Wednesday, February 17, 2016


We left Burlington on an icy winter's morning, when the temperature was -14C and a snowstorm was chasing up the East Coast. If we'd left on a later plane, we wouldn't have made it out of Chicago. As it was, we had the smoothest journey ever - no delays, easy connections, calm flights - and landed back in Auckland on a bright summer's day and 29C.

And look who met us in the airport in Palmerston North!

For the first week, all was chaos. The decorating that was supposed to be finished before we came home turned out to be a bigger job than expected so furniture and books were spread randomly throughout the house. At work, our School had moved buildings: the contents of my previous office had been dumped in the middle of my (beautiful) new office in boxes, and I couldn't unpack because there were no shelves or filing cabinets.

At the farm, the weeds in the orchard were shoulder high.


 Add to that the relentless, remarkable heat, a brand new puppy who cried on the first night and had to come into bed with us, and the worst case of jetlag Bruce and I have ever had and - well, it was challenging.

BUT within a week, everything had been restored to something close to order: our stunning new bookcase finished, wallpapering completed, office shelves put up and boxes unpacked, we had all fallen in love with Luca (who had agreed to sleep through the night but decided to continue his Reign of Destruction and Mayhem throughout the day).  
Who could not fall in love with this darling boy?

Salvo was blissfully happy to be home and remarkably tolerant of the new baby brother who hung off his ears and tried to eat his feet.

And Rose was home - oh, Rose was home!


Waitangi Day came and, as promised, we shaped it as a New Zealand Thanksgiving. This year it was just family (because that's all I had the headspace to organise - next year we shall be more ambitious). Ed came up from Wellington and Anne-Marie from Whanganui and we made a full weekend of it. A wonderful dinner with the family (and FIVE dogs!) on Saturday night.

 Breakfast at the farm on Sunday included Karen's breakfast casserole - which tastes just as good under a golden summer sky as it does on an icy watercolour winter's morning beside a blazing fire.

On Sunday evening, Jenah came to join us - fresh home from Japan - and we had a girls' evening: a marathon viewing of Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth version, naturally). Lizzy was decidedly not impressed by her namesake's initial rejection of Mr Darcy's proposal. "But he was trying to express his emotions!" she raged, " and he never has done that before, and he was really trying,  and she was just MEAN!" - and nothing Elizabeth Bennett did after that could in any way win her round. In fact, she considered Lady Catherine de Burgh's comments quite reasonable. Hmmmm.

I was so sad to leave Vermont, I hadn't thought I'd be happy to be home. But I am. It is wonderful to be back in my own home, surrounded by family and friends, to watch the dogs jump through the long dry grass at the farm under a bright blue sky, to walk in the arboretum amongst trees of every shade of green with the cicadas almost deafening and the sweet scent of tree fern and jasmine and honeysuckle in the air. And yet, even after a month, it feels so strange. I said to Bruce, "Vermont feels like a million miles away - and yet strangely close." And instead of snorting, he said "yes, it's like you could close your eyes one night and wake up by the lake." Which is precisely how it feels.

I feel - to use a very clumsy metaphor - as if I'm living in a split screen where one side is all soft pastels, muted edges and eerie shadows and the other is as golden and green and heat-hazy as a van Gogh painting. And in a way I've always lived like this, perhaps every immigrant does, always lived with two places simultaneously in my head and heart. Such a life could be seen as constantly living with absence and loss - always longing for that which is far away. But that's not entirely how I experience it. It's a richness, a great richness to live this way.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

In which I gather up some random thoughts - and say goodbyes

Just two more sleeps until we fly home. I've just tucked my heartbroken youngest daughter into bed. "I have so many friends here," she wept, "and the teachers are all amazing." It says so much about the schools here that both my girls feel nurtured and loved, and that they have learnt so much. It is so hard to leave this place. 
 Everyone else is tucked up in bed as I sit here, waiting for the pavlovas Lizzy is taking to school tomorrow to cook. And I am thinking back over the richness of the last three months , thinking how much I have to be grateful for. Where do I start? Perhaps with the recent visit of my oldest friend.

I first met Julian when I was 10, but my most vivid memories of him date back to our high school days at Ecclesbourne Grammar, in Duffield. I was the girl with two neat plaits in the front row with my hand up, Hermione Granger style,  to answer the teacher's questions, while he was the boy with the red curls in the back row, inscribing rude messages/pictures about the teachers in the condensation on the classroom windows. The teachers couldn't quite fathom how we were friends. But we were, and our friendship stuck, even when both our families emigrated to different parts of the world.What we hold for each other - which no-one else shares - are the memories of two teenagers trying to find a footing in a new life and writing out the struggle for one another.

We have written to one another for almost 42 years - first airmail letters that took 6 weeks to arrive, and then emails that arrive in a matter of seconds. We have met only four times since 1974, the year our families both left England: once in the UK, once in Ottawa, when I flew from Michigan to meet his family, and last time we were in Vermont. A week ago he travelled here again for the weekend - a cold, wet weekend, when everyone was tired - but we started up the conversation just where we'd left off. We always will.

When I think about Julian, I marvel at the nature of friendship - the fact that two such different children could form a bond so strong that it lasts over 40 years, that it lasts over half a world of distance. It gives me hope for the bonds my children have formed here, so far from home. And for the friendships we have forged here in the beautiful Green Mountain State.

I'm so grateful for the many vivid memories I will take home with me. Memories of beautiful places - but, more importantly, of remarkable people.

"Writing Day Mondays" with Sharon at Coyote Ridge, eating soup and scones and watching the view.

Walking by the lake with Susanmarie as night fell, with Pearl on her lead, house lights sparkling on the icy ground, and snow falling all around us.

Ellen and Sofia laughing as the girls constructed a gingerbread whare.

Drinking maple lattes with Kathy at Henderson's cafe, and fun with Kathy's family.

Lunch at a Japanese restaurant with Peggy and Jim when we were exhausted with packing and endless lists and they restored us to some semblance of equanimity with hot sake, good food, and great company.
Wonderful Jim and Peggy, our friends from Trinity 

 A Hanukkah meal at Sue and Jeff's, where we learnt about this ancient tradition and were introduced to apple cider and rum.

The twins racing around the church, light reflected from the Tiffany windows, as Rick handed out communion.

a rare image of our miracle girls standing still!
Enriching conversations with Dee and Bill, our warm and generous landlords.

Cynthia or Rolf walking the spinones, Broli standing at our window waiting for a treat.


The girls roasting 'smores over a log fire....

 ....and hoola hooping  and playing in the snow.

Karen's "breakfast casserole" (delicious!!).

Squirrels and turtle doves in the garden - the flashing red of our occasional visiting cardinal.

The soft, light body of a tiny chickadee resting momentarily in my hand.

The ever changing light on the Adirondack Mountains and the shining lake. The setting sun lighting the lake houses on fire.

But I'm also hugely grateful for the valuable work we've done here.  The effortless way Susanmarie and I have worked together, building on one another's strengths. Great energy in the workshops with senior scientists striving to train the juniors in their labs to be writers in their discipline, and with emerging scientists trying to find a way forward. Rae's sudden vision for new possibilities: Sharon's energy and determination to see change through. So many good conversations, so many new ideas arising for us all.

Susanmarie, Sharon and Rae- three extraordinary women

Above all, I'm deeply grateful to the amazing women who made this possible. I feel the work here has been a true collaboration, that it has been motivated by values we've shared and that are very important to me.

So, we head home. To summer. To beloved family and friends - my whole family together for the first time in four years. Rose is home - oh, Rose is home!! Picnics at the farm, the dogs running through the long grass, and the project of bringing our tiny house to life. A new puppy. Fresh cherries. Our church communities. And to work: a new office, a book in press, another to write in collaboration with my dream team, my band of superb tutors, two new research proposals to write, a new course to teach (gulp!).

And I'm taking home a new sense of the value of the work I do. That has been one of the true gifts of being here: seeing the results of my research come to life. I'm so grateful. Thank you to those who brought us here to a place we love - and to those who have enriched our family's lives in so many ways. Thank you to the communities of Long Point, and Trinity, and WID, thank you for the friends who have welcomed us in. Thank you to everyone who has been part of this ongoing story. E noho rā. Ka kite ano. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Befuddled Day

One of the things I most enjoy about living here is the juxtaposition of the familiar and the strange. Driving in the countryside here, with its lakes and gentle hills, you could imagine that you were simply driving in a part of the South Island that you hadn't visited before - and then you turn a corner and there's a big red American barn, or a grain silo with "God Bless America" stencilled on it, or a road sign saying "Caution Moose Xing."
 It's the same with conversations: I was excited to hear that Sharon had also taken up beekeeping and we were settling into a discussion of how to set up a hive and then she says "but I had to give it up because a bear got into the honey and smashed up all the frames." In politics, even those who share most New Zealanders' views on social welfare, gun control, health care etc hold those views more defensively (well, they have to).

I hadn't realised, though, how different attitudes can start to influence your own thinking. Last night at 4am, I heard someone walk into our room. I sighed - Lizzy must have had a nightmare, and I waited for the small voice by my ear saying "Mummm." It didn't come. More movement. I sat bolt upright. No-one could be seen. Then I heard the noise again, and this time I knew for sure it was coming from the wardrobe. Someone was in the closet. Suddenly all the conversations I'd had with people about guns and self-defence came flooding back, and ....I really can't quite believe I'm writing this....for a split second I thought "This is America. He could be armed. They were right after all: I need a gun!"  What, in that moment of sleep-fuddled insanity, I thought I was going to do with a gun - given that I've never even held one before - I don't know. But there you go.

Anyway, I got over myself and switched on the light by the wardrobe. There was nothing on the wooden floor but a crumpled leaf. I got back into bed. More noise. So, I got up again and looked more closely at the crumpled leaf - and saw teeth. It was a little brown bat.

I hasten to add that I did not get this close!
I've never seen a bat before. I was so excited - and adding that excitement to the emotions and thoughts already ricocheting around in my head (looking forward to being home, sadness at leaving here, endless to-do lists...) meant there was no more sleep for me.

As the girls ate breakfast, I told them all about it. Lizzy was horrified: "They have TEETH!!" she said, "Stop freaking me out!" Bruce came down, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes....but also rubbing the side of his neck. "Something bit me in the night," he said sleepily. We looked at him dubiously. "Really," he said, "look here...." and leaned over Lizzy to show her two little red marks on his neck. There was a second's pause and then we all started yelling at him.

He's been grinning to himself all morning as we've been working our way through the lists and tasks. As the day has gone on, I've been in a state of increasing befuddlement on account of my lack of sleep. I've been taking regular walks by the lake in -11C (feels like -18, my weather app tells me helpfully) as a way of blasting some clarity into my mind. There is still much to do. But what I'm wondering now is - I've looked in the wardrobe and that bat is nowhere to be seen. Where is it??  I think I shall not let Lizzy know that it's disappeared.....