A boy’s world

Lego, army figures, tanks and trains
wooden railway encircling planes
worlds in your head
worlds in your hands
You could grow up to be an engineer
but how can I know the future from here
all I’m sure of
is who you are now
Absorbed in your game, oblivious
the creations you make, ingenious
lost in your world
your world is us
Wiry arms wrapped around my neck
my stubble prickling your smooth cheek
kiss, cuddle, kiss
not letting go.


This poem was inspired watching my son playing and thinking about the world as he might see it, but written from my perspective as a father. 

Update, July 2018

It has been so long since I posted anything here that I thought the easiest way to get going again would be to do a general update on where I’m at currently. 

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot this year, and the content of my reading has transitioned over recent months to being dominated by Christian topics. I view this as a good thing as it reflects an underlying transition in my thinking back to being more God focused than I have been for a while. My reading does tend to follow the direction my heart is inclining, hence the eclectic selection in my lists of books I have read.

Bible

Earlier this year I bought a New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, which is the King James Version of the Bible with modern spelling (eg, ‘show’ rather than ‘shew’) and crucially, in paragraph format rather than having each verse begin on a new line. The paragraph format makes a huge difference to the readability of this version and I’ve been enjoying reading the version of the Bible which has made such a massive impact on the English language.

However, I’ve also gone in the other direction on Bible translations and returned to reading the NIV for my main daily reading. This has been like reuniting with an old friend as it is the translation I used for the first five years of my Christian life. I read the Bible a lot during this period so revisiting this translation is helping motivate me to read it a lot more now too. 

Social Media

I caved in and did open a new Facebook account at the start of June. I have only added 30 people as friends, all of whom I know well in real life but some I don’t see very often currently so this is a way to keep in touch. I’ve noticed though that most of these folks don’t actually post much to Facebook anyway so the ‘staying connected’ aspect is not all that useful.

Family

Our kids are generally doing OK. One is about to change schools in the hope of getting more support for some particular learning needs. The decision to make this change has been a long time in coming and we have tried a lot of other options before making such a big change. In the end our priority is to ensure each of our kids gets an education that builds them up and gives them a good foundation for life. Each child is different so we are seeking the best combination of teachers, facilities and systems to fit each one.

One of our parents had major heart surgery in June. This was a very anxious time because even the surgeons were not confident of a positive outcome. However, so far, so good. The first week of recovery was tense, but there has been a steady improvement since.

Evernote expired

My paid subscription to Evernote expired last month and I chose not to renew it. The plan I was using allowed me to save over a gigabyte of notes each month so my habit was to use the web clipper tool to save any article I thought I might want to read from the web. Because of this my collection of notes was growing much faster than I could read those articles. Being a person who likes to completely finish things, I felt an internal pressure to read all the stuff I had saved. Since stopping that subscription I’ve changed my approach and now try to decide if something is worth reading before I even consider saving it. I try to read things immediately if they seem worthwhile, or park it in a browser tab. If I haven’t read it by the end of the day I close the tab on the assumption that if it is actually important I will stumble across it again or can do a search and find something similar. If I was not motivated to read it during the day, it probably is not relevant enough to me to bother saving.

Low tech evenings

Without setting out to, I’ve become mostly technology free in my evenings over the last few months. This has largely been a progression from committing myself to reading less off the internet and more books. Then my Kindle died so I got in the habit of reading hardcopy books, and my phone battery is also dying so it goes flat quick enough to dissuade me from wasting time on games or reading the news. I am also reading the Bible a lot more these days and I use a nice leather bound Bible so enjoy the experience of reading from that. (I did replace my old Kindle with a new one and do use it, I just enjoy real, paper books more).

The pleasant result of this coalescence of factors is that my evenings are less stressful than they were when using technology a lot – there are no crashes or slow internet issues, my eyes get less tired, and it seems much easier to think about important things rather than trivia when the world is further than a click or tap away. I am currently finding it more effort to login on the laptop than to grab my book from the shelf beside the couch. In my view this is a good thing.

We have three school aged children so life is no less busy for me than it was when I spent my evenings glued to screens, but it feels better now. My thoughts are able to follow a track to its conclusion rather then being interrupted or sidelined by some alert or glittery distraction. I’m able to concentrate better on books that require hard thinking to read them well, and I have quite a stack of this sort of books.

I haven’t attained nirvana or transcendental bliss, I still can waste an evening reading crap on the internet. But now I notice the loss of that evening acutely and feel worse for the internet time rather than fooling myself that I’m ‘staying informed’. Most of what is published on the internet is garbage now, so it is hard to know what are reliable sources and what are not, and even the better ones are still often profit driven and rely on advertising so generate content to gain clicks not to publish quality journalism. Surfing the web is not an easy way to ‘stay informed’, books are easier.

Inspired

I took my youngest two children to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery this afternoon and as on other times I’ve been there, wondered why I don’t go more often. The kids enjoyed it, spontaneously posing in a ‘life imitates art’ posture in front of one picture.

I’m finding that as I grow older my appreciation of art is becoming more liberal so found myself understanding the work of contemporary artists more than I have in the past.

Gordon Walters: New Vision

There was a major exhibition of the work of Gordon Walters (1919 – 1995) showing how his art developed over time and some of the influences which shaped his work. I found this exploration of how an artist’s work developed fascinating, especially his notes on works in progress.

What inspired me about this is how Walters was able to take very simple forms and create beautiful works of art. On the surface it looks simple and mathematical but seeing the complexity of his notes shows a fascinating depth of thought going into each painting. This inspires me to also create, to somehow take the complexity of life and communicate this through simple forms.

Takahe to start 2018

2018 began well for me with a visit to the Orokanui ecosanctuary where we had the opportunity to see takahe up close, including a mum feeding her chick.

In addition to seeing the takahe, it was a great day out for us all as a family. The weather was good, kids were happy and we had plenty of time to enjoy a picnic, explore further than we have on previous visits and finish the day with hot chocolates, coffee, and well-brewed tea.

Being able to enjoy a bush walk together with everyone happy is something we treasure but doesn’t often come together as we might like. There are lots of things that can put a dampener on an otherwise good experience so it’s good to recognise and fully enjoy when it is a good experience. I remember taking kids for short walks when they were younger, trying to negotiate tree roots with a stroller that was not built for such adventures but was all we could afford, hearing complaints about having to walk uphill, at those times we dreamed of when we would no longer need to push or carry children and could enjoy a simple bush walk together.

Having happy, healthy children, being able to enjoy a beautiful public space alive with natural wonders – this is a blessing I try not to take lightly. Appreciating such things and being thankful for them is a good way to begin the year.

31 July to 6 August 2017

About time for another weekly update.

Early starts at work

As our large (1,500 students) first-year biochemistry course gets into full swing, work has become busier and I’ve been having to start earlier each morning so we get the labs cleaned up and reset ready for classes at 9am. By early I only mean 8am, but that actually entails catching a bus at 7:20am in order to get there on time since Dunedin has such a great public transport system (sarcasm!). In winter this does not feel like fun.

Cold

While the weather has not been particularly bad by Dunedin standards, it has just been mostly overcast, damp and not getting much above about 8°C for most of the week, so I feel like I’ve been living in a refrigerator. The house we are renting is also not well insulated and we are only heating the living area (kitchen/dining area) so it is cold in the hallway, bedrooms and bathroom – not inviting. A further factor is that the firewood we recently got is damp so doesn’t burn well and electric heaters just aren’t enough to warm the place up.

Also, I’m getting older and more sensitive to the cold!

Weekend

From what I can recall the weekend was mostly spent at home. I had my usual Saturday sleep in, tried to clean up the concrete outside but the waterblaster we bought only a few weeks ago refused to work so will need to be returned under warranty. On Sunday we went to church which was good.

Funeral

Unfortunately one of my wife’s uncles passed away last week after a long illness. We took the kids with us to Oamaru for the funeral on Monday and although sad at least it was a celebration of a good man and a life of faith. I was glad to be able to take our children as our view is that it is good for them to learn the full spectrum of what life involves.

Dad in hospital

My father spent a few days in Dunedin hospital this week for surgery he has been waiting on for some time. The surgery itself went well but it did take a few days for him to recover and be able to return home.

Just an old garden rake

I was mowing our lawns today, and because the catcher doesn’t work very well on our lawn mower, was using an old bamboo leaf rake inherited from my grandfather to gather up the grass clippings. The irony is that this old rake, with many tines broken off, is still more effective than a newer metal one that I have in the shed. The thing is probably older than I am, yet still it gets the job done.

But effectiveness is only part of the reason I like using the old rake. I don’t recall actually seeing my grandfather use that particular tool, but when I use it I’m reminded of him. He could be a cantankerous old sod, but it is still good to remember him. He certainly took care of his tools and implements better than I do, his workshop was always orderly and he took great pains to mend things and keep them in good order. To the extent that his wheelbarrow had an improvised tyre made from an old bicycle tyre wrapped around the wheel several times and held in place with bits of wire.

Using his old rake also got me thinking of their house, with it’s funny outside toilet that had a golf ball on a chain to flush it with. There was always a box of neatly split kindling by the back door, and the old wooden building blocks that my father had as a child. The way Nana and Granddad always used cloth napkins and had the table properly set for every meal. Sunday roast dinners that my grandmother managed to cook in a tiny little kitchen which became swelteringly hot when the oven was on.

Which got me thinking of the tragedy of my grandmother ending her days in the confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, forgetting and forgotten. I now wish I had put more effort into visiting her in the nursing home during her final few years. It was hard to visit someone who had no idea who I was, and those were the years when my own children were babies and toddlers so life was already very full.

Recently I read an article about caring for elderly parents as they slowly died. Something which stood out to me was the following:

Around holidays and birthdays, rejection and abandonment surfaced, especially when the “family expectations balloon” popped because distance and responsibilities prevented other family members from gathering. (H. Curtis McDaniel How Long Till I Can Die? A 5-Year Journey in Hospice Caregiving)

There will always be conflicting responsibilities and demands on my time and resources, but this article reminded me that to someone who is facing the loss of everything, what they value most is being loved by those they have spent their own lives loving.

As lives are lived and years tick by, families generate their share of issues, disappointments and disagreements. Things are said or not said, done and not done. Choices are made by people we thought we knew that show how much we have grown apart. Our own lives and families are an immediate demand upon us. Yet I suspect that my parents and siblings still long for a phone call, letter or visit to reassure them that I’m still thinking of them and want to remain part of their lives.

In the end all we are left with is memories, regrets and odd items that remind us of those who went before us and in their own way loved and nurtured us as part of their family. So maybe it is just a beaten up old garden rake, but to me it means much more than being just a rake.

Vida

We said goodbye to Vida today. She was finding it hard to get around and had lost a lot of condition but it still is hard to put a dog to sleep. She was a good friend and always happy to see us.

We got a kakabeak plant for her spot in the garden, she loved to lie under our other one and dig holes under it so now she has one all to herself. Unfortunately we are ending up with a doggie memorial area in our garden.

SONY DSC
Vida

Vida as a puppy

Vida as a puppy, sitting expectantly looking at the camera
Vida as a puppy, about 3 months old (this is a scanned copy of an old photo)

Vida was born in March 1999 and lived 15¾ years, a good age for a dog and she had an active life as a much-loved member of our family.

As a young dog she loved to chase oystercatchers as they flew along local beaches, running so far she disappeared from sight and coming back with a big exhausted smile (she never caught them, oystercatchers were too smart to let her get close, but I think they enjoyed taunting her).

Ride on a steam train

Standing beside steam engine

One of my 101 goals has been to take my five-year-old son on a train because he has always been fascinated by trains but travelling by train is a rare event living in Dunedin, New Zealand.

An ideal opportunity arose at Labour Weekend when the local railway trust had short passenger trips along the harbourside pulled by a steam locomotive. I managed to get tickets for myself and my two youngest children and with great excitement we boarded the train at the historic Dunedin railway station.

We were fortunate to have seats in the first carriage behind the engine so all the “chuff-chuff” sounds of the steam and the locomotive’s characteristic whistle helped make the experience even better. Seeing such excitement on my son’s face made it for me, he was spellbound by the simple ecperience of a train ride. (Though standing beside the locomotive to have a picture taken was a bit intimidating for him as it loudly exhaled steam).