Tag Archives: New Zealand

Hauraki Rail Trail

In preparation for our Big Christmas Adventure, we cycled the Hauraki Rail Trail last weekend.

“We” being myself, Mr L and the three little Ls. When we mention family bike rides to people, the usual response is “Wow! Ummm- how does that work, exactly, with 3 kids?”

Well, here’s how we do it:

The cycling logistics involve Mr L pulling a Wee Hoo iGo Two behind him. Master L (and usually Miss L) sit on this. Whoever’s at the front can also “help” by pedaling, although Mr L tells me it’s not a huge contribution they make! I pull baby L (and sometimes Miss L, when she tires of the Wee Hoo) in a Chariot double trailer. Mr L is a competent, experienced cyclist, so having an extra long bike with two young children who like to randomly throw their weight around (and sometimes fall asleep and slump inadvertently to one side) is a small challenge but not a huge deal. I’m not sure how I’d manage, being by far the less experienced, less confident, less fit and less skillful rider (not meaning to put myself down, just being honest). Towing the Chariot, on the other hand, while being harder work than propelling just myself, isn’t technically any more challenging, although some of the narrower gates require a certain amount of precision riding!

So the Hauraki Rail Trail is a 95km trail (in its entirety) between Thames and Te Aroha at the southern end of the Coromandel peninsula. There’s a side arm approximately 21km long which goes from Paeroa up to Waihi and this is definitely the most scenic section of the trail and would be my recommendation if all you were looking for was a day ride. The trail runs beside the beautiful Ohinemuri river, through the Karangahake Gorge, which is the kind of place you’d almost expect to find a hobbit asleep under a tree, it’s just so picturesque. We wanted to do the whole thing, not just the prettiest bit, partly as a trial run for Christmas and partly because there’s something immensely satisfying about waking up at point A and transporting yourself (without a vehicle) to point B, where you sleep. Thames-Paeroa and Paeroa-Te Aroha are not unpleasant rides by any means, cruising through mostly rolling fields and agricultural land.

There’s not a lot in the way of skilled bike support on the trail, so my advice would be as prepared as you can be for technical issues. Another big worry I had was sun protection and it turned out not to be an unfounded one. The NZ sun is fierce and we proved that even on a mostly cloudy, rainy day, it’s still possible to get burnt. The strategy of covering up as much as possible with clothing (long sleeves and pants), hats and sunscreen proved a successful one but even so, it’s easy to forget about exposed hands and that long shorts can ride up to expose un-sunscreened knees.

So was it worth the logistical challenge and extra grunt to pull 3 children along almost 100km of cycle trail? Absolutely. Our feeling is that if we can make adventures like these realistic and fun for the kids, they are far more likely to embark upon their own later in life (not to mention enjoy some more challenging ones with us as they get bigger). When I think of my own childhood, where a “bike ride” meant 10 minutes down the street and around the corner to the playground, it just doesn’t compare.

Zero Waste Update 2*

*I wrote this post in May but it looks as though I didn’t post it…. think maybe Baby L interrupted… Oops!

And so we continue this zero waste project… this morning as I was gazing into our rubbish bin (yes, I know, sad) I was struck by the proportion of its contents that consisted of nappies. We only have 1 child (Miss L) in nappies, although that’s soon (ie hopefully within the week) to be 2. Miss L, at 15kg and 22 months old, is simply too big for the cloth nappies I have, and I’m not forking out for another system when I hope she’ll be toilet trained in the next 6 months. I do try to make a nappy last as long as possible (sometimes invoking the need for nappy cream) and she does have some nappy-free time (usually at her own insistence) which saves on nappies and also does the job of nappy cream. I know it’s not ideal. But it works for us. As with Master and Miss L, I’m intending to use a combination of cloth & disposable for Baby L.

Wipes are another ongoing issue and source of enviro-guilt for me. I looked into bamboo wipes, and will probably give them a go, but I did some research on bamboo on the internet and found conflicting info. Yes it’s “biodegradable” under the right circumstances and “natural” but many sites seemed to suggest that the environmental impact of growing bamboo (clearing land, water consumption) is considerable. Worse than the alternatives? I don’t know. The other option would be toilet roll and some plant-based, super expensive body lotion from somewhere like Ecostore and I was prepared to try this option but annoyingly, when I was there the other day, I found they only sell teeny weeny bottles (not just expensive but also quite wasteful and their bottles are not refillable, just recyclable). I also thought about cloth wipes and just washing them but I know that the realities of washing a poo-encrusted piece of cloth would be prohibitive and it really wouldn’t take off. So back to bamboo it is, I suppose.

So how are the other projects going?

Reducing packaging

My new bread system is working brilliantly! I found an unused large linen drawstring bag, which had come as one of those protective covers for my Country Road Tote bag- which I use all the time unless I have the nappy bag (which is almost all the time) but regardless, I don’t empty my tote and put it away, so I have never had any use for the special bag-bag. I washed it and use it for my bread. It easily fits 4 large loaves, 6 rolls and the occasional scone or other treat.

I felt jubilant last week at the supermarket after psyching up and asking for my chicken breasts from the meat counter to be placed into my Tupperware container (actually they’re Décor but anyway). I had convinced myself that surely I wasn’t the ONLY person to have ever done this, right? The woman looked at me like I was mad. She glanced sideways and said “I’m not really sure I’m allowed to”. I said “I just want to save the plastic”. She added “I’ll have to weigh the container too”. I smiled, said “Just put it on the scales and zero it, then stick the label on the lid”. I was probably the most exciting customer she had all day. Certainly the most excited, I felt positively buoyant after the experience! Today that all came undone when I tried to buy ham from a different branch of the same chain of supermarket and was told “We’re not allowed to do that” but I was offered one of their plastic boxes instead of the usual plastic bag. I tried to explain that my objection was to the plastic, not to the bag, but got nowhere so took the plastic bag and walked off trying to look more haughty and less sheepish than I actually felt. Might have to work on that one….

We are bin-liner free! This was a really easy progression. I used to double line my bins (!!!) in case the liner leaked, so I wouldn’t have to clean the bin (I’d only routinely throw one liner away though, unless it had leaked and the second was dirty). Yes, I’ve had to wash the kitchen bin out a couple of times but it’s really no big deal. I try to put messy rubbish straight into the wheelie bin (the way our house is laid out this is not a big hassle, although once the rainy days of winter arrive I may feel differently) and for really, really messy things (eg chicken bones boiled & strained to make stock) I do put them in a plastic bag.

Toilet rolls– I placed a bulk order for 48 400-sheet 2-ply toilet rolls, from a website called insinc.co.nz, made from recycled paper and wrapped in paper, delivered in a cardboard box, no plastic!! Not entirely sure of the hydrocarbon cost and carbon emission created from the delivery of the box by, presumably, motorised transport but anyway.

Bamboo toothbrushes– I paid $6 a piece for these in Ecostore, then saw a different brand in New World for $4 each so bought one of those too just to compare. As soon as my plastic ones wear down, they’re getting a trial run. Ditto some bamboo cotton buds (which I personally don’t use but Mr L does).

Soap dishes– we are a liquid-soap free house! The bars are quite messy, I think maybe even worse on a dish. Plus they get dirty if you have really dirty hands (think grease from a car exhaust). Plus once they get soft the kids like to dig their fingers into the bars which is wasteful and unsightly but then I suppose so is chucking out a plastic soap refill container every few months.

Washing powder– I found a new brand in cardboard packaging going cheap in New World so decided to give it a go- it’s called Ecoplanet. Not as zero-waste as refilling my ice-cream container at Bin Inn, but I’d bought the non eco-friendly powder last time at Bin Inn, and was feeling guilty about that. I like the Ecoplanet better than some of the other eco-brands as the packaging is completely plastic free- no annoying plastic bag hiding inside the box and even a cardboard scoop instead of those plastic ones that you then get left wondering what to do with.

Cloth napkins– I dug out my (hardly ever used) cloth napkins to use instead of kitchen roll- we weren’t ever great kitchen-roll consumers anyway but I like to use one if I’m eating something messy and they kids have taken to using them too.


I continue to visit Bin Inn, trying to be mindful of the environmental issues associated with driving there in the first place. I have bought canola oil, golden syrup and honey there now and they do, in fact, sell olive oil, it’s just not on display.

Some other places I’ve found include:

Wise Cicada in Newmarket- they have loads of stuff on offer and seem to market themselves as an organic café/deli/general store. In fact, not all their products are “eco-friendly”- like the cotton-nylon shower puff they had. They had a lot of alternative-style, hemp and hessian bags and clothes for sale but I didn’t feel they offered much over and above my other eco-resources except for staff members with dreadlocks.

Huckleberry Farms– this appears to be a chain, the closest one being within a few km of our house. It seems to be more of a health-food shop and they do sell a lot of naturopathic/alternative health products, but they have a moderate selection of dry goods in bins.

And so we continue to pare our waste down…. Until next time!

Guess Who’s Back?

After a long and busy hiatus, I’m finally back in blog land.

May saw the arrival of our 3rd and final child, a beautiful baby boy. Since then things have been rather hectic with 3 kids to manage but the departure of my parents in law last weekend signalled a return to “normal” (well real, anyway) life.

I have been itching to write again for some weeks now. I’d like to say I have loads of new material and inspiration but I’d be lying, so I thought I’d get writing and see what flowed.

Foremost in my headspace right now (other than Master, Miss and Baby L) are my on-going zero-waste efforts, my aspirations to minimalism as well as some new mindfulness stuff. I’ve read Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before, since writing last and of course, there’s the usual post baby lose weight/return to exercise/ back to work challenges to tackle.

We anticipate spending another 18 months in NZ (maybe more but probably no less) and after the speed at which the first year and a bit has flow by we have resolved to get out there a bit more and see as much as we can see. So more to follow on that…

For now though, that’s my quick “hello I’m back” spiel, just to get my typing fingers warmed up again.

See you soon x

Doing words for July

  • Bookmarking:
 Auckland café & restaurant review sites
  • Buying:
 a stand-up paddle board! Crikey!
  • Considering:
 buying some skis
  • Cooking: with a full complement of utensils and appliances once again, thank goodness!
  • Drinking:
 beer in the spa…. Probably not great for the waistline!
  • Enjoying:
 exploring new places on the weekends, like Hunua Falls.
  • Feeling:
 a whole load of different things from day to day.
  • Getting:
 to know my way around. Slowly.
  • Giggling:
 at Modern Family. We watched Season 2 while waiting for our TV to be hooked up.
  • Hoping:
 to make some friends.
  • Liking:
 my new job.
  • Looking: 
for some stools for the cubby house.
  • Loving:
 how the beaches here are so dog-friendly.
  • Making:
 baby number 3. Hopefully.
  • Marvelling:
 that I squeezed into a size 10 wetsuit!
  • Playing:
 on the trampoline with Master L (when it’s dry and Miss L’s asleep).
  • Pondering:
 things to do with each set of grandparents, the first arrive next week.
  • Needing:
 to register the dog with the council, I just found out!
  • Reading:
 the world’s worst novel on my eReader. Still.
  • Smelling:
 another slow-cooker meal- let’s hope it tastes alright!
  • Thinking:
 about my Grandma and her celebration service tomorrow.
  • Waiting:
 for Miss L to start walking- still!
  • Wanting:
 so inspiration for Mr L’s birthday present!
  • Watching: the days slowly getting longer.
  • Wearing:
 my skinny jeans and ankle boots to death.
  • Wondering:
 how I’ll go at my SUP lesson tomorrow!

No Place Like Home

And so, we have moved.

The change has happened, the page has turned, it’s done. It was fluttering in the breeze for weeks, if not months, before we left. Yet I could somehow delude myself it was reversible until the removalists arrived, took our stuff and suddenly… our house no longer felt like home…. Or didn’t it?

Strangely, the most emotional I felt leaving our house was walking around it empty, the morning after the furniture had gone, checking all the rooms, picking up the rake lying on the back lawn, looking back at the cubby house, the empty chicken coop, walking up the steps that Mr L built last year so Master L could toddle up and down the back garden more easily. His preschool teacher had suggested we say goodbye by lighting a candle and going through each room, recounting a memory we had from that room. This was a ridiculously impractical suggestion, apart from the fact that at age 2, Master L has little concept of time as well as a limited number of memories, it would have been incredibly time-consuming and I would have essentially been talking to myself and thus felt stupid. And light a candle with a toddler??? Are you serious?? Just as well it was a stupid idea, I don’t think my fragile emotional state could have withstood such an indulgence of sentiment. It was bad enough watching Mr L tear down the jungle sticker frieze from Master L’s wall that we’d carefully chosen and mounted in the months before his birth.

And so we camped out in limbo for a few weeks, sleeping on an inflatable bed in the rented house that had seemed so fabulous with a full complement of (another family’s) furniture. It’s hard to feel at home sitting in a camping chair and eating out of plastic takeaway containers in an empty, echoey dining room, but I consoled myself with the fact that if I thought I felt strange in this (lovely) empty house, how downright awful it would have been in any of the less lovely (ie totally grim) houses we looked at.

And when our belongings and furniture arrived, I thought “Hooray, now it will feel like home!!” Unwrapping our plates and cups, our bedding, our pictures, our DVDs and books, the familiarity and comfort rating soared…

So is it “stuff” that makes a house a home? Before we left I would have said no, it wouldn’t matter if our house burnt down (I mean it would, but not that much) because our stuff is just stuff and we are more than that. So when all this “stuff” arrived and I felt the excitement that came with it I thought maybe I’d been wrong, maybe home is where your belongings are, after all, not for what they are, so much as what they represent and the memories they hold with them.

But less than a week later, all (well ok almost all) unpacked and our stuff squeezed into our lovely rental house, this place does not feel like home. I have felt more homesick this last week than ever, yet when I try and figure out what it is I miss, all I can come up with it the very thing that motivated me to come on this adventure in the first place- the familiarity. The old cliché says familiarity breeds contempt and I didn’t want to end up feeling that. But there’s a lot to be said for routine, familiarity, comfort. The big things like work & friends, I never expected leaving them to be easy, and even the silly little things, like which supermarket you decide to go to depending on what else you need (you want a coffee as well? Go to supermarket [a]. Need a bakery? Supermarket [b]. Side-trip to the playground? [c]), I wondered if familiarity with details like this made a place feel like home. Well, I have sampled approximately 10 supermarkets in the last month and still it doesn’t feel like home.

Some languages have a word for a feeling that’s kind of like fond, happy memories of home or times gone by. In English we don’t really have a single word that I’m aware of that translates… I think nostalgia is probably the closest. I knew as we made the decision to leave that we were closing the chapter on several happy years and saying goodbye to our home. And so, as we try and establish ourselves in this new place and turn an adventure into a lifestyle, I know that we will gradually start writing our new chapter and filling it with fond memories. Eventually, it will be less about homesickness and more about that foreign concept approximated by nostalgia.

Kids & Cafes

I am not one of those entitled mother-types who expects cafes in general to cater for children. I also have a particular dislike for the popular concept of what constitutes “child-friendly” (play gyms, play grounds, “kids eat free before 6” deals etc). In fact I believe that, as a general rule, children should be café-friendly rather than the other way round. I do not expect other people to enjoy eating in close proximity to my children and I, in turn, cringe pretty much every time I have to sit within sight or earshot of any OPCs in a café of my choosing, especially when I’m sans enfants myself.

However, realistically, human beings usually reproduce, meaning that, as a cafe owner, a large proportion of your clientele will have children. Those with adult children are heading towards the “old” category and belong in quiet old-people cafes, so I’m not talking about them. Those who are too young to have children generally belong in student cafes or nightclubs, so we don’t care about them either. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume, though, that many of your customers between the ages of 25 and 45 will have young children, so you’re losing out on business if you make your café completely soul-destroying for parents to bring their kids to. (NB I’m not referring to fine dining, fully licensed restaurants here, I’m talking about cafes.)

We recently had a short break to the South Island of NZ and stayed in Arrowtown. While we were there we were unlucky enough to eat at two completely child-unfriendly cafes.  We were also lucky/brave enough to venture into the coolest, hippest-looking café in town and it actually turned out to be the most child-friendly, funnily enough.

Whether the Chop Shop had observed the other two in action and taken a lesson in what not to do, I’m not sure. But if they did, they appeared to have learned the following:

  1. Serve children quickly. No one likes a restless child, let along its own parents. Especially not parents who are trying to eat their own meals simultaneously with their child. It is a fabulous idea to get the food, and even better, the kids’ food, out there early. The sooner they eat, the sooner they leave-everyone’s a winner.
  2. Have a noisy café. Background music, of any sort, is great for hiding child-related noise (yes this is mostly crying, but also shouting, banging cutlery, dropping cups and shrieking at random). Parents will also feel soothed and refreshed knowing there is more to popular music than The Wiggles and Nursery Rhymes for the Criminally Insane.
  3. Have clean toys, and just a few. We don’t need a whole basket of grimy, chewed, chipped, peeling, arm-less dolls, cars and the like. Just a few simple plastic or wooden toys which don’t look like they were rejected from a jumble sale or deliberately left behind by their owners’ parents. And ideally, non-sound-emitting ones are best.
  4. High chairs are handy, there’s no doubt about it. But I don’t routinely expect cafes to carry them, in fact our favourite breakfast café on the mainland didn’t have any. (The owner of the café commented on this to us once, and we assured him that highchairs would surely just attract more people with children so best not encourage them by getting any). But if you do equip your café with a highchair or 3, just get the basic $50 ones from IKEA [actually, having just inserted that link, I see they are only $20. Even better]. They stack. They are plastic. They don’t have loads of clips and straps and nooks and crannies, which get chewed, broken and clogged up with kiddy gunk. You can wipe them down in a flash.
  5. Kids’ menu. I can take or leave the kids’ menu. If I take it, though, it’s because it has real food on it. If I leave it, it’s because it has some awful set-menu of nuggets and chips or fish and chips or vegemite sandwiches and fruit juice poppers, which annoys me and patronises my children, who actually don’t really like chips all that much. The best thing (IMHO) is to have something that’s cheap and easy (like toast) that you can add extras to (upon leaving Sydney, Master L at 2 ½ years old was up to sausage, avocado, mushrooms AND eggs as his “extras”).
  6. Declutter the tables. Seriously, the sugar canisters, the vases, the menu tabards in plastic cases, the candles, even the salt and pepper. We don’t need the distraction and we do need the space, so get rid of this crap please!

Chop Shop, we will definitely be back. You made us feel welcome even (especially?) with our children. You ticked all the boxes. What’s more, you had lots of yummy menu items we want to try over a proper, adult, 10am breakfast. Who knows, we might even leave the kids at home next time, but if we can’t, at least you make us feel like it’s no big deal to bring them with us.

Cafes of Auckland- an introduction


The Store- Britomart

In Sydney I find myself categorising most eating establishments as places I’d either go to with my children or I places wouldn’t in a million years. It’s rare that a place can be both. Auckland, it seems, is different. We stumbled across this delightful eatery tired and weary… Up since 4am, we’d survived a 3 hour flight with 2 kids in tow, all 4 of us had had minimal sleep and this was the first non-aeroplane or airport food we’d consumed all day. Seriously, almost anything would have done. But The Store was far from an “anything will do” kind of establishment. A Kiwi friend of mine had told me that NZers in general are far more tolerant than Sydney-siders of the presence of children at the kind of cool café that as an adult you’d actually want to eat at in the absence of your children and, having spent a very pleasant hour here (well, ok maybe half an hour, the kids weren’t THAT good!) I now believe it. We ate in the bistro/restaurant section (where I must confess I enviously eyed a few locals drinking white wine with their lunches but feared I’d lose all capacity to cope with the afternoon ahead if I did the same) but I asked for a delicious-looking chicken pie from their bakery section, which didn’t disappoint. Mr L had a pulled pork sandwich (yum) and we ordered ricotta hotcakes for the kids to share. (They were too tired to really eat much, but Mr L and I enjoyed their hotcakes for dessert). Even the (non-alcoholic) drinks were cool- I had a delicious apple & cinnamon tisane-type drink- it was a little on the sugary side but would have been a perfect hot-chocolate substitute and Master L sank all of Mr L’s quince & malt milkshake before he got much of a look-in. Service was friendly and helpful. I’d happily go there again- avec or sans enfants, either alone, with Mr L, a girlfriend or parents (including in-law).

Circus Circus- Mt Eden

I don’t think I would have gone into this place had Mr L not had it recommended to him, it looked a bit gimmicky. Although I have, on previous occasions, observed that the busiest-looking café is usually the best, so if I’d gone by that rule I may have ended up there after all, as everywhere else was deserted. I’ll have to withhold the superlative for the time being, but only because I have nothing nearby to compare it to: I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the gimmicky exterior, the service was incredibly helpful and friendly and the food and coffee were definitely worth going back for. Again, child-friendly without being (seeing-hearing-feeling) adult unfriendly, the menu offered a few different choices to the standard Sydney breakfast fare (which consists of bacon & egg rolls, eggs bene, bircher muesli). Mr L and I baulked at the bowls of coffee they served us (you can get cups instead if you want) but the coffee was really good and I had no trouble finishing mine. He had home-made hash-browns (I would have called them potato cakes or gallettes, as I was totally put-off by the term hash-brown) with smoked salmon & poached eggs and I had an omelette with salsa verde, which I don’t often do, as they are usually enormous and I just feel full and sick afterwards. This omelette was indeed quite large, but very nice, although to my great sorrow I set the pot of salsa aside to butter my toast and forgot to try it until I was full of omelette. I’m often wary of salsa verde, I often find it a bit too grass-like but this was more like a subtle pesto: delicious! We ordered the kids toast although Master L demanded most of Mr L’s smoked salmon, and a berry smoothie, which was perfectly yoghurty & un-sugary. I also spied the rolls and sandwiches they had on display as well as some amazing-looking desserts and thought, I’d happily eat here again… how long till lunch?

Zarbo- Newmarket

I realised as soon as I walked in that I’d actually been here before. It appealed to me this time for the same reason as last time- a big central counter with a vast array of breakfast, lunch and in-between choices that looked like they’d been cooked on-site at this café-cum-deli. Great coffee (again) and I like the touch of the mini chocolate-brownie bite that came with it. I’m a big fan of those little biscuits you sometimes get with a coffee when you’re not ordering food. When you are ordering food, I find it a little unnecessary, but I ate it nonetheless. I made a poor choice with my breakfast, however, mostly my own fault. I almost never order the muesli-yoghurt-fruit combo: I am fussy about my fruit, fussy about my yoghurt and I make muesli at home to my own individual taste and rarely find anything that measures up in my book. So the odds were against Zarbo being able to give me a dish that I’d be happy with. Indeed, I was unfortunate enough to end up with thin blobby yoghurt, toasted muesli riddled with banana chips (shudder) and a plate full of pineapple, pear and either papaya or melon, I wasn’t sure which. Given that my 3 least favourite fruits are, in fact, melon, papaya and pear, this was not an ideal breakfast. Like I said, poor choice on my part, really. Mr L had a lovely eggs benedict (with a potato cake instead of the boring old English muffin) and the poached eggs looked absolutely perfectly cooked. Master L had a boiled egg with bacon & toast soldiers, which he devoured. Service was pleasant and I’d go there again, although the menu didn’t enthrall me like The Store’s did, and the attention to detail didn’t impress me like Circus Circus had. Still, not a bad place to have up your sleeve.

Café Lava- Parnell

I chose this café on the basis that I was flying solo with two kids and there were no other customers in it to a) steer the stroller around or b) annoy. This blatantly disregards my advice re the busiest café being the best and Kiwis being tolerant of children etc but hey, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to test either theory. I walked past the first time having turned my nose up on approach, but on glancing inside it actually looked ok- funky white sofa and otherwise unremarkable décor, I thought perhaps I had judged it too harshly. So on the way back we stopped, I was desperate for a coffee and Master L was asking for a smoothie. Both of which they did quite nicely, I must say. So Café Lava served its purpose. I can’t say I’d rush back there- among the songs played (I think it was a radio station they had playing- although I’m not sure that’s much of an excuse) were You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling and John Farnham’s “Two Strong Hearts”…. Ok ok, so yes, they are both on my ipod and yes, alright, they are two of my favourite songs, but decidedly more appropriate for singing along to in the car than drinking coffee to. What I couldn’t get past, however, were the uninspiring photos of various dishes (do we really need an A4 snapshot of the eggs benedict?), laminated, blu-tacked to the wall… Thanks for your hospitality, you may see us again, but not in a hurry…

Mink- Parnell

We had hoped to check out Casetta for Saturday morning breakfast but it was closed. Instead, we chose Mink, partly because it was directly opposite and partly because we were in a bit of a hurry and it was the only café in which we could see people inside getting ready to open (just before 8am, apparently Kiwis sleep late- or perhaps they are all out early doing crazy adventure stuff and so don’t get to breakfast till a bit later).  We had a pleasant but not mind-blowing breakfast, the food was reasonably priced and nicely cooked- I went for poached eggs on toast with spinach which is a bit of a staple for me. The eggs were lovely (I always feel I’m taking a risk ordering poached eggs at a new café, but they were done perfectly) as was the spinach (not sure how they did it but it was hot and tasty, not watery and boring which happens often with cooked spinach) and even the toast (dark and grainy) was lovely. Good coffee, Mr L enjoyed his French toast and Master L wolfed down his sausage (which doesn’t mean much, he’s not terribly picky when it comes to sausages.) The service was pleasant and inoffensive, but I just felt there was something lacking… maybe it was the young waitress wearing running tights (interesting) who hovered, looking awkward, clearly looking for something to do, or perhaps it was the bad soundtrack (again!) or perhaps it was simply the fact that we were at the end of a big week and knew we had to haul two kids and a hundred bags back across the Tasman, so my breakfast mojo was lacking. I’d go back, faced with similar circumstances but next time I’m in Parnell, I’d do my best to try somewhere else first.



Changing Country

All Good Things Sarah Turnbull- a review

 I’ve almost finished reading All Good Things at the moment, by Sarah Turnbull. She’s also the author of Almost French, which I read at uni (almost 20 years ago) where, as a late twenty-something Australian woman, she moves to Paris and describes her experience of trying to adapt and live alongside “les Parisiens”. When I discovered she had a new book, I resolved to re-read Almost French and remind myself of her experiences and her writing style, but I was caught by surprise when All Good Things popped up in the Sony reader store on special, and I was too impatient to go and source a copy of her earlier work first.

All Good Things has taken me a long time to read. As with everything nowadays, some of that can be blamed on situational factors (too tired, too busy, the kids, conflicting electronic demands (ie too much time on the internet) but I can’t help but feel that for a really compelling read I’d put these things aside. I didn’t really know what to expect of the book, I knew that Sarah and her French husband leave Paris to move to Tahiti and that was it. If I’d thought about it, I suppose I’d have realised that a personal memoir of life on Mo’orea was probably not going to be particularly fast-paced.

 But overall I’ve enjoyed reading it. There are several aspects of her story that I was able to identify with- her experience of Polynesia, her journey to becoming a mother, even her scuba-diving adventures are all things I can relate to although perhaps in rather different ways to her.

 However there are two things that really appeal to me. The first is her writing style. Much of what I’ve read over the last few years has been, quite frankly, trash. Predictable, formulaic, albeit page-turning chick-lit. In some ways I’m a bit of a literary wannabe. I like to appreciate good writing, I enjoy thinking about themes and imagery and all that stuff, but I don’t want to have to think too hard about it. I want it to be there for me to appreciate without having to expend too much mental energy. And All Good Things allows me just that. Sarah Turnbull writes beautifully. Admittedly her subject matter (mostly the history and natural environment of Tahiti) lends itself to vibrant prose and imagery but her descriptive passages are so… vivid (fortunately she has a far broader vocabulary than mine) and her command of adjectives (although the excerpt below isn’t actually great example of adjectives per se) is astounding.

“Waves pounded the reef, sending white caps scudding across the lagoon and vibrations travelling through the air. Ferns shimmied and shook, coconut palms tossed their heads like impatient ponies, the rubbery papaya tree arched acrobatically. When the rain fell the power of it was thrilling. Water rolled down our iron roof, falling over the eaves in fat glass ropes that glittered under the bright garden lights. The percussive din was so load we had to shout to be heard.”

My English teacher, Mrs Wade, would have been in heaven with all this imagery, albeit a rather frustrated one due my inability to understand the difference between a simile and a metaphor.

While reading passages such as this and in particular her descriptions of her lagoon and ocean forays (swimming and scuba diving), I often wondered how Sarah translated her observations to paper. Did she take notes as she was pottering around the island (surely she must have)? Sitting on a beach with a notebook I can easily imagine, but scribbling notes straight after a scuba dive, all sandy and salty and dripping water on the paper? Did she ponder for hours searching for the perfect adjective or did they all just pop into her head? (Actually an early passage describing some of the writing drills she attempted to overcome her writer’s block would suggest there wasn’t a lot of popping. Nevertheless, I was impressed!)

The other angle that seems particularly pertinent to my own experience is her perspective on moving countries. She describes perfectly (I cannot find the passage at this point- annoying e-reader) how she felt on a brief visit to Australia after some time living in France, how she somehow expected everything to be the same and felt quite indignant that, in her absence, people had dared to move on. I clearly remember having the same feelings during my first trip back to England after we had emigrated to Australia. It was 4 years before we returned which, in anyone’s book, is quite a long time, but in the crucial years of adolescence, may as well be a lifetime. I remember naïvely expecting the comfortable niche I’d left as a 12 year old to be there when I returned at 16 and all my friends just sitting around missing me, as I had missed them since I’d left. Realising they hadn’t been doing that at all and that my niche had been solidly filled in for some time generated such feelings of sadness and loss that I found my visit really difficult in some ways. (Actually it was also exactly what I needed to realise where home really was now and get on with life instead of wallowing in sentimental thoughts of where I’d be now if we hadn’t moved).

Of course, with our imminent move to NZ, this theme becomes relevant again. At the end of the book, Sarah moves back to Australia with her husband and son, and in the final few chapters she describes the physical steps that contribute to such a life-change:

“Changing country requires commitment and energy. Finding or starting work, making friends, developing new rituals, locating favourite restaurants and pastimes- the process of settling in, or “blending in”, as my mother used to say, takes time and energy. Finally, if you’ve been diligent and your efforts prove fruitful, you end up with precisely what you left behind: routines and a regular life.”

As an adult, fortunately, these steps are easier. Not just because they are conscious but because you feel more in control of them than when you are dumped in a foreign country at the age of 12. The fact that you’re the one choosing to move in the first place probably has a lot to do with it as well. So does the fact that you feel much more confident in who you are and all these new discoveries are accessories to your life rather than the definition of it.

So I’m sorry it took me so long to get through the book. Whilst I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that I wasn’t compelled to read it faster, I think the fault was largely mine rather than the author’s. I’d be keen to go back and visit Almost French again. It did spend many years sitting on my bookshelf, only to be discarded in a fit of de-cluttering. But hey, that’s what a library is for, right?

Work-life balance

I’m back at work now. The “change” has come about and we are in a new phase. Along with my return to work, Master L has started preschool, Mr L has had a promotion at work and we have decided to move to New Zealand in June. Instead of the page flipping and finding ourselves in the new 2014 routine, the pages are fluttering in the breeze as we prepare ourselves for an even bigger change.

All this fluttering of pages has been quite stressful and I feel at times like I’m about to lose my place. Last week I really struggled with it all. And then it occurred to me today: it’s not so much the change that bothers me as the uncertainty. There isn’t an abundance of jobs for me in Auckland, so I’ve had to think outside the square and take a bit of a leap of faith that “something” will turn up. I have made a few enquiries and managed to find something that looks potentially promising. I’ve been struck by how much more cheerful I’ve felt each time I’ve made progress with this job opportunity. Not because it’s the perfect job, not because the idea of not working for a while bothers me unduly and certainly not because this job’s all in the bag… but because it reassures me that I can find something and it gives me something more tangible to start planning around.

I’ve always maintained that my job doesn’t define me. I like to think I work to live, not live to work. And that’s true. If I had to choose between my job and my life, my family, the job would be gone in an instant. And yet it is more to me than “just a job”. “Career” isn’t even the word I’m looking for… the job I do has required me to do a lot of study, gain a lot of experience and acquire a fairly extensive (yet specialised) set of skills. What really bothers me about not having a job to go to in NZ, the uncertainty I fear, is that if I don’t work while we’re away, I will lose a lot of the skills and knowledge I have. On the back of 2 lots of maternity leave fairly close together, how on earth would I going to function competently in my job once we get back at the end of 2016?

My job is part of who I am. No, it doesn’t define me, but it is part of me. That is, part of ME. Not “me” the mother or “me” the wife but just “me”. I go to work and leave the rest of my life behind for 10 hours. Not that I don’t think about them, show people pictures of the kids, text Mr L and curse that I forgot to take that night’s dinner out of the freezer but at work I get to talk to people about things that don’t need to involve any of that. And it’s nice.

I’ve worked for my current employer for more than 10 years. I like the people I work with (most of them, anyway) and in that time some have become good friends. But even when I do the odd bit of work somewhere different, where I don’t know people so well, I get the same feeling of “me”-ness. So I can’t even say it’s just about my work friends, it’s obviously more than that.

People talk a lot about work-life balance. But I wondered exactly what they say, so I Googled and ended up on Wikipedia (where I end up a lot). Surprisingly and somewhat reassuringly, it sums up what I’ve been trying to describe, only much more eloquently (but with annoying Americani”z”ation):

“By working in an organization, employees identify, to some extent, with the organization, as part of a collective group… However, employees also identify with their outside roles, or their “true self”… In other words, identity is “fragmented and constructed” through a number of interactions within and out of the organization; employees don’t have just one self. Most employees identify with not only the organization, but also other facets of their life (family, children, religion, etc.). Sometimes these identities align and sometimes they do not. When identities are in conflict, the sense of a healthy work-life balance may be affected.”

I don’t think my identities are in conflict, as such, in fact I think I have a pretty good work-life balance. But if I return, deskilled and unable to function at the level I do now, I know I’ll find that really hard to deal with.

Happy Australia Day!

It looks as though January 26th this year was the last Australia Day we will spend in Australia for a while. We’re moving to New Zealand!

Mr L has, for some time, been looking for a new challenge at work and so when one presented itself he was keen to seize it. I had known of his aspirations to spend a couple of years working overseas ever since I met him and, although “live overseas” was also on my Life List (kind of like a mega to-do list), I still find the prospect of upping and moving (even if it is just across the ditch) somewhat confronting, especially when everything seems to have fallen so nicely into place for 2014.

Funny, because in many ways the thought of stagnating here scares me too. So many people say “It seems like only yesterday my son was in nappies/learning to walk/starting preschool. Last week he turned 18/35/52”. I love our life here at the moment but I don’t want that to be me, saying “Master L turns 21 next month, maybe we should look at moving/renovating/getting a life of our own”.

So I drew up a quick list of pros and cons.

Starting with the pros:

  1. I’ve always wanted to live overseas for a year or two
  2. We love NZ, at least to go to on holidays
  3. Mr L is convinced it’s the right thing for him and is clearly excited about it
  4. It’s really not that far away
  5. It’s exciting!
  6. Now is the best time to do it, before the little Ls are settled in school
  7. It might be the change I need from my job, which I love but I have started to think “what next?” a bit.
  8. It’s a great chance to declutter!
  9. It might be the perfect opportunity to have that 3rd baby

 In fact, the only cons I could come up with were:

  1. Master L is starting preschool and it looks amazing!
  2. I’ve managed to establish a very neat work, preschool & childcare schedule
  3. We love our nanny
  4. We love our house
  5. Mr L has just finished building a cubby house
  6. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get a job

1 & 2 were, literally, the first objections that came to mind. Matters of convenience. When children (and life in general) have a tendency to be inconvenient, it’s tempting to hang onto the bits that work. But there will be other preschools and other serendipitous work-life arrangements. (Hopefully, that is. See con #6)

3, 4 & 5 are really matters of sentiment. Ok, so having a nanny you love is also an issue of convenience but there will be other nannies. And who’s to say our current Mary Poppins won’t get her umbrella out of her bag & fly away soon for her own reasons? The house will still be here when we get back. (I keep trying to tell myself it’s just a house, but it’s not, it’s our home. It’s the first home Mr L and I bought together and it’s the first home for Master and Miss L.) We like our neighbours and our neighbourhood. But I know there will be other amazing houses, nice neighbours and great places to live. And, should Mr L see fit, there will be other cubbies.

6 is slightly more complex. Being a few years older than Mr L, and in a different line of work, I’ve reached a point in my career where the major hurdles are overcome. That’s not to say I’ve gone as far or as high as I can go, but from here on my career path is more of a ramble- I can go to different places and visit things that interest or stimulate me, but as far as money and career-standing go, I’m pretty much there. It’s a fortunate position to be in but it does lend itself to a bit of “what next?”-ing, or else it’ll be this until retirement.

I do, however, have a job that I need to actually do in order to remain up to date and skilled. Finding another job would help me maintain these skills (to varying degrees depending on the job) but the main issue is there doesn’t seem to be any jobs for me where we’re planning to live in Kiwi-land.

So, the options for me would be:

  1. Keep asking around and hope something comes up
  2. Get occasional work either back here in Sydney or out of town in NZ
  3. Study something
  4. Get a job doing something totally different
  5. Have a baby

I should point out that having another baby isn’t meant to be a last resort. We have been talking about having a third anyway. It’s more a question of: if I’m going to be off work anyway, what better time?

I don’t have a lot of experience with uncertainty. I’d say every year since I was born, I (or my parents, before I could talk) would have been able to tell you at any time where they saw me the following year. And we’d have been right, probably to the nearest hectare. So just saying “we’ll see what happens” is a pretty big deal for me. Yes it’s exciting but there is a nagging apprehension at the back of my mind, when I say that this time next year, I don’t know with any certainty what I’ll be doing.

But I’m fairly certain we’ll have wished our friends at home “Happy Australia Day” from afar and that we’ll be gearing up for Waitangi Day instead!