December 2013

Posted by Ellen

We open this post with a small step back in time, to October of this year, when our niece Melissa Koehler married Matt Solomon. We noted this elegant and awesome occasion at the time but somehow managed to omit any photo of the bridegroom. By now, photographers and videographers and Facebook contributors have documented the day in images worth a billion skillion words, and from all that treasure we selected a frame from a video, with its swirl of wind and an imminent kiss.

Below are pictures of four other of our nieces, two sets of sisters, taken as they celebrated with Melissa that day. At left are Maggie and Amelia; to the right are Avi and Gillian. These pictures are tightly cropped to feature the nieces; people have been cropped out literally and perhaps also figuratively as we try to keep the focus on these young women.

Gillian's wedding, of course, was just this month in New Zealand. Maggie's was back in June in Maine. Gillian works in Wellington, New Zealand, organizing ecotourism adventures. Maggie is a nurse in Rochester, New York, studying to become a nurse practitioner.

Maggie's little sister, Amelia, wearing blue in the picture, lives and works in New York City, where she is creative director for a brand new startup fashion label, The Girl That Loves. Amelia prepares marketing materials and designs the company's overall look and feel.

Who is The Girl That Loves? According to the website, she's a girl who's "going places, but she plans to have a good time getting there."  

She mixes edgy and trendy pieces with cute and playful pieces. Her favorite combo? Sexy heels, jeans and a sweatshirt (and possibly a fedora). Tadaaaa! Looking great has never been so comfy! Instead of breaking her bank over one designer piece she lines her closet with a variety of fun pieces. She likes simple, elegant clothing but enjoys taking an occasional risk: the right neckline, a bit of cool embroidery or an edgy color scheme can turn a piece from “like” to “love.”

Here is one of The Girl That Loves' new designs, in the playful category, a rhinestone panda skirt that perhaps, when some people wear it, can go from "like" to "love" in a heartbeat.

At the other end of the world from New York City, on New Zealand's South Island, Amelia's cousin Avi is herself no slouch when it comes to fashion; in fact, she once was almost turned down for a job because an interviewer thought she dressed much too nicely for someone in her line of work. Avi earns her living by studying penguins in their natural habitats.

She's just beginning a new position at Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, on the east coast of New Zealand about three hours' drive south of Christchurch. There at the edge of town, hundreds of little blue penguins, the world's smallest penguin species, sometimes called fairy penguins, have colonized an abandoned limestone quarry, making their nests at the top of a steep rocky slope just outside Oamaru's harbor.

Most days, the penguins leave the colony before dawn to swim several miles to their fishing grounds offshore; they fish all day and then return home at nightfall. Their nightly return has become something of a tourist attraction in Oamaru, so much so that an important research focus for scientists like Avi is how best to manage interaction between the public and the penguins.

Below is a huddle of Oamaru penguins just back from the sea; they swam in together as a "raft" and then paused amidst the rocks, perhaps just to catch their breaths and cool off after their long swim. Penguins' greasy feathers keep them very warm, so warm that to prevent overheating they have to fluff themselves, as they've done here, to allow chilly evening air to reach their skin.

Little blue penguins are not endangered, but many local populations are at risk because of land predators such as dogs and cats, which are not native to New Zealand. In the water, they are preyed upon by fur seals. In some coastal areas, they get hit by cars while trying to cross the road at dusk.

At the bottom of this post is a portrait of a little blue guy. He weighs about four pounds or less and is only 12 inches tall, not even knee high to a ten year old.

Posted by Ellen

Baby Summer, we're told, met Saint Nicholas the other day in preparation for her first Christmas. And she grew into a baby dress that her mother Manja once wore; above, daughter and mother pose in that dress as an old photo becomes new again. Clearly, there is a certain lovely wide-eyed intensity that runs in the family.

Sadly for us, Summer and her parents are no longer here on Kater Street; they are home in North Holland, where, we are told, Summer's babbles and coos include a good solid Dutch "g" sound.

Summer is still in the warm and wonderful early springtime of her life. Season's greetings to her and to all, and to all a good night.

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Posted by Ellen

We saw more rainbows in two weeks in the skies over New Zealand than we might expect to glimpse in two years in the States. Here's a sampling: above, in Queenstown on the South Island, and below, looking toward Wellington from Eastbourne on the North Island.

Posted by Ellen
They eat guppies in New Zealand.
 
Actually, I don't know if they eat guppies there, but they definitely eat wormy little baby fish they call whitebait, which are similar to guppies in size, sliminess, and bug-eyedness.
 
Every spring, wherever rivers run into the sea in New Zealand, which is pretty much everywhere, people go whitebaiting. They rig up fine mesh nets from docks called whitebait stands or they pull up a chair along the riverbank or swing nets just inside the surfline at the river mouth. When the fish start running, the whitebaiters cook up their catch, usually as fritters made with egg and a bit of flour, often served on buttered bread.
 
The fish known as whitebait, which actually include at least five different species, are born in freshwater, get swept out to sea as babies, then return as juveniles to run upriver, where they will mature and spawn . . . if they don't get netted along the way.
 
Despite strict government regulation, the whitebait runs nowadays aren't what they used to be. A hundred years ago, whitebaiters caught more than they could ever hope to eat; they fed the excess to pigs or buried it in their gardens as fertilizer. In recent years, however, agricultural chemicals and population pressures in river valleys have destroyed much upriver whitebait habitat. Also, there's the obvious unsustainability of catching so many baby fish before they have a chance to grow up and reproduce.
 
Only in the nearly roadless region of South West New Zealand, where rivers plunge through rainforest from alpine heights to the coast, has whitebaiting remained as productive as ever. Whitebait buyers on the rivers there acquire the makings of fritters for stores and restaurants all over the country.
 
They're not cheap. In 2006, fresh whitebait went for $12.95 per hundred grams–about $60 a pound.
We showed up in country just at the end of whitebait season, though we could have tried the delicacy, thanks to the miracle of modern refrigeration. Maybe next trip. Maybe.
Posted by Ellen

Among the happy occasions being celebrated recently while we were in New Zealand, in addition to the marriage of our niece, was the one hundredth anniversary of the invention of the zipper, as featured in the World of Wearable Art exhibition at Te Papa museum in Wellington.

Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine, patented a zipper-like Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure in 1851 but was too busy selling sewing machines to get it to market.

Another zipper-like thingy, called a clasp locker by its inventor, Whitcomb Judson, was displayed at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. It was designed to close boots with long rows of hooks and eyes, and it attracted investors who built a company around the idea but couldn't ever make it work.

Then in the early twentieth century a Swedish-born electrical engineer named Gideon Sundback married the daughter of the company president and was named chief designer. He spent seven years refining a different zipper-like device that by 1913 actually worked. But the company was still stuck in boot-closure mode, and for the next twenty years B.F. Goodrich was the main customer for zippers, which were used on a style of rubber galoshes known as "Zips."

It wasn't till the 1930s that zippers were sewn into ready-made clothing: at first, in children's wear, then for fly closures in men's trousers, and eventually in coats, skirts, dresses, luggage, sports gear, and everything else.

Posted by Ellen

Out at Staglands wildlife park in the hills north of Wellington, New Zealand, amidst swans and doves and family and friends, our niece Gillian Stein married Mark Openshaw; husband and wife both changed their names to become Mr. and Mrs. Openstein.

There was a hora in the Staglands barn, following a waterfront ceremony and plenty of Wellington-style ukelele music. Flying with the doves in the last photo below is best man Ben Hart.

Posted by Ellen

We're on the road again, headed for faraway places–not Ragusa Ibla, the magical Sicilian place shown here, but the other end of the world, where it's summertime now and we get to dance at the wedding of another niece, Gillian, who is marrying Mark Openshaw next weekend near Wellington, New Zealand.

Hole in the Clouds will remain update-free for a little while, till we make it back home around December 18–bearing stories and pictures, perhaps, but certainly carrying with us some of the energy and glow generated by this sort of happy family occasion.

As for Ragusa Ibla–some other day. Right now, we've got penguins and albatrosses to attend to, and sheep and glow worms and waterfalls and those absolutely outstanding kiwi accents.

Meanwhile, y'all can go ahead and start the holiday season without us. We'll catch up soon.