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Sunday, November 28, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 16, Ellie

Ellie at the Dunedin Saturday Market
At the kids' current stage of development, I feel that I am entering a new stage of parenting: one in which flexibility (not one of my strengths) is increasingly valuable, while stubborn willfulness (something I have in spades) becomes increasingly less effective, especially with Ellie. Needless to say, I am learning about myself, and hope to make some improvements in the course of the year. 

Ellie is doing well here in Dunedin. She's attending North East Valley Normal School (NEVN), where the classes are small and the pressure is light. The New Zealand school system is recognized worldwide for its ability to educate a broad range of students, from the least to the most talented. As a result, the curriculum moves more slowly here; both kids are finding school to be easier than it was back home, with little homework and pressure.  There seems to be more space for them to be kids, and as a result they are happier at school. However I do worry -- especially for Alex as he heads into high school -- that the transition back to U.S. schools will be difficult.

At NEVN, Ellie stands out. She's a good student, is self-possessed and confident, is taller than most of the other children, and has come into her athleticism here in NZ. She's particularly proud of the fact that she's the fastest kid in her school, and her interest in track has prompted us to put her and Alex into a local track club.

Ellie is also very social and has had a rich experience in friendship in the short time we've been here. She's confident and joyful, is a natural leader, and has been fortunate in that she's made many friends on our street. While Alex loves physical activity -- biking, surfing, skiing -- Ellie loves to hang out with friends, and resists our tendency toward hyper-activity.

The Baldwin Street clan of kids is currently building a big fort up at the top of the street. After many hours of work on the fort yesterday, Ellie said that it was the 'funnest day of her life' and pleaded that we leave her behind rather than force her to go to the beach on a blue bird day. So you see what I deal with. Needless to say, I increasingly find myself humbled by my kids, and Ellie in particular.
The Baldwin Street crew at the fort.
Ellie and one of the local cats on Halloween.

Running the 800 at the Otago champs.
Ellie playing touch rugby.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 15, Some Things I Miss

Kaikora Beach sunrise in early October. A benefit of uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.
I've kept up the practice of reading poetry in the mornings, more or less. Lately, it's been Gary Snyder, who writes about things that are sacred to me: the mountains, deserts, and empty places of the Western U.S., wonder, compassion, community, friendship.
There's a feeling that I can't explain tying me to my home and to the wild places I've visited there: the Dearborn River and her headwaters in the Scapegoat, the Bitterroots, the Pintlers, the Wallawas, the Sawtooths, southern Utah and the great American desert, to name a few. My concept of home grows.
And then there's our community and extended family in Missoula, Helena, Butte, and beyond.
And there are places I've yet to see. For example, did you know about the 4000+ year-old bristle cone pines in Great Basin National Park, eastern Nevada, Earth's oldest living beings? I must make a pilgrimage.
Below is a poem of Snyder's from a remarkable book of his called Mountains and Rivers Without End. Somehow, it calls forth several of my dearest held values and makes me miss home.

CROSS-LEGG'D    
for Carole

Cross-legg'd under the low tent roof,
dim light, dinner done

drinking tea. We live
in old dry west

lift shirts bare skin
lean      touch lips--

old touches.
Love made, poems, makyngs,

always new, same stuff
life after life

as though Milarepa
four times built a tower of stone

like each time was the first.
Our love is mixed with

rocks and streams,
a heartbeat, a breath, a gaze

makes place in the dizzy eddy.
Living this old clear way

--a sizzle of ash and embers.
Scratchy breeze on the tent fly

one sip tea, hunch on bones,
we two be here    what comes.

At Split Beach near Aramoana

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 14, Surfing It Is

First trip to the beach.
One of the things that I had hoped to be able to do while I was here -- a long standing dream of mine actually -- is learn to surf. However, after being here a while, the reality of our situation forced me to reconsider. But dreams, if powerful enough and if shared with a 13 year old boy unconcerned about the bottom line, loom large.
Last weekend, we went to a local sport shop that was having a sale on all stuff water related. Our plan was to buy wet suits for the family so that we could enjoy swimming at the beach; the ocean is cold this far south, even in summer.
Over the past couple of months, I had shopped around a bit for surf boards and had found the one that I thought would be good for us to learn on. But the investment was going to be sizable, and so, I had decided that we weren't going to surf, that there was plenty else to do, that surfing would just have to be one of things that I wouldn't get to do.
After all, isn't one of the hallmarks of adulthood realizing and accepting the fact that you're not going to get everything you want in life?
When we walked into the sport shop looking for wetsuits, the price for the boards that I wanted was one-third off retail, just for that day. So I impulsively decided to buy two of them.
I write this about one week after the purchase, and we've been out four times and will go out again today. Alex is so excited that he's actually willing to get up early to go out for an hour before school. And we also have two body boards, so going to the beach is now an exciting family affair.
We're all true beginners on the ocean: big waves, rips, we've been having our asses handed to us. But I know from learning many other sporting things that it'll all gel eventually; new neural pathways take time to form. You can teach an old dog new tricks, it just takes longer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 13, Classic Coast and the Coastal Classic

Me on the way down to Tunnel Beach
We  had a couple of outings this past weekend. First, on Saturday afternoon, we finally made it out to Tunnel Beach, which has been closed for two months for lambing season.  This is another amazing spot within minutes of Dunedin; I think it only took us 30 minutes to get there, from the other side of town.
The story is that the farmer who owns the land dug a tunnel through stone so that his daughters could have access to a beach. Now that the City of Dunedin takes care of the track, the tunnel is perfect with steps and all. But, I wonder what it looked like when it was first finished.

Jen on the way to Tunnel Beach
Alex and Ellie at Tunnel Beach

On Sunday, Jen and I did a mountain bike race down in Taeiri Mouth, about 50 minutes drive south from our house. The race was mostly logging roads, but also on some farm track. It was a good time. Jen did the 10 mile competition and I did the 25 mile. We got muddy, got our competitive juices flowing and had a good day, though I must admit to feeling guilty for making the kids be spectators for a change.

Jen at the end of the race.
Me at the beginning.
Finally, just today, Jen and I went out for a ride on the Otago Peninsula. It was another glorious day of weather and riding. The route was really nice: along the Pacific side of the Peninsula, then up and over to McAndrew Bay on Otagor Harbor, awesome views all the way. 
Me with the Otago coastline and Sandymount behind.
Jen and Alistar, a fellow we met along the way, St. Clair beach behind.


Jen descending into McAndrew Bay.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 12, Sticking Close to Home

A show of 13 year old strength on Murdering Beach
We've been back from our big trip for more than two weeks, and it feels good to be here. Getting away and seeing things is great, but I also enjoy letting a place sink into my bones, and that takes good stretches of normal living: weekends close home, the farmer's market, the library, dinner with friends, bike rides, a drive to a nearby beach for a barbeque.
One of the things that I love about Dunedin is that it's so easy to get out of town. With the Otago Peninsula, the ocean, the harbor, and all of the hills, you can drive 20 (or bike 40) minutes and feel like you're in a completely different place. But then, since the city is close, you'll come across a nice cafe in which to linger for a while.
One such place is Port Chalmers, which is Dunedin's port, about a 20 minute drive from downtown toward the mouth of Otago Harbor, though the fastest way for us is to go up-and-over the hill. My favorite cafe is on the main street there and the town's location on the Harbor is stunning by any stretch of the imagination.
On Saturday, weekend before last, while Ellie enjoyed a sleepover with a friend, Jen, Alex, and I drove through Port Chalmers on our way to Murdering Beach to barbeque some sausages and catch the sunset.

Then just yesterday, Jen and I rode a loop, up and over Mt. Carghill Road to Blueskin Road and around to Port Chalmers for some biscuits and tea at the cafe mentioned above. And finally, back up-and-over the hill to home. During our ride, Jen said, "These people live in paradise."
It's "local" experiences like these that make me feel more like I'm really living here, which I find very satisfying.
Jen on Mt. Carghill Road with Port Chalmers below.
Jen in Port Chalmers
Riding into Port Chalmers.