The Man loves humour

The Man had a skin biopsy taken today and decided to play a prank on the nurse. He asked our GP for a red markerpen and coloured the bandage (that the nurse had only just applied) red. A couple of minutes later the nurse returned and seeing The Man's bandage, started quickly grabbing more materials off the tray, frightened that there had been such an excessive bleed from The Man's small skin biopsy site.

The Man and our GP ended up laughing and, luckily, so did the nurse.

Even prime ministers can take maternity leave

When I first heard on the news today that New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced her pregnancy and is expecting her first child in June this year, my first reaction was, "Wait, whilst in office!?"

But within about ten seconds, that reaction had changed to, actually, that's good. That's normal. It reminded me of the concept of maternity leave, and about people's right to have space in their personal lives above and beyond their employment responsibilities.

Prime minister's job is an important one, I conceded, but after all, it is a job. It's kind of like the fact that although at the cafe at work, the grill chef almost never has a break - he stands at the grill pretty much 7 hours non-stop - it doesn't man that other people in the kitchen are required to do the same. When I said to my boss that, sorry, I need a proper break in the middle of the day, I can't work non-stop like some of the other guys are doing, his reaction was, no worries, sure, we'll make it work.

Prime minister having a maternity leave? The same.

Doctors having time off. The same. City councillors having time off. The same. Teachers having time off. The same. Electricians having time off. The same.

Everyone, regardless of their position, has the right for time off, and creating a culture where such decisions are regarded normal, is healthy. And so whilst my first reaction to prime minister giving birth was, wait, what!?, my second reaction was the one I am intending to keep.

Good on you, prime minister! I am proud of your decision both for your personal life but also for the message I think it sends across New Zealand, further reinforcing that taking time off to have a baby and then returning to work, is normal.


It's impressive how The Kid reads

The Kid is in well into the journey of learning to read. He recognises letters and knows about 40 words by sight. He can also guess first letters of words he's not familiar with. I'll say to him, for example, "Broccoli," and he'll then sound it out to figure out what the first letter is. "Broccoli. Beh, beh, beh... B! It starts with B!"

I have also discovered that he can recognise letters both in reverse and also when they're upside down.

For example: today he was holding a paper upside down in his hand. So the letters would have looked like this:

Nevertheless he was systematically reading out the letters and telling me if he recognised any words.

Another time, we were sitting inside a cafe called The Batch and on their window they had a large print of their logo. However, looking at it from inside the cafe, the letters were not only in reverse, but also tilted on their side. Like this:

When The Kid noticed the letters, he promptly started sounding them out. The. B. A. T. C. H.

I guess at the moment, his brain recognises the letters by their shape, and because he (increasingly occasionally) still writes letters the wrong way around, then when he sees them in reverse, he is still able to figure them out because to him, it's the main shape of them that counts.

Being a parent, it's a wonder to see though.

How many spiders are too many spiders?

It was like a scene of domestic horror last night.

The Man was already asleep. I came in the bedroom and was getting ready to go to bed, too. In the light of a bedside lamp I saw a little spider running across a folded blanket. I squashed it. Then, next to it, I saw another little spider. I squashed that one, too.

About a foot away I noticed about three more little spiders. I squashed them, and got a very uneasy feeling. I started to look around the area. Within a minute, The Man was awake because I was slapping the wall behind the folded blanket and going, "Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, sh*t!"

Because that's the horror part: I saw and killed OVER THIRTY OF THEM. A spider must have made a nest somewhere in our bedroom - AND I STILL DON'T KNOW WHERE! - and now those freshly-hatched little spiders were scattering across the wall and behind the bed and behind furniture. I was slapping them dead and cursing, and this morning as my family were eating breakfast in the living room, I was furiously vacuuming the bedroom: the backs of curtains, behind furniture, along shoe moulding, tops of doors.

If The Girlie had been there, she would've thought it great because she likes bugs - including spiders! - but me, I'm not so convinced.

The idea of there being a fresh hats of baby spiders crawling about a metre away from where I was sleeping on the bed...


PS. Invercargill is headed for an all-time heat record today.

Who are the animals on the man's backpack?

A friend asked me a question which I thought others may be interested in, too. It's about a photo I had on the blog several weeks ago:

The friend asked, what are the animals attached to the young man's backpack? And why are they there?

The answer is, the animals are possums.

They are native to Australia, but in the 19th century some were brought over to New Zealand in an attempt to establish a fur industry. Because they lacked predators in New Zealand, what actually happened was... they thrived to a point where in the 20th century their numbers were estimated at about 60 million. They are considered a major pest and Department of Conservation has an extensive programme aimed at bringing the numbers down. At the moment they're at about 30 million, I think.

Because their fur can be used by the clothing industry (when mixed with merino wool it makes for superior fibre), possum fur goes for over $100 a kilo.

The young man in the photo was one of the guides at Fox glacier where I interned in 2009. The guiding company 'serviced' some traps along the route to the glacier (they would set them last thing at night and check first thing in the morning) and when he found possums in the traps, he would take them home, pluck the fur and when he'd gather up enough fur, he'd sell it.

So that's what the photo is about: two dead possums attached to his backpack as he is walking home from the glacier.

Talking of which: in May when I visit Estonia, my book about Alaska will be re-published with a small addition about New Zealand in the back of it. An epilogue, if you may.

In it I explain some of it. For example:

"The people in New Zealand were, I started to realise, vastly different to one another. On top of the racial and cultural diversity which was to be expected because of how endemic it was to most Western societies, New Zealand had an added variety-factor: its terrain. On Fox glacier there were still men who earned bulk of their living trapping animals in the mountain ranges of the national parks and selling fur to clothing fibre manufacturers. Further down the coast there was a family with two kids living a two day walk from the nearest road, and surrounded by mountainous bush. Martins Bay holiday cottages were even further, a four day walk out of the roading network. In a lot of Western countries, such distances of remoteness were simply not possible, geographically speaking."

A beach day

On a 31-degree day, the plan was agreed to by all: we would head for the beach at 8 in the morning. By noon, we would be back home for a nap and miss most of the heat.

Apparently, most other people were doing it the other way around: the beach was getting crowded from 11 am onwards and just as we were packing our stuff, others were setting up.

Riverton's Taramea Bay is beautiful. It's a shallow and sandy, and provides a lovely safe water for kids to wander into. I haven't got photos of it, but we had wetsuits on and were goofing around with boogie-boards (it's a kind of a small surfboard you lay on with your tummy).

For lunch, we had baby carrots pulled from the garden bed, cherry tomatoes from the greenhouse, and sandwiches. Yum!

And because we had the tent up, it provided us with much-needed shade when everyone was getting tired and hungry.

A lovely, lovely morning!

Thinking about weather and balances

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the weather forecast for the next 4 days:

Yes, that's right: Invercargill will be 30C for two days in a row.

When I saw that, I thought, OMG, if Invercargill is going to be 30, what's Wanaka going to be? 34? What about Christchurch? I started to look through other towns' weather forecasts and... it dawned on me, that for the next few days, Invercargill is going to be the hottest place in New Zealand.

Because here, look: Wanaka.




It doesn't happen often, and when it does, it usually happens around October that Invercargill gets the warmest winds of the whole of New Zealand, but this summer has been so spectacularly screwed up in the sense that... I mean, December averages were about, what, 3 degrees warmer than usual?

Urbanites are, of course, enjoying the sunny weather and praising the opportunities to spend time at the beach, but farmers meanwhile are going f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck. Plants need rain to grow, and this summer has not been delivering.

It reminded me of an interesting interview I listened to whilst painting the gable end. I spent several days with headphones on listening to interviews and podcasts ;)

The interview was Kim Hill talking to Johan Rockström from Swedish Stockholm Resilience Centre ( and they discussed what Johan calls "planetary boundaries".

Basically, as he was explaining, the world is in a kind of a homeostasis. You know how the human body, in a very similar way, manages to maintain a very stable state although there are, literally, thousands of hormones, chemicals and such that are in a constant change? Consider the food we eat: carbs raise the blood glucose levels, but insulin straight away kicks in to protect the system from sugar overload. Women's progesterone and oestrogen are always in motion, but the body maintains a relatively stable internal environment because whenever something changes, something else balances it out because the body, it tries to self-regulate in order to maintain an equilibrium.

Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote about it in The New Yorker magazine this week.

"Consider temperature: the normal human body maintains an extraordinarily narrow range—somewhere between ninety-seven and ninety-nine degrees—despite enormous, often unpredictable variations in the environment. I boarded my Air India flight on a chilly autumn day in New York and was hurtled in an aluminum tube into unseasonably warm Delhi, but my core temperature, had I measured it, would have changed not one degree. And emperor penguins put human thermoregulation to shame. As the ambient temperature is lowered by a staggering hundred and ten degrees, from seventy above zero to forty below, a penguin chick’s core temperature changes by only a couple of degrees.

The level of sodium in your blood is tightly regulated between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per litre—a number controlled by exquisite sensors in the brain coupled with an equally accurate mechanism that retains or dispenses salt and water in the kidneys. "Constancy in an open system, such as our bodies represent, requires mechanisms that act to maintain this constancy," Cannon wrote. "Homeostasis does not occur by chance, but is the result of organized self-government.""

The earth is maintaining a somewhat of a similar environment. There is relatively stable weather, water is getting distributed around, air is suitable for a lot of animal species - it's a golden age for life to thrive on this planet. Half of our emissions are taken up in oceans and forests at the moment, as if the earth is buffering, Johan Rockström argues, and it's remarkable proof that the planet does everything it can, applying all its biochemical processes, in order to remain stable.

But that, he also argues, is not an infinite state. At one point there is going to be a time when the "overload" will no longer be able to be buffered, and the earth stability is going to topple, hurtling the planet towards a new age where the balance of life-sustaining processes is no longer going to be able to sustain so much of the current world. There is not going to be enough clean water, enough clean air, enough good weather to grow food.

So with a team of other scientists, they've worked out what "planetary boundaries" are keeping the world in its current state. How much nitrogen can there be in the atmosphere before the tipping point of the Earth? How much phosphorus? Carbon dioxide concentration in the air? Etc

The interview is WELL WORTH A LISTEN.

It infuriates me that for a whole lot of people in the US, I'm not going to name names because it's pretty obvious who I am referring to, such an information is... not even that they don't know about it, I'm not even sure if they would understand it even if they heard it.

But I just need to breathe in, breathe out, and continue doing my part. Analysing my own life, taking into account my own spending habits, seeing where I can make a difference.

Because sustainability, it's what keeps the life, as we know it, going. Both inside our bodies, but also on our planet.

It's finished!!!

Edited to add: once the house and the windows are done with the colours shown below, it'll look something like this:

Kids are funny

The Girlie has the ability to count things, but not yet to realistically assess size / amount.

So I will, say, give The Kid a piece of toast cut into four pieces. The Girlie will demand that she, too, wants toast. I will know that if I give her the exact same amount, then she won't eat it all - she will only eat about half. But! If I give her only two pieces - half of what The Kid had - then she will protest at having been given less than The Kid.

So what do I do? I give her half a toast - half the amount The Kid had - but I cut it into four pieces. The Girlie will count the pieces (four!) and be happy that she's been given the same number of toast pieces as The Kid. I will be happy that I haven't needed to waste toast.

Win, win.

Ridiculously blue houses. Is it really that bad?








As a reference, this is what I was talking about in terms of our own house.

The more used to I am getting to the idea of it being so blue, the less crazy it seems to be. The more time I look on Google at other houses blue, the less outstanding it is.