July 2022

18 Jul On Never Saving Anything for Best

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 25.7.22


Today’s visit to the petrol station was something of an emotional rollercoaster. On the downside, I was buying gas. Wow. It’s been a while and at first I thought the pump was broken – the number of litres was rising at the usual rate but those dollar figures were spinning at quite a different speed. My next car is definitely going to be one of those ones you plug in.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one reeling – on my way out of the shop a young man got himself quite tangled up in me, apologising with, “Sorry, miss!” several times. “Miss”. What a delight. I mean, he totally meant it in a school ma’am way, and to be fair he barely saw my face because his elbow was mostly in it, and it is easy to assume based on my height that I might be twelve.

Still. “Miss”. There’s a lightness about it, a hint of respect, of being looked up to, of being someone you need to please. I like this better than the man last week who kept calling me “dear” throughout our interaction. In my mind, “dear” automatically brings with it a prefix of “old”. Which I am – older, anyway – but I’d prefer my chats with strangers to not contain traces of, “I’ve made an assessment of your years spent on the planet and years remaining, and it looks like the scales are very much tilted in the wrong direction, dear”.

It happens throughout your life, this thing of being placed in a category that might jar, of being seen from the outside in a way that’s out of step with how you feel.

There will be loads of these tiny shocks – many of them good, like someone noting you have grown taller, or blossomed, or are smart and adept at a thing you do. Lots of times in your life you will internally reconstruct the picture you have of yourself based on new information. But the little jolts that suggest you are on any kind of downward slope take a bit of processing.

Rejecting outside views is always an option. I refuse to be told age precludes me from doing anything I want to do if it’s on the basis I might look silly. Riding rollercoasters, telling jokes in pubs, crawling through the meerkat tunnels at Auckland Zoo are still very much on the list of things I do.

A friend who I think of as 22 but who is probably 35 went to the barber recently and was offered an eyebrow trim, and Richard says he knew this meant he was getting old. Another friend who is a couple of years ahead of me and therefore quite aged told me about visiting a fancy department store once and asking the young assistant about anti-aging face cream, only to be told sincerely, “Oh, no, it’s much too late for that!”

What I’m learning to do is to celebrate that there are fewer years ahead than behind by never saving anything for “later” or “for best”. Not shoes, not china, not linen, not coats. In fact, the more expensive – or more precious – it is, the more we should give it daily use. My cupboards contain beautiful things that the women in my family saved for Sundays, and I am bringing them out any day of the week – a dish, some spoons, a gold locket – and I can feel in my lovely old bones how very much this pleases them.



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14 Jul Reflecting on Matariki

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 18.7.22


According to family legend, my Dad’s mother would put the vegetables on to boil before the family left for church at nine on Sunday morning and consider them just about ready by the time they got home at midday. Learning that cooked cabbage could be green rather than bleached white was a discovery Dad made after he married my mother.

For some people back then, the shocking part of this story was not the over-cooking of the veg – this thing of bringing our water to the boil before dropping greens in and serving them with crunch and colour was unheard of in many kitchens. “These beans could have done with another hour, Shirley,” said many a mother-in-law as the 1970s gave way to nouvelle cuisine.

The shock for traditionalists was that cooking was being done on a Sunday at all. In many households, a casserole or roasting dish was prepared on the Saturday, leaving the Sabbath as a strictly observed Day of Rest. No cooking, no cleaning, no handyman jobs around the house or garden. A whole day devoted to devotion – church, bible reading, prayer, sometimes observed in silence without so much as music on in the background.

This was not how we did Sundays at our place, and descriptions of it sounded to me not like a day of “rest” but of enforced nothingness, a kind of rigid emptiness. We did church or Sunday School, sure, but then the day was ours to do pretty much as we liked – ride bikes, visit friends, read – followed by a family evening in front of the telly with a Disney movie while mum did the ironing.

Later, when I moved to the city and went flatting, I found Sundays a bit shapeless and sad. No family activities to bookend a day that already lacked Friday’s anticipation and Saturday’s thrill. Sunday was the day you spent very much aware that Monday was coming. You were on a downward slope to the valley of work.

Bit dramatic, given I’ve pretty much always had jobs I liked, but you’ll know what I mean – even great jobs can feel like a grind. But my point is, I forgot what you could do with Sundays, and the purpose of a Day of Rest – to recharge, refuel, reset and a lot of other things that begin with “re” including my new favourite one, reflection.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because I finally have time, but crikey, I really like being alone somewhere quiet and having a think these days. I sat somewhere quiet and thought about this during our new holiday to honour Matariki.

Like many people I talked to, I consciously spent those three days reflecting on the people and things I have lost, appreciating the people in my life and the things I have now, and envisioning the life I look forward to in the next year.

And what a perfect time to do this, in the middle of winter – when life feels slower, food tastes better and hugs are so warm. Bed, book, beach walk, talking with the people I love, roast lamb at the end of it.

I am thrilled we have been invited to embrace something as old as Matariki. It already feels like something we have always done – and was for many – and like something we will always do. I liked it so much, I’m going to practice a little of it every Sunday.



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04 Jul Travelling To A Better Version of You

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 11.7.22


This time three years ago, I had a very clear plan. With no child or parents to care for any longer, life was going to be all about the travel.

But shortly before take-off in 2020 – honestly, I’d bought new walking shoes and a Wonder Woman daypack – the gods laughed and the borders closed. My only international travel since has been to our Cook Island neighbours, squeaking in before the August lockdown last year. A photo I took from my room out to the ocean is the screensaver on my computer, and I sigh and smile at it each morning as I flick on my office heater.

There are people who say none of us should travel anymore – that given the state of a planet damaged by climate change, we can’t justify getting on a plane and visiting the other side of the world. That we should conduct our business by Zoom, and satisfy our curiosity about other countries and cultures the same way.

I am not one of these people. I feel like I should be, but I realise after staying put that I cannot stay put forever. I am going to have to plant a lot of trees to offset my carbon emissions, and hope that never owning an SUV counts for something.

Heaven knows I have done a lot of things to try to satisfy my wanderlust virtually, but now conclude these are wildly ineffective – like trying not to eat by distracting yourself with pictures of food.

It’s not just the image of Rarotonga. All day I listen to the local radio in New Orleans (my favourite city) and the gig guide of bars and artists I remember from previous visits makes me do the aural version of drool.

Also as I write this I have one eye and both ears on “Mattercam”, the live feed from a camera on the roof of Howard Johnson’s Hotel in Anaheim which sends me views of Disneyland. It’s been windy lately but today is calm so I’m watching Disney’s fireworks, simultaneously reminiscing and wishing myself back.

Travel can be about making us better versions of ourselves. Religions would send people off on pilgrimages for physical healing and spiritual enlightenment, believing there were things you would travel to that you couldn’t find at home.

There is huge value in seeing that people live differently, and experiencing it first-hand, realising that your way is not the only way. Whole countries take afternoon naps and go out for family dinner at 10pm and this is neither lazy nor irresponsible, just Italian.

Perhaps we can be more conscious about our travel choices – think not just about what we want to do when we get there, but what kind of person we want to be when we come home. Do you want to be calmer, or braver, or to regain your sense of wonder and awe?

I love a place like New Orleans where I get to be entertained, not do the entertaining. Where music and food is everything, and no one asks what you do, they ask, “What would you like to do right now?” And Disneyland, where I don’t have to be a grown up, and Rarotonga where I can live without a clock or deadlines and feel the power of the ocean and delight in feeling small.

Hurry up with the electric planes, please. Meanwhile, I’ll plant more trees.


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04 Jul On Planners, Dawdlers, Postponers & Improvisers

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 4.7.22


It is useful to know, I think, what kind of attitude each person in your circle has to plans and appointments. Because there are different ways of looking at a schedule – anything on a scale from “this is a vague suggestion” to “this will happen come hell or high water”.

I come from a family of hell-or-high-water people. Itineraries were drawn up and meticulously stuck to, to the extent that heading off on the annual summer holiday was a tense exercise, usually ending in tears.

Not only would there be a set time of departure, our father would also have drawn up a diagram of how luggage would be placed in the car boot. Heaven help anyone who brought something not previously notified (no, Teddy, you were not booked on this trip) or who messed things up by, for example, popping the picnic hamper in without consultation and before the suitcases, rendering it inaccessible en route.

There were designated toilet stops which had little if anything to do with how urgently you needed to go. Prone to car sickness, I once tried to hold on so long to the contents of my stomach – we weren’t due to stop till Waipawa – that I did something unspeakable in the back seat around Waipukurau. My apologies once again to my brother.

Our Dad was someone who hated chaos, loved a plan. Very much a believer in “you cannot manage what you do not measure”, he measured everything. He would keep a notebook in the car’s glovebox recording miles driven, time taken and petrol consumed. This would become information shared with the hosts at our destination, a brilliant conversation opener for someone not skilled at the usual small talk – this summer’s route compared with the one taken last summer, this car’s fuel efficiency as opposed to the one before.

It drove him a little crazy later that I would arrive to visit and not be able to say how long the trip had taken because I hadn’t looked at my watch before I’d left. Sometimes I just lied, because my preferred style of travel involves frequent stops – for snacks and shops rather than carsickness now – and the resulting data would never please my father because, for him, a journey was always a race.

Now my circle includes different kinds of people. My husband will always say on the day of an event, “Do you still want to leave at five?” and it used to throw me, this idea that a plan once decided could be revisited. I’d think, Wait, what? Does he no longer want to go at five? Does he not want to go at all? Why are we discussing this again?

I had to learn that, while my family would be leaving at five even if someone broke a leg, he comes from a family who take a more flexible approach, checking in to see if anyone has changed their mind, cheerfully postponing if something comes up. It has taken me a long time to learn this doesn’t mean no one wanted to do it in the first place.

And my daughter’s approach is different again – wholly organic, based on how things are going and when it feels right. This is unsurprising, I always feel, for someone born six weeks early – she was ready, we weren’t.

We try to make space for each other – the planners, dawdlers, postponers and improvisers. Of course, if my dad was still around, he’d organise us all into a pie chart.


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