The Ditch Witch

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The Ditch Witch arrives for work in Ohope Beach

She’s here! She’s here! The Ditch Witch is in Florida! And it appears, that she is enjoying a busman’s holiday in the Sunshine State.

Not long ago, Mr. Bill returned panting from his daily jog. It was excitement and not exertion that had left him breathless; he had thrilling news to share. In fact, what he had to tell me was so astonishing, he didn’t waste any time playing, “You’ll Never Guess”. Gasping, he blurted out that he had just run past the Ditch Witch on Ryder Cup Boulevard. “Me too, me too”! My excitement matched Mr. Bill’s and I could not help but top him by adding ,” I took her picture”!

Now, you may well wonder why a piece of construction equipment, sparks such passion in two otherwise calm individuals, from the Land of Steady Habits? It’s easy to explain. The last time that we saw the Ditch Witch, she was toiling away in Ohope Beach, New Zealand and all things connected to The Land of the Long White Cloud, makes us happy.

Once again Mr. Bill and I are on the move. We are joining the queue of snow birds heading north. However, I wouldn’t mind hitching a ride on the Ditch Witch’s big broom.

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The Ditch Witch on vacation in Palm Beach Gardens

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A Hot Mess

 

My Tormentors Pounding on My Roof

Our upstairs neighbors

 

This story is for Allen and it’s a story I never intended to write. However, after regaling Allen with my ‘loo misadventures’ he roared with laughter and urged me to tell the tale. How could I not oblige him? With apologies for the long wait between blog posts, here it is per Allen’s request

Mr. Bill and I had stopped to bid our first landlords, Allen and Mara, a fond farewell on the morning we left Ohope for Florida. Allen and Mara were also pulling up sticks; they had sold their home on Pohutukawa Avenue and were busy sorting and packing when we dropped in to say goodbye. “Why haven’t you written anything new lately”? Allen demanded. My answer to his query was a groan. Moaning more, I explained that I had found it impossible to write my blog while living in a construction site and besides; I didn’t wish to write a snarky blog. We love living at Beachpoint and it was unfortunate and unavoidable, that our recent stay there happened to coincide with renovations. Construction, like the stuff that bears leave in the woods, happens. I had complained ad nauseam to poor Mr. Bill and my friends; I didn’t wish to bore the pants off my readers, as well. Yet life on site wasn’t all doom and gloom, there were moments of hilarity and with a little distance, one can always see the humor in a trying situation.

All was fine and dandy up on the fourth floor, when we were cocooned in our winter headquarters, otherwise known as Flat 39. We had returned to Ohope in late July, surprised to discover the front section of Beachpoint sheathed in plastic and surrounded by scaffolding. Our apartment lay inaccessible beyond the barricades. Renovations were well underway, the tradies were hard at work but an exceptionally wet winter had delayed the project’s completion. Temporarily displaced, we moved into number 39 and waited for the big reveal. High above the fray, we were not impacted by the bustle beneath us and we resumed our morning routine undisturbed. Mr. Bill left for the hospital promptly at a quarter to eight and after waving goodbye from the balcony, I would settle myself with a cup of coffee at the computer and begin writing. Construction which commenced by 7:30 a.m., filled the air with a rhythmic background track. A gentle rat, tat, tat, in synch with the tap, tap, tap on the keyboard, produced a productive tune. Words flowed, stories were posted and Allen was happy.

All good things come to an end and eventually the first phase was completed, with the exception of the roof. Health and Safety signed off and the refuges were allowed to return home, as work on the roof continued. When told that construction would be on going, while we were living beneath, I shrugged unconcerned and said that wouldn’t be a problem. After all, it wasn’t my first rodeo. It certainly had not been a big deal, when we had our roof replaced back in Connecticut. Honestly, how bad could it be? I found out the next morning, when I sat on the toilet.

We had shifted apartments on a Sunday and right on schedule that first Monday morning, Mr. Bill left for work. When I stepped onto the balcony to wave goodbye as usual, I waved good morning to the tradies as well. For some strange reason never explained, work began later at the beginning of the week, which is why Mr. Bill’s morning ablutions, on that fateful day were undisturbed and may I add with envy, private ; whereas I had company. Sitting on the loo, I was startled to hear loud male voices directly overhead. Looking up through the skylight above the toilet, I spied a pair of roofers setting up for the day. Their shadows fell across me as they walked around the skylight, which was slated for removal. Instead of blue sky above, my view was of men wearing short-shorts and construction boots (standard Kiwi work attire for tradies), kneeling around the opening. They commenced drilling. Living in The Commonwealth made me wonder, what would the Queen do? Should the privacy of her throne be breeched, no doubt her knights in shining armor, would rush in to defend her honor but sadly, my chivalrous Mr. Bill was long gone. With no hope of a rescue from the awkward situation, there was nothing to do but pretend that I was one of Her Majesty’s subjects and “Keep Calm and Carry On”. At least there was music. The tradies blasted their radio, all the better to hear above the whine of their power drills and as I stepped into the shower, I was serenaded by Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’. Who says there are no co-incidences in life?

Thus began my winter of coping. I would last a few hours in the apartment in the morning doing my daily chores, before the din would set my teeth on edge. I tried but found it impossible to write and I sought refuge outdoors. Fleeing the premises on the granny bike, I took longer and longer rides, taking the time to stop and talk to all the sheep and cows, along my route. I tried timing my rides to end, when the crew stopped for their tea or lunch breaks, in order to get a little writing done. That brilliant plan was thwarted however, when they began staggering their breaks. As they say, timing is everything. On one unfortunate day, I returned too late to rescue my clean laundry, which I had left drying outside on the balcony. As I peddled past the apartment homeward bound, I was aghast to discover that a worker was power washing the roof. Sheets of filthy water were cascading over the roof’s edge, onto my smalls below. Following that incident, I gave up on solar power and used the dryer, never knowing when dirt and debris would be blown off the roof.

After cycling, with the mornings behind me but hours yet to go before quitting time, I devised various ways to escape the afternoon’s barrage of noise. My getaway plans included long walks on the beach, capped by a hike over the hill to Otarawaiere Cove, where I would chat with ‘Lobster Man’, to delay my return. I went for coffee at The Quay and Moxie’s, staying until their winter closing time of 3pm. On one such afternoon, I wiled away the final hours of sunlight, sitting at a picnic table in Mahy Reserve, working on my laptop. That went well until the gulls shat on the keyboard. When the Whakatane Writers met, Keturah was my rescue ranger, giving me a lift into town. Desperate to attend the meeting but unable to write something new, I shamelessly submitted a story, that was penned long before I joined the group. I even went to doctors appointments that weren’t mine. I gladly tagged along on Gavin’s trip to the dentist in Tauranga and to Linda’s GP visits in town. It was heavenly- at least for me.

By far the best diversion was ‘Lunch with Linda’. Once a week, Linda would pick me up in her flash car and off we’d go to lunch, the further afield the better. Naturally, there was shopping afterwards (Poor Mr. Bill!). When Cathy and Julie were free to join us, the Great Escape became a Hen Party and I forgot all about the racket back home.

I did my best to be a good sort and not complain but fell far short of the mark. Returning home each evening, Mr. Bill would thrown caution to the wind when he asked, “How bad was the noise today”? On the worst day (there always is a breaking point) the construction noise was deafening, as it reverberated around the building in stereo. Workers were pounding and drilling overhead, while simultaneously the cement walkways across from our apartment, were being jack hammered. At day’s end, Mr. Bill was alarmed to discover, not a wife but a hot mess waiting for him. He gently asked, “Do you want me to book you an early flight home”? I blurted out, “Yes”!  Shocked into silence, we stood there stunned, looking miserably at one another. Had I really said that? In a flash, sanity returned. The mere thought of being separated from Mr. Bill was too much to bear. Bucking up, I shook my head and announced, “No. I’m staying. I can’t go back early. Who would cook for you? Who would do your laundry”? To that Mr. Bill  put on a brave face and said that he would manage. No, I simply could not leave Mr. Bill, not ever. No matter how besieged I felt, no decibel-shattering disturbance could part us, for I travel with Mr. Bill, not without.

Now all is glorious again, bright, shinny and fresh at Beachpoint. We left in November, three week’s shy of the completion of the project’s first phase. Although we didn’t get a chance to cheer the sound of silenced power tools, we were none the less glad to leave the mess and stress of construction behind. Little did we know that it wasn’t the end of our construction woes but merely a brief reprieve. After enjoyed a fleeting idyll in Florida, we headed north to Connecticut and straight into a construction zone!

Our street was a disaster. Ripped open from end to end, a huge construction project to separate storm run off water from the sewer lines, made the road nearly impassable. Closed to through traffic, Mr. Bill drove around the police barricades to reach our home,  managing to avoid the worst of the potholes. Surveying our street, at first glance it seemed that we had gone from the frying pan into the fire. Soon we realized, that however frustrating the daily detours and delays were, it was blessedly quiet. In the absence of passing cars, the only road noise was the sound of the diggers rumbling down the street, heralding the beginning and end of each work day. Extremely bearable. There were no men stomping on the roof and only the sun and the stars, were visible through the bathroom skylight. Ah, pure bliss. Alone at last. Undisturbed we resumed our morning routine, sleeping in after staying up late.

Did I begin writing again, now that there were no impediments to the creative process? No, not a chance. Christmas was coming and in the words of our five year old grandson Billy, there was a lot to do. Now all Mr. Bill and I needed to get cracking, was a little noise- Christmas carols!

Noisemakers

A little privacy please- they covered the skylight!

Hard at Work

Tea time upon the roof

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A high five from the painters

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Kiwis are always polite

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Lobster Man!

Blocking Our View

Last glimpse of Whale island before the scaffolding was covered in plastic

 

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Separating waste water from the sewer lines

The Digger gets a Police Escort!

A police escort for the digger

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Ode to a Little Blue Penguin

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‘Tis time for a sad story about a little blue penguin. Like a sad song that needs to be sung every now and then, a sorry tale needs telling, even in a travel blog; for as all travellers know, not all journeys end well. Although I have delayed writing about the demise of the little blue penguin, I shared my gruesome discovery with Mr. Bill, the moment he walked through the door, on that dreadful fall day.

One overcast April morning, West End Beach was awash with shells and driftwood, offering good pickings for a beachcomber. Walking along the shore with one eye on the threatening skies, I scanned the flotsam and jetsam that had washed ashore, after the previous night’s wild thunderstorms. Visibility was limited, both Whale Island and White Island were shrouded in mist, turning the beach into an intimate space. The low clouds muted the sound of the surf and the shore birds were unusually quiet, on that grey autumn morning.

Spying a colony of seagulls with bowed heads, gathered around a white lump, I approached them cautiously, curious to see what was on offer for their mid morning tea break. Usually these rats of the sea, will squawk and fly at anyone disturbing their meal but not this time. They sheepishly looked up and shuffled off a discrete distance, shamefaced and silent. As the feathered crowd departed, the white mound was revealed to be the tiny belly, of a Korora, a little blue penguin. The smallest and shyest of the penguin family, was lying lifeless and exposed on the beach. It’s empty eye socket was crusty with sand. Had the Sandman sprinkled it generously for eternal sleep or had the gulls been nibbling? I tossed a look of reproach at the flock who were lingering at the water line and they had the decency to look embarrassed. Standing over the wee creature, I wanted to do something to mark it’s passing but what? What would be an appropriate tribute? A eulogy? No, not quite right. Yet I found that I couldn’t leave without marking the penguin’s lonely death. It might seem macabre but as a tribute, I took a picture- a momento mori, in the tradition of Victorian postmortem photographs. That seemed fitting. After shooting several frames, I continued on my way and the seagulls returned to their shore dinner.

Mr. Bill shared my grief over the loss of the little blue penguin and was equally puzzled by the odd sighting on the beach, which we assumed must be a ‘one off’ event. Sadly it was not. It was a one in a twenty year occurance. Hundreds of little blue penguins were washing up on northern beaches. Necropsies performed on the penguins, determined that they were staving when they died. Listening to the news on Radio One Double XX, we gasped when the DJ reported that fifty, yes FIFTY , dead penguins were discovered on one eastern Bay of Plenty beach. If I was distraught over discovering one, how could I bear to see fifty? It would just break my heart. It’s now estimated that thousands of these petite penguins have starved this year, as a result of a marine heatwave in the Tasman Sea and the Hauraki Gulf. A rise in sea temperatures, caused by several ex-tropical cyclones and the La Nina weather system prevented them from feeding themselves, as they headed into their molting season. Turbid seas created by the summer storms reduced visibility for the penguins, who hunt with their eyes , which in turn rendered them unable to feed themselves. The warmer surface also pushed the cooler water deeper, taking much of their food supply beyond their diving range. Unfortunately, that meant many little blue penguins entered their molting season without the sufficient fat reserves needed to survive the two to three weeks in their underground burrows, when they were unable to hunt.

When presented with the postmortem portrait, Mr. Bill  was not alarmed by the subject matter and he solemnly examined the picture. He was shocked however, the first time that I shared one with him. In fairness to Mr. Bill, it is an unusual genre. Poor Mr. Bill, was dutifully perusing my landscape photos one time, when he demanded, “Is this rabbit DEAD”!  “Um, yes, why do you ask”?  His eyes grew wide. He was clearly worried about the new direction of my photography, until I calmly explained to him, that it was a great reference photo. There was a beautiful rabbit, lying ever so peacefully on the grass, like it had just stretched out for a nap. When would I get such a fantastic opportunity again? Rabbits won’t pose! I patiently explained, that there was a long history of rendering dead humans and animals in art. What could be a more appropriate in a still life painting, than a brace of pheasants? I assured him that I wasn’t embarking on a series of very still lives but a good reference photo doesn’t come along everyday. Still, I could appreciate his misgivings and with that in mind, I almost passed on photographing a dead gull, fearing that I was becoming a tad morbid. However, after cycling past the bird for three days and it was lying as fresh and undisturbed as on my first viewing, I was compelled to take it’s picture. It was lucky that I did, for it rained the following day and the next time I passed it’s resting place, there were only feathers. The fish skeleton and baby hammerhead shark both demanded a photo op and the gnawed shank (feral goat or wild boar?) was a rare find. I immediately stopped and snapped – no bones about it!

This was the sad story that needed telling with prose, poetry and pictures. We found that the fate of one little blue penguin, as common as a sparrow to Kiwis but rare to us Americans, haunts us still.

“Ode to A Little Blue Penguin”

Carried to shore on the incoming tide,

in state a little Blue Penguin doth lie.

Mourners gathered around with time to bide,

seagulls farewell the bird who could not fly.

In lieu of flowers, clamshells form a wreath,

a message of bereavement on the beach.

A moment of silence for the deceased,

the gulls are quiet in their collective grief.

Heads bowed, feet shuffle, there will be no speech.

The service completed, it’s time to feast!

Washed ashore on West End Beach- little Blue penguin

Yet another little blue penguin found washed ashore on Ohope Beach.

Still Life

 

 

 

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Playtime

Version 2

Imagine seeing another Mr. Bill!

They recommend that couples play games to keep their romance alive. Well everyday is Valentine’s Day with Mr. Bill, for he and I are keen gamers. Our two favorites are “Guess What?” and “Memory”. It’s game on, as soon as Mr. Bill walks through the door, when I excitedly say, “you’ll never guess what happened today”! He doesn’t. Mr. Bill then asks, “did I tell you what happened last week”? He hasn’t. We’re hopelessly addicted and it doesn’t matter if you win or lose; just having skin in the game, is all that’s needed to keep Cupid’s arrows flying.

I was bursting with excitement last month to play, “Guess What?”. So much so, that I didn’t even give poor Mr. Bill his turn, before I blurted out the answer to- “you’ll never guess where I went and what I joined today”! That was being a spoilsport. I am certain Mr. Bill would have correctly guessed, ‘Whakatane Library’ and ‘Writers Group’ but I didn’t give him a chance.

Joining the Whakatane Writers Group came about in the usual Ohope way; someone knows someone, who has the same interest as you and puts you together. I had invited Keturah, who was new to Ohope, to Pilates Class and for coffee afterwards. When Keturah mentioned that she was looking for a writer’s group, Erin looked up from her flat white and said that Annie, who was at the far end of the table, belonged to one. Hearing her name, Annie nodded and said that yes, she was a member of the Whakatane Writers Group, their monthly meeting was at 2pm and would we like to come along? Would we? Yes please! Talk about, ‘ask and ye shall receive’! I don’t have a car but Keturah has an adventure van and off we went to our first meeting.

The Whakatane Writers Group meets at the Whakatane Library on the first Tuesday of the month. It’s a delightful and welcoming club. Imagine finding camaraderie in an otherwise solitary pursuit. I was inspired and excited by the other writers. Some are writing their memoirs, others are penning novels and I am chuffed to be the only one with a blog. Colleen was the moderator and the meeting began with Carol’s brain teasing vocabulary quiz. Next, the overuse of commas and the passive voice  were the topic of conversation before the critique of the members’ stories. Colleen led the discussion-active voice. The discussion was led by Colleen.Voila-passive voice! In the former, the subject performs the action of the verb. In the latter, the subject is acted upon by the verb. (Annoyingly, Microsoft word does not recognize the brilliance of a passive voice sentence and will prompt you to revise. Don’t!) The meeting was entertaining and informative. Ah, if only school was always that enjoyable.

Colleen is this month’s leader as well and has suggested that we find examples of the passive voice. Done and done! Our writing task is :

A story (fact or fiction) based on ‘sixth sense’ or ‘intuition’,i.e.. do you have a story or an incident where you or your character had a feeling or a premonition that something or a situation was not right and took action to save the day? Or you/they made a decision , which leads to a positive outcome.

 I did not have to ponder long on how to incorporate September’s assignment into my blog, for as you will read, all roads lead back to Mr. Bill. The following story is my homework.

Six Weeks

Six weeks is the longest time that Mr. Bill and I have spent apart. Six weeks is an eternity when you are in love. Yet six weeks and not a day less, was how long it would take me to earn the ninety-nine dollar student airfare, to fly from Boston to Washington, D.C. That ratio of cost to wages, should tell you just how long ago it was, that I was studying art at Regis College and Mr. Bill was a student at Georgetown University Medical School. Six long weeks stretched between each parting. Time is the enemy in a long distance relationship; it slows down when you are apart, speeds up when you are together and no amount of wishing will make it stop. Was it any wonder, that I ignored the clock on one fateful visit, when Mr. Bill was then my boyfriend Bill?

Since it was a long weekend for me but not for Bill, I flew to our nation’s capital for a three day visit. A whole extra day, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. Not only was time on our side for once but there was also time to kill. While Bill was attending lectures, I borrowed his car and drove down to the mall, to spend the afternoon at the National Gallery. Blessed with the luck of the Irish, not only did I find a parking space near the museum on busy Constitution Avenue, I even had the correct change for the parking meter. With time on my side for once, I went for the maximum allowed and dropped in enough coins for four hours.

At first I wandered through the galleries at a leisurely pace, mindful yet unconcerned about the passing time. It was strange, after a while a sense of unease permeated my reverie. Worried that the meter had expired, I checked my watch and was relieved to see that I had over two hours left. I continued on through the vast collections but my relief was short lived. That vague misgiving soon turned to alarm and I found myself obsessively noting the time. My anxiety grew and grew despite being well within the allotted time. The bothersome inner voice, which  began as a whisper of worry that I had at first ignored, then shushed, was now shouting, that it was time to leave. It was ridiculous. I told myself sternly that I was being silly. Yet my inner voice would not be silenced. It screamed, “GO NOW”! I left.

Tramping down this irrational panic, I hurried through the long galleries until I was finally out on Constitution Avenue, emerging a few blocks from where I had parked Bill’s car. Something was not right. There were no longer any parked cars on the crowed boulevard. Not one. I began running. In the distance I could see a tow truck where I had left the car. I ran faster, my heart pounding as hard as my feet pounded the pavement. I had to over take that truck. Too late! It was my boyfriend’s, white Chevy Malibu, that was  about to be hoisted into the air. What can a girl do? I cried. I pleaded. Gasping for breath, I was incoherent as I begged the two operators to please, please release the car. I was a stranger in the city! I would be stranded! It was my boyfriend’s car! He would be waiting for me! How would I be able to contact him? All these words tumbled out in a rush, my voice catching as I shook with sobs. Bemused they looked at one another, shrugged and released the chain around the front bumper, while I wept at their feet.

I thanked them again and again as they unhooked the car. I shuddered at the narrow escape from disaster; one minute more and I would have been too late but hold on a second, looking over I saw that there was still time left on the parking meter. What? Now I was confused. Politely, I pointed to the meter and asked my new friends, why were they towing the car, when the meter had not yet expired. In turn, they pointed to the sign mid block which read, “No Parking After 4 pm – Tow Away Zone”. Tick tock, it was now past four o’clock. More than a little embarrassed, I waved goodbye as I unlocked the car door. That’s when I noticed the bright red ticket, tucked neatly under the windshield wiper. It was no ordinary parking violation; this one charged a towing fee, in addition to a hefty fine. No wonder they did not mind releasing the car, the tow charge would still be collected and they were on to the next vehicle. Well, at least I rescued the car from a trip to the impound yard and that saved some time and money.

I didn’t play, “You’ll Never Guess What happened Today”, when I picked Bill up that day, the whole story came out in a rush with more tears. If he was upset, he never said. It was going to take more than a ‘little’ ticket to ruin the weekend. We had each other and the car!

I believe that inner voice, which was so insistent that I leave ‘early’ that day , was my guardian angel watching over me. She is much quieter these days, now that I am traveling with instead of to and from Mr. Bill. She gets to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, confident in my travel companion’s driving. And Mr. Bill always reads the signs.

Deja Vu.                                                                                                                                                 Oh no, Mr. Bill, it’s happened again! Bizarre but true, history repeated itself in downtown Tauranga, a scant four days after submitting this story to my writers group. However, this time there was a delightful Kiwi ending. What can I say? Mr. Bill and I were both away with the fairies, when we left our car on Elizabeth Street. There were no parking meters and neither one of us saw the parking kiosk further down the block, nor the bright blue parking sign above us on the telephone pole. We should have looked, after all we were in the city and not Whakatane, where parking is free. Ignorance is bliss and we strolled  through the CBD, without a care in the world. Why even my guardian angel and sixth sense were on holiday. Returning by a different route some hours later, we noticed first the parking kiosk and secondly the parking attendant, standing alongside our car, electronic ticket book in hand. There  were no tears this time. We quickly apologized, admitting our mistake. Cheerfully, the meter man excused us, saying,”That’s all right then. I’m just writing the ticket now. I’ll just back out of the screen and give you a warning instead of a ticket”. With a smile, he added that parking wasn’t free until after 1pm on Saturdays. This time, it was our American accents saved the day.

 

 

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Father of the Bride!

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Oh happy day! Mr. Bill and I have travelled to Florida for our daughter’s wedding! Congratulations to Audry and Dave- three cheers for true love! Its’ been a while since we walked down the aisle but the trip is even sweeter as a parent.

 

 

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Here Come the Brides

IMG_1763Everybody loves a bride the world over and brides the world over, take a lovely photograph.

It is sheer delight to come upon a bride and groom in my travels with Mr. Bill. Love is in the air and we stop to stare. In fact, I’d say it’s the only time, that it is not impolite to stare. Happiness is contagious. Everyone smiles, sharing the happy couple’s joy. Strangers beam at one another and hopeless romantics snap pictures, wishing to capture some of the day’s magic.

For many newly weds, the world is their oyster, when choosing where to exchange their vows. What would The Bard say about that? Probably, that all the world is their stage. Destination weddings promise exotic locations, in which to tie the knot, stunning backgrounds for a couple’s wedding album and even wedding crashers. Tourists happily play the role of  “dearly beloved gathered together”, when a bride and groom suddenly appear like celebrities for a photo shoot, with their stylist and photographer in tow and begin posing like professionals. I can’t help but wonder how many wedding pictures have been photo bombed, by enthusiastic extras.

Recently, while watching a bride’s train being spread out on the Circular Quay, on Sydney Harbor, I begin to fret. I worried that the beautiful gown would be soiled on the dirty pavement. Angels might fear to tread on a bride’s big day but the sea gulls had no qualms about leaving a little mess behind. I tapped Mr. Bill, who was lost in thought and expressed my wardrobe concerns. He assessed the situation and pronounced that it wasn’t their wedding day, because there weren’t any guests or an accompanying bridal party. That sorted, he returned to thinking about something interesting, like gall bladders.  Well that’s alright then, I thought reassured. Unfortunately, my relief was short lived. Soon I had a new niggle. I nudged Mr. Bill once again interrupting his thoughts, to ask if it was before or after the ceremony. This time, it took a bit longer to break into Mr. Bill’s revelry. I persisted, patiently explaining that if it was pre-ceremony, than the groom would have seen the bride before the wedding. Now Mr. Bill doesn’t sweat the small stuff, he sees the big picture but he obligingly mulled it over and declared with authority, “it’s after”. Well that was good news to me, for it meant the bridal gown was pristene for the nuptials and I could stop obsessing over it. Mr. Bill always knows the right answer, especially when I ask him, “Does this make me look fat?”.  However before long, another bothersome thought presented itself and I wondered aloud, who brings a stylist and a photographer on their honeymoon? When I troubled Mr. Bill yet again, I did not get an answer. He had moved on-literally. As I hurried to catch up, I realized that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where or when the photographs are taken; what matters is having a keepsake to treasure. Many moons ago, Mr. Bill and I did not have to search for the picture perfect venue for our wedding photos, for us there was no place like home.

Immigration New Zealand has a copy of Mr. Bill’s and my wedding picture on file. Americans can visit New Zealand for up to three months as tourists but in order to work or stay longer, you need a visa. Mr. Bill is granted a work visa and in order to accompany him, I have to prove that we are married and in a committed relationship. I have never  minded the stringent requirements, it’s comforting to know that New Zealand has my back. Mr. Bill is only allowed to bring  me along – no substitutes allowed.  Imagine my shock  and horror, when I  saw the headline “Migrant who had 3 partners can stay” splashed across the front page of The New Zealand Herald, on Tuesday, April 24th. The article stated, “A migrant who had three partners in New Zealand that were pregnant to him at the same time has been allowed to stay in the country”. Somebody has been a naughty boy. Lying to your case worker is a serious offense.

In order to satisfy our immigration case worker that we are truly married, we have had to submit a copy of  our marriage certificate and bank statements, documenting our financial co-dependance. In addition, Mr. Bill has to sign an affidavit, that he will support me while in New Zealand. On my application, I tick the box “no” to the question, Are you planning on giving birth while in New Zealand? I also must acknowledge that, should I give birth while in New Zealand, I am responsible for the medical bills of the little miracle. The final requirement, is to include a written narrative of our marriage, complete with photos, demonstrating our life spent together. As I thought how best to tell the story of our marriage, I remembered the Chinese proverb that one picture is worth as thousand words. For their consideration, I submitted two photographs and a long story became a short story. The first picture was taken on our wedding day  and the second was taken some years laters, showing how we had grown to look alike, like all happily married couples do!

Three cheers for true love!

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The Case of the Poisoned Pine

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Mr. Bill, come quick! Call Nancy Drew. There’s a mystery to be solved.

Was the Norfolk Pine really poisoned in the dead of night? Alas, ’tis true, The Pride of Beachpoint is no more, killed while the residents slept, unaware that their pine was in mortal peril. The pounding surf muffled the sound of the crime and the murderer made a clean getaway, never to be found. Who would do such a dastardly deed? Nobody knows but neighbor Joan, says that there are forty two suspects. Better ring the Hardy Boys as well.

Mr. Bill and I were shocked when we returned to Ohope, after a four month absence, to discover the massive Norfolk Pine, dead as a door nail; it’s once thick green boughs, now brown and brittle. No longer a thing of beauty to delight the eye, it was a pitiful eyesore. An investigation had ensued and five bore holes, into which the poison had been administered, were discovered around the base of the tree. Experts had been consulted and the prognosis was grim. The damage was irreversible, the tree was slowly dying. There was no saving the long standing sentinel of West End Road; it was deemed a hazard and slated for removal.

Before long, notice was given that the pine tree would be removed at 8:30am, the following day. Traffic cones were set out the night before and residents were advised to shut their windows and doors, against the anticipated dust and debris. In an especially nice Kiwi touch, we were advised not to hang our laundry out to dry.

What a morning. The tree monkeys arrived bright and early at 7:30 am and work was well underway before 8 o’clock. Mr. Bill leaves for Whakatane Hospital promptly at 7:45 and always waves as he drives away. On removal morning when I stepped out onto the balcony in my bathrobe, to wave goodbye to Mr. Bill, I was also able to wave hello to the work crew. Our neighbors, Rae and Don were already out on their balcony, coffee mugs in hand, watching the workers and they too farewelled Mr. Bill.

Ah, surely there is nothing more satisfying than watching someone else work. I poured myself a cup of Joe and settled in to watch the men tackle the mighty tree. It all went like clock work. One tree monkey scaled the tree, cutting off limbs, tossing them to the workers below, who then fed them into woodchopper. Meanwhile, out on West End Road, the Stop and Go Man kept the traffic moving, as a small crowd gathered by the beach to watch the show. As the branches were loped off one by one, our vista slowly expanded, until for the first time, we could see White Island from the lounge.

Taking advantage of a lull in the action, I grabbed my camera and dashed outside to document the process from different angles. Asking permission, I ducked under the ropes to snap a picture. Imagine my delight when I was mistaken for the press, whom they were expecting to cover the story. While I admitted that I wasn’t from the newspaper, I did say that I wrote a blog and the story would (thanks to you Dear Readers) go around the world. To that,the arborist and owner, Mr. Andersen, said, “lets do it properly then” and posed in front of his truck. He explained to me how the tree had been poisoned, showing me the bore holes at the base of the tree. I had scoop of a lifetime! Work resumed, the lower and middle sections of the pine were shorn of their limbs and it was now time, to lop off the top of the tree. With a crack and a whoosh, the crown was cut and it crashed to the ground. Now the team set to work on the remaining trunk, neatly dropping it unto a cradle, made from the severed branches. The ground crew mobilized, sawing the felled trunk into manageable sections and loaded them onto a dump truck for removal. Mr. Bill was sorry to miss the tree being felled. He was delighted, however, to return home just in time, to watch the bossman manhandle the outsized sections with his small digger, popping wheelies as he stacked and loaded the dump truck. It wasn’t until after the tree was reduced to logs and carted away, that the reporter from The Beacon finally arrived- “a day late and a dollar short”, as they say.  All that was left to photograph was a tree stump.

We lived in the shadow of the condemned pine for it’s final days, mourning it’s impending loss yet wondering how it’s absence would alter our view. Now the stately tree is only a memory but my oh my, Mr. Bill, what a view!

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March Madness

Off to work!

 

March Madness has hit New Zealand. Advertisements  for March Madness sales, began appearing toward the end of February. Frankly, I’m not at all sure, what the connection is between deeply discounted mattress sets and collegiate basketball; yet it feels normal to me, because mattress sales herald events in America, as well. Upon viewing the March Madness commercials, I couldn’t wait to tell Mr. Bill, that (hopefully) he would soon be able to watch his beloved Providence College Friars, right here in Aotearoa. Rugby is King but with Kiwi superstar, Steven Adams, playing in the NBA, basketball  has developed a devoted following. Still, the promotion of the American NCAA College Basketball Tournament was exciting and surprising. I envisioned how happy Mr. Bill would be, watching all the games. There would be hours and hours of  TV coverage, from “Sweet Sixteen”, to the “Elite Eight”, followed by the “Final Four” before the tournament’s end, with the broadcast of the championship game.

Excitement mixed with anxious anticipation, was building with daily advertisements touting March Madness. Back in the States, Selection Sunday,the day when the 68 teams that have made the field are announced, was scheduled for March 11.  However on March first, New Zealand jumped the gun on the big reveal. It was proclaimed with great fanfare on the news and in the papers, that March Madness had begun! As it turns out, March Madness in New Zealand, is not about basketball after all- it is about traffic. Not just any traffic but the type that sucks all the joy out of life and induces road rage. March is the peak month for highway congestion in Auckland, when 100,000 returning university students, swell the ranks of the city’s commuters creating gridlock and misery on the motorways. Poor Mr. Bill, his hoop dreams were dashed but at least he’s not stuck in Auckland traffic.

Mr. Bill loves his commute from Ohope Beach to Whakatane Hospital. It’s fair to say,  the trip soothes his soul. Driving to work along the ocean, up the hill, down through the gorge, around the round-abouts and through the city’s tree lined streets, with nary a red light to stop him, is a daily pleasure, not a daily grind. Reversing his route at day’s end, means that the best view comes last, when he reaches the crest of West End Escarpment  and The Bay of Plenty is revealed, stretching as far as the eye can see, with White Island, the Jewel in the Crown, puffing serenely on the horizon. What a homecoming at day’s end but “Wait there’s more!” as they say in the infomercials – dinner’s waiting!

Mr. Bill did not always have such a sweet ride. As a student at Georgetown Medical School, he had to navigate the maze of Washington, D.C.. By trial and error he learned that many one way streets, illogically reverse direction, when bi-sected by parks and there are a LOT of parks in The District. While a Surgical Resident at Brown University in Rhode Island, Mr. Bill was caught out in the Great Blizzard of ’78.  The state was paralyzed by a massive snow storm and thousands were stranded in their cars, when the roads and highways became impassable. When Mr. Bill headed home that fateful Monday evening to his heavily pregnant wife, after finishing his weekend shift, it was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7.2 Celsius), the snow measured 27.6 inches (70cm), with drifts up to 27 feet and there were gale force winds. He made it through the deserted city streets, onto the highway entrance ramp, only to discover Route 95, the great artery of the eastern seaboard, was at a standstill. Abandoned trucks and cars buried under snow, blocked all the lanes. Unable to go forward and soon boxed in from behind, Mr. Bill followed suit and tramped the mile back to Rhode Island Hospital. He remained there for 5 days, until the roads were finally cleared. There are no snow days in medicine, nor is there overtime pay in America for doctors but Mr. Bill was one of the lucky ones. He had a bed in the residents’ hall to lay his head for a few hours each night and after 3 days, the cafeteria stopped charging the staff for meals. I think that was one of the weeks he worked 120 hours- still it could have been worse, he could have been stuck in his car.

With a blizzard as a benchmark, it was hardly a spot of bother when Mr. Bill experienced a taste of March Madness in Tauranga. When needed, Mr. Bill travels the 95  kilometers (59 miles) to Tauranga to hold clinics and operate. It’s a gorgeous drive along the coast, past cows grazing in green pastures and kiwi fruit orchards but once inside the city limits, it’s every commuter’s nightmare- congestion, lengthy delays at red lights and merging mayhem at the roundabouts. Mr. Bill goes with the flow, taking the good with the bad.

March Madness has also hit the gentle streets of Ohope Beach. There are now traffic queues (Now there’s an interesting word- only the first letter speaks while the next four remain silent.) on Pohutukawa Avenue. A major culvert repair is underway. The one and only road through town, was reduced to one lane of alternating traffic. The asphalt was dug up and then replaced one section at a time, as crews removed the old culvert and installed the new pipe under the road, centimeter by centimeter.  The Stop and Go men, brought Ohope to a standstill the first week , as everyone became used to the new traffic pattern. I’m sure I was the envy of all the waiting drivers, when I cheekily rode my push bike to the front of the line and stopped in front of the man, spinning the Stop & Go sign. That’s when I had an, “Only in Ohope Moment”. The construction worker beckoned me forward with the crook of his index finger. Startled, I pantomimed back “me”? with my index finger pointing to my chest. He nodded. I warily advanced. Was I in trouble for cutting the line? No. He was smiling and was motioning me onwards, wanting me to squeeze through the gap, instead of waiting for the all clear. Then he cheerily said, “they’re not digging now, you should be alright to bike past”. Gulp! I went for it and got a big thumbs up from the sign holder on the other end. We all became great friends as I cycled passed the construction site twice daily. It was mighty disappointing the following week, when temporary red lights replaced the Stop and Go crew. I could still zip to the front of the queue when the light was red but without my mates, I became the caboose when the light turned green and the cars passed me by.

Construction is ongoing but Pohutukawa Avenue is now back to two lanes, the red lights are gone and orange cones guide the traffic, through the work site. The footpath has been dug up and a temporary sidewalk has been created on the road. When that is open, I have my very own travel lane, which is much safer. Sometimes though, the entrance is open but the egress is blocked when there is a hole too wide to jump and I have to reverse out and find another route. My friend Mark, has emailed his concern about my biking, writing,”I must admit that I am troubled by a nice girl like you peddling her ass all over New Zealand”. Please rest assured, there’s no Hanky Panky  in New Zealand but there is Hokey Pokey.

Happily for Mr. Bill, the construction zone lies beyond where we live and he is spared this bit of March Madness. Sadly, his beloved PC Friars lost their tournament bid and he has March Sadness. Poor Mr. Bill.

 

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My special travel lane!

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Just mind the swing of the digger when you bike past and you’ll be alright.

Going to the hospital...

Fortunately, Mr. Bill turns right onto Pohutukawa Avenue from West End Road to go to work. Going that way, he misses the culvert construction which is further down Pohutukawa.

 

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Hiding in Plain Sight

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There they were, scores of stingrays, hiding in plain sight, riding the face of the incoming wave. What I missed, Mr. Bill would have spotted. Briefly visible, before dropping into the tube, to ride the barrel wave- the penultamite run for all surfers- the stingrays were gliding elegantly on the incoming tide, arriving en masse for the “All You Can Eat Crab Buffet”, served daily at low tide.

Unfortunately, I missed them but fortunately, the camera lens did not. Intent on trying to capture the translucent green of the breaking waves, I was oblivious to the drama occurring beneath the surface. If only Mr. Bill was walking West End Beach with me that day, his keen eye, accustomed to always looking deeper, would have quickly determined what lay beneath and diagnosed stingrays. I would have been ecstatic. Instead, left to my own devices, the artist in me concentrated on the dazzling play of light and color, growing increasingly frustrated, every time a shadow ruined the shot. However, Mr. Bill, whose clinical assessment is always on, far from becoming frustrated, would have been analyzing and searching for the underlining cause. I observe. Mr. Bill divines. I suppose, it’s all in how you look at the world.

It was some months however, before  the proverbial penny dropped and I learned what I had missed on that late fall day. A chance encounter, sent me searching through my digital iPhoto files, to discover the feeding phenomenon I had unwittingly photographed. Winter was at long last on the wane and the beach was filled with happy children, enjoying the warmth of an early spring day. It was low tide and the sand was littered with sharp empty clam shells, courtesy of the shore birds’ midday feast. I had stopped to chat with a woman, who was watching her young grandson on his boogie board. (Is is absolutely grand, that you can just stop and have a good chin wag with a Kiwi. They love to talk and you will come away with a new friend and having learned something interesting.)  As he walked through the shallow water, the boy hopped from foot to foot, crying out “ouch, ouch, ouch” with every jump. When I remarked that the shells must be cutting his feet, she answered unconcerned, “oh no, it’s not shells he’s stepping on, that would be the crabs pinching him but they don’t hurt. ” She went on to explain, that stingrays eat the crabs at low tide. The penny dropped! The failed photo was not a failure after all.  I told her of my frustrated attempts to photograph backlit waves. I explained that shadows, which I determined to be seaweed, had spoiled every shot. Nana was indignant. “We do not have seaweed on West End Beach!” she exclaimed. She was of course, right. I have never, ever, seen seaweed on the West End of Ohope Beach or anywhere else, along New Zealand’s favorite beach.

What a relief, that I had not deleted the picture. Although I did not get the photo that I wanted that day, I thought that the dark shapes within the waves, created an interesting design and decided to keep it. As an art student, I learned that there are no mistakes in art, just happy accidents. Keeping the photograph and having the enlightening conversation was indeed fortuitous.

On two occasions, I have been lucky and have seen stingrays in Ohiwa Harbor. Sadly, Mr. Bill has not been as fortunate. Even his discerning eye, would not have tipped the scales in his favor, on those days. The first time, Mr. Bill was in the ‘wrong’ seat in the kayak. The second time involved lunch and Mr. Bill does not eat lunch. Fortunately for me, I was sitting up front and because lunch is my guilty pleasure, I saw the stingrays. On the former sighting, Mr. Bill and I were exploring Ohiwa harbor with Kenny McCracken, of KG Kayaks, when my paddle disturbed a stingray resting on the sandy bottom. Up popped the stingray to my delight but it dove back down in a flash, kicking up a cloud of sand, that obscured Mr. Bill’s view. Poor Mr. Bill, he was understandably disappointed. The latter encounter happened, when I had gone to lunch at Ohiwa Oyster Farm with my friends, Lois and Nick, (Yes that Nick of blog post- “A Fanciful Friendship”) where stingrays join the lunch crowd, enjoying an alfresco meal on Ohiwa Harbor, courtesy of the Seafood Shack. The stingrays come ‘running’ when they see their friend, wade into the water with fresh fish and they flap and swirl around him, as he tosses them their daily treats. It only took three years to train these wild, gentle creatures to come for their free lunch. Patience is a virtue and I reckon both man and fish are amply rewarded.

My advice Dear Readers, if you wish to have a stingray encounter, is to keep your eyes peeled and never skip lunch, unless of course, you are traveling with Mr. Bill.

 

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Stingrays surfing on West End Beach

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Shore dinner on West End Beach- Ohope Beach

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Come and get it!

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Water blog

IMG_2099I do apologize Dear Reader, if you are feeling waterlogged, after reading one too many stories about cyclones. So begging your pardon, here is yet another soggy missive. Owing to Mr. Bill’s peculiar super power of attracting wind and rain, it should come as no surprise, that Cyclone Gita has followed Mr. Bill to New Zealand.

Now Mr. Bill can attract precipitation but he cannot control it’s temperature; depending on where he is, it will be either wet or frozen, changing from one to the other, as it Travels with Mr. Bill. On Wednesday, February seventh, we departed from Boston in a snowstorm and arrived in New Zealand, a day and a half later, in a rain storm. The Land of the Long White Cloud, had been transformed into, The Land of the Low Grey Cloud. Our American friends kicked off their snow boots and hung up snow shovels, while our Kiwi mates, pulled on gum boots and grabbed their brollies. A late arrival in Auckland, meant that we missed the baggage transfer deadline and we would have to hump our suitcases over to the Domestic Terminal. It’s a fairly short walk, just shy of 15 minutes and after a long flight, it is  always a welcome opportunity to stretch our legs and breathe 100% pure New Zealand air – unless it’s raining. However, we barely got wet at all and Mr. Bill not at all, due to a little professional courtesy. Recognizing Mr. Bill, the clouds parted briefly, allowing him to push his trolley without being showered. Unfortunately, I lagged behind, separated from Mr. Bill, by a slow moving family. Once Mr. Bill had reached the safety of the terminal, the heavens opened and I was blessed with my morning’s ablutions.

Instant summer is exciting even when it is raining. The thrill does wear off though, after a week of wet muggy weather. Mr. Bill brought along seven days worth of rain.  Moisture found it’s way inside our Beachpoint apartment, making everything feel damp to the touch. All those neatly pressed clothes, that had been packed, oh so carefully, were soon hanging limp in the wardrobe. Too wet to go outside and play, Mr. Bill and I discovered the fun of indoor slip and slide, when heavy humidity left a skim of water on the floor. The challenge of the game was to step from the carpet onto the slick ceramic tiles without falling. It was also too wet to bike or run but it was not to wet to swim. Could I entice Mr. Bill into the pool or the ocean? Absolutely not. Despite being a rain maker, he is not a water baby, famously declaring once, ” that he didn’t have to be in it to enjoy it”. Obligingly, the rain would pause politely at the end of the day, for Mr. Bill’s daily run along Ohope Beach and he was able to jog along the sea without getting wet.

All that rain was just the warm up act for Cyclone Gita, who had been swirling around the South Pacific, after hitting Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. The weather forecast predicted last week, that Gita would leave the tropics and head south, striking New Zealand on Tuesday, February 20th. She did both but with a twist. Having left the tropics, Cyclone  Gita became ex-tropical but was still a formidable presence, with New Zealand in her path. However, instead of making landfall here in the  Bay of Plenty, Gita was expected to pass through the Cook Straights, striking the bottom of the North Island and the Top of the South Island. Instead, Gita changed her mind, tracked a bit more to the south, encountered the Southern Alps and split in two.  All this time, the Lady had been toying with Mr. Bill, playing hard to get. Perhaps Mr. Bill has met his waterloo.

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