Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wanaka & Queenstown

Tuesday morning felt like a hangover without any binge drinking. My night time wrestling in a set of noisy sheets with an infant made for 2-3hrs of sleep. Thank goodness for continental breakfast and a huge pot of Earl Grey. We packed and departed for Twizel stopping one last time by Mt. Cook's beautiful alpine lake. The water level was very low and I wondered if the shallow waters would even exist for my grandchildren to enjoy.  Wanaka was a short 2 hour drive and because of our lack of sleep, we were all cranky and ready to be out of the car.

Our downtown a-frame hotel was 200m from windy Lake Wanaka. The wood slat ceilings reminded me of Klinger lake, creaking all night through the high winds. The high roof also made it easy to hear conversations and televisions in adjoining rooms. We went for a walk to the book store, pharmacy, and a nice lakeside dinner. Our post-dinner hike was along the west coast of the lake across from a steep sheep farm. Ana and I explored several rabbit burrows around the coast, all the while hearing the sheep bleating through the afternoon sun. Much to Ana's delight we found one rabbit hole occupied and she chased after the hare with wild delight.

We plotted a course for Te Anua Wednesday morning, after a full night of rest. We wanted to give plenty of time to explore Queenstown and departed fairly early. The drive along the Cardrona Valley ended in a series of switchbacks high above lake Wakatipu. Upon arrival to this fairtale setting of a town, we immediately headed for the Gondola ride up the Remarkable. The eroded steep mountain walls are pictures all around town and are clearly the pride of the city. After a 1500m climb we made our way around the lone sky loop at the top. Once deep inside the tall pines I felt transported to the pacific northwest.  The quieter view along the back of the ridge made allowed me to see alpine trails in the nearest 10sq kilometers. I had this incredible urge to float from peak to peak and still do in the quiet corners of my mind.

Paul wanted to enjoy as much remoteness as possible, and avoided a stay in Queenstown. Peter Jackson chose the north end of Wakatipu to film Isengard in the second LOTR trilogy, and it is clear to see why. Similar to Interlachen, it provides adventure thrills to the hearts content. After Paul's one-allotted pit stop at the golden arches, we made our way past the Remarkables to Te Anua.  We chose lodging 30km north in Fjordland National Park to avoid a longer drive the next day. The tiny studio didn't have a view of lake Te Anua, but was adjacent to a smaller mistletoe lake with a 6km loop. We made a quick evening hike of it and even let Ana control the camera.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mt. Cook National Park

It was still dark out when our taxi arrived christmas morning. I awoke a full hour before the alarm when off at 4:40 but we still managed to keep our cabi waiting. I've never seen Ana so full of anticipation. She dragged us through two airports as if our trip was to the promised land. very detail was in question, especially our timetable: How long until we get there? Where are we landing? Is New Zealand hot or cold?

We decided to spend our first night in Alexandra at an affordable hostile called Marj's. We were lucky enough to be invited to spend Christmas Dinner with Marj's family as everything in town was closed. Marj's youngest grandaughter, Jessica, was near Ana's age and she was delighted to have an immediate friend. Besides having a very friendly Kiwi family, Marj grows an incredible rose garden and plethora of greenhouse tomatoes. We will never forget their kindness and generosity.

After a quick grocery run, we departed Alexandra the next morning and headed straight for Mt. Cook National Park. By noon we had reached the cocktail-blue lake Pukaki at the foot of the Cook range. We counted our good weather blessings and after a series of 1-lane bridges made our way to Hooker Valley. Paul was anxious to climb to Muller Hut which is a 4hr round trip. We dropped him off at the trail head and made our way to the Sir Edmund Hillary memorial museum. A Kiwi native, Mt. Cook was said to be his favorite climb. At 3700 meters, Mt. Cook has 80 summit climbers a year. Muller hut is halfway to the top at 1500 meters.

By now the kids were exhausted and we did a quick checkin at the Hermitage. Our room had an incredible mountain view that Paul and I enjoyed late into the night over a glass of wine. If possible, he would have slept with his eyes open in adoration all through the night. We enjoyed a very nice meal in a dining room that looked straight out of a James Bond movie, 280 degree mountain views. Ana ordered a banana split for desert which was made with homemade icecream and warm dark chocolate. It was almost as splendid as the venue :-)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Palm Beach and Barrenjoey Lighthouse

Three weeks ago our neighbors moved to Manly, and left a fridge behind in our garage. It was nice of them to bequeath it, in spite of us not needing a fridge. A quick photo and underpriced post on Gumtree freed up our garage and gave me an extra $50 for Christmas. I had a notion to pay it back to them, but decided a payment forward was going to have to do for now. I knew right away that I wanted to get a used hiking pack for Nolan. How could we properly enjoy New Zealand without it? A lightweight, gently used pack is expensive, even on Gumtree. On Saturday morning I made a mad dash to pick one up and even talked the price down a bit. Now we needed a test run. Where better than to return to our favorite date hike, Barrenjoey Lighthouse.

The 1km climb to the top of the lighthouse is maybe a little shorter than Stone Mountain, but much steeper. There is sand on most of the steps, and several hikers were going barefoot. I was proud of Ana for making it to the top and watched several children hiking about that were equally as impressive. One daughter that looked to be 8 or 9 was training with her father in sleek running gear and was in better shape than either Paul or I. We took our time and Paul as always paid attention to detail, making sure everyone was hydrated and covered in sunscreen. 


Today's view was on the hazier side, and I admit I enjoyed the ride along the coast home more than the hike. I needed the exercise, but still prefer going new places.  I had been feeling down about missing out on so much of my families lives back home, and my husband knew just how to cheer me up. We drove down several private windy and steep roads near islolated homes with spectacular ocean views. All the while listening to Radio Paradise and dreaming about the future. I try to repress the loneliness I feel about living such an vegabond lifestyle - shouldn't I be used to it after 30 years? You never commit emotionally to a situation which eventually leads to consequences. The act of being disconnected feels more comfortable and awkwardness in social situations ensue. The more awkward you are around people, the more you want to isolate yourself and thus the downward spiral. It's not easy to escape this pattern in the digital age that provides you with every means of escape at your fingertips. I just take each day in stride, and realize you can always choose to have love in your heart.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Life Experiences

Why move halfway around the world? Why leave our community full of supportive loving friends and family to trample across an expensive country thousands of miles away with two small children? Then why, once you have returned home repeat the experience and do it again?  Why make a habit of leaving a comfortable life? Can the act of feeling "settled" actually be unsettling?

After five years of a roller-coaster ride marriage I can now simply answer that question: life experiences.  They are irreplaceable, non-returnable, and many cost nothing at all.  The first Christmas together as husband and wife, Paul bought me an amazing present that I will never forget.  We were about to move to Barcelona to finish his masters which meant I again had to quit my job, fit my life into one suitcase, and head to a town with no friends or family. Why? Life experiences. That Christmas, having known it would be my first trip to Europe, Paul bought me a eurorail pass. For only $400, less than the cost of a bed or new couch, I was able to spend a whole month enjoying the culture, scenery, food, and sights of more countries than I had been to in my first 25 years.

Some find it difficult to conceive a lifestyle that involves moving, traveling, and countless hours of self-entertaining. Giving up your favorite shows, furniture, proximity to family, even native language is just asking too much physically and financially. But really, is that what makes a person? What they have or do? Who they know, more than how they treat them? Would we ever really have enough to measure up?  After ten years of living life to both extremes, I can say resoundingly that life experiences and how we treat others are invaluable. I still have much to discover and ponder, but they are my why.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Clifton Gardens Concert

Happy six-months living down under! This weekend Ana's school had a Christmas picnic at Clifton Gardens. It is the ideal spot to take a family for an afternoon barbecue and splash about. There is a huge sand playground, several shaded pavilions, and even a Nicecream truck that is constantly swarmed with kids.  Ana wore her flower girl dress from a year earlier and sang songs in Spanish, the Waltzing Matilda, and was lead triangle for We Wish you A Merry Christmas.  Since many Australians are Atheist (including Prime Minister Julia Guillard), they respect a diverse array of holiday celebrations here. Christmas itself isn't as big as the US (I have yet to see a nativity scene), and many children were wearing silver New Years party dresses or no holiday outfit at all.

The other part of our weekend was spent entertaining Paul's work colleagues that flew in from the US. We also managed a quick trip to Manly for some icecream at the Movenpick. When you can't decide which flavor is best, it's best to try them all. Our friendly neighbors recently moved to Manly, leaving us surrounded by empty houses on 3 of 4 sides. Supposedly two will be under construction in 2012.  On the way home we paused for a gorgeous sunset over middle harbor then retired to enjoy the final Harry Potter movie. Too dark and wicked for Paul, he left before the end.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Card upcycling: It's the Message that Counts

Christmas cards are a great tradition and way to tell someone how much you care about them. The year I graduated from College and could afford to buy them, I began sending them to family. Maybe I'm sentimental and old fashion, but who doesn't like getting personal mail?  When I married Paul's family the number of cards to send out more than doubled. This was getting expensive and required a creative solution. That is when I reached the conclusion that a brand new card wasn't the point. It was the personal message to each person of how much you appreciate and depend on them.  For the last five years I've been sending out mostly recycled cards (two blank card tops taped together) in order to give me more writing space and save on growing costs. There is never enough room to say how much you care, but the extra space also allows for kids to write in a message. I don't stop at Christmas cards either. Most of my birthday, wedding, graduation, and shower cards are done in similar fashion.  If writing dozens of individual Christmas Cards seems like a daunting task, I have outline an example of one below to help motivate you:

Mom & Dad - A little over a year ago my friend Naomi and her mother were visiting us at Klinger Lake. One night over dinner we had a particularly heated discussion about America being the land of opportunity. I walked away from the conversation with a very different perspective, something I appreciate about good friends who challenge you to think.  I was always of the frame of mind that anyone can get ahead in America, it's citizens are given more opportunities to succeed than any other nation. I took pride in putting Paul's family on a pedestal as a prime example of this.   
What Naomi so gently pointed out to me was how invaluable a loving set of Christian parents were in determining that success.  Her mother painted a picture of children she met in her life's missions of abusive parents and broken families.  Every day I am realizing how having positive role models that set a resounding moral standard are such a critical part of character development and personal success   
Hardly a day goes by that I don't think about that conversation and how shallow my train of thought was. Growing up in your loving family wasn't the only advantage I had, it was THE advantage and I'm so grateful for that. This Christmas, as we are thousands of miles apart, I want you to both remember how fortunate I am to have you as parents and continued role models for my children. Here is to health, wealth, and new adventures in 2012! 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ku-Ring-Gai Wildflower Garden

Kangas, Goannas, Koalas, Oh my! We are so fortunate to have a picture perfect Saturday to hike as a family this morning. We headed to Ku-Ring-Gai's Wildflower Garden which has a well paved bicycle path for strollers. We were the only ones on the trail today and happened to run into some amazing creatures, including a huge 10lb Goanna lizard. These guys pack a nasty bite full of harmful bacteria that can make it's prey very sick. After nearly stepping on the first one we crossed, we were more cautious and managed to spot three more.  It's not hard to miss them on the trail, as their dark hides blend in perfectly with the pavement.

This part of Ku-Ring-Gai has been heavily damaged by bush fire and there were several trees that had been split clear in half. Everywhere you could see scribbly gum trees that had been chewed by a special larva specific to those trees.  We made our way to the Education Center where two or three birthday parties were going on at once. Ana really wanted to stay for the party, but it was time to use the potty and head home. Another great family outing!