Thursday, February 28, 2008

I can’t remember our Denver house!

Below is an exchange I overheard between the boys in early January. I quickly scribbled it down but forgot to post it in a blog entry:

Liam announced in a panicked voice at breakfast yesterday, “I can’t remember our Denver house!”

Colin started a verbal tour of the house for Liam, “Remember the playroom was in the basement and your bedroom was next to the kitchen…”

“Oh, yeah. Okay, I remember,” Liam, said with a big sigh of relief.

The boys feel in between worlds. I guess I do too. They left their Colorado friends, family and school, but don’t yet feel settled here. Both boys have met some friends and had a few playdates, but still feel like the new boys on the outside of the group. I could feel Liam’s panic when he couldn’t remember his Denver house. Denver is still home in his heart, because Queenstown is not. Every person and experience is viewed in comparison to life in Denver. I keep reminding both boys that Queenstown will not be Denver. Queenstown will be a new experience. Someday life will feel normal here. And, when it does feel normal, we probably won’t even realize it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Colin's class has a blog

Colin's class at Queenstown Primary School has a blog. You can check out what's going on in his class, if you want.

The photo shows Colin and some of his new buddies having a lunch break on yesterday's hike.

Colin's class and the rest of the Middle School classes hiked the Skyline track, straight up the hill behind the school. The students are getting prepared for Outdoor Education Week (next week). Both Colin and Liam will be going on overnight camping trips with their classes. Liam is going to Pigeon Island in Lake Wakatipu. According to Liam, he is traveling to the island by jet boat and his supplies are being airlifted to the island by helicopter. Colin is going to a camp in Bannockburn. They are both excited. Parents are invited to join the trips. Both Colin and Liam suggested that Doug and I could come on some of the day trips during the week, but they wanted to do their overnight without parents, just like at Logan. Colin did let me come on the Skyline hike today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Duckling update

Our two remaining ducklings out of eight are almost all grown up. Their baby fuzz has turned to the mottled brown adult feathers. They splash and motor around the pond, quacking loudly, sometimes with Mommy Duck and sometimes just together. They can even fly right out of the water now. We sit and watch them as we eat dinner.

I love to travel, but there is also something magical and soothing about sitting still in one place and watching the season pass. The sun rises later. Mornings are darker and cooler. The yard and hills are fringed and splotched with browns. The light and colors are softer, less neon, than when we arrived in late October. The sounds too seem more muffled without the bleating lambs that accompanied our arrival to New Zealand.

I await the change to fall with some sadness. The boys are back to school and the weather will get colder. But, then thoughts turn to visions of crisp snowy mountains and skiing! We haven't had winter in a year with the timing of our southern migration.

Monday, February 18, 2008

In my day I had to walk five miles in the snow up hill both ways to school…

When Doug and I announced to the boys they were going to take the bus to school, they were thrilled. They have never taken the bus to school. The excitement fizzled when they realized they had to walk from the house down to the paved road to reach the bus stop and then up the hill at the end of the day.

Liam announced, “It is simply too far to walk.”

Colin said, “I won’t remember where to go.”

We countered Liam’s objection by calling Auntie Allison. She went over to Ojai and walked our childhood route. Which, like this one, was downhill to the bus and uphill home. Then I walked the boys’ route. The two routes took roughly the same amount of time. If Auntie Allison and I could do it, so could Colin and Liam. Allison also told the boys that she had to make it to and from the bus stop on crutches. I can remember watching Allison hobble up the hill after school with crutches and her big pack. I don’t remember taking her pack for her. I guess I was not that thoughtful of a big sister. Allison seemed to be on crutches for long stretches of elementary school. Maybe that’s where her incredibly strong arms developed?

To solve Colin’s objection we had several practice walks to the bus stop then home again. The route would be simple if I let them walk down the road through the station, but I won’t. The road from our house to the bus stop is a narrow, windy, slightly wider than one-lane dirt and gravel track. Cars, and especially trucks, come around the corners too fast. Instead, I have found connecting back tracks through the bush and sheep paddocks to reach the bus stop. After several round trips both boys were still reluctant about having to walk to the bus stop, but at least they were confident they could find their way.

For now Doug and/or I walk with the boys. Jolie needs the exercise; anyhow, I usually walk every morning. Two trips a day should help her drop the quarantine bulge and it can't hurt me while the weather's nice.

After the first day on the bus Liam was indignant with the inefficiency of the bus route. Liam explained how bus leaves the primary school and does a loop that reaches about half way to our house and then returns to town to pick up the high school students. With the high school students and remaining primary kids it does the same route again and then continues further out of town past our house. Liam says he wasted 30 minutes having to return to town for the big kids. We explained that if we drive the boys, we use gas, a round trip takes us 40 minutes, and we have to do two round trips a day. So either Liam has to waste time 30 minutes or we waste one hour and twenty minutes plus gas. Liam finally conceded, “True. It’s the best for most people, just not for me.”

To break up the walk each day we pass through our neighbors’ driveway and check to see if the chickens have laid any eggs. Now Liam and Colin want chickens. After the early morning wake-ups in Greece and Turkey, Doug has banned roosters and burros. We’ll see about the chickens. We suggested that the boys offer to take care of our neighbor’s chickens for a while.

The little kids sit at the front and high school kids take the rear of the bus. Because we are near the end of the line, there are only a handful of kids when Liam and Colin board the bus. As the bus pulled away Doug and I both noticed in the last row a morose, goth-looking teenager dressed in all black. His/Her hair was bleached blonde with a patch dyed turquoise. We cracked up. We could have been looking at one of our classmates a generation ago. Being a morose teenager looked so tiring, almost unbearable.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Domesticated Bliss

Saturday was the one week anniversary of Jolie's arrival. She and kitten Ollie are becoming buddies. I walked into the kitchen after lunch to find this scene. Both were sound asleep before I snapped the photo.

Poppett arrives!

Poppett (full name Bonnie Arrow) arrived at noon yesterday. I spent the whole afternoon with my new girl. She is sweet and beautiful. She’s an eight-year old mare, a 16.2 hh bay, tending toward the reddish browns, with two white socks on her rear legs, ears tipped in black and a thin crooked blaze.

Her sire is Lone Arrow, a paint crossbred (half Thoroughbred, one quarter stationbred and one quarter draft horse). Her dam is a thoroughbred cross.

She comes from a small community called Moa Flats about 3 hours from here, on the way to Invercargill. Her previous owner is off to university and she needed a new home with lots of attention – me!

Poppett had a huge day with three hours in the float and then stepping out into a new world. She was very worried about the alpacas in the paddock across the road from her, prancing up and down the fence line, neck arched and tail lifted. I walked her by the alpaca on a lead first. She was at complete attention, nervous but curious. She and the black alpaca hesitantly nosed each other, both uncertain and quivering. When we rode past the alpacas later she watched intently, quickened her pace, but kept her cool. I was so impressed and proud of her composure in the face of such a strange creature. I too am slightly spooked by the looks of the alpaca.

The whole afternoon she was carefully checking out her new digs. We spent some time in the arena just getting to know one another then we went for a ride along the lake with my friend Judi and her horse, Tom. She spent the ride up the lake turning her head watching the ridgeline above the lake then scanning the lake, just taking in all the new sights, smells and sounds. She even turned her head all the way around to look at me with an expression that asked, “Who is this on my back?” By the time we head back home she had relaxed and walked calmly.

I feel like I am twelve years old again. I have my very own horse. I have been dreaming for years, like decades of years for a horse again. Actually I have been dreaming of a horse since I was eighteen, the day my Cat Ballou left Thacher for retirement at my friend’s Alex’s ranch. Some people count sheep when they can’t sleep; I make up horse names until I lose consciousness.

I barely made it home in time for guests arriving for drinks. As soon as our guests left I took Doug, Liam and Colin up to meet Poppett. I almost slept in the paddock with her when I went to check on her at bedtime. As I was going to bed, I realized that I never ate dinner. The boys had to fend for themselves and had cereal based on the bowls in the kitchen sink this morning.

She is actually on trial for the next week. We have a vet check next Tuesday. Doug keeps reminding me not to get too attached until then. Ohhhh, I’m trying!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Can you find it in New Zealand?

One question I get asked when I chat with friends in the States is “Can you find it in New Zealand?” The answer is "usually." You have to be creative and you must know where to look. I am trying to be creative and I am learning where to look.

There are two items that have completely eluded me thus far: soynut butter and Bona floor cleaning products. I have found all sorts of nut butters, but not soynut better. Colin is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Wow. I was just looking for a link for the Bona Company to make sure I spelled it correctly and I happened upon a distributor in Auckland. Now, there’s just soynut butter to find. Beware, we plan on asking visiting family and friends to fill their suitcases with soynut butter.

Typical of tourist spots, shopping is particularly expensive in Queenstown and selection can be limited. I looked at riding boots for the boys at a local shop and found them online for about a third of the local price. Ouch! I bought Mennen pre-shave gel for Doug at a pharmacy in Queenstown and it cost about NZ$12 (US$9.50). I came home and found it priced in the U.S. for $3.69. I understand we are off the beaten track, but that seems like a steep mark-up.

We have been following local advice and making lists to order stuff online or for a shopping trip to a bigger town, like Christchurch. Making a list and having to wait a bit are actually quite helpful. While waiting to purchase some items, we’ve learned to make do and then realized we don’t need them after all. Or, we’ve found something else around the house that works well enough. The waiting and list making slows down the “gotta have it and gotta have it now” mentality.

Grocery shopping is particularly challenging for me anywhere because I try to buy local, organic and recycled. I have come up with a three-stop grocery circuit for a complete list. I have one big grocery store, New World, for the bulk items like cereal and toilet paper (recycled paper even) and it even has some organic produce and coffee. My second stop is Destination Organic, a little organic shop for grains, tea, interesting flours, like quinoa flour, and good bar soap. It also has some produce, milk and meat, but selection can be limited. My last stop is Mediterranean Market that also supplies grocery items to restaurants. It has fish, meat, lots more produce and some fresh baked breads. I don’t often actually go to all three grocery stores on one trip. I just stop in whichever I am passing and get what I can. I just heard about a butcher that is great for meats and cheeses that I have to find. Being summer there’s also a farmers’ market on Saturdays and lots of roadside stands selling fruits, veggies and fresh fish.

There are lots of little specialty shops for items that would be found in big grocery stores in the States. One little shop has flax seed oil, while another has protein powder. There is no contact lens solution at the grocery store. It is only sold at a pharmacy. I kept looking for it at the grocery store. I knew it had to be somewhere because Kiwis wear contacts too. Finally I asked and was told, “It’s at the pharmacy, of course.”

The whole month of January I couldn’t find limes anywhere. Limes are practically a food group for Doug. He uses them for his G&Ts and Corona. At one point I was told by a Med Market grocer, “There are no limes on the South Island.” I had to break the news to Doug, who looked at me like I couldn’t be serious. We had to resort to lemons. Limes returned in February.

Alcohol purchases are Doug’s department. He has figured out where to buy wine and beer for selection and price. Now that the boys are at school we plan to head out to nearby Gibbston Valley for an afternoon, or two, of exploring the local wineries. Central Otago is known for its Pinot Noir.

Today Doug found a mail forwarding service called Access USA. It could be helpful for anyone outside the U.S. wanting to shop online at U.S. retailers, because many retailers will not ship outside the U.S. We can purchase stuff online in the States and have our purchases mailed to this service. Access USA waits until there are enough packages to fill an appropriate sized box and mails the group of packages to us at one time, minimizing our overseas mailing costs. Purchasing some stuff in the States and shipping it overseas could be cheaper for us than buying it in New Zealand, even with NZ taxes and shipping costs. Having it mailed all together also make environmental sense as only one shipment will be sent long distance from one location. In the end of the day, unfortunately, many items available in New Zealand get shipped to New Zealand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Three Degrees of Separation

We love our new hometown, Queenstown. It's a tiny town of about 10,000 and when one throws in all of the surrounding small towns, you might get 20,000. It's the type of place where the orthodontist only has office hours one day a week because he lives 150km away. We had been here for over three months before we saw our first traffic light. We had to drive six hours to see it, to the big metropolis of Christchurch.

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and the third largest in the nation. We drove up there to do some heavy shopping - to buy a vehicle, some furniture and horse riding equipment. Sure, we could have done this shopping in Queenstown, but the prices and selection in Christchurch are better.

But even in the "big city," we continued to be reminded of how small our new world is. On our first stop, the Nissan dealer, we learned that our salesman had sold an SUV to the previous owners of our house and that he had even been in our house. Then at the first furniture store that we went to, our salesman turned out to be the brother of our closest neighbors here in Queenstown. You know that idea of six degrees of separation? Well, we're convinced that it reduces to only two or three degrees of separation down here in New Zealand. We live in a small town in a small country.

It's a big change from the US and from the big cities that we've lived in there. But Queenstown is remarkably cosmopolitan and sophisticated for its small size. We're part of a large minority of emigrants here and it seems that most of the Kiwis we meet have spent quite a bit of time overseas. It makes for a very diverse and interesting community.

Hasbro, the makers of the Monopoly board game, have discovered Queenstown too. They included it in a shortlist of 68 great cities of the world from which they want the public to choose 20 to be properties in their "first global Monopoly," the Here and Now: The World Edition. Voting goes through the end of the month but right now Queenstown is running #18. Something in us is rooting for our little town to slip out of the top 20 in order to keep too many people from learning about this small town we love.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ollie steals Jolie's bed

The last twenty-four hours has been an endless dance or slow motion, silent turf war, at least from Ollie's perspective. Ollie seems to be the alpha pet. He is relentless and follows Jolie from room to room guarding his territory, which he feels is the entire house. Jolie basically ignores Ollie and does as she pleases. She is tired and wants to rest. Ollie sits right in front of Jolie and intensely stares her down. Jolie just tries to avoid confrontation. She has found the kitten food and definitely thinks it is almost as yummy as treats in the litter box.

This morning I cracked up when I came in the kitchen to find Jolie asleep on the wooden floor and a few feet away Ollie snuggled in the dog bed. How a several pound kitten gets away with stealing the over eighty-pound German Shepherd's bed is beyond me, but is exactly why we needed Jolie to be with us in New Zealand. Jolie is our sweet, kickback girl, and our best buddy. Every few minutes today Colin would say, " I can't believe Jolie is really here with us." We are all relieved she seems to have endured the travel and confinement and is adjusting to life as a Kiwi dog.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Jolie Arrives!

The move is complete. We have the whole family together again. Jolie arrived in Queenstown on the afternoon flight from Auckland. All of us, except kitten Ollie, are thrilled.

Jolie is a veteran world travel now. In September we drove Jolie to the Grandparents' home in Texas. They came to our rescue and agreed to babysit Jolie until she could fly to NZ. She had to wait until six months after her rabies titre in late June before importation. In early January the Grandparents drove her to Houston for her flight to Los Angeles. She had one night in LA and then the overseas flight to Auckland for a thirty-day quarantine at Pethaven Kennels and Cattery. Anyone that needs to quarantine a pet in New Zealand, we loved Pethaven. Robyn and the Pethaven crew took wonderful care of our Jolie. They kept us up to date with Jolie's progress and condition from the moment she arrived in Auckland until she boarded the flight to Queenstown. Jolie looks and acts no worse for the wear after all the travel and quarantine. She seems like our same happy-go-lucky pup with maybe a few extra pounds around the middle. At eighty some pounds she still thinks she’s a lap dog. She flops down in my lap for an all over body rub moaning away they travel aches and pains. When we arrived home, Jolie leaped out the car sniffing her way through the yard and right into the pond.

Ollie was a wee bit surprised with her arrival. As you can see in the pictures he instantly grew a huge bottlebrush tail. Ollie stealthfully follows Jolie around the house, keeping an eye on the big intruder in his home. Jolie basically ignores the kitten. When Jolie tries to sniff Ollie, the kitten makes a deep guttural moan of sorts, hisses and arches his tiny back. They are working out some sort of animal arrangement. Both are lying behind my chair checking out one another. Their noses are about 2 feet apart. I didn’t expect Ollie to be such a tough little kitten. Ollie is staking his territory and literally stands his ground in the face of the big German Shepherd (aka Alsatian down here) intruder.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Unpacking, sort of

Life is happening fast at the moment. I have not been keeping up with my blog journal. I am lost in the moment and want to write about today and am still trying to catch up on my chronological journaling from when the hard drive crashed in December. So, the blog entries will be jumping from present to past and in between. Hopefully you can follow along my scrambled path.

Chronologically I left off at the end of our move into the new house. I want to say disparaging and four letter remarks about the Denver moving company and warn everyone in Denver to avoid the unmentioned moving company, but for now I resist sinking to that level. Seriously if you are moving in Denver just contact me and I will tell you which company not to use.

On a more pleasant note, Christmas came just days after the move. We basically put unpacking on hold. We found boxes of Christmas decorations and placed the decorations amongst the moving boxes and randomly placed furniture. I am usually the biggest tradition monster at Christmas. This year we didn’t follow any of the “rules”. We didn’t even set up a Christmas tree. We had a miniature metal tree and set it on the coffee table. It had little votive candles and Colin hung some decorations he made at school. We had a crazy mix match set of plates and foods and tablecloths. I started to fret that we needed a tree and blah blah blah, but the boys were thrilled with the make shift holiday set-up. They couldn’t have cared less about the finer details. We decided this Christmas was the most relaxing ever!

We baked, did holiday activities and even attended a Christmas potluck dinner with all of our new neighbors on 22 December. We brought two apple pies to the party. At the outset making pies seemed like a quick, easy endeavor. Then the search began for pie plates, vegetable peeler, sharp knife and a rolling pin. We eventually found pie plates and the peeler, but had to substitute a wine bottle for the rolling pin. Two pies became an all day event. Christmas Eve Day I had the ham all glazed and ready to put in the oven. My roasting pan was too big as well as all my cookie sheets. I never thought to make sure the pans would fit in the oven! I threw the ham back in the fridge and raced to Queenstown. Luckily, I found a restaurant supply store with cookie sheets and roasting pans. Each day seems to be filled with unexpected situations. Friends and family keep asking what I’m up to everyday. I have no great answer. I guess I fill my days at the moment buying new roasting pans or trying to find a rolling pin or towels for a shower. I don’t remember any previous move being this disorganized, but maybe my memory is just blurry.

Also, I am completely distracted from the move. The weather is beautiful and we live in the country again. I usually wake before any of the boys and head out to explore. I am feeling a bit possessed actually. Even when I am tired and want to sleep later, I wake up and have to head out to explore before anyone awakes. Each day I choose in a new direction. Sometimes Liam likes to join me and sometimes Doug and Colin too. Colin usually waits to join us until we tell him about a good find like a waterfall or dead, decaying sheep. A baby alpaca was born several days before Christmas. We peek on him and his mom every day. He’s the tiny white guy in the slideshow. How can we worry about unpacking with springtime wildflowers and baby alpacas and Christmas?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Happy Waitangi Day!

While half of the US is voting, we have a national holiday here in New Zealand. Waitangi Day is New Zealand's National Day, but not an Independence Day like we're familiar with as Americans. New Zealand didn't make a hard break from the United Kingdom so the concept of independence doesn't really apply here. The Union Jack is still on the flag, the Queen is still on most of the coins and bills and from what we can tell, being part of the British Commonwealth is still seen as a positive here by most of the population.

So in that vein, it shouldn't be too surprising that the National Day commemorates when New Zealand became part of the British Empire, not when New Zealand became a nation. Back in 1840 on this day, the Maori and the British signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Britain got a new colony and the Maori got rights to their land. But it didn't take long for the Pakeha , the Maori name for the white Europeans, to break the deal. Sounds a lot like what happened in America between the Europeans and the Indians.

As you might guess, this is a controversial holiday here in New Zealand. Lots of protests and public debate. The prime minister hasn't attended the commemoration ceremonies at the site of the treaty because she and other politicians got "roughed up" at the 2004 ceremony. The leader of the opposition party did attend this year - must be an election year...

Super Tuesday

While we are miles away and not allowed to cast absentee primary ballots, we are watching closely with the rest of the world. If you're in a Super Tuesday state, get out there and vote today! You are voting not only for yourself but for all of us around the world who wish we could vote.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl Monday

We just watched our first midday Monday Super Bowl with some Kiwis and Americans. It was also the first party we’ve thrown in our new home. Not everything went as planned…

This morning I was chatting with my sister on the phone and Liam kept interrupting me. First, he passed by with a handful of towels saying someone spilled water on his paper airplanes in the toy chest. A few minutes later he passed by mouthing that there was lots of water in the toy chest. Liam is usually a drama king and prone to a bit of exaggeration so I just shushed him and kept talking to Allison on the phone. Then both Liam and Colin came bursting into the kitchen yelling water is pouring out of the ceiling. That got my attention! I ran downstairs and sure enough water was coming at a steady flow through the ceiling into the hallway outside Colin’s room. I called Doug and after a search through the garage, we eventually turned off the water main into the house and the pump. We mopped up the hallway and spread the wet toys out in the sun to dry.

We had a crowd arriving in a couple of hours and no water to even brush our teeth. So much for a homemade Super Bowl spread. Oh nooooo, there isn’t a Whole Foods in Queenstown. Where will I find lunch all prepared for hungry football viewers? I headed into town and found a great little deli for sandwiches, some salads and brownies. Yeah, we had a lunch to serve.

I was rushing back to the house, saw cars parked in the drive way and I cut the corner into the garage a bit too fast. I completely munched the left (passenger) wheel well and front corner of the car. A bigger Oh Nooooo…what would Doug think? Liam and Colin looked wide-eyed and horrified. Their mom had just tried to take out the garage with the car. Liam just kept mumbling, “It wasn’t your fault, Mom.” I told Liam it was actually my fault and that I would talk to Pop AFTER the Super Bowl. I looked both boys in the eye and said DO NOT SAY ANYTHING TO POP UNTIL AFTER THE SUPER BOWL. As I was speaking I could clearly see my mom saying the same thing minus the Super Bowl bit to my sister and me, some thirty years ago, after she had hit a boulder in the Twichell’s yard. Life does feel cyclical at times. We walked in just in time to have a champagne toast in honor of the game with champagne brought by our new neighbors who are part-time residents here and spend the rest of the year in Colorado Springs. I hoped as I lifted my champagne glass that my hand was not shaking too badly.

As the game started the plumber arrived. I said I would handle the plumber, while Doug enjoyed the game. The plumber headed out to the garage to turn on the water main and pump. I was following him and I could see Doug coming out the door and heading our way. I mentioned casually to the plumber that I had just smashed the front corner of the car and that my husband heading out to join us didn’t know about it. The poor young guy looked at me like I was crazy.

Doug took the smashed car with complete grace and calmness. I think, in retrospect, a party in a flooding house on Super Bowl Monday was the perfect time to bang up the new car. The Giants winning also seemed to be in my favor!