Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chasing Rainbows

I have always believed in rainbows. They represent a promise of hope for the future. They whisper, "You made it through the storm, and the sun will shine again." I cannot see a rainbow without feeling a little lighter in my heart and suspecting there is something good just around the corner. 

New Zealand has given us a lot of rainbows. Every single time we've had a moving day while we've been in this country, we've been guided down the road by a rainbow. That includes today, which is the day we will board a plane that will fly us back to our homeland. The message was not lost on me. 

As many of you know, I wrote a post several days ago lamenting our imminent return to the U.S. Those were all real feelings, and I don't regret sharing them, but they were definitely written while the storm raged in me. The truth is, there are many exciting things on the horizon for us, and we have much to look forward to in the immediate and distant future.


This trip has been full of rainbows, real and symbolic, and we are so incredibly thankful for this season of world travel. As we enter a new phase of our life adventure, we recognize there will be days of rain, but the plan is to just keep right on chasing rainbows. 

Some of the rainbows we've been chasing in New Zealand

Monday, May 30, 2016

Driving Creek Railway

Today we took a ride on a narrow-gauge railway, through the jungle and up a mountain overlooking the sea. It was beautiful, and we had a great time. 

A train just Clay's size

All aboard!

Ready to ride

Chugging through the forest

Tunnel No. 3 was our favorite

Jungle Paradise

My favorite view of the train ride

View from the observation deck at the top of the mountain, Eyefull Tower

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fourteen

Sweet Ruth,

Fourteen years ago, you made me a mom, and I'm thankful for that. Most of that time, I haven't had a clue about what I was doing, and more often than not I've just been winging it. I haven't done everything right, but I have done what I thought was right at the time, and I have loved you through it all more deeply than I can even explain. I have been helping you grow up during the last fourteen years, but you've been helping me grow up, too. And, again, I'm thankful. I'm a better person because of you.

This last year has been quite an adventure as we've been traveling around the world. At first, you seemed a little unsure of our new nomadic lifestyle, but you embraced it anyway, and I think it's grown on you. I believe you have enjoyed all the experiences we've had, and I think you have learned a lot about the world and about yourself--lessons I hope will serve you well throughout your life, no matter where you are or what you're doing. The trip has demanded flexibility and patience in a wide variety of circumstances, and you have displayed these qualities well and have often been example to the rest of us. On the practical side, you have learned to navigate subways and airports and many other types of transportation. I have no doubt that you will not ever have any trouble getting where you want to go--in the literal sense, but also in the more metaphysical sense. You have also learned to get along and communicate with people who are different from you and occasionally even annoy you (and are sometimes those in your own family), and this is such an important thing to learn and is one of the quickest ways to make the world a better place, in my opinion.

You are such a self-motivated hard worker. You strive for excellence in all you do, and whatever you find to do, you do thoroughly, not stopping until the job is completely done. And, it pays off. For example, you worked very hard in the fall preparing to take the SAT test. You did an amazing job on it and earned the opportunity to attend an exclusive camp this summer. You will have an opportunity to put some of your newly acquired travel skills into practice, as you will be traveling solo to and from your camp in New York and will be spending three weeks there, taking a college class and interacting with people you've never met before. If you're nervous, you don't let it show. I know you will have such a great time and will continue to learn about yourself and the world around you. I'm so proud of your amazing work ethic and the opportunities you are creating for yourself!

You have a wide range of interests, and you love to conduct research. A few of the topics you've explored in your free time in the last year have included organic gardening, raising chickens, starting a dairy farm, various topics in economics and politics, colleges all over the world and their offerings, home decor, minimalistic wardrobes, homemade beauty products, tea and coffee varieties and preparations, various business ideas for an enterprising teen, equine vet medicine, artistic techniques, and various aspects of horse riding, just to name a few. You have also been interested in the foods, cultures, local histories, and many other aspects of the places we have visited. You have your dad's ability to remember the things you read and learn (thankfully!) and are therefore a fount of information. I learn something from you almost every day.

You are still passionate about horses and horse riding and have had the opportunity to ride and visit many different kinds of horses, in a variety of environments, all over the world. You are also planning to attend a horse camp this summer when we get back to Texas and to participate with an IEA riding team during the upcoming school year. And, as you are exploring options for your future, you are looking into the possibility of becoming an equine vet in the future.

I am so proud of the beautiful, responsible, intelligent, independent, considerate, hard-working person you are. I have enjoyed these last fourteen years tremendously, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for you. I wish every happiness for you, and I love you so much! Happy Birthday to my favorite daughter!

Love,
Mom

14 looks so good on you!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Purangi Winery and Hot Water Beach

This afternoon we finally saw the sun for the first time in a long time, so we divided our time between the Purangi Winery and the Hot Water Beach. The winery is a funky little place, with fun activities, wood-fired pizzas, and a variety of adult beverages to sample. The beach has a hot spring under it, and, at low tide, you can dig holes in the sand to bring the hot water up. It feels pretty much just like bath water and is a phenomenon I have never before experienced. What the kids liked better than the hot water, though, were the huge rocky and forested hills along the beach, with all their caves and climbing challenges and mud. They explored all the nooks and crannies and seriously had to be hosed down before we could let them in the house. In their book, it was the mark of a good day. And, in my book, any day at the beach is a good day!

Purangi Winery

Plants of Purangi

Foosball at the winery

Delicious wood-fired pizzas

Hot Water Beach

I do not ever get tired of watching the waves

All these people are digging for hot water and creating their own little hot tubs

My little mountain goats

Climbing makes this boy so very happy

Peek-a-boo

Ready to explore the cave

Up and up they go

Clay's little rock pony

Friday, May 27, 2016

Zealong Tea Estate

Yesterday, we got to spend several lovely hours at the beautiful Zealong tea plantation, celebrating Ruth's birthday a little early. We had a private tour of the grounds, participated in a super-cool tea ceremony, and had lunch at the onsite cafe, which utilizes tea in a variety of ways in its dishes. It was a unique and thoroughly enjoyable experience! We all have a new appreciation of tea and hope to experiment more with it in the future.


Zealong Tea Estate

The story of tea in sculptures

This series of sculptures, made of teapots and tea cups,
with a dragon head on the first pot and a dragon tail on the last one,
represents the spirit of the plantation, since "oolong" means "black dragon."

So happy to share this experience with my people!

The trimming machine is the only machine
that touches the plants while they are in the field.
All tea leaves are picked by hand.

The oversized chairs at the function center were a big hit with the boys.
(And, even with plenty of room to spread out, they are still touching each other!)

Trying on the tea picker hats

Everything about the tea ceremony was awesome--
from the table and chairs, to the process, to the five varieties of tea we got to try.
We tried a green tea, a pure oolong, an aromatic oolong, a dark oolong, and a black tea.
There are very specific ways in which the varieties of teas are prepared
and specific rules of etiquette to follow when participating in the ceremony.
The little picture in the middle on the right shows the two cups used in the ceremony.
The tall one is the scent cup, used only for smelling, and the short one is the drinking cup.
When it's time to drink, you are supposed to drink in exactly three sips:
the first for taste, the second for warmth, and the third for thirst.

A special treat:
passion fruit macaroons infused and sprinkled with aromatic oolong tea

This is not the variety of camila used for making tea,
but they are scattered throughout the plantation to give a pop of color,
as the plants from which the tea leaves come are never allowed to bloom.










Halfway to 21

If you've been hanging out with us for a while, you know that half-birthdays do not usually slip by unnoticed. Yesterday was Weston's, and he is now halfway to 21. What he wanted to do on his special day was throw the football around with his dad and eat steak. As a bonus, we also worked in a visit to Kuirau Park, a geothermal area with boiling mud puddles, interesting rock formations, and steaming lakes. It was a really neat place and very otherworldly, and we all had a good time. 

What 10 1/2-year-old boy wouldn't want to celebrate with boiling mud puddles?!

Geothermal rock formations

An eerie-looking steaming lake

The disadvantage of this neat place is the sulphur smell

Look, but don't touch!

Half-birthday hot passes

A half-birthday rainbow

Steak dinner for my favorite 10 1/2-year-old

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A short break in the rain

It has been raining quite a lot lately, so we've not been out and about too much while we've been in New Plymouth. This afternoon, there was a short break in the weather, so we dashed out to grab some lunch at a beachside restaurant and then did a little exploring and playground playing before the rain returned and inspired us to run for cover once again.

Lunch at Bach on Breakwater

Hoping to get splashed by one of the really big waves

Te Rewa Rewa Bridge

A brief moment of sunshine (but not warmth) at Lake Rotomanu

Monday, May 23, 2016

First official college visit in the books

Have I mentioned that my daughter is amazing and responsible and very much in charge of her future?! She doesn't know that it's unusual for a 13-year-old to research universities and to think about everything from financial aid to the merits of particular academic programs, rather than contemplating only school colors, or mascots, or how well the football team has historically been (though she could tell you those things as well, because her research is thorough).

For a while she has had her heart set on becoming a equine vet, and she has been looking into a variety of schools, in the U.S. and abroad, that may be able to help her accomplish her goals. One of the schools she has been intrigued by is Massey University, here in New Zealand. So, when she found out we would be passing through the town where the university is located, she planned a visit. Completely on her own, she contacted the school, found out who to talk to, and set up a meeting. She also came up with a list of questions and articulately asked them and made sure they were answered. At the end of the meeting, the lady asked her if she would be applying next year or the following year and was rather shocked to find out that Ruth is, in fact, only 13. I am so incredibly proud of this girl and know her future will be bright, no matter what she ultimately decides to study or where she chooses to go to school! (And, I seriously can't believe I have a child that is old enough to start looking at colleges!)

The Vet Med building at Massey University

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The return of the nomad

A couple of days ago, Jeff came in and cheerfully announced that it was just 12 days until we would be back in the States. It was an innocent statement of fact, but I felt like all the air was sucked out of the room.

In the last year, we have traveled to more than 30 countries and have navigated different languages and cultures and a wide variety of living situations all along the way. Sometimes, it has been a bit nerve-racking and uncomfortable. But, honestly, I wasn't as nervous about entering and living in any of those places as I am about the next country on our list. This is odd, because the next one is the one that should feel comfortable, that should feel like home.

Don't get me wrong, I love the U.S. and am proud to be an American. I miss my family and friends and recognize the many and varied opportunities that the Land of the Free provides. And, truthfully, it's not so much the country that makes me nervous; it's the settling in. For better or worse, I'm much better at passing through than I am at digging in, which is something I hadn't fully realized about myself before this trip, but which has become abundantly clear. I really do have a nomad's heart.

Part of the struggle for me about re-entering my home country are the spoken and unspoken expectations and visible and invisible pressures that come with being an American. I have not missed these things. When you are a foreigner in a foreign land, people may think your behavior odd, but they do not expect you to conform to their ideas, because they recognize that you are just passing through. But when you're a local, it's different. The problem, for me, is that I very often feel like a foreigner in my own country, but I feel like that's not o.k. because homegrowns are expected to "get it" and to conform to whatever society deems normal, and I'm just not very good at that. And, further, I feel like I've only just really found myself while we've been traveling and have only had a very short time to get to know this person that I really kind of like. I'm concerned that our return may mean I never see this person again (though I sincerely hope this isn't true and will certainly do what I can to make sure we stay in touch). I realize if I were settling down permanently in another country, it would essentially be the same, but I imagine the grace period would be a bit longer for me to get my act together and start acting like everyone else.

I know that we need to go back. And, I know that we need to settle in at this particular point in our lives. We will find activities to be involved in, we will establish new normals, and we will grow and change in new and different ways. We will meet new people and reconnect with those whom we've known for years. And, we will be better for all of it, just as we are better for this season of nomadic exploration. We will still travel and have adventures (beginning with our first month back in the States, when we will be exploring the Hawaiian islands). There will be sad times, of course, and we will, no doubt, miss many things about our life abroad. But, there will also be happy times that we never could have imagined, and there will likely be many things that are better than they were when we were nomads. I know all of this. But, my inner nomad still struggles against the act of settling in and sometimes struggles to breathe under the the weight of what that means.

I realize that there are far worse problems in the world than where I live and that most of what I'm feeling is probably more in my head than anything else. But as Dumbledore says in the last book of Harry Potter, when Harry asks if what he's experiencing is real or just happening in his head, "Of course it's happening inside your head...but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

Processing my thoughts in writing seems to infuse oxygen into the cramped space inside my head, making it easier to catch my breath, so thank you for indulging me in this honest brain dump. Also, some of you have asked what coming back feels like, after being away so long. This is pretty much it. I know it isn't all sunshine and roses, but it is real, and I think the world needs a bit more of that sometimes. And, even if the world doesn't need it, I definitely do.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Wellington Waterfront

We spent the day at the Wellington Waterfront and had a great time. We first visited the Underground Market, where we enjoyed looking at all the wares on offer and eating some good old-fashioned international street food. We were actually surprised we didn't get kicked out since, not once but twice, we knocked down folding screens between booths. We're definitely leaving our mark on the world.

After lunch, we walked around for a while, taking in the sights, and eventually found ourselves at the Frank Kitts park, where the boys disappeared into the wonderful playground and weren't seen again (figuratively speaking) until the sun was going down. I put in a little time at the playground but then kept wandering around the waterfront until I found the free-to-enter Wellington Museum. Later, Ruth and I visited a little coffee shop in an effort to escape the cold. On our way back to the parking garage we accidentally happened upon the Wellington Night Market. We didn't see any of the crazy things we saw at the night market in Beijing, but it was a fun atmosphere, with lots of international offerings.

My favorite sight of the day was this seagull with his sea star snack

Another of the world's awesome playgrounds

It was fun to watch the helicopter tours take off and land from one of the docks

The rowing club was out practicing

And, there were plenty of sailboats, too

Lots of fun sculptures along The Waterfront

A wealth of seafaring history in the Wellington Museum

The view across the harbor

My little monkeys

Fountain + Art