Monday, December 31, 2007

Healthcare and Ducklings

Thursday, November 29

Just settling into Queenstown life.  Besides the canned pumpkin, we can find most of the same things as in the States or similar things at least.  Sometimes I think of all the adjustments and things that the four of us are struggling to figure out.  Then I try to imagine if we couldn’t speak the language.  At least we speak English so that we can ask questions and understand the answers.  Sometimes the similarities between NZ and the States can be misleading, which we are discovering as we try to navigate the healthcare and tax systems.  We make assumptions based on what we did in the States, but we have learned to avoid assumptions and to question everything because the differences occur where we least expect them.  In New Zealand there is public healthcare system and as permanent residents we are eligible.  Many New Zealanders also have supplemental private healthcare insurance.  We plan to do the same thing.  One of the challenges has been trying to figure out what the public system covers to then make sure our private insurance will fill the gaps minimizing overlap.

p.s. I know I am trying to write chronologically, but I am going to make a quick trip into the almost real-time present (photos taken 29 December). We don’t have any November pictures, but we do have lots of late December shots. And, we have new babies to show you, eight to be exact.  They swarm around Mom and zoom round the island, in and out between the pond reeds.  Colin, Doug, Liam and I are thrilled watching them.  We sit on the deck and spy on Mom and her ducklings below in the pond.  They are nesting on the island in the middle of the pond.  Liam and Colin were floating around the pond on the old kayak, but we are staying out of the water while the ducklings get their sea legs.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Amen

Wednesday, November 28

As Colin and I were having a pre-bedtime snuggle, he mentioned that he had Bible Class and talked about baby Jesus. I was taken by surprise to say the least. Coming from the States with the separation of church and state, I had not anticipated this part of the curriculum. After Colin was tucked into bed, I went immediately to find Liam. He too had Bible Class. Liam says they will have Bible Class every Wednesday. This week Liam talked with his class about “the stable where Jesus was born.” Liam was given a candy cane and his own “Young Readers Bible” today.

Doug and I were caught a tad off guard by Bible Class. Even though we may not have actively prepared the boys for this facet of their curriculum, in a way maybe our travels through Turkey have prepared them a tiny bit. We visited the House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus. And, we saw many images of Christ and Mary, like the mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, a colossal 6th century church that was converted into a mosque in the 15th century and ultimately into a museum in the 20th century. Doug and I discussed how we felt about this new facet of the boys’ curriculum. I guess we are cultural Christians. My grandfather was a Methodist minister. Doug grew up with one set of Catholic and one set of Methodist grandparents. We celebrate Christmas and Easter. While we are not regular church attendees, I believe we are spiritual. Liam and Colin attended a Jewish preschool, just traveled Turkey, Greece and Thailand. We discussed and compared Muslim, Christian and Buddhist teachings throughout our recent trip. I am learning along with the boys. So Doug and I have decided to view Bible Class in this same spirit - an intellectual and cultural endeavor to gain more understanding of their world. Liam and Colin can decide for themselves their beliefs as they grow up. Hopefully, they will continue to have open minds and hearts for all people.

As I type this entry, Colin lies on the floor next to me reading Liam’s new Bible. He just announced, “I learned the Ten Commandments.” Okay then, that’s all for today.

Trying to imagine a Kiwi Christmas


Tuesday, November 27

Liam and Colin learned that here in Queenstown Santa Claus travels by jetboat instead of his regular sleigh and reindeer. They brought home a flyer for a Christmas program at the Queenstown Events Center to show me. We have all been curious to see which Christmas traditions will be the same, and which will be different. Also, we wonder what Christmas in the beginning of summer will be like. Colin is starting to sing Kiwi versions of Christmas carols that I have never heard.

One Month Anniversary


Monday, November 26

We celebrated our one month anniversary as NZ residents. A whole whirlwind of a month has passed already – wow. I surprised the boys with brownies and ice cream after dinner to mark the occasion.

This evening Doug and I were discussing that we are still thrilled to be here. However, some of the realities are setting in as we try to negotiate taxes and healthcare options between our two countries. There is so much for us to learn. I can understand a little of what Liam and Colin must be encountering as they try to figure out their new school and life each day.

Liam and I went for a hike after school today. Liam chatted about his day the whole time. He described the first day of swimming. For the next three weeks Liam and his class have swim class after lunch. Liam explained he has questions all day long during school. He explained that he is trying to stay positive. He has decided to think of the differences between his old and new schools as just differences not bad things. He remembered that last year he didn’t like the differences in his class with his new teacher at first, but over time he really enjoyed Amy’s class. He hopes the same thing happens here.

p.s. We're low on pictures at the moment. When the hard drive of the laptop crashed we lost a good portion of our pictures taken since we left the U.S. Luckily, some were backed up and some were uploaded for past blog entries. Unfortunately, we hadn't backed up or uploaded late November and early December pictures. Bummer.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Birthday Alex!


I am continuing with chronological entries, now that I have a computer again. I left off at Thanksgiving. I have a bit of catching up to do.

Sunday, November 25

I have a blogging goal. Over the last month so much has happened so fast. Each day we have new experiences. When I hadn’t blogged for several weeks, I had trouble remembering the intense details. I also have no choice because of my aunties. Friends from Colby days will remember the crazy aunties from Massachusetts. They insist on daily updates. With subtle comments like, “I’m waiting for the next entry…” or “We want the details. We want to know what you’re thinking, smelling, feeling…”

Happy Birthday Alex! I am thinking of you. Hope you had a magical day. Now you are as old as me, but still thirty something - barely.

We spent Alex’s birthday with a quiet day hanging around the apartment. I think that the boys are just enjoying time to hang out after two months of traveling and moving about. Liam explained that school is fun but takes lots of energy and he needs time at home just to relax. Doug needed time to try to decipher the US and NZ tax codes.

Liam and I took a long walk together. Liam has become my weekend walking buddy. He walks just about as fast as I do. I am so amazed and proud of this strong and caring little boy growing into a young man right before my eyes. At the same time, I want to freeze time and keep him as my little guy holding my hand as we walk down the street.

We did a little exploring along the Shotover River this afternoon. We watched the jetboats speeding up and down the river. We are so bummed. Last weekend, which we didn’t know, was Locals’ Weekend and boat rides were about $15 instead of the regular $110 per passenger. Now we’ll have to wait until next year…or until we have some special friends visiting that we want to show some fun. We still can’t believe we live in the adventure capital of the world!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas


We are back on line! The movers left Friday and we are wading through boxes. Actually we just ignored the boxes to make apple and pumpkin pies and to put up the few decorations we found. So strange how things were packed. Oil lamps from the patio were packed with the bathroom waste basket and my socks and underwear. We are not sure what is going to appear when we open a box.

We had silly Christmas here yesterday. Today is Boxing Day. We tracked Santa on the NORAD site and New Zealand was one of his first stops. Luckily, we all were in bed before he came over the South Island. In the middle of the night we woke up and one of the kitchen doors was wide open. Hmm...maybe Santa forgot to latch it. While we were opening our stockings, Liam looked up and tentatively said, " I hear a cat meowing!" Then he took off running with Colin right behind. Sure enough, in the living room under the table, was a little cat carrier bouncing and shaking with a black and white nose sticking one hole and then the next. The boys didn't know what to do. They just stared at the box until I opened it. Out jumped a black and white fur ball. The boys named him Ollie Logan Kirkpatrick. At the Logan School the teachers yell, "Ollie! Ollie!" to call in the students from recess. Now we yell "Ollie! Ollie!" to call Ollie. He's a cuddly little guy who runs from room to room leaping and spinning and sliding and then he climbs up in someone's lap, curls into a tiny ball, purrs like a tiger and passes out into deep sleep. Colin spent an hour or two sitting quietly in the chair marveling at Ollie curled in his lap. He kept saying "I'm going to go play outside," and then "I don't want to move and wake Ollie." Finally, Ollie woke and Colin was released. Rain started in the afternoon after we set up the trampoline. After dinner the clouds opened a window across the lake and revealed mountain tops freshly dusted in snow. We all for stared in awe. We had a white Christmas after all.

We send wishes of hope and peace northward. We wish all of our friends and family a magical Christmas. We are thinking of you. Christmas cards are a bit behind at this point...

Lots of love,

Carolyn, Colin, Doug and Liam

p.s. We will try to return to our daily entries now that we have a computer and an Internet connection again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oh Noooo...The Mac died.


Ouch. We were posting last night's Thanksgiving entry and the unthinkable happened; the mac died. Everything froze. We rebooted, but then an ominous little question mark folder appeared on the screen. The really scary part was the loud click from deep in the hard drive. I could almost see little gremlins trying to break out of my cute little MacBook. We turned off the power and the clinking continued. We just sat there, not sure whether to laugh or cry.


Ahhhh! Our connection to the world, gone in the click of a mouse. I am so glad that Doug was holding the mouse and I was on the far side of the table. I didn't do it! The bad news is that we may be out of communication for a few days, unless we can sneak into an Internet cafe like now. The good news is we are getting to move into our new home early, Wednesday, 19 December, one week from today and six days before Christmas. Once our stuff arrives we'll have another computer, not to mention all the rest of our stuff.


This week, we'll post as we can. We'll be back daily next week...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Our First Kiwi Thanksgiving...

Thursday, 22 November – & belated Thanksgiving wishes (since we are posting them several weeks late)

Kiwis don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. So, today was a regular school day for both boys and Liam even had cricket practice after school. Both boys shared about what Thanksgiving is with their classes. Liam said his class thought pumpkin pie sounded disgusting.

The first thing I am thankful for is that Colin had a terrific day at school. He said he had two groups of friends that invited him to join their recess games. He was thankful to “have a group of friends to play with and a back up.” I think his teacher had a class talk about including everyone so nobody feels left out. Whatever she did, it worked. Colin has hope again.

No turkey this year because our rental kitchen in not quite equipped for that. We made Chicken Marbella instead. It only takes one dish and we have that. But we had the most luscious pumpkin pie, “creamier than crème brûlée,” according to Doug. A pie that we made from scratch, meaning we started with roasting a pumpkin, no cheating with canned pumpkin because we couldn't find it anywhere! It was sweet with no sugar added. And we also couldn't cheat with a Pillsbury crust. We were extremely proud of our pie. Liam and Colin helped purée the pumpkin, which was much appreciated because we had to purée by hand. No shortcuts this Thanksgiving.

We, of course, made vegetable animals. Anyone who grew up at Thacher in the ‘70s will remember making them under the pepper trees on the Pergola as our parents cooked. We made creations out of candies, like gumdrops and marshmallows, toothpicks, gourds and other veggies. These animal creations became the centerpieces for the Thanksgiving meal. We continue this tradition with our boys for yet another generation. I wonder how many other present and former Thacher fac brats do too?

We had been planning on bringing our animal creations as handmade pets to Pet Day so they could do double duty. But at the last minute we remembered someone at schooling telling us that making artwork out of food was disrespectful to Maori customs. So our animal creations just hung out with us in the shoebox apartment for Thanksgiving.

We send all our Yankee friends and family warm Thanksgiving wishes. We are most thankful for all of you.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Colin is having a rough time


Wednesday, 21 November
Colin just fell apart at dinner. He had been out of sorts since he got home from school. I can’t even remember how the conversation started but with lip quivering, he said, almost in a whisper, “I don’t think I can go on. I just want to give up. I wish there was no recess at school. Recess is supposed to be the most fun time.”

Colin went on to explain that during playtime he asks different groups of kids, usually groups with a boy member of his class, if he can play with them. According to Colin, his classmates are usually willing to include him, but there is a "boss" of the game that is not from his class and doesn't know Colin and the boss says Colin can't play. When he is not allowed to join, Colin says he walks around alone hoping to find someone else looking for a playmate. Sometimes he finds another classmate walking about alone and sometimes he spends the whole recess by himself.

Playtime is very different than at the boys’ old school. There are many more students, a much larger area and the lunch recess period is twice as long. Those are normal adjustments that I expected, and even being the new kid on the block, who gets left out can be part of the normal adjustment. But seeing Colin so distressed breaks my heart and Doug’s too. We have never seen him so stressed and upset, especially about school.

Doug, Colin and I curled up on the couch. We talked about how this time is a big transition and change for all of us and about how we have to be patient making new friends and fitting in, particularly, because school has been in session 11 months for the rest of the students. And, that even though the transition period is normal, it can still feel awful. We talked about what we could do to make this transition time better for Colin. We came up with three top ideas. First, we would try to invite some of Colin’s classmates over to play. Second, we would ask for his teacher’s help and advice, especially about making recess time better. Finally we role-played with each other about how to handle some of the playground situations that Colin has been experiencing. We agreed to talk each day to see if any these new ideas helped Colin. We snuggled a long time at bedtime. I just wanted to hold and love my little guy, which I know won’t solve his troubles on the playground, but it is all I can do tonight.

I feel doubly heartbroken, because Colin has been struggling with this problem for days and he didn’t tell us until tonight. I think he didn’t want to be sad and upset about anything associated with this move to New Zealand. We have been planning and dreaming about this adventure for the last two years, which is a huge chunk of Colin’s life. Several nights ago he came upstairs after he had already gone to bed. He was sobbing. I went and snuggled into his bed with him. I held him close as the gulps for air lessened, the breathing relaxed and deepened and finally he fell back into sleep. In the morning he seemed his normal self and I decided the sobbing had been a bad dream or over-tiredness and general stress from all the new experiences. Now I know to always follow up for details. With Liam all the angst is upfront and verbalized immediately, like his mom. Colin processes completely differently. So much of his processing is internal. He doesn’t like to show what he perceives as weakness. I feel I have to always let him know he can share anything with me and Pop (Doug), that we are here for everything and anything. I have to watch for more subtle signals and this time I missed them. Doug and I will also talk more to the boys about the fact that even though we are excited to be in New Zealand, some parts of this move are challenging and are not always fun. We will all have rough days and homesick moments. We don’t have to be happy about everything, all the time.

After Colin fell asleep, I sent a long email to his teacher asking for her advice and input to help us help Colin navigate this rough patch. We’ll help him find his way, one day at a time.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A few more important Friday events I forgot mention…


Friday, 16 November
Friday was Pet Day at Queenstown Primary School. I have been around schools practically my entire life and have never seen a school event even remotely like this day. I have seen a student bring a cat, a puppy or dog, a turtle and even once in while a horse to school for sharing with friends. At Queenstown Pet Day, the entire study body, six hundred plus students, brings a pet to school. Doug and I walked to the school from the town centre. We peaked in the boys’ classrooms, but classrooms and most of the school was deserted. We walked across campus towards the playing fields and then started to catch glimpses of Pet Day between the buildings. We came to the top of the staircase, looked out over the fields and burst out laughing! It was absolutely over the top! The field was covered with people and animals. There were probably several hundred dogs, loosely segregated into small, medium and large groups. There were also rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, hamsters, lambs and calves. Cats were given a classroom as a quieter inside alternative to help them relax, as if that was possible. Wet Pets too were indoors. We learned that in past years seagulls diving into the tanks and fish bowls caused mayhem and devastation. This year the fish, frogs, tadpoles, lobsters, sea monkeys and little shrimp were safely housed under a roof. I didn't have time to visit the Feathered Friends, but spied them from a distance. I saw an assortment of chickens, chicks, roosters, parrots, ducks, and parakeets all lined on the shady side of the Wet Pet classroom.

All Queenstown school children wear a rainbow assortment of big, brightly colored sun hats that look like inverted tulip blooms. Doug and I scanned the sea of parents, mini Tulips and animals with the vain hope of spotting our own children. There was a table of homemade pets for students to bring a homemade pet, if they didn’t want or didn’t have a live pet. We started there and found Colin’s acrostic poem about our dog, Jolie. We eventually found Liam in the big dog area with his picture and description of Jolie. On the way to find Liam, Colin flew past with a pink tulip-headed friend. Colin looked thrilled to be tearing around virtually unsupervised. His companion said, “Come on Colin. We gotta go.” And, that was all we saw of Colin until after the assembly. Liam toured the animal sights with us for a while. Did I mention that many of the animals were in costume, particularly the dogs and lambs? There was a superman dog and a dog with a huge chain, white t-shirt and dark shades that looked like a gangster pup, or maybe is was Mr. T. The lambs stole my heart, especially the little one sporting a pink scarf, as soft and cuddly as her wooly coat. Her owner had her on a leash; it was a classic case of who’s leading whom? Doug and I sat and watched the children taking their pups through the obstacle course with widely varying levels of success. As I sat by the obstacle course I glanced up to the sky. Paragliders spiraled down towards us and landed on the adjacent field. I wished I had their birds’ eye view of Pet Day. The final event was the dog race. One group of students each with a dog lined up along one edge of the paragliding field and in the middle of the field a second group lined up to face the first group. Someone yelled ready-set-go! The dogs took off. Superman dog with cape streaming lead the pack passed the human finishing line and ran on across the field followed a large number of his fellow racers.

The day concluded with an all school assembly and the presentation of Pet Day awards. All the students clustered together on the lawn for the award ceremony. Most had handed their pets off to parents, but here and there a lamb snuggled next to its child.

How I wish we had bought a camera…

At the end of Pet Day assembly, I walked the boys back to their classrooms to get their school bags. Meanwhile, our house contract went unconditional. Doug received a call from our agent and he authorized our agent to inform the sellers that we removed the conditions of the due diligence. No turning back, we bought a house in Queenstown, our new home.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Good On You, Colin and Liam


15 -16 November
A little aside: After tucking the boys into bed, I headed upstairs to boot up the laptop and log on to Skype. No friends or family are logged on now. My Google home page updates me that the time is 2:30 am on the east coast, 1:30 am in Texas, 12:30 am in Denver, 10:30 pm on the West Coast, and 9:30 pm in Alaska. My brother and I are only an hour apart, but today is his Friday and today is my Saturday. I am sending sleep tight wishes to all of you. While you sleep, I watch the sun lower over a white-capped lake. The shadows slide longer and the landscape softens. Except for the mountain ridges, their jagged edges stand out in high definition, backlit by a pearly and cloud hazed sunset.

Colin and Liam are playing cricket. Colin joined a Milo Have-A-Go programme with one practice each week for wee players, ages six to eight years. Liam is playing in the Junior programme with one practice and one match per week. Both boys, but especially Liam, have to retrain themselves. In both baseball and cricket someone throws a ball and an opposing player bats, but that is the end of the similarities. In cricket the pitcher is called a bowler and he pitches with a running wind up and straight-arm throw. The batter tries to defend the wicket and hit the ball. If the batter hits the ball, he runs between the two wickets to accumulate runs. Okay, I’ve exhausted my knowledge. Liam is working on a blog entry on cricket details.

The players wear whites, white polo shirt and white pants. This is the only time I have ever seen Liam and a group of his peers hanging out all dressed in white. What crazy person chose white uniforms for a sport played by running and skidding on grass? But, I have to admit that looking out across a field of nine and ten year old boys in white polo shirts and pants is definitely cute. From a distance they look so proper and civilized. Up close the grass stains tell a different story.

Doug, Colin and Liam are all fired up about cricket. They all want to learn this new sport and they’re making friends with like-minded people, sports nuts. I suggested cricket could be their enterprise. I love watching the boys play sports, but I was stunned to learn Liam’s games would be three hours. Three hours is a bit past my attention span. I am trying to at least learn the basic objectives of the game. Colin’s practices are just my speed. They last an hour, 10 – 11am on Saturday. They start at a civilized hour and don’t consume a half of day. Given a choice, I like sports that I can participate in with my children, like skiing, especially if the time commitment is big chunk of the day.

Cricket is just another example of Liam and Colin’s pluck. Liam and Colin have no idea how to play cricket, but they are giving it a go. Liam had his first practice on Thursday and his first game the next afternoon.

Here are some photos from the cricket.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Animal Encounters


by Liam and typed verbatim by Carolyn - See photos of rough and final drafts. There are also some photos of rabbits taken by Liam and Colin at the hotel near the Dardanelles in Turkey.

As I thought back over the trip I notest how many animals we met and I decided to write about them.

The first animals we met over were the alley cats in Istandbul. I was pretty crazy to go around a corner and see an alley cat hissing at me.

The next animals we saw were the rabbits outside our hotel. The hotel was near the Dardanelles. Colin and I got some very close up pictures.

The next place we went was Sirice. The animals we met were some turtles and some frogs. I fell in the pond that they were in.

The next place we went was Kabak Natural Life. It was only tents. At Kabak we did not met any animals but they made some noise. The roosters started at one and the donkeys started a four.

After around five hours of hiking we arrived at a place called the Dervish Lodge to meet the flying cat. I got its name because someone threw it onto a sunshade befor our eyes.

The place after that was a place where there are not many animals. Although one night going to our room we found a small dog on the steps.

At Çirali we stayed near a beach. In Çirali we met the biggest dog on the trip. It is call an Anatolian shepherd. The owner said that they can fend off bears. There was one father, one mother and three furry puppys.

In Kale we stayed on a peninsula that you could not access by road. We met a small dog named Upty. He lead us to a castle, got bored and left us at it.

Marmaris was our next and last stop in Turkey. There were no animals at the hotel but ther were some horses tunning on the road as we left.

In Rhodes we stayed in a town named Lindos with not streets. Ther were some small fish in the ocean and there were donkeys carrying people

On the island of crete there were lots of cats running around our room. One of them we named Hermes because he stole milk and the Greek god Hermes stole some cows.

In both Athens and Bankok we did not meet any animals.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The boys get to see their new home


Wednesday, 14 November
Up to now I haven’t really been able to talk about our new home. First, Liam and Colin hadn’t yet seen it, so I didn’t feel it was something all of us could celebrate together. Second, this home is absolutely perfect for our family. Doug and I were hanging out on the couch the other night sharing a bottle of wine and watching the sunset. Doug said, “You know this could be our forever house.” I had actually been thinking the same thoughts but had been afraid to say them aloud. The implications are tremendous. The wild traveling adventure is over and now we are thinking about setting down roots…who knows what will happen. The wanderlust may hit again, especially someday when the boys are off to school. In the meantime, I will have hills to wander on foot or horseback. The boys will have enough space to get lost. Doug can learn to fly fish.

For friends who have stayed with us at our Alma cabin, the house has a reminiscent feel with lots of exposed wood beams and open space, except it is constructed of mud bricks, similar to adobe, which are a meter thick. All the wood in the house is recycled, with wood beams salvaged from dismantled bridges and double doors from an old bank and an old theater. I don’t think there two walls that come together at a right angle, all the walls curve from one space to the next. There is a spring-fed pond outside and the pond water is used in some heat exchange process to heat the house through an in-floor heating system. This is the first house to use this newly developed heating system designed in Auckland from what I’ve been told. Across the pond is a barn for play space and with two stalls that could house an equine friend someday.

The property borders reserve, for US people think National Forest land. The house looks out over the reserve land to Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by dense native bush, including Manuka. The bush reminds me of the chaparral in the hills above Ojai, but darker, taller and denser. There are so many birdcalls, but none that I can recognize yet.

Strangely, New Zealand does not have any native land mammals. All of the land mammals were introduced over the last couple of centuries by European settlers. Without predators, extraordinary bird life developed. We haven’t seen a kiwi in the wild yet. Colin wants to go to the North Island and search for them. We have seen a Kea, an alpine parrot up at Mt. Hutt near Christchurch on a ski trip several years ago. Seeing a big greenish parrot strutting boldly about in the snow made us all laugh. At first we thought it was someone’s pet. Then, we realized there were several hanging around scavenging lunch scraps under the picnic tables.

I have digressed from the house visit. We had a much more successful visit than last week. I brought snacks without nuts, which helped start things off better and nobody vomited. The boys were thrilled to explore their new home. They quickly chose their rooms and found the “secret” mini firewood door next to the fireplace that opens into the laundry room. After a quick look through the house, they headed for the barn. Liam wants to set up his electric train in the loft, where he says it will be safe from people in the house. Then both disappeared down the path to dig in the stream behind the barn, while we talked with the current owner and our realtor.

We are scheduled to close on the house Christmas Eve. We have thought about camping out in our cotton sleep sacks in our new home so that we can wake up there Christmas morning. We probably won’t have movers available until after New Year’s Day, at the earliest. I have even considered renting camping gear at one of the outdoor shops in town. We have to move out of the shoebox apartment before Christmas. None of us wants to take a trip or get a hotel room; we all just want to settle.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Reach out and Skype someone


Tuesday, 13 November
We had our building inspection today. In the States, we have always attended building inspections when we purchased homes. Here we attended the building inspection, but our presence was not routine. I like to attend because I look at the house from another perspective and usually learn practical information, like where the water main valve is located. In the end, our inspection answered most of our questions because we were present and able to ask the inspector. The written documentation and detail of the inspection was not as thorough as we were accustomed to in the States. Though I acknowledge I may be a tad oversensitive, because our buyers in Denver detailed every fault for repair down to loose doorknobs. In our inspection today we didn’t check to see if any appliance, faucets or fixtures was operational. The whole house purchasing process is much more buyer-beware here, which feels unsettling when we are so new to everything. Ultimately, we were satisfied that the house is in great shape with no major problems. Yeah!

Hey friends and family out there reading our blog, are any of you Skype users? If you are, please email us your Skype user name and we can give you a call sometime. If you are not, Doug says, “Get up to speed! Free videoconferencing and 2.7 cents per minute to a NZ land line!” He'll even help you get set up if you ask. We have been videoconferencing with both sets of parents regularly and being able to see each other melts away the miles. Colin shares each book he reads with his grandparents. He shows them pictures and reads aloud to them. Liam shares his Lego creations and all their features. We get to see Jolie, our German Shepherd living with Grams and Grandpop. We miss her desperately and can’t wait for her arrival in February, but seeing her licking Grandpop’s toes under the kitchen table makes her feel much closer. We yell to her and she usually looks behind the laptop.

Even if you don’t talk with us, get Skype to videoconference or call your family and friends overseas. I sound like an advertisement, but Skype has been our connection to our family. It has helped soften the jagged moments of homesickness that all of us feel.

Note: If you have noticed an inconsistency in our blogs with respect to the word Internet, it is a source of difference between Doug and myself. Doug is the editor and site engineer. He often edits my text. If I write internet without capitalization, Doug changes it. Technically I acknowledge he’s correct and MS Word spell check agrees with him too, but I feel my artistic freedom of expression is being squelched. Sometimes I sneak back and edit Doug’s edits. There can be fireworks in a household with two strong personalities …the capitalization of internet is the least of the controversies! We are experiencing a few battles of the wills that may be the result that we are both home more than in the past. As long as we keep our sense of humor, all is fine. Doug remains as always my soulmate and best friend.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ahhhhh...time for a deep breath


The weekend, 10-11 November
After a whirlwind week of two different schools, two different towns and three different apartments, we were all ready to hang out and chill for a couple of days. The boys did lots of reading. Doug and I are doing research on many fronts - figuring out how to mail gifts back to family in the states, taxes, healthcare, sports teams for the boys, and accommodation options for Christmas and New Year’s celebration. If we aren’t able to move into our new home by Christmas we need to find another place because this apartment is already rented for the end of December and New Year’s eve. We may just take a road trip. I truly don’t know how research was conducted before the Internet. When the DSL modem arrived this weekend, we were finally able to connect to the world from our shoebox apartment.

With an Internet connection, we were able to continue our blog. For me just the act of writing is my connection to family and friends. While the writing isn’t deep, it offers me time to process and reflect a few moments each day. Someday, maybe Liam and Colin will want to look back and retrace our migration path and at least a bare outline will be documented. Liam too is in a writing mood. Almost every day he spends time writing about his travels.

Liam, Colin and I hiked around on Queenstown Hill across the street from our apartment on Saturday afternoon to give Doug some quiet work time. Sunday we all walked around Queenstown Gardens and went out for Mexican food. We discovered that Mexican food is different in New Zealand. Burritos resemble wraps and seem to be deep-fried. Maybe we will open a Cal-Mex or Tex-Mex restaurant…

Queenstown is quite a trip. Even though some might consider it a distant corner of the world, people arrive from everywhere. One morning this week, everyone was speaking Italian. Japanese tourists arrive in town by the busload. Backpackers from Australia, Germany, and the US crash with their packs by the lake. The central streets are bustling and crowded. Sunday night a band played next to the wharf. Young and old sprawled on the lawn soaking up the music and late afternoon sun. The community is a fusion of tourists, seasonal visitors and more permanent residents. I guess it is like most tourist centres. We feel somewhere between tourists and something a little less transient, but not quite locals yet.

The boys even experience this diversity at school. Colin walked out of class with two classmates. Some asked where is was from and Colin replied, “America.”

The little girl quickly added, “Well, I was born in Japan.

“Well, I moved from Brazil,” the little boy responded.

I thought, how ironic, we move to a little town on a small island nation and the Colin has more diversity here than he did in his big city US school.

People don’t just end up here by accident. For us, a vacation grew into a dream that became a reality. I wonder how many others followed this trajectory? All through history, some people have migrated and some have stayed home. I wonder if there are predictive personality characteristics that can identify which people will migrate? I think that my great-grandfather immigrated to the US from Scotland. I wonder what was his impetus? That is one reason that I am documenting this move. Maybe my grandkids or great-grandkids will wonder why on the earth did my grandparents move to NZ? More likely they will never give it a thought.

Monday, December 3, 2007

We take the boys out to see the new neighborhood


Friday, 9 November
While we couldn’t take the boys to see the new house today, we did take them out to see their new neighborhood. The mood was a bit dampened. I brought along some snack bars as an after-school snack. Big mistake! Colin took one bite, and announced, “My mouth feels weird and itchy.” That was the end of that snack. He was miffed because Liam ate an entire bar. Several minutes later Colin announced he felt very sick to his stomach. Whenever one of the boys says he feels sick, Doug and I know from too much experience to take it seriously. Colin walked behind the car with Doug for a while trying to walk off the nauseous feeling to no avail. We had a speedy ride home with all the windows wide open and Colin holding a small ziploc in front of his face. So much for that magical Friday afternoon drive to explore the new neighborhood…you’ll have to wait a few days to hear what Liam and Colin think of their new stomping grounds since our visit was cut short. The good news is that Colin made it all the way back to our apartment before he threw up. We don’t usually get so lucky. I think there must have been a little bit of nuts in the snack bar and Colin’s body had the good sense to get it out of him. All in all, a little vomit is so much better than an anaphylactic seizure. He just skipped dinner and headed to bed. Strange every time I envision some outing in my head, the reality is so different.

The Boys’ Second First Day of School


Thursday, 8 November
Doug and I joked with Liam and Colin that their first day at Queenstown School was their “real” first day. The first day at Wanaka Primary School had just been a practice first day of school. For some reason, the boys seem to have settled into Queenstown more easily. Colin’s teacher has a good understanding of Colin’s needs and is carefully supporting his transition. Colin definitely needs a teacher that he can trust and respect. He seems to have found one.

Liam has two teachers, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Liam, being older and more independent, heads off to class on his own. I peek in, trying not to be an American helicopter mom. Getting to know his class and teachers will take a little longer. Liam definitely seems happier in this classroom than he did in Wanaka. He feels like he fits in better with his classmates. I think he had an immediate sense of connection because the class is studying myths and legends. The first morning Liam's morning teacher read a Maori legend about Lake Wakatipu. Strangely, Doug had read the same legend to the boys the night before. Liam has been fascinated with Greek myths and legends for the last couple of months. He feels he can share some of this knowledge and can’t wait to learn about Maori legends with his new class.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Eleanor is back from her honeymoon…


We couldn't believe it. We received an email from Eleanor. Remember Eleanor? Doug and I basically attended her wedding while we were in Lindos. We never thought that her friends munching on gyros in the main square at 4 am would remember our chat and our blog address, let alone pass the info along to Eleanor, but they did.

For those of you who were a bit worried about Eleanor, I know Doug and I were, Eleanor did have a groom and he seems to be a good guy, at least according to Eleanor. His name is Brett. We have seen all of the wedding photos. They are a gorgeous couple and the whole wedding party looked like they had a fabulous time in Lindos. I can confirm that from our terrace they all SOUNDED like they had fun. Eleanor and Brett honeymooned in Turkey, which is an absolutely romantic destination. If Doug and I have a second wedding (together of course), we would consider a honeymoon in Turkey. If we hear from Eleanor and Brett again, and they say it is okay, we will post a picture from their wedding. We didn’t want to post any more personal details than we already have without their permission.

This whole connected world thing amazes me. Doug calls me a Luddite because I complain about all the technology in our lives. But I must admit some things, like connecting with friends and family and wedding parties around the world, are definitely fun.

We, well more accurately Doug, just added some software that tracks how many and from where we get hits on our blog. We were surprised and thrilled to discover readers on four continents. Go figure.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Back and forth over the Crown Range


Friday – Wednesday, November 2-7
The last few days have been a whirlwind of trips back and forth over the Crown Range. Just driving over the range by myself on the other side of the road was an event for me. The road is a narrow mountain pass, just slightly wider than a lane at some points, with winding hairpin turns. The narrow road was a challenge, even without the RVs full of tourists lumbering around the corners in the middle of the road. I see the tourists and hope they aren’t Americans used to driving on the other side of the road, like me. The vistas of mountains and valleys are stunning and keep me distracted, for better or worse. I want to stop around every turn to watch the lambs in the fields. Little packs of lambs leap around in the soft early morning sun. Others are passed out like clumps of bright white wool sunning in the lime green fields. The little lambs seem to sleep with complete abandon and unawareness of the world around them, like passed out puppies.

Sunday, 4 November: we put an offer on house outside of Queenstown. The day was filled with drama and changing expectations. We are certain of the area we want to live. There are two properties of vacant land and a property with a house for sale available. We decided the house was just too expensive for us. We spent several nights thinking about and imagining building our own place. In the end we were to put an offer on the land. Just as we were putting together the land offer, we heard from the house sellers’ agent that the house sellers would entertain a lower bid than we thought. So, we instead put in a bid on the house. The sellers rejected our bid. We then decided to put an offer on the land again and as we were signing the papers for the offer on the land, the house sellers agent called back and accepted our offer. We are thrilled!

We are also all feeling a bit uprooted as we consider moving to another apartment over in Queenstown. While the boys were at school on Monday, Doug and I headed over to Queenstown to visit the two elementary schools and look for another apartment. First, we stopped by St. Joseph’s School. We met the principal. She asked if we were Catholic. I was just about to say no, but Doug, quick on his feet, replied, “I was brought up Catholic.” The principal said that the school role was full. However, open enrollment for the next school year would be on Wednesday. She suggested that in the meantime we should make an appointment to meet with the parish priest. Doug and I continued on to the second school, Queenstown Primary School. I had visited Queenstown Primary School in August 2006, but Doug has never seen it. We look around and introduced ourselves. Unfortunately, the principal was out for the day and I made an appointment to meet with him on Tuesday. We also found an apartment just in time to drive back over the Crown Range to pick the boys up from school in Wanaka by 3 pm.

Tuesday, I again drove over the Crown Range early in the morning, met with the principal of Queenstown Primary School and enrolled the boys. They will start school in Queenstown on Thursday. I dropped some belongings in our new Queenstown apartment and then drove back to Wanaka to get Doug and pick up the boys from their last day at Wanaka Primary. While I was in Queenstown, Doug packed up our Wanaka apartment. Liam and Colin found Cameron after school and said good-bye. I promised Liam and Colin that we would come back over to visit Cameron and I would take all three of them to Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World. All four of us drove one more time over the Crown Range, my third time over the pass of the day.

Our new Queenstown apartment was absolutely horrible. The place was bitter cold. Paint was peeling off the ceiling and walls, one toilet didn’t work, and everything was filthy, really filthy. Doug and I couldn’t believe we hadn’t noticed these obvious details when we viewed the property. We just made sure it had enough room to sleep. I guess we figured we were paying enough that the place should have met some basic standards. Wrong. We moved out first thing in the Wednesday morning. Then, we had nowhere to stay. We decided if worse came to worse, we would rent a hotel room or two for a few days. Rentals for seven weeks are hard to come by in Queenstown. We could find lots of rentals for six to nine months and there were holiday homes rented at exorbitantly high rates by the night, but nothing available for the in between time frame we need. We are also trying to rent during the 100th anniversary of the NZ Open Golf Tournament which was to take place in Queenstown for the first time. We had planned to spend the day exploring Queenstown with Liam and Colin. Instead, we spent hours looking up rental apartments on the laptop at an internet café, making calls, and waiting to hear back. Finally in the mid-afternoon we found a place that did meet some basic standards – heat and somewhat clean. The apartment is like a shoebox on terrace down a steep hill with four rooms, one room on each level. The top floor is a loft, the entrance level is the kitchen living room, the next level down is our bedroom and bath and the bottom level is the boys’ bed and bath that also open to the outside, just further down the hill. There is almost no storage space, about two drawers per person and two small closets. Luckily we don’t have much to store at this point.

I did break down and buy some shoes and several sweaters. I had hiking shoes and sandals. It is too cold for sandals, but I needed something besides hiking shoes. Shoes, I discovered, are expensive here and they seem to all come in wide widths.

The views are like having IMAX screens for windows. Every room of our shoebox apartment looks out to panoramic lake and mountain vistas. The mountains loom across Lake Wakatipu. The peaks are still tipped in white. The upper slopes, that have just lost the snowy cover, are brown. The lower slopes ring the lake in green. On calm days we can see their wavering reflections on the lake’s glassy surface. We watch the steamship TSS Earnslaw cruise back and forth from Queenstown to the farm on the far side of the lake. From our perch above Queenstown, we have learned why Queenstown is the Adventure Capital of the World. Yellow jet boats whip tourists around the lake. Schools of sunfish sailboats tack back and forth below us. The Americas Cup boat preens by with its fancy sails. Helicopters buzz past. Paragliders spiral into town. Kayakers paddle out to play. We are at the bend in the lake facing north and can look west and east. We watch the weather and storms pass along the lake. The wind can blow. Our whole apartment seems to stand broadside to the prevailing winds. It shutters and creaks in the gusts.

The real adjustment was Liam and Colin having to start at a second school. They completed exactly one week of school in Wanaka. How I wish we had waited one more week to enroll them and thus avoided yet another transition. Oh well. Doug and I debated this decision. We know now that we will settle in Queenstown, even if this house deal falls apart. We decided Queenstown will have more work opportunities. And, as we spend more time in Queenstown, we’ve found areas where both of us can picture living. We thought about staying in Wanaka and letting the boys finish the school year, which is only about six more weeks. But the whole reason for having the boys start school was to make connections and friends in our new home. We will move into our new house in Queenstown over summer break and if the boys start school in Queenstown they will know some friends in the area before summer break begins. In either case, the boys will have to switch schools, now or after summer break in February. In the end, we decided that settling in Queenstown as soon as possible would be the best for all of us despite having to switch schools. We might as well get as many transitions over with as soon as possible, because there are many of them and they aren’t going away.

I really appreciate the time and efforts the Queenstown principal, staff and teachers took to make us, especially Liam and Colin, feel welcome. The boys’ teachers have been sensitive to the challenges the boys are encountering. We feel very fortunate they are in such welcoming and nurturing classrooms to start their time at Queenstown School. Colin and Liam continue to amaze me with their composure, openness and willingness to try new things. Literally being the new kids on the block is hard once let alone twice. Finding their place in their new world, new school and among their new peers will take time and is not easy. Doug and I hope that in the end it will make the boys stronger and more resilient. As a mom, I worry about all the transition they are going through each day.

Here are some pictures around Queenstown, many taken from our shoebox apartment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Liam's Traveling Journal


Liam here. I got my journal on the Easter of 2007. I journaled in it as we travelled. Sometimes I did not write about where we were. These are pictures of the pages in my journal. The picture on the front of my journal was taken in New Zealand. It is most of my writing from the trip.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The First Week in New Zealand...


Saturday, 27 October

We were just thrilled to hangout and to be stationary, not on an airplane. We made it as far as the grocery store and for a walk along the lake. The boys made their first friend, Cameron from across the street. They spent the afternoon playing on Cameron’s trampoline. We could see all three heads bobbing up and down beyond the fence. Seeing how happy the boys were to have a friend, Doug and I decided that it would be better to enroll the boys in school sooner than later. Originally, our plan had been to postpone the boys starting school until we were certain where we were going to live for fear of having to switch schools. We ended our first full day having drinks on Suzi and Steve Bunting’s patio, our hosts who live in the main house upstairs from our apartment. Suzi and Steve immigrated to New Zealand two years ago. We really enjoyed hearing their story and how they have adjusted to New Zealand life. Doug was particularly interested because Suzi was an airline pilot and Steve is an avionics engineer. We don’t know any one from the States who has made an across the world move like we have. Talking with the Buntings made me feel that maybe what we have done with this move is not so crazy. Their motivations were so similar to ours. They came for vacation and fell in love with the amazing beauty of the land and the friendly people. They too are parents and decided New Zealand, and particularly Wanaka, would be a wonderful place to raise their daughter. We have so many questions, like recommendations for doctors or a medical centre, or do we need supplemental medical insurance beyond the national healthcare system. We became eligible for national healthcare once we arrived in NZ and received our residence permits.

One thing I forgot to mention was how anti-climatic our entry into New Zealand was. I had in my mind there would be pomp and circumstance or at lease a huge certificate handed to each of us to signify and document our New Zealand residence status as we arrived in Auckland. In fact, absolutely no acknowledgement was made except for a tiny stamp in our passport. The immigration officer did not even say, “welcome to New Zealand.” But that was okay, all four of us cheered and gave each other high-fives as we crossed over into baggage claim.

Sunday

We looked at homes and land with a real estate agent that we met on our visit last March. So strange to see places all over the area that I have been viewing online for months. I have a fairly good understanding of the geography of the area after hours on Google Earth, but in person the views and landscape are more spectacular than I remember or could see on the computer. Also each property I saw on the Internet was viewed in isolation. Now, I can see how different areas fit together into communities. On our first day out to look we saw several properties that were interesting, but nothing that seemed just right for all four of us. We have a particular set of requirements. Colin wants for a playroom that is out of the way so he doesn’t have to clean it up when we have guests. Liam wants some space to set up his electric trains permanently. Doug hopes for broadband and a view of mountains. I am dreaming of space for a horse, or two, and access to riding trails.

Monday

I visited Wanaka Primary School to enroll the boys. The boys start school on Wednesday. I guess Tuesday will be their last day of summer break. Not a bad school schedule. They got out of school on 8 June and are returning to school 31 October, Halloween. Summer break in NZ starts in seven weeks. We call Colin and Liam the boys of summer. The bummer is that we are 9 months from ski season, especially as we watch Breckenridge opening for the season using the online mountain cam.

Another benefit of the boys starting school is that they will not have to join Doug and me as we do all the boring tasks of rebuilding our life in New Zealand like opening a bank account, getting cell phone plans, and looking at property with real estate agents. One of the many differences between buying a home in the US and NZ is that in NZ a buyer must work with agents from multiple agencies because the agents typically only show properties listed by their agency. Looking for property is much more cumbersome when you have to get to know multiple agents and drive around the same area with each of them.

After my school visit, we drove back over the Crown Range to look at Queenstown real estate with a Queenstown agent we also met in March. The boys entered every house and immediately decided which room would be theirs and had definite opinions about each property. Doug and I kept trying to remind the boys that we are just looking and getting to know the areas. The boys are definitely ready to settle down and unpack - immediately.

Tuesday

We looked at another property near Lake Hawea, a small community near Wanaka. Liam and Colin disappeared to explore the bush, while Doug and I tried to imagine building a house on the hillside. We have seen some beautiful homes and locations, but nothing feels like home yet. No worries, though, we have only been here a few days.

We also had to buy school uniforms for Liam and Colin. The boys have never before worn uniforms. The navy blue polo shirts and navy blue sweatpants or cargo shorts are not bad as far as uniforms go.

Liam and Colin are excited and nervous to start school. They know that their school will be different from their old school. The hard part is to know how it will be different. The fact that they have already met Cameron, his sister Mila, and Emily upstairs helps. Both Liam and Colin feel like they have a few familiar faces to look for at school. We won’t find out their classrooms until we get to school tomorrow morning when we arrive for the first day.

Wednesday

Today was the boys’ first day of school. Doug and I were so proud of them. They are both so brave and open to new experiences. Liam’s class starts with Jump Jam, a little morning exercise so Doug and I visited Colin’s classroom first and stayed for his morning meeting to see Colin introduced to the class. Colin was asked to share a little about himself.

Colin, a boy of few words, shared, “My name is Colin.” The teacher prompted him to share a few more details like did he have any brothers or sisters.

Colin said, “Yes, I have one.”

His teacher introduced Doug and me to the class and I reminded Colin that we had just traveled through Turkey, Greece and Thailand. Colin’s new teacher Claire brought out a world map. Claire asked Colin where Thailand was and Colin pointed straight to Africa. Doug and I were giggling. We were so pleased to see the successful fruits of our geography lessons. We both know Colin hates to be put on the spot and asked to talk to a group without warning, especially when he doesn’t know the audience and isn’t prepared. Even though he is only seven years old, I already know much about Colin’s presentation style. Colin likes to speak when he can make an impact and when he is prepared. He loved the limelight when he presented his erupting volcano experiments at last year’s Logan expo.

While I stayed a few more minutes to make sure Colin was settled, Doug snuck out of Colin’s class and joined Liam’s class to catch Liam’s introduction. Liam on the other hand loves the opportunity to give an impromptu talk and gave a detailed account of his move from his old home in Colorado and his travels through Europe and Asia. Liam enjoys to share his thoughts and perspectives with almost anyone, almost anytime.

After school, Liam and Colin were exhausted and overwhelmed with their new school and world, but overall they both had positive first days. Liam was a bit frustrated that he couldn’t understand everything his teacher was saying. He was at the back of the group on the carpet, the teacher was speaking with a strange accent and all the kids, fascinated with the new boy, couldn’t keep their hands off Liam. After a class size of 17 or 18 students with two teachers at Logan, the class sizes at Wanaka, with greater than 25 students and one teacher, are a big adjustment. We talked as a family about not expecting things at school or other places to be the same as in Denver. Some things will be easier, some things will be harder, some the same and some different. Even before we left Denver, while we were deciding whether or not to immigrate to New Zealand and particularly to Wanaka or Queenstown, Doug and I talked a lot about the differences the boys will experience in their education. Today I had to go through the whole thought process again. I think I must drive Doug crazy as I review and question our decisions. Luckily I arrived at the same conclusion. Logan, the boys’ school in Denver, was a truly unique and remarkable learning environment. I don’t think I could replicate Logan if I searched around the world. One of the amazing aspects of Logan is the experiential focus. We are trying to adopt this premise not just in the boys’ schooling but also in our lives in general. This move to New Zealand is experiential learning for the whole family. We are giving the boys the opportunity to learn about another culture and another hemisphere to start. Also, Doug and I discussed how we both went to public elementary schools and we are pleased with where our lives are today. We can see there are definite benefits to the diversity of students the boys will be introduced to here. In fact, the classroom is more diverse in every way compared to their old school. There is also a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere here. I can’t put my finger on it yet and articulate clearly what I mean. Parents and adults don’t seem to be hovering over their children with such intensity as at their old school. Kids here seemed to be allowed to figure out things on their own a bit more. We know we are giving up some advantages that their school in Denver offered, but the new experiences offered in this environment will balance what we give up from their old system, we hope. Our most important goal for their early education is that they enjoy and are excited about learning. That will be the measure we follow.

While the boys were at school, we visited another property with yet another agent. We were both excited about this property. In fact, it was just down the road from a property that we liked in March that has since sold. It is located half way between Wanaka and Hawea. The boys could attend the school in either community. The Hawea School interests me because it is smaller and therefore feels more intimate. It reminds me of San Antonio School where I went as a child in Ojai.

Today was also Halloween. Trick-or-treating is not as prevalent in NZ. So instead of trick-or-treating we decided to have our own Halloween party. We made brownie sundaes with warm brownies just out of the oven. The brownies took several trips to the store because we don't have any baking supplies and I keep forgetting things. We did get a few high school kids later in the evening. Doug and I gave out brownies. They seemed to work. None of the trick-or-treaters complained or played any pranks on us. Liam and Colin woke up while some of the trick-or-treaters were at the door. Liam and Colin were worried that Doug and I were going to give away all their brownies. I promised if all the brownies were gone by morning I would make another batch. This first batch was fairly burnt anyways.

We learned that Guy Fawkes Night is a bigger deal than Halloween in NZ. While Guy Fawkes Night is traditionally celebrated on the night of 5th of November. We heard fireworks for many nights before and after the 5th, in both Wanaka and then Queenstown.

Thursday

We dropped the boys at school and raced back over the Crown Range to Queenstown to meet with the same agent we met with on Monday. Monday we had run out of time. To get over to Queenstown and have some time to look is rushed. The drive is just under an hour and we have to pick up the boys by 3 pm back in Wanaka, but we both want to go so that we can see properties together. The 3 pm deadline keeps us focused.

Every time we travel back and forth over the Crown Range from Wanaka to Queenstown, Doug and I start to envision our life on that side of the mountains. On one side of the range is Wanaka, a quieter, more rural, and smaller town. We are drawn particularly to Lake Hawea area on the outskirts of Wanaka. On the other side of the range is Queenstown, a busier and more touristy town. The entire Queenstown area also has a larger population. There are probably about 20,000 people when you include the Arrowtown, Frankton with Queenstown. One reality is that for Doug to start a business, a slightly larger town might be more practical and offer more opportunities. We keep weighing the pros and cons as we drive back and forth.

We did see a fabulous property on the far side of Queenstown from Wanaka, on the road to Glenorchy. It feels far away from the bustle of Queenstown, but is only about a fifteen-minute drive from the town centre.

By the way I meant to spell centre with “re” not “er.” We have to get used to the local norms and maybe I can start to spell things correctly here, because I am not likely to lose my American accent any time soon…we’ll see what happens with Liam and Colin.

Saturday

We were just thrilled to hangout and to be stationary, not on an airplane. We made it as far as the grocery store and for a walk along the lake. The boys made their first friend, Cameron from across the street. They spent the afternoon playing on Cameron’s trampoline. We could see all three heads bobbing up and down beyond the fence. Seeing how happy the boys were to have a friend, Doug and I decided that it would be better to enroll the boys in school sooner than later. Originally, our plan had been to postpone the boys starting school until we were certain where we were going to live for fear of having to switch schools. We ended our first full day having drinks on Suzi and Steve Bunting’s patio, our hosts who live in the main house upstairs from our apartment. Suzi and Steve immigrated to New Zealand two years ago. We really enjoyed hearing their story and how they have adjusted to New Zealand life. Doug was particularly interested because Suzi was an airline pilot and Steve is an avionics engineer. We don’t know any one from the States who has made an across the world move like we have. Talking with the Buntings made me feel that maybe what we have done with this move is not so crazy. Their motivations were so similar to ours. They came for vacation and fell in love with the amazing beauty of the land and the friendly people. They too are parents and decided New Zealand, and particularly Wanaka, would be a wonderful place to raise their daughter. We have so many questions, like recommendations for doctors or a medical centre, or do we need supplemental medical insurance beyond the national healthcare system. We became eligible for national healthcare once we arrived in NZ and received our residence permits.

One thing I forgot to mention was how anti-climatic our entry into New Zealand was. I had in my mind there would be pomp and circumstance or at lease a huge certificate handed to each of us to signify and document our New Zealand residence status as we arrived in Auckland. In fact, absolutely no acknowledgement was made except for a tiny stamp in our passport. The immigration officer did not even say, “welcome to New Zealand.” But that was okay, all four of us cheered and gave each other high-fives as we crossed over into baggage claim.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We’re New Zealand Residents!


Friday, 26 October

Life has been a whirlwind for all four of us. We are trying to find our way in our new world. Strange to be in a town where we don’t know anyone. Not a soul. Fortunately, everyone we meet is curious and welcoming.

We flew Bangkok to Auckland and then Auckland to Queenstown, just two days after flying Athens to Bangkok. We arrived on Friday, October 26. We never switched from European to Thai time. By the time we arrived in New Zealand all four of our biological clocks were haywire. Somehow the jetlag was much more challenging coming from Europe than the U.S. The first night we all slept. The next six nights it seemed like at least one of us and sometimes several were wandering around the apartment. Lying in bed wide-eyed watching each hour tick slowly by is so frustrating. One night I rolled over and had a weird sense someone was looking at me in the dark. I could make out a shape kneeling over me. Liam in a frantic whisper announced, “It is 2 and I haven’t fallen asleep yet!” I took him back to his room, tucked him and rubbed his back until he fell asleep. But it was like Liam passed the baton to me, because I never fell back to sleep. Ambien is the best stuff but at 3am, I always have the dilemma of whether I want to be groggy until midmorning. Eventually we just all got up early and had an exhausted and grumpy day, but all our clocks seemed to reset to NZ time.

As the plane touched down in Queenstown, Liam announced to me, and the whole plane, in his clear and hopeful voice, “We’re home!” Hearing his acceptance of this new and unknown world awaiting him outside the plane, combined with the fatigue of 20+ hours of traveling, undid me. I just burst into tears.

Once the plane landed, however, there was no more time for tears. We walked down the airplane steps, across the tarmac relishing the cool Otago wind, and into the terminal. A Honda representative was waiting with our new car and our bank rep was there with an NZ check to pay for it. We drove out of the airport with our Honda and carry-ons. Our luggage didn’t make the tight connection in Auckland. We didn’t care. We were in New Zealand!

Now that the jetlag has passed, I think I am suffering from season-lag. Halloween came. I wanted to make pumpkin pie and carve jack-o-lanterns. Halloween has always signaled the time to prepare for winter. I keep expecting darkness before 5pm. Instead the world screams spring! And nothing is subtle about spring here in NZ. The world seems to be unfolding and melting and baaing. The pastures are the intense neon green of new grass and full of shorn sheep and leaping lambs. The sun doesn’t set until after 9pm. Trees are budding and bright pink cherry blossoms line the roads and dot the pasture edges. As we approach Christmas, the weather should continue to warm and the days will grow longer. The topsy-turvy seasons are truly hard to for my body to accept. A funny side note is that Starbucks in Queenstown must get all its seasonal promotions direct from the US. As the weather warms and I want an iced coffee, Starbucks is decked out in snowflakes and is promoting gingerbread lattes.

We left the airport and drove straight to Fergburger in Queenstown for messy, yummy hamburgers. Then we headed over the Crown Range for Wanaka. While in Athens we found a great apartment, The Hillview Apartment, to rent from the wonderful Bunting family that moved to Wanaka from England just a couple of years ago. We spent Saturday washing clothes and getting settled. Having a kitchen to cook was a luxury after being in hotels. The boys were so happy to just hang out, especially when they met Cameron, age 9, who lived in the house right across the street.

In fact, watching how delighted Liam and Colin were to have friends again, Doug and I decided that we would enroll the boys in school as soon as possible. Colin’s comment as we rolled into Wanaka from the airport had been, “I can’t wait to meet some kids because I am tired of reading all the time.” Good point, Colin!

Some of the Boys' Work


Liam and Colin reminded me that I needed to post a long overdue blog entry of some of their journaling in Crete. The first three photos are pages Liam wrote about his findings and observations. The next photo is Colin’s sketch and facts about an ancient coin he saw at the Archeological Museum in Sitia. The last four photos are patterns created by Colin. Colin has one whole journal that he is filling with patterns that he creates. He wanted to share these four patterns on the blog.



If you want to see bigger pictures of the boys' work, go here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Two nights in Bangkok


Tuesday and Wednesday, 23 and 24 October

I don’t know if it was the jetlag or the heat and humidity, but Bangkok was a blur and seems like a distant memory. We only spent two nights there. We arrived early in the morning, about 5 am, after a ten-hour flight from Athens. Liam, Colin and I snuggled up with Doug across the row. Liam had trouble sleeping the first part of the flight but was sound asleep when breakfast arrived. I, of course, took my Ambien to ensure a couple hours of sleep. Doug and I call Ambien the cheap alternative to first class. I find that it allows for sleep in a cramped middle seat with a son draped on one shoulder and another son lying in my lap. We arrived at our hotel at around 8 am, had a big breakfast, showered and took a nap until noon. None of us were in the mood to sightsee. So we hung out at the awesome pool. Then we ate yummy Thai food for dinner.

Wednesday morning the boys and I woke late around 10am, which was a big mistake as we didn’t really adjust to Thai time and still were on European time. Doug, the savvy traveler, woke up at 7am and went for a very long walk – much longer than he had hoped for because he got a little lost (Doug’s note to self: always bring money so that you can get a taxi back to your lost hotel).

After breakfast we took a taxi to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Looking at the dazzling palace trimmed in glittering gold, I wished that I had understood more so that I could appreciate more the visual splendor. Under the eaves on the walls of the courtyard elaborate scenes were painted. We looked at the pictures and tried to make up stories to accompany them, but we couldn’t recognize the characters or events, as we had been able to in Turkey and Greece. I wish we had been more prepared with a better understanding of the Thai culture and history. Part of the fun and sense of connectedness to the places we visited in Turkey and Greece was that we had spent a lot of time researching these countries. We read stories and myths and had studied historical events. All of our research allowed us to imagine and better understand the sites and cultures with respect to the past and present. So this will just have to be our first introductory trip to Thailand. We plan to return when we are more prepared and rested.

We hired a tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi) for the next few hours and whizzed through the city and traffic visiting several more temples. At the end of the afternoon we caught a water taxi. From a distance the water taxis looked romantic whizzing along the canals with their red bodies and blue and white striped curtains. Up close, and on the water, was a different story. The water was dark brown, opaque and filthy. The blue and white curtains were pulled tight as soon as the boat started to move to keep the polluted water from spraying the passengers. We were all disappointed because we could barely see out of the boat. We returned to the haven of our hotel to jump in the cool pool and wash away the city heat and grime.

I realize that I can only spend so much time in cities and then I am exhausted. Athens followed by Bangkok was a bit too much city time for me. Or maybe it was just the jetlag…New Zealand dreaming at this point…



If you want to see bigger pictures from Bangkok, go here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Now, off to Athens


Just in case you’re wondering if we fell into the Pacific, we didn’t and we have arrived in New Zealand! We also have Internet service again. I am trying to continue the blog chronologically, but Europe and Asia feel like distant memories. So these entries will probably be brief to catch up and get to what’s going on in NZ!

Friday, 19 October 2007

We flew from Sitia to Athens with mixed emotions. Crete, especially Kato Zakros, was so relaxing and peaceful, but heading to Athens means we are one step closer to New Zealand. We had an evening flight so we explored a bit on the way to the airport. We visited Toplou Monastery which was originally built in the 15th century. It captivated the boys’ imagination because it has a turbulent and exciting history including pirate raids and attacks by Turks. We continued on to Sitia, ate gyros on the waterfront and wandered the streets and harbor of Sitia to pass the time until our flight.

This flight to Athens on Friday evening was full. Everyone seemed to be flying with food: cakes, cream, cheese and bottles of stuff.

Saturday and Sunday, 20 and 21 October 2007

Even in October Athens was full of tourists. We even saw some Americans, rare since our time in Istanbul. We stayed on the edge of the Plaka and even had a view of the Acropolis from our room. Saturday morning we headed for the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. Looming from its perch above the city, the Acropolis lured us towards it. I felt like the typical parent/teacher saying, “Do you kids know how lucky you are to see these sites?” I was more moved by other sites we visited on this trip, but the Parthenon is an icon of western civilization referenced in many a history and literature class. We spent almost the whole morning exploring the Acropolis. Liam was a journaling fiend. He wanted to document absolutely everything. Colin participated in journaling for a while then became distracted with other interesting stuff like stray cats and Acropolis dirt. At the Erechtheion, Liam played tour guide to other English-speaking tourists as he recounted myths that explain the presence of a well and an olive tree.

Sunday, we had our last day of sightseeing. We visited the ancient Agora. Liam was an avid journaler again. Colin too was busy journaling. Colin drew a detailed sketch of the Temple of Hephaestus. Liam and Colin traced and copied ancient Greek writing to try to decipher.

I think I speak for all of us that we are getting more and more excited about arriving in New Zealand with each passing day. Staying in the moment and focusing on the present is getting challenging. We have so many expectations and questions about the future.

Also, we are getting a bit travel weary. Hotel living is tiring after awhile, always eating out and washing your underwear in the bathroom sink. We seem to have reached the standard that if your underwear, and maybe your socks are clean, you’re respectable and doing all right. Liam and Colin, however, were thrilled to note that in their Athens hotel room they had their own beds. They used to complain about sharing a room. Now after sharing a bed for several weeks, sharing a room seems quite luxurious and spacious. Doug and the boys reminded me that in Athens we had real mattresses and didn’t need mosquito nets! I did enjoy coming in to check on Liam and Colin before bed to peek at them sound asleep, snug in their sleep sacks on the double bed tucked securely under the mosquito net. They looked absolutely angelic. The griping and roughhousing of the day was gone. I wish I had taken a picture of them sleep peacefully together.

Here are our photos from our Athenian exploration.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Hike to Pelekita Cave


On our last full day in Crete, we made a democratic decision to hike from Stella's to the Pelekita cave. The runner up was another day at the beach. Doug & I were surprised by the boys' vote as nothing usually comes between them and the water. The trail left the village, curving up the cliffs on the north side of the bay. We hiked over craggy sharp rocks through a treeless landscape. On the hike, we waved to one fisherman rounding the point and passed a small herd of goats. From a distance, one might describe this as a barren landscape. Up close, dry brown spiky bushes eke out an existence. Small bulbs were also seen, some with fresh shoots and flowers, maybe the result of the first rains in over six months. The cave had several nice stalactites, stalagmites and even a few columns. Luckily Stella had lent us a strong flashlight to illuminate our descent into the dark cave. We returned to Kato Zakros for a feast at the middle taverna on the beach. Strangely, the Scottish owner said she had heard about us, the American family on their way to New Zealand. A very small town indeed.

Here are our photos from our Cretan adventures.

Beach Day at Xerocampos


Wednesday was beach day! We headed south to Xerocampos. Stella drew us a map to find a quiet bay down a dirt road beyond another white-washed church trimmed in sky blue. We crashed one other couple that left not long after out arrival…so sorry. We took a walk around the point. The boys raced ahead but then came racing back and announced that around the corner was the beach for people who don’t want to wear clothes. I peaked around the corner and a couple about my parents’ age, oh I hope it wasn’t my parents, was collecting sea shells in the nude. We decided not to disturb them and return to our shade under the cliffs. The boys built their most spectacular sand creation to date. We swam in our perfect little cove of sand and absolutely clear water until we were so hungry that we had to go find food. Then we returned to play until the sun sunset.

Sitia Archaeological Museum


Tuesday we headed back into Sitia to visit the Archeological Museum. We had actually headed to Sitia in search of a capable internet café without any success. We piggybacked the museum on our internet search. While we hadn’t planned the progression of our fieldtrips or the museum visit, the museum did answer lots of our questions from our visits to the ruins. We also had the entire museum to ourselves for almost two hours. The boys were in classic Logan student mode with their journals. They took off in different directions to draw pictures and record information they deemed relevant. Liam was particularly fascinated with the clay tablets of Linear A script written by the Minoans. Colin focused on the coins of the Hellenites and Romans. I was impressed with the ancient wine press and the huge clay vessels as tall as me.

P.S. Well we are certain at this point that there is not a connectable high-speed, broadband internet connection in eastern Crete. We tried to connect through a computer at the biggest internet café in Sitia, Z-net, yesterday and failed. We will wait for Athens in hopes of an opportunity to upload pictures and blog entries.

Itanos


Monday we visited the Hellenistic-Roman city of Itanos. There were no ticket booths, or caretakers or information placards in any language. Remnants of a chain link fence still stood in a few places. A chain link gate was propped open with a rock cairn and we started our tour of the site from there. The remains of the basilica were the most interesting. Enough clues remained to help our imaginations fill in more of the gaps. We could see the layout of the church in the foundation stones from the double entrances into a common entry hall. The main sanctuary of the church had two alcoves on each side, perfect mirrors of each other. The far wall had a deeper, bigger alcove. Marble columns lay strewn about and within the church wall boundaries. The most interesting detail was the double entrance to the basilica. Both of the entrances were large rectangle flat rocks. In each of the two front, outside corners were single deep holes and in the middle of the front edge there was one more hole. We conjectured that double doors to the basilica mounted in these outside holes with one of the doors locking into the middle hole with a vertical locking pin. The set-up matches the double, Asian doors in our cabin, which had holes in the floor in the same configuration. Interestingly, the apartment in Lindos we locked ourselves out of had the same style of doors too. Scratches and grooves were worn in the rock from generations opening and closing the heavy doors and the dragging of the locking pins. The front of the steps were worn and hollowed from many passing feet. Colin traced the arched path of the locking pin with his finger. We all remembered the feeling of the heaviness of opening the wooden doors to Liam’s old room. We wondered who had opened and closed these doors? Somehow the understanding of the feeling of this simple motion brought us closer to another people long ago.