31.12.10

I'm on VYou.

VYou is kind of cool. Or weird. It's like formspring. You can ask me a question, and I will reply to you with a video. You don't need to be on video yourself, and you can ask questions anonymously. Is anybody else doing this?

27.12.10

It’s my blogoversary.

It's my second blogoversary. It's also a time when many of us look back and evaluate the previous year.

In all honesty (which I suppose is the purpose of this blog), 2010 was a stagnant year. Maybe it was a transitional year.

It was the year that Five started school, which was a more difficult transition—for me—than I anticipated.

I started off my blogging year with a cracker of a post about my crumbling marriage. (Dead End.)

Flixster - Share Movies

Then I joked about using my blog for therapy. (Where am I going with this blog?) And I tried to find an audience for my neurotic navel-gazing. (I need some street cred.)


I began to despair about the possibility of making any lasting friendships in the village. (Notes from a country bumpkin.)

Eventually I realized that airing one’s dirty laundry is a faux pas. (I’m tired of people raising their eyebrows at me.)

In August my friend Suzy gave me a body makeover, which I showed off in her sidebar.


In August I also participated in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). I wrote 31 posts in 31 days!

And I ruffled some feathers whilst on my soapbox. (Clean, green New Zealand. Yeah, right. and How tolerant is America?)

I had my first (and probably only) giveaway. (Spring has sprung and a giveaway.)

I started a tumblr, and I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

I joined in my friend Neil's Fifth Annual Blogger Christmalhijrahanukwanzaakah Concert, which did make me feel like a part of a larger community.


Thank you Suzy and Neil, for making me laugh and for your good advice. Thank you to Lisa and Jayne for continuing to inspire me with your replies and e-mails.

And thank you to my mother, Sweet Jane, Aliceson, The Empress, Madame DeFarge, TechnoBabe, and Happy Frog and I for your comments and e-mails.

Thank you to everyone for reading, and thank you for your comments. And a special thanks to a couple others—you know who you are—who have supported me in difficult times. It means a lot to me.

--
As 2010 draws to a close, I'm noticing a different side of New Zealand. It's a place from which many Kiwis long to escape—because of its remoteness, its provincialism, its lack of opportunity.

Despite the beautiful setting and the friendliness of the people, I do feel isolated and lonely here. I don't know if I can build "real" friendships in this village, or online.

I thought that I had found my purpose in blogging—to make friends—but it seems that most "normal" people want to separate their online friends from their "real" relationships. In time I too will treat my blog more like a column (instead of like a therapy session, or a chain letter to my pen pals).

In the beginning of the year, I wanted more "tiny heads" in my sidebar. Now I care less about the number of followers that I have. Sure, it would be wonderful to have 300 followers.

But I read some excellent blogs that are largely unknown. And sometimes I read "popular" blogs that have inexplicably large followings. I am more convinced than ever that the world is simply absurd.

Happy Holidays to everyone. Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2011.

26.12.10

The lament of a late bloomer.

I believe being a stay-at-home mum was worth the financial sacrifice. It has been a luxury to stay home for another year, and try to figure out “what I should do”.

But to put a brighter spin on things, I think I was born in the wrong decade. This may be the lament of a late bloomer.

I still have no idea what to do. Not really. Earning money by publishing novels is a stupid pipe dream. And I think I have always known this.

I have a whim to make the world a better place—by sharing the delights of Romeo and Juliet and The Metamorphosis with impressionable young people who will not read these texts.

But in New Zealand there is no shortage of English teachers. And French teachers aren't in demand here either (ref. a little incident with nuclear testing in the South Pacific, and a boat called the Rainbow Warrior).

The other deterrent to shaping young Kiwi minds is I need to spend $6,000 on a "paper”. Although I am usually in favour of gaining more education, this seems unfair. I wish the cost of the paper could be absorbed by my employer (The Ministry of Education) in exchange for say, a couple-year commitment to teaching.

If there are no jobs for English teachers, it is probably more worthwhile to toss $6,000 in the wood burner.

I do have a teaching certificate from when I lived in Chicago. I got it when I was about 25 (and confused). I'm pretty sure I had to do something to get it, even if I don’t quite remember what it was. At the time, Chicago was desperate for teachers, and they encouraged anyone crazy or stupid enough to want to teach school to give it a go.

There were trips to the Board of Education, and there may have been testing or evaluation. Even though education in America now has fallen behind, I feel like my previous experience should be worth something.

This is the plight of the immigrant. You need to jump through hoops to get a job you may have been allowed to do in your home country. Of course most Kiwis believe this is perfectly reasonable.

There is a need for teachers in New Zealand, and it would be nice to have a similar schedule and holidays to Five’s. But I also want to get in paid employment ASAP. So instead of trying to inspire Kiwi children, I think I will try to get another grey government job producing documents. Or do the paper to teach school. One or the other.

Yes, I'm happy we cleared that up.

25.12.10

Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more...


The minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight...


He brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!

Happy Holidays from our family to yours.


Vezi mai multe din Desene animate pe 220.ro

16.12.10

The Fifth Annual Blogger Christmalhijrahanukwanzaakah Concert

The Fifth Annual Blogger Christmalhijrahanukwanzaakah Concert, hosted by Neil of Citizen of the Month, is now LIVE.

It is amazing. Watch and listen to these funny endearing performances by very talented bloggers.

Five and I are about 15 or so acts down from the top, in our own special mother-son duet.

DON'T MISS.

15.12.10

Oh hi, hay fever.

I know weather-related blogging is boring, but weather is CONSUMING me. Most years in Wellington, the unsettled spring weather sails on right through Christmas Day. (Because Wellington weather is crap.)

But SURPRISE this year scorching hot summer weather and hay fever have arrived early. And we all have been miserable.

In the morning we have been waking up to sore throats, sore heads, and stuffy noses. Last week I kept Five home from school. Because I thought he had a cold. And I am soft and gooey inside.

“No, it’s hay fever,” said Adam as he popped another antihistamine tablet.

Of course it is.

Every year Adam is crippled by hay fever when the grass begins to bloom.

Flowering grass can suck it.

I really don't like this stupid flowering grass. Because along with the man flu, it's Adam's Kyptonite.

On my first visit to New Zealand, at the very onset of summer, Adam and I tried to go camping. (Or if you prefer, tramping.)

Anyway, we hiked in to a place that Adam couldn't find on a little goat trail with enormous packs. (Because Adam insists on bringing everything and the kitchen sink with us.) But after the first night, we had to turn back. Because Adam was defeated by hay fever.

This year Five and I also are suffering. But it’s churlish to complain. Especially when many of you in the Northern Hemisphere are cold, and there is snow. LA LA LA. Look, the pohutukawa is flowering.

Pohutukawa in bloom.

--
In other news I forgot today was the last day of school. I thought it was tomorrow. As it clearly should be.

I also forgot the school was letting the kids out at midday. I am that mother. Who forgets to pick up her kid.

I'd like to blame the school because they suck at communicating. But if all the other parents are on top of things, the problem must be me. Confirming that I am indeed getting stupider as I get older.

Hello, early onset dementia.

And no school for SIX WEEKS. For the duration of the long summer holidays. Which will cause me to unravel even more. OMG. (Hold me.)

--
Maybe I should think about going back to paid work. Because I am unqualified for work as housekeeper and nanny. And financial storms are causing us anxiety, which paid work would help to alleviate.

That is, if I can find paid work. It seems rather daunting. Especially since I have no discernible skills, and I'd prefer a job where nobody expects me to do anything. Are there jobs like that?

If I do have a paid job, and it's the NANNY who forgets to pick up Five, I can rant. As it is now, if I forget to pick up Five, all I can do is feel guilty.

--
Whilst on the topic of dementia, I’m going to be over at my friend Neil’s blog for his holiday concert. You are not going to want to miss this. Neil is so smart and funny, and he is kind of famous. But he still talks to me on IM and Twitter, and sometimes he even comments here.

Please stop by Neil’s blog, Citizen of the Month, and be wowed by my sounds of summer in the South Pacific, with ukulele (that I just learned to play) and special musical stylings by Five.

4.12.10

Fifty thousand words in 30 days.

I didn’t think it could be done, but somehow it happened. I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. Fifty thousand words.

I really like how the NaNoWriMo (National Noveling Writing Month) challenge gives me permission to suck. I can ignore my inner critic. I don’t need to think about the mediocre quality of what I am writing. It is just about the word count.

After participating in NaNoWriMo, I have a sense of pride and achievement. I have produced more than I otherwise would. I have written a rough draft. And writing a rough draft gives me a larger appreciation of the books that I love.

Another thing I like about the NaNoWriMo challenge is the deadline. I know, deadlines suck. But the NaNoWriMo challenge shows how meeting achievable daily goals can help you meet your larger goal.


I excel at procrastination. I wiggle out of deadlines that I set for myself because I have a high-speed Internet connection and poor impulse control. It takes me eight hours of fluffing to complete one hour of work.

I fail to meet deadlines that other people set. I ask for extensions, or I don’t complete the task at all (unless I am shamed because I am letting someone down).

But I love deadlines. I adore the pressure of being under a deadline—not at the time, of course. At the time, I hate it. I resent it. I am angry about it. But I love how a deadline encourages me—forces me—to get things done. And the satisfaction that comes after meeting a deadline is very sweet indeed.

--
A while back I read Time’s excellent interview with Jonathan Franzen (author of The Corrections and Freedom). To avoid procrastinating, Mr Franzen disabled the Internet connection on his writing laptop. Even so, it took Mr Franzen nine years to write Freedom. He gave up HAVING A FAMILY to write Freedom.

I am struggling with this. How do I follow my own ambition—earning a living by publishing novels—without being neglectful of my child and husband?

Is taking time for myself incredibly selfish—especially if my ambition—writing novels—doesn’t produce (and likely won’t produce) any income?

I shouldn’t think about this now. I just need to focus on my manuscript and make it the best that I can. O.K. Next comes twenty or thirty rounds of revising. Congratulations to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo. Onward...

27.11.10

Checking in.

Well, instead of posting my usual drivel here, I've been trying to write a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Trying because Adam has been working Saturdays, and I'm stuck solo parenting. Last weekend I fell behind in my word count, and I’m struggling to catch up. I’m not sure that I will make the deadline. Because I can’t multi-task. Or stay up past 11PM. Boo-hoo.

Last Sunday we had a power outage at Wellington Road. It was an individual fault, our second in five years. I was supposed to be baking a cake for the cake stall at the school fair. But, no. Instead we put the meat and fish that I had just bought in the chilly bin (Kiwi for cooler). And made coffee on the camping stove.

Sunday morning.

And there was the school fair. Sans cake.

3 slides for $3.

The stage.

Greasy Hangi at the fair.

How am I supposed to write a novel when life keeps interrupting me?

--
Yesterday was Thanksgiving. As you can imagine (and I've probably mentioned), Thanksgiving in New Zealand is pointless. There are no comparable Kiwi holidays. But Adam humours me. Because on holidays I turn into a sentimental sap.

The weather has just turned scorching hot. Spring lamb on the barbecue, asparagus, and strawberries make more sense than a big roast dinner to celebrate an abundant harvest. Some years I have plans to create a merry and festive Thanksgiving ritual. Of course none of these plans actually happen. Maybe next year.

I am grateful for the abundance of good things in my life. Even more so after the recent tragedy with the 29 Pike River miners in New Zealand. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thanksgiving in NZ.

7.11.10

Guy Fawkes Night.

Guy Fawkes Night marks the celebration of a failed plot to assassinate Protestant King James in 1605. (The plan was to replace him with a Catholic head of state.) As part of the Commonwealth, New Zealand celebrates Guy Fawkes Night, but it is just an excuse for fireworks.

In the cities, there are public fireworks displays, but Guy Fawkes is really a night for amateurs. For a few days before Guy Fawkes, fireworks are on sale to the public. (The range of fireworks that are available doesn’t include firecrackers or rockets.)

--
Friday was Guy Fawkes Night. On his way home from work, Adam bought a box of fireworks.

It had been a scorching hot day, but at 7PM an enormous bank of clouds was rolling in from the south. The wind began to pick up. Gales are common in the Roaring Forties, and we are accustomed to fickle weather on Guy Fawkes Night. Adam is adept at lighting fireworks in wind and rain.

Wellington went forward with its fireworks display. But the conditions up the coast were bad. We decided to postpone setting off our own fireworks.

"We'll do it tomorrow night," I said.

Five was disappointed and tried to stall. When the rain began to bucket down from the night sky, there were tears. The gale blew down the street sign. (This happens from time to time.) There were several power cuts.

But by Saturday afternoon, it was calm enough for Adam to build a bonfire in shelter of the back garden. (It is lovely to sip a glass of wine by the bonfire.) We ate fish and chips, and while we were waiting for it to get dark, we roasted marshmallows.

Bonfire.

A bonfire in the garden is almost better than camping.

When it was dark, we could see a few stars. Neighbours from all around began to light their fireworks. We moved to the front garden, which has more open space. Adam lit the wicks of the fireworks that Five chose from the box. The fireworks had names like Gemini and T.N.T. There was noise and light and the smell of gunpowder. And then inside for hot cocoa before bed.

2.11.10

It's National Novel Writing Month.

Juli: So I’m doing NaNoWriMo again.

Adam: Didn’t you just do that?

Juli: Last year.

Adam: I thought it was a couple months ago?

Juli: You're thinking of NaBloPoMo. That’s when you post on your blog every day. NaNoWriMo is the novel writing challenge, when you write a book in a month. I think NaNoWriMo is easier than NaBloPoMo because you don’t need to show everyone what you’ve written...

Adam: (trying to walk out the door) O.K.

Juli: (still talking) And I think NaNoWriMo has helped me to gain confidence. Now I know that I can crank out books in a month (or two), and... (trails off when she realizes that she is talking to herself)

--
When I tell everyone that I am participating, NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo are much more effective challenges. Then I am shamed into completing them (or at least trying to). If you want to follow my progress, or add me as a writing buddy, go here.

--
If I tell people about a New Book, especially before I have written 10,000 words, I feel anxious. I can be a bit superstitious, and I worry that I am going to jinx the New Book. New Books are fragile little bubbles that pop at the slightest hint of criticism. At 10,000 words, New Books become more sturdy.

About five years ago, I made an outline for this book, which is now stale rubbish. So I have started all over. My first step was to start brainstorming on my tumblr.

Now it's time to turn this book into something real--or a First Draft. But my New Book is behaving very badly. It was supposed to be an epistolary novel, but so far it is refusing to cooperate. Wish me luck!

29.10.10

Giving up on Halloween.

Oh, Halloween. I used to be so excited about designing costumes and buying kilos of lollies (Kiwi for candy). I festooned fake cobwebs about the house, and made tombstones out of polystyrene.

Not this year.

Halloween used to be my favourite holiday. Over the years, I've stubbornly persisted in celebrating it. In ninth grade, I was the only one who wore a Halloween costume to school. When I moved to San Francisco, their Halloween was my mecca, and made my obsession with witches and haunted houses look tame (if not quite normal for an adult).

Halloween parade in San Francisco
But since moving to New Zealand, a country with no reason to celebrate Halloween, I've been going through the motions. I mean, despite my best efforts.

I had already given up Thanksgiving and July Fourth. But I tried to keep Halloween in my heart. I did my best. Halloween was like my Christmas. Or my Rocky Horror Picture Show. Because Halloween is the ultimate day for theatre geeks, creative types, and what polite people call eccentrics.

However (as you know), in New Zealand, Halloween happens in the spring. The days are getting longer. The idea of Halloween (the spirit of it, if you will) is completely counter to the season that it is actually in. There are no spooky bare trees or other metaphors for death. The earth is teeming with life. There are baby birds, baby lambs, and green grass.

And against this spring tableau, imagine two dozen children (tops) who are possibly wearing costumes hastily purchased an hour ago at the $2 Shop. They are wandering around in broad daylight, among wildly blooming geraniums, hoping to find the odd couple of families in the village who are participating in that “American holiday”.

Last year, I decided to turn Halloween on its head, and make our garden into a fairy grotto. I thought it would make more sense to have an Easter-ish approach to a Southern Hemisphere Halloween. Needless to say, this idea was a flop.

“What are you, a beer wench?” asked Adam.

Scary fairy in the grotto.

“I am a scary fairy,” I said, with my teeth clenched.

Celebrating Halloween feels slightly (or to be honest, completely) ridiculous. I always imagine Adam and I will have a big “fancy dress” party at Halloween. We will turn our house into a haunted castle, and make the kids carve pumpkins (which are not in season), and dip their hands into cold spaghetti. There will be a bonfire in the back garden. Our party will be like the Peanuts.
Adam is lukewarm about my Halloween ideas. “I think my sister is planning a lunch on Sunday, October 31st,” he said.

Who has a family “do” on Halloween? Yes, that’s right. People who don’t celebrate Halloween.

So, I give up. I’m not going to force Halloween on people any more. On Halloween, we will close our curtains. We will pretend we aren’t home. (Just like all the other Kiwis.)

22.10.10

My love-hate relationship with Ohio.

A friend in the village told me that she has been to Ohio.

“Ohio is so ugly."

I was a bit hurt. “Where did you go in Ohio?” I asked.

“Columbus."

Columbus, Ohio is my hometown. Those corny lines about goin' home always make me think of Columbus. I am nostalgic for its quaint neighbourhoods, and its funky bars, cafes, and galleries. But when I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave Columbus. Opportunities seemed so limited, and I heard the call of the big cities.

It has been nearly two decades since I lived in Columbus. Sometimes I am annoyed being from Ohio is STILL one of my defining characteristics. Provincial Ohio and its cornfed jock Midwestern values—I am too sophisticated to be from Ohio! (OK, not really.)

I have a love-hate relationship with Ohio. In my teens, Ohio seemed like a battleground in the culture wars. Ohio State (which was then the nation's largest university) helped make Columbus a progressive city. But at the same time academics and artists were criticized by deeply held pockets of the conservative right, and accused of undermining traditional “family values”.

Ohio is a state full of contradictions. With its industrial and rural regions, Ohio is part Northeast and part South, part booming suburbs and part struggling poverty. With a population of 11 million, it can be a Blue State, or a Red State.

--
Recently I was upset by a New York Times article about my fellow Ohioan, House Minority Leader John Boehner. In the article (“Boehner’s Path to Power Began in Small-Town Ohio”), Mr. Boehner is practically anointed by the New York Times as the next speaker of the House.

“Can't we just have the election first?” I grumbled to myself while I skimmed the article.

But in spite of the article’s glowing descriptions of Mr Boehner and his humble origins, it did point out a couple of uncomplimentary things about him—like his perpetual orange tan, and his penchants for exclusive country clubs, designer clothes, and fine wines.

Mr Boehner is closely allied to corporate industries like mining, and to a tightly knit group of lobbyists. He claims to be able to cross the aisle to get things done in Washington, but so far he has been a rabble-rouser in "The Party of No".

Although the New York Times article portrays Mr Boehner as a “small-town boy from rural Ohio”, he actually is from Reading, a suburb with a population of over 11,000 in metropolitan Cincinnati. Mr Boehner’s upbringing, as described in the article, is working class, not rural.

Lately the mainstream media has been focused on the re-emergence of the culture wars. I wonder if depicting a suburb as a small town is an attempt to fold “rural” and “small town” with the working class, especially since the culture wars increasingly are being waged between rural and urban districts.

Looks like she will keep her seat.
I already cast my vote.
(in California, by absentee ballot)

11.10.10

When I lost my Internet connection.

I was chatting with a friend on IM when I lost my Internet connection.

“Not again!” I said to myself. I was irritated. My ISP should be more reliable. I shut down my computer and turned off the modem. I waited impatiently for a few minutes, and then I turned everything back on. This usually fixes the problem. But this time it didn't. There was still no Internet connection.

I rang my ISP on the phone. “I want to report a fault,” I finally said to a tech who called himself Patrick.

“We need to check some things on the 'back-end'. If your connection is not restored in five hours, you will be contacted by a second level of support,” said Patrick.

“OK,” I said. I KNEW it was a problem on their end. They were doing upgrades, and there had been a big storm. But I still was annoyed.

But five hours wasn’t that bad. Surely I could live for five hours without the Internet. I mean, let's talk about first world problems.

Besides, I really should be unplugged from the Internet while writing my novel. I opened a new Word document, and I wrote for an hour. Then I read a book to Five, and I gave him a bath. We played a game. I made dinner.

Anxiously, I checked the time. It had been five hours. I was hopeful as I tried to connect to the Internet. But I still couldn’t go online.

I was frustrated. I rang my ISP again. A tech named Chaneera and I tried power cycles and pings. Nothing worked. After a while, Chaneera gave up. He insisted that there were no faults on their end. I had an individual problem. And it would be six days before they could send a service tech to my house to fix it.

“SIX DAYS?” I said incredulously. “It’s definitely a problem on my end? Do I need to get a new modem?”

“Well, maybe,” said Chaneera doubtfully.

SIX DAYS without the Internet?

I had work. I had bills to pay. I needed to do "important research" for my new book. I needed to publish a post on my blog. We talk to Five’s grandparents every day on Skype. And it was the school holidays. I would go mad without a home Internet connection.

I was upset. Maybe there was an area problem that had not been reported. My ISP never wants to admit when there is an outage. Even though it was late (9pm), I rang friends in the village who have the same ISP.

“Is your Internet working?” I asked.

“Yes,” said my friends.

I was let down. It was an individual problem. I sulked on the couch while Adam watched Top Gear on TV. Boring! I decided to read a book in the bedroom.

The next morning Five and I talked to his grandparents on the phone. I watched the morning news on TV. We went to the shops, and I bought a newspaper. We went to the library. We went to the bank.

I felt a sense of relief. There was no pressure to keep up with the constant hum of the Internet. I didn’t need to read blogs or check Facebook and Twitter. I could drink my coffee and daydream. I could give my full attention to Five. I planned to weed the garden and finish my novel.

My life seemed less urgent. I felt calm and purposeful. I was motivated. After our errands, Five and I went home. We ate lunch. Then I sat at my desk, and I flipped through the notes for my novel. I opened a new Word document on my computer, and I began to type.

Then I noticed that the computer was connected to the Internet. Somehow, magically, I could go online.

If this story had a moral, I would tell you that I was disappointed. But I wasn’t. New opportunities for procrastination lured me to the meadows of the Internet. And I hurried to heed their siren call.

27.9.10

If men had periods.

I was writing a post about what it would be like if men had periods. But I can’t do better than this famous and very funny essay by Gloria Steinem.

The essay has a copyright, and I am too lazy to ask for permission to post it here. But it is so worth having a look.

The following ad is really funny too.

16.9.10

In which I finally announce the winner!

I was anxious. What if nobody entered my giveaway? I even felt uncomfortable trying to promote it on Facebook and Twitter. It was like having a party and wondering if anyone will show up.

“What giveaway?" Adam asked.

"Uh, the giveaway on my blog." I said sheepishly.

"I’m going to enter your giveaway. If I win, we can keep the money.” said Adam.

“OK,” I said.

I decided to worry about ethics and fine print if Adam actually won. But Adam missed the deadline, so he wasn't able to enter the giveaway. (Because I have rules and ethics.)

I was supposed to do the drawing for the giveaway on Sept. 12. In America, it was still Sept. 11. This was poor planning.

I read 9/11 memorial posts, and also stories about the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, cultural scapegoating, and the man-made and natural disasters of the last few years, and I was sad. I was consumed with a kind of cultural malaise. I needed to unplug from the Internet for a while. (Am I alone?)

So I postponed the drawing.

--
I am grateful for what I have. But on the anniversary of Sept. 11, I couldn’t help becoming depressed about the pointlessness of our human existence. Does this mean that the terrorists have won? Or that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck have won? I just didn’t feel like doing a drawing for a giveaway. How could I celebrate anything? I am a bleeding heart liberal delicate flower.

(Yawn.) OK, eventually I finished wallowing. I found the will to stop procrastinating. And I needed to bury my 9/11 post.

--
Let’s get to the drawing! But, before we do. Uh, Anonymous commenter? (You know who you are.) I had to eliminate you as an entrant to the giveaway. I realize that my rules were a bit vague, but I also reserve the right to change and modify the rules if I want. And anonymous entries to the giveaway are not allowed. My apologies.

Whilst on the subject of rules and ethics, I am a bit concerned that my mother, my cousin, or my sister-in-law might win the giveaway. If one of them wins, will it look like nepotism?

(Spoiler: None of them win.)

And now the winner.

(Drum roll.)

Congratulations to Millie, one of the writers at the excellent Gusty Gourmet blog.*

Winner of the Wellington Road $40 Whitcoulls gift card.

I was so pleased a while ago to discover the Gusty Gourmet blog. Like me, Millie is a transplant to Wellington via Chicago. The Gusty Gourmet is a guide to Wellington’s food scene, with absolutely stunning photos and recounts of culinary adventures. Millie is a lovely person and gifted writer. I count myself lucky to be on her blogroll. Be advised that reading her blog on an empty stomach or when on a diet can be dangerous indeed.

And to everyone else who left congratulations and kind wishes, thank you. I really appreciate your support.

--
*Hopefully, I have counted properly, and Millie was commenter number 21. Don't tell me if I managed to mess this up somehow. Also, if I mention having another giveaway, just shoot me. (By this, I mean that I don't think I am cut out for marketing and promotions. Unless you want to pay me, or you want to sponsor a giveaway on my blog, and then I am awesome at it. Ahem.)

12.9.10

Otherwise.

After the natural and man-made disasters this year, I didn't want to write a post about Sept. 11. However, I am concerned about recent events of senseless intolerance and hatred against races, cultures, and religions. I hope Americans can renew their sense of common purpose, and not sacrifice the liberties that we cherish.

Otherwise

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon

--
I didn't get around to doing the drawing for the giveaway. I will try to announce the winner tomorrow-ish.

8.9.10

Spring has sprung. And a giveaway!

Pink!

Flowers are beginning to bloom in my garden, and my blog is in blossom too. I am so excited to have 100 followers here on Wellington Road. You are clever, talented, amazing people, and I am grateful that you keep coming back for more of my neurotic whining and navel-gazing.

I started my journey on Wellington Road without a map. I just wanted to ramble on about whatever was on my mind. So my blog was about where I happened to be in my life. (Basically, I wanted a place to complain and whinge.)

Since I have been writing publicly on this blog, I have been reminded that a writer really wants to charm or entertain an audience—to try to make a difference in some small way.

You all have made a difference in my life. You have encouraged me, laughed with me, and inspired me. I really appreciate it.

I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway to say "thank you" and so I’m having a drawing for a NZ$40 Amazon gift card. (Or, if you live in New Zealand, and you prefer it—a $40 Whitcoulls gift card.)

"I wish I could give something to everyone," I said to Adam.

“Are you crazy?” Adam asked.

You need only to be a follower and leave a comment. One entry per person, please. Entries close Saturday at 6pm (NZST). I’ll put your comments in a random number generator and name the winner in a post that I will try very hard to write on Sunday.

--
Edited to add. There are no hoops to jump through. You don't need to suck up to me in the comments (but you can if you want to). The giveaway is open to all, local and international.

7.9.10

My love letter to trains.

My father has celebrated a birthday, and in New Zealand, it was Father’s Day. Guess who did not organize cards, gifts, or an outing? (Ahem.)

My plan was to write a post about my enduring love for trains. Instead, here is my silly love letter to trains:

My love letter to trains
How I love you, trains,
And the click clack of your wheels on the tracks.
I listen for your whistle at a crossing.

The hiss and puff of smoke from a steam engine,
From the fire in your belly.
Or the long, low whine of a diesel train.

How my heart races
When you cross a bridge.

How my ears go pop
When you enter
A tunnel through a mountain.

Whether your carriages are filled
With freight, or passengers,
You are going places,
Near and far, night and day.
Fast or slow.

Your carriages are all connected,
And when the engine pulls you,
You make a train.

You do the work of a thousand horses.

Only the switch of points
Sends you, or holds you back.

The little steam engine.

Cargo train heads south.

Parliamentary Express

Steam engine

Happy Birthday, Dad. And Happy Father’s Day, too. Thank you for sharing your love for trains with me.

4.9.10

Earthquake in New Zealand.

Early this morning, a 7.4 earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand. I've received e-mails from people checking on us, so I thought I’d write a quick post to let you know that we are OK. Thank you so much for your concern.

We live in a small coastal village up the coast from Wellington (in the North Island). Wellington is over 200 miles from Christchurch. I slept through the earthquake, but Adam said he felt it at about 4:30 a.m.

Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand. So far, no fatalities and only a couple of major injuries have been reported. There was quite a bit of damage to some buildings. Some people are still without power or water. But all in all, our nation was very lucky.

--
Edited to add. Reports are now indicating that the Christchurch earthquake was a 7.0 or a 7.1. It was still a huge quake! It is nothing short of miraculous that there were so few major injuries. Adam also wants me to tell you that there are lots and lots of earthquakes in New Zealand. There are four or five fault lines in Wellington. Every year we feel a few earthquakes. One day it will be the Big One. We're double-checking our disaster supplies. More than a little relieved that it wasn't us--this time.

31.8.10

It's over.

It is Midnight. The last day of August. My month of blogging every day is over. In the beginning of the month, I told you that I wanted to do Nablopomo (National Blog Posting Month) as a writing exercise and a personal challenge. I also wanted a shiny Nablopomo badge for my sidebar. Well, it was a long haul, but I kept going until the end.

One of the things I learned is that you publish a lot of bad stuff when you publish a post every day. It’s miserable, and I whined about it. (I take solace in whining.) But I learned something else. There is an inescapable honesty in these bad posts. They are naked. They are what they are. I had to be a bit courageous to publish these bad posts. I had to just let it all hang out.

Unfortunately, I was not successful in my Nablopomo. Even though I published a post for every day in August, I was late publishing some of these posts. I missed my deadlines. So, I will not get my shiny Nablopomo badge.

But it's OK. I will keep going. Just not every day. Because publishing a post every day is really miserable.

The Tell-Tale Post, with apologies to Edgar Allen Poe.

I had been very nervous. Very, very nervous. Nablopomo (National Blog Posting Month) had sharpened my senses. I heard every little sound. But I was not crazy. No. Look at how calmly I tell you this story.

I can’t say how I first got the idea to do Nablopomo. But once I had the idea, it haunted me day and night. I liked posting on my blog. I didn’t mind that it didn’t bring me any money. Not having many page loads did not matter. But I think it was the tiny heads who were following me, with their tiny eyes. Whenever I saw them, I felt so anxious.

Now, you will think I am crazy. But I just wanted to lay my head on my pillow and go to sleep. I even felt a bit relieved. I didn’t really need to publish a post for Nablopomo. My computer was using its screen saver, so I could not see the tiny heads with the tiny eyes. I listened to the rain falling on the roof of my house while everyone else was sleeping. But then I heard a low sigh. I thought it was the wind, or a mouse. Maybe it was Adam or Five. But no. It was my blog, sighing as it heard Death approach. I knew that sound so well. It was like the sound of a clock, ticking away the minutes until the deadline to publish. I grew resentful of my blog, demanding that I publish a post every day. My anger increased, and I felt as if I might delete it.

But I stopped myself. I lay frozen in my bed, but the hellish ticking of the minutes continued. Tick, tick, tick. My blog’s terror must have been growing larger. Would I publish a post? Now, at this dead hour of the night? The house was silent, but the ticking grew louder and louder until I thought it must wake everyone and the neighbours too. Tick, tick, tick.

I shut down my computer. But for many minutes, the computer closed applications and began to install updates. Still, a tick, tick, tick, until the computer stopped. Finally, all was quiet. I rested my hand on the computer, and it was still. Maybe you think I’m crazy. But I hid the computer in a drawer. It had been a long day. I didn’t want to publish a post. I picked up my book and began to read. But then, there was an alert on my phone. I had a DM. I looked to see who was there, with an easy heart, because what did I have to fear? My blog with its tiny heads was shut down inside my computer.

It was @ThreeOfficers on Twitter. They were from Nablopomo. My father had alerted them when I did not publish a post on my blog, and suspicion had been aroused. They were obliged to look for a post. I lied and told them I was planning to publish a post, but I had been feeling ill. I said, I will turn on my computer and you can search for it. You will see that I have a post to publish. Then I gave them permission to remotely access my computer.

@ThreeOfficers was satisfied. They found some drafts for posts that had not been published. We chatted on Twitter about the Emmys. But before long, I really wished they would go away. I had a headache, but still they chatted. Why would they not leave me alone? I continued to chat on Twitter, but I heard a ticking sound. It was the tick, tick, tick sound of the clock. It grew louder and louder, but of course @ThreeOfficers could not hear it. I argued about Glenn Beck and Koch Industries, and I grew more flustered and annoyed. Oh, God! What would make it stop? Anything was better than this suffering, this pain. I felt that I would die if I continued to hear the ticking of the clock.

“OK!” I yelled in all caps. “I WILL PUBLISH THE BLOODY POST!”

29.8.10

Seven things I like.

Some time ago, I was tagged for a meme by the lovely Happy Frog and I. The rules are that you write a list of seven things about you, and then you go on and tag some other bloggers. Happy Frog wrote a list of 30 (!) things, but I am going to change the rules and keep my list to just seven things I like:
  1. I like to make lists. When I go to the supermarket, I make a list before I go. Oh, and I love bullet points. When I was younger, I used to make a lot more lists. Something about (ahem) control issues.

  2. Eating. I live to eat. I'm always thinking about my next meal.

  3. Reading. Reading is my great escape. Right now, I’m reading The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and I can’t wait to get back to it.

  4. Running. I started running a year ago, and I’m hooked.

  5. Making people laugh. It's my little gift, and I do the best I can.

  6. The sea, the sea.

  7. Trains. I have always loved trains.

  8. Cuddling with Five. Is anything in life as sweet? He is growing up so fast.
--
OK, now it’s your turn. I’m choosing seven of you. Feel free to play along, or not. I'd love to read your list of seven things. Or you can simply take this as me telling you that I enjoy your blogs.

AmeriNZ is an insightful blog by a bleeding heart liberal American expat living in NZ.

Girlvaughn.com is a funny blog by a list-loving reader of books. I don't know a lot about her, but I really enjoy her posts when they come up.

naked toes on algae-covered skipping stones has some funny portraits of working life, poems, and other nicely done posts. I could listen to him go on as long as he can spare.

Practically Perfect is a blog by an American expat now living in NZ. I like reading about her impressions of NZ.

TechnoBabe’s Adventures An uplifting range of topics from nostalgia to the past to humour.

That’s Why is a very funny blog by my new bloggy BFF.

UK to New Zealand – The Brunts Big Move is a blog by an Englishwoman now living in New Zealand. She has a criminally small following. Gorgeous, affecting writing.

28.8.10

My first vlog.



I did it all wrong. Oh, well!

--
Edited to add. Sorry the video and audio are a bit out of sync. I should have used the flip instead of the web cam. But I was too lazy. And Adam told me to go ahead and post this.

--
Edited again to add. My mother just told me she can't see my vlog on her iPhone. Here's the link to make it work.

--
Edited again to add. My mother didn't even notice the video was out of sync. I love my mother!

Take this job and shove it.

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Flight attendant Steven Slater got so fed up with disgruntled passengers that he activated the plane’s emergency slide and became a folk hero. But how did he get hired in the first place?

Once upon a time, I interviewed with a couple major airlines for a job as a flight attendant.

The screening sessions were like an open casting call. The candidates had to take multiple choice tests, speak or read in front of a group, and prove we could reach the overhead bins.

Against the odds, I advanced to the second interview stage, where I had one-on-one interviews and video tests in a group environment.

I answered behavioural questions about handling disgruntled customers and not being supported by my employer. (In hindsight, I probably answered these questions too fully.)

When I got to the scenario questions, I really failed. I wasn't able to show an interest in the safety and comfort of every passenger. (Because I hate people.)

Instead of the proper Miss America answers, I admitted I just wanted travel benefits. I also said first class passengers need to follow the same rules as everyone else. (Which is obviously WRONG.)

So, the airlines refused to hire me. I wasn't smart enough I was too smart to become a flight attendant. I guess I was lucky to avoid it. Because it's no longer a nonstop party with glamorous perks, is it?

I should have followed my father's advice to become a pilot. The end.

26.8.10

Does sex make it impossible for men and women to be friends?


Harry: Would you like to have dinner?... Just friends.
Sally: I thought you didn't believe men and women could be friends.
Harry: When did I say that?
Sally: On the ride to New York.
Harry: No, no, no, no, I never said that... Yes, that's right, they can't be friends. Unless both of them are involved with other people, then they can... This is an amendment to the earlier rule. If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted... That doesn't work either, because what happens then is, the person you're involved with can't understand why you need to be friends with the person you're just friends with. Like it means something is missing from the relationship and why do you have to go outside to get it? And when you say "No, no, no, no, it's not true, nothing is missing from the relationship," the person you're involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you're just friends with, which you probably are. I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding, let's face it. Which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment, which is men and women can't be friends.
When Harry Met Sally... is a 90 minute meditation on the impossibility of men and women being friends. Movies and TV suggest to us friendships between men and women must result in some kind of romance, but I want to think there is a wider range of possibility in these friendships than what Harry and Sally faced.

Before the 20th century, men and women lived and worked in separate spheres, and friendships between the genders were rare. Even today, friendships between the sexes have ambiguous boundaries. Voluntary gender separation is still common. (Think of those parties when men may go off to one corner, and women to the other.)

Friendships between men and women can be so intimate. Sometimes sexual interest and sexual appreciation flare up. However, this is different from having sex. It is about the possibility of what could have happened if circumstances were different. Or it can be reassurance that we are still attractive or sexy. These kinds of attachments can and should be a support system. But can these friendships really work? Or does the presence of desire doom friendships between men and women? And what about the awkwardness of its absence?

Men and women tend to be subtle and creative when building friendships. Men probably get more out of it. In a friendship with a woman, men are able to share their feelings or personal reflections, something that they might be less likely to do with other men. Maybe women benefit because friendships with men are light and fun. (I was going to add that women can find out how men think, but men actually are not that difficult to figure out. They are simple creatures.)

Platonic relationships between men and women seem unlikely in our culture. People outside these friendships often assume the couple is having sex. If they are not having sex, the number one thing men and women do in these friendships is talk. And a spouse may be just as jealous of talking as of sex.


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Remember health care reform?

Access to health care is a human right. A long-held dream of Democrats has been to have universal health care coverage in the U.S. Americans whose jobs come with health coverage will see little effect from the health reform legislation that was passed in March. But it will do a lot to help the less fortunate and control costs.

In New Zealand, the health sector is predominantly State-owned and operated. There is universal coverage for New Zealand’s residents. In the last three decades, health insurance elements also have been introduced, creating a mixed public-private system for delivering health care.

Nobody in New Zealand needs to worry about being able to afford health care. But reigning in health care costs is a concern. There aren’t enough resources in our small, remote country to meet our demands for treatment. (A lack of resources is not likely to be a problem in the U.S.) Of course, people want to get the best care that they can, and everyone should have equal entitlement to whatever services are provided. But we still need to figure out how to ration who gets treated according to need and ability to benefit.

For years, there has been an ad-hoc system of rationing care in New Zealand. We sometimes joke that we need to “be our own advocates” when seeking care, or we complain about "lists". But care should not go to whoever complains the loudest. This is a downside of our politicized public health system.

We also need to stop the escalating demand for health services by better addressing societal problems like alcoholism and obesity. I think public health money would be well spent insulating our houses.

Our health care professionals need more incentives to be cost-efficient and deliver treatments better in their regions. If the public sees health professionals leading the way for change, people may be more likely to get behind their initiatives.

25.8.10

Being 16 was exactly like that.

In high school, I wanted to be Molly Ringwald's character in The Breakfast Club.

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I would have settled for Pretty in Pink.

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John Hughes (1950-2009) was a filmmaker who scripted some of the most successful movies of the 1980s (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off). Hughes remembered the central dilemmas of adolescence and the feelings that it produced. His movies are classics, with a reach far beyond the generation for which they were intended.

23.8.10

How tolerant is America?

Everyone is weighing in on the topic of the community centre (that people keep calling a mosque) in what used to be a Burlington Coat Factory by the strip clubs in Lower Manhattan.

A friend wrote a comment in a thread on a Facebook page, and it is haunting me. It was along the lines of: America never has been a tolerant country. It only pretends to be.

One of our core beliefs as Americans is that we do not persecute. We are the good guys!

But then I came across this excellent photo essay in Time:

A Brief History of Intolerance in America

America has a history of intolerance. Over the course of its history, America has persecuted Jews, Catholics, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, and African Americans.

We can't let this small, ugly side of America to represent us all. We need to stand up and speak out. A bad economy doesn't make it OK to project our fears on a scapegoat. The First Amendment isn't up for a vote.

America's "problem" with Muslims has been manufactured by the corporate oligarchy to keep us fighting among ourselves.

Meanwhile, they keep screwing us so the rich can get richer. I really don't know how we stand it.

I'm not writing a post tonight.

“I’m not going to write a blog post tonight,” I said to Adam. “If I miss a post in National Blog Posting Month, I think it will make my blog persona more sympathetic.”

“I’m sure people want you to complete it,” Adam replied. “People don’t want the All Blacks to lose.” (The All Blacks are the New Zealand rugby team.)

“If I post every day, it's annoying. And it’s kind of showing off,” I said.

“You should finish it. It was a personal challenge that you set for yourself. It’s not about other people,” said Adam. He clearly doesn’t know anything about blogging.

“It is about them because they are my audience. They read my posts,” I explained. “So, wouldn’t it be more entertaining and dramatic if I wasn’t able to finish the challenge? It could be a plot twist. I struggle but come up short.”

“No.”

“O.K. It was just an idea. I’ll write a post. Besides, I still might fail, without throwing the challenge on purpose.”

“That’s right.”

--
I have been in my pajamas all weekend. There was lots of sun, but I didn't go outside. I have been lying on the couch under a blanket, watching a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon and girl movies. I asked Adam to go to the shop for more cold remedies. I drank cups of tea.

It is Midnight. Nablopomo is keeping me up past my bedtime. I’m not writing the post I had planned to write. Instead of writing this post, I want to go to sleep. I should have written this post earlier. Maybe tomorrow I will write a better story.

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--
Edited to add. Since this is a "blog with integrity", I need to tell you the truth. I fell asleep before I clicked on "Publish Post". And I missed my deadline--by 10 minutes. So, I failed my personal challenge. No shiny Nablopomo badge for me. (But this is a clever plot twist. Now my blog persona is just like Sandra Bullock in "The Proposal", or Meryl Streep in "Doubt". No, I'm like J-Lo in "Maid in Manhattan". AMIRITE??)