Sunday, 13 November 2011


As I hope those of you who read this regularly (ie family and friends) know, we have been blessed with the arrival of our now five week-old son, Amotai. He is a delight.

Amotai, aka Captain Cute
Every now and then, despite the fact that he dominates our lives, I have a 'gosh, we have a child!' moment, and have to pinch myself. For all we've seen and done, this is by far the biggest thing that has happened to us.

I also have to pinch myself sometimes about how well it's going. You get a lot of people telling you how tough it is being new parents. If we had a dollar for every time someone told us we're not going to get a lot of sleep, we could have hired a wet nurse to ensure that we did.

Thankfully, Amotai is a good sleeper. He's got what they call good state control - which means he's pretty good at switching to sleep state. Many babies are not and I have a massive amount of sympathy for those parents. We feel very, very lucky. Touch wood, throw a horseshoe, cross our fingers and toes it continues. Not looking forward to his first illness, or teething.

It's not all fun and games.
Amotai is a constant source of amazement. There's the speed at which he is growing - he's packed on 1.5kg since birth, growing from 3.48 to 5kg, and is already too big for most of his newborn stuff. It's a bit sad really, having to pack away some of the lovely things people have given us after a few weeks.

Then there's the mundane things that are so fascinating. Holding him and watching him stare at you like he's trying to memorise your face. Seeing how the bath changes him in moments from hysterically crying over being naked to floating peacefully. Realising he can see you on the other side of the room. Best of all his watching him smile. He started imitating our smiles two weeks ago - last week he started smiling properly. He's also suddenly become interested in his dangly toys - the brightly coloured creatures that hang over his car seat and play gym. It all generates a rather manic excitment that childless people probably find bemusing.

There's also the stuff that's not directly about him. Watching Lauren be such a tender, loving mother. Feeling like a good dad as I feed him bottled Mum Milk, as he stares up at me with his big brown eyes.

These are happy times.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Things I have enjoyed about pregnancy

As many of you know, I am now over 38 weeks pregnant, so well and truly in that stage of pregnancy where I may be having a baby anytime. Being so close to the end, I have been reflecting on what I've enjoyed about pregnancy, and what I haven't. This is what I’ve enjoyed:

The scans. Given that we haven't had any bad news in any of ours (and I appreciate that if we had I would feel quite differently about them), the scans have been a thoroughly moving experience. The 12 week scan was especially special as baby moved his arms and legs, resulting in Tane and I looking at each other as if to say "there really is a baby in there!" It was cool.

The random cravings. These have been quite funny at times, and I have rediscovered food that I hadn't really eaten in years - cheese, fruit by the tin, and hot chips. Mmmmmm. Given I'm a person that tends to stick to my favourite foods when selecting what to eat, it's been quite fun having cravings for foods that take me in all sorts of directions. Of note, the entire avocado I ate on toast in one sitting, and the short-lived Big Mac phase.

Feeling baby kick. This is something I still enjoy, even now when he's been kicking for months and sometimes leave me feeling a little winded.

Speculation. What will he look like? Whose eyes will he have? Will he have much hair? The speculation about what he'll be like has been great fun.

It's interesting and exciting. It really is, going through so many changes in such a short space of time. I don't just mean physical changes either, but emotional changes that Tane and I have gone through to get ready for baby - things like moving to the ‘burbs, starting to notice what brand of pram other people have (whereas before they were all prams to me), and having discussions about swaddling. Pregnancy has opened an entire new world of things to think and talk about, and I am very, very excited about having a baby.

Getting excellent advice from other women. While there is a flip side to this (see below), I have enjoyed much of the excellent advice that many other women have given me about pregnancy and baby. I have also learnt a lot about other women's experiences, and found out new things from my Mum about my own birth and her pregnancies with me.

Things I have not enjoyed about pregnancy

Getting bad or disempowering advice from other women. This is the flip side of my last point, the bad or disempowering advice that some women give.
Being told you might miscarry if you walk on your feet in a certain way, or anecdotal theories plucked from the back streets of the Internet.
Being told about labour by some women in an unhelpful way. Some ladies are great with advice, and I hope to put their advice into practice. Some women, though, seem to just like telling gory stories and watching me squirm. Being told by some women about how bad it will all get, just wait, I'll see. I don't doubt that labour will be hard and agree that 38 weeks is harder on the body than 28 weeks, but when tired and sore at 28 weeks it is not helpful being told that it will get much, much worse. Especially when it didn't get much, much worse (touch wood thus far), just more waddling and less energy.

Worry about things going wrong. This is one aspect of pregnancy I haven't enjoyed, that little nagging voice in the back of your mind about what could go wrong. I understand though that this is a part of parenting as well, so may never be free of this one!

Being judged by others about food/drink/health. This isn't true for all people, but there are times when I can feel the judgement coming my way from someone who disagrees with food or drink I am consuming. And, sometimes the person judging may be in the right (ie Big Mac phase mentioned above), but that makes it more annoying, not less!

Feeling soooo tired some days. I really have had an easy pregnancy so can't really complain, but some days I feel like I have just run 15km although all I have actually done is walked to the shops. The only times in my life I'd ever felt like that before was when I had actually run 15km.

Gendered clothes. Earlier in pregnancy I got very frustrated at baby clothes being so clearly divided into boys' and girls' sections. Not only does it make no sense and have no basis in nature, but the pink/blue divide appears to be one giant marketing ploy. This rant aside I have become more wearily accepting that this is the reality of the children's clothing market, but I still don't like it.

The baby industry. Shops like the Baby Factory and Baby City have a lot going for them, and I have spent a great deal of time (and money) in them over the past months. At risk of sounding overly cynical, though, it seems that there really is a baby industry centred around making mums-to-be feel that they are somehow failing their unborn children by not buying certain things, or buying cheaper versions or things like cots. Because of this, it is impossible to know how much you actually need something. Navigating the baby industry really was one area where I really did appreciate the advice of other women who have had kids themselves.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

World gone mad

First there were the appalling, murderous riots in our beloved former home of Ealing. Now a major snowfall in Wellington. The world has gone mad.

Central Karori
Fortunately, while seeing sedate Ealing torn apart was heartbreaking, the snow was magic. It didn't last long in central Wellington, but the hill suburbs - like where we live - remain covered in white ice.

Though we both nearly slipped coming down the driveway today - tramping boots and all - and any room without a heater rapidly turns into a refridgerator, it's been worth it for the memories. As we got off the bus last night it was like a blizzard.

We weren't born the last time this happened in this city, and we might not be around the next time Antarctica comes to visit. So it's been a few days to savour.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Ten songs that have rocked my world recently

Let It Loose - The Rolling Stones, Exile of Main Street
Wrecking Ball - Gillian Welch, Soul Journey
Please Read The Letter - Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
Red Dirt Girl - Emmylou Harris, Red Dirt Girl
Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks, Something Else By The Kinks
Shangri-La - The Kinks, Arthur
Intervention - Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
Back To Black - Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
Mykonos - The Fleet Foxes, Sun Giant
The Cave - Mumford and Sons, Sigh No More

I love good music. What's been rocking your world?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A Tale of Two Lists

I imagine most people who drop into this blog now and then already know Lauren's and my big news - this little fellow is due to arrive in our household around the end of September.

We call him Camel, because he makes Lauren really thirsty. Or at least he did. Now his thing is kicking. Lots and lots of kicking.

It's going to be a huge change in our lives, of course. Priorities are going to be heck of a lot different. That really struck me recently when I made a list (as we do), then came upon another one from a few years ago. Here they are:

The London List
Crossed out because I did/saw/visited it:
British Museum, Play at The Globe, Victoria and Albert Museum, Wicked, Game at Wembley, Phantom, Game at Lord's, Oliver, Windsor Castle, John Soanes Museum, Windsor Great Park, Thames Boat Race, Regent's Park, Tate Britain, Tour of Lord's, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Centre Court at Wimbledon, Kew greenhouses, Highgate Cemetary, Westminster Abbey interior, St Paul's interior.
Wanted to see but didn't get around to:
Epping Forest, Pitshanger Manor, Abbey Road, premier at Leciester Square, London Eye at night, Richmond Park, Tate Modern
Crossed out because decided wasn't going to go:
Uxbridge, Hampton Court Gardens, game at Twickenham

With giant sloth, Natural History Museum
The UK List
Crossed out because I did/saw/visited it: Cornwall/Devon, York, Bath, Winchester, Canterbury, Hastings, Yorkshire Moors, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Highlands, Stirling/Aloa, Family up north/Ilkley, Isle of Wight, Festival
Crossed out because decided didn't want to go there: Cardiff

Walking in the Yorkshire Moors
The Baby List
Must haves:
Car seat, pram, changing mat, basinet, capsule, cot, high chair, pram sun cover, pram rain cover, draws, soft towels, blankets/sleeping bag, sheets x3, basinet mattress, bag for nappies, reuseable nappy liners, bibs, nappy bucket, flannels, portacot
May haves:
Baby bouncer, sling, hammock, carrycot, baby gym

Some of the stuff cluttering up our spare room
Yep, priorites are changing.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Through the window of a plane

It may well be a while before Lauren and I get overseas again, which makes me reflect back on those days when we were hopping into a plane (oh, the carbon miles guilt) and heading off to some exotic place.
There are many who intensely dislike plane trips. Maybe it's the interminable airport queues.  Or the souless no-man's land of the departure lounge. Or being crammed into a small space where you can never get a decent sleep. Or the fear of plunging to your doom.
Me though, I like plane trips.  Airline food (heck, any food) has to be really bad for me not to enjoy it.  These days, I have a smorgasbord of games, tv shows, documentaries and movies to watch - and usually end up choosing some mindless action movie (the flights to China featured Prince of Persia and The A-Team).
But the real kick I get is being in the air.  There we are suspended above the world in a steel capsule, watching hills turn into crinkles and clouds turn into hills.  I bet there were Neanderthals who watched the birds and dreamed of flight.  Now we can do it so often it becomes mundane.
Not for me.  Here are some of the reasons why.

Los Angeles at night
The endless suburbs of Mexico City
The epic, monochrome landscape of Baffin Island, Canada
Great Barrier Island - the first sight of home for two and a half years

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

On an island in the sun

You all know the stories. The German who's been to Cambodia and Peru, but not to France.  The American who's surfed off South Africa, but never seen the Empire State Building. So many people neglect the gems in their backyard while looking for them on the far side of the planet.
To an extent, that's true of us.  It was only last year that I went to Australia and I've never been to Cape Reinga, while Lauren's never been to Milford Sound.  Only once has one of us been to a Pacific Island - Lauren's trip to Tonga.
So going to Rarotonga this month was an overdue pleasure.

My whole life, I never made the connection. Duh.

And what a pleasure it was.  We've been a bit dubious about island/resort type holidays - there's only so much lying in the sun that we can take before we get bored.  One of the great things about Raro is that it's as gorgeous a tropical island as any cliche - rugged jungle-covered hills, palms drooping over white beaches, coral atol teeming with fish, friendly locals - but there's a lot more to do than just laze around. While we were there we:

Went on a glass-bottom boat tour and learned about coconuts from this guy, the Pacific coconut tree climing champ. Seriously, he was awesome.

Got cultural: visited the site where the Great Fleet waka allegedly left for New Zealand and watched a tapu-raising ceremony at the marae at Highland Paradise

Raced crabs. The little pincers were everywhere.

And, of course, spent a lot of time lying around doing some light reading. For the record, I read a trashy fantasy.

And despite an economy dominated by tourism, Raro doesn't feel like a tourist trap. Grab a bike and head inland and you are surrounded by taro fields, pigs, rusting cars, innumerable small cemetaries and Rarotongans going about their lives. It is a genuine place, and certainly different enough from New Zealand to make you feel that, despite not needing to change currency, you had visited a very different part of the world.
Add in some nice restaurants and plenty of adventure-type options (I tried scuba diving for the first time, which is another story), and Rarotonga has it all.  Go.

Monday, 14 February 2011

... and the living is easy

When the days grow long, the weather warms and the pohutukawas start to flower, there is a certain phenomena that begins to grow in the minds of New Zealanders.  It's a primal urge built in after years of school holidays and long, lazy hours in the sun - burned into you, you might say.

It's the subject of corny television commercials. An itch that has to be scratched, least you go mad.  A cultural, nay, spiritual institution. Something that, for all their charms, Wellington and London just can't provide.

The Great Kiwi Summer.

Growing up in the second-sunniest part of New Zealand, one of the few things I dislike about both London and Wellington is that a sustained spell of hot, fine weather is rarer (and as precious) than Black Caps wins over Australia.  Fortunately Lauren and I have had plenty of opportunities to get out of the city and enjoy the fabled Great Kiwi Summer.  Here, for me, are its components.

Fatty fish (Grand Central Fry, Turangi, home of the world's best fishburgers)
Cricket (New Plymouth)

Family (Team Raema at the Harkness reunion in Napier)

Opotiki (much of the Aikman clan, spending another wonderful Boxing Day on Hukuwai Beach)
Road trips to the coast (Himatangi Beach, with Erica and Sarah)

Back to nature (Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, with Richard and Louise)
You can keep your Meccas, your Nirvanas, your Valhallas.  Give me the Great Kiwi Summer and add a rapidly melting ice cream, and I'm in paradise.

Monday, 31 January 2011

The Abel Tasman

I've wanted to do the Abel Tasman walk for years. As gallivanting around the World got in the way, it wasn't until the weekend before last that Tane and I finally got around to it. It was worth the wait - a great walk, excellent company, and the scenery spectacular. We took our tent and camped, walking about four hours of mildly undulating track each day. There is something very relaxing about only having a backpack and a tent, and I came back to Wellington feeling thoroughly refreshed. Describing the walk and the scenery would involve far too many cheesy adjectives, so have decided just to let this photos speak for itself.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Five pics that make me laugh

I was reading my best friend from school's blog just now, and really liked her entry on photos that always make her laugh. Not only were they funny, but got me thinking about my own. Much laughter later (as it was hard to limit this to six) here are my top ones:
At the gazebo from the Sound of Music. Doing that tour in Salzburg was the most hilarious day ever, my abs even got a work out from laughing so much.

The world's most stoned looking owl

Hiding behind a pastry in Germany, 2007

Tane in Turkey

With Stephen in Pompeii 2009. We had no idea until it was taken that it looks like he's shot me in the stomach.

Tane and his twin in Kathmandu, Nepal late 2008

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Shanghai from the books

It's always strange to travel to somewhere I have read a lot about in fiction, especially when the books I'd read were set in the past. On one hand the place is alive in my mind, but on the other hand it doesn't exist anymore, not as I imagined it anyway. When I eventually make it to Russia I expect to be a little surprised by Moscow and St Petersburg, as I've read so many books set there in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I know on a rational level that Stalin and even the USSR are long gone (which is a good thing), but thanks to the Bronze Horseman Trilogy, Child 44, and Kate Furnivall's books to name a few, the Moscow and St Petersburg in my mind feature the Stalinist system rather than the Putin-sexy-spies-Russian Mafia one.

The Pearl Tower - clearly not around in the 1930s
This was the case with Shanghai, as the only times I had read about Shanghai the book was set in the 1920s and 1930s. For example, Ishiguro's fabulous When We Were Orphans, and in Belinda Alexander's White Gardenia. I knew on a rational level that Shanghai's notable features had morphed from opium dens, a French concession filled with the French, and Russian emigres to skyscrapers, shopping, and more sky scrapers. Going there, though, I still hoped to find some of the Shanghai from my imagination. At first glance, I was out of luck. Shanghai is home to some of the most impressive sky scrapers in the world, some of which Tane blogged about here. The subway is impressive, and the train to the airport reaches over 400 km p/h. The Bund, Shanghai's famous river walkway, was also a million miles away from what I imagined.

Lucky, then, that we happened to get lost. We were trying to find the subway station that took us to the Expo, and took a wrong turn. After walking through some vacant lots and a part of Shanghai that was much like Canary Wharf, we found ourselves, quite by accident, in the old town. It was fabulous - quirky, picturesque, crazy and interesting. Not only that, but with the right amount of imagination, I could also imagine the Shanghai I'd read about.

I'd been told that old Shanghai doesn't exist anymore, but it turns out I was told wrong. It's a lovely city where the new parts are shiny and impressive, and the old places still exist. I just hope that when I do go to Russia I have a similar experience in terms of seeing some historic infrastructure, and catch a glimpse of what I imagined it to be like from the books.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Things I learnt in 2010 #1

That part of me will always miss London. I am very happy back in New Zealand, but still remember London with a lot of fondness, and get disproportionately excited when I see it on TV or in the movies. I'm aware that had I stayed there I would be missing New Zealand even more, but enjoy thinking about having lived there and imagining what I'd do if I was magicked back for a day or two. So far, a day wandering from Soho to St James Park via Whitehall wins, followed by some time in the V&A and a walk along Southbank. It's fun nostalgia rather than real longing, although I was terribly excited when we found an M&S in Shanghai so I was able to stock up on Percy Pigs.

Things I learnt in 2010 #2

That living without flatmates improves quality of life a million fold. No-one to dominate the living room by continuously watching reality TV, use up the hot water, cook smelly food, or randomly fly into an apoplectic rage about the kitchen cupboards being dusty. No-one that you have to ask whenever your friend/sister/parent comes to stay, or if you want to have people over for dinner.
True, I've had some great flatmates over the years, and some good flats. The last year in London in particular though we had some flatmates that left a lot to be desired, and were totally ready for our own space. Now it's me hogging the TV, and I love it.

Things I learnt in 2010 #3

That being injured sucks. I already knew that having a running injury sucks on account of getting injured after my half marathon in 2008, but in 2010 not only did my running injury flare up again but I had back troubles as well. Ug. While I appreciate that in the scheme of injuries mine were relatively minor and that others have it much worse, I still spent much of the winter feeling very frustrated at being unable to bike, run or sit still for longer than an hour. I'm working with weights to try to ensure neither injury returns, and here's hoping that 2011 is the year of no back pain and running more than 5km without getting too sore.

Finishing my half in 2008. Little did I know then that two weeks later I'd hurt my feet so badly I'd still be nursing random injuries over two years later.

Things I learnt in 2010 #4

That I don't think I'll ever be done travelling. Tane and I went to China back in September for what was supposed to be our last big trip before becoming proper grown ups with assetts and what not. As if. If anything, going to China only showed us that travel from New Zealand is relatively convenient and even more special if trips are spaced out. I don't think we'll travel at our UK rate of a trip per month again, but I'd love to go on at least a trip a year if I can. At that rate, I might fit in about 30% of the places I want to see during my lifetime :)

Tane jumps for joy about travel

Things I learnt in 2010 #5

That being an aunt is O for Awesome. Some of my favourite moments of 2010 involved my nieces Chloe (4) and Holly (16 months), and getting to know them has been a highlight of moving back to New Zealand and year ago. I could bore you for hours with stories involving Chloe and Holly, but instead will simply say that they are cool and leave it at that.