A Kiwi Thanksgiving

What do you do when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and doesn’t have turkeys, cranberries, and all other “Thankgsiving-ish” foods available in late November?  You improvise.

Yesterday, T and I had our second annual “Kiwi Thanksgiving”, which consists of Chinese takeaway and homemade desserts.  Why Chinese takeaway?  Because I was so over trying to make things from home in a place that doesn’t have things from home, that I just gave up.  Chinese it was, and it was delicious.  It all started with the dessert, you see.

Last year, I made gingerbread pumpkin trifle.  It’s a thirty minute recipe, assuming you have gingerbread mix, Cool-whip, Libby’s canned pumpkin, and Jello vanilla pudding mix.  When you have none of these things, it’s a five day recipe.  Between roasting pumpkin, whipping cream, researching how to make pudding mix (this could be the subject of a blog post all on its own!), and paying $10 for a bottle of molasses to make real gingerbread, this became the most expensive and time-consuming dessert in history.  To make matters worse, when I was finished, I was universally confronted with the following questions:

“Pumpkin for dessert?  Really?  Why would you ever do that to a pumpkin?”

These questions were usually followed by slight shivers and vaguely green cast to the skin of the questioner.

This year, though, I was prepared.  Not only did I make sure I had vanilla pudding mix from home, I used crushed gingersnaps instead of gingerbread.  And I made sure to make two other desserts–chocolate pecan pie and cranberry orange apple pie.  That, plus some creative papermaking ideas from this blog, and I was set.  We had sixteen guests this year, and plenty of orange beef and egg foo young to go around.  Here are some pictures from the event.

To all of my friends at home, happy, happiest of Thanksgivings to you.  Know that I thankful that all of you are in my life.

Our buffet table. (I spent an hour ironing that sheet. I'm not very good at ironing...)

My Thanksgiving "fast facts". Did you know that Thanksgiving used to last for 3 days

The thankfulness basket--anonymous and read aloud after dinner. This is always fun. Especially when you can tell who wrote what! We got a lot of thoughts of thankfulness for good friends and family, but a few thoughts for bare-chested, very fit men running in the summer.

Banners! (We, perhaps, went overboard)

Dessert!

What says Thanksgiving like Chinese takeaway!?

why not have some fun with the descriptions?

Yes, one more banner....

And finally…

The Thanksgiving Smurfs are courtesy of our good friends Anna and Paddy, who found them in a second-hand shop last year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all I know and love!  To my friends at home, eat some pumpkin pie, cornbread dressing, and cranberry sauce for me.  (And some turkey, too!)

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Home again, home again, fiddle-de-dee-dee

“You can never go home again.”

I’m not sure who said that, but I have to disagree. You can go home again, and it can be a wonderful and poignant experience. At least that’s what it was for me.

To explain my six-week absence (in part), I went home for three weeks. Back to Georgia. Back to North Florida. Back to everything I knew before moving to New Zealand.

I’ll be honest. I was nervous about it. I was afraid that I would see my beloved cities and friends through different eyes. I couldn’t bear the thought of that, really. What if I didn’t feel connected to anything anymore? What if my friends had moved on without me? What if the US felt foreign and like a scratchy shirt, cut strangely, and two sizes too small?

The reality is, I did see everything through different eyes, but not in the way you might imagine. There was no rejection, only thankfulness and appreciation for my past. For my friends. For my family. For my life.

Maori have the concept of whakapapa (Fawkahpahpah), which is used to mean genealogy. What it literally means is layers stacked upon layers, with papa defined as anything flat and hard, like a stone, for instance. Imagine a building of long, stacked stones and that is whakapapa. Whakapapa is our foundations.

That got me thinking. What are my cornerstones? What are my capstones? Are my layers strong and supple? Can they withstand a good shake? As it turns out, they can. I joke that you can take the girl out of Georgia, but that you can never take the Georgia out of the girl. It’s not really a joke, though. It’s my whakapapa.

All of us have whakapapa. Some of us (like me, admittedly) spent a long time pushing it aside, trying to forget it, trying to find something that I perceived as better. There are a lot of reasons for that, many of which are valid. But the reality is, even if you believe that you can’t go home again, you can’t run away from yourself, either. Our layers run deep and long and they are more firmly entrenched than we could ever possibly imagine.

I left Georgia three weeks ago with the profound sense of knowing who I am—more than I knew myself before, I think. I left Georgia knowing that the people I count as my closest friends are my friends for a reason. Loyal, kind, and true. I left Georgia knowing that there is much to embrace about my family, even if there’s a lot to reject, too.

The experience that best sums this up, I think, was visiting my grandmother in her new retirement village patio home. She’ll be 92 in January. She’s much frailer than the last time I saw her, but she’s still spry and sharp and full of fire.

I spent the day with her, talking about family, friends, and other important things. As the day drew to a close, Grandma turned to me with a serious expression on her face. She leaned a bit closer and I could see her lips twitching, ready to tell me something important. I was ready. Waiting. I leaned in too.

“I don’t like the new girl who fixes my hair,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper.

“What?” I asked, blinking a bit, not sure if I’d heard her right.

“My hair. It’s all flat and lumpy. I can’t go out of the house with this flat and lumpy hair. She’s nice enough, but she’s young and she doesn’t know how it’s supposed to be fixed.”

With that, she pushed herself up from her chair and started shuffling towards her bathroom. “Come fix it for me, Sug,” she called out behind her, her Southern accent drawing out the diminutive of Sugar into an elongated, Shuuuhhhg.

Dutifully I got up and followed her. I found her waiting patiently in front of the bathroom mirror, teasing comb in hand. For the next five minutes, I backcombed, fluffed, and backcombed some more, her sharp gaze watching and making sure I was getting it right.

We chatted about silly things, like the time when I was seven and I convinced Grandma to have my hair cut short, only to be deeply hurt when the other kids in the neighbourhood thought I was a boy. We chatted about my mother and the crazy things they used to do ‘Way Back When’ to get curls in girls’ hair.

I reached for the industrial sized can of Aqua Net beside her on the counter and gave her a good spray. I refused to think about the environmental sins I had likely just committed.

“Better?” I asked her as she craned her neck this way and that, looking at her hair from all angles.

“Better,” she said as she shuffled out of the bathroom and back to her chair.

It was only later, while driving to Savannah that I thought about the significance of that very small moment. The rituals and history of families—even estranged ones, ones separated by thousands of miles—can never be completely undone. How, in that moment, I realized the breadth of my whakapapa and what it meant to have history.

Rocks and Islands and Life’s Eternal Question

Since moving to New Zealand, I have accepted rides from strangers.  I have been kicked out of a bar (by association).  I have habitually jaywalked.

I have faced the prospect of being alone in a place so very far away from home.

I have been more straight-forward with people on difficult subjects.  I have dressed up like a zombie.  On purpose.  In public.

I have asked a total stranger for his phone number (for a friend).  I have met the total stranger with my friend at a bar (not the one I was asked to leave).

I have successfully driven on “the wrong side of the road” for over a year.

I have had fun.  I have been scared.  I have been sad.  I have been angry.

I have learned that I like Indian food, that I like eating more vegetables than meat, that I can tell the difference between a good laksa and a not-so-good laksa.  I have learned that pumpkin and kumara humus is delicious.

I have learned that some things in life are sacred.  They are, in no particular order: love, loyalty, curiosity, friends, laughter, and cornbread.  But only cornbread like my Papa used to make.  I have accepted that I will never be able to make it the same way.

I have learned that the core of me is the same, no matter where I live or what I do, but that I can change.  That I have changed.  That I am changing.  That I will continue to change.

I now wear patterns (occasionally) and layers and boots and scarves and don’t worry about standing out.

I think about all of these things as I get ready to leave for a trip home next week.

I wonder if my friends will think I’ve changed?  Will I think they’ve changed?  Will I miss Wellington?  Will I want to leave Savannah?  Will I ask for coriander and courgette instead of cilantro and zucchini?

Will I unthinkingly say, “Cheers, mate,” instead of “Thank you.”?  Actually, that’s a very unlikely scenario.

I have no idea how I will respond to any of these potential questions.  And (maybe this is the Kiwi creeping in me), aside from mentioning all of these things here, I don’t really care.

I can’t wait to see Wright Square, to have lunch at the Pink House, to eat real pulled pork with mustard sauce, coleslaw, and maybe a rib or two.

But in saying that, I know I’ll miss hearing the Tui birds sing every morning and that cheeky cat who saunters along the waterfront.  I’m going to miss Rahzoo and walking the waterfront on Sunday mornings.

In short, I’ll miss home when I’m home.

It’s a very odd feeling to have one foot in Savannah and the other in Wellington.  The halves of you are stretched between two planes of existence, and you never wholly fit into either.

Though in saying that, the constant stretch and pull of finding my center when I’m not sure where center is has provided unparalleled opportunities for growth and experience.  And I love Wellington, and New Zealand, and on most days, feel like this *is* home.

At its worst—on days when I feel isolated and sad and unsure of where I am and what I’m doing—having two homes is a displacing, discomfiting existence.

We need an anchor in life.  I disagree with Simon and Garfunkel—we are not rocks, we are not islands.  But even if you were an island, sometimes, the best of yourself fails you, and you need the warm, comforting blanket of familiarity and history.  You need the terra firma of a back garden in Brunswick,Georgia or a front porch in Savannah,Georgia.  That is your rock.  That is your island.  That is what gets you through the times when you’re experiencing a sort of emotional vertigo.

I saw a German film at the NZ International Film Festival called, At Ellen’s Age.  It was a weird, disjointed film about a middle-aged woman whose entire life turns upside down and—in an effort to discover who she is without the definitions of her job and her partner, she careens from one bizarre experience to another.  I didn’t particularly like the film, but I knew exactly where Ellen was coming from and why she did some of the things she did.  I understood the choices she made in the end.

We are all pursuing our authentic selves.  Part of human experience is stripping away the layers and definitions and wondering, “Who am I”?

I had a voice teacher who told me once that she would study voice until the day she stopped singing.  When I asked her why she would do that, why she would continue to learn about something she had obviously mastered, she replied:

“When you stop learning, you stop living.”

Well, indeed.

Here’s to a few more rides with strangers, trips to unknown, faraway places, and the knowledge—that when I need it—my rock is still there.  Waiting for me to find home.  Wherever “home” may eventually be.

Where is your home?  How have you dealt with feeling displaced, whether by geography or something else?

Taco Ephiphanies

I had an epiphany today while waiting for my vegetarian taco. No, it wasn’t that I was eating a vegetarian taco, it was that I had lived in Wellington long enough to recognize the constancies of the city—the sort of “in-jokes” that you can only get after living in a place long enough.

I had this epiphany while watching a sinewy black cat stroll across the wooden benches along the Wellington Harbor waterfront today, looking for cuddles and left over tuna. It wasn’t his first time. He’s an old pro with a soft touch. He doesn’t so much wait politely for a handout as he demands one by perching himself half on your thigh and half on the bench. He’s quite a picky little thing. I have learned that while he will eat my chickpea salad, he draws the line and carrots and cabbage.

The cat is not the only Wellington fixture. There’s also the busker in the train station who actually plays pretty well and is always ready to sell you one of his homemade CDs.

Or Blanket Man, a homeless man so famous that when he returned to Wellington after an unfortunate absence, his arrival made the paper.

But I suppose the real epiphany is that with every sighting of the things that make Wellington feel familiar, Wellington begins to feel a bit more like home.

I’ll Fly Away

“New Zealand? NEW ZEE-land!! Why in the world are you moving to New Zealand?”
The answer isn’t complicated, really. What’s complicated is putting the answer into words that make sense. For most of us, the idea of traveling to the other side of the planet seems impossible, even in today’s global marketplace. And the thought of moving there? Why? Why would anyone do that?
The flax. It’s all about the flax.
When I was a young girl, I had heaps of journals and scrapbooks filled with pictures, maps, and articles of places I wanted to visit, adventures I wanted to have, and things I wanted to see. Whether it was clamoring toward Angkor Wat, sailing down the Rhine, or discovering whether I liked Buda better than Pest, I wanted to experience all of it. More importantly, though, I wanted to understand a culture different from my own. Meet people who had a different sense of the world. See and know things I would otherwise never be able to.
It was an act of happenstance that got me to New Zealand the first time. A perfect happy accident, I suppose, because on that trip I began to understand a few things about risk, about myself, and about the idea of really living my life as if each day mattered. And yes, it started with flax.
During that visit, I came across a huge plant that looked almost primordial to my un-fauna-cultured eye. Large, robust bean pods dangled from great big stalks shooting from the center. it looked like a combination of vanilla and sea oats. I took ten–no twenty–pictures of it. I was sure I’d found something that only existed in New Zealand. My adventure had begun.
I asked what it was, prepared for an answer full of exotic syllables and amusing descriptors. Like Tanzalia, or Devil’s Striped Tongue, or something. But no, that’s not what it was.
“It’s flax,” I was told in a flat, unassuming voice. Wait, wait–what about the Tanzalia? Are you sure it’s not devilish in any way?
“No. It’s just flax,” again said the flat, and unassuming voice.
And why should that voice have been any different? There’s nothing remarkable about flax, really. It’s just … flax.
It was more than that, though. It was the embodiment of that kind of adventuresome, intellectual curiosity that can only be found in a young girl with pigtails surrounded by grand piles of travel and adventure books.
Life has a way of carving out a path for you, even when you don’t realize that’s what’s happening. And if you find yourself in a situation where things haven’t worked the way you planned (and insisted), its time to make your own rules. When you do, perhaps you become fascinated with things like flax, the correct pronunciation of tena koe, and the culinary possibilities of kumara. Perhaps you stop reading about adventures, and instead, have one. And perhaps, it’s the first in a long string of adventures in which you come to know yourself and the world better than you could ever have otherwise. It’s quite a daunting possibility for a South Georgia girl who’s never lived more than 250 miles from where she was born.
A good friend said to me recently that the best thing about having an adventure is that you can stop it whenever you want. “When do you think your New Zealand adventure will end?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I guess when I stop being fascinated by flax.”
I’ve taken hundreds of pictures of flax since that first visit. I suspect I’ll take thousands more.