Scrabble is addictive ~ be warned

The local Scrabble Club is a group of very sociable players who go into meltdown if they cannot play Scrabble at least once a day. I learned that playing online gives a temporary fix, that club day is a big buzz, and that tournaments are the ultimate rush. Keen to play face-to-face games, I signed up to this madness in 2012.

Every story has a prequel. In the pre-internet era, I was always a scrabble board player with the family. Himself no longer plays because he says I used too many big and suspect words and that the dictionary was wrong!. Immaterial to Himself that it was the Oxford Dictionary. Unaware that Scrabble Clubs existed, I did, and still do cryptic crossword puzzles. Work and family commitments left little time for leisurely pursuits.

Seeing patterns or paradigms when doing cryptic crossword puzzles helps when thinking abut making words from scrambled letters. Four years ago when I joined the local Scrabble Club, I never imagined I would use way out words, ever play in tournaments. I certainly had no idea about the scope of the competitive nature of the game.

Play evovaes in your next game of scrabble. Wait for the challenge. “Is that a real word?”

Himself thinks Scrabble players are a sad lot to get excited about creating a vowel-dump word out of a rack of impossible tiles. Even when it is pointed out to him that the game is also about strategy, calculation and tile tracking, he remains unimpressed even though many top players have mathematical and computing backgrounds and think in logical fashion.

Late one evening early in 2013, while playing online scrabble and watching a late TV show, I forgot about the time. Eldest grandson was coming next day to do jobs to earn money for his school’s work day fundraiser. This 16-year old expected freshly made chocolate cake but I could not decide whether to bake before I go to bed or play another game of scrabble. Never did make the cake. I felt guilty early next morning and as I needed to make a pavlova for another occasion, I doubled the recipe. As teenage boys do, he ate most of the pavlova without complaint. Was that an early warning sign scrabble was interfering with my life?

When euoi, tranq, eejit and u-less Q tiles plagued me, I search for a hook to dump such vowel loaded words? Yes, they are legal. Should I change those tiles and hope to pick up higher value letters? Think! In 2014, I grappled with the strategic  intricacies of the game. It is cut-throat competition for points against the clock, of playing without a dictionary, of tile-tracking, of challenging phoney or obscure words, of being challenged, of national and international ratings, and of course the nice bit, recognition with a prize.

When my name was inscribed on the MINP trophy for the most improved new player, I probably was hooked. Competitors of all ages, from diverse backgrounds from all over New Zealand competed in the two-day tournament hosted by our Scrabble Club. A caterer did lunch and club members provided morning and afternoon teas. I made the sarnies, incidentally a 7-letter word + 50 points for a bingo, or sandwiches to non-scrabblers.

It was an easy drive north to the Hokianga Harbour in  March 2015, it with twelve Scrabble Club members and one player from an Auckland Scrabble Club for an unrated round-robin tournament. That weekend, we ate overlooking the upper reach of the harbour, wined, winged about rotten tile draws, laughed and played scrabble. Four New Zealand rated players played and I managed to beat three of them to achieve second place. Dumb luck really, the tiles fell my way, but I took full credit.

A bonus was the restored historic house we stayed in was New Zealand author Jane Mander‘s childhood home, moved from the Port Albert where area where her novel The Story of a New Zealand River was based. Jane Campion based her film, The Piano, on this novel.

“Okay. It’s only a 40-minute drive and it is only a one-day tournament. Right! I’ll play. It’s good to support smaller clubs.” That was my side of the conversation in November and what a day. A personal best score that included 250 bonus points from five 7-letter words.

Scrabble Tournament Nov 2015 PB Score
Scrabble Tournament Nov 2015 PB Score

Never go to an Annual General Meeting if you do not want a job. Earlier this year, I forgot this cardinal rule and left as President of the Scrabble Club. Too slow to say “no, thank you”, I mumbled that I would do the job for one year.

Last week, it was all credit to Himself, he agreed to go to Rotorua for a few days so I could play in a Scrabble tournament there. This city has long been our weekend escape place. We love soaking in the thermal mineral pools. The trip also meant we could catch up with my brother and Aunt who still live in the Matamata area, location of  Hobbiton, Lord of the Rings film set.

The tiles fell my way again. I will play in the NZ nationals in Rotorua in June. Thinking to be helpful, I suggested he dust off his fly rods and do some trout fishing. Himself sighed – pleased, but resigned to joining the Scrabble widowers and widows club that operates on the fringes of tournaments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Dancing Daffodils the Day we Visited Wordsworth’s Cottage

 

Who does not know and love this poem, I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud penned by William Wordsworth? It is a poem that has never been far from my mind. I came across some photos while decluttering stuff that has piled up over the years, photos taken on our trip to the Lakes District during the English summer months a few years ago. Decluttering can wait. This pleasant memory demands attention. As a gardener, I identify with the natural landscape features, the floral and starry elements and I feel the poet’s delight at the scene before him.

There were no daffodils dancing in a springtime breeze for us the day we visited Wordsworth’s garden and cottage. Up the garden steps built by the poet himself and I went.  From our vantage point while sitting on the garden bench, we gazed at the village and lake nestled among the hills and for a while as travellers do, rested and refreshed, delighted by what we saw.

I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

Published in Collected Poems, 1815

d

Cyclamen growing on ancient steps – if only the flowers could speak

Cyclamen miniatureThe miniature cyclamen growing in my garden reminds me of our wonderful trip on Christmas Eve (2010) to Umm Qais near Jordan’s borders with Israel and Syria. This amazing city was one of a decapolis – ten Roman cities. From there we had fantastic views of the Gallilee, the Golan Heights and the Yarmouk Gorge.

I saw miniature cyclamen growing on ancient steps and stonework. We took in the incredible silence, the deep sense of world events played out here over time in ways that have shaped our modern lives.

IMG_0176Did the people who lived in this ancient city grow and enjoy cyclamens for pleasure as I do? If only the flowers and stones could speak.

IMG_0174

We’re coming home ~ and welcome back to My Garden

Himself and I are returning to New Zealand after an absence of two and a half years  while living and working in Al Ain in United Arab Emirates. It’s been quite the experience. So many sensations and soon to be memories. In the time we’ve been in UAE, I haven’t gardened – not even one pot plant.  I haven’t blogged. I had enough of being on a computer at work. Instead, there have been places to see. People to meet. Life to live beyond work. Shopping to do in Dubai. Arabic culture to enjoy. Al Ain is a city with a remarkable history of ancient people who first lived and farmed here thousands of years ago. Al Ain is a city of oases, of public parks, of trees and of date palms. So I’ve been content to look at gardens in our travels,  to listen to Emirati voices from the past tell their stories, to learn and marvel at the miracle of  the greened swathes of desert. Water is so scarce and so precious, I’m staggered at the determined effort to irrigate on such a large-scale. Meanwhile, a world away, news from home always seemed to  be about some storm or floods and heavy rain. Water in excess. I have learned to live with the desert dust and extreme heat. Soon enough, I will face the frosts and pull on my gumboots to slosh through our soggy paddocks.

Wonder how my garden has been without me? Do I really want to know? Will our cat remember us?  I know Turbo Toddler (can’t really call him that now as he’s nearly five – and here’s a thought, will we recognise the grandkids after nearly three years?) kept a close eye on the cattle. Did Number 2 Son ever pick up that trowel? At least it will springtime and I can view the fruit trees in blossom  with fresh eyes. Time to re-think the garden perhaps. Time to write up those travel notes. Who knows. Things have a way of happening at the right time – like finding my spade among our things we put in storage.  Above all, it will the best of times catching up with our family.

My Garden ~ Kiwi traveller’s tales from UAE

I’ve changed my mind. In January, I mentioned My Garden blog was to go on the back-burner because Himself and I were leaving NZ to live and work offshore for a while. I thought it seemed easy enough to set up a travel blog and guessed I’d get organised eventually.  Well, that was then. Now that we are here in the Middle East, the contrast to the lifestyle we’ve left is remarkable.  Work – yes, that’s happening. Travel – yes, that’s happening. Gardening – no, that’s not happening. So how can My Garden be my  travel blog? Simple. I realised that as we travel about, I see how other people  grow plants and enjoy public park gardens. When I’m shopping, I talk with sellers at the souq about fruits and herbs I’m not familiar with. When I read the local paper, I read about environmental projects. When I’m at work, I chat with Emirati colleagues about their use of different foods in cooking. Always interested to explore and try Arabic flavours. Himself and I just love Arabic coffee with cardamon and saffron. Always, thecoffee is served with warmest smile and most gracious hospitality.

I am learning how UAE and Omani desert ecologies – oases, wadis, mountains and coastal areas teem with life. The oases support farming but not in ways as I know it. Date cultivation and the historical importance of the uses of this fruit fascinates me. Ancient falaj systems in Al Ain, still in use thousands of years later, are an amazing reminder of human efforts to irrigate gardens. On a recent trip to Oman, I learned that apricots and pomegranates are grown in Oman. I love pomegranate juice – it’s my new social drink. I’m in for a long lesson about agriculture and gardening in this part of the world. I applaud my Emirati neighbours who cultivate tomatoes, herbs and small stuff in pots without abundant water. They are gardening heroes. I think to myself, how well would I garden if I had to irrigate, if I had to cope with sand storms, if I had to garden in pots in a courtyard behind walls, if I had to cope with extreme high temperatures?  

Flicking back over posts interested me.  Number 2 Son who has taken over my garden in NZ doesn’t  know how lucky he is with water in abundance (albeit too much at times), soil (though it’s clay) that has nutrients for growing plants and trees that thrive in NZ’s sub-tropical climate.  I know the garden back home is on good hands. Yes, I miss Pushy the lazy tabby cat (he can dig his claws into someone else for a change). Yes, I missed the daffodils cheerful appearance in August and the roses flowering in October. Yes, I am missing the pohutukawa coming into its pre-christmas bloom. I did not miss the floods and the spring storms. I did not miss the rapid, rampant spring grass growth. However, we asked someone to mow the lawns (there’s lots of grass at our place) weekly and keep the roses pruned – Number 2 Son works, has his hands full with three sons, maintains the vegetable patch but he doesn’t ‘do’ roses. I noted several viewers have left comments – I had not anticipated this ongoing interest in January, so I will try to reply. Over time, I’ll evolve this blog into a gardening travelogue of sorts. I’ve been interested to see gardening sections in some local  shops.  But, I’m not tempted. I’ve chosen not to grow plants in pots. I’d rather get out and about – that’s why I’m here.

My Garden ~ Talofa! We were captivated by fa’a Samoa

Last week was our special time together. We chose to quietly celebrate 40 years of married life in the islands of Samoa. Last week we found Paradise.  No cellphone, no book, no television or radio. No grandkids. Just us. Island time. Siesta time. Conversations as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Himself and I became willing captives in this beyond-our-Kiwi-lifestyle, traditional way of life of the friendly Samoan people.

Like Rupert Brooke the poet who visited Samoa, we were enchanted as we lay “on a mat” and looked “out on the white sand under the high palms and gentle sea, and the black line of a reef a mile out…”. We too met “the loveliest people in the world, moving and dancing like Gods and godesses. It is sheer beauty, so pure it is difficult to breathe in it.” Of course we took in the sights and familiarised ourselves with Samoan culture and history. We listened to the stories about legendary hotelier Aggie Grey and Robert Louis Stevenson who was known as Tusitala the soryteller.  Film-makers have been inspired by the spectacular lagoons with their palm-fringed beaches. I must read James Michener again and see the movie Return to Paradise filmed at Matatau on Upolu Island. I didn’t need a book.The stories were there before me.

We trawled the local food and craft markets. Naturally, I was interested in what village people grew in their gardens and plantations. In our travels, I marvelled at how hard people in the villages work to live on meagre means. They fish in the lagoons and beyond the reef. They cultivate taro, breadfruit, papaya, plantains and other vegetables and fruits as food staples year-round for their large aiga (families). Their pride is reflected in their immaculately kept villages. There’s more in these islands: volcanic lava fields; the rainforests; fresh water streams and waterfalls; nature’s riot of colour repeated on the houses, churches and fale. A pod of whales cavorted on cue in the sea during one ferry trip. The turtles in Savaii were captivating.

Back at the resort into the night, there was Samoan dancing and singing and fresh game fish on the menu. It was all so leisurely. After a day in the tropical heat, a tall glass of gin, tonic and fresh lime poured over ice seemed just right.  I wondered vaguely (ever so momentarily)  how I would ever manage to go back to work and do all the physical gardening activities at home. Getting to know another country is exciting. Our time in Samoa was too short. We didn’t see it all but we will go back. This was our special time.

I even had to remind myself to take any photos at all such was the entranced state we found ourselves in.

My Garden ~ downed tools and took a break

Yay! Himself and I drove to the Bay of Islands and took a nano-break in our Northern backyard so to speak and joined the few visitors brave enough to visit our country at this time of the year. Three nights and four days! We stayed in Paihia. No matter the wet and wintery weather, we played the tourist and imbibed our nation’s heritage and cuisine. Of course, we checked out the cafes. We drove to a local vineyard near Kerikeri. We discovered a wonderfully crisp dry Sauvignon Blanc 2006 and a fruity Pinot Noir Rose. That made the trip worthwhile.

In 1819 Samuel Marsden introduced winegrowing to New Zealand with the planting of over 100 different varieties of vine in Kerikeri, Northland.

“New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine as far as I can judge at present of the nature of the soil and climate”

he wrote. Nearly two hundred years later, the New Zealand wine industry is at an all time high, and is especially praised for it’s Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.\

It’s fascinating to read the historically familiar names on the tombstones of the earliest settlers in the cemetery behind St Paul’s Anglican Church in Paihia, the first church to be built in New Zealand, quote:

Less than a decade after the first Christian service was held on the Northern shore of the Bay of Islands on Christmas Day 1814, Reverend Henry Williams and Mrs Williams arrived on August 3rd, 1823 to establish the missionary settlement at Paihia.  On their arrival, Mrs Williams with her three children went to reside in Kerikeri while the Reverend Henry Williams at once set to work to erect temporary buildings at the new station. On September 15th, Mrs Williams came to join her husband and records in her journal state that, not only was there a storehouse and dwelling, but also a Church, built of raupo, which was opened for Divine Service on Sunday, September 21st, 1823.  This was the first Church ever built in New Zealand.The Reverend William Williams with his wife joined his brother Henry, arriving at Paihia on March 26th, 1826.  This gentleman was a classical scholar of Oxford University and also had a considerable medical knowledge which was of the greatest benefit to the Mission.In the year 1828, the raupo church was replaced with a lath and plaster structure, which served until 1856 when a wooden church was built.  This was used until 1874, when it was dismantled and another wooden church erected, incorporating much of the old timber.  In 1925 the 1874 church was dismantled in sections and transported to serve at Taumarere.  It was moved to make way for the stone Church of St Paul, the fifth to be erected on the site.  It was built as a lasting memorial to Henry and William Williams. 

We ferried across the bay to Russell for lunch in the Duke of Marlborough Hotel. We walked up Flagstaff Hill. We mooched around the Russell art galleries. Later, we walked along the waterfront from Paihia to Waitangi – the place where New Zealand’s founding document treaty was signed.

I actually forgot to take photos – I guess a case of being blase about familiar sights and taken-for-granted scenery. Anyway, we spent much of our time near the waterfront.