Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More tales from a small island

Yesterday I walked into and exam room to check a patient for one of my students. I introduced myself. The blonde girl in the exam chair said, "We've met before on a bus a long time ago." I looked at her and thought she looked vaguely familiar, then it clicked. In late January, I was waiting to ride the bus home from the main university campus when I ran into her with her girlfriend. She'd cut her finger and was bleeding quite badly and also had a clotting disorder (which I don't know if I knew at the time). They were taking the bus to the hospital and were panicking and talking about 100 miles a minute. I told her to apply pressure and keep her hand elevated. We talked the whole bus ride until they got off at the hospital. Who'd think I'd run into her again? So better be nice to all those "strangers" you meet!

In other news, I think I've finally hit my groove here. Or something. I had about a week or two of sleeping 10 hours a night (was starting to wonder if I was a bear going into hibernation) but I think it was just regeneration. We've moved into a very cold spell, which means I see my breath outside. If I don't get my space heater going way before I get home, my place is a giant refrigeration unit. When the temperature first dropped, I had to sleep with my hat on. New Zealand doesn't have insulation or heating in their homes, so I have a little unit that's plugged in to heat my entire place. Recently in the news here, they said the number of deaths is much higher during the four months of winter and they think it could be reduced by improving insulation and heating. You think?

I also advised the university this week that I would not be staying beyond this year. Financially, I cannot reconcile the pay and working hours. But also mentally, I don't think I would achieve much more by staying and I don't want to stay in New Zealand long term. One year of living as a student is fine, but not a lifetime of it.

So next year I will be travelling and volunteering around the globe. I'm open to itinerary advice. If anyone would like to meet up somewhere in the world, let me know - it would be lovely. Tentatively, I would like to start in SE Asia, do a month of volunteering in Ghana at a cataract center and then I am not sure--- I also think I will try to do some Woofing- which is Willing Workers on Organic Farms. It's something I'd like to learn about so when we start our family compound in Montana, I can help with the horticultural end of things!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

To Her Eyes
(Written for a wager)

And when I said your eyes were always bright
I knew that I said nothing new, but I
Meant it myself for the first time. Yes, all right, 
Your mirror told you too: we both can't lie.

All light lies there (what if it doubly lies?)
And there your eyes, speakingly looking on me
In love's concern and sometimes in surprise,
Found me, though wanting, wanted explicitly.

I can but trust your eye that trust in me,
I can but answer back a candid blue, 
Foolish perhaps, trusting that we maybe be
Loving again tomorrow- again, nothing new. 

What's more to say with the now's flattering breath
Than testify in these words transient faith?

Denis Glover

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What does life mean to you? (in 500 words or less)

I was reading "Roses are Red" an anthology of Portland writing and it posed the question, "What does Portland mean to you?" I was walking today around Auckland thinking about it- seems like an interesting question, but then I thought why not substitute life instead? So here goes.

If I go way back, life was building an igloo in the driveway with my dad in Manitowac and hauling in wood when I was the only child. It's the anticipation of my sister Carrie coming into the world and later sharing a bed with her even though she had her own bed in her own room. Mom's pudding in the four matching dishes on the counter in the corner of the kitchen waiting for us to finish dinner. Dad building our table and chairs in the garage out of plywood and mom painting them up. It's mom and dad running up and down the stairs with squirt guns and dad tickling mom on the bed upstairs. Later, after we'd moved to Alexandria, the four of us shared the secret of Molly in mom's belly before anyone else could know. Then she came into the world, all dark haired and beautiful and yellow. Mom and dad said we were a "full house".

Seven months later, I learned that we weren't going to go on forever like "Little House on the Prairie" as I'd thought. It was 10 years wishing my dad would come back alive. After watching the Challenger blow up in fourth grade, I felt the loss for Christa McAuliffe's daughter and son. Then telling my friends that we were moving. I didn't want to leave Minnesota.

Our new hometown came out of the magic valley, Minot, the metropolis with a real shopping mall, even though the stores weren't open on Sunday yet. I was shy and didn't want to tell my story. At 16, I admitted to the world that my dad was dead. But I ran away from it to the locker room in the basement of Bishop Ryan after they read his name out loud on All Soul's Day, also the anniversary of his death.

I headed off to UND with a fully loaded Buick Century and was completely enthralled with university life. UND was the greatest time- learning there was like eating candy. Meeting new people, proving myself to my physics professor, walking through the North Dakota art museum. Young love by the coulee. The grand finale was sandbagging until Grand Forks was under water, then leaving at 3AM back to Minot and waking the next day to the downtown burning down.

The next fall, I headed off alone for Portland, this time with the Chevy Lumina and my bike strapped to the back. Homesickness and confusion visited me. I came home at Christmas and didn't want to return. But I did. Life became tests and dress-up parties. Learning to live off ramen, frozen peas and eggs. Roasting marshmallows under the broiler with Lourdes. Walking in the rain. Riding my bike to school. Graduating without pride.

Then moving to my first apartment in the west hills of Portland and starting my first real job at Kaiser. Feeling nervous about signing a contract with a 90-day notice. Walking to Susan's house for berry pie. Loving someone and then letting the dream go.

Buying my first house, then working night and day to make it "me." Carrie arriving at my door on December 17th with my mom. Feeling helpless as she put her life back together. Learning to love Oatie. Then moving to Auckland after selling most of my belongings and renting out my house.

Life is the passage of time. Walking. Talking. Reading. Looking at the sky through the skylights in my little space. Laughing with Ursula as we impersonate colleagues in our office. Singing in my blue shower. Hoping for the best.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Someone asked me, "If the move to New Zealand were looked at symbolically, what would it say about the inner journey?" So I wrote it into my journal.

I guess this move is about change, rethinking what's important. Rethinking life. Shedding materialism. Creating space to be. Seeing who I am. Understanding the world. Accepting life.

This week, the week after Jim died, life seems very still.

I wonder when life is going to have real meaning. Did I move here for real meaning? Probably I hoped I would find it. But moving isn't going to bring meaning to life. Life is meaning. Just living is meaning. Isn't it?

Moving to New Zealand has allowed me to shed some of my peripheral layers and see the world more clearly. I guess that's good.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Auckland Writers and Readers Week

Today was sunny and 70ish in Auckland.  I should have popped out out of bed like a jack-in-the box, but I was sluggish and slumpy instead.  It was at least 9:48AM when I got up off the couch. Yes, the couch.  I've been sleeping on the couch for a week now.  It's harder than my twin trundle bed, which is on wheels and a mere 12 inches off the floor. 

After my last visitors left, my back persuaded me to move to higher ground.  It's also easier to get up in the morning.  I'm much closer to standing.

Anyway, today I had plans to attend a few free lectures at the Auckland Writer's conference. The first one started at 11:3oAM. I was expecting it to be story hour, like we used to have at the library when I was a kid in Alexandria.  My mom would take Carrie and me quite regularly and we would sit on the floor and enter our dream world.  Later, after we'd moved to North Dakota, I had two teachers who understood the power of reading to your class, Mr. Wetzel in 5th grade and Mr. Bjornson in 6th grade.

So I got to the first session and closed my eyes as the four different authors read from their novels.  It was not quite the same as when I was a kid.  (I think perhaps the stories were simpler then.)  But it was still enchanting.  I'm thinking that we should have adult story hour.  I think when I start my cafe/community center, I will have an adult story hour.  Who said we have to give it up when we hit the double digits?  

The highlight of the readings was Mr. Duncan Sarkies, a contributor to "The Flight of the Conchords" and recent author of "Two Little Boys."  The audience was nearly falling out of their chairs with laughter.  

After a 30 minute intermission, in which time I wandered to the book table, filled out a survey, and picked up some Auckland city maps for Molly and Josh's impending visit, I returned to my seat in the Limelight room.  A man in head-to-toe black including a suit jacket sat next to me. He was carrying a medium-sized moleskin journal and black permanent pen, which he used to make flourishes and notes as the lecture moved along.  The writing was so filled with flair that I couldn't sneak read it from my close distance.  He looked like an art critic, but was wearing a sponsor tag. 

Oh, back to the lecture.  (I may have been more interested in my neighbor.)  The lecturer, Dr. Charles Pigden, was a very hyperopic (literally and figuratively) philosophy professor from Otago University in the south island, speaking on the history of philosophy in New Zealand. 

He started out by repeatedly saying how NZ was superior to all other countries, except perhaps Finland, when it came to philosophy. (This county is fantastic at flagrant self-promotion.) He then went on to cover the history and specificially deride one of the early philosophy professors, William Anderson, at the University of Auckland.  After a long and loud lecture, he asked for questions.  A middle-aged woman stood up. She wore a worn camel leather coat, black pin-striped pants, and straight blondish grey hair, about shoulder length. 

"I am the granddaughter of William Anderson."

Mr. Philosophy professor's ego visibly deflated and he looked annoyed as she went on to explain her grandfather's philosophy on philosophy and education...  

That was the highlight of the lecture. 

And the lesson is...  this is a small country, be careful what you say!  Oh and and don't forget about "Adult Story Hour", coming to a cafe near you! (When I return to the states one day.)

Random Recent Pics

Thought for the day:
"By seeing that the true nature of things is impermanence, you will not be shocked by change when it occurs, even death." -The Dalai Lama

Parnell Rose Garden - 4 blocks from my house

Shanta and Brian and Auckland

Auckland Bay from the top of Rangitoto
(a volcanic island formed 600 years ago)

I think Shanta or Brian took this, kinda mysterious...

Friday, May 16, 2008

I could be nothing

It goes on forever along the shoreline
It never will end on the shores of my mind
I travel along 'til the sleep takes me in
Where have I ended, where do I begin?

Sand blankets are littered with stones whipped across
Dead things in the water, forgotten or lost
The branches have surfaced and now they are lean
The trees have washed up here
Stripped bare, and washed clean

The waves kiss and gently caress on the shore 
Kissing and winking , and calling for more
The waves like wagging tongues do adore
And whisper there softly to the sand on the shore

You would be nothing without me
I could be nothing
Said the waves to the sand 
I could be nothing without you

Each ones shifts and weakens a little 
Neither aware just how much they are brittle
Each one shifts and weakens a bit
Allowing the other to live and exist

O water and patience, pressure and time
Cuts through the faces of rocks we have climbed
The army of kisses, the lake never tires
The kisses that can put out all of my fires

You could be nothing without me 
I could be nothing 
Said the waves to the sand 
I could be nothing without you
Without you, I would be nothing
Without me, you could be nothing
Said the waves to the sand 
I could be nothing without you

- Great Lake Swimmers

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nothing is permanent. Cherish what you have.

My uncle Jim (my mom's oldest brother) wasn't afraid to say what he thought, whether he was giving his opinion or telling you how much he loved you. There's not much he didn't dab his fingers into in his life. As I grew older and moved around the world, I became more and more amazed of his progressive ideas and broad interests for a man who spent most of his life in North Dakota. He was more than just an uncle to my sisters and me. He cared about us like we were his own daughters. More than once, he and Audrey took our whole family into their home with open arms while we transitioning to our life without my dad.

Last December, Jim and Audrey were at Carrie's house while I was living with her before I moved to New Zealand. In the first pic, Jim was giving Audrey a hard time about mittens, then the cute couple. That night, we all sat around the dining room table with coffees and fresh krumkake, chatting and laughing late until it was way past bedtime.

Wherever you are now Uncle Jim, I love you and you are missed.

He graced this earth from 1936-2008.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Look a stranger in the eye today
and realize there are no strangers.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


This morning, I got to clinic and one of my students asked, "Do you mind if I go to the munchie mart?"

I didn't mind.

He returned happy. "I got an up and go."

Ok. Whatever that is. Were we speaking the same language? I was starting to wonder.

Then another student, "I need a cotton bud."

I figured that must be a Q-tip. (It was.)

And that is all I have to say.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Two angels arrived yesterday at dawn

Yesterday, I had my first official visitors from Portland, Oregon arrive- Shanta and Brian.

They were treated to challenging weather, but were troopers as we walked through the streets of Auckland in more than a mist of rain, which never let up the ENTIRE day.

Our morning started out with a walk to my coffee shop then through the Domain park. They got to experience my commute to and from work. We wandered through K' Road, which is the part of Auckland where I love to hang out. It's full of hippies, tattoo parlors, second hand stores, vegan/organic cafes, prostitution shops, coffee, ethnic food... etc. I go there to feel at home. Or to feel like Portland. (They agreed.)

We followed the city park to downtown, in search of the art gallery. Being chilled to the bone, we stopped for hot wonton soup and a sandwich in the gallery cafe, all shared three ways before wandering through the art. The display theme was something about nature, but one room was filled with pictures of dead whales. :( Is that art? We couldn't look at it.

Though we're all hard-core Oregonians, we opted to ride the bus home. On the way back, we stopped in St. Stephen's Cathedral. Brian was a little uncertain whether he wanted to go into a church, but the architecture, stained glasses and Shanta's guided tour won him over. The little ladies were quite concerned that we were freezing to death. (We were.)

Once home, I broke down and asked my landlords for a space heater (remember, no central heating or insulation in NZ), which worked thankfully - though we were a little overzealous in the controls and ended up so hot that we contemplated opening a window.

After a stop at the grocery store, Shanta and I went to Evensong at the cathedral, which I thought was just choral singing, but it actually turned out to be an evening prayer service. (Oh well.) Brian stayed home and monitored the heater.

Later in the minikitchen, I whipped up a spinach salad and toast with feta and mushrooms for the three of us, which we washed down with wine. Those two kept offering to help, but I barely fit in my kitchen myself... let alone two of us! Or three! I could just see the headlines, "Three Americans found wedged in Auckland loft."

Shanta and Brian managed to stay up til 8:00PM before they crashed (Brian first, even with about 5 cups of coffee yesterday). We had our slumber party in my little space.

This morning we walked for coffee again before they headed off to pick up the campervan and loop the north island. Can't wait to hear back on their adventures!

So wonderful to have my good friends here... little angels from home they are!