Friday, February 19, 2010

And so it seems we come to the end.

Chris has accepted a really great job in Nashville. Tennessee. USA. Home of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame and barbecue. They don't eat a lot of Marmite there. Zach will grow up with a very different accent. We head back in May.

We are excited. To be honest, we have been quite homesick for some time. As amazing as this New Zealand adventure has been, I am ready to start a new chapter. I'm a little sad to say, but it looks like this may be the end of dunedinyank. Technically there are a few months left in our New Zealand stay, but I can barely get my act together to update this blog, so I'm afraid it's time to part ways, devoted readers.

(As an aside to family and friends, I may start a new password-protected blog when we get settled in Nashville so you can keep up with all of our excitement. If and when that happens, I'll let you know.)

I'm not really one for mushy goodbyes, so I think the best way to end this will be a list of things we'll miss about New Zealand and a list of reasons I'm excited to be moving on. These are long lists, so I'll divide them into two parts. Here goes Part #1.

Top Things I'll Miss About New Zealand

1) Media. You turn on the TV news or open a newspaper in New Zealand and you can't help notice that it's unbelievably boring. Someone tells you what happened, then they get a quote from one side, and a quote from another, and they move on. There are no pundits. No "media personalities." No crazy graphics, no banners rolling across the bottom of the screen. No yelling, no crying, no panic, no vitriol. Civility. The thought of returning home to any of the U.S. cable news channels makes me want to pull the covers over my head.

2) The baking. Yeah, yeah, New Zealand is pretty. You've heard that already. But what no one tells you is, these people can bake. Savouries and scones and afghans and pies ... oooh. A special shout-out to our friend Fiona, Kiwi baker extraordinaire.

3) Safety. Okay, so Kiwis love to tell you that they do, in fact, have crime, and they will talk about the gang problems and tell you about that one guy who went crazy fifteen years ago and killed a bunch of people in that nearby town. All I know is I've felt safer here than I've ever felt in my entire life. Maybe it has something to do with the lack of panic from the news media (see #1 above). Maybe it's because we moved here from a transitional neighborhood in a fairly high-crime city, so I was pretty hardened. Whatever the reason, I have never once felt uncomfortable or harassed here, even as a woman walking by myself. It does not occur to me to lock my car doors while driving, even when I'm going through the "bad" part of town. When I hear a strange noise at night, I assume it's our creaky house and not some crazy person out to get us. I enjoy this feeling immensely.

4) Health care. This is a hot topic (see #1). By saying I'll miss Kiwi health care I don't mean to insinuate that the U.S. doesn't offer excellent health care (because it does, since we can afford it). I'm not saying the Kiwi system could easily be implemented in the U.S. (because it couldn't). I'm saying I'll miss the lack of hassle. Maybe I'd feel differently if I was really really sick and needed ongoing treatments or major surgery -- I don't know. But between the pregnancy, well-child visits, sick child visits, and sick mama and daddy visits, we've used the health system a LOT during our time here and we've always received excellent, efficient care with no associated paperwork headaches. I absolutely adore our family doctor and could probably devote an entire post to the aggressive care she's given us. Once she told me not to worry about making an appointment if Zach ever seemed sick -- just bring him in and they'd make time to see him. It's been good stuff.

5) Time. Americans work hard. Really hard. It's part of our charm. It's part of what makes us -- us. But for all the lip service we give to saying that family time is the most important thing, we rarely act like it. Kiwis (and much of the rest of the world), on the other hand -- they know how to separate work and play. Here, there's no shame in taking long (3-4 weeks!) vacations. It's not uncommon for women to take up to a year of maternity leave. When there's a public holiday, everything truly shuts down. No running to the grocery store -- they have the day off. When the evenings and weekends roll around, you don't see Kiwis typing madly on their Blackberries. It's been a real treat to slow down for the two years we've been here. It's been a real treat to have my son in a place that didn't expect us to get right back to work, that allowed us to enjoy our time with him, free of guilt.

6) So much stuff to see. I'm really annoyed that time and budget won't allow us to see more of this part of the world before we go. We still haven't been to Abel Tasman. We still haven't been to much of the North Island. I'm very sad we didn't make it back to Australia. I would give my right arm for a week at the beach in the Cook Islands, or Samoa, or Fiji. But such is life. We've seen more of the country than many New Zealanders (and this is not an exaggeration ... I'm shocked at how many people here have traveled all over the world but barely know their own country), and we've been fortunate to do so.

Okay, that's it for now. I'll get started on Part II. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Yes, it really is that pretty.

I'm not trying to make you jealous. Okay, maybe just a little bit.

This is the view from the front porch of house we rented at Lake Tekapo over the New Year. Outrageous. (I am not in the advertising business, but I cannot recommend Parkbrae Estates highly enough if you find yourself at Lake Tekapo. Perfect location, comfortable, spotlessly clean, super nice proprieter, reasonable rates ...)

So anyway, we had an outrageously nice and relaxing time. Although this was our second visit to Tekapo, the weather was so much better this time and we had a much slower pace. It may be my new favorite place in New Zealand.

A little hiking. A little porch sitting. Nice weather. Nice scenery. Good stuff.

Lupines by the lake.

Mount Cook Village

Top of Mount John

Piano man entertaining us in the lake house. (As an aside, I will reveal that my mom and I fought for years about her unsuccessful attempts to make me play the piano. I was TERRIBLE and HATED it. For her sake it will be quite poetic if he grows into a piano genius.)

Playtime with daddy

Backpack Zach. He rides very well in this thing

Happy 2010, everybody! Bring it on!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ho ho ho!!!

Hello, my gorgeous readers, and Merry Christmas! I know, I know, it's not quite Christmas yet, but I'm in the spirit of things. Last year we were traveling pretty much the entire month of December so we didn't get a tree or do much in the way of gifts, and with it being summer here the season went by so quickly that it never quite felt as Christmas-y as I would have liked. (Incidentally, I thought Kiwis were quite Scrooge-y for not putting up Christmas lights on their houses until someone pointed out to me that it stays light until well past 10 pm right now so it's not exactly easy to find a time to turn them on ...)

Anyway, this year, being Zach's first Christmas and all, I've been determined not to let it get away from us too quickly. I actually ordered cards and had them in the mail by the first week in December. We have a cute little four-foot tree with some simple red and gold decorations and way more gifts under it than anyone has a right to hope for. We have entered the season of Christmas parties (barbecues seem to be the thing here) and Zach even attended his first kid's Christmas party at Chris's work. Zach was not impressed with Santa but had a wonderful time exploring all of the different kinds of fruit on display at the food table. (Have I mentioned how that boy can eat? Anything. Everything. All the time.)

As usual, the only sad thing is that we are not spending this Christmas with our families, but let's not dwell on that. Let's be happy. Photos. Photos make us happy, right? I've got some of those. We just got back from a quick trip to Central Otago with some friends and took a little stroll around Lake Hayes. Absolutely gorgeous and reminds us of everything we love about New Zealand.

Yes, I'm biased. But this boy is cute.

We forgot to pack Zach's backpack (say that three times fast) so little Z rode on Daddy's shoulders. Daddy may now need neck surgery, but Zach absolutely loved it.

Dads and Bubs.

Wishing you Christmas joy and a wonderful 2010! Lots of love to you all!!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hello again ...

I've been a bad blogger. Such a bad blogger. Perhaps you have given up on me, faithful readers, and for that I could not blame you. My excuse is I only get about three waking hours each day when Zach is sleeping, and I tend to spend this time in a vegetative state on the couch. On the off chance someone is still checking this thing, I offer my most sincere apologies. And now I'll try to get you up to speed from the last three months. Bear with me!

1) The trip. What a fun, fun, fun trip to North America we had. (A million years ago now!) Five weeks of amazing times with Chris's family in Vancouver, my family in Texas, and dear friends in Georgia. Could not have been happier to see everyone. Zach was an angel baby on every plane ride and aside from a couple of rough jet-lagged nights he was a trooper.

Very strange ... I thought it would feel odd to be back in North America but it honestly felt like we'd never left. And then when we came back to New Zealand it felt like we'd never left here, either. Hard to explain.

2) Work. I returned to work 2 1/2 days per week. Chris is staying home with Zach two half-days per week, which leaves the boy at a very nice day care 12 hours per week (Three four-hour days.) I am generally fine with this. It's a nice place and the women there are lovely. He has smiles for his teacher when I drop him off and he looks perfectly content when I go to pick him up. It's good having two incomes and most days I find it refreshing to use non-mommy parts of my brain for a while. But other moments I feel like a terrible mother leaving him and I think everybody is judging me and I feel wildly jealous of stay-at-home moms. I suspect these conflicting feelings will not miraculously resolve themselves any time soon. Blah.

3) Swimming. Zach started baby swimming lessons in October and it has quickly become one of our favorite family pass times. After a few ambivalent sessions he now adores the water and happily kicks his legs and puts his face in the water. We feel very lucky to have facility as fantastic as Moana Pool nearby, where I can swim laps while Zach takes his lesson with daddy. Fun for everyone!

4) Thanksgiving. We just hosted an American Thanksgiving dinner for 18 -- yes, 18 -- people. I had a bit of a panic when I realized how the guest list had spiraled out of control, but it turned into a really funny, casual evening with people hanging out, eating and drinking on our floor. (Was glad I vaccuumed.) Fried turkey, pecan pie ... what more do you want?

5) Milford Track. Our friends Tom & Libby from the US recently came for a visit and Chris went with them on the Milford Track, a four day, three night hike described as one of New Zealand's (and the world's) best. I believe it was excellent, but you'll have to ask him.

There's more, of course, much more, as always. Zach is fantastic and hilarious and adorable and Chris has oodles of ridiculously cute pictures on his Flickr page, so hopefully you've been checking those while I've been a rogue blogger. I had good intentions to upload some new photos with this post but the site is being fickle, and I just don't have the energy. Next time, I promise.

I'm back on the blogging wagon again, and it feels good. You will hear from me soon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Five weeks, four cities, one infant, tons of luggage

Well, devoted readers, we're off again!

Piggybacking on yet another conference for Chris, we are heading to North America for five weeks so Zach can visit his ancestral homeland and everyone at home can get a look at the boy. Could not be more excited to see all of our family and friends, enjoy some hot summer weather, and eat Mexican food that doesn't taste like ketchup. Also curious and a bit nervous about how the return to North America is going to feel after more than a year ... I'm finally at the point that New Zealand doesn't seem very foreign any more, and it makes me wonder how home will feel once I'm there. If that makes any sense.

Wish us safe & happy travels! I apologize in advance to the person sitting next to us on our 13 hour flight to Vancouver. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do!

I leave you with a Zach and Livy pic. Blurry & washed out, but cute. Real cute.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bureaucracy and natural disasters

Am I the only person who thinks it is completely insane to make babies pose for passport pictures? Maybe you shouldn't get me started.

Flying to Auckland today to get Zach's US passport from the consulate. Yes, we actually have to fly up there and show him off in person. Maybe you shouldn't get me started. (Some of you may be familiar with Chris's recent immigration snafu that necessitated a trip to Hawaii ... I'm a little tired of bureaucracy, these days.)

But we all know there's no fighting the man, so we've just got to roll with it and accept it as part of the cost of our jet-setting lifestyle. Zach's passport situation needs to be in order ASAP as we are coming home to North America for five weeks in August and could not be more excited. (For those keeping score at home, Zach is also a NZ citizen by birth and eligible for Canadian citizenship through his dad, but we decided to go for the US passport first for a number of reasons, which we'll not get into here ...) So, off to Auckland. Try to make a mini-vacation out of it. Maybe I'll get some more pictures for the blog, which has been sadly neglected as of late.

In other news:

1) Earthquake. You may have read in the news that the South Island experienced an earthquake last week, though fortunately damage was minimal. We had just put Zach to bed and were sitting on the couch when I noticed a water glass sitting on our table was starting to move. And then our 1970s granny-style light fixtures started to sway. Fun is certainly the wrong word for it, but since it was my first earthquake it was definitely exciting. Zach and the dogs slept right through it, so that gives you an idea of how mild it was from our standpoint.

2) Zach is now 12 weeks old and continues to amaze us & make us laugh. New Zealand has a program called Plunket which offers fantastic support for babies and new parents, including home visits by a nurse. At Zach's last visit on Friday, he weighed in at a whopping 16 pounds (the wee one is not so wee any more) and the nurse marveled at his strength and alertness. Perhaps she fawns on all of the babies this way, but as his mother I prefer to think he's just highly advanced. Like his mom.

I'll leave you with two recent tummy time pictures of the handsome devil.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'm on a train

Hello, everyone! I'm finally getting around to posting some photos from a train trip we took last week with Chris's parents on the Taieri Gorge Railway. This is a little four hour roundtrip train ride that takes you from Dunedin to Pukerangi in Central Otago, a very comfy way to see some nice scenery that is not accessible by car.

I rarely travel by train except during our visits to Europe -- train service is not very extensive in New Zealand and like most Americans I hardly ever used Amtrak -- but this reminded how much I like it. I like that you can stretch your legs, take in the scenery, buy some snacks and drinks, eavesdrop on the other people in your car. Not a bad way to go.

Caboose view

Chris and Maria enjoying the ride. We had the car to ourselves except for some very nice folks from Invercargill who could fairly be described as "rednecks." If there is anything I have learned in my travels: The accents may change, but rednecks are rednecks wherever you go.

Zach's first train ride. He was not so impressed by the scenery but definitely enjoyed the rocking motion, which lulled him to sleep almost instantly and kept him that way for most of the trip.

Butch documenting me documenting Butch

View from the window

Baby on the platform. He looks oddly at home here.

In other news, we had LOTS of snow yesterday, to the point that Zach and I were pretty much homebound and Chris went to work only because he walked as usual. Snow in June still boggles the mind, don't you think? Anyway, I took some pictures of the snow but still have trouble with uploading from our new camera without Chris's technical help. (I know, I'm hopeless.) So I'll work on that, but in the meantime picture us in a wintery wonderland.