31 May 2007

Coming out

Today was my coming out party as I think about it, my debutante ball. (And I have way too many gay friends to not know the typical meaning of coming out, and I’ve been wondering what closet I’ve been in that I might be coming out of…) I’m not sure whether it was Robyn who called it this or whether it’s Michael and Rob who tease me at home about it, but this seminar I did today at NZCER felt like my attempt to say, Hello New Zealand, I’m here! So, on this last day of my 36th year, I had my first coming out party in a conference room in a hotel in Wellington.

Robyn and I have been planning this since I started this position in January. For the first several months, I agonised over what I might say that I was going to do in the information flyer we sent out. And then for the next several months, I agonised about how I’d design the 3-hour seminar that I’d advertised. I haven’t been so nervous about a teaching event since I taught at Harvard—was unexpectedly nervous about this, considering it’s whatever I wanted it to be and just a time for me to play with. There’s a way it felt almost self-indulgent, even, to have someone sponsoring some nice hotel event for me to hold an audience of important strangers captive.

This morning I got up in the dark and joined all the other business people on the early train to town, packed and speeding through the magnificent countryside without a glance up from whatever Important Paper they happened to be reading. Once I got to Wellington, in the lovely daylight, I was astonished at the wind (which I shouldn’t have been—it’s not called “windy welly” for nothing). I found myself on a cross street one block from the hotel leaning all my weight into the wind and feeling myself go nowhere. My earbuds flew out of my ears, my bag pulled towards the sea, and all of my fellow walkers looked like we were in some slow-motion feature, our hair streaming behind us, our feet labouring to take each step, and our jealous glances resting on those walking in the opposite direction who blew past us at double-time. What if I’m blown away, I wondered, with the magical thinking I most often muster before a presentation I’m nervous about. But I wasn’t. And now it’s over, and I’m much lighter as I speed through the grey early afternoon to play with the kids and change out of this purple suit and high heels and into comfy clothes and possum-fur slippers.

So, how’d it go? Well. Very well. The crowd of about 40 people was made up of colleagues from NZCER (about 1/3 of the audience) strangers from the Ministry of Education, teachers’ unions, a handful of universities and schools, and other educational places. And B, the lovely woman selling us the house on the hill, came too. The crowd was quieter than a crowd in the US, mostly less interested in hearing itself talk. But the laughter was as warm, and the ideas were as rich as any group I’ve worked with before. The level of engagement was satisfyingly high, and there was a real interaction with the idea of adult development and what the implications were. And because it was New Zealand, there was an interesting cross section of the education sector—a broader cross section than I can imagine in the US. And because it is a country unhampered by bad legislation like No Child Left Behind, there’s actual potential here for the kind of paradigm shift that would come from taking seriously the learning of adults.

And there were people saying lovely things about how important these ideas are to the whole future of the country, and how fantastic it is for New Zealand that I’ve come here and how long am I going to stay (I DON’T KNOW) and what do I do on the three days I’m not at NZCER (I DON’T KNOW!!). They were enormously flattering in their low-key Kiwi way and, perhaps better yet, it was fantastic to engage with these ideas on what is now my home soil.

As I stood at the front of the room and walked around listening to the engagement of my colleagues and sector-colleagues, I began to think, Hey, I AM here, I AM among people who do what I do, and for whom what I do really matters. And maybe new relationships will come out of this, and maybe there’ll be follow-up emails (I’ve already gotten an invitation to do a keynote at a conference next year). And maybe I’ll be less anonymous, maybe I’ll feel more known. It’s amazing how important that feeling turns out to be, the feeling that I am someone because I see your recognition of that fact in your eyes. I am known, therefore I am. I have lots of theories to explain that connection (taught one of them today) and still I am surprised at how strongly it matters, how in-my-gut it all is. And, to be known in the city and then take the train home to my cottage by the sea—that might be as close to a description of pure bliss as I can imagine (if only those of you reading were here too).

30 May 2007

Forward and back

Birthdays are for marking time, for remembering and celebrating the year gone by (even if the celebration is mostly just that it’s over) and for looking forward. This will be a surreal birthday on both counts. Last year, P was over from Australia to write with me in DC, and we had dinner with P, and M and his wife, and my mother. After the dinner dishes were cleared and the guests cleared too, P and Michael and I removed everything from the kitchen cabinets in preparation for the kitchen demolition that would allegedly begin the next day and be finished in six weeks (it began the next week and was nearly finished in 16 weeks). At that point, we had no idea that we would be moving to NZ, that we would be selling that house with the new kitchen, that we would be celebrating my next birthday in a kitchen on the other side of the world. This year has been a good one for showing how even when all the changes that come are changes you’ve chosen, you still don’t necessarily get a lot of foresight.

And the funny thing was that then I believed I had the foresight. I believed that we’d go to NZ for a couple of months this year as I took my study leave, and we’d come home to find our beautiful new kitchen waiting for us. I believed that the NZ trip would be a step out of the ordinary, that it would help me in my tenure bid, that it would be a thing I’d never forget, that would be with me long into the future—a US-based future, with the kids at Oyster and us at our jobs and everything coasting along as it has been. And that was less than a year ago that I believed that.

In that year, we made the decision to move, we finished the kitchen, got the visas and the jobs, sold the house, bought a new house over the internet, packed everything we owned onto a container ship, and brought our bleary-eyed children on a journey to our new home across the world. And here they’ve started a new school, we’ve started new jobs, we’ve found new closeness in new friendships and new distances in old ones. And now we’ve bought another house and will engage in a new home renovation project as we try to figure out what to do with ourselves as we live in this house by the sea. All in all, it’s been a rather full year.

For the coming year, I lack foresight. I have a big curtain of fog spread up over August, even, as we try to figure out what on earth I do next once my GMU salary runs out. And the fog gets thicker as time goes into the future. I have written about the indefinite nature of my life in this blog lots of times; the birthday just underlines it. Guesses for the next year from any of you in the ether?

Things I’m pretty sure about: Aidan will turn 6 at a summer birthday party in the US, and odds are he’ll begin losing teeth. Naomi will turn 10 one month later in the dead of winter on the other side of the world, and she’ll become even more adolescent than she is already. We’ll run into major snags and frustrations in the renovation project, which will take longer than we anticipate and cost more. I’ll alternate between delight at the shape of my world and raw panic about what comes next.

It’s a pensive trip home tonight on the train, into black clouds that may portend rain. Michael is out of town (again) and Rob is out late tonight, so it’ll be me and the children on a dark early-winter night. We’ll light the fire, read books, bicker with each other, snuggle up together. It will be a night for living in the present, for paying close attention to what is here now. Some people practice that kind of “presence” because it’s good for them. I practice it because with a tangled last year and a mysterious future, there’s nothing to rest my mind upon but today. And, in a firelit cottage by the sea, today isn’t such a bad thing to rest upon after all.

28 May 2007

Birthday week

It’s getting cold here, which makes sense, because it’s practically June. And so I’m planning to have my very first birthday in the winter. This is an odd thing—birthdays do many things and we change the way we make sense of them and the way we feel about them, but we quite rarely find that they move from season to season. I have a summer birthday. In Georgia, we’d have big parties which would celebrate the end of the school year and we’d make iced tea and freeze juice ice cubes to float in fruity punch. By the first of June, it’d be too hot to cook much on the day, so we’d have cold salads and people would come in sundresses and we’d sprawl out and talk and laugh late into the still-light evening. In Cambridge, it wasn’t hot hot yet, but it would often be lovely and all our windows would be open and the world still basking in the deep green that marks the end of spring. We’d have friends over to our too-small condo and the place would be packed with people, chattering in several different languages, with too many children making too big a mess in Naomi and Aidan’s too-little room. In DC, we turned to birthday brunches, and we’d have friends and family and neighbours drop in and out and eat French toast and drink mimosas while children played upstairs and made messes we wouldn’t discover until the last guest had left, hours later.

Here, my winter birthday will be celebrated without extended family, and without an overflowing house of friends. We, strangers in this strange land, don’t yet have enough friends to overflow even this little cottage. But P and J will come over, and maybe F, and we will have a wintry dinner of stew and root vegetables and squashes (which here are all called “pumpkin”). And Rob and Michael will cook together, and the kids will alternately help and get in the way. And, as P and J and F always always make me laugh (as do Rob and Michael), the house with the new woodstove will be filled with laughter and a crackling fire. Is it lonely, this contrast between birthday brunches with friends and family spilling out of the house and this one where we’re hoping friends show up at all? Yes. It’s lonely. AND it’s mysterious and Other, a world where I wear sweaters and eat stew on June 1st. AND it’s a dream come true, to walk on my beach on my birthday, to spend my day in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been—which also happens to be my home. Next June, perhaps, in the house on the hill, we’ll have more people to mark my winter birthday. This June, though, it’ll be a small band—our oldest friend and our newest ones. And we’ll look forward and backward—into a past that seems a million miles away and a future that seems impossible to discern. I suppose some years, birthdays are topsy-turvy, and this is one of those years. What else would you expect, anyway, when your summer birthday shows up with the first winter winds?

26 May 2007

The "fun run"

Yesterday, Friday, was supposed to be rainy, at least if you had checked the weather earlier in the week. The pattern for the weather right now is that bad news is just around the corner—each day the weather forecast says yes, today will be spectacular, but watch out tomorrow. And they push back the nasty tomorrow each day (you know tomorrow is always a day away). Thus, every day it says that tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. And each day is magnificent.

Yesterday, then, when it actually came, was spectacular. Blue skies and hot sun—I was wishing I wasn’t wearing long sleeves when I peeled off my coat. We gathered at Campbell park (a block away) to watch the whole school doing the "Paekakariki School Fun Run," the long distance running that they’ve been training for for many weeks. The parents gathered on the hillside to watch the students—from the littlest to the biggest—run in age cohorts. The youngest ones began, and each race was a little longer than the one before it.

The highpoints of the day? Watching the entire school spread out on the field, taking a tiny corner of the huge space, and knowing that there are schools in Northern Virginia who have more kindergartners than we have kids from k-8. Watching the parents, fathers in their construction uniforms, mothers in their business suits, parents pushing prams and holding babies as they cheered on the runners. (The picture that looks towards the hills shows you the parents spread out over the hill with the kids on the field.) Chatting with people I actually know by name, and cheering for kids I recognise. And, for a totally novel experience, watching my kids race around a field and, just behind them, watching surfers catch a lovely wave. (The picture from the hill towards the sea will show you this view.)

Ok, and my favourite part of all? There were big kids from (maybe from the local “college”= high school) who were waiting at different race points to direct the kids and cheer them on, and there were two or three of those big kids who raced with the trailing runners in each group. Each person straggling behind the pack would get his or her own bigger kid as a running partner, for raising morale and keeping away the feeling of humiliation that comes when the pack leaves you behind. I’d never seen a school do such a thing before; maybe it’s commonplace. But it was so lovely that it often made my eyes tear up, as did the loud whoops and hollers from the crowd as the last person crossed the line.

My kids weren’t the ones far out in front, outstripping the rest and keeping at a breakneck pace. And they weren’t the last ones who got the escorts. They were the normal kids, joking with their classmates, starting with a sprint, ending with a stagger, hugged by classmates at the end of the race. They looked like they belonged here, here in this school by the sea, running in the autumn sea breeze of a late May day. Go figure.

23 May 2007

In the tunnel

I begin this blog in the first of the two long tunnels on the train from Wellington. Do those of you who read this feel like I’ve been in a tunnel for these last several months? I alternate between thinking that I’m holding up so well and thriving in this new place and thinking that I’m still totally bewildered about what comes next for me. I’m boring myself with these questions.

They’re all still here, of course, the big looming what-happens-when-August-comes questions. We’ve just finalised our flight plans for the mongo trip to the US in June/July. There are some really good things about this trip: I’m going to a Garvey family reunion I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to, which means that almost 100% of Garveys (all except for the cousin about to give birth) will be there. And that’s a great treat. I’ll be able to be there for Elijah’s memorial service, which, because it’s conducted in Elijah’s spirit, is going to be closer to a big art workshop/installation than a typical memorial service. And I’ll get to see family and friends and students as I teach the second summer with the class I began in 2006. All of that is fantastic.

But the trip is also another 40 days out of the life I’m building here, another disruption to this budding life, another time when I explain to people that While I really want to build a relationship with you, I’m out of town some of June and all of July. And did I mention that it’s another two weeks away from my family, another two days on an airplane, and a pretty decent car’s worth of airline tickets? So this is the trade off for living in paradise, I suppose. This is the lucky immigrant’s lot—to not get fully connected in the new land because she can still afford to maintain ties to the old land. And just now, as I pass the Porirua harbour in the slanting late afternoon autumn light, with the black swans mirrored in still water, it feels like a tradeoff I’m willing to make. Check me again towards the end of July.

I’m pretty well acclimated. I look right instinctively when I cross a street and no longer wince as we drive on the left side of the road. I translate the times from the US, from Australia, from Europe, with relative ease. I am learning the culture and knowing which things are culturally appropriate and which aren’t (although I still don’t speak a word of te reo Maori). I fantasise about the new house and what we can do there (the village is starting to know we’re buying Barbara’s house. “That’s the best site in town,” they say). The earthquakes surprise but don’t terrify me (although we haven’t had any really big ones). I instinctively check to see what direction the wind is coming from and even know that south=cold and north=warm. The shape of Kapiti Island fills me with warm homey feelings each night. When people ask me where I live I say, “Here” with a period and not a question mark at the end of the word. And when they ask me how long I’m here for, I say, “Indefinitely.” Because baby, if I have ever been in-definite about my life, it’s now.

So, what do we know? We have about six months of work on the new house before we move in, which means that we hope to be in by December. My friend C and her family have gotten a sabbatical and will come and live in this little village starting next February. Michael’s job goes until July 2008. So July 2008 is an inflection point. It’s when GMU wants me back. It’s when Michael’s job needs to be renegotiated, and it’s when C will likely take her family home (although I’ve warned her about this place). All of that feels pretty solid. Anything built on the ground after that is built on sand. But then again, so is this house, and on a windy weekday with the fire burning, this house feels pretty darn solid. Want things that are definite? You’ll have to find another blog…

19 May 2007

House work

Does it happen to you that when you need a haircut, your hair looks worse and worse every day—until the day when you have the appointment, and then it looks fantastic? I have found that scheduling a haircut is the best way to guarantee a good hair day.

Today is a good house day. The papers for the sale and purchase of the house on the hill came today, and Michael and I spent the day working like mad to make our current house livable (Rob helped last night before catching an early ferry to the South Island this morning for a few days holiday). Finally we’ve found a furniture arrangement for the lounge and for the new room (that used to be the garage—Rob calls it the solarium, I often forget and call it the garage and we try to settle on “gararium” or “solarage”). We’ve washed the mildew out of the curtains that were here when we arrived, and unpleated them so that we can put up only half and still have the heat-retaining features that Keith assures us we’ll need as the winter progresses (the people who lived here before invested in enough curtain fabric to finance a small country). And so now, I’m sitting in the solarage on the purple chaise, which almost is a nice room (will be tomorrow once we get curtain rods to cover up the storage and laundry which are also in here). And I could just as easily be sitting in the lounge, which we’ve made into a lovely room that doesn’t feel too crowded AND has a woodburner.

The woodburner is fantastic. It changes the whole feel of the house. Look out because I bet there’s a whole blog coming on the wonders of the wood fire. It’s the first I’ve ever had in my whole life in my own house, and it makes the most astonishing smell and is lovely to look at and has transformed the feel of that central room. This house is so much more wonderful than it has been. What a joy!

Even as I feel myself more and more loving this house, we're closer to moving. Not yet—not even soon—but hopefully by December (remember, that’s next summer, a great time to move into a new house at the beach). We talked with H (the fantastic tenant, who currently lives in the house and whose music you can listen to here ) and she feels good about finding a new house. And B, who owns the house, is still moving right along (to buy H a new house to rent, as it turns out). And so M and I walk on the beach together and try to figure out whether to invest the extra money in going up into the attic and we try to imagine a better location for a house (nope) and we dream about what we’ll plant in the garden (a lemon tree for me, a fig tree for Naomi). This is, all and all, a pretty happy mixture—happy here for now, and happy to be moving there. Even the kids are pleased about it now (although they weren’t so pleased at first—sea views don’t mean that much to kids, as it turns out).

Today was quite a good day for happiness, generally. At the soccer game this morning, Naomi was picked as “player of the week” for really going after the ball (and though they lost 2-0, they walked home talking about how they had won because they played well, they had fun, and they all tried their best). Michael and I sat on the sidelines and talked with the other parents and, unlike most of these autumn games by the sea, I peeled back the layers I was wearing until I was in shirtsleeves, watching the kids play hard and the sea move softly. And then a day of making this house beautiful as the whole world seemed to join in on our improvement project—including the two tuis who sat in the tree just outside the gararium and sang and sang. The sky was cloudless and nearly cobalt; the sea was glass turning into liquid at the wave crests (how I love having the sound of waves as I rearrange furniture!). When we had gotten things settled enough, we took Aidan and his friend to the beach where they took turns riding Aidan's bike in the sand. Perry chased balls, and Michael and I sat in the warm sun and waved at the many folks who wandered past on the crowded beach—the man whose little dog jumped down from the high track to play with Perry (who ignored him, alas), the grandmother assisting a little blonde toddler who wanted to drag a piece of driftwood three times bigger than he was, a Māori fisherman, a middle-aged lesbian couple, and an elderly couple—in their 80s or 90s—slowly walking up the beach and inexplicably kicking a soccer ball at the sea wall.

So it’s a day for celebration, for settling, for dreaming. A day when we feel delighted to be here and hope that those of you who are far away right now are making plans to come and stay. The only thing missing here, as it turns out, is you.

The pictures today have a house-on-the-hill theme. Tomorrow I'll try to take pictures of this house so you can see where we actually live now. The picture on the beach is the whole family at sunset last night--Aidan who is a star on his bike, Naomi and Rob playing soccer, Michael and Perry playing fetch, and the house on the hill to the upper left (see, Patsy, it's not THAT high on the hill). There is a picture from the kitchen window out the back to the hills, and another from the back deck (also to the hills), and one of the front of the house with its needs-to-be-replaced fake rock cladding and the brick patio B built from the bricks of one of the house's original chimneys. I hope you have a magnificent Saturday, too, wherever you are.

18 May 2007

Videos of the kids

Ok, here are two new videos (if I get the technology right). One is Aidan reading--see how he's grown! And the other is of Aidan and Naomi singing a song they learnt in school. These are shameless, content-free, for-the-grandparents videos. Anyone notice any accents after nearly six months in a new land? Naomi has decided that she hopes not to lose her American accent--it has lots of cache in this new place. I guess we'll see...

15 May 2007


On the train home, the clouds pink in the autumn late afternoon, the harbour spreading out to the mountains in the distance, which are not yet snow-capped but will be before too long, I think. I’m just coming out of two meetings in a row where people asked me what I wanted to do with my work life. Geeze that’s a good question.

Yesterday I learnt that my IET colleague Elijah died on Saturday. Elijah was an astonishing person—vibrant and wide-eyed and brilliant in very unconventional ways (and probably some conventional ones, too). He and I were hired at the same time, in the same faculty search. They wanted one person, and both Elijah and I interviewed, and they decided they wanted us both and the deans said yes. At that time, we lived several blocks from one another in Cambridge—he was teaching art education at Lesley University. We met for the first time at Burdicks and drank hot chocolate together while talking about this funny coincidence that had brought us to this same place after really different paths. Elijah had always wanted to understand teaching, so he got a PhD in architecture from Berkley (because his architecture teachers had always been the best teachers he ever had and he wanted to immerse himself in their craft). Elijah was always asking, “Well, why do you have to do it that way?” in a spirit of real curiosity and openness. He wanted us to question all of the things we took for granted—all of them. He led workshops where he took people to bowling alleys and had them develop ways to play a game and have fun—with the stipulation that they couldn’t compete and they couldn’t keep score. Elijah was like that.

When he found out about the colon cancer, he decided to fight it with diet and lifestyle changes instead of with chemo and surgery. He wanted to have a relationship to his cancer and talked in eloquent ways about it and how it had changed him and all he had learnt from it. And in our conversations together, I was often moved to tears at the changes he’d experienced. He talked about how he had once thought of himself as open, but realised that his openness was about an attachment to a particular outcome or way of being. Cancer helped him let go of that attachment. He talked about how he had once loved people but didn’t know how much of that love was attached to particular forms of their behaviour or thinking. Cancer helped him love people exactly the way they were. If he could love the cancer as a part of his own body, he explained, he could love people for who they were. He had the most beautiful reaction to his illness of anyone I’ve ever seen. And, perhaps because of that reaction (rather than the cut-it-out-and-nuke-it relationship most people have with their cancer), he’s dead, less than two years after his diagnosis.

Why am I talking about Elijah on this lovely train ride home at the end of a good day filled with interesting people? Because since Monday when I learnt of his death, I’ve realised that my most powerful tribute and the thing that would make Elijah most pleased was the notion that I carry him with me, that he lives through me and through our other IET colleagues and through the thousands of students whose lives he touched. As I think about what I want from my career in the future, as I think about leadership development and about educational research, I wonder, “Well, why does it have to be that way?” I wonder more actively about which pieces of the system I buy into because I don’t see it, how I can come to have a broader perspective. I wonder about more limitless love and less attachment to a particular perspective or outcome—without the prodding of a terminal illness.

What do I want from this life? I want to play with my kids and have love in my life in a wide variety of arenas. I want to feel like my work makes a difference to others, that I can help the world—in some small way—grow more towards compassion and curiosity and love. I want to think about things that are hard to think about with people I love to think with. I want to wake up in the morning looking at the sea and go to bed at night looking at the stars and walk on the beach in the time in-between. This does not work well as an answer to the question, “Where are you going with your career?” but it’s not that bad an answer to the question, “Where are you going with your life?” And I think Elijah would approve.

ps You can read more about Elijah here.

14 May 2007

Happy Mother's Day

Hello all, and happy mother's day. It's Monday here, and mother's day is a yesterday memory, but there in the US, It's been Mother's Day today. Happy mother's day to those women with children, those women who mothered other women's children, and those men who have taken on maternal responsibilities. And, although it's likely preachy, a quick reminder that mother's day was started to remind everyone that peace is better than war, and that women everywhere wish peace for all the children in the world.

Here are pictures from our mother's day--the most spectacular breakfast (made by Rob with some help from the kids) and then a lovely walk through the bush to Butterfly creek. And here, the mother's day speech Naomi wrote for me. Almost worth all the diapers...

To a spectacular Mum.

Hi!!! I would just like to say a few things. First I would like to wish mom a happy mothers day (Happy Mothers Day Mom!!!!!!!) I would also like to congratulate you on getting through a decade of the hard work it takes to have kids. This will be your 5th or 6th mothers day for Aidan. I guess that is also important. Even if that is important, a decade is even more important (to me anyway). The reason a decade of motherhood is very important, is because it means you have survived the screaming and crying, eating and playing of little kids, then the quarreling of siblings that is now part of your every-day life. I am very pleased that I can say that this mothers day is the day after you buy the house of your dreams. I am sure that with the work, it will be a beautiful house, just like you always tell me it will be.

This will be your first mothers day in NZ, and I think it will be a good one. NZ is a beautiful place. It has very beautiful things to look at, with the hills and the ocean so close by to where we live, and are moving. It is great with the cows, sheep, and horses grazing in paddocks all over the place. It is great. Thank you for deciding that this would be the place to live. Thank you for the good things you have done for me lately.

Happy mothers day again.

12 May 2007

Breaking news

And so today, a brilliantly beautiful fall day, we decided to buy the house on the hill. We made the deal over cups of tea at Barbara’s house and sealed it with a hug. God save New Zealand! Breathe, Patsy—we’ve done our homework on this one. The house is not falling down the hill, as we feared. The engineer and builder we brought by say it’s totally sound—one of the most sound houses the builder has been inside in the whole village. And while it’ll take some work to make it lovely inside, the bones of the house—and the location of the house—make it too good to pass up. In fact, both the builder and the engineer wanted us to notify them if we didn’t buy the house—both of them wanted dibs on it before it went on the market. D, the chippy, reckons it’s one of the nicest houses in the village (“It’s sweet as!”). And we reckon we could be really happy there.

So, there are still lawyers to draw up papers (although just one, as we both happen to have the same lawyer) and dates to be agreed upon (we’re all most concerned for the well-being of the current tenant of the house), but it’s all decided. This was as unlike any housing deal we’ve ever been in before as I can imagine. It was amazingly humane. We wanted her to feel good about selling; she wanted us to feel good about buying. We both love the house and want it to be fantastic. After the quick agreeing on price (she had given us a number when we first saw the house, today we just said “Ok”—I drive a hard bargain), we sat in her living room and she told us stories about the house and the neighbors and her time there. And she paged through her file on the house and brought out relevant bits for us to read. We read the original deed, first dated 1926 and watched the house change hands a lot in the 40s (wartime changes, we figure) and then stay inside the same family from the late 40s until Barbara bought it in the 80s. And then she’s kept it until now. And who knows how long the Bergers will keep it.

So here’s what to know: It’s got four bedrooms (3 quite small) and a big living/dining room. It’s got no front yard to speak of because it’s built on a steep hill that slopes down to the sea, but the back yard dips low and lush behind, with an apple and peach tree, a nikau palm, and lovely tropical plants. The yard has several different levels, so there are hidden pathways with benches, a veggie garden, and a big open grassy space. While the front of the house is totally open to the sea views (and sea wind), the back of the house is tucked away and lovely and private. When I wandered through the back yard for the first time, I pictured myself as a writer there, wandering through the garden, a different look for each mood. There’s a lovely old outbuilding there, too, which I’d like to fix up into a guest cottage for those of you who might come and visit (or for Rob).

These pictures are of the front of the house, the master bedroom, the view over the village (and over 3 Ocean Road, way below) and the lush back yard. There will be more news as it becomes available, but we wanted you out there, our faithful and gentle readers, to be the first ones to know our exciting news!

And, last but not least: happy 19th birthday, baby bro. I know it won’t be much fun with two finals, but I hope we get to talk when you’re done!

09 May 2007

Seeing with fresh eyes

Another train ride home, rolling hills green under a stone-grey sky, studded with sheep and cows and rows of pine trees to eventually be harvested. A fantastic day thinking with my boss at my day job. We tackled some really interesting theoretical issues and it was delightfully fun.

A central story that stays in my mind, though, is from my Auckland day. On that day, I was sitting with a focus group of teachers—about seven—and we were talking about the ways that the New Zealand educational system was organised and how that compared with the US (the teachers were curious). We talked about a variety of differences, beginning with the levels of control that sit over schools in the US (federal, state, district) which NZ doesn’t have at all. “So how are the schools funded?” one teacher asked. I explained that schools were funded by property tax and that the most expensive neighbourhoods tended to be able to fund more than the less expensive neighbourhoods. “You’ve said that wrong,” one teacher told me. I told her I thought I’d said it right. “The way you said it, it sounds like schools with poor kids get less funding than schools with rich kids,” she explained, outlining my mistake. No, I told her, that was right.

The seven teachers in a circle around me exploded in shock and horror. “That’s not fair!” a teacher who teaches in a decile 10 (the highest SES level) school told me. “In my school, the parents have the time and the contacts and the skill to do lots of fundraising to make up the differences in funding between our school and other schools with more state funding.” (Remember that in NZ, the schools are broken into deciles and they are funded in opposite proportion to the wealth of the kids—so that the poorest kids have the most resources.) “My school is decile 3,” another teacher said, “and our parents are working so hard just to make ends meet that there’s no way we could do extra fundraising.” A third teacher, who had asked the question in the first place, was still overcome by her horror. “If you give the poorest kids the fewest resources,” she said, “they’ll never have a chance. They’ll always be poor and their children will be poor.” Her eyes filled with tears. “What kind of society does that to its children?”

Of course I know this system isn’t fair. I know she’s right and I’ve known that for a long time. I think of the urban and suburban teachers in my IET programs, and the horror of the teachers from wealthy suburbs who complain that they don’t have a computer for each child and then discover that in some schools there aren’t computers for any children—or libraries or music teachers or paper or books. This is a painfully stupid system. And yet when was the last time you heard any politician offer a different perspective of suggest that we should change the funding systems (other than in extremely liberal enclaves like Cambridge MA)? There are some issues that become so bedrock that we never even really think about them. And sometimes those issues are shockingly unfair, and it takes an outsider to remind us.

Here in New Zealand, the schools are funded in opposite relation to the wealth of the students. And still, the highest decile schools are the ones that are most popular ones, and the property values in those neighbourhoods go up because the schools are there. So the rich kids here get the same benefit as the rich kids in the US. But here, the poor kids have schools with computers. They have schools with nice facilities and lower student-teacher ratios. They have schools where there are cutting-edge ideas about how to reach poor kids. There are poor kids here and rich kids here, just like in the US (although they’re neither as poor nor as rich as those in the States). But here the poor kids have a fighting chance to stop being poor. And the rich kids see that living in humane ways is a way of life. That’s one kiwi product we might consider importing to the US along with the lamb and apples…

07 May 2007

The ups and downs of learning

And here is one more picture from the weekend--because Aidan's bike riding has to be experienced. The thing to remember is that the smiling fellow you see at the beginning was howling mere moments before this video was taken, and the howling fellow you see at the end was smiling mere moments after this video ended. With that in mind, you can watch it and smile--or howl.

The weekend

It’s a dark early morning, and I’m on the train to a cab to a plane to a cab to Auckland where I have another ToPs focus group day. There’s no difficulty about reading on the train today because it’s too dark to see the sea or the harbour or the swans, to see whether the water is glossy or rough, whether the tide is in or out. Past Porirua now, and the train has filled up here with sleepy commuters reading newspapers and magazines and governmental briefing reports.

It was a good weekend, although in retrospect it feels shockingly short. Saturday is soccer day. We headed to the field in the spectacular sunshine, and sat on the sidelines discussing the coaching and the playing and talking with the other parents about how ours is the most beautiful field in the entire universe (an opinion M and I have had for more than a year now and one which we’re pleased even natives share). Aidan played well and then, after his game, ran up to the field to hone his monkey bar skills. Naomi—this year playing on a co-ed team for the first time—got a lovely goal. I was captivated by the difference between this experience and the kids’ soccer in the US, and was remembering last March-May when I missed almost every game because I was too busy attend. Even though I have been travelling, somehow I haven’t missed any games.

We moved furniture back to B&D’s and discovered, to our chagrin, that the garage was still full of stuff—now all of it sadly ours. So we reorganised and threw things away and piled the stuff in the middle of the garage so the “sparky” (the electrician) could come and give us new outlets. Aidan practised his bike riding (a two wheeler with no training wheels) on the beach and Perry tried to get us to throw balls or sticks--or anything--for him to chase. He's not allowed to run until Thursday because of an operation he had to remove a cyst from his back. Finally, after the grey but lovely Sunday afternoon, we celebrated Rob’s birthday with cake and really good Indian food and stories about a friendship that spans almost 20 years.

Today I was off to Auckland—a surprisingly lovely city (which maybe I’ll talk more about tomorrow)—and home again. And when I got home from a day in another city, the sparky and D (the contractor, or “chippy”) were still here, plastering in the garage and putting in outlets. They just left, at nearly 10pm, after having a piece of Rob’s birthday cake. This is a fantastic country.

(The pictures tonight are a mishmash--Two are from last weekend when we went to Pukerua Bay (the picture of me holding a cool starfish) and Te Papa (the kids on the rocks). Two are from this weekend: the garage with its new doors and still WAY too much stuff, and Rob, celebrating his first birthday in this new land.)

04 May 2007

Blissed out

For the last month, I have worked on airplanes and in airports, and I have met with and taught people in three countries. I have packed and unpacked and repacked my suitcases. I have slept on guest beds, kids’ beds, sofa beds and hotel beds. I have pulled wheeled bags on planes, trains, subways. I have walked other people’s dogs, petted kangaroos, dandled other people’s children on my knee.

This week, that (mostly) came to an end (for a little while). (Ok, so I’m going to Auckland on Monday, but that hardly counts.) Tuesday I was back from Christchurch and off to work where people seemed to actually notice that I had been gone. I got welcome back hugs in the hall; I got lunch dates in the elevator. My boss and I met and talked for a fantastic two hours without even getting to the agenda I had prepared. I sat at my desk chair at the office and looked out the window at the views of lovely rainy Wellington and felt settled and cheerful.

On Wednesday I began my resolution to build my network of fantastic southern colleagues, and I met with a really interesting bunch of consultants who are forming a community of practice I jokingly call “HM and the transformers” (HM is the fellow who convened the meeting). We sat in a conference room and talked about resonance and building love into organisations and breaking down the barriers that get in our way—like the barriers between home self and work self, between leader and follower. It was a lovely meeting of the minds and hearts and we were six people from three different countries (none of them New Zealand) who had come to this place at this time to have this conversation. We have just begun to think about how we’re going to stay connected, but no one is starting to think about whether we’d like to stay connected—that’s clear. Afterwards, I got on the train and watched the sun sinking towards the sea and came home to Rob and the dog and the kids and soon after J who came over to play with the kids in Spanish as he does every week. And there was laughing and tongue twisters in Spanish and singing and playing and joy.

And yesterday and today I’ve stayed at home, clearing out more than 500 email messages in my inbox (I hope CC doesn’t read that—she’d be so horrified!). I’ve created a to do list of things that I have been too busy for weeks to even write down that I might do when I was less busy—and I have checked lots of those things off. I’ve talked with my dad and my mom and friends from the US. I have padded around my house in wool socks and cashmere sweaters. I have walked on the beach. And walked on the beach again.

Today I got my haircut in the village, taking Aidan and his friend along to sit in the massage chairs and generally make nuisances of themselves. Carla, who is fantastic, gave me a lovely haircut and we had a beautiful time catching up. Then the boys and I walked home along the beach, the early autumn sun setting behind the south island, bringing it close enough to touch. We laughed and joked our way along the beach, running in spirals and like airplanes, and my breath caught at the beauty of two little boys dancing on the edge of a sea stained sunset red. Magnificent. I still remember the first time I walked on this beach, now 13 months ago. Do people really live here, I wondered? Is this really what someone’s life feels like?

Our house here is too small, and to remedy that we’ve been wanting to turn the garage into a room we might actually live in. D, the “chippy” (read= carpenter) from across the street actually built the garage and the addition here in the back, as it turned out, and a month ago assured us he could have the doors and stain and all matched perfectly. This week, several weeks ahead of schedule, he’s come back to transform the garage from a place that holds a car into a place that will hold our family. Our house is getting bigger, almost without effort, and now there are new views we haven’t had before—of the back porch from the French doors that open front and back in that room—of the hills you can see only from that part of our property. Life feels like that suddenly, too—expansive and with new rooms and new vistas it didn’t have before. Tomorrow the last of the borrowed furniture (which we’ve been storing while B & D finish their renovation project) will be returned, and we’ll roll out the big carpet and celebrate Rob’s birthday in the new space. We’ll find our way into this new room that never existed before, that is part of this place and also part of us, because we’ve created something new here. We’ll think about growing opportunities, new chances, and old lives and new lives moving together to be bigger and more lovely than they were before. And then we’ll walk on the beach. People really live here.

(p.s. While we're talking about bliss, click here for a New Yorker piece that makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. I hope you have a blissful day, too.)

01 May 2007

Home to stay

Ah, back on the train again. I’m looking out at a front moving over the sea—a thick black cloud line overhead and a sharp line of blue over the south island. The sea is grey and stormy here, small waves but choppy and steely grey. Kapiti sits, folded on itself, to the north behind me, and the South Island peers at me from the white-clouded horizon. I wonder if any commuter has ever been so delighted to get back to the commute after too many weeks away.

And it has been too many weeks away. On the plane coming home last night from Christchurch, I realised that I had slept in my own bed 6 nights in April. I’ve worked at my job in town two days. I’ve walked my kids to school 4 days this month. I came to New Zealand to breathe more, live more, travel and work less. How am I doing?

Yesterday I spent the day in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. I was doing a focus-group day for the Teachers of Promise study at NZCER. It was fascinating. The study of promising teachers (who have been identified by their teacher education program and then again by their principals as “the kind of teachers you’d like to keep in the profession”) is in its third year; I’m obviously quite a newbie on the scene. Nine teachers, in their 5th year of teaching, who live in the Christchurch area, all took the day off of school yesterday to come and spend a day together—meeting one another for the first time, thinking back on their past and forward to their future, and mostly wondering how it is that we (we= anyone who cares about teaching and learning in schools) might keep teachers like them in the profession. And in many ways they are just like the teachers I have worked with for years. They are passionate and smart and ideological and they have lovely things to say. And I feel very much in the swing of things. And then they’ll talk about some acronym I’ve never heard about or burst into Maori and suddenly I am a stranger in a strange land. And I skirt that feeling all the time here.

It is interesting to notice how different NZ is from Australia, how much more familiar Australia as it compares with the US. Forgive me, my Aussie friends, but Australia and the US are first cousins, where as NZ, often described as Australia’s “little brother” is actually related only by marriage, not by blood. Here, when someone stands to give a Maori prayer and talks (in Maori) about how we give thanks for our ancestors and for the mountains and the rivers and the seas and the plants and the creatures which bring us life (or something like that), everyone says “Amen” with great gusto. Here the cars are little and round and the coffee is organic and free trade. Here the cities are small and people aspire to have sheep in their yards. In Sydney, the traffic is slow, the cars are expensive, and the people are urban. [Just now a flock of birds—maybe 100, flying over the Porirua harbour—skimming the surface of the water in a V formation, flying over the tucked heads of the sleeping Australian black swans.] In NZ the landscapes are loud and the birds are quiet. In Australia, the landscapes are lovely but much more familiar (sort of upstate New Yorkish—magnificent but not so foreign) and there are rainbow coloured parrots in the trees. In New Zealand, there are no cute furry things to distract from the colours of the trees, from the textures of the hills. In Australia, I’m constantly scanning the horizon for kangaroos (which give me a thrill each time I see them moving across the landscape), the trees for koalas (which I’ve never seen). Here the pace is slower and the clouds move more quickly.

Walking down the path to the train station today, I find myself feeling the relief of being home. The dogs and kids I pass on the path to the train are familiar even if I don’t know their names yet. I glance at those waiting on the train platform and feel pleased that so many of them are drinking cups of coffee from the new coffee shop at the train station (Robert, who runs the shop, has been somewhat worried about business). I get on the train and feel the little surge of happiness that comes from a window seat on the sea side.

Last night my plane was delayed because of fog hugging the airport in Wellington. We were told before take off that we might not land—that we would fly to Wellington and attempt a landing, but that we would give up if it weren’t safe and head back to Christchurch. We spent all of the short flight in nervous anticipation. The pilot informed us that two planes in front of us had attempted a landing on the north runway and both had been unable to land and diverted elsewhere. We were going to try the south. As we came down for the landing, the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see the wing next to me, only the glowing light at its tip. And then, just as I was certain that we would have to give up, we got underneath the low clouds and Wellington and the harbour spread out below me, lights glittering from houses scattered up the hills and into the valley. We landed smoothly to the applause of the full planeload of passengers. We were home.

My New Zealand journey has had something of that flavour. This has been a foggy month of travel and confusion, and I have felt seriously ungrounded. I haven’t talked to my dad in three weeks. I have 600 emails in my inbox. I haven’t sent in my receipts for my trip to the US or to Australia, and my wallet is bulging with currency and taxi receipts from three countries. I am a traveller, living from a suitcase, shoulders sore from carrying too many papers to entertain me during inevitable delays. Ah, and now, just now, my i-pod plays "My God is a Rock in a Weary Land," and we have come through the tunnels to the Wellington Harbour where the rain has cleared and the sun is gleaming white on the houses on the hills, on the ferry at the dock, on the container ship being unloaded. I’m here, train in the station. Home?

PS Thanks for the complement about the pictures, Uncle John. Our camera is new—and its two most impressive features are that it is little and fits easily in my picket and it takes those lovely tiny videos. It’s a Cannon sureshot. The pictures today are of the kids at a winery in Napier.