30 December 2006
Saturday 30 December 2006
I’m sitting on the sofa now, which faces a totally different direction after we moved all the furniture around, and I think I would like the view better if it weren’t so amazingly blowy outside. Another southerly has come in (remember, here the southerlies come from
It has been, perhaps, the most mixed day I’ve had here, the day with more ups and downs than usual. This is probably good, because I’ve been a little worried about my equanimity of late. I’ve noticed that I have been sailing on a totally even keel, not feeling particularly happy nor particularly sad which wouldn’t be particularly noticeable except for the fact that we are in the biggest transition in our lives (in some ways) and have moved thousands of miles from home to a place where we know almost no one. This seems like a recipe for big emotions, but so far, I haven’t much had them. I was waiting.
Today I have bigger emotions than other days. We went into
Both kids have been begging for this experience, and both kids really liked it. But Aidan was astonishing. On his first jump, he began trying to do back flips, and on his second jump (with one sentence of coaching from the bungee guy), he was doing them. On nearly every jump, he hurled his legs up over his head—sometimes flipping twice—and came back again to push himself back up in the air. He looked for all the world like one of those wooden toy clowns I used to play with as a kid, the kind that flips when you squeeze it. Over and over and over he went, and each time he went over it made me laugh. And all the people sitting in line were laughing and pointing, and Naomi spent a whole lot of her time in the air watching him as he was in the air. I laughed hard and long and wasn’t even sure why I was laughing. There was something incredibly joyful about the way he moved his body—Michael says it’s as if Aidan knew he was totally safe and he could do anything he wanted with his body and so he tried it all. There was also something about seeing another side of someone I know so well. I know that Aidan can do all kinds of things well, but this side, this amazingly physical and graceful side, I haven’t seen from him before. I saw a new gift in him somehow, and it was such a joy.
That was the happy part.
Then, on the lovely drive home, I was spooked again by being on the wrong side of the road (just as a passenger, mind you), and Michael and I decided that I needed to get used to being on the wrong side as a passenger before I attempted actually driving on the wrong side of the road. That seems some weeks--even months—away (although I more often feel confident about my street crossing skills). And then I realized that I live in a tiny village, where I know about eight people (three of those are under 14) and I don’t know how to meet more people until organized activities start up again. In six weeks. And I can’t drive anywhere. And everything I own is on a ship and almost everyone I knew was asleep. And then the long-awaited loneliness rushed in.
I went to sit in the hammock chair on the front porch and write about my angst while attempting to enjoy this lovely sunny day. Two paragraphs into my journal entry, the winds began to push the chair around and then sky opened up and the rain poured down, matching my mood exactly. And so there it is. It’s fantastic to be here with my family and to enjoy the things we couldn’t enjoy anywhere else. And, as all of you know, we’re very nearly alone here. Trish and Keith and Marianne have been amazing—and it has been the saving grace to have them here—we couldn’t do this without them. But no matter how welcoming they are, we are not beloved old friends or family with them, and their graciousness and eagerness to help doesn’t change that. We’re newbees.
This somehow became more clear last night, at Marianne and Keith and Rhonda’s joint birthday party, we watched old friends meet one another and catch up, and we watched it as from a great distance. As I sat (eating the best guacamole I’ve ever had), I looked around at the faces of mostly strangers—kind and smart and interesting strangers, but strangers none the less. And we know that even those people who are our friends are our very new friends, but they are steeped in a group of friendships that are long and deep. With every story of a friendships 20 years old, every cultural joke which people kindly and patiently explain, we feel again the newness of all of these connections, and know that there aren’t any folks here who have been in our lives long enough to have these kinds of connections to us. No one here watched me agonize about my dissertation topic, saw us cradle our newborns in our arms, or secretly thought we were too young to get married. None of our life transitions, each of which has changed us, has been experienced by anyone for thousands of miles.
We live in a strange house, watching strange birds land on strange trees, and we sit on, sleep in and eat off of other people’s furniture. We don’t have any of our stuff, our dog is in quarantine, and I don’t know what I’m going to do in a country without summer camp for the next six weeks. We are far away from home.
And we are also trying to make a home here. There are kind friends and strangers who have lent us their things, who have taught us about fighting lice, who have given us tea towels and lemon cordial. On some days everything feels easy and joyful. On some days it feels hard and frightening. And some days it is both.
I hope wherever you are reading this, you can find a family member or old friend and appreciate the connection that lasts through the ages. And I know that most of you reading this are family members and old friends of ours, and that you know that our love and connection travels through these strange computer codes. While we won’t be celebrating the new year on the same day as most of you (New Zealand is the first country in the world to see the new year), we will lift a glass to you and hope that this new year brings us all old friends and new, and deepening connections in whatever place we call home right now.
And as I am going to be spinning quite a lot in these next months, I’ll hope to have Aidan show me how to do it with grace and laughter. He reminds me that being upside-down isn’t the worst thing in the world, which is a great thing to remember if you've just moved to New Zealand.
28 December 2006
Thursday 28 December 2006
Today was Keith’s birthday (and yesterday was Marianne’s), so we had a birthday picnic—Keith and Marianne and Trish and our family. We went first up north a little and then on a dodgy road along a steep fall-off into a rushing river below (all on the wrong side of the road) but several minutes from the picnic spot, the road was washed out. That apparently happens in
I’m attaching pictures from the beach, from the bush. You’ll see the koru (tightly curled fern frond) and the silver fern, both symbols of NZ (one on the Air New Zealand planes and the other on the rugby and cricket uniforms).
Perhaps the most exciting thing was that at several times today I was actually WARM and had to take off both fleece and sweatshirt and wore just a t-shirt (the pictures prove it). Positively balmy. Could summer be here at last?
27 December 2006
The weather forecast today read: Drizzle turning to rain during the morning then easing to showers in the afternoon. Strong northwesterlies (high 18, low 15).
Notice the three different kinds of rain I experienced, today? Kiwis have as many words for rain as Eskimos have for snow. And there’s a reason for that.
Today there were letters to the editor in the daily paper that complained about the weather. The day we arrived, the front page story was about the weather. When people find out that we’ve just moved here, that this is our first December, they uniformly apologize and talk about lovely Decembers past when summer really began. Everyone is talking about the weather here. It stinks.
That isn’t to say there haven’t been sparkling and beautiful days, but it is to say that we haven’t had so many of those in the nearly three weeks we’ve been here. It’s been more cold and windy and grey than anything else, which is something of a bummer. Today, for example, we woke up to grey skies, which rather rapidly turned to light rain which turned heavier. All the laundry out on the line (here they hang laundry out on the line, and so we do too) got wet and then wetter (which is the wrong direction really). And we stayed inside and baked a cake (in preparation for the one I’ll make for Keith and Marianne’s birthdays on Friday). One tricky thing about living in a new land is the new ingredients. My baked goods taste utterly different, and I needed to make sure that the NZ cake would be edible before actually sending it out into the world for actual people to actually eat (it was, but it isn’t as good—that’ll take some fiddling). During brief breaks in the weather, the three kids (Naomi had a sleepover) raced outside to play for a little while, and then headed back in when the rain would come down again. And then, somehow, tonight, the clouds all cleared away, the sky turned blue, and the winds howled over rough waves in the sea. The children grabbed their Christmas boogie boards and we all headed down the street to enjoy the first sun we’d seen in days. They frolicked in their new wetsuits and boogie boards, in the stiff surf (but in the very shallow water) while Michael and I huddled in fleeces and long pants, me wrapped in the beach towels. Finally, when we could stand it no more, the sun also decided to take a break from looking at the sea. The clouds closed back in, and we all bundled home, the kids to take hot showers and get cuddles before bed.
We’re hoping that eventually we’ll actually someday swim in the waves with the children (hell, I’d be excited if I could wear my shorts—and you can’t imagine how tired I am of the three sweatshirts we brought with us—oh for the boatload of warm clothes chugging slowly towards us on the Pacific…).
The forecast for tomorrow? “Mostly cloudy with showers. Fresh west to northwest winds. High 20, low 15.” Oh well. Summer is nearly here…
26 December 2006
26 December 2006
Merry Christmas to all of you in the northern hemisphere who are waking up on Christmas morning. I’d like to be the first person in the world to say Happy Birthday to my dad, whose birthday is 26 December.
We’ve had a full and lovely Christmas, without the anguish and heartache I had feared. As I’ve written about it, I’ve realized that nearly all of the joys of the past several days have been in conversations. Here are some of delights:
Long conversations with our parents and siblings, either already had or scheduled for today. It is amazing to get caught up with them, to hear how things are going, to bemoan the weather that makes it warmer in your winter than it is here in our summer. The phone connections are high-quality and relatively inexpensive, so we can talk as long as we want and not be watching the clock. It was glorious for me to check in with my mother and brother at length yesterday, to hear the children chatter to them about Christmas presents and life in their new home. It was wonderful for me to see Michael’s face as he talked to his parents and his sister (and for me to get to talk a wee bit, too), and to have him come in when he was off the phone and tell me, “I really love my family.” We really love you, family.
The most silly/unusual conversation we had was with my father, whom I called after my Christmas dinner last night. As I left the room to call him, Keith said, “You know it’s almost 3am there?” Yup, I knew. He’d be awake. And so I dialed the number and reached my father just as his Christmas Eve party (which starts after the midnight service at
Our first kiwi Christmas was filled with the things we hoped we’d find here. After a quick breakfast and a single present opening each, we went for a long walk on the beach through a grey but warming morning. We watched the gulls drop mussels on the sand to break them open, and we looked for seashells on a beach which had somehow been swept clear of such things (the beach varies wildly—the day before we found three paua shells, the most beautiful of all seashells –you can see some at http://www.reijewellery.co.nz/what_is_paua.htm). Sometimes Michael and I held hands and the children raced ahead. For a chunk of the walk, Aidan held my shoes so that I could hold his hand (I had my coffee cup in my other hand), and Naomi held his hand. It was our first ever Christmas morning walk on the beach. Fantastic.
Then we came home and put the big breakfast (what we used to call “extra special Thanksgiving French toast—but Thanksgiving has no meaning here) in the oven, and Trish and Keith came over to open more presents. The kids played with their new toys, we hung the lovely new touches that would make our house feel more like home (from the new dishtowels to the spectacular mobile to the new paintings we bought), and we ate praline French toast, made with NZ butter (which changes everything somehow). And then, after a day at home of baking and playing (and Aidan with his new stomp rockets in the yard and Naomi wearing her new wetsuit and new riding helmet around the house with great hopes that we might actually give in to one of those wishes), it was off to Trish and Keith’s for dinner. There we had delicious food and fantastic conversation with a big group of people, some of whom were old friends to one another, and others of whom were just meeting on that night. We laughed a lot as people told stories of Christmases past—in Mexico, South America, Maori New Zealand, Paekakariki, other parts of rural NZ, California and the US southwest, and Augusta GA. It was warm and welcoming (and delicious) and we didn’t feel totally out of place or foreign at all—just among many people enjoying one another and celebrating together. Lovely.
The most poignant set of conversations I had was with Naomi (and sometimes with Aidan) on Christmas eve. She and Aidan called me into the bathroom, where they were taking an almost-unheard of bath together in the big clawfoot tub. She wanted to know whether there was a Santa Claus, because her some of her friends believed in it and some of them didn’t, and the ones who didn’t seemed to have much more logic and proof on their sides than the ones who did. She laid out the proof from the different sides and asked me to tell the truth. Aidan nodded earnestly. I sat down, and we had a long conversation about things it was lovely to believe in, things we believed in even though we could never really be sure they were there. We talked about how some beliefs made you feel better about the world, brought more delight or more comfort or more peace. We had an engaged and beautiful conversation, and I left the bathroom feeling pleased with the resolution. Silly me. She called me right back in, having saw the flaw in my earlier semi-philosophical argument—there’s no way to ever know for sure about God, but there’s a way to know about Santa: someone puts presents under the tree—is it my mother? She was going to feel silly if she was believing in something that others thought was false—if she was wrong. Was she wrong? She just wanted me to tell her the truth. I panicked, got flustered, and feigned irritation about the water on the floor and left the room in a huff to consult with Michael. Several minutes later, she emerged from the tub, and, cozy in purple fleece PJs, came by herself into the kitchen where I was making things for Christmas dinner.
“Mom, you know how we put out cookies and carrots for Santa and the reindeer every year?” I nodded. “What I really want to know--and I want to know the truth—is: who eats the cookies?” I looked at her in her earnest and beautiful face, and I felt the weight of all the future decisions I would have to make as a parent as she emerges from the bubble of little-girlness.
“Naomi, mostly I eat the cookies,” I told her.
“And do you put the presents under the tree and say they’re from Santa?” she asked.
“I like to think of myself as Santa’s helper,” I explained. “I like to believe that there are lots of Santa’s helpers all over the world who bring joy to children on Christmas by giving them presents they love, and we all do it in the spirit of the real Santa, who brought joy to little children long ago.”
She nodded solemnly. “Thanks for telling me the truth, Mom,” she said, and walked out the front door and into the yard, where she walked around, looking at nothing. When she came in, I hugged her and told her I would understand if she was sad, and that I’d like to talk about it more if she would. No, she wasn’t sad, she told me. “That whole flying reindeer thing was so unrealistic anyway,” and she began to joke about hot air balloons and flying kiwi’s and other impossible solutions to the get-around-the-world-to-each-house-in-a-day problem. And then we sat down and talked about how she’d like to handle it from here. Her presents were to say “from Santa’s helper” but Aidan’s should still say “from Santa” because Aidan would be so sad to discover the truth. And she’d be cool about the whole thing, and she’d be in on the secret, another one of Santa’s helpers.
And so she was, on Christmas morning, talking about how Santa had come and what he had chosen for Aidan and what Santa’s helpers had chosen for her. And if there was just a little bit of a new, knowing edge to her voice, Aidan didn’t catch it (he too busy playing with his new cricket set from Santa). And if she was a sadder girl on Christmas morning because of her new knowledge, I didn’t catch it much, either—just a few exchanged glances between the two of us when a Santa question arose.
So, to all of you who have woken up on this morning and given Christmas presents, you can know that Christmas had its beginning here in New Zealand, and Santa and his helpers came and made the world a little brighter for children here, some of whom still believe, and some of whom are just slightly wiser now.
Happy birthday again, Dad.
Much love to all,
22 December 2006
Friday 22 December 2006
At the dinner table, Aidan slooooowly finishing his dinner while the dirty dishes sit, waiting for his excellent clearing skills. I can’t believe we have been in this house just one week. The menorah gleams in the window behind me, all 8 (9) candles alight, the wildflowers Marianne brought us for Hanukkah dinner sit next to me, and the Christmas tree stays its rambly self in the corner. We’ve got the art from the art tube up on the walls now (mostly posters from the Morris museum in Augusta and the National Gallery in DC), and it’s a cozy space that somehow feels like us, even though it isn’t a house we know well, and isn’t our furniture at all (although lots of it I love).
Yesterday had a ghastly beginning. At 8 am, on the first day of summer vacation, I discovered that Naomi, who had been complaining about an itchy scalp, had a wild case of lice. Really breathtaking. It took my breath away for several minutes, as I tried not to say words my children shouldn’t hear and simultaneously to remember everything my friend Jim had told me about dealing with lice. And then I started on her head, and you don’t need any details. At first I was beside myself with misery—there were nits on nearly every strand, and I knew this would be my entire day—and that I’d finish in a day only if I was lucky. So we moved next to the window where the heat and light were (it’s very cold here after two days of strong southerlies) and I worked and worked on her head. I also remembered that my friend Jim (whose parenting I’ve always deeply admired) talked about sometimes finding it a lovely bonding experience with his daughters. And so we sat in the sun and I held her head and it became a meditation about how much I loved this growing-up girl, about how this was a day devoted to the careful care of her. And I thought about parents who have to take careful care of very sick children, about parents around the world who are profoundly less fortunate than I am, who would trade their limbs for the chance to have a girl who went camping at school and got headlice. And so for about 10 hours, I did this careful parenting job, and we talked and listened to Harry Potter on the i-pod and watched a DVD from the Paekakariki school on my laptop. Michael came home from work early, and we washed her bedding and bagged up the stuffed animals and pillows, and set about creating a no-lice zone. And that was the day. Aidan listened to Harry Potter and played on the computer, I felt itchy all over (no one else in the house seems to have it) and the whole family was working together for the common good. Not the way I’d have chosen it, but not a ghastly day at all.
And today has been a delight. After an interview for Kenning this morning and a talk with Mark L (it’s good to be reconnected with folks there), the kids and I hung out in the chilly summer day until Naomi got a phone call to go over to a friend’s house. There I stayed and talked with the parents—really lovely, interesting people—and Naomi played with her friend and Aidan played with the little boy next door. The grown-up conversation ranged from world travel (which they’ve done a lot) to politics (he’s from the UK, so we talked about how long you feel ashamed of your home country’s policies and joked about whether NZ would likely bomb Figi). But mostly it centered on the central topic of many of those I’ve talked with here: why Paekakariki is the best place in the world to live and bring up children. The last person I talked with focused on the enormous opportunities for children to create their own path here—for bands to start and soccer teams to get organized, and other activities to form around the desires of the kids. This talk today was about how hard it would be to find the combination of elements that’s here: an extraordinarily international, diverse group of people, a liberal and active community, a high percentage of artists, Maori, professionals, tradespeople all in the same area—and all within three blocks of the sea (the village is only 3 blocks deep). Somehow we have stumbled onto a little jewel of a community in a jewel of a country. That’s not a bad way to feel.
Love to you all there, from our summer to your winter (which, depending on where you’re reading this, is probably just slightly colder),
After school, we went down to the beach and it was a cold southerly front coming in. Notice the front line in the pictures of the kids climbing on the rocks. The bench with the view of the sea is the same bench pictured another day when the
20 December 2006
Wednesday 20 December 2006
Today was the last day of school for the kids. It was a half day, and it ended in an assembly meant to say goodbye to the graduating year 8 students. I caught only the last 45 minutes of the assembly, but I was so impressed with the school. The tone was lovely—small performances of students (songs, instrumentals, etc., in English and in Maori), sweet short speeches from the faculty, quick tributes to music teachers and beloved classroom teachers. It ended with a short goodbye from Naomi’s teacher Mr. Te Maro (who seemed to be master of ceremonies) and a rousing rendition of “jingle bell rock” sung by children in shorts and tee shirts singing, “Dancing and prancing in Jingle Bell Square/In the frosty air,” and then saying goodbye for summer vacation. As people were filing out, a father from the back row got the children to say hip hip hooray for the teachers. It was like every parent’s dream of a small, tight knit school community, with each of the teachers (there might be 12 teachers in the school) smiling with pure pleasure, and each of the students clapping wildly for their classmates. I was moved by the spirit and the love in the room.
It’s evening now, and the kids are eating their hot bread at the table next to me, where I can see the rough sea through the side window and watch the pohutuka (po-hoot-a-cow-Ah) trees (www.opotiki.com/data/pohutuka.htm) blow in the stiff wind. It’s a snug and homey scene. It’s been a wild weather day. In the morning, I watched from my study as the rain moved in horizontal sheets through the trees up the hills behind the house. Then the rain blew away and we had bright blue skies and fierce winds and huge waves (for the last several days, the sea has seemed so quiet that it looked more like a lake than an ocean). Now there’s a front moving through that’s supposed to bring driving cold rain from the south. A vigorous weather system here in this little island in the middle of the pacific.
We had the last of the appliances finished off today, highlighting one of the central differences of life in
So, it’s been that kind of day, a stay-at-home-and-make-bread kind of day. A day when I met Raima, who came over to talk about helping with the house a little and stayed for 1.5 hours, telling me about the village and life in New Zealand and offering to give me phone numbers for the variety of folks it’d be good for us to know. A day when the kids and I took two outings to the beach (can you call it an outing when it’s just crossing the street?) and climbed on rocks and dug in the sand in the roaring waves. A day which will be followed by a seriously bad storm, we think, which will (according to reports) blow out to sea and then be fine again.
Christmas presents from my father and Jamie came yesterday, and they shine merrily under the tree reminding us of family and friends across the ocean who love us. (Dad and Jamie, I haven’t been so good as you, and your presents are not yet mailed. Think of how they’ll extend the Christmas celebration…). Love to all of you on the eve of winter, from us about to celebrate the summer solstice.
19 December 2006
The south island comes in and out of view, depending on the weather and the time of day. Tonight, walking over to Trish and Keith's along the beach, it seemed particularly close. Here's a picture of the South Island over the bench that's at the foot of our street.
The other picture is from last night, when we dragged the borrowed (lovely) dining room table out on the porch and ate our meal there. The weather these days has been magnificent, although tonight it began to rain again. Before the rain, the clouds rolled in and covered all but the horizon as the sun was setting. The sun slanted through the open sky, painting the tops of all the trees with luminous gold light, and creating a rainbow which shot straight up, vertically, from the sea into the clouds above. Who has ever even heard of that? This is a wild and beautiful land.
Tuesday 19 December 2006
For some reason, Aidan looks like a bug when he runs on the beach. This is one of my new discoveries in this new land. Naomi and her friend Jessica are playing outside, hair wet from the cold swim and then the hot shower; Aidan is running naked through the house. Just another summer December afternoon in Paekakariki.
Today I took the train in to town (
I saw Michael’s new office, and my new office, too. Michael’s is a full-time job at the Department of Conservation (http://www.doc.govt.nz/) in leadership development, and DoC just moved into new offices which are both spectacularly beautiful, fantastically laid out for work purposes, and also totally environmentally friendly. Not a bad combination, eh? He seems totally happy there.
My new office, for my very part time job at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (http://www.nzcer.org.nz/), is not so environmentally sound, but it has a window that opens and closes and it looks out over the sea. I took this job so that I could get a feel for the schools and teacher education here in NZ, and I could keep myself in the ed research game and keep learning and publishing (and also because I need colleagues to stay sane). And I think it looks like this job will do the trick, helping me learn about the NZ schools, which are so different from US schools (so so so many things are so different from things in the US). My new boss, whom I love, showed me around the place, introduced me to the chief researchers, and then took us out to lunch. I got to have conversations about ed leadership and motivation and assessment and professional development, the first real work talk I’ve had in the 10 or so days we’ve been here. It was lovely to feel that I could contribute—and also lovely to feel that there was so so so much to learn, and that this might be the context for me to do that.
Tomorrow is a half day for the kids, the last day of school. Aidan is having more trouble making friends than Naomi and seems to sometimes be in a pissy stage. I don’t know whether that’s because of the mood or because no stage lasts particularly long for a 5-year-old. I’ll keep you posted. Tonight Jessica will stay for dinner and then we’ll head over to Trish and Keith’s to decorate their Christmas tree. (Do you want to hear things at this level of detail??) I’m a little worried about the next 6 weeks—from here until 7 Feb when school begins again. I’ve never taken this much time to just hang out with the kids, and I don’t know quite what it’ll feel like. I also hope to figure out what I’m doing about book project #1 in this time, AND to finish the proposal for book project #2. So small bits of work (if I can get motivated—have NEVER been less motivated to work than I have been these last 10 days) and large bits of watching children splash in the beach. Typing that, it doesn’t look half bad…
I’ll download the pictures from the Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations as soon as M comes home and tells me where the cord is (it’s not like we have any drawers in the house or many places for things to get lost—where did he put it?). I hope you’re all well in your corner of the world—I love to hear from you.
PS today at work they told me I should be doing something of a study about the children’s accent development (or eradication, depending on which accent you’re talking about). They have switched from US expressions to NZ expressions for common words (like “rubbish bin” and “mobile phone”) but they still have clear and present US accents. Just for those of you following.
18 December 2006
MONDAY 18 December 2006
On the deck outside our new house, laptop on lap, feeling the warm sun and chilly air with fleece and lap rug. The sound of rolling waves competes with the buzz of a tablesaw from the renovation project across the street. I am alone in the house for the first time, wandering around the rooms, straightening up from breakfast, getting ready for the delivery of the new washer, drier, dishwasher, and cooktop (“hob” here). There’s a pungent, green smell in the air that feels distinctively
This was, not surprisingly, a weekend of errands. We had billions of things to buy and arrange and unpack. We spent more time than I’d like in the mall in Paraparaumu, and did lots of reflecting about mall culture, and the differences between the
It wasn’t all errands, though. On Saturday night we had Trish and Keith over to decorate our Christmas tree with the ornaments we shipped over before we left the states. It’s a funny tree, rambly and bendy, with a relatively small number of long furry branches instead of the many shorter, rigid branches we’d have on a tree at home. Then, continuing the interfaith tradition, last night (Sunday) we had a Hanukkah party here, with Trish and Keith, and Trish’s sister Marianne and her son Gabriel and Naomi’s friend Finlay. I made latkes in the new kitchen, Marianne brought a broccoli salad, and Trish made brownies for dessert. It was lovely with candles and prayers and then children roaring around the house and yard and finally settling in with the bubbles and sidewalk chalk Marianne had brought. When Finlay’s father came to pick her up, he sat down at the table and chatted for a while—about emigration (he’s from England) and living at the beach and about the local school. The house was filled with good smells and laughter and easy conversation in multiple accents, and it nearly felt like home.
It is home, I suppose, this little cottage by the sea. These tropical flowers are mine--geranium bushes and ginger flowers and cala lilies, and a lemon tree with a ripening lemon off the back deck. And this broad deck is mine and this house with a foreign hardwood floor—this is my home right now. I wander between the joy of being finally alone and unscheduled (for this one day—tomorrow I go into NZCER and the next day the kids have only a half-day for the day before summer vacation) and the worry that blissful alone can turn to lonely when you’re by yourself 8500 miles from friends and family. So I’ll watch that and see. Mostly, I think the news is that this is a lovely house, and a friendly little village, and that we’ve got the convenience of being a spectacularly beautiful 40 minute train ride from the capital city.
I’m hoping forwarded mail will soon get here, and that there will be holiday cards with messages and pictures of people who are around the world from me. And that we’ll be able to stay in touch with each other—you from your computer wherever you are, and me from my laptop by the sea. It’s not a bad life at home in
16 December 2006
Saturday 16 December 2006
I have been so full of the changes in our lives that I haven’t written about the changes in the weather. As I write this on Saturday morning, in a sleeping house, the sky is grey and the winds are whistling through the windows. I’m in sweatshirt and long pants and wishing I had a blanket. This is a change in the weather. Last week when we arrived, it was an early-springish kind of weather pattern—chilly and sometimes fine, sometimes wet. This week, summer arrived. It turns out that there are many changes in the weather on an island.
Although I’ve just had about three days of it, I’m beginning to imagine what summer is like when you live at the beach. Each of the children has had at least one school field trip to the beach—Naomi will go again on Tuesday, and I think Aidan goes again on Monday. They tramp up the hills, learn about the history and the flora, and they build creatures or castles out of the black sand and copious shells. I took them down to the beach after school the other day, where they saw children they knew from school, splashed in the chilly water with Keith, and then settled down to make sand castles while I lazed on a beach towel, warm out of the wind with jeans and a sweatshirt. I lay on the beach, contemplating the beautiful way the children were building and working together, and watched for Michael’s train from
And the New Zealanders, who are having less culture shock about the coming of beach weather here just before Hanukkah and Christmas, are delighted. By yesterday they were arriving at school in sun dresses and shorts (me still in jeans and a fleece), their skin pink from too much of this un-ozone-protected sun. They surf and boogie board in the waves just outside our new house, and they walk their dogs and their friends and their children up the nearly-endless expanse of beach and over brilliantly green hills.
And now it’s cold and blustery again today, and we’ll find out whether our new house really is much more sheltered from the winds (as Trish and Keith have predicted it is). And we’ll go into Paraparaumu and buy groceries and a new dishwasher and washer/dryer, outdoor tables and chairs, and perhaps even presents to send overseas.
Love to all,
ps Here is a link about Paekakriki, and has a link for a map so you can see the village. Our house is right where Ocean Rd meets The Parade; Keith and Trish live at the very last house on Aperahama St where it hits Queen Elizabeth Park. The school is the big brown square on Wellington St
Friday, 15 December 2006
Hello friends and family,
Today has been a spectacularly terrible day. Of course, as I type this, I’m at the park watching Naomi and her new friend playing with Aidan, the hot sun on my feet, the cool breeze at my back, and the sound of the sea roaring over the dunes behind me. Maybe now the knots will begin to untie in my belly. But it has been one of the most horrible days within memory. Ick.
We’ve had two real estate closings today—one in DC at 8am (NZ time—2 pm yesterday DC time) and one just now. And it has been a lesson in perspective taking, high emotions, and international finance. Everybody hates everybody else right now, and I’ve just been yelled for a long time at by the old owners of my new house (including the phrase “get off your American high horse”) for holding up a process I didn’t understand. It’s too many closings and openings for one day. The new owners of my old house were hard to deal with and extraordinarily frustrating, and the old owners of my new house were hard to deal with and extraordinarily frustrating, and I’m guessing they all think quite the same thing about me (although we keep losing money each time the new owners of our old house are frustrating, and we don’t actually ask for any money when we’re frustrating the old owners of my new house).
And there have been lovely moments today, when I didn’t feel angry myself or have others direct it towards me (angry is not an emotion I’m used to either having or receiving—it’s exhausting). We went to a friend of Trish and Keith’s and picked up some furniture they’re lending us to fill our empty new house until the container arrives. And soon we’ll head off to a different house, a different friend, and pick up more furniture. Our house will be filled with offerings of people we’ve just met. And other than the people who used to own our new house and who hate us, we’ve had a universally wonderful experience with people here. I haven’t felt the hated American until today.
Now it’s 10:45 Friday night here, and I’m buggered, as they say here (tired). After writing the depressing bit above, I went with Keith to move furniture while Michael and Trish stayed with the kids. The moving was good for me; I got tired and sweaty and dirty and felt like I was actually doing something rather than sitting around and fretting. Packing things from other people’s houses also reminded me of the overwhelming amount of welcoming we’ve had here, as strangers offer us their spare couches and pots and pans to make our lives comfortable until the container arrives. Except for today, we have had not one bad experience with anyone here.
While Keith and I were loading the truck with borrowed goods, Michael and Trish walked the kids over to the new house and we ate fish and chips and eggrolls (what a great country!) on the front deck, and that made a big change in our emotional weather. We sat in the sunshine, and Trish taught the kids to play bocce with the balls we found in the yard while I unpacked the 400 pounds of luggage we had brought on the airplane. And then our new next door neighbors came over with a basket of brownies and strawberries and told us about raising their children in the lovely house next door. And finally, the third load from the little truck unpacked at the new house, we walked down to the beach (you can’t imagine how close it is) and watched the sun set over the
After the truck was unpacked (again) we came back to Trish and Keith’s for Hanukkah candles and unwrapping the Hanukkah presents Michael’s sister Laurie had sent. (An aside here—Laurie Berger Carson is the most blessed of all aunts in the entire world. She sent presents to our new house (and the previous owners didn’t throw them in the rubbish bin as they had threatened, for which we are grateful) and they arrived in time to be the ONLY presents our children had any hope of receiving on this day. AND the books she sent are, as our kids have decided, “the best books in the entire world.” Thank you thank you thank you, Laurie!) And now we’re tucked into beds here at Trish and Keith’s, with most of our stuff over at the new house (but no fridge until tomorrow), and we’re beginning a new life.
On balance, it was just too emotionally difficult a day—too many things happened to fit into one 18 hour stretch. AND many of the things went rather badly—not in big horrible ways, but in angry, irritating ways where no harm was actually done but people were really unpleasant with one another. AND many of the things went quite well, where people went out of their way to help others, where people showed the best parts of what it means to live in this place. And I did dishes in my new kitchen and looked out on the yard where my children were playing with my dear friend and then looked out at the sea. I’ve never done that before. I’m guessing that I’ll never forget this day, and I’m hoping it’s the kids playing bocce with Trish, Naomi dancing in the new lounge, Trish and Keith and their friends going out of their way to help us, and the neighbors with their brownies that I’ll remember most.
I won’t post this tonight because the internet is down here. But when I do send this out, I’ll be in a different place still. Knowing that is one of the most glorious things about getting older. I’ll let you know how it goes for us next.
13 December 2006
Today was a great day--Michael started his new job, both kids had a good day at school, and I walked on the beach THREE times. I'll write about this tomorrow, but today just pictures. First of the kids' new school, then of a rainbow over the sea just by our new house, and a couple from a pick up rugby game in the park.
12 December 2006
Tuesday 12 December 2006
8:07 pm NZ/ 2:07am DC
Hello Friends and family,
I’m sitting in Trish and Keith’s quiet kitchen, Michael reading Aidan a bedtime story and everyone else out. The wind is whipping fiercely through the trees, moaning and howling, and the clouds are racing across the sky, seeing who can get to the hills first. The weather in NZ is always interesting. When we were here in April, we discovered that when you ask people what the weather will be like today, they answer in long paragraphs about fronts and southerlies and when the wind turns to the north. We thought this was a quirk, a meteorological love that came from being so far away from any other place. We were wanting a simple answer (“colder than yesterday” or “the rain will stop in the afternoon”). It turns out, though, that there is no simple answer. People answer in these complex ways because the weather here is so complex. The direction of the wind really matters, and the odds are excellent that the direction will turn—and change the whole game—over the course of the day.
This has been the wettest winter on record, followed by the coldest spring. We’re still walking on the beach in two or three layers, although Naomi and Keith went swimming yesterday after a fierce game of soccer, and then large sandcastles were built by all. I have a feeling there are serious numbers of sandcastles in my future. One good weather story: Today, on a field trip (explained below), I was talking to a lovely woman about how cold the weather is (the people here, upon finding that we have just arrived, are universally apologetic about the weather). This woman explained the severity of the cold by recounting that when she went to buy her Christmas tree over the weekend, she actually wore her DOWN jacket to buy the tree—astonishing, isn’t that? I, who have always worn my down jacket to buy a Christmas tree, didn’t quite know how to muster up the proper shock and awe about the chilly December weather.
It has been a busy couple of days since I last wrote, so this may be scattered and confused. Today the children started school. It’s the last full week of school here, so there are lots of extra activities. Aidan had a field trip to the Queen Elizabeth park (http://www.gw.govt.nz/section404.cfm) which I’m looking at right now from the dining table at Trish and Keith’s. I went with them as a chaperone on the field trip, and found myself pretty useless as I don’t have any idea what the norms are (were the children allowed to chase each other with sticks? Were they allowed to climb the trees? I didn’t know). But Aidan seemed utterly normal, as though he had been going to school in NZ for some time. When we arrived at school this morning, a bouncy blonde boy (who claimed to come from Holland “5 or 600 ago”) asked the teacher “Shall I look after him?” and thus Aidan was befriended in seconds. Naomi had a similar experience, deciding that she would, after all, stay for the overnight class campout in the school yard (she’s in a luxurious tent as I write, but boy is it chilly outside). Her only problem was in trying to figure out whose tent to sleep in so as not to offend the others who wanted her. The children, it would seem, are adjusting beautifully.
Michael and I have been mostly doing errands—small things like figuring out about peanut butter (which they have lots of) and unsweetened chocolate (can it be that there is NONE in the whole country?) and big things like test driving cars and signing the papers on the new house. These errands, like errands in the
We saw our house for the first time today. Having never bought a house on the internet (I won’t even buy something so personal—and expensive—as shoes on the internet), we were most concerned. And while the house is in total disarray (after all, the current owners are moving out on Friday), and looks quite smaller than I had thought, there were lovely surprises, too—the deep dark color of the hardwood floors, the soaring high ceilings, the fantastic plantings in the garden (including the lemon tree with a single green lemon off of the back deck). The house is about a 5 minute walk to the school and a 90 second walk to the beach. We’re now arranging to fill it with borrowed furniture for the 2 months before the container arrives with our things. I’m looking forward to painting and renovating and planting.
Michael and I range wildly in our moods. Sometimes, this feels like an amazingly stupid move, and other times it feels like we have just moved to paradise. And often we are in between, awed by the beauty which is everywhere, and overwhelmed by the differences between the life we used to have and the life it looks like we’re having now. We will finish this week of new beginnings—finding a new car on Monday, kids starting school on Tuesday, Michael starting work on Wednesday, closing on the house on Friday—and then we’ll move into a different phase, where we try to celebrate Hanukah and Christmas and have summer vacation (simultaneously) as we begin our new life in our new house.
We are grateful to you all for your company on this journey.
11 December 2006
Monday morning here. I've gotten settled enough (at Trish and Keith's) to add pictures from the trip, although haven't figured out the caption thing (look for the Golden Gate Bridge to figure out the city). Today we'll figure out the lay of the land here in Paekakariki, the little village where we'll live. Tomorrow, with luck, we'll see our new house for the first time. There'll be more posts to come, but I thought you'd like some pictures of the walk from Trish and Keith's to our new place. These were last night, a chilly late spring day here, the sun high in the sky after 7pm.
love to all,
09 December 2006
Saturday, 9 December 2006
Hello again friends,
I’m sitting in our plush hotel room in
Yesterday after we landed was a delight. Aidan, who had fallen asleep on the flight from Auckland and was so so sick, became chirpy and delightful after seeing our friends Trish and Keith waiting for us at the end of the gate (lovely flowers in hand). It was pouring and windy and cold when we landed, but the hotel (City Life—fantastic) found us a suite that was ready many hours before they had promised it. And we brushed our gritty teeth and changed into suitable clothes and went out to explore the city. After breakfast (our second, the first being hours before when we had eaten on the flight from San Francisco) at the lovely public library, Trish and Keith took the children away so that Michael and I could begin to find our way around this new city and do errands. Only three things are interesting about this part:
- the children actually WENT with Trish and Keith without complaint. Who’d ever heard of that??
- Michael and I were so jetlagged and overwhelmed that walking into any store was an experience in total overload
- the bank story (next)
The bank story. We walked into our new bank—the bank through which we are getting a mortgage and in which we already have a bank account—to pick up our ATM cards. We waited in silence at the information desk for a minute while the Maori (NZ native people—pronounced “mauw-rEE”) fellow helped the guy in front of us. When he was finished, he turned to us and politely asked, “Foreign currency exchange?” We explained to him what we wanted and he went off to make things happen for us and asked us to sit down. I whispered to Michael that it seemed to me we weren’t blending in so much if the first fellow we talk to, before we even open our MOUTHS, knows we might be needing to change our money. Curious, Michael went up and asked him about it. “Well, you’re clearly not from around here, I mean, you’re clearly foreign,” the fellow explained, flustered. “I mean you ARE, aren’t you?” Yes, we are, and the day was an experience in feeling our foreignness—not knowing the streets or the stores, having to sometimes speak slowly when we talked with people, feeling disoriented and confused about everything.
Of course, sometimes feeling foreign is a gift, too, and we had many such gifts. When the weather cleared, Trish and Keith took us up in the cable car to the Botanic Gardens, where we walked among strange and lovely trees and plants (Aidan loves ferns so much!). They led us down steep hills, past ponds of ducklings, to a lovely playground with equipment far too fun (and slightly dangerous) to ever find a home in the
We all stayed awake until almost our bedtimes (the kids until 7, the adults until 9) and then slept blissful sleep for the next 11 or 12 hours.
Then there was today (Saturday here), where we had a less wide-eyed and more practical, grounded experience. We got our cell phones (what a total ordeal!) and Michael and Keith went out looking for a car while Trish and I took the kids to find warmer clothes for this very cold weather that seems to be marking the beginning of their summer. (Imagine the cognitive dissonance of walking down a city street, seeing department stores with fancy windows with Santa landing on snowy roofs, and shop windows everywhere displaying the latest bathing suits (togs) and sundresses for “Summer 06/07”), and all the while it’s 45 degrees and windy. Geeze.) These blocks around our hotel are beginning to be familiar now, and we’re getting a feel for the geography of the city—and the unpredictability of the weather. The children have played at parks, gone to museums, and tried on discount sandals and expensive fleeces.
The children continue to do extraordinarily well. Aidan has healed completely, and is as much a goofball as ever. His big news is that after watching 15 minutes of cricket yesterday, he has turned his sights from rugby (which he’s never seen) to cricket (which now he’s seen but still doesn’t understand). He walked in this morning with his Boston Red Sox t-shirt and said, “Mom, we’re going to have to throw this away.” When I asked him why, he explained, “Because we’re in
And maybe that’s the bulk of the task which is before us, anyway—figuring out which of the pieces from home we wear often, and which new pieces (of ourselves, our relationships, our knowledge, etc.) we develop here. Michael and I know that some time in the not-so-distant future, we’ll walk down these streets and know them well, know just where to get children’s clothing off-season, and see people we recognize (maybe even women who get more and more pregnant and then have their babies). We know that this city will become familiar to us, and that we will feel a part of it, as opposed to the strangers-looking-in-at-a-party feel we have now. Right now, though, that day seems very far away, and we seem very far from home. AND we feel quite strongly the excitement and deep pleasure of this great adventure of ours. So, from the last night at this posh hotel (where we are tourists), we’ll sign off. Tomorrow we head to Trish and Keith’s, where we’ll be guests. Friday we’ll close on our new house and somehow find ourselves at home. That’s not a bad progression for our first week in a new land.
Thanks for reading. We’ll let you know what happens next.
Thursday, December 7, 2006 9:15am DC time/ Friday, December 8, 2006 3:15 am NZ time
(Jennifer again) Nearly at the end of our flight to
I cried when we left the ground in
We find ourselves in the enviable position of having fantastic lives in DC and also having all of the stars align for this great adventure of ours. It means that it is, as Naomi said, “Hard to leave but exciting to go to a new place.” Aidan, of course, (when he’s not throwing up) is only excited about rugby. He wants to spend all of his free time learning rugby (a game he’s never seen) and wants to play on the All Blacks, the
Almost out of battery now as we speed toward