that the only way to really get rid of this thing is to rest. At least the family is happy playing while I rest. And Paul is getting his much desired break and change of scene. Oh, I almost forgot the highlight of our time at the beach: happily scouring the beach for hut-building materials, we suddenly heard this great sonic BOOM coming from the highway. And then we saw half the cliff fall away. It was a controlled avalanche, obviously, but quite spectacular. Possibly not so spectacular for the miles of cars waiting for the road to clear while they travelled north and south. Fish and chips for dinner tonight from the Whitebait Inn: highly recommended. And now a nice quiet evening of games and puzzle building. My book and my bed are beckoning.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Winter Mokau Beach Holiday Day 1

At the top of our accessway to the river

Violet and Abigail

Sam and Madeline at the Mokau River

The waterfall we discovered

The girls, aka the Drama-Queens

Reminiscent of our beach time on Vancouver Island in December...except a whole lot warmer

Madeline's shell rings

Walking to the beach

Not a bit cold

I was the smart one behind the camera

Me and the kids with a view of home in the background

Mt. Taranaki


After dropping off Paul's parents at New Plymouth airport for their flight to Christchurch, we headed off on our holiday caravan style. By that I mean that Paul was in his car with the older two, while the twins and I followed along in our stereo-less courtesy car, bopping along to the Cranberries and Jason Castro care of Paul's cellphone. We had to take two cars on holiday, seeing as my van had a prang (entirely someone else's fault--and someone else's insurance thankfully) last week. Two cars for six people does seem like a bit of overkill but the holiday was booked and we knew we had some fantastic weather ahead of us.

We arrived at 13 Point Street, Mokau, just after mid-day. After exploring our bach and a quick bite of lunch, the children discovered there was a path from our backyard down to the Mokau River. We went on a little trek as a family, finding a waterfall and cave at the end of the line and then following the river in the other direction down to the beach. The waves were fantastic for jumping and dodging (or not--very wet children) and the beach was full of driftwood for hut-building. I should have thought to pack togs but who knew it would be this warm in July? The water certainly wasn't warm, but it didn't seem to bother anyone.

Back to the bach for some late afternoon down time: bach dvds for the kids, a nap for Paul (who did say something about a puzzle a few minutes ago, but now I hear him snoring) and blogging time for me. Unfortunately I have come down with a bit of a flu or something the last few days. All aches and pains in my head and back and a very sore throat. If I can manage to rest it off, I'm looking forward to an evening of wine and holiday food: a quick easy tea for the kids and maybe some mussels and yummy cheeses for us when they've gone to bed. If not tonight, then certainly tomorrow night.

Friday, July 15, 2011

When a Russian Indian is Exactly Perfect

You know it's been a tough day when you've had two glasses of wine even before you go out. Actually, it wasn't a tough day at all; many parts of the day were enjoyable. There was just one really niggly annoying thing (which wouldn't go away) that required fortification. And a good laugh. Thankfully, I had the foresight earlier in the week to know that a night out tonight, Friday night, the last day of a long term, would be exactly what the doctor ordered. And I nailed it.

Paul and I decided to try something a bit different for us and booked a table at PaNKaWaLLa on Devon Street. We love a good curry and were unphased by the prospect of an Indian meal, but decided to brush up on all things Mumbai just to be sure. Paul assured me it was the real deal: the maitre d who took our booking was decidedly Indian. So who could blame us for being a little bit taken aback and unprepared when having to decipher and interpret the accent of our waitress who was...Russian? Blond, blue eyes and very awkward. Who knew? I couldn't understand a word she said and was so completely overwhelmed by her...well, Russian-ness, that I made Paul signal me (a twitch of the ear) every time she approached, just so I could be ready to concentrate. It was just so funny. Not so funny when she forgot the cutlery, not to mention the plates ("please, don't eat: wait for plates" or something like that), but we were in such a mood that I'm sure she felt well forgiven. Actually, yes, even that was funny. The best thing about the night was that there was a huge party next to us, nearly 20 tables long, which meant that our meals took ages to come. Not a problem. The wine flowed freely, as did the conversation and the laughs. And besides: our baby-sitters were free tonight. We didn't mind how long the meal took. Enough said.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Canada Day Kiwi-Style

Abigail on the winter water-slide

Our Canada Day picnic feast

See? Proud Canadians!

Violet and Madeline still celebrating Canada Day on the see saw

Sam and Abigail, side-saddle style

Canada Day.

You might think from the title of this blog and the photos above that I had it planned all along. Beautiful sunny day, playing together as a family, picnic feast, roast dinner, etc etc etc. All that was missing was the street parade and fireworks. In actual fact, it all happened because of a bribe: "if you help us tidy up and clean the garage, we'll have a family picnic." I had two goals for such a sunny day: get the garage clean (Paul and kids) and create new garden for birthday gift plants (Paul and me). Then I noticed my neighbour's Canada flag waving (he's a Swiss Kiwi wanting to emigrate to Vancouver, hence the flag), saw my friend's notices on fb and realised, oh, it's Canada Day. Of course! That was first and foremost on my mind, naturally.

So while the children played in the sun, pretending to clean things in the garage which really meant pulling everything out and putting it on the driveway, I got busy in the kitchen, baking brownies and savoury scones for our picnic. Then they decided, "hey, the sun's shining; let's get out the waterslide." I went along with their enthusiasm as long as I didn't have to a) get togs and towels or b) clean up togs and towels. I must admit, they had a great time and what's a snotty runny nose among friends?

As I was preparing the last minute touches to our picnic (what could we possibly have in the fridge that would go with savoury scones and brownies--oh yes, salami, cheese, mandarins and carrots! Excellent!), Paul came into the lounge with a very satisfied smile on his face. I had no idea what he was up to but realised he had brought in a chair...with four legs. If you are friends of ours, you will know that we've had a chair crisis for at least...two years. Ever since we moved to Ingleside, our dining room chairs have been dropping, one by one. We've been managing with three chairs, 2 office seats and a piano stool for quite some time. But my lovely husband has just today discovered that three chairs with broken legs can become two sturdy chairs and one chair with no legs. I'm embarressed by how long it's taken us to work that one out! I'm sure he was inspired by Canada Day.

The picnic soon followed and it was a grand feast. I even found our Canada flag to adorn the celebrations. What a great time we had eating a variety of cheeses and sundry delicacies. Until my lovely husband said, "why don't you tell the children how Canada became a country and why Canada Day is celebrated?" Umm. Oh dear. What were those Social Studies and history lessons we yawned through at elementary school? I do have a book on my shelf...what's it called? I bluffed my way through a brief (very brief!) history of English and French relations and left it at that. Lovely husband indeed!

The afternoon was taken up by the children riding their bikes and playing on the see saw (oh what a fantastic toy that is--thanks Dave!) while Paul and I finished the garage and planted the new garden. We didn't exactly turn the soil for the entire garden I had envisioned, but we did plant the two things that needed to go in. And not only did we tidy the garage but Paul took the horrible mattress (bain of my life) to the dump. Such an improvement, Paul even got his car in.

But the day wasn't over and I cooked a roast pork, crackle, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas and corn, and...what was that other thing? OH! Sweet potatoes. Still in the oven. Oh dear. Might just have to make a casserole with those for tomorrow. Needless to say, we opened a bottle of 3 Stones Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for the celebrations--highly recommended--and lit the table centrepiece candles for dinner. Another grand feast enjoyed by all.

And to top off the night, at this very moment while I blog, Paul is reading to the children one of the last chapters of Anne of Green Gables. We've been working our way through it for several months and have thoroughly enjoyed our Anne moments together. But I had to check which chapter we were on tonight, knowing that we're near the end. It would not be possible to finish this day with that dreaded chapter of our beloved Matthew's death. I know we have to face it sometime soon (how will we do it?!) but not tonight. Not to cap off the most perfect day we've had in ages. Our Canada Day.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Paul's End of Season Speech to the Boys

Just so you don't think this blog is all about me, what follows is Paul's speech to the Cross-Country team, presented at the team dinner the other night. He has over 70 boys on the team, 50 of which were at the dinner, 36 of whom competed at the nationals in Ashburton last weekend. For the first time ever, Paul came home with quite a stash: socks, a Cars mug, a bottle of wine, a bag of fudge, six boxes of chocolates and most importantly, some very thoughtful cards. So I guess his speech went over pretty well! Here it is:

Cross Country Speech 2011, by Paul Dominikovich

The standard of speech making has been very high this year. Feeling some pressure here I decided for my address to seek inspiration from the classics. The Titans went to Gettysburg, but I couldn’t get any help from “four score and seven years ago”. Churchill rallied the troops well, but tonight hardly seemed like a night to “fight them on the beaches”. Baxter used “not many have died from running cross country” to good effect, but the moment for that quote had passed and he was probably lying anyway! But then my inspiration arrived and it was the merging of ideas from a familiar movie trilogy and the great Martin Luther King himself.

I have a dream. Well, actually, if it’s all the same with you, I had a dream. I had a dream that I found a DeLorean which could hit 88m/h and had 1.21 gigawatt of energy at its disposal and a fully functioning flux capacitor. And in my dream, I went back to the future to the year 2036 a mere 25 years from today. It was a strange dream though. Half the year 9s had married the same girl, Olivia I think. Dean Coplestone had gone rigid on a bridge hold and seemed stuck their forever and Justin Bishop was still trying to get young boys to take off their clothes!

But there were other visions too. Guys sitting around reminiscing about races won and lost, recollecting various anecdotes about trips and training and sharing their lives and families with their teammates of oh so many years previous. It was a great dream.
And there was me, off in the corner - looking remarkably trim and fit - with a stupid grin on my face feeling as proud as can be of men who had shared enough in their youth together that made it natural for them to return and pick up after years or decades apart.

So, is there any foundation to my dream? Do the experiences of today have enough substance to make possible the reunion of the future? They should. The older guys in the room will tell you and you young guys have worked it out that we have a team spirit and unity like no other. Life has taught me that long after the cups have been returned and the medals misplaced there is a bond and a brotherhood that goes deep with those whom we choose to share life with. The post-modern world we live in has got it wrong. Fragmented families, high pressure jobs, neighbours we don’t know and cyber friends are no substitute for an inclusive team of motivated, purposeful individuals who care for others as much as themselves and genuinely want the best for those around them and a few laughs along the way.

So what makes a team special? What sets one group apart from another? What have we done that many have failed to grasp? Well, leadership is important. I’m the figurehead and Chaz gets the cup, but there are numerous leaders in this room. Tidying the bus, training regularly, dressing well, considerate language and encouraging talk are a few of the many traits of leaders.
Culture and tradition must be established. Be it “go hard no excuses” or “Year 9s on the dishes” there are things that make us unique and not a carbon copy of other teams. Add to that unity. All are of equal value, dissent is not tolerated, cliques are avoided, jokes are respectful and discipline is present. And finally, we must also acknowledge our place. We aren’t the centre of the universe, many have gone before and others will surely follow. We are a just a small part of something much larger than ourselves.

So, as the DeLorean returns and the space-time continuum appears intact and the dream reveals itself for what it is, I look around the room with thankfulness for the time spent over many years with the men of the team, I gaze with optimism at the next tier of senior lads who offer just as much in the coming year or two and I choose hope for the youngsters here who still have their schooling before them. And finally, I have this one over-riding burden for us all. And that is that we are all better people from our time in this team. The lessons we have learnt, the times we have shared and the experiences gained have contributed to our character in such a way that we really are changed for the better. I say with all sincerity and with some emotion, that it is emphatically true in my case and I am forever thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the New Plymouth Boys’ High School cross country team.

So with that thought in mind, and as is our tradition, let’s stand, and raise our glasses in a toast, to the Boys’ High cross country team.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Kiss from a Rose and Klimt Musings

Tired of Adam Lambert to clean by this morning, I rifled through my dusty cds and found an old favourite, Seal. Music and scents: they both have the power to take you back to another time and place entirely. As soon as the electronic chords of "A Kiss from a Rose" rang out, I was in the basement suite (flat) I shared with my roomate Rachel on West 10th Avenue in Vancouver. We were absolutely dead-pan broke, cooking things like legumes because we couldn't afford meat. The only nice things we had in the flat were a two-seater sofa (I had a chair crisis even then!) and a print of Klimt's "The Kiss" on one wall. And of course Rachel's stereo. Music played constantly but I would also listen out for the welcome flutter and thud of a thick letter from Paul coming through the mail slot. I was putting myself through Grad School wanting to be a counsellor and Rachel was saving/studying to sit the LSAT. We're both mothers and teachers now. She's working in Vancouver and I'm...unemployed in New Zealand. I guess that's true: with all my children at school I can't really rely on my stay-at-home-mum status anymore. Better get back to cleaning then.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Place in My Heart

"Almost Home" A short story.

The day dawned warm and clear for early autumn. Three-year-old Madeline, our second child of four, decided to wake the household early with the slamming of her bedroom door, as if to announce it was time to get ready for church. We’d been attending Inglewood Christian Fellowship the last few Sundays and were looking forward to seeing new friends again. Opening the doors to the back deck, I noticed there was a lot more dew on the grass and the leaves on the sycamore were starting to shrivel. Not a cloud in the sky though, except a wispy shroud over the top of Mt Taranaki. We decided we would walk; church was only five minutes up the road.

It had taken us ten years to realise that Inglewood was more than a suburb of New Plymouth. Fifteen minutes by open road was an easy commute and we thought nothing of the trip to the city. That is until we had four children under the age of five and going anywhere became an event in itself. More and more we came to rely on things nearby and discovered that Inglewood was a thriving community in its own right. By the time Sam our oldest was at school in Inglewood, we realised we had become entrenched in the community and all its activities except for church, hence the recent change.

Forgetting that at ICF a 10am start actually means “whenever you get here,” we arrived with plenty of time to avail ourselves of a row of seats. We needn’t have worried: numbers were down because of Taranaki Anniversary. Numbers were never very big anyway. An intimate gathering of locals.

Eventually the service was started by Neil, internationally renowned bovine expert, local vet and part-time preacher. He introduced the gathering to an elderly woman named Jesse in the back row, having recently moved up from Ashburton. I smiled along with others in her direction. There were a few songs and notices before Sam and the older children left for Sunday School, halving the numbers. Neil’s sermon followed. I was preoccupied with keeping Madeline and her twin sisters entertained, but I did notice that Neil forsook the pulpit and microphone in favour of sitting in a chair while he preached.

When Neil was finished, the intimate gathering transformed into a throng headed for the coffee table. I joined them for some much needed caffeine of the instant variety and turned to socialise with some new friends. The woman from Ashburton, Jesse, stood at my elbow. My smile reappeared but I wondered what I could talk to her about. “My mother was a twin!” she said through beaming smile and bright eyes. That’s all that was needed as she delighted in the girls clambering about my legs.

Jesse eventually went off and my eyes searched for the rest of my family as a man I hadn’t met approached: “I see you walked this morning. It’s gonna rain.” My face conveyed my disbelief and he replied, “The mountain’s got a hat on. Don’t you know that means it’s gonna rain Luv?” His wizened eyes told me he was a farmer and that there was no doubt. His wife joined us. “We’re Bev and Gary. How long have you been in Inglewood?” I sheepishly replied, “ten years,” assuming they’d wonder where we’d been all this time. “Hmmm,” they nodded. The message was clear; we were considered new to the town. Neil whispered smilingly as he passed, “Sandra and I have been here 35 years and we’re still not locals. You have to be born here.”

Finally reunited with Paul and our children, we made our way to the exit. We smelled the rain before we saw the clouds, that thick damp odour of wet leaves and steaming tarmac. Sam had to walk but we quickly put Madeline on her tricycle and the twins in their buggy, hurrying past the tangle of bicycles by the door. Madeline’s little legs went round furiously as we trudged along the footpath. “Almost home Madeline.” I smiled. Almost home.

Thoughts on my Craft

It is one thing to blog, to journal the events of your life and occassionally craft the writing for your family and a few loyal friends (all five of you!) to read. It is quite another thing entirely to write for the purpose of general consumption. You cannot begin to write a book (you know, the one you always meant to start) or a short story, a poem or a song without knowing in the back of your mind that the purpose is to have it read by others. That purpose alone is what has stopped me time again from putting pen to paper. Because at that point I have to ask myself, "is what I write actually going to be any good?" Writing is something I always thought I could do. My claim to faim is getting 100% correct on my grammar tests in school, and I must admit, I know when to use an apostrophe. But it's safe to say I could do that, rather than actually try to do it and face the possibility of failing.

However, I have come to a crossroads in my life (I am 40 now you see) and I can ignore the signs no longer. I thought I knew what I wanted to do when the twins started school. I dreamed about it and made plans; I was certain. But it just didn't pan out. Paul, who knows me better than I know myself supported me in my plans but he knew better. He's always wanted me to take the time to write. My parents, the same. Some of my friends, ditto. On Saturday someone whom I consider to be intuitive and who doesn't know me particularly well but has been reading my blog, encouraged me to give it a go. She didn't know it had always been back there.

So I shall start with something already written in my next entry. It's the putting it out there you see, that's the challenge. I wrote a little story for a North and South competition a few years ago, called "Places in the Heart." I quite liked my little story but it didn't win, didn't get published and has never seen the light of day for public consumption. Until now.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I guess you could say I started preparing for my 40th back in November when I decided it was time to lose weight and change my frumpy image. My motivation back then was threefold: our trip to Canada for Christmas, the girls' 5th birthday in March which coincided with my need to become something other than a stay-at-home mum, and my 40th. I'll admit to vanity when I also say, I realised I had no grey hair and wanted the rest of me to match when it came time to party.

I remember while in Canada discussing my 40th options with friends Rachel and Anne. Anne was planning a trip for hers, either to Los Vegas or Seattle and Rachel's was still a year away. I floated with the idea of a girlie shopping trip, but knowing that my birthday would fall in the middle of winter in NZ, which is also Paul's cross-country season, I settled on a party. And from that moment, I thoroughly enjoyed months of planning and dreaming and working hard. 15 kgs later and it all paid off!

Knowing that all I wanted for my birthday was a significant piece of jewellery from Paul, I decided very early on to have a "sparkle" party and later called it a "Bling" party. I also thought it would be the perfect occassion for hanging up the Christmas lights and for serving sparkling wine. The challenge came in what to wear: I bought the shoes off TradeMe and bought the bling; then I tried on every single dress in New Plymouth, to no avail. Nothing suited my figure and I did not want to look like a sack of potatoes for once in my life. Finally, at the 11th hour, I took my friend Tigger for a shop and as soon as I tried on my top, she said, "that's it. That's the one." Then it was a simple matter of finding the right skirt and we were sorted. Phew.

June 11th finally came and the house was decorated in white frost cloth with silver balloons. I thoroughly enjoyed dressing to kill for the party. Especially in those shoes. Once I was ready with a fridge and pantry full of food and wine, Paul presented me with a little box. Inside was indeed bling! The most beautiful oval ceylon sapphire surrounded by two rows of little diamonds. I must admit, I had been ring shopping and narrowed down the choices to a few but Paul picked out the ring he liked best. And because I know he liked it best, I think it is the most beautiful ring in the world and I absolutely love it. Mind you, there's not much not to love about it.

The party started at 7:30 and we were ready ages early so enjoyed a little dance in the lounge with the girls. Finally our 30 plus guests started to arrive to the sound of George and Robbie on the stereo, and pretty soon my brain went out the window. It was rather overwhelming to have so many beautiful blingy people all there with the purpose of helping me to celebrate. I'm not normally one for being the centre of attention but I must admit I enjoyed it. I had a quiz for everyone, which they failed miserably but I hope they had fun using their creative intuition in answering the questions about me. My dear friend Claire got the highest points which is not surprising since she's one of those very special people who take a real and genuine interest in you. I also had a prize for best bling which went to Leanne and a spot prize which went to Janis. Paul had a wee speech prepared (not a song!) and a slideshow, followed by cake. There was plenty of food and wine, some beautiful presents and people eventually started to leave in dribs and drabs. Tigger and Mark lasted the distance until 2 am having a last glass with us, which was followed by perhaps 5 hours of sleep and feeling pretty horrible on Sunday, my actual birthday. 'Twas worth it.

I've decided that although the party itself was super-fun, it was all the planning, dreaming and preparing that got me through some emotionally difficult times lately. And since it is the beginning of winter, I'm thinking to myself, "what's next?" Obviously nothing so grand or expensive, but I feel the need to mark the calendar with as many social occassions as I can muster. After all, I have some pretty amazing people in my life. The fellowship and fun that we have together is soul-lifting. That can't be a bad thing.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

When I Lie Awake at Night

When I lie awake at night, or worse cry myself to sleep, it is for a boy. A boy with an incredible spirit and imagination who cannot easily fit into this world of ours. A boy who cannot tolerate loud or suprising noises and has to cover his ears and even shakes at the thought that a bell might ring. A boy who is so gentle and nurturing with toddlers and babies yet cannot control his anger when provoked by his peers. And at the moment, it doesn't take much to provoke him. He is dealing with a looming change and his world has turned upside down. Where once he was singing in assembly, he is now cowering with his ears plugged, grimacing at every high note or clap. Where once there was progress (so much progress!) there is now regression. That alone is what keeps me awake at night, when my musings turn to prayers. Thankfully, that same boy has an incredible faith and I know in my heart of hearts that is what will get him through it. Still, the tears come.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Teaching Once Again

I've been at St. Patrick's this week, three days helping and then two days in sole charge of the years 2-4 class while their teacher is away. I've had so much fun. I'm exhausted, but I've loved every minute of it.

Thursday was my first day and I wasn't exactly a bundle of nerves, but I wasn't exactly the picture of calm either. Things went pretty smoothly with only a few tears (not by me). I had two highlights: one of the boys in year 4 wrote a little story and he had a simile in it. I was so impressed and he knew it too, so I gave him a Shamrock and told him it was because he was "motivated" (this week's virtue) to write such a good story for the competition. And the other highlight came after lunch when I did my first ever craft activity with such a lot of children (28 with one away). I had a secret thrill sitting on the mat and showing them what to do, hearing their exlamations of "Wow, oh, wow!" when I was finished. Such enthusiastic little critters and they set to work themselves on their mother's day project and all went well.

Today, Friday, was a much more nerve-wracking day. It was a celebration of mums and the childrens' mothers were invited for a liturgy, morning tea and activities. The first part of it went well, and I was secretly pleased to learn afterwards that one particular boy to whom I'd been told to attach myself at the church was "actually really good" today. And then I had one of those moments with a child: a little girl who's mum had told me she was really nervous about the liturgy but I honestly did not have a chance to talk to her about it beforehand. I did however say a prayer for her when she went up and then afterwards, lining up to walk back to school, she told me, "Mrs. D, my tummy hurts." I gave her a big hug and told her how wonderfully she read and shouldn't she be so proud of herself. I asked her if maybe she was still feeling a bit nervous, and yes, that's what it was. She told me all about the different animals and butterflies and bubbles which were inhabiting her tummy. I walked with her and assured her by the time we got back to school they'd all be gone. By the looks of her at morning tea, I was right. It was a special moment and I had a few more of those with her through the day.

It was a shared morning tea, and I mingled and chatted and then had a good talk with one parent. All the while I knew that the dreaded 2 hour interactive activity based slot was looming. The bell rang and I'm sure it was five minutes early. I got to class, called all the children onto the mat and encouraged the mums to sit at the desks. I estimated there were ten mums, without actually counting. I decided to read a little blurb from my Chicken Soup book about a mother seeing her little girl off to school for the first time, and then I took the opportunity to honour those mums for being there for their children and encouraged them all to really talk to each other and enjoy the activities together without rushing through. Ulterior motive there; I was paranoid about the time, not having any clue at all how long things would take. Then I took my time explaining all the activities; meanwhile, next door I could tell they were well into their activities. I wasn't in a hurry. But eventually I let them get to it. And it went splendidly! Perfectly timed with a few activity sheets to call upon for some of the children who finished early. I did have my share of challenges though, namely in some emotional girls who were upset that their mums didn't come, or upset that their mums had to leave. My own Madeline was a bit of a train wreck for some reason and I also had Sam in my room because his room was too noisy (for which I did in fact give his teacher a hard time, that his classroom was noisier than mine with the same number of kids!). The principal came in at one point to release me so that I could go see what was happening with Violet and Abigail in their classroom. I truly appreciated the gesture but declined because I felt that with Madeline and these other girls, I was needed where I was. And it felt good to be needed and in control.

Finally it was clean up time and then lunch. I was starting to relax, knowing that after lunch was buddy time and I was only required to assist as needed. Phew! By 3:00 I was absolutely shattered. And so were my kids. A quick text to Paul and I knew that pizzas would be on the way at 5:00. The five of us cuddled on the couch watching Stewart Little in the meantime. Dinner and then it was bedtime for them and bathtime for me. :) So nice to put my feet up at the end of a great working week. Back on Monday for more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

El Rancho Easter Camp 2011

Paul and Sam waiting for their turn on the go-karts

Sam confident and comfortable in the driver's seat

Paul after passing Sam

Abby waiting at the gate

Madeline, Violet, Abigail

Madeline and Abigail on the ponies

Sam and Madeline with their Dominos Train

Sam with his shooting target

Abigail's chalk art self-portrait

Madeline's chalk art: Portrait of Abigail

Madeline collecting shells at the beach

Wobbly Wagon at the carnival

Faces painted

My girls joining in the dancing at the show

Violet on the pony

Sam at the beach in Waikanae





Determined to have a break from all things technological and equally determined to be "unconnected" for a change, I had to journal the old fashioned way at Easter Camp and took along pen and paper. Imagine that! I actually got a sore wrist from writing so much, keeping track of our activities and taking notes in the teaching sessions. But now that I am home, I am happy to transpose my thoughts into my most comfortable medium: my blog.

We arrived at El Rancho on Thursday at around 3:30 pm, after a brief stop at a poorly designed New World in Waikanae for chickens, buns and milk. The children helped Paul unpack the car in record time while I set up our kitchen with food and stocked the fridge with contraband (a bottle of wine). We were in Elm 5, rooms a, b and c, leaving d unoccupied. I think the idea is that two families of maximum five each could share the unit, but we had it to ourselves. We took the children to the camp playground to enjoy the last of the afternoon sun and true to form, Sam found a putter and ball to play his own game of mini-golf. Then we decided to take the children for a walk down by the river which heads to the beach, but only as far as the suspension bridge. We observed that Violet and Abigail were much stronger and had more endurance for a walk than last year. Heading back, we took a detour through the horse paddock, dodging "piles of poo" as the twins exclaimed. Walking past the stables we rediscovered the confidence course where Sam excelled himself, mastering all the ropes, a grin a mile wide on his face. The girls did well too. Thoroughly famished after our late afternoon of exploring, we headed back to our unit for our roast chicken dinner and a glass or two of the contraband. Ate some chocolate and headed to bed with our books for an early night. An excellent start to our mini-holiday.

On Friday morning we were woken with the sounds of "our door is locked and the key is inside!" Oh bother. We enjoyed a nice breakfast of cereal and toast and while the children played independently with our Dominoes, Paul went for a run to the beach. He returned with a key for the locked room and then we all headed off to the welcoming at Kauri Hall with Rob Namba. We noticed it was a much smaller crowd than last year with only 1/2 the chapel being used. After the welcome we headed back to our unit for coffee and brownie while Paul went to the morning tea with Rob. They chatted for quite some time and Paul shared with him about our experiences from camp last year. Rob remembered my letter!

Then it was my turn for a power walk to the beach while Paul and the children made lunch. It's a 2 km path along the river to the water's edge, but then I just kept walking along the beautiful shoreline and finally sat on a piece of driftwood watching the people and listening to the waves and enjoying the sunshine. While walking I had my i-river on with my favourite music but the Indigo Girls "And I went in seeking clarity..." kept ringing in my ears. I wasn't sure if it meant I was supposed to seek clarity or claim it, but I knew that was the key word for me this weekend.

Back at camp, a lunch of chicken sandwiches was followed by family fun camp activities. Sam and Paul lined-up for the go-karts and then all of us had a go at archery. When the girl said, "aim low" she really meant it: all my arrows ended up in the trees! Dead on target, but way too high. We also enjoyed some sidewalk chalk art, the flying fox, ice creams from the cafe, and Sam enjoyed rifle-shooting and managed to score a 7. A little bit of time out in our unit was followed by pies cooked in a Pinewood kitchen oven. Then our first session started at 7 pm, so Paul and I dropped the children off at Elm with the Runrig crew (excellent children's programme) and headed off to Kauri Hall hand in hand to listen to the speaker, Paul Windsor. Fantastic. Lovely to be together on our own for an hour and a half. Picked up the kids at 8:30 to hear they'd had a great time, the theme for the week was Loco, and not only did Sam sing some of the songs, he did the actions! High-5s all around and then we went to Redwood Hall for supper. Biscuits and green juice for the kids and a cuppa tea for me, accompanied by live acoustic guitar and a singer from Wellington. Even Sam enjoyed it! And for the first time it felt like camp, with all the people milling about, mingling and enjoying themselves.

Saturday morning was much the same with adults and children going off to their sessions. Paul managed to see the end of the kids' session when he went to pick them up and saw Sam dancing and fitting in with the other children. I had another walk to the beach during lunch and then back for a bowl of soup. The weather was inclement, but holding off so far despite the miserable forecast. The afternoon was full with a free carnival for the families: face-painting, wobbly wagon, carnival games and prizes, candy floss, pony rides and a show--all absolutely free. We felt truly blessed, and then enjoyed dinner out at the camp cafe, fish and chips for the children, lasagne for me and cheese cake for Paul. It was a fun time, followed by another session in the evening, dropping the kids off and seeing them all delightedly and confidently joining their groups before heading off to Kauri Hall. Family together again for supper before bed, a little more tired than the night before.

Sunday morning dawned gloomy and although it had rained in the night, the morning was dry. We all got up at 7 am and headed to the field for the dawn service around a bonfire. It was lovely to gather with like-minded people, to sing songs and share communion on this Easter Sunday morning. Back for showers and breakfast before another session. Lunch and it was still not raining so we got in line early for the pony rides, which we all enjoyed as a family. More time in the go-karts for Paul and Sam while the girls and I enjoyed meeting another family at the flying fox. At 3:30 we joined several other campers for a walk to the beach where there was a scheduled sand-castle competition. We decided not to join the competition but just to enjoy the beach for as long as the children would last. Windy and cold, but plenty of logs and shells to play with so we had a good time. How could we come all this way and not take the children to the beach?! Tired and sandy, the walk home at 5 pm was laborous, but we made it and popped the kids in the shower while I cooked a monster meal of Sizzlers and noodles. It was scoffed in record time! Our final session that night and then our final good-byes to the Runrig team, after promising to try to bring them up to Inglewood in the school holidays. Fingers crossed on that one. Our last supper with more live music and then the rains came. No one complained however.

Monday morning dawned and it was still raining but it was just a matter of packing the car, cleaning the unit and heading home. All went smoothly and we enjoyed listening to two of the Runrig CDs in the car. Lunch at Subway in Wanganui and then we were home by 2:30 in the afternoon. The house had that cold unlived in feeling, which was quickly remedied by a fire. I went into conquer mode and unpacked all the bags, throwing the towels in the washing machine and getting the next load ready to go. We'd only been away five days but it felt more like a couple of weeks. It was a great break for our family. And I think some clarity was achieved: on a simple level, that Easter Camp is good for our family. There was some clarity on a more complex level too but that will require some more pondering. Perhaps for another time.