Sunday, February 2, 2014

Laughter, Love and Loss

As we age, we realise that the people that know us the best, those who have taken the entire journey with us, are the ones that have help us shape the way we view the world.

As we mature, we realise that death is an inescapable byproduct of life.

When I was a child, I looked at death as something to be feared.  It brought terrible emotional pain.  It was black and cold and final.

On Friday morning, January 31, 2014, my lovely, vivacious, generous, selfless, hysterically funny, uncensored, Aunt Leigh suddenly passed away.  She was diagnosed earlier this month with an aggressive form of brain cancer.  

It took her in less than three weeks.

I am still not comprehending.

I am sad in a way that I haven't experienced before.  I'm trying very hard not to be angry because I don't think she would like that.  Part of me rages at how horribly unfair cancer can be.

She did not suffer, though, and today, in a quiet epiphany, I came to the realisation that I had been viewing this situation from the wrong angle.  My Aunt's death was painless and lightning fast.  She had her family with her when she left us.  It seems fitting then, that death was kind to her, a woman who spent her life devoted to those who were lucky enough to share her orbit.

Good bye Aunt Leigh. xo

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Postcards From The Edge

If I were to sum up my life right now, it would be a mere seven words: work, eat, sleep, sometimes paddle, airplanes, repeat.

My new employment out of the house is like many new jobs in that it is all consuming.  Never before, in my life, have I started at a company and been buried the first day.  While busy beyond anything I could have comprehended, I am satisfied in a way that I haven't been in a long time.  This job has taken my skill set to places I haven't visited in years and forced me to learn entirely new manufacturing concepts.

I am profoundly grateful.

As I've entered the Kiwi workforce, I've noticed a few things.  First of all, my hybrid Canadian/American accent has given me an unexpected competitive advantage.  When we were living in the US, Dallas used to claim that his New Zealand twang gave him a leg up and at the time, I told him he was crazy.  I believed that it was his superior people skills and level-headed approach to problem solving that enabled his rapid climb up the corporate ladder.  While that assumption was certainly partly true, I now have to admit that being different has its advantages. People absolutely listen when I speak but this too, is a double edged sword.  There is undeniable pressure because I am terrified of sounding like an ill informed asshole.  My preparation for meetings is exhaustive and the learning curve looks like Mt. Everest.  Oh well, with a bit of luck and heaps of study, I should be relatively well versed in the dairy industry in no time.

I've also noticed that New Zealanders are, well, nice.  They are careful to be diplomatic and in most circumstances, they don't appear to be an aggressive bunch, which is antithetical to what I have seen in the procurement business for the last twenty years.  Of course, I say this with limited exposure but I can share that my, um, less accepting approach to unfavourable answers is often met with surprise by my colleagues.  I'm careful to be very, polite but I will ask "Why?" or "Why not?" enough times and enough ways to make someone genuinely uncomfortable until I receive an appropriate response.  A couple of my work mates who either hear me on the phone or who have been in vendor meetings with me think that this is genius but it isn't.  It's just a rejection of complacency.  My husband has warned me to be careful about asserting too many North American sensibilities into my current workplace.  He tells me to tread softly but confidently; be firm yet mindful of our cultural differences.  He is right.

Speaking of cultural differences, the most glaring one for me has been the genuine respect of every individual's right to achieve a balance between work and private life.  It is not lip service here.  Late nights and weekends are discouraged.  My boss has cruised by my desk and instructed me to go home at a decent time on more than one occassion.  My colleagues have encouraged me to eat lunch away from my desk and take some time to collect myself.

"The work will be right where you left it when you get back," they say. You know what?  They're right.

Dallas and I both struggle with that balance though.  Ingrained is our American lifestyle where we were always available by smart phone, where our two weeks vacation times were peppered with status calls into the office and a few hours each day checking email.  Our histories are littered with instances where our jobs took top spot in our lives at the expense of everything and everyone else.

I am chipping away at that misguided ethic though, because I've never yet been to a funeral where people reminisced about what a great worker someone was.  Having the last several years at home with my family has taught me that it's more important for me to be present as a wife, a mother and a good friend than as a wage earner exclusively.  Until recently though, I didn't comprehend that the only person forcing me to make a choice between career and family was ME.  I now understand that I can have both.

The only real casualty of my new job is paddling.  Unfortunately, my passion has had to take a temporary backseat.  I'm lucky if I get to train once a week these days but even with the abbreviated schedule, I am still at my very best both emotionally and mentally, when in the waka.  As we move into our fall and winter season, I look forward to those dark, chilly, nights where the silence is broken only by the sound of our blades moving rhythmically through the water.  It makes me happy just thinking about it.

I have so much more to write and there are days when I feel the weight of all of those unwritten posts.  I will get to them eventually but for now, I have to spend my quiet time reading, absorbing and learning so that I can follow this newest path wherever it takes me.

I am unexpectedly, really, really happy with this latest journey.  I hope yours is equally fulfilling.

Until next time, Happy Easter, kids.


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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lazy Summer Days

My daughter, at this moment, lays upon the warm tiles on our deck, accompanied by her cousin, Daisy and two of her mates from school.

They have been swimming for the better part of the afternoon and each of them have rosy cheeks and ever darkening skin.

Right now, they are telling scary stories.  They are unaware of my presence, just a few feet away, unseen in our office, listening.  I marvel over the ease of their interactions; how they laugh unselfconsciously and how they resolve minor differences with kindness.

Their voices are a singsong punctuated with percussive, emphatic, bursts.  They squeal and encourage and sigh in large, dramatic, notes.  There is never a lull in conversation.  Everyone has go.  It's a gorgeous thing to witness.

These four girls hail from all over the globe and they have no idea that today, this perfect summer day, served up to us with a gentle southwestern breeze, will turn into one of those sweet memories that as adults, they'll recollect.  They may not recall the details, as those become fuzzy with age, but they will remember how the sunshine felt on their young skin and how fun it was to wile away a warm summer day, not a care in the world, with family and friends.

I wish I could communicate to them that they will never be more free than they are right now but then again, that would take away the magic of this moment.  So instead, I sit here and listen to their chatter, remembering those days from my youth that were filled with cousins, the beach, hand-formed clay mugs drying in the sun and fresh clams soaking in the bucket.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It's January

Hi there.

Happy New Year!

Been a long time, eh?

Sorry about that.  Unfortunately, I can't promise that it won't be more of the same in the foreseeable future.  I'm up to my eyeballs.

Today, I will leave to travel down to Lake Karapiro where the National Sprints for outrigger are being held.  We've been training, almost daily, for these races, since the week before Christmas and three times a week for months before that.  My daughter, Olivia, is also on a team and has had similar training commitments over the last several weeks.  It's been mental.  I wouldn't change it for the world, though.  I am most at peace with paddle in hand, on the water.

Work is....well, work.  I made a decision just before Christmas to seek a position here in New Zealand and the job search has added the kind of stress that I haven't experience for a decade.  It's like being single again and starting to date.  The dread factor is enormous.  Why would I do this?

First, my business just does not require full time hours, which has been liberating from the sense that I have had far more time available to be a homemaker but problematic because I have had far more time available to be a homemaker.  Somewhere along the way, my family forgot how to pick up after themselves, do dishes, locate the vacuum cleaner and ask for permission before making commitments that involved me as chauffeur, baker and candy apple maker.

Second, just before Christmas, we received a call from a nearby private audiology clinic telling us that my son, Dylan, had been approved for a new set of hearing aids.  We showed up on the appointed day and he was outfitted with the most technologically advanced aids available on the market today.  Our cost?  $650 NZD.

We were given a receipt for insurance purposes and the value of the aids was just a hair shy of EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Before this, Dylan had required four sets of aids in his fifteen years of life to the tune of nearly $20,000 USD.  Every time one of them started to go on the fritz, I would have a nervous breakdown because the cost of hearing aids, unlike other technologies, has not come down over the years.  It's gone up.  The New Zealand government will continue to outfit Dylan with new aids, every three years until his 22nd birthday, as long as he remains a student.  After that, they will provide help in the form of grants.   Additionally, both kids have been to see the dentist (free) and have been to doctors ($30 co-pay) and clinics and been written prescriptions ($3).  People can afford to be well, here.  I've got to have some moles looked at and for the first time in twenty years, I didn't have to plan the dermatologist's visit around my annual deductible.  I am absolutely thrilled to once again be living in a country with universal healthcare.

Long story short, this is one of my reasons for seeking employment in New Zealand.  When I looked at our family use of the "system" versus our contribution, it was clearly disproportionate.  I felt the responsible thing to do was to secure a job here to be able to pay taxes into a system that is taking such good care of us.

Finally, Dallas and I had to look at the reality of our situation.  We definitely live comfortably but if we want to own a piece of property here in New Zealand, we will have to tuck away a considerable amount of money.  The average home price in East Auckland, where I live, is north of $600,000.  To obtain a competitive mortgage here, you've got to have substantial cash as a down payment.  The only way we see this happening is with me getting a second job.

I have learned something about myself.  I'm far enough down the track in my career that I understand what skill set I can bring to a company and with that understanding, comes a certain confidence.  It's not an ego thing, though.  It's just that I won't ever settle again and frankly, the opportunity will have to be pretty decent to have me leave my home office.

So there you have it.  With the holidays, kids out of school, sport, job hunting, business in the US, vacationing, etc., etc., my plate has been pretty full.  Yesterday, I ran up to the local dairy to grab a missing ingredient for the cupcakes I was baking.  While in the shop, I saw one of Olivia's old teachers, which was a bit distracting and it had me wondering if they were back in the classroom already preparing for the kids next month or if he just happened to live in the area.  At the same time, I was texting a paddle mate regarding travel plans for today.  I paid, walked out to my car and sat in the driver's seat finishing the text.


I don't have a child young enough to be in a carseat.

And that is when I realized that I was sitting in someone else's car, with someone else's child.

Yep. Up to my eyeballs, kids.

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Monday, December 17, 2012


Last night, my daughter graduated from elementary school and will find herself walking through the halls of her junior high come this February.

There was a point in the ceremony when they showed each child's year six photo split screen with their picture from grade one.  They were so damn small with their chubby cheeks and dimpled fingers.

It washed over me then, that the parents of those twenty, precious, babies in Connecticut, will never have the opportunity to see their children graduate from elementary school.

My heart is broken.

There are no words...

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