The Longest Day: 2013 365 Challenge #264

Say Cheese!

Say Cheese!

Today feels like it’s gone on forever. Uploading photos for the post, I saw a picture of the kids eating ice cream in the coffee shop and was shocked when I remembered that was lunchtime today. Daughter went to school for three hours this morning, and hubbie took son shopping for pyjamas, while I painted a shark (photo tomorrow) and wrote my post.

After school (only a morning session) we had lunch at the coffee shop (because Mummy has forgotten to buy food this week), home for quiet time, and then I took son to the Farm so Daddy and daughter could clean the house, ready for the birthday party tomorrow. There is still a lot to do.

It doesn’t help that I seem to be in a low point at the moment, and have been randomly sobbing for most of the day over trivial things, like not having any reviews on my book yet, despite asking friends who have read it to please at least give a star rating on Goodreads. I know reviews are as much a curse as a blessing, but for me a book doesn’t feel published until it’s had a review.

Enjoying the sun

Enjoying the sun

Then, of course, there are the dismal download numbers for my Dragon Wraiths free promo. I didn’t push it much, because I had other things to do today, but it’s still disappointing when you can’t even give your book away! Thankfully that’s the last free promo I need to worry about, as DW comes out of KDP Select next week, hurrah.

It’s frustrating the random things that seem to crash my brain when I’m already struggling. Stupid things, like worrying that the boys won’t like having pizza and chips for lunch at the party tomorrow, or the mummies will frown at its unhealthiness.

Or reading a blog post this morning about judgmental mummies and realising I can be a bit quick to judge by appearances, despite knowing how stupid that is.

All in all I probably feel about as good now as I did three years ago, when I sat eating fish and chips with my toddler, while hubbie was away in London on a work’s outing to a Dara O’Brien gig, and my waters broke – five weeks early.

Sand shark, sand boat

Sand shark, sand boat

My mum had to leave behind her half-cooked dinner and take me to hospital nearly an hour away – a hospital I hadn’t even visited, because my tour was scheduled for the following week.

I went in with a book to read and some clean pants, expecting to be there a few hours as was the case when my waters broke early with my first child, and I came home ten days later.

It’s the most surreal time of my life and quite possibly the start of my postnatal depression. There’s nothing like sending a control freak to hospital five weeks early and trapping her there to start a downward spiral.

Anyway, it’s been a long tough rewarding love-filled sleep-deprived three years, but I survived and I have a gorgeous boy to make it worth every moment of pain (as well as a beautiful daughter who is the best big sister in the world). Happy birthday little man.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire waved at the minibus and it pulled up beside her. A tanned man in his thirties beamed at her through the window, before jumping down and opening the door for her to get in.

“G’day, you must be Claire. Welcome to the tour.” He checked her name off against a clipboard, then ran back round the bus.

With a quick glance at the other passengers, Claire found a free seat and gazed out the window. There were only five or six people on the bus and she wondered if there were more people to collect. Her question was soon answered as the driver turned round to address the group.

“It’s just us today, folks, so should be a lovely quiet trip out to the peninsular. None of you are booked on the Albatross Experience, so we’ll spend a short time up at Taiaroa Head and see if we can spot some flying in. It’s the only mainland albatross colony in the world. Then we’ll head out to the beach and see the rest of the wildlife. Any questions just holler and I’ll try and answer them.”

As the bus pulled away, Claire revelled in the silence of a small group. It felt strange to be in a vehicle smaller than a coach, but it was great to be able to see the streets around her as they left the city.

Albatross at Taiaroa Head

Albatross at Taiaroa Head

Before long they were driving round a bay, heading for the Otago peninsular. The road hugged the coast as they made their way to the albatross centre. Overhead, blue sky blazed in between the pure white clouds scudding past.

At last the minibus climbed up a winding lane and arrived outside a long low building. The wind hit them like a wall as they headed for the bluff. Claire tugged her jacket closer and bent her head into the wind.

“Good weather for flying,” the driver yelled over the noise. “They need good lift to keep them airborne; they’re big birds. Keep yer eyes peeled.”

Claire gazed up at the sky, blinking away the tears dragged out by the wind. She wasn’t so sure she was bothered about seeing a giant seagull and wondered if the centre sold coffee. Tucking her hands under her arms to keep them warm, she stamped her feet and looked about to see what the other passengers were doing. She didn’t want to go inside and get left behind.

One of the couples were shouting at each other and pointing at the sky. Claire thought they were fighting, then realised they had seen something. Following the direction of their gesturing, she saw an enormous bird circling low before disappearing behind the building.

“Wow!” Even though she knew that albatrosses were big birds, nothing had prepared her for just how large.

“Keep watching. It’ll come back out shortly.”

Claire kept her eyes trained on the sky, while reaching for her phone to take a picture. As predicted, the bird re-emerged and Claire grabbed some shots, sure the bird would only be a tiny speck when she looked at the images later.

Buoyed by the experience, the passengers chatted together as they headed back to the bus. Claire wasn’t sure if the couples all knew each other, or were just being friendly. She didn’t feel like talking, so she hung at the back near the driver.

“Right, next stop sea lions. We’ll drive through the wetlands so you can see the sea birds and waders, but it’ll be good to get down to the beach fairly early, the weather often shifts later in the afternoon.”

Claire let the driver’s words wash over her, glad for once to follow along like a sheep. Despite the cost of the tour, this was the real New Zealand and she was happy to enjoy every minute.

The next hour passed in a blur of bird names and beautiful scenery. Claire realised how little she actually knew about any sort of wildlife, as the other passengers discussed this and that type of bird. She breathed a sigh of relief when they finally pulled up at the sea lion beach. This was what she had come for.

Hooker sea lions

Hooker sea lions

“Right. Just some rules before we reach the beach. These fellas are huge, but they won’t attack unless provoked. Don’t get between a sea lion and the sea and, whatever you do, don’t turn your back on them. If need be, run.”

Claire laughed, sure the driver was joking. He raised an eyebrow at her, and chuckled.

“We had an American tourist chased off the beach only last week. They move pretty fast for big creatures.” Seeing her grin, he added, “The sea lions. I couldn’t comment on the gentleman.”

The walk down to the beach tested Claire’s balance, and she tried not to think about how hard it was going to be to walk back up. Her muscles were already sore from the climb up Baldwin Street.

All this tour bus travelling is making me soft.

Suddenly a roar cut through the silence and Claire felt goosebumps rise on her arms beneath her jacket.

“Sounds like some of the young males are getting boisterous.” The driver’s voice came up the hill to Claire. “Should be good viewing.”

As they reached the beach Claire understood what he meant. Out in the middle of the sand, three or four giant beasts roared at each other, heads swaying, mouths wide. Claire shivered and turned her attention to the driver, determined to walk exactly where he did across the sand.

They made their way around behind the creatures, stopping at a hide to take some photographs. Then they were taken up to a grass covered sand dune, all of them following the guide into a wooden hut.

Penguins coming in at dusk

Penguins coming in at dusk

“It’s nearly time for the penguins to come in from the sea. As the sun goes down, they’ll come up the beach in groups; keeping a watch for the sea lions who might be after a tasty evening snack.”

Claire hunkered down to watch, ignoring the quiet chatter of the couples behind her. It was a magical place. She’d never seen such animals in the wild before. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been to a zoo.

Watching the little penguins run in from the sea and make their way up the grassy hillside, Claire was conscious of a deep warmth within her chest. All the years she’d spent inside an office, surrounded by glass and steel, wires and technology, made no sense to her anymore. Here, shivering in a hut on a hillside, watching yellow eyed penguins scurry and scamper for their homes up impossibly steep terrain, seemed more real than anything in her own life.

She had no idea what the future held, but she was certain it wasn’t going to be in a concrete cage.

***

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