Friday, February 25, 2011

One Single Reason why I Love St. Pat's (although, there are many)

Last night at tea Sam was explaining how cricket was going at morning break at school that day. He explained how he got to bowl and bat and then got quite animated when he told us that little Isaac wanted to join the game. Isaac is a new entrant, only five years old. "You know what I did, don't you Mum." I must admit, I hoped I knew the answer, but I wasn't sure. "I went like this...he was standing here and I stood here and I bowled like this, really gentle. And Jesse (older boy) was holding on to Isaac with the bat like you do with the girls Dad. And he hit the ball!"

Sam did not play cricket at school last year, too afraid to join in, so we have really worked on it this term. The senior boys have been very patient with him and helped him out a lot, just as Jesse was helping Isaac. They haven't always got him out when they could and they've let him have a bat even when it wasn't technically his turn. Now he looks to play cricket almost every day and he fits right in. You can imagine my heart's delight in hearing that he in turn is passing on that patience and gentleness to another little boy.

The single reason why I love St. Pat's (although there are many) is that there is an entire school of children learning patience, gentleness and tolerance for others with differences. I know that teaching values is part of every school's curriculum, but I'm not convinced that many other schools exemplify those values in the true and actual behaviour of the children. I know you could argue that we have a small pocket of children here from really good families who naturally try to do the right thing by others, but I doubt that's true. I am convinced that the principal and teachers have worked hard to create a culture of acceptance, tolerance and kindness and that these values (along with others taught) are going to go a long way towards producing some very fine and admirable young adults.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake, Feb 22, 2011

This morning, the day after the Christchurch earthquake, I got out of bed as normal. I prepared breakfast and lunches for four children as normal. I got them all ready, bags packed, out the door and on their way to school and kindy as normal. I drove to town and bought $400.00 worth of school uniforms for the twins, grabbed some summer bargains from Pumpkin Patch using a gift card, and enjoyed a steaming flat white from Esquires as normal. Later on I walked my dog on my favourite country roads in the pure Inglewood sunshine, waving to a plethora of burnished monarchs as we went. As normal. Everything went on as normal in Taranaki today.

Except it wasn't quite as normal as I would have liked. While driving in my car I listened to More FM's special reports instead of non-stop music. On my walk I had my music on louder than I normally would, trying to clear my head of the thoughts that kept going around and around after a sleepless night. And at Esquire's there wasn't so much of the the usual chatter of friendly customers greeting each other. Instead, we were all glued to the Breakfast Program playing on the flat screen tv on the wall. We saw pictures of a woman being rescued from the PGC building, lines of cars at petrol stations, debris and rubble everywhere, and most captivating, the scrolling messages below, telling us of the numbers dead, the numbers still trapped, the numbers who had to have limbs amputated to be freed from the rubble. It was sobering. And of course there were the repeated images of the crumbled Cathedral, a symbolic reminder of a city in ruin, a people bereft of hope.

So while there is nothing we can do from here and while we must carry on with our lives as normal, Christchurch needs to know we are with them. Because with them, we hope. We pray. We rejoice. We wail.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fitzroy Beach to Lift the Spirits

Paul and I were feeling a little flat today, despite great efforts to pick ourselves up with a bit of weeding and mowing the lawns. Okay, "flat" is an understatement. I've been listening to Johnny Cash's "Hurt" all day, and the only reason I didn't go for my daily walk with Buster is because I couldn't manage to get the song from my laptop onto my i-pod. After a little snooze to the chorus of the lawnmowers in the neighbourhood along with my Johnny fix, I finally decided, that's it: time to do something about this state of mind of mine. Off we went to Fitzroy Beach with the kids. It was late afternoon and the tide was out, or coming in, or something like that. Good enough for the boogy boards and all the children had a go. Yes, they all had a tumble head over heals in the water and yes the squeals of delight were sometimes mixed with screams of terror, but they always got back on the board. I was so proud of them for giving it a go, and so pleased to see them all having such fantastic fun with their dad in the water. Me, well, I was happy to squelch my toes into the muddy sand on the shoreline and watch their revelry. And while I was watching, I kept reminding myself, isn't it wonderful that we can have a day at the beach without packing a whole bag of snacks and another bag of inflatables, not to mention trying to change nappies on the hot black blowing sand. After washing the children off in the cold showers and then a little swim in the unheated paddling pool by the playground, Violet asked, "WWhhhat does it mmmmean that I'm shshshsaking so mmmuch?" I must admit, her lips were a little blue. Nothing that a good bit of Domino's Pizza on the way home couldn't fix. Now the kids are happily in bed, and isn't it funny, Johnny Cash hasn't even crossed my mind.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Welcome Phone Call

I'm over the moon right now. I've just had a phone call from the parent of a boy I tutored last year, to say how appreciative he and R are: he passed everything with a Merit Endorsement which includes an Excellence in Poetry. Fantastic! This boy was extremely bright and I marvelled at his writing but recognised that he lacked the motivation to really push himself to succeed. We connected, I pushed, and he succeeded. And all this, on top of a day of contemplating my future, seems rather affirming of God: I am a teacher. I should not forget that.

A Contemplative Walk

As I walked the 7 km on country roads around Inglewood today with my dog and i-pod, I had a lot of time to contemplate where I’m at, where I’ve come from and where I’m headed. Sounds a lot heavier than it really was, trust me. It’s just that I realised everything I’ve done so far has come to a point and things are going to change. The great thing is, I’m ready for the changes. I’ve been a stay-at-home mum for 9 ½ years. When you consider I only spent 5-ish years working after university and teacher’s college, that’s a lot of time at home. That’s a lot of time spent at coffee groups, mums’ groups, music groups, playcentre committees and kindergarten committees. I’m not down-playing anything I’ve done; not only have I devoted myself to my children but I’ve networked myself across the community and have met and developed relationships with some amazing people. But I am ready for something different. I’m ready to sink my teeth into something and feel like there is more to me than being a mum and a social networker. How fantastic it is that I’ve come to this point, ready to move on, only 6 weeks from my girls’ birthday. How wonderful that I’m not sitting here pining for the preschool activities we used to do.

That pretty much covers the “where I’m at” and “where I’ve come from” which of course leaves the million dollar question: “where am I headed?” What’s the next adventure around the corner? What’s the next challenge? Will I be able to manage it with my at-home responsibilities because I will still have 4 children that need to be dropped off and picked up from school. Walking down Dudley Road I came to the intersection with the highway that leads back into Inglewood and I realised that the expected route was to turn left and head home. I decided to cross the highway, cross the train tracks and keep walking, up and down a few hills, the long way home. I realised, how exciting it is that nothing is set in stone for me now: it’s a road with many branches and I can choose my own way. The route I take will not be predictable. Bring it on!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Disneyland in Retrospect

Lolipops on Main Street USA

Finding Treasure on Tom Sawyer Island

Mark Twain Steamboat

Our name for posterity

Captaining the Steamboat

Paul and Violet on Space Mountain

Madeline and Violet in the Teacup

Cup of spinny tea anyone?
Sleeping Beauty's Castle

With bears in California Adventure Park

Candy Floss on Paradise Pier

Playhouse Disney Show

With our friends, Mater and Lightning McQueen

Sam in front of the Lego Shop (aka Heaven)

Cinderella in "it's a small world"

Kiwis! (it's a small world)


it's a small world clock

"it's a small world" (love it!)

Goofy's house

Mickey Mouse Clock in Toontown

Abigail pretending to be Pluto

Violet in Mickey's house

Madeline in Minnie's House

Tea time in Minnie's house

The girls with Minnie


Meeting Cinderella

Meeting Ariel

Meeting Belle (their favourite)

Our classic Splash Mountain photo: Who's having fun??!

We loved Eyeore

Pooh and Tigger being delightfully silly

On Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Love the girls' lip-chewing

Pirates of the Caribbean

Wenches in the Pirates ride. Incredible detail.

Fire trucks even in Disneyland

Meeting Pluto on Main Street

Our friend Mickey, on Main Street

I’ve stalled on this entry simply because it is such a hard task to capture three wonderful, glorious days at Disneyland into a piece of writing. With the kids and Paul back at school and a rainy day preventing me from doing anything else, I am finally up for the challenge! Keep in mind my loyal readers that this is my blog and therefore my journal; I intend to be thorough with such a special place.

We arrived in L.A. on the evening of January 11th after an hour delay at Vancouver airport with our Air Canada flight. It meant that by the time we had caught our shuttle and were on our way to Anaheim, we were well passed dinner time. Thank goodness for Grandpa’s brunch shout on the ferry earlier in the day. I remember telling the children, “Eat! Eat! Eat more!” It didn’t matter to me whether it was a sandwich or a chocolate biscuit—I just wanted them full. The kids were fantastic though and very excited to be sitting in the front of the green Mickey Mouse shuttle bus heading to our destination. Whenever they saw lights (which was all the time) they would ask our Hispanic driver if that was Disneyland. “I’ll show you Mickey Mouse,” he promised excitedly. My enduring memory of the bus trip will be the stars in the sky. Bright stars that grew and grew until they had become jets with glaring lights leading them to LAX. One after the other after the other in a constant flow. My thought was, "we’re not in Kansas anymore!"

We arrived at our hotel, The Staybridge Inn and Suites at about 9:30 pm and it was warm. Gloriously warm after the Canadian winter we’d endured. We still had the problem of filling our empty tummies so before we explored our lovely 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom suite, Paul was on the phone ordering pizza. With an ETA of 45 minutes we had time for a quick swim in the Mickey Mouse pool. Believe me, it was a long day and we needed that swim. And I assure you, pizza never tasted so good.

Up bright and early on Wednesday the 12th of January to find a beautiful California sun shining on us. Another buffet breakfast at the hotel, (“Eat! Eat! Eat more!”) and we were off, heading to the ART shuttle to take us to Disneyland. We arrived about 15 minutes before opening as I had read about the lines at the gates. There were no lines, and they had opened the park. I soon realized that I had planned well, coming here mid-week, off-season.

What a magical place. The music, the colours, the characters, the cleanliness, the magic. I had tears in my eyes and was so very very thankful to be there and to be able to give my four children this experience. Walking up Main Street, USA and taking it all in was something I will never forget. And of course, there was Mickey Mouse, ready to sign autograph books. After the signing and the photo, we decided on an clockwise route to try to take in the whole park in a sensible manner, and started with Adventure land. The first ride we found was Indian Jones Adventure. The sign said a 20 minute wait, and we thought that wasn’t too bad. It turned out to be the longest wait we had, and most of that wait was actually just walking up the ramps and through the paths to the start of the ride. Unfortunately the twins were too short so it was just me and the older two to take it on. A great first ride (me), very scary fire bits (Sam) and too bumpy and fast (Madeline).

Not much else to do in Adventureland so we wandered to New Orleans Square to have a look and found a ride that had no line up called Pirates of the Caribbean. The cast member at the start assured us (Madeline) it was a gentle ride and we were immediately in a boat travelling through the most incredible diorama of characters and scenes from the movie. There were a couple of little splashy bits but generally it was a fun ride to just absorb. So we did it again! Next was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a fantastic roller coaster train and then we realized we needed to let Madeline find her feet again or she would never forgive us. Up to Critter Country we trekked and found Winnie the Pooh—the character who enjoyed rubbing Abigail’s hair until it stood on end with static—and the ride. We enjoyed that ride a couple of times and then worked the children up to conquering Splash Mountain with us. A bit of history here: Paul had come to Disneyland for one day with a friend several years ago and Splash Mountain was closed for maintenance. He’s been dreaming of it ever since. It was great fun and we were rewarded with a priceless photo of all us. When I say “it was great fun” I’m coming from my own perspective here. Violet started sobbing after the first splash and Abigail decided to join her chorus. Sam and Madeline were white as ghosts and complained wholeheartedly, “I will NEVER do that ride again.” Even Paul in the photo looks slightly aghast at the prospects ahead of him.

We eventually found the train that circumnavigates the park and had a lovely ride over to Mickey’s Toontown. It was a fun place to explore, especially Mickey and Minnie’s houses and of course more rides but by this time, we were getting on the rides so quickly they were starting to blur. The girls loved meeting Minnie in her house (Sam was staunch), Mickey in his house and Goofy outside his house too. Heading into Fantastyland we discovered the Princess Fantasty Faire where you get to walk through an area and meet the princesses. But first you wait in line. For a brief few moments of meeting those special ladies. The girls enjoyed it, getting autographs and posing for photos, while Paul and Sam (staunch again) went off on their own adventure and found “it’s a small world.” Mickey Mouse ice creams for lunch and then we all enjoyed “it’s a small world” together. If you’ve been there (and I still remember it from my first visit when I was 5 or 6), I’m sure you’ll picture the girls’ delight in what they saw and heard. The tears came back to my eyes and I was especially choked up as our boat entered the last little area which was dazzling and sparkling in white Christmas beauty. "Peace on Earth" the sign said. Definitely our favourite ride.

It was heading towards dusk by now and we had time to do a few more rides in Fantasyland before calling it a day. Walking back to the bus to take us back to our hotel for free drinks and hot dogs (well planned!), it became clear that if we had another day like that one, the entire time at Disneyland would become a blur and we needed to shake it up. That meant upgrading our passes to the 3-day pass which would give us more time to explore the neighbouring California Adventure Park. Not a very difficult decision!
So on Thursday we started in Tomorrowland with Space Mountain. Again, no lines. Sam said he didn’t like his stomach feeling all funny and Madeline was certainly a whiter shade of pale, but the twins were keen to do it again. The cast helped the older two find a safe place to stand while the four of us went on Space Mountain again. The girls laughed and giggled the whole way through. Fantastic. I think there was a Buzz Lightyear ride in there and Autotopia and then we found the Monorail to take us to Downtown Disney. First stop: the Lego Shop. We just browsed at this point and then walked through Downtown Disney, grabbing some Wetzel’s Pretzels for lunch and on to the gates of California Adventure park. Still a lot of building going on in this park but we enjoyed Soaring Over California, taking in the sights and sounds (and the Ferriswheel—my worst ride) of Paradise Pier and the Playhouse Disney Show. I regret that I did not go on the roller coaster, but as I would have been the only one, I felt a bit selfish making the rest of the family wait for me. Next time!

This was a heavy walking and exploring sort of day and by the time we headed back up Downtown Disney to do some shopping, we were exhausted…all except Violet. Some of you might remember that we’ve spent a lot of time working on her endurance, knowing that every time we take her for a walk she’s whining and complaining 2 minutes into it. Well, apparently that condition does not occur in Disneyland. She was bouncing, dancing and hopping for kilometers that day. We grabbed dinner in an outside bar and then headed back to the Monorail, intending to take in one or two more Fantastyland rides at night before heading to the hotel. However, the monorail did not cooperate that night and we had to walk all the way back through Downtown Disney (Violet still bouncing) and out the gate. It was definitely bus time by this stage.

Friday: our third, last and bonus day, spent entirely doing our favourites and anything we had missed (Teacups, Dumbo, Peter Pan’s Flight, Finding Nemo, etc) in Disneyland. The park was noticeably busier and the lines were heavy by mid-morning, but who should we bump into? Todd and Joy and Oliver, a couple from our ante-natal group in Taranaki. And I had just been thinking to myself that normally whenever we go somewhere we usually find someone Paul knows. And there they were! The highlight of Friday was being invited up to the captain’s berth on the Mark Twain Steamboat, where the children were given the opportunity to steer the ship, ring the bell and blow the whistle. The captain presented us with a certificate and Paul wrote our names in the captain’s log for posterity. Very cool.

A touch of sadness went with us on this day, knowing it was our last and aware that we hadn’t had nearly enough time to explore this special place. But we had to leave the park by 4:30 in order to get back to the hotel, grab our bags and catch our airport shuttle. Traffic was bad but we made it two hours ahead of our flight back to New Zealand, again escorted by those stars that grow and never dim until they land. By 9:30 that night we were on one of those stars, soaring through the darkened California sky, heading home. Exhausted, hungry, and still enjoying the magic of Disneyland every time we shut our eyes.