Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Boys do Warbirds!

Easter Weekend is a five day event down here in the Otago region of New Zealand. Like much of Europe, New Zealand takes Friday and Monday off for Easter. Throw in an Otago Anniversary Day holiday celebrated on Tuesday and you get a magnificent five day weekend. Colin, Liam & Doug kicked it off by attending the practice day of the biannual Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow on Friday.

The boys saw a lot of planes up close and got to talk to several US Air Force pilots who run the C-130 shuttle flights between Christchurch, NZ, McMurdo Station and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. There were a lot of cool planes, ranging from WWI biplanes to the modern C-17 cargo aircraft, but it was the T-28 Trojan that really excited the boys. Doug's father learned to fly in this plane nearly 50 years ago and it was the first time that Liam & Colin had seen one.

Over 100,000 attended the show this year - not bad for a country of only 4m people (only 1m of which live on the South Island). It seems that everyone & their mother is a pilot down here, so maybe it's not so surprising after all. It was a really good show so if you're thinking of visiting New Zealand in two years, try to time it with a stopover in Wanaka over the five-day Easter weekend.

Vermin count update:
Mice: 3
Rats: 0
Possum: 2

Monday, March 24, 2008

Oh No Something Killed The Easter Bunny

Photograph taken by Doug on Easter morning. Clouds hide the mountains.

We celebrated Easter this year with a treasure hunt all over the neighborhood. Liam and Colin rode their bikes frantically from one clue to the next. The Easter Bunny left an egg next to each boy’s bed with the first clue that said,

Are you awake?
Shhh- for your parents’ sake

When you hear them talking,
Get dressed for biking or walking

Then find Mom and Pop,
It‘s time to hippity hop!

Amazingly, the boys didn’t come up until around eight when Doug and I awoke. But when they arrived in our room, they were dressed and ready to head out the door. As we were riding our bikes down the road following one of the first clues, Liam stopped his bike and pointed at something on the side of the road. When I caught up with him, he looked up at me and said, “Oh no, something killed the Easter Bunny.” I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny or was truly distressed. The huge rabbit sprawled in the grass was definitely dead. It was technically a hare, I think, but I decided not to share this extra info and I tried to bike on quickly before Colin noticed the dead Easter Bunny too.

By the time Liam and I saw the dead Easter Bunny, I would have to say I was already desensitized. This Easter week I have seen more dead rabbits (and hares) than any other week in my life. One more dead rabbit on the side of the road didn’t seem that big a deal, except that was Easter morning. Our neighbor had been out rabbit hunting several nights earlier. Doug and I were walking by his truck the following morning and he asked if we wanted to see his catch. I was expecting a fish or something, but started getting suspicious as I got closer to the truck and realized the bed was buzzing with flies. I peered over the side to find a mountain of dead rabbits and hares. I tried to act cool and nonchalant, like all my friends in Denver kept piles of dead rabbits in the beds of their trucks. I do understand the problem, though. Our area is overrun with rabbits and there are few predators to control them. I guess a night of rabbit hunting provides both entertainment and pest control. Now Doug, Colin and Liam want to go rabbit hunting. However, I am not yet desensitized to the idea of my sons hunting. We’ll see.

Kiwis seem to have a different relationship to Easter Bunnies than Americans. In the United States, images of cuddly, soft bunnies appear in stores and on TV right after Valentine’s Day. Maybe the bunny images are just the result of the increased commercialization of holidays in the U.S. In New Zealand, there are chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs, but entire stores are not plastered with bunnies and ducklings and other pastel spring animals. Another reason might be that we are heading into autumn. Halloween, not Easter, marks the season of rebirth when we experience baby animals and all new things.

There is one local Easter tradition that I don't think Americans yet celebrate. The annual Great Easter Bunny Hunt takes place at Alexandra in Central Otago, just down the road from us. The NZ Herald Tribune reported hunters bagged 16,121 bunnies in twenty-four hours this weekend. Who knew there were so many Easter bunnies?

Doug asked me to give you the vermin count:

Mice: 2
Rats: 0
Possum: 2

I promise no more entries on dead animals for a while, unless Doug sneaks one. Instead, maybe next entry, I can update you on how successful we were at overhauling the septic system and cleaning its filters today. I guess we're just adjusting to life in the bush.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vermin Count, Day Three

The count after three days:

Mice: 2
Rats: 0
Possum: 1

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vermin Count

The count after two days:

Mice: 2
Rats: 0
Possum: 0

Monday, March 17, 2008

Doug Declares War on the Vermin

New Zealand was free of furry pests, I think, until the Europeans showed up. Without big mammalian and airborne predators, they have flourished to this day. We may be living in paradise, but we are sharing it with a lot of mice, rats and possums. The temperatures are beginning to drop and that appears to be driving them to seek the warmth of our house.

After much consultation with the locals, I've got a plan to fight back. Good ol' fashion mice traps, mice/rat poison and a wicked snapping possum trap are now part of my arsenal. May the battle begin...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Broken Mommies

This week Auntie Joyce (aka one of the crazy aunties, by my childhood and Colby friends) sent me a story written by her mom, my granny. According to Joyce the story was written over 40 years ago. I am guessing it was written about events that happened at least 50 years ago. I decided to share the story with you. I realize that two generations later I am doing exactly as my granny did. I write to record the events of my life with my young family. Like my granny, I am amazed, amused and baffled by my children and their interpretation and encounters with the world as they grow.

I am fascinated and treasure any photos, memories and stories about my maternal grandparents. To me, they are shadowy, almost mythical, members of my family. My granny passed away when I was four and my grandpa followed her by the time I was six, I believe. My sister was a newborn when my granny died and my brother was not born when my grandfather died. I feel lucky because I am the only sibling that knew my granny.

All I have left is a series of floating images, like a drawer loosely filled with miscellaneous old photos. What I remember most clearly is my grandparents laughing in their long narrow kitchen. They always seemed to be laughing. I remember a bottom draw in that kitchen full of forbidden sweets. I can feel the weight of that drawer as I pulled on the handle and peered inside looking for an icing covered cookie or a Twinkie. I remember a red and white checked facecloth hanging at eye-level in the bathroom. I can see a big closet near this bathroom full of Granny’s clothes. I remember going for walks to Petruzzi’s vegetable stand and to the store by the lake that seemed to sell everything, including ice cream. I remember being in my crib in the room with pink, or maybe yellow, walls. I can feel my fingernails scraping animal stickers off that pink wall behind the crib. I can see Granny peaking around the door at me in my crib. I remember the big party the day of Granny’s funeral and I stayed the day with my other grandma. I am not sure whether or not all my memories are of actual events. I suspect some are stolen from photo albums or were actually heard on audiotapes sent by my grandparents after my family moved to California. I know without doubt that my grandpa made me the safest-scared you could be. I definitely remember waiting in his chair in front of his T.V. for him to return home from work, listening for the door to open, trembling with nervous excitement for him to discover me in his chair and then tickle-attack me until I relinquished the seat. I would get that same feeling when I bobbed in my life jacket next to my grandparents’ sailboat and Grandpa Shark would come from the deep and pull me under the surface.

My mom shares many stories of her parents with me and my siblings. My aunties and great-aunt add even more color and detail to my memories of Granny and Grandpa. Great-aunt Eleanor wrote me long letters and each one had a story about her sister, my granny. My favorite is the story of when my grandparents returned home from their honeymoon to find they had lost their jobs. Instead of looking for new jobs, they promptly left on a second honeymoon. This type of story adds to the mythical, romantic images of my grandparents that I conjure up in my imagination.

In a dream, I brought Doug to my grandparents’ house. We drove to East Brookfield, Massachusetts and I somehow found the house. The house looked long ago abandoned. It was worn and in need of paint. We entered and I led Doug straight upstairs. I opened Granny’s clothes’ closet door. Strangely it was still full of her clothes. For some reason I walked right into the closet and pulled Doug in behind me. I realized I had never noticed that the closet was actually quite large and there was an area rug below a big window. The window was too dirty to see out to the world, but the light that filtered through it the filled the room with yellowy, hazy glow. Slowly my eyes adjusted and I could see a chair in the corner. Granny was in the chair. I couldn’t believe it. I was overwhelmed. Finally my granny could meet Doug. She couldn’t understand why I hadn’t brought Doug to meet her sooner. It didn’t make sense to me either. All these years we’d missed and she here in her home in the closet all along.

She said, “Wait a minute.”

Then she disappeared between the clothes into another room in the closet. She came back with Grandpa. He was there too! He too met Doug. I knew they would love him. Then Doug and I had to leave. I didn’t want to go. We still had so much to share. The closet just seemed to fade back and away. I couldn’t keep up as the closet retreated.

I was so sad to realize I was dreaming. Never had a dream felt so real to me. And despite the introduction being only a dream, I felt a true sense of calm and completeness that Doug had finally met my grandparents and that they knew him.

Last night I printed out the copy of “Broken Mommies” that Auntie Joyce emailed to me. I read the story to Colin and Liam. After the boys went to bed, I sat and examined my copy of “Broken Mommies.” I want to understand each word and scribble. At the bottom of the second page, Granny wrote, “Good Cooker, Good Looker – See Good” The last word is crossed out. What do these words mean? What was that last word she crossed out? I try to decide whose handwriting looks like Granny’s handwriting, one of my aunt's or my mom's? I still have so many questions.

Slowly, I run my finger across the words that Granny wrote.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Carolyn faces a personal challenge

Outdoor education week presented me with one unexpected, personal challenge. I think I met this challenge, but I am not certain I should be proud or that I should share the details of it with you…Oh well, here it goes...

As my family and close friends all know, I am a tiny bit phobic of germs in general and public restrooms in particular. I am the crazy woman that opens the door to the rest room with her shirtsleeve and turns on the tap with the paper towel. Taking my boys into a public restroom, I repeat the mantra I learned from my mother. “Don’t touch anything, don’t touch anything, wash your hands.” As I repeat the mantra over and over on each trip to the restroom, I know that I need to stop. I want to stop because I know that I am instilling this same phobia in my sons, as my mother did to me and her mother did to her. I just can’t to stop myself. Some personalities seem more susceptible to this influence than others. My mother was more so than her sisters, just like her mother. I seem more susceptible than my siblings and I am worried Liam might be vulnerable too. Colin, luckily, does not seem affected in the least.

On Hikoi Day during the boys' Outdoor Ed Week, we had a few minutes after returning from Skyline gondola for bathroom breaks and to eat our snacks before the Maori lecture. I ran to use the restroom in the main school hall. When I entered the restroom wearing my sunglasses, I could barely see. I tucked my glasses into my shirt and rushed to do my business.

Someone hadn’t flushed before me, but I thought to myself, "Be a good environmentalist, save water and flush after you pee. If it's yellow, let it mellow."

As I turned to flush the toilet, my glasses slipped off the front of my shirt, splashed into the toilet bowl and sank.

I said, “S#?t!” and thought, “Now, what do I do?”

I had two choices. One, I could walk out of the bathroom and pretend I hadn’t worn sunglasses that day. But we had an afternoon of walking around in the bright sunshine. Also, they were an expensive pair of sunglasses that I really liked. I didn’t know if I could find another pair of them here in New Zealand.

I went with my second choice. I took a deep breath, plunged my hand to the bottom of the bowl and grabbed my glasses. I turned on the faucet without a paper towel because there weren’t any and, at this point, I was beyond caring. Then, I discovered the soap dispenser was empty too. I rinsed my hands and glasses in lukewarm water. Holding my dripping glasses with my wet fingertips at arm's length, I left the restroom. I needed soap and decided the administrators' bathroom would be my best option. Thank the goddess, the administrators had soap, towels and hot water. By the time I returned to the school group, they were heading into the main hall for the lecture. I had missed snack, which was fine with me, because I had completely lost my appetite.

When I got home I soaked my glasses and hands in Purell, washed them both again with soap and hot water, and finally took a shower, without my sunglasses.

My family, you should be proud of me. Maybe, just maybe, I have broken the phobic cycle.

p.s. I offer a picture of a clean and radiant rainbow, also taken during Outdoor Education Week, as an antidote to this disgusting blog entry. If you look really closely, you can see a hint of a double rainbow!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Carolyn and Doug head out for a night too

When the boys left on their overnight camping trips, Doug and I realized we had a night to ourselves! We too headed out for a little adventure, up to a fishing hut to “camp out.” Unlike the boys, though, we had running water, a bed and a cozy fireplace. We went for a great hike, grilled steaks under the stars and snuggled next to the fireplace. I had big plans for a morning hike, but instead slept like a log until 10 am, which is the latest I’ve slept since we arrived in New Zealand.

On our late afternoon hike, we tried to take a shortcut across a boggy area and ended up thigh deep in water and muck. I was leaping tussock to tussock, feeling like I was going to make it across until I looked back to see Jolie flaying in a deep, water-filled hole with just her head visible. I turned back to rescue her because Doug was too far away. By the time I pulled the eighty-pound Jolie out of her pit, we were both soaked and covered in foul-smelling muck. We were a beautiful sight as we returned to the hut.

Without a phone at the fishing hut, I was nervous that, in an emergency or if the weather turned ugly, the boys would return to find us gone. We packed our neighbor’s numbers in the boys’ packs so that if one or both boys headed home early, they could call our neighbor to drive out and get us. Luckily, all went smoothly on the trips.

Monday, March 10, 2008

This year I just feel more Kiwi

I wrote this entry in 20 February and somehow it was saved in draft form. I don't think it was ever posted. If you've already seen it, I'm sorry and please ignore.

As I drove the boys to school on the third day, Colin said in the most wistful voice, “ I miss my old life. I miss my school, especially my teachers and friends.”

All I could say was, “I know.” I was glad I was driving and facing forward where Colin couldn’t see my sad, wet eyes.

Now, two weeks into school, the mood has completely changed. Both boys have made friends. Colin has a core group of boys, some from his new class and some from last year’s class. He says he always has at least one friend to play with at recess. Liam has a new best friend, Scottie. He’s going to Scottie’s birthday party tomorrow after school. Liam noted this is the first time in New Zealand he has been invited to a friend’s house first (before he has invited the friend to our house).

This morning, waiting for the bus, Liam explained, “This year I just feel more Kiwi.”

Note: The photo has nothing to do with entry. Doug took the photo Monday evening (18 February). In the early mornings and evenings, low thin clouds stretch along the lake. They mesmerize us.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Outdoor Education Week

This was Outdoor Education Week at Queenstown Primary School and the theme for the week was challenge. Liam and Colin have both been discussing challenges in their classrooms and setting goals for personal challenges. The entire school spends the week on outdoor adventures, experiencing many personal and group challenges first hand. Both boys had incredible, adventure-packed weeks. Doug and I tagged along on several of the days, too. The whole community seems to get involved. Parents join outings as helpers. All tour operators in town give huge discounts for the students and parents. Parents shuttle supplies in their cars, boats and helicopters. All week long, the first question when greeting someone around town is "What trip is your kid on today? "

From the outside the week looks like a logistical nightmare. Students in the school are divided into groups A, B, C, and D. Siblings are placed in the same groups and each group includes students from the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools. Some days of the week all of Group A went on outings together and older and younger students were placed in buddy pairs. On other days, the groups subdivided by age for separate outings. The same teachers stayed with the same students all week. As a Group A Middle School Student, Colin was with one set of teachers and as a Group A Senior School Student, Liam had another set. Colin and Liam both went on overnights on the same night to different locations. While my explanation of the logistics may seem convoluted, Liam and Colin each came home Friday prior to the trips with individual programmes for the week. The programs outlined their daily itineraries and equipment lists. Colin and Liam knew exactly what to bring, where to go and who they were with every day of the week.

Not knowing exactly what to expect, we arrived early Monday morning for the first day of Outdoor Education Week. The air was cool, one of the chilliest mornings yet and the campus was teeming with activity. Every classroom, empty room, playground and meeting area seem to have a group of students, teachers and parents preparing for the day. The campus is tucked right against the mountainside, so the sun arrives at school late and the groups meeting outside clustered around the few sunny spots trying to absorb to heat. Teachers conducted roll calls and gear checks. Parents were briefed on their duties. Students organized their gear, donned sun hats and slathered sunblock. Buses and cars were loaded with supplies and students. Other groups headed up the gondola and still others headed off campus on foot.

Both boys went on overnight camping trips on Monday. Colin went to Bannockburn and visited the Kawarau Mining Village. He even did a little gold panning. Colin slept in a tent with two buddies, but said that he was up most of the night with snoring and loud breathing all around him. Liam camped on Pigeon Island in Lake Wakatipu. Liam and schoolmates took jet boats out to the island and their tent, or the marquee as Liam calls it, was delivered by helicopter to the island. Liam, forty-seven schoolmates, his teachers and the parent helpers all slept under the marquee. Both boys returned Tuesday afternoon exhausted but thrilled with their trips. They were talking at the same time all the way home as they tried to recount all the details of their overnights.

Wednesday, Doug joined Liam, Colin and the rest of Group A on the hike to Lake Alta. It was a cloudy, drizzly day. Group A felt lucky to have finished their overnights between rainstorms. Liam and Colin were two of eight kids out of Group A that made it to the summit of the hike and Colin was proud to be the only Middle School student who reached the summit.

I joined the boys for Hikoi Day on Thursday. Hikoi is a Maori word meaning a journey or march. In the morning we had a Maori welcoming ceremony, a powhiri, in the school hall. Then we rode the Skyline gondola to visit Kiwi Haka, where we watched and participated in traditional Maori songs and dance and traditions. We returned to school for a talk on Maori history of Queenstown and surrounding areas. Liam and Colin were fascinated by the stories we heard. After a picnic lunch we head for Queenstown Gardens for a lesson on flax weaving. Liam made a headband and Colin and I made flowers. For the Kirkpatricks, the whole day was a learning experience because we know so little about the Maori culture.

Friday, Colin took the Earnslaw Steamboat across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station and then hiked to Table Bay. Colin’s favorite part of the day was singing songs on the Earnslaw on the way home. They sang songs like, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine.”

Liam spent Friday climbing Ben Lomond. He rode the gondola up to Skyline and then the hike began. Liam was a bit nervous about whether he would be able to reach the summit on the Ben Lomond hike. He carefully packed his bag with all the required gear as soon as he was home from school the day before the hike. We made a high-energy lunch and put snacks in pockets he could easily reach during the hike. The moment I saw him at the end of the day, knew he had made it. He looked exhausted, but was all smiles.

Friday night we toasted all the adventures and challenges of the week as we chowed on burritos and ice cream.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cats always seem to find the best seat in the house

And, they seem to assume the best seat must be for them. Ollie has claimed the sheepskin as his spot. He heads for the sheepskin in the chilly early mornings before the sun warms up the house and at night, if he hasn't snuck onto someone's bed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

4WD Trip through Central Otago

We took part in the annual Closeburn Station 4WD trip last weekend and spent three days touring dusty back roads through Central Otago, our new backyard. Every vehicle in our caravan, after the leader, was lost in the cloud of dust churned up by the car in front. But when the dust settled and the wind was in our favor, the sights were amazing. The grasses and tussocks on the hillsides are turning brown. The landscape looks soft and muted. A few wild flowers still bloom, especially along green slopes of the lazy summer streams. Actually some of the streams were still quite deep, which we discovered trying to cross them. Strangely, the open ranch lands of Otago remind us of our old stomping grounds in Park County, Colorado. Both locales are rich with legends and ruins from their gold rush days. We spent the first night at the Vulcan hotel in St. Bathans. The Vulcan Hotel is supposedly haunted. None of the Kirkpatricks saw the ghost, but one member of our party switched rooms in the middle of the night. The second night we stayed in a nondescript motel in Omarama. The trip was a fun opportunity to get to know some of our new neighbors. In fact, they all got to know a side to Doug I don't even know! I took Colin and Liam back to motel for bed. Doug headed out to the local pub with the rest of our group (not to return to early morning). It was Karaoke Night at the pub. I learned at breakfast that Doug treated our group, and many other Kiwis, to a few songs. Unfortunately, I was snoozing back at the motel and wasn't able to recored the event.