Thoughts: Lockdown day 54-ish

So we just had our first weekend in Level 3 Step 3. Lockdown day 54ish? I’m really not sure any more.

One of the more interesting personal impacts of all this Covid lockdown palaver is fatigue, inability to focus on something for more than 15 minutes and a general malaise.

One of the clear things that came out of the Steps announced was the removal of the 5km/no motorised travel restrictions. This enabled me to extend my bubble of one. Joy!

God I have missed people and connection. Two months of lockdown isolation is not a healthy state for this Simon.

Last week I took the step of moving back in to my office for work. As an essential service and given that I can actively avoid people it’s an easy thing to justify. And necessary. The change of scenery and having my two-monitor workplace back has really given me a lift. Mooching around my apartment is no longer an option!

I was delighted to be able to see my son on his 19th birthday. I was worried that I’d not be able to. I am mindful of the loss of these sorts of things for many people in Auckland/New Zealand. It’s been (and still is) a very challenging time.

So I have started this new work week with a bit more of a spring in my step and a degree of optimism.

I hope you’re all doing ok.

^SD

Thoughts: And 2020 is done

It’s done.

Looking back, I have to say that I have learned much about myself this year. I’ve had to dig deep – deeper than ever before. I understand my strength, my resilience. My vulnerabilities.

It has been a year where the sources of support I’d usually expect to be able to draw from were reduced or absent. It’s been a year where I finished utterly broken.

I’d love to venture into more detail about my work but that really isn’t a great idea. I can however say that in 8 days of recovery I’ve gotten from 0% to about 50% of where I need to be.

This has been a year of some significant milestones and achievements, and whilst I do take time to pause and reflect on these, my residual energy levels aren’t yet high enough to properly enjoy these moments. These accomplishments.

This year, my Christmas celebrations were muted. A few hours with my teenagers was great, but unusually for me – no decorations. No excitement. No anticipation. Nothing really to look forward to. Plans fell through. And so I’m doing everything I can to rest up and recharge. I’m doing everything I can to clear my head and my more importantly, my dreams. I have been replaying and revisiting work conversations which isn’t helpful. I can report that with the acquisition of a new pillow, my rest last night was full. No work dreaming.

I will be ok (I’m very self-aware) but it’s taking a lot longer to recover than the few days I thought it would take. Which highlights how much care I need to take.

So, what am I doing?

Focusing on gratitude is key for me.

I’m grateful for my few close friends who kept a watchful eye on me who this year. I’m grateful for my colleagues who checked in on me – and I checked on them. The mutual support has been so so important and so very good.

I’m grateful for the new people that I’ve met this year. I’ve noticed that people in my circle have slowly exited – through isolation, busy-ness and distraction mostly – so I’ve had to breathe and start again. It really is quite tiring getting to know people enough to trust them with ‘Simon-world’… but to those I’ve let in, thank you. Thank you. My guards are coming down slowly and you have helped me immeasurably.

I’m grateful that this year I’ve developed some better habits: regular walks, smaller portions. I cancelled my gym membership (after 18 months of only using their bathrooms). Perhaps 2021 will see a re-motivation… but knowing me it’s unlikely. Gyms really aren’t my natural environment.

I’m grateful that I’ve ticked quite a few things off my various life to-do lists.

I’m grateful that my teenagers have thrived and are succeeding. It’s good to see them happy.

Continuing the family theme, watching my adoptive parents having to deal with enforced change due to age in the last few months has been draining and impactful, but seeing their grace and dignity through these challenges is also inspiring. I do need to acknowledge the effort my sister has put in to help them through. She has definitely gone above and beyond. Being able to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary a week or so ago was great.

Seeing this makes me appreciate the time I have.

So here’s to the New Year. The trick is to recognise that it’s pretty much going to be more of the same. So I’m planning accordingly. I will continue to tick things off my lists. I will re-open myself. I will continue to explore. Explore nature, explore food, explore New Zealand. I will continue to Dad.

Thoughts – Isolation 2020 – 12

I’ve run out of words.

The days are blurring in to each other.

I’m now surprised when I learn that the weekend has started.

I still find weekends tough going.

I get my long walks in – I am aiming for 10k steps on Saturday and Sunday, and I’m achieving this. So that’s good.

Apart from that it’s the same. Wake, chores, read, watch TV, and wait. Wait?

Yep, I’m waiting for an appropriate time to go to bed. God I’m bored.

On the plus side I’ve been able to plan my future obsession with Le Creuset cookware. So that’s something to look forward to.

How are you all doing?

Stay kind. Stay safe. Stay home. Level 3 is still lockdown. Ask the Minister of Health about that if you have interpretation questions.

^SD

Thoughts: Isolation 2020 – 3

One of the more irritating things I’ve noticed so far, and it’s been going on for weeks, is the steady stream of media reporting about how ‘[famous person] has tested positive for Covid-19’.

Why do we need to know that [famous person] has tested positive? What purpose does it actually serve?

This reporting leads into a darker place too. It disturbs me when I see comments from people based on their perception of who [famous person] is. Tom Hanks is loved. Prince Charles less so.

But who the hell do we think we are, playing God? Making a call that some people are worth more than others? Making a judgement that someone doesn’t deserve to be infected whilst another is? Or worse, wishing the demise of the person less loved.

That’s just a bit shit and a little inhumane, in my opinion.

We need to be more empathetic. We are all under stress at the moment. Be kinder. It’s not hard.

Thoughts: Camping 2020

I’ve just returned home to Auckland after a week camping with my teenagers. This has been something I have instituted each year in January for the last eight or nine years. It has been a time of presence, of renewed connection, and it’s something I value deeply.

We stayed at the Coromandel Town Top 10 – our second time. The first was six years ago, so I was curious to see how the experience has changed.

I have to say, the campsite is looking good. Better than I remember it from 2014. The staff were all very friendly and kept the place looking immaculate.

The joy of camping is all about getting a bit rough – but not too rough. One still needs WiFi/Data and ample power sockets to keep all devices charged!

Every tent needs fairy lights!

Each year I acquire at least one new ‘thing’ to make the next trip better. This year was a Campmaster three-burner stove and 2KG gas cylinder. It was great being able to cook at our tent rather than have to fight for space in the communal kitchen, elbowing between the pairs of German tourists and the very grumpy mums and dads who were wrangling hordes of children-under-5!

It was a different week though. Teenagers don’t have a lot of motivation (generalisation, yes) and are quite happy reading, napping and watching YouTube.

They’re still a bit camera-shy

I did manage to get them out of the tent for road trips around the Coromandel. Driving the 309 Road across to Hahei to go see Cathedral Cove was fun. Master 17 is learning to drive so he was paying a lot of attention to a road that curved, had few lines, and became gravel. He wasn’t feeling all that confident…

I did misrepresent the walk to Cathedral Cove somewhat, and Miss 14 wasn’t entirely impressed. She didn’t actually complain but in her words ‘Oh it’s a nice beach. Lots of people’ kinda summed up her feelings.

It was interesting watching Master 17 take photos of rocks, trees, paths etc. to use in creating textures. He’s getting into 3D modelling and rendering and wanted to see how much better his own photos would be than stock textures. I was very happy to see this!

Camping is also an opportunity for me to experiment with a degree of ‘feral’. I don’t grow facial hair as a rule so it was a curiousity for me to see if a) I could and b) how grey I actually am. Happily the result of a 8-day trial wasn’t too horrific and I am not traumatised by grey. However, I felt it made me look older which is something I am NOT trying to achieve. So as soon as I got home, off it came.

Coromandel really is a special place. I thoroughly enjoyed getting into ‘nature’ and given I work in mental health and wellbeing these days, it was a great reset ahead of the 2020 work-year.

I do have a tinge of sadness though. I wonder how many more of these weeks I’ll be having with them. They’re getting older and have their own lives. It is quite possible that that was my last. I really hope it wasn’t. We shall have to see.

^SD

Thoughts: 50 not out

So, today is my 50th birthday. I’ve been approaching this date with a degree of trepidation. For me it’s a big number. And no, before you think it, 50 is not the new 40. It’s 50.

I have returned from a few days flying solo in Raglan. Raglan is quite possibly the best town in New Zealand to head to for a time of reflection and resetting. And reflection and resetting has been very important for me to do this week.

At the top of the list: My life has not turned out the way I expected.

An upbringing in an environment of Mum, Dad and the kids probably set the expectation that that was what life was supposed to be. Study hard, get a good job, find a girl, settle down etc. etc.

This is the Kiwi multi-generational procedure on repeat.

I did these things.

And they never quite fitted.

I find myself at 50 on the cusp of something new.

I don’t have the ‘happy family’ I once expected and was conditioned to expect. But I do have a happy family and I am happy and content. My kids are my pride and joy. They inspire me.

I don’t have the house, boat, bach and BMW which was the aspirational cry of my youth. Life has thrown me curveballs, which I seriously miss-hit. I’ve de-materialised significantly. Yes, circumstances dictated that I needed to, but it’s also been of choice. Some things have simply become less. It’s healthy.

I have learned what is important to me and what isn’t. I have learned what adds to my journey and what doesn’t. I have learned what values I hold true to and what values can be improved upon.

Most crucially, I have learned to choose wisely.

I have learned a lot about the nature of people and being human.

I’ve learned that people come into your life for a reason. I have learned that It’s not immediately apparent what that reason is and I’ve seen that sometimes years pass before the reason manifests. But it always does, and you have to be open for it.

I’ve learned that human connections are not things I can control. So I relax and see them for what they are and enjoy them. I do like to meet people and connect, recognising that that connection could be for a lifetime, for some years, or only for some minutes.

People come into my life and leave, sometimes without a trace. And you know what? I’m cool with that. They are on their own journey. As I am on mine.

All I can do is strive to make the connection, however fleeting, as meaningful and healthy for both of us as possible.

I’ve learned that the people you surround yourself with influence who you are. Your character. Your attitudes and beliefs. I am who I am in part due to the friend choices I have made. I have learned that it’s ok to end friendships if they are causing harm and making me a worse person.

Choose your people wisely.

I’ve learned about work/life balance. I’ll let you in on a secret: there’s no such thing. It’s just life, and you only have one life assigned to you. Everything you do with the hours in your day is subject to choice.

Choose your time investment wisely.

I’ve learned to look for the good, the humour, the fun, in everything. It’s about getting of the beaten track. Walking down that alley. Going around that corner. Just because it’s there. I adore exploring and talking and discovering.

I’ve thought long and hard about success and failure. I’ve had my share of both. By conventional standards and expectations it could be said that I’m a failure but I thankfully no longer hold conventional standards as my yardstick.

I’m still standing. I’m still smiling. And I have new goals and aspirations.

I feel that I have lived several lifetimes in my 50 years and I am looking forward to seeing what the next few lifetimes bring.

For me:

I will continue to care.

I will continue to communicate.

I will continue to listen and to learn.

I will continue to be open.

I will continue to risk being hurt.

I will continue to tell people I value them.

I will continue to tell people I love them.

I will continue to trust.

I will continue to wander and to wonder.

I will continue to be the best Simon I can be.

^SD

Thoughts: A First and Much Gratitude

One of the pleasures I’ve had to cut back on in recent years has been going to arena concerts. The reasons are many and varied of course, but I’ve trained myself to not be too bothered by FOMO. It’s been a bit tricky with all the bands I grew up with doing potentially their last tours.

I’d decided against seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, mainly due to not being able to afford tickets when they were released all those months ago. I would, once again, live vicariously through the experiences of my friends, both real and virtual.

Last a Thursday I got a text from my bass-playing 13yr old daughter: “The Chilis are in town, how appropriate do you think they’d be for me?”

A conversation ensued, and at the end of it, I was taking my kids to see this band, and it would be their first-ever concert. She’s been learning bass for nearly a year and loves Flea’s playing. What an opportunity for her. My son is a drummer. To expose him to Chad Smith live – just wow.

My ex – their mother – paid for all three of us. ‘ I’ll take it out of child support’.

I am humbled. Gobsmacked. And so full of gratitude for this gift. This memory.

Thoughts: A Quick Roadtrip with my Kids

Every year around this time I have taken my kids camping. It’s been something I instituted post-marriage with the aim to broaden their horizons somewhat and maintain a good bond with them.

It’s worked.

This year was a little different owing to a few changes and uncertainties that came about in 2018, so we only had three days to make something happen.

I decided to take them up North. They’ve actually been around Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri a lot (their mother’s dad has a timeshare they’ve been able to make use of).

I wanted to show them some of New Zealand that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to see. My daughter expressed that she wasn’t particularly interested in New Zealand and it’s history. She loves the Romans (but hasn’t read Asterix – go figure). I guess it’s her age and the education she is exposed to.

We based ourselves in Kerikeri. The campground there is well appointed. Enough trees to cope with the 32C heat. It borders a river and it was fun cooling off. And trying not to kill myself by slipping on algae-covered rocks. I’m not really great with ‘outside’. I’m sure I used to be, apparently not now.

I enjoy getting them involved in cooking. Deciding what to buy at the supermarket then taking responsibility for its preparation. They complain of course, they’re teenagers after all, but they do do the doing. I also like them to see me interact with other campers. These places are magnets for tourists and locals alike. My kids are fairly introverted and shy so I feel it’s important to show them how to socialise.

One of the people I talked with was a Maori guy, one of four. He politely asked if he could share the BBQ I was using (of course he can) because he was cooking up a feed of mussels for himself and his three mates. I asked if he’d gathered them. “Yes” he said. “From Countdown”. Sigh. He also didn’t have any cooking suggestions I could learn – “I just put them on until they open and they’re sweet eh?”. He gave me one to try. His approach to cooking worked just fine.

As a side note, everyone has Bluetooth speakers and personalised playlists. This group had a particularly excellent Soul, RnB thing going on and were having a bit of a singalong.

The next group I talked to were Indian. A family. They were cooking corn on the cob direct on the gas hobs. But for me the interesting thing was the seasoning they were going to use. A mix of chilli pepper, salt, and then a squeeze of lemon. Spectacular. It was fun being able to talk to them about their cuisine.

Day Two was the core of my plan. Now, my kids aren’t that interested being taught stuff, learning, when they’re in holiday. Tough dad eh? We got on the road early to drive from Kerikeri to Cape Reinga. It’s an interesting drive, very different landscapes, interesting fauna (we saw cows, sheep, hawks, turkey, emus and more). Actually, we were lucky and saw some shepherds with their dogs working a flock from one paddock to the next, across the highway. Was something pretty special to witness.

As we drove, I pointed out to my kids, the small communities anchored by a church and graveyard and maybe a shop. How NZ was and still is.

Note: Telecommunication coverage is appalling in the Far North – given the potential for tourism there I think it needs to be looked at.

I loved seeing how many people make the trip to see the Cape and its surrounds. It’s quite something being at the top of the North Island.

We headed home, stopping off at Te Kao for an ice cream. (Do it, it’s obligatory). We detoured through Totara North as it’s where my kids maternal grandmother grew up. (There’s literally nothing there so it didn’t take long). We visited a site where gumdiggers worked in terrible conditions locating and digging up kauri gum. I actually got interest from my son. He now knows why gumboots are called gumboots and not Wellingtons in this country.

Next stop, also obligatory and totally worth it, was Mangonui. They have the best fish and chips there. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Given the lack of feedback one gets from teenagers I can only assume that when they’re in their 20’s they’ll look back to the day they saw the Lighthouse…

Day Three. We packed up the campsite and got on the road. (I have to add that as they are getting older they are getting much more useful and helpful).

I wanted to take them West to see Opononi (pretty, nothing much there, had a dolphin in 1955/56 that was friendly) on the way to the Waipoua Forest.

It was good to show them how people live in the Far North. Either by choice or through circumstance. There are small communities dotted on the road. Shanty’s. Lean-to’s. Derelict. Rundown. Deserted and abandoned. It’s certainly not Howick. I was interested to see that despite the ruination of the buildings around, the churches all were in quite good condition…

Then we arrived in the Waipoua Forest. I wanted to make sure they saw Tane Mahuta whilst they have the chance to. (It’s no guarantee that access will be for ever).

All up, it’s been a great few days. Good company, good food, good conversation, good music. I am very grateful that my kids like to spend focussed time with me. Now to plan the next.

Thoughts: Whoa! Studios – Henderson, Auckland

exterior

This is new to Auckland. Very new.

We visited Whoa! Studios to celebrate the birthday of a Mum as it promised good food, wine and lots of great distractions for the kids.

This place is fantastic. Seriously great.

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It was heaving with families despite the weather being a tad unhelpful. Our first distraction was the urban playground – fabulously thought out and executed. The centerpiece being this phenomenal Whoa!Web crochet construction which took two years to create.

playgrond5

The Grounds:

grounds2

We were put up in a private room which had great ambience – perfect for our family group.

The service was superb (they were able to adjust for our needs – i.e. feed the kids first so there is more room for the adults once they vanish) and the kitchen catered for a variety of dietary requirements easily.

kingfish

The food was outstanding. We were served Asian-fusion Tapas – from kimchi to kingfish to steak. Absolutely perfectly cooked and the flavours were perfect. My understanding is that there is a strong focus on seasonal ingredients, and as close to local as possible. Apparently the tomatoes we ate were from the garden of an elderly local woman. This is just awesome in my book.

I loved the decor. It’s a beautiful room.

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Then there’s the whole theatre and show experience for the kids. Probably aimed at the under-10’s but Miss 13 enjoyed it. There were layers of humor that would fly over the understanding of children but would entertain the parents.

The lobby and entry to the show is great. It really sets the scene.

foyer foyer2

Everything about Whoa! Studios has been thought through and executed to a really high standard. I’m super-impressed.

I have no hesitation in recommending this for a fun family experience. I will definitely return.

Thoughts: Camping 2017

For the last five or so years, I have instituted a bit of a ritual: taking my kids away to a campsite somewhere in New Zealand for a week. The idea is simply to get closer to them and to expose them to what this country has to offer outside of hotel rooms and big cities.

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They do look forward to it and we have successfully found that necessary balance between device-time and interacting with each other and the surroundings we find ourselves in.

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This year was a bit different. I decided to book a site at the Waitomo Top 10. The idea was to explore the glow worm caves and several others. I’m a bit mean actually: my daughter (11) hasn’t ever been all that comfortable in underground tunnels (for example, those found on North Head in Auckland) so I thought this might be a good way to encourage her to deal with her fears.

 

What I hadn’t considered is that her fears weren’t limited to tunnels. It turns out that her list includes tunnels, caves, dark, bugs, wetas, sounds of water, drips… and we managed to find all those things in one tidy package.

 

So when one of our guides told us that he did things that no other guide did, such as turning off all the lights, the look of betrayal my daughter gave me was quite special. I laughed.

 

She coped admirably and grudgingly admits that there were aspects of the adventuring she enjoyed. Stalactites and stalagmites made the list.

 

Katherine and her daughter joined us for two nights which was fun. It created a change in our usual dynamic which isn’t a bad thing. Change is good as they say.

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Waitomo. What can I say? Majestic natural wonderlands underground. And more to to point, the organisations overseeing these treasures have created something great. I have harboured a default position where I suspect New Zealand tourism businesses do things a bit on the cheap and end up with an overpriced experience for tourists that ultimately is a bit shit. I’m happy to say that in the case of Waitomo, this perception is dead wrong. I felt pride in what we (Kiwis) are showing people here.

 

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I also love getting off the beaten track a bit. We went to Marokopa on the West coast (47kms West of Waitomo) to see what was there. Not that much in truth, but there is a seaside community, great fishing off the bar, coffees available en route and some beautiful scenery. I loved it. The kids… well, not so much.

 

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That being said, I love seeing how my kids are growing and maturing. Each year they’re a little bit less useless and more autonomous. They’re not requiring my help with keeping them entertained quite as much. They’re able to (and actually take personal responsibility for) their showers, doing dishes, hanging togs and towels etc.

 
The Waitomo Top 10 is also pretty cool. It’s not as big as other campsites we’ve visited, and the population is more transient. There’s not much to do beyond visiting the caves. In hindsight I think perhaps 2 nights there and then somewhere else may have been a better option.

 
It was so good seeing close up how important tourism is to our country. In the course of the week I’ve had decent conversations with people from France, Germany, Australia, the US and more. All are here with a sense of wonderment. All are here to experience something quite unique in the world, and they were getting it.

 
An aside: I note that Mercedes pretty much owns the campervan market. They’re doing something right!

 

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All up, a very good week. A chance to reconnect with my kids and spend time with them outside of routine. It’s valuable. And there is nothing better than getting just a little bit feral before addressing the new work year.

 

That being said, I am ready for it now!