Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lest you think all we do is travel...

...we are doing regular life stuff too, not just jetting off every weekend. It's part of the balance of things, not to mention the fact that credit cards have limits and we can't really afford a seven-month vacation. Plus, while we want to see the country, one of our goals of this whole thing was to experience the more regular day-to-day life of a different country. Can't quite believe we've been here two months today. Here's a quick catch-up with each family member on general impressions of daily routine as well as the ventures beyond.

Nikko (above on mosaic couch in Lake Taupo region)
Nikko’s been playing golf on a junior circuit the weekends we’ve been in town. He also tried out for basketball and made the A team but then, unfortunately, was moved to another team because we leave before their big tournament in August. He has started playing tennis with the school program too. (And although he doesn’t want me to say this, his clarinet teacher signed him up for the orchestra and he’s giving that a go.)

What is the most fun thing you’ve done at school?
There’s very little homework, which works for me. An exciting thing was that a beaker blew up in my science class and all the girls screamed. We did cool tests with snails in science too; my teacher paid her son to collect them for us. My English teacher looks like Bill Murray. We had a day of athletic competition at Cooks Garden last week where the world's fastest mile run on grass was once achieved. I tried discus for the first time and didn’t do so well, but it was interesting. What’s not fun is walking outside between classrooms when it’s raining out. But school is pretty much school wherever you are.

Give me a highlight of what you’ve done since we’ve been here?
Playing on a really nice golf course at Lake Taupo (photo above) and going to Sydney and seeing kangaroos and koalas. Also watching the hydroplanes on the river here a couple weeks ago and the bike races in the velodrome at Cooks Gardens (photos below) that same weekend.

What do you miss most from back home?
Our television and weather that’s semi-predictable. The weather here changes by the minute; one second it’s pouring and the next it’s the nicest day of the year.

What are you looking forward to?
Next weekend when we do the Tongariro Crossing, one of the best tramps (hikes) in New Zealand. And when grandma comes to visit and when grandpa and Susan come and I get to play really nice golf courses like Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve done or seen at work?
On the hospital side, I’m getting used to using less testing, less technology, and using more clinical judgement and more clinical skills to drive decisions. People are generally quite patient about waiting for tests and getting answers and it’s interesting to think about that in relation to the US because, at some point, the US healthcare system is going to have to spend less money, which will likely entail somewhat slower responses and some limits on services. It’s interesting for me to think about whether people in the States will be able
to deal with that.

A highlight of what you’ve done since we’ve been here?
Hiking between the volcanoes up near Ruapehu (big, flat-topped mountain below) and just seeing all the different geographic areas of New Zealand from the beautiful beaches of the South Island (with Nikko on Abel Tasman beach above), to the striking but somewhat barren volcanic areas (geothermal bubbling mud and steam in Lake Taupo region below), to the lush rainforests (moss in Nelson Lakes tree below) and the mountains (Taranaki with cow above) and riverbed farming regions (Whanganui River view below).

What do you miss from back home?
I miss the snow and skiing.

What are you looking forward to?
Exploring the South Island, seeing glaciers and Mount Cook.


In addition to all the stuff Alex mentions below, he is, of course, playing soccer all the time he's not doing everything else.

What is the most fun thing at school?
School is awesome. I really like robotics and my teacher, Mrs. Zander, is awesome. We did a day at Lake Wiritoa, which was like an all-day field trip when we did kayaking, orienteering (where my mom helped and finally learned to use a compass), making a raft (see below - Alex in baseball cap), and four-way tug-of-war (Alex is #23). There are lots of nice kids but I’ve become good friends with a kid named Nico who is in my class and we’re doing a rock band together and he slept over Friday night and we played lots of games. The fact that he’s called Nico is extremely annoying to my brother. Hee, hee.

Give me a highlight of what you’ve done since we’ve been here?
Jetboating at Lake Taupo (left) was great and Lake Wiritoa with my class and the zoo in Sydney.
What do you miss most from back home?
My friends and our house.

What are you looking forward to?
The science road show that is coming to school. Nico told me that last year it was awesome and they made a cucumber turn red. And I can’t wait until Grandma and Grandpa come to visit. I can’t wait to show Grandma the market (honey lady at the market below) and the view from our house.


Tomorrow I start volunteering in the kitchen at the local hospice and this week I also start my Te Reo Maori language course. Those are weekly commitments, in addition to jazz dance Tuesday nights, glass bead workshop Wednesday nights, and helping out in the reading room at Alex's school Wednesday mornings. Then of course there's my all-important job as family chauffeur. (I drive on the left like I was born to it -- and only occasionally hit the windshield wipers on instead of the signal.) No one worried I would be twiddling my thumbs, but even I'm surprised at how quickly the time gets gobbled up. I hope I haven't overscheduled myself...that would be a shock, wouldn't it?

The most fun thing has been trying new things like knitting (again) with a group of women who gather weekly to knit and spin (I hope to try that too) and the glass beads (which, despite my teacher's assurances, don't seem to want to get round even with the coaxing of a very hot flame -- ones pictured are my first tries...roundish on left, not so round on right, including a fragment of one that literally burst on me) and I look forward to forcing my middle-aged brain to wrap itself around a new language. I love meeting so many new and different people and hearing their stories - whether it be the 70+ Dutch woman who was reminding me how to knit; the dynamic Valda who runs the kitchen at hospice; or Ngapari, a local Maori leader who invited me back to see a real hangi (traditional feast of meat and vegetables steamed in a hot rock pit, behind us in picture above - wire basket being prepared for meat with puka leaves below) at his iwi (tribe's) marae (meeting house).

Highlights include seeing the boys settle into school happily; hearing Hawaiian visitors speak Hawaiian to the Maori during the day of the hangi (it was in their honor) and being amazed that even after hundreds of years, the shared Pacific Island roots of the two groups mean that they can understand each other (and also share similar traditional pit-cooking techniques); making new friends (with our three closest neighbors, we had a progressive dinner this Saturday and below is Lesley serving the classic New Zealand dessert, pavlova - meringue with whipped cream and fresh fruit); and seeing things I never thought I'd the Sydney opera house and even motorcross racing!

What I miss - crusty baguettes and distinctive cheeses (I know, I'm a broken record but they are my most favorite edibles), maple-cured bacon, a clothes dryer when the weather's damp, my food processor, and my cookbooks. (Friends and family too of course, but it is suprising how in touch one can feel with all the technology available.)

What I look forward to: Everything to come.


Beth said...

Once again I am hungry at the end of reading your blog! The fruit in particular looks so good, and your food descriptions make my mouth water.

Melissa said...

thanks Beth for reading...and salivating :) !

Becky said...

This is incredible! What a great documenting of your amazing adventure.