A Shaky Decade

Today marks 10 years since we were shaken out of bed at 4.35 am by the M7.1 earthquake that started the Canterbury earthquake series. Those quakes ultimately took 185 lives and changed downtown Christchurch forever.

A decade on, the scars remain—half-crumbled buildings, hastily repaired roads, a generation of anxious children …

At the time of the first quake, I knew my relationship with the earth below my feet had changed, but I couldn’t know how lasting that change would be.

Ten years later, I’m still primed for earthquakes, sensitive to every vibration. If a big truck rumbles down the road, I have to pause until I’m sure it’s not a quake. Every distant train is a quake until proven otherwise. And large construction works set me on edge.

I have no trust in buildings any more, especially multi-storey ones. Just three days ago I was in Christchurch’s new central library, Tūranga, when I felt a tremor through my feet. Tūranga was constructed post-quake and includes the latest technology for earthquake resistance. Any vibrations I was feeling were likely coming from inside the building, not outside—someone running down the stairs, probably. I knew this, but it didn’t prevent the spike of adrenaline that zipped through my body.

I don’t trust my new house, either. The old one proved itself through quake after quake, riding the waves like a sturdy ship, coming through every quake virtually unscathed. The new house, though certainly scoring higher on any quake-worthiness measure than our 135 year-old villa did—is untested. Its foundation may crack, its bricks will almost certainly tumble in any large shake. Until I know for certain how it fares, I cannot trust it.

Any building I enter, I scan for earthquake hazards, safe places, and exits. Every track we hike, I consider rocks that could be shaken loose, hillsides likely to collapse. Anywhere I drive, I take note of power poles that could fall across my route home and waterways whose banks might slump, taking the road with them.

I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of another large quake—I know one will happen, and I’m okay with that—but I am still more on edge than I was ten years ago. I’m more aware of the earth underfoot, more wary of the danger of living on the Pacific Ring of Fire where Earth flexes her joints, more observant, more in-tune with the planet.

That’s not a bad thing.

So today I’ll listen for the pulse of the planet, double check I am prepared for another quake, and simply enjoy life in this beautiful place.

Kia kaha, Christchurch. 

Loving Leftovers

We christened the new house last weekend with a celebration party for one of my husband’s students who just finished his PhD. As I suspected (hoped?), visitors gravitated to the kitchen, congregating beside platters of finger food under the warm glow of cafe lights. 

Food-wise, we went Mexican for this party—quesadillas, empanadas, corn chips, guacamole, salsa, bean dip, and biscochitos (anise-flavoured cookies from New Mexico, not Mexico, but …) for dessert. Great finger food and perfect or standing around the kitchen grazing all evening.

As usual, we made enough food for twice as many people as we invited. Now we’re blessed with party leftovers for lunch.

Yesterday I had a generous plate of homemade corn chips smothered in cheesy bean dip, salsa, guacamole and sour cream. Today I’m considering toast with beans and salsa (because we devoured all the chips and guacamole). Tomorrow, who knows what I’ll come up with? Plus, there are extra beans in the freezer for dinner later in the week. All that extra party prep pays off in easy, delicious meals afterwards.

A great excuse for a party!

Coronavirus-free New Zealand

Level One Lemon Cake. A delicious celebration of our Covid-free status.

I was coming out of the grocery store when two women meeting on the street hugged. One said, “Midnight tonight!” and I knew.

New Zealand had eliminated coronavirus.

At midnight we moved to alert level 1. The country’s border remains closed, but on our Covid-free islands, life returns to normal. I baked a Level 1 Lemon Cake to celebrate.

In many ways, New Zealand was lucky. We didn’t have our first case until 28 February, so we were able to observe and learn from other nations. We have a culture that is fundamentally law-abiding, so we were predisposed to obey restrictions. We have a prime minister with exceptional crisis management, communication and leadership skills.

But the people of New Zealand elected that prime minister. The people of New Zealand nurtured that culture. And when push came to shove, the people of New Zealand overwhelmingly agreed to restrict movement, change behaviours, and stay home in order to protect one another. We did this. Working together by staying apart.

And as restrictions have been eased over the past weeks, Kiwis have continued to care for one another. The number of websites promoting local businesses has blossomed as people seek to support a struggling economy. In the week after lockdown was lifted, Kiwis consumed five weeks worth of takeaways—a heroic effort to save our local fish and chips shops. Under alert level 2, the cafes I’ve visited have been hopping. Everyone is doing what they can to help.

That isn’t luck. That’s teamwork. It’s aroha. It’s whānaungatanga. It’s kaitiakitanga. It’s rangatiratanga.

I am once again proud and humbled by this nation. To be sure, all the -isms, violence, and other troubles are alive and well here—we have our fair share of society’s ills. But when the chips are down, New Zealand never seems to forget: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. What is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.

Pandemic Poetry: Poem of the Day 9-11 May 2020


I’ve been so busy painting the new house, I haven’t gotten the weekend’s poems posted here, so here are three days’ worth.

Today, we’ll learn whether we’re moving to Level 2, in which most everyone will go back to work and school. It will be a big, and somewhat nerve-wracking move if we do. But it’s been amazing what Kiwis have done the past six weeks–the amount of teamwork, dedication and aroha they’ve shown has been inspiring. Ka pai!

Pandemic Poetry: Poem of the Day, 28 April 2020

New Zealand has moved from level 4 lockdown to level 3 today. Level 3 is about like what the rest of the world is calling lockdown, and for most of us our daily life won’t change much with the relaxing of restrictions. But it’s a move in the right direction, and it’s heartening to see that all our efforts to control the virus in the past month have been effective. Keep up the good work everyone! Kia kaha!

Cake and Kindness

Not the best or most attractive cake, but satisfying in trying times.

As we settle into shed life, we’re learning how to have our luxuries in spite of our circumstances.

One of the hitherto unexplored sources of comfort we’ve been learning about is microwave cakes.

The first, made by my husband, was good, but terribly dry. Some brandied cherries on top (with extra brandy drizzled over) fixed the dryness problem, and I was encouraged to try again.

An opportunity arose through the kindness of strangers. A few days ago, we passed a box of free quinces along the sidewalk. I picked up a few to bring home.

Sliced and pre-cooked, they contributed to a very nice microwave upside down cake. The gooey quince topping kept the cake moist, and all of us went back for seconds (Decadent? Yeah, but we’re living in a shed. Give us a break).

The recipe I used was largely my own, based loosely on a couple of online recipes and the fact my electric mixer is packed away in a box somewhere, so all the mixing had to be done by hand.

Topping:
60 g (1/4 c) butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1-2 large quince, peeled, cored, sliced and cooked in a small amount of water until soft, but not falling apart

Cake:
1/2 c sugar
125 g (1/2 c) butter
1 egg
1/2 c milk
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c wholemeal flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

To make the topping: Place 60 g butter in a microwave-safe 23 cm (9-in) square pan and melt the butter in the microwave. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter and lay quince slices on top.

To make the cake batter: Mix flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, melt the 125 g of butter and whisk well with the sugar, egg and milk. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour the batter over the topping and spread evenly.

Bake in the microwave on high for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cake is firm but still sticky and wet-looking on top. Immediately run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it and invert it onto a plate. Let the pan sit on top for a few minutes so all the yummy topping can drip onto the cake. Serve warm.