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. video

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.