Monday Snapshot

June 1st brings on the winter in New Zealand. Yesterday, the sky was bright and blue, though the air in the shade was cool and crisp. The last of the amanita muscaria mushrooms are pushing through the dirt at the feet of the trees in Robin Hood park, and the wild Rosellas who flew across from Australia are eating the last of the fruit on the trees on the golf course down the road.

We’ve finished off the carrots, broccoli, potatoes, and most of the silver beet from our garden, and the last of the sweet one hundred tomatoes are currently sun ripening on our kitchen windowsill. We still have brussels sprouts, leeks, and curly kale to see us through the winter. (I picture my dad right now, grimacing at the thought of brussels sprouts all the way from California.)

The last of the summer wine




We celebrated our one-year house anniversary with a trip to Fiordland with my parents. Our getaway coincided with the changing of the months and the turning of the seasons: it is decidedly Autumnal now. We’re still getting buckets of peaches, nectarines, apricots, and greengages from Peirce’s Orchard, but the weather is crisper, and mornings mistier, than I have seen in ages.

The discovery of original hardwood floors beneath the cheap carpet in our house presents a potential project for this month, as does the as yet untouched coal burner in the study. We have three prints and a number of my old maps and posters to take to the framer down the street, and plans to track down an indoor tree to adopt for the lounge.

The dish of the month is a kale, tomato, and carrot soup made using vegetables from our back garden. (Only just now deemed dish of the month, as we had to figure out how to deal with the aphids – and caterpillar – that surfaced in the soup the second time around. Tip from Mom: soak kale in boiling water with salt for five minutes, then rinse. Prepare recipe as normal.)



Summer/the New Year

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I’m a wee bit late for my usual New Year’s inventory. A chronic list-maker, I did take note of everything I felt I had accomplished over 2014’s long, lo-o-ong months, but it felt a bit too smug to post here. I can only abide smugness, even in myself, in very small doses.

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Let’s say I’ve accomplished most things I had chalked in for 2014, and then some, and keep it at that. Most of all, and most importantly, I no longer feel the awful, creeping malaise, ennui, and mental/phyiscal health issues that coloured most of the spring and winter seem to have gone, and I worked hard as hell to get here.

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You wouldn’tve heard it from me here, but summer’s come and nearly gone again. No time to write about summer adventures, too busy having them. It’s only now, on a foggy day with the threat of drizzling rain that I can sit back and think about the last few months, and even now, I’m running out the door. The one year anniversary of our move to New Zealand has come and gone, and the one year anniversary of buying the best little cottage on a quiet street in a good neighbourhood is advancing quickly upon us.

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I may or may not have spent the last year in a blur, as I think may be common for most people coming out of completing a postgraduate degree in a foreign country. What now? and Where next? were thoughts that often crossed my mind, although more finely focussed than most, as we were three months away from our trans-hemisphere relocation. The specifics remained to be seen, and that drove me to distraction. To not be able to plan, to deal with the unknown, is not one of my strengths. I prefer to plan for all eventualities and have my situation lined up well in advance. Odd personality trait for someone who has moved to England twice, and chose to move to a country halfway across the world, sight unseen.

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I’ve learned a great deal about relaxing, about letting go, in the last year. I’ve also exercised my ability to say “No” more than ever – a huge achievement for me. I once agreed to everything and anything, feeling the weight of obligation and expectation, and found myself largely miserable and exhausted.

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I celebrated my first summer birthday and feel mostly ambivalent, but with an arguably positive slant, towards newly turning 27 years old. We ate enchiladas on the back deck and reveled in being just where we are.

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Dear Sugar:

“I hope when people ask what you’re going to do with your English degree and/or creative writing degree you’ll say: ‘Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire;’ or maybe just: ‘Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters.’

And then smile very serenely until they say, ‘Oh.”
― Cheryl Strayed


“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”
― Cheryl Strayed


Reading Cheryl Strayed’s debut novel, now 12-years-old, on holiday in Oamaru and remembering how incisively she writes about loss and grief, and other darker aspects of the human condition like crippling jealousy, performance anxiety, and the fear of a life wasted. Reading these quotations from her book, Tiny Beautiful Things, compiled from her heartbreaking advice column on literary website The Rumpus, feels like revisiting my own darker past.

Further reading: “The Love of My Life” by Cheryl Strayed


“What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.”
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Featuring in my story right now is Grapefruit Olive Oil Poundcake in a cottage. Waking up before dawn and walking to work where the Magnolia and Cherry trees bloom. Kittens on the roof. Kittens in the bed. Reading as much Margaret Atwood and Rebecca Solnit as I can commandeer from the bookstore where I spend many a lunch hour. Dreams of chopping my hair, writing day in and day out, and time spent in Oamaru.

Welly Weekend

We escaped snow in Dunedin and flew to Wellington, where the best tacos in the country and a cosy house overlooking the harbour awaited us. Last night, we saw the Aurora Australis, shimmering over the hill. I keep track of each one of these moments, tuck them away for safe-keeping.

The winter’s lasted longer than expected, but piles of lemons, oranges, and limes from Gisborne make the days taste brighter.

Last weekend, we bought a San Pedro Cactus and a bird feeder, bringing flocks of Wax Eyes, European Goldfinches, and Green Finches to our little apple tree.

I feel like a broken record: big changes afoot, big changes afoot, spring is coming, everything’s changing! But it’s all so very true.

We’ve been reading The Chronicles of Narnia together and it’s all so much better than I remembered from the four or five times I read the series as a little girl. C.S. Lewis’s addresses to the reader are particularly charming, and this one relevant to life at the moment.

“I expect you have seen someone put a a lighted match to a bit of newspaper which is propped up in a grate against an unlit fire. And for a second nothing seems to have happened; and then you notice a tiny streak of flame creeping along the edged of the newspaper. It was like that now.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

In Bloom

Hunting for budding and blooming flowers in the middle of winter has taken the space hunting mushrooms did in the autumn. Each one I find is a reminder of my childhood in the Pacific Northwest: Bellingham, Washington shares a remarkably similar climate to Dunedin, and I’m surprised anew with each fresh example of their similarities. I can identify a few of the more common flowers like Rhododendron, Rose, Iris, and Crocus. Others are identifiable by appearance alone: the violet, spider-like flower with the black furry spangles along the bud is an old friend from the temperate rainforest climate of Washington State.

In Britain, nearly all the trees were deciduous, appearing stark and bare against the dark grey skies in winter. A few evergreens remained, and plenty of holly and mistletoe, but other than that the natural world truly did look dead until late February/early March when, as if out of thin air, hundreds of daffodils and crocuses would bloom. For sake of comparison, there is roughly one more month of winter left in Dunedin. The Vernal Equinox south of the Equator occurs on the 21st of September. And yet, and yet, and yet – all around us, the world’s in bloom.

I’m sick in bed, having made it to work for nearly one hour before succumbing to what is either my very first migraine, or whatever nastiness is currently circulating around offices across the city. This marks my first sick day in the entire course of my five months at work, no mean feat for this former sickly child. My not-so-secret secrets: lemon and ginger honey, daily vitamins and supplements, homemade soups, and a little something called Virogone: A syrup made up of Angelica, Echinacea, Fir Needle Oil, Lemon Oil, St. Mary’s Thistle, Olive Leaf, Sage, and Thyme.

Flower hunting has helped as well, if only to lift my spirits. Moving to Southern California at the age of ten served to make me soft and sensitive when it comes to cold weather. Spotting these bits of colour here and there make me hope that perhaps Spring isn’t too far off, after all. Five weeks isn’t all that long.

(For fun, two of my favourite children’s book authors and illustrators. I loved them dearly as a small child, and I love them dearly now.)

Elsa Beskow - Wood Anemone
Elsa Beskow (1874 – 1953) – Wood Anemone
Cecily Mary Barker - Snowdrop Fairy
Cecily Mary Barker (1895 – 1973) – Snowdrop Fairy