Saturday, 29 November 2008

R = Relax

I can feel it. It’s coming.

We sat on our deck last night. There was no wind, and the sky was clear and blue. The birds were singing in the pine trees above us, and in the ngaio trees below. Gershwin was lying in the sun, stretched out, basking in it. Cleo came along, jumped onto the bench beside me, in another quick movement onto the covered barbecue, and surveyed her empire. D and I had glasses of cool sauvignon blanc, enjoying that Friday night feeling.

Early summer. December is almost here. Christmas is coming. Our summer break is not far away. It’s in the air. I can feel it.

The year is almost over. So we’re going to start relaxing now.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Q = Quality vs Quantity

I’ve been thinking about endings a bit lately. My father had a very difficult one. Unconscious after days of pain and distress, anxiety and hallucinations. Death truly came as a final release. Lengthening his life span would not have given him any quality of life, only quantity.

But his life was one of quality. It wasn’t an easy life, in any way. He worked so hard, but he knew when to enjoy himself too. And I am so proud of him. I am in many ways especially proud of the way he and my mother handled retirement. They saw it as their reward for having worked so hard for so long, having scrimped and saved for their entire lives. It was their time, time together without children, time to relax, time to enjoy life. It was wonderful to see. They travelled the world, despite having to wait until my father was 62 to leave the country. They travelled throughout New Zealand and did it as cheaply as possible, these old age pensioners in their tents or cabins. My father loved meeting up with international travellers in the camping ground kitchens, and would always strike up conversation and find out all about them. He bought a Lada four-wheel drive, and drove it everywhere. That old Lada, without power steering or any mod-cons, took him off-road, away on fishing trips up remote rivers in the Mackenzie country, it took him duck-shooting and white-baiting, and regularly to golf. It gave him freedom, and he used it.

I compare his life to that of another elderly gentleman in my life, who has now had four more years of life than my dad. He too worked hard, raised his family well, was a responsible and respected member of the community. In contrast however, he saw retirement as the end of his productive life. He felt useless, cast on the rubbish heap, and he brooded, and became depressed. Unlike my dad, he had the financial means to do whatever he wanted, and the education and experience to be able to contribute and remain active in the community if he so desired. But his life these last 20 years has been one of quantity (not that he is happy about that either), not quality. He is the only reason he is not happy. And he doesn’t seem to know how to be. Nothing we say really seems to help. Fortunately, he can afford the best medical treatment, as he has needed this. But he doesn’t appreciate his extra quantity of life, and doesn’t really make any effort to improve it in terms of quality.

I find it very sad. But there's a lesson in it too.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

P = Procrastination

Procrastination is an art form, and I long since graduated from apprentice to journeyman to master.

Unfortunately I am also married to a master. Perhaps together we have encouraged each other to refine and hone our skills to this level of performance, and I only have myself to blame. But there are times when it frustrates me. Drives me crazy, in fact. When I want nothing more than to make a decision, and just do something for god’s sake. But my chief procrastinator is till procrastinating, yet not allowing me to go ahead and do things myself. Let me explain.

Summer is almost here. In New Zealand that means that during the height of summer there are about six weeks when it is impossible to get anything done unless you do it yourself. We have a half built project. A deck to expand our outdoor living space. We need a building permit, and if we don’t get it in the next few weeks, we won’t be getting it till February, when all the good building weather will be over. But D is procrastinating. Don’t ask me why. All it takes is getting our plans to an engineer for approval, then back to the Council. Shouldn’t be too hard? According to him it is, as our plans have changed a bit since they were drawn up. But this has delayed our project for years.

We also need a builder, as part of the deck is a good 4 metres from the ground (hence the need for the building permit). Previously builders shunned our small project, preferring bigger more profitable jobs. So whilst normally this would be an excellent time – the housing market is slowing and those builders might now be prepared to work on it – all builders will be on their summer holidays till February at least. And I want my deck now. I want to be able to sit on it in a deck chair, under some shade with a cool glass of something, and a good book. I want to be able to entertain friends over the summer. We have friends who are returning to New Zealand after two summers overseas. The deck wasn’t done then and we were already the laughing stock of all our friends and family. The deck still is not done now. I’m starting to feel like the village idiot.

I now know real sympathy for my mother. She spent many years waiting for my father to decide it was the right time to approach his mother about getting the family farm, which he had worked since he was 13 and managed since he was a teen, transferred into his name. Only then could they borrow the money needed to build a new house. My mother had spurts of enthusiasm, designing the house herself, drawing up the plans. Then she’d fall into a pit of despondency, wondering if anything would ever be done, and what was the point.

I feel a bit like that now.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

O = Opportunity

Over the last few weeks, I have frequently found myself thinking how lucky I am.

I knew how lucky I was ...
  • as I walked the streets of London, savouring the delights of one of the world’s greatest cities, renewing friendships made in Bangkok in 1991 ... and trying not to think about the exchange rate
  • as I stood inside the House of Commons, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust (for which I volunteer). It was thrilling to look through the windows of the member’s dining room to the Thames, a view more commonly seen from the tourist boats on the river itself, and to emerge into the late evening in the grounds to see this sight.
  • as I shared time with friends met, made, kept and nurtured over the internet.
  • as I sat with a good friend in Geneva, drinking wine and planning our week to come
  • as I marvelled at the 360 degree view of the Alps from the top of the Nufenenpass, or earlier as we stopped on the side of the road, and listened to the sound of cow bells from across the valley
  • as I searched for George on the shores of Lake Como, sadly in vain, but not a bad place to search
  • as we climbed higher and higher above the Mediterranean, periodically catching glimpses of the Cinque Terre villages we had left or were heading for
  • as I licked a gelato, well-earned, after one climb and before the next
  • as we relaxed in what quickly became our "local," over a pre-dinner glass of vermontino and antipasto, and relived our encounter with some Italian wild boars and bores
  • as I drove through the magnificent snow-covered landscape after the Frejus Tunnel, and the next morning as I pulled my curtains back and was greeted with the sight of green fields and golden trees, chalets and snowy mountains, and a pony in the bottom of the apple orchard
  • as I pottered about a French market with one old friend and one new. On a sunny, autumn Sunday morning, we drooled over the cheese, fruit, 15 different types of mushroom, etc
  • as I enjoyed MY day in Paris, alone, to do what I wanted, with Paris putting on a perfect, autumn day, just for me ... or so it felt anyway
  • as I woke in Paris at 4 am to hear the results of the US election and listened to the President-Elect's acceptance speech
  • and as I arrived home, to a man who had missed me, and didn’t begrudge my adventure

I have had and continue to have opportunities many people can never dream of.

I do not take them for granted.