Christchurch

 

One day in March we got an invite from Antony and Jeanette Raine to fly down to Christchurch with them the following weekend. The main reason was to see Christchurch’s historic cathedral before it was soon to be demolished. The famous cathedral was partially destroyed by the earthquakes that riveted the city in September 2010 and again in February 2011 and there had been much debate on whether or not efforts should be made to save and restore the cathedral. The Raines also knew this would be an insightful trip for Josh since he has been working with the Earthquake Commission and talking to hundreds of people affected and to get a first hand look of the devastation. We agreed to go.

 
I had mixed emotions of us going on the trip, mainly due to the fact that we knew this was going to be no pleasure cruise, but would be sad to see a city fallen from its former glory. We were glad too, though, to be able to travel and be given a tour from our friends the Raines, as Christchurch is where Antony grew up, and to see the beauty that still remained. The plane tickets were also quite cheap, as Antony had found a good deal, so that was a relief.

 
We awoke early on Saturday, March 17th, and finished getting our overnight bags ready. It was a beautiful, cloudless day with barely even a breeze to caress our faces. That was comforting, as we had already seen many a rough landings from our flat overlooking the airport in the windy city. I love traveling, as does Josh, but as I’ve said before, flying can make me feel quite nervous. It helped to know that it was just a short one-hour flight, too.
The Raines picked us up, and we drove just a hop, skip, and a jump over to the airport. On the way there, however, Antony mentioned something that made my ears really perk up. He said that thousands of people had been through to see the cathedral, but that everyone had been warned the potential danger in walking through the unstable downtown area and said for everyone to be sure and bring two things: 1) A fully charged cell phone, and 2) a form of personal I.D. on your person . . . in case, well, you know. I can’t remember what exactly I said out loud, “Oh my goodness!” or something like that, but that shocked me and made me wonder if this wasn’t such a good idea. But, then I tried to just not think about it; I don’t always seem to have much power over my mind, though, and my thoughts were running away with me off and on.

 
We got to the airport and a flood of memories hit both Josh and I again. The last time we were at this airport was the day we first arrived in New Zealand. That seemed like a lifetime ago, and like we were just young kids back then. It’s like going back to your junior high school on the first day and remembering how scared and small you felt and how everything else seemed so big, new, and exciting. The 8th graders; Woah, they were so scary, and COOL! There was so much life and activity and talking and students being reunited with old friends and others meeting for the first time, trying to find someone to walk with and hopefully sit by during 1st period or lunch. Then, when you go back and look at it years and years later, when you’ve even graduated college, and you are in awe and wonder at how it feels to stand in front of your junior high school again, on an empty day in summer when all the students have gone for a long break. You feel so big and grown up now, and like you have really come a long ways since those youthful, naïve days. And yet, it still seems intimidating, maybe because the memory is still there of how you felt that first day of something new; a little seventh grader with faces she’s never seen and a place she’s heard that is so different from elementary school. Without all those faces and teachers, and hearing those obnoxious ringing bells, the school doesn’t seem so scary, though.

 
So was the feeling I had standing in the Wellington airport. I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. The place seemed empty and quiet. There wasn’t a rush of people to push through and those with signs to show who is waiting for them with their name on it. Everything seemed different, and my memory slowly recognized the little coffee shop we had first passed by with business people sipping their coffee and reading the paper. I remembered how crowded it was that day when we had arrived, and Josh and I holding hands and listening closely to those surrounding us and hearing the New Zealand accent. We were so young then, it seems. Standing there in the quiet, empty halls once crowded with foreign strangers in a rush to get to their destination, it made me feel like we had been in New Zealand for years. We could not believe that it was only four months ago that we had stood in that same place. We’ve done a lot of things, seen a lot of things, and experienced more than I would have ever known had I never gotten on that Air New Zealand plane in San Francisco with my husband that day in November.

 
Anyways, so the four of us finally found our gate and waited a few minutes for us to start boarding. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait that long, otherwise, well, waiting I just don’t care for. It was a cramped Jet Star plane, but we didn’t mind since the flight was to be short. I was so thankful I sat by the window. We looked out and saw our flat on the hillside in the distance, and couldn’t get over how cool that was! Who would have thought that when we first arrived into Wellington? Take-off was cool, but anxious, as I watched us zoom past the surfers in Lyall Bay; seeing how fast they went past our window made me realize just how fast we were going, yikes! Once we got up in the air, though, I just pressed my nose against the window and peered down below at the city and surrounding area of Wellington. It was breathtaking. It was so neat to see how it looked from up above and see where our house was and the real layout of the land…looks so different and then so small. The buildings became just a little miniature model city with toy cars. And then the deep blue sea with white caps. I saw a couple of fishing boats along the way, which at first I thought there were hundreds, but Josh told me those were just the waves, which really took a while to convince me. We were on the left side of the plane and I kept seeing just the ocean, and I was thinking, where is the land? Haven’t we gotten to the South Island yet? A blonde moment I guess, which I finally realized when they said we were descending into Christchurch, a mere forty-five minutes after we took off. I hadn’t realized that Christchurch was on the coast; I thought it was more inland. Anyways, the flight was short and smooth, which made us happy.

 
At the airport in Christchurch, Josh and I followed behind Jeanette and Antony. I love being in airports, and just the feeling you get there, more so after you have arrived to your destination and the flying part is over. It was then that I saw people again holding signs and then families and friends being reunited. I got a huge lump in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears. I thought about how wonderful the day would be when we arrive back home in Texas and see our parents and families waiting for us. I can cry just thinking about it right now. I had to really fight back the tears and push the thought away, because it was just so beautiful and heartwarming and emotional to think about. I already knew in my mind that I will definitely be crying when I see my parents again and get to hug them, and my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews Malachi and Noah, and Josh’s family as well. What a happy day that will be!

 
We then all went to the rental car counter at the airport, and got that all taken care of, and headed out to the car we’d have for our time there. It was a very nice SUV, and I thought it still had a new car smell. The engine ran so quietly and smoothly, we could barely hear it running; a little different from our car! Haha. Outside we noticed the air was clean and pure and the sun was pretty warm too, not a cloud in the sky in Christchurch. Antony then drove us around and was our tour guide. It was very interesting. I loved sitting back there with Josh and listening to Antony’s stories. It was relaxing and cool to be able to sit back and enjoy everything and take in new sights. The landscape was very different from Wellington; it was flat. It was laid out more like cities we were used to, and almost felt like we were back in Texas. It was kind of comforting and we barely even noticed that we were on the opposite side of the road. Most of the houses we noticed also were made of brick instead of wood like in Wellington, and the streets were wider as well. We drove with the windows down, which I really enjoy and I was glad at how peaceful I felt and that I hadn’t been nervous on the flight either. We were pretty hungry, so we stopped and ate lunch at a McCafe. After that, we did a bit more touring, where Antony showed us the school he went to as a kid, which was neat to see. Along the way, we were seeing a few houses that you could see some cracks in and that there was some earthquake damage, and even a couple empty lots where houses used to stand. The most evidence, though, was downtown in the CBD.

 

Once we arrived in the downtown area, that’s when we really saw the damage. Chain linked fences guarded the sidewalks and several sections of buildings were completely blockaded off and empty. Many windows were cracked or completely gone. The anxiety slowly started seeping into my body as we drove closer and closer to the high-rise buildings. We stared out our windows and just couldn’t believe it. Such a sad sight. We had to park quite a distance away and Antony told us where to meet in case of an emergency. That definitely made me feel nervous again. But seeing all the people who were walking downtown to see the cathedral, I felt a little better (not rationally of course, but it was just reassuring to see a lot of people for some reason). So, we walked and joined the hundreds of people to enter the gates to go through the walk through downtown and to the cathedral. Before we entered the fenced area, there was a sign with numerous warnings, of which we took a picture. I glanced at the sign, but didn’t really read it fully; otherwise, I might have chickened out.

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My mood instantly changed and I felt a heavy sadness and lump form in my throat again. There were a couple of handwritten cards and signs and flowers on the fence, which is always heartbreaking to see. Who left that card? And who did they lose? We walked down the street that I know was once filled with cars and people and buses. The buildings on either side of us were abandoned and broken; just empty shells. It was like walking in a war zone. I looked down one street that was barricaded off and paused there for a while. There were many people around us walking by, but sometimes there was a break in the crowd, and Jeanette said, “Just listen.” Silence. Deadly, eerie silence. And then a few jackhammers and drilling of the buildings in the background. Blinking, broken stoplights. Just gave you a really bad feeling. Shops and businesses once were thriving down those empty streets; people sat and drank their tea and coffee and friends chatted. People once were going to and fro, living their lives. In an instant, that all changed. Life was taken.
We kept on walking, and at last reached the area that looked out onto the Cathedral. I remember passing by a couple of middle-aged ladies, who were hugging each other and crying. This building in a huge way represented Christchurch, of which, me, as an outsider, will never fully understand, but can only imagine. It was their history. The beautiful Cathedral had been there since around 1880. New Zealand is a new country, and to have something that old built by the hands of man is pretty remarkable and important. When looking up Christchurch in travel books or online, that image is the first to pop up. The stone architecture was used for many buildings throughout Christchurch, and it gave the city an old-time, European feel. It made me wonder the thoughts and stories of all the people gathered in that cathedral square. All types of people…every race, young and old, some from Christchurch, some travelers from the country and those from abroad. But all gathered around to witness the sight of this crumbling landmark. It was beautiful standing there, even though most of the bell tower was gone, being reduced to two-thirds of its original height, which was about 63 meters tall during its pre-earthquake state. Most of its recognizable features, including the stained glass windows, were shattered and broken. I found myself desperately wishing I had seen it before the earthquake. For many there, this was an icon, something they had seen and known their whole lives, and because of its instability, danger, and ruin, it needed to be demolished.


A few people were gathered in groups, families and friends, talking and laughing and taking pictures, while I noticed others stood alone, in silence, staring up at the cathedral, wearing their sunglasses to hide the tears. There were no smiles on their faces. I felt sympathy for the people, imagining what they have had to go through. All the hundreds of aftershocks, and waiting to know whether they can move back into their homes or not, losing family members or friends, and seeing their city change in an instant, and now, over time as buildings were having to be demolished. Those standing alone who were crying, I wondered what their stories were. What were their memories? I imagined a woman crying because that is where she married her handsome groom a number of years ago, and she cries as she remembers how glorious and perfect everything was on her wedding day. The silent reverie filled inside as she walked down the aisle of those great, magnificent walls in the rainbow filled sanctuary created by the stained glass and looked at the smile on her future husband’s face and tears in his eyes as he beheld his radiant bride.

 
And this had been a place where people came to worship God. It made me feel sad, and that God was sad too, and that he was powerful. Josh said it made him think how weak man really is, and how powerful God is. That building, a structure made with stones by the hands of man, and that we as people put so much faith in its strength, can be destroyed in mere seconds. This is not saying that God caused this to happen on purpose of course, but that God made the earth, and the earth is powerful and can do things we have no control of. For the earth to just rumble and move beneath our feet shows how helpless, small, powerless, and insignificant we really are. That can be a depressing thought, I guess, but also awe-inspiring and humbling. High-rises made of steel and metal that engineers designed and millions of dollars spent on, can be gone in ten seconds flat. How dare we ever become arrogant and think highly of ourselves, boasting of our intelligence, power, and money, because when you really think about all of that, in the end, that don’t hold water to anything.

 
It was very sorrowful, and I felt for all those people there and the pain of those who lost loved ones. There was a man who I thought was Saruman, because he was dressed as a wizard, in black. In fact, he is called The Wizard, and has been known to stand and preach in the square there for many years. He was begging people to sign a petition to save the cathedral. You could hear the passion in his voice and see it in his eyes as he held his wooden staff and called out to the crowd.

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I was quite ready to leave that area, and felt relieved when we were out of the red zone, thankful that there hadn’t been an earthquake while we stood underneath those unstable buildings. I wondered what Antony was thinking, since he had grown up there, and also how Jeanette was feeling as she and Antony had many memories together in this city and with their kids as well.

 
We moved on to other parts of the downtown area, to the shopping area where shops had been converted from shipping containers and also into cafes. It was interesting to see how the city had to be re-built and how they had improvised. And then, I was delighted when we walked over to the river that runs through the city. I had seen the river in pictures before coming, about punting on the Avon River, and sighed at how romantic that would be for Josh and I to sit in our little gondola as the man rowed us down the gentle, peaceful river lined with white blossom trees. There was beauty that still remained despite the devastation, and I loved seeing little moments of this throughout the day. Teenagers sat on the grass having a picnic along the river, and young kids fed the ducks as couples sat on the benches admiring the view with their lover. It was weird to see that, really; life and happiness, nature and the sound of innocence was heard in the ducks’ quacking and in the children’s laughter, bringing humor into the air as just a few steps away was the sound of silence and destruction; of endings. But here, beside the Avon River, was life beginning and continuing. Butterflies and birds fluttered around so happily and peaceful. It was comforting and reassuring to see and hear all these things.

 
We drove around some more, and then Jeanette really wanted to take Josh and I to see an important site and memorial. We parked beside a bridge and walked down the sidewalk to something that really struck at my heart. Standing out of the river’s water was a sight that made my stomach turn; remnants of the steel girders that once formed one of the Twin Towers. Firefighters from New Zealand had traveled to New York City after those tragic events to help, and therefore, New York City had given the beams as a thank you memorial to Christchurch and New Zealand.

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The metal was rusted, and Josh and I could not believe the shape that it had become; this steel metal that used to be strong had melted in the heat of that destructive, horrible act of terrorism as the Twin Towers were hit and then collapsed to the ground; it was now twisted out of shape like it had been a child’s piece of clay. I stood there for a few moments staring at those beams in front of me, and it broke my heart. It really did something to me inside, and the images of that day flashed again before me. To stand before these beams, to be so close and to touch them, it made it all so real. I saw those people’s faces, heard the screams, saw the terror and the pain. Thousands and thousands of miles away from New York City, and years since that day, and standing before a piece of what had once held the building together and that I watched fall in horror on the television as I sat in my 10th grade Algebra class, shocked and terrified of what more was to come, and seeing hundreds of lives being ended in that moment. When I saw the marker that said, September 11, 2001, I was thinking to myself, wait, what, really? 2001? It seems like that happened in 2011, almost like it was yesterday, how could it really have been 10 ½ years ago? I remember the anger and confusion I had towards my algebra teacher that day when she had us turn off the TV and go on to our algebra lesson; she seemed so cold and indifferent. Maybe that was her coping mechanism and maybe she was simply trying to protect us and herself, but I felt like I needed comfort and reassurance, and my teacher to talk to me and tell me everything was going to be okay, and maybe even to pray. But hey, we were in a public school; that probably wasn’t looked upon as the PC thing to do then. However, I do remember later that day and I am thankful that my choir teacher, Mr. Lane, talked about it and he prayed with us. (May he rest in peace now, as he lost a fight with cancer a couple years after I graduated from high school. I still do and always will remember the impact he had on my life.)

 
Anyways, standing there just brought memories back to my mind, and I am sure every one can remember where they were, who they were with, and the feelings they had that fateful day. Tears were in my eyes and I should have just cried because I was fighting the lump in my throat so hard it hurt. The moment really impacted me, that is for sure. It made me feel sad; and angry. Angry at those who did this. And it made me feel passionate, so passionate for the one thing we and I take for granted each day; Life. I looked at the cars driving by and the people walking on the street differently. I wanted to just grab each person I saw, look them in the eyes, and cry out, “You are precious! Your life is worth something! Your life is valuable!” God loves each person we meet on the street. I remember my preacher Mike back in Midland would sometimes say in his lessons, “You have never looked at a person in the eyes whose soul did not matter to God.” Wow. In Christchurch that day, I was faced with two tragic events that had happened. One in New Zealand; a natural disaster that killed many people. It had no remorse or care for what country they were from, age, sex, rich or poor, popular or unpopular. It left behind people who lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brother, sisters, and friends. It was a natural event; not caused by any other person. And then, September 11th, in the country I hail from and am proud of; the United States of America, it was no natural disaster, but the hands of man. Terrorism. Hate. Allegiance to the radical beliefs. Life taking away another man’s life from him. Or her life, or a child’s life. That just doesn’t make sense to me. How could anyone think that is good, or the right thing to do? How could you really be that stupid, to think killing is going to get you to your so-called heaven? I don’t really care about their reasons I guess, because there is no explanation or justification, and I know it is also fanaticism, but standing there and just the pain I felt in seeing those beams and knowing all the innocent lives lost, people who should be living today, walking the streets, feeling the warm sun on their faces, hearing the birds sing, little children laughing and playing, and holding the hands of their loved one like I am able to do; it just made me feel angry. Made me want to find all those responsible, not only them, but all those with hate and violence in their heart, who prey on the innocent and kill, and yell at them. Much good that would do, I know, but yell at them, nonetheless, to open their eyes! Our lives are so short anyways, as seen in the aftermath of an earthquake; it can instantly be taken from us. Why not stop and just savor that there is breath in your body? To live for good; not evil? But I guess that is the battle, the battle on earth…to go either to the light, or to the darkness. To create evil and do ugly things, or to see the beauty in everything. To see that life really is beautiful.

 
There were lots of thoughts in my head, as you can tell. But I needed to think, and be reminded. We drove on from there and to other areas affected by the earthquakes. I finally saw the ocean again, and the coast was gorgeous. Christchurch really is a unique city. We drove along the area where we saw houses literally hanging off the edge, cut open, their insides exposed. Quite scary! Many fancy, expensive looking and modern houses were now destroyed and hanging on by a piece of wood or metal. It was unnerving driving down below and looking up as the only protection between us and the cliffs were shipping containers lining the road.

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It was also advised to not stop on that stretch of highway in case there was another earthquake. My calmness had been leaving me throughout the day, and I was feeling anxious and just not really safe.

 
We drove to a pretty beachside suburb, and I saw many people drinking and eating on the patios of the cafes. I love seeing that, and it was good to witness people still happy and carrying on. Then we drove under the mountain to get to the other side, to the suburb of Lyttleton, through the longest tunnel in New Zealand. I laughed when we were told that it was the longest tunnel, and then I believed it. I was so ready to get out of that thing! It was funny, especially when I later told my parents about our trip, because they were glad I was telling them everything AFTER the fact. We were driving through a tunnel underneath a mountain in a quake-ridden city, and through a “dormant” volcano! My dad said, “Wow, you were living in a regular ‘ole James Bond movie!” Haha. That’s what it felt like. Antony took the four of us out to this picturesque place on the other side of the mountain. It overlooked the water and the marina in the distance, but it was so still and quiet and peaceful. I could even smell a fire burning mixed with the scent of pine trees, reminding me of vacations to the mountains of Ruidoso with my family growing up. I love the smell of firewood burning; it’s so cozy and inviting. We spent a while there taking pictures and videos. The sun was starting to set and the lighting was perfect. Then we went to a lookout overlooking the city. That is my favorite time of the day, when the sun is setting. It was cool to see the city from up there, with the ocean in the far distance. There was also a fancy building made of stones that looked like a castle you would find in Europe, where the Raines said weddings were once held. Unfortunately, it had been closed due to earthquake damage. I really wanted to go inside, though. I love castles. I am a romantic at heart, if you haven’t noticed that already, haha.

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After that, we went back to the city. As we were heading downtown again, I started to feel really weird; just overwhelmed with a bad feeling. We went to another area and drove around to look more at the areas and buildings that had significant damage and empty lots and crumbling structures. I hadn’t felt that anxious when we were actually walking beneath the buildings earlier in the day, maybe because the sun was going down now and night was coming, and most of the people had left the downtown area. We stopped in a parking lot and looked at the buildings and we really heard the silence this time. I started feeling a little nauseous and almost like it was getting harder to breathe; like a claustrophobic feeling and a panic like you needed to get out of there, and quick. I looked at Josh and he seemed to be feeling uneasy, too. I guess I could have spoken up, but I didn’t want to make a big scene and sometimes if attention is drawn to you when you’re not feeling that well, then when it’s known it just seems to make it worse, haha. I also knew Antony and Jeanette really wanted to see all this. I don’t know if I was having a mini panic attack or a continuous one off and on, but I certainly felt anxious; perhaps it was a delayed reaction to all that we had just seen and of course being afraid if another big earthquake were to strike.

 
Thankfully, we weren’t there for too long, as we were all noticing how starving we were. We drove to a pizza place called Spagalimis (aka “Spags”) in the downtown district, though not surrounded by too many big buildings, I still felt uneasy until we walked inside and after we had sat down for a while. Antony had recommended the pizza place because he had been there before and said how delicious it was; apparently it was quite a popular joint. He said it has withstood many earthquakes, so we felt okay to venture in. The mood was low-key with red candles and the decorations were chic and modern. It was packed too, so the livelihood and busyness of the place was very welcoming. For entrée (appetizer) we had wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. That is popular here, and a perfect combination! We inhaled those. And then the pizza was amazing! It was so greasy, but that makes it good! Josh and I shared a big one and it was gone in no time. We enjoyed our time there together.

 
At last, after a long day, it was time to head to their friend’s house where we were staying for the night. We were told it was out in the country, and man, was it out in the country! We drove for quite a long time. I actually felt glad of this, as we would be away from the city and tall buildings. As we were driving out there, just listening to Antony’s music, I think there was some sort of opera song playing, though I can’t remember what it was, but I just had another moment. I’ve always loved sitting in the back seat of a car on long road trips and looking out the window and just thinking. My mind races and my thoughts flow like a river. Sometimes I feel like slapping myself and saying, “Stop thinking!” Because I think about so many things, haha, which, well, gives me a lot to think about. But I was still feeling slightly nervous (and I don’t really like the dark either, I’ve decided, especially when you are in a new place) and hoping I wouldn’t get sick from all that pizza. I was thinking about everything, all that we had seen that day, and the sadness of it, and then, we came into a long clearing of open land. I liked that the landscape was flat, and I hadn’t been used to that since living in Wellington. Being so far out in the country, away from the city lights, I looked up and gasped and then smiled. The stars were so bright and brilliant, and there were a million of them. They were beautiful. Looking up at the stars can really put things into focus, and I felt God’s presence again so strongly. It was so comforting, and I almost felt like he was talking to me or that was His gift to me that I needed to see in that moment. A reminder that He is still there. He is the Creator, the maker of the heavens and earth. That He is a God of love; that he loves me. And that; “There is light, a beauty up there that no shadow can touch”, as said by Sam in The Return of the King, as he and Frodo are in the land of evil, Mordor, and Sam catches a glimpse of a white star as a clearing in the clouds appears in the black, night sky.

 
We finally reached our destination, and were greeted warmly and enthusiastically by our hosts and the friends of Jeanette and Antony. We were also greeted by a Lassie dog named Cassie, which made Josh and I both happy. She barked at us and was finicky and suspicious of these strangers, but slowly warmed up. Inside their house felt so warm and inviting and I loved the decorations. It felt like a country home, rustic and sweet all at the same time. The house was really big too, and felt warm and like it had been built properly and insulated to protect us from the cold, night air. The kitchen had a big, long island, and I found myself wanting to have my own cooking show in that kitchen. It also had a wood burning stove and a massive chandelier. I felt very cozy and comfortable there and the family we were staying with was so sweet and very friendly. The daughter was around our age and we chatted with her and her boyfriend a little bit; it was nice to meet new people our age and they had a desire for traveling as well. We all sat in the living room and talked for a long time, as these friends were together again and catching up. I really enjoyed it; the couple was very lively and it was interesting hearing their stories and experience with the earthquake and the questions they had for Josh in regards to their claims. We learned one of those major earthquakes struck very close to their home, but they were lucky in that they experienced no damage, just a few cracks in the garage and a couple things falling down from shelves. Another reassuring thought to both of us, and once again, knowing that we were far from the city.

 
Josh and I were getting quite heavy eyed, so we at last bowed out, said good night, and shuffled off to bed. We loved our room, it was so nice and big and inviting, and the mattress heavenly compared to ours at our flat back home! The best thing was looking out our double glazed window that overlooked their farm, and seeing a sight that made both of us laugh. We squinted our eyes through the darkness, but we could faintly see the silhouettes of white creatures in the backyard. Alpacas! Haha! I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one in real life, if so I don’t recall. Jeanette and Antony had told us this beforehand, which made us excited, that these people owned an alpaca farm! So knowing that was what we were seeing, some of them standing up and some laying down, in the distance was quite funny. I wanted to go out there and pet them. But, that would have to wait till the morning. We snuggled up in what seemed like the most comfortable, luxurious bed I’ve ever slept on, like sleeping on a cloud. We could hear the others down the hall still up talking and laughing, which brought comfort to me and helped me fall fast asleep.

 
The next morning, when I woke up, I jumped out of bed and rushed over to the window to see the alpacas. And then I started laughing! Josh got up and we just giggled at how cute they were, and funny-looking. We even saw a couple sheep. After getting ready, we ate breakfast with everyone in the kitchen; I had homemade muesli. I haven’t been a big fan of the healthy mixture, but this was actually delicious! I could have eaten three bowls, as it had fresh coconut flakes and cinnamon, mmmm! After drinking coffee, we hurried out to go see the alpacas up close. I almost got to pet one that was on the other side of the fence and he barely got his head out as he was reaching for grass on our side. Them suckers are fast moving their long necks! Fortunately, our hostess took us to the front yard and through a gate so we could be inside with the alpacas. That was so neat to watch. She and her husband are Alpaca-whisperers. They knew each one by name, and she walked up to one and was talking sweetly to it, almost like baby talk. You could see how much they loved their animals. I finally got to pet one; it was soft, like petting carpet. It was so weird petting their long, skinny necks and how they would move it fast as they were a little cautious of us. They are at our height though, so that was comical having those big black eyes just staring at you behind their shaggy white fur partially covering their eyes. I laughed and said they reminded me of Mrs. Lamb chops, but Josh didn’t know what I was talking about, haha. I used to watch that show when I was little, and they really reminded me of that sock puppet. The owners said that Alpacas are very curious creatures, and you could tell this as they all gathered around and stared at us silently, chewing their grass. It was kind of creepy sometimes, haha. I wondered what they were thinking; they probably think we are the funny-looking ones! That was probably the highlight of our trip; Josh and I both love animals, and we both wanted one after seeing that. Josh was saying how he wants to get his parents one for their farm in Texas.

We eventually said our goodbyes, and the four of us got back in our rental car and headed back to Christchurch. We drove around some more, went shopping for a little bit, and then drove along the coast looking for a place to have our church service. We found a place overlooking an inlet where the sky above was filled with birds casting graceful reflections on the smooth surface of the water. What a great place to worship God!

 
After that, we grabbed some take-away food and sat on the grass in a park overlooking the ocean. That was so nice, and the weather was perfect again. We even talked about traveling, and Antony talked about how once you have travel within you, it becomes infectious, and it’s hard to let go of, it just becomes a part of you. Jeanette said it was good for Josh and I to do this while we can and don’t have kids, which we agreed with and is why we are doing this now. Antony said there’s no excuse not to travel, just take our kids with us! I guess we’ve kind of thought of that before, but that was encouraging and sounded like a good idea for the future. Because whenever I think of us having children, which we hope to wait a while, Lord-willing, but it seems like it’s all over once you have them, haha. But I guess that wouldn’t necessarily have to be true, though I find it hard to imagine carrying around a baby traveling the world. With our experiences, I’ve learned it’s sometimes been hard enough dealing with myself! And a husband, to boot! Haha.

 
Then Josh and I walked out on the pier into the ocean. That was the longest pier I’ve ever been on. We saw a few surfers and many kids making sand castles along the shore. The pier was filled with fishermen and we smiled as we saw little kids excited when a fish was caught or were carrying a bucket full of crabs. That was one of my favorite moments, walking hand-in-hand with my husband Josh. I felt so in love with him, and glad to be with him, and just talking and taking everything in together. We felt like we were back in Galveston, Texas, or just reminded of our trip we took there a couple months after we got married and remembered how much fun we had on that 4th of July weekend. We’ve laughed and reminisced about that weekend several times, both saying how that was one of our favorite memories together, and just ever! In little ‘ole Galveston, Texas where the water is brown and ugly and the air hot and humid. We had a great time, though, because we were in love, and it was so romantic just being together and swimming in the ocean, which we’d never done before as a couple. Always the little things in life and in love that make you the happiest.

 
We joined back with Antony and Jeanette, and we all got an ice cream. Then we drove around and saw more sights. Antony showed us the house he grew up in and he got out of the car to go look at it. It was abandoned and pretty run-down. I wondered what he was thinking and thought about how I have felt when I’ve gone back and driven by the houses I grew up in. We also drove by the place where Antony and Jeanette got married, so that was really neat to see and I am sure very special for them.

 
Then, we drove through the neighborhoods that were in the red zone. That was eerie and sad to see. Houses that used to be lined with cars and children playing in the street and families eating at the dinner table were now empty. Grass was growing up tall around the windows and it was like looking at a ghetto. These had once been really nice, middle class family homes, and now they were cracked and broken and neglected with liquefaction spread about the lawns. We saw a few houses, especially this one that had sunk in the ground nearly two feet. We even paused and Antony turned off the car and music and we listened. Silence. You could only hear the cicadas buzzing. I thought how sad that would be to have to leave your home with all your memories. Some people hadn’t even been able to go back inside and get their belongings because it was just too dangerous. I would hate to go back to my old neighborhoods where I have such happy memories and to see the entire street abandoned and grown over, with life there no more. It was like a ghost town. Even going back and seeing my old houses, that part doesn’t seem right as it is, because I’ve looked at those houses and they are not the same, because we are not there, and the decorations and personal touches my mom and Dad made to it were gone; it was now someone else living there and it just did not look the same. The same flowers weren’t there or the new owners had painted the house a different color or something like that. So I couldn’t imagine how hard that would be to see your neighborhood in that condition. Many people were in the white zone in which they had no answers yet, whether or not their home or land was safe to return to or rebuild on. Those were the ones in limbo, as they have been calling it.

 
Josh was trying to explain the technical categories of the zonings of Christchurch, as the people in the white zone are most disturbed and frustrated understandably, for they do not know their future. He has been assisting many people who are at their wit’s end as where to go from here, but as this is New Zealand’s worst natural disaster in the history of the country, it is hard to determine. I am so proud of my husband!

 
By the time we left Christchurch and back to the airport, Josh and I felt quite ready to come back to Wellington. It had been a very eye-opening and emotional trip, but we enjoyed our time with Jeanette and Antony and getting to see new things. We love going to places we’ve never been. I sat by the window again on our way back, and it was so cool to see us approaching the North Island and I was amazed at the beauty still of this country. We were even able to see our flat from the plane window. It was that weird feeling again and kind of an oxy-moron; we were happy and relieved to be back home to Wellington, our temporary home; it’s not truly our home nor does it completely feel like it is. It was just us two coming back, not to be greeted by our families like if we were going back home to Texas. I don’t know if any of that makes sense, haha, it’s kind of hard to explain, but it was good to be back in Wellington and this has thus far been our favorite place in New Zealand, and glad to be where we have become more familiar with. There was that feeling, however, like I said, landing at the airport, and I even felt that different times when we were in Christchurch, where I really was feeling the miles; the distance between us and home. I guess the homesickness comes in waves like the ocean outside our window.

 

 

My heart is heavy for Christchurch. I commend them for their strength and my thoughts are with them as they deal with rebuilding their city and picking up the pieces from the earthquake. I will end this post with a poem I wrote.

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My City
Where have the young children gone?
Where are they who used to play
In my streets?
I cannot hear their laughter
Or see them climbing my trees.
I hear not the call of the mother
The children groaning they must come to bed.

Where have they gone?
Their laughter is only a memory
For now, all I hear is silence.
The homes are now all abandoned,
That once were filled with families.
The lights are off
I see not the flickering flames
Of candlelight in the window.
The windows stare back at me
Now, blankly, and empty.

Where have the young men and maidens gone?
Lovers who used to smile sweetly
And utter sighs of love
As they drifted timelessly and gracefully
Down the river.
And the lovers sitting ‘neath the weeping willows
Whispering secrets and promises of forever.

Where have they gone?
Their love is only a memory
For now, all I see is despair.

Where is the Bride?
Dressed purely in blinding, alabaster white
Cheeks rosy with love and excitement
And with tears in her eyes
As she enters my Great Cathedral?
Where is the Groom
Eagerly awaiting the sight of his beloved?
To hold her hand
And to smile sweetly at her
As they both utter sighs of love
And confess their promises of forever?

Where have they gone?
The rose petals scattered
Down the aisle,
Are only a memory,
For now, dust replaces their beauty.

Why is my cathedral empty?
Where have the stones gone?
Why are they broken
And lying in a rubble
‘Neath the shattered stained glass?
Where are the people
Who used to worship the God above?

Where have they gone?
Their singing voices praising God
Are only a memory,
For now, all I hear is the soft cry
Of a pigeon echoing a solemn and somber hymn.

Soon, every stone will be torn down
And my cathedral will be no more.

But then, the long night ends,
Dawn breaks, and the light of the sun
Illuminates the city.
They have come.
Yes, they have been here all along;
People who come together,
And with their bare hands
And passion beating in their hearts,
They pick up the stones and,
One by one,
Begin to rebuild my city.

The birds are singing,
Children are laughing again,
And I see the young men and maidens,
In love and sitting by my river.

Now, I see that for this place,
My dear city of Christchurch,
There is only a future.

And, if one were to listen closely
They can still hear
The tolling of the bell,
Faintly, but surely,
Resounding a message
Of Hope.

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Warning: This post contains a lot of complaining. Please do not be offended, it is me merely speaking my honest thoughts and adjusting to a new culture and dealing with homesickness. I’m not buttering up and lying about my experience, just telling my honest truth. Past posts and future posts you will see me praising New Zealand. This is not a very praise NZ one, so just giving a heads up.

 
The first few days of being a stay-at-home wife weren’t too shabby, I must say. It was so nice to finally have a break from the stress and figuring out what we were doing, and to be able to not have to go to work full-time like I’ve been used to since graduating college. I forgot what it was like to sleep in. I love sleeping, always been a big fan of it, so it was great to get caught up. I found myself feeling something I wasn’t expecting though. Guilt. I felt guilty! After a few days of waking up late, doing dishes, laundry, and cooking, I still felt like I should be at work. What am I doing? I’m wasting time! My mind was still in that work mode, work is your life, that I found myself feeling anxious and stressed inside because I wasn’t doing anything, and that just didn’t seem right. But, there were the days that I would tell myself that this was okay, to enjoy this break that I had and focus on writing again and enjoying the views of the ocean outside and to just relax. It was also a change to be cooking again. I hadn’t done much of that at all once Josh and I got married back in Texas. I always felt so worn out and exhausted by the time I got home from work that I couldn’t imagine cooking. I enjoyed cooking when we were dating and even before that since being on my own, but I guess my job had gotten more stressful since we got back from the honeymoon, new adjustment with married life, etc., so I just didn’t want to do it, haha. Josh actually enjoys cooking, or more rather, grilling. I love his steaks and pork chops, and I wish we had a grill today so I could enjoy his creations. He is very creative, and I was amazed when I found a guy who was able to cook. He didn’t even follow recipes either, which put me to shame, haha.

 
Anyways, so I was quite happy and felt like I was actually being a Betty Crocker wife when I had dinner made and ready on the table for Josh when he came home. This only happened once. Haha. Well, possibly twice. This doesn’t mean I only cooked for him twice, I’ve continued cooking for us, but I’m usually in the process of making it when he gets home. Some evenings, I would keep glancing out our window as we are on top of the hill and we can see the road down below, and get excited when I would catch a glimpse of our little red car about to drive up the road. Josh even said he saw me waving one time! Haha. I would be very ready for Josh to get home. Maybe it’s just a new wife thing and others can relate to this, but I wanted everything to be perfect for when he got home. It made me so happy to have dinner ready and waiting for him, and I felt bummed the first few times when it wasn’t finished. I got over that, though. Ha, not really, you know what I mean; I’m sure that feeling is common of wanting to make her husband happy after a long day at work and just be his sweet little wife cookin’ biscuits for him in the kitchen.

 
Because of the ridiculously high cost of living, and especially eating out, we learned, and, proud to say, that we both took turns cooking at home. So much cheaper! Eating out in New Zealand, or maybe it’s just a Wellington thing, either way, it is not easy we had also discovered. We had our bouts of homesickness often, always for our families, but also for the things we had taken for granted in America, like how much cheaper it is to eat out, that there’s fast food joints on every corner (though of course not always the best option, but oh well!), and with the hours that places stay open. Oh yeah, and good luck finding a parking spot. I guess that can be downtown in any city of any country, but we found this to be quite annoying. Thank goodness Josh was doing all the driving and parking, parallel parking scares me and I can’t do it. Seriously, don’t ever ask me to parallel park your car. It will be demolished. We had also found that we didn’t like much of the food, there were only a couple restaurants I had found that I actually liked something.

 
Let me illustrate this better for you. Think about a typical, average sized city in America. I will compare where we were living before coming here, Tyler, Texas (population around 100,000) to Wellington (population roughly 200,000, with suburbs included the area population is around 400,000) I can see it clearly. All the restaurants are generally on two main roads in Tyler…Broadway and The Loop. You see a restaurant one after another. Several options to choose from, and there are more scattered throughout the city. At the time of living in Tyler, I thought there were no choices there, but boy was I wrong, and how I actually longed to be back there on the days we were feeling super homesick. A few of our options would have been: Cheddars, Texas Roadhouse, Chilis, Applebee’s, Outback, TGIF, Olive Garden, Mercados (Mexican food is not good here, but I guess that makes sense), Rudy’s, El Chico, etc. Fast food I could go on and on about, but a few that I found myself desperately missing were Jack in the Box, Chick-fil-A, Church’s Chicken (haha), Wendy’s, Sonic, Whataburger, Schlotzskys, Dairy Queen. Imagine if you lived in a place and you no longer had those options? Ever?! They do have McDonald’s here, and I guess it’s the closest I’ve found resembling the ones back home, except for their breakfast food. Subway is basically the same here, and KFC is pretty close except they don’t have biscuits. What? I know. That is a sin to a girl growing up in Texas. Instead of biscuits they are rolls with the sesame seeds that you imagine in a cheap, plastic packet on sale at the supermarket. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a buttery, honey-glazed, crispy topped, warm inside biscuit from Church’s chicken. Good grief, I’m making myself hungry writing this. I must stop with the details. Well, those options of limitless food you are used to are not available here. There are several restaurants, but I guess they are hard to find and are hole in the wall type places. If you find a restaurant, you will most likely find it downtown, and it will take you forever to find a spot. When you find a spot, you have to pay of course, and parking is robbery. On average you have to pay $3 to $4 an hour. The restaurants back home, there were parking lots! Not parallel parking spaces you had to hunt down, but HUGE parking lots the size of America! And you don’t have to pay to park there. Apparently, the Nazis still exist. They sit on the power lines in downtown Wellington, like the creepy Birds movie, watching to see if you put the coins in the slot and get a parking slip and put it in view on your dashboard. If you don’t, boy, you better believe it; they WILL get you. And if you are a minute past the time allowed on your slip, those vultures shriek with anger as they fly down and grab all your money from your hands and pockets, then, after they are down robbing you, they pick you up with their talons and carry you off into the ocean. That’s how we felt about the parking police here, anyways. Harsh, I know, but in order to prevent the ozone layer being destroyed and polluting the country, jacking up the prices of public transport (the bus) and prices of parking and making every one go broke if they park in the wrong spot or for a few minutes over . . . that ain’t the way to do it. I’m sure you can already tell we had a run-in with one of these tickets, but that story is for another day.

parking-the-dominion-post
Via The Dominion Post 

 

Besides all this, the restaurant hours don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense either. Several times, when we did find a place to eat, they either said, “we’re not serving dinner yet” or “anymore”. The kitchen is closed. Excuse me? Isn’t 6, 7 or 8 ‘o’ clock the normal time when the rest of the world eats supper? Would you like a drinks menu, though? No thank you. You can imagine our frustration when we had to walk away and attempt to find another place that was serving food at the moment.

 
After one of these times when we couldn’t find a place to simply have a date night and eat dessert at 8:00, Josh said something I will never forget and I totally agreed with at that moment; “New Zealand is a frustrating country.”

 
I have found the food to taste different here also. My stomach hasn’t always reacted too well, either, and has often just felt upset and unhappy. It’s in the little things that can make a difference. I think my senses are really high like smell, and my taste buds are therefore even more sensitive and recognize these minor changes from what I’m used to. I’ve already mentioned the tomato sauce is sweeter and different from ketchup (though you can find the kind like in America in the grocery stores), the butter has a weird taste and is definitely not margarine and most people leave it out at room temperature instead of in the fridge because otherwise it gets hard. People also leave eggs out, which I have never understood, and they are creamy brown, so free range. And the milk…bleh! Josh and I have finally discovered that is probably what upsets our stomachs the most, I feel it making my stomach turn sour, so I no longer eat cereal with milk in the mornings and try to limit the use of it.

 
So, as you can see, there have been several advantages besides the cost for us deciding to eat in more. We always go to the grocery store together, which has been fun, and so much better than going alone. Josh even goes to the store by himself sometimes, and I don’t have to beg, or even ask him to! I have yet to go solo, though, for I am too afraid.
It’s been interesting being a housewife, and sometimes quite a challenge. Let me explain.
We have no dishwasher. For the price we are paying, which is quite a low price for the view, I guess that comes with some sacrifices. There were a few places when we were looking that didn’t have one, which I didn’t think would be a problem, but I was surprised to find. That is something I have obviously taken for granted, and has been an assumption growing up that every home has one of these. I remember doing the dishes with my sister as chores growing up, even though we had a dishwasher, I’m pretty sure in every house we ever lived in. I suppose it was to give us a working ethic. And to prepare me for here. It was like stepping back in time. All the kitchen sinks I’ve ever seen and known, well, they have two compartments. A big tub to put the dishes in to put the bubbles in and place a big pile of dishes in there and soak and pick each one up as you go and wash it. Then you have the other big compartment to either stack the dishes and wait to rinse them, or rinse as you go and let the soapy water drain off in that separate sink. My sister and I often would take turns doing this, and we would have fun and splash soap suds at each other and sometimes end up fighting, but it is a good memory I have nonetheless.

 
Anyways, well that scenario makes sense of how to properly and efficiently hand wash your dishes. But what about when your sink has only one compartment? I found that to be quite curious and an intriguing question. You have to be as methodical as you possibly can, I learned. It’s a dread to wash dishes now. I fill the sink up just a little bit with soapy water and try to wash several at a time, and leaving them in the sink until I have a collection, then turn the water on moderately to rinse (into the same tub of course, which accumulates water fast and so I have to keep draining it as I go). The water also gets dirty fast this way so I drain it and restart over a lot as it just doesn’t seem possible that they could really be getting cleaned and certainly not sanitized. Then I try to be strategic when I put them on the dish rack to dry, so there will be room, but that is never easy and the dishes just fall and clamber and clash and almost break. Not always a very relaxing process, though sometimes I actually have enjoyed it (especially with the view of the planes flying and ships coming into the harbor) and gives me time to think. It was a chore and ended up being an unsuccessful attempt to find a dish rack that had a bottom with it. No strainer for the water to drain out of and back into the sink so it won’t get on the wooden counter. We looked everywhere and even asked, but apparently they don’t make those or ship them here, they just come with the rack. So we use a dish towel instead to soak up the water and get damp and smelly. Haha. It takes a lifetime to wash dishes by hand and I do miss the dishwasher. I should have appreciated those when I had them! Josh and I would laugh at our sink and when you take out the heavy metal stopper on a chain to drain, it has the loudest suction I’ve ever heard, I was sure it was to take me down with it too. It scares me!

 
We are lucky to have a washing machine. I am very grateful for that.

 
Unfortunately, however, we do not have a dryer. I was surprised when we were moving in and meeting with the owner of the building and the leasing agent to hand us the keys, because I had thought there was a dryer when we first looked at it. Instead, beside the washing machine was a wash tub (which I still don’t know the point of that, either, guess I need to ask someone), which I guess was what I had been thinking of when we looked at it. I asked them if there was a way we could get a dryer later on if we wanted to, and the owner said we couldn’t! Because there wasn’t even a hook-up for it! Haha. He had taken that out a while back, because no one had ever used it anyways. And, he said cheerfully (he is a happy, positive fellow, and has been a great owner and made sure we are taken care of), “Just hang it out there, and it will be dry in 10 minutes flat.” Hmmm…I was skeptical considering what I’d already seen and heard of Wellington’s cold and wet and often cloudy weather. Being on a hill, or mountain, whatever you want to call it, this also meant we were exposed to the winds. Instead of the north winds, or south winds, or winds from the east or west, well, I never really knew or cared or was told by the weather forecaster back home which direction the wind was coming from or if it even mattered, I would just know that it was windy! However, here, you always hear the terms, “Southerlies” or “Northerlies”. Clip those clothes on tight buddy, for we were in for a ride living in the Windy city, on top of a mountain, at the bottom of the North Island!

 
I can handle washing the dishes in a very unpractical kitchen sink, but I have never had a good attitude about hanging our clothes on the line instead of chunking them into a dryer. “Well, you just gotta roll with the punches, Lindsey!” You might be saying. I don’t always roll with the punches, and I don’t believe you can always make lemonade when life gives you lemons.

 
On a clear, sunny, warm day with no wind or just a small breeze, yes, it’s great and actually relaxing and beautiful to look around me as I hang up our clothes. But here’s how it usually goes.

 
I step out onto our balcony, and it’s cold. Very cold. And it is summer time, mind you. I have a basket full of wet clothes that instantly turn cold. Then my hands are wet, and it’s windy. Very windy! Wellington is the Windy City. Let me illustrate this better for you; I did some research. In an article entitled, “How windy is Wellington, really?” by Tom Fitzsimons featured on The Dominion Post, it had an interesting piece of information:

“WINDY CAPITAL
248km/h: The highest gust of wind ever recorded in Wellington
29km/h: The average wind speed at Wellington Airport;
18km/h: Chicago’s average wind speed
104km/h: The highest gust at Wellington Airport this spring, on November 28th
233: The number of days winds topped gale-force speed in Wellington’s windiest year.”

wellington
Via The Dominion Post 

 

The highest gust of wind ever, we have thankfully not been here to experience, but 248 km/h is approximate to 154 mph! The article goes on to say, “And Wellington is much more consistently windy than most places, seeing gusts exceeding gale-force (75km/h) about 175 days every year at the airport”. (We live right by the airport, remember). That would be about 46 mph. We have already experienced a few days since this article was written and that we’ve lived here in our flat where the gusts were between 100 and 120 kph! So, that’s around 60 to 80 miles per hour! One of those days was actually called “the weather bomb”, and I will hopefully include pictures of that in a later post.

 
Maybe you have a little more sympathy for me now. Haha. And, now back to me hanging up laundry. So, my hands are soon ice and I’m just shivering and trying to hurry as fast as I can. The wind is blowing something fierce nearly every day it seems. Amazingly, I found a place that is actually windier than Lubbock, Texas, a place known for its dust storms that turns the sky brown and leaves dirt on your windowsills. So, there I am attempting to hang up our clothes with these ghetto clips that leave indentions on the clothes once they dry. The whole time, it’s like I have to roll with the punches after all, or that I am in a boxing match, and I’m certainly getting defeated. The clothes and wind work together and are out to get me; slapping me in the face, hitting me in the eye, making me trip and stumble, and even making my hair my enemy with it whipping itself in my face as well and making me go blind. I’m sure it would be a sight to see, and I just grumble and get so mad and talk to myself, haha. And forget trying to hang the sheets! That has been the biggest nightmare of all. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to hang those things up, and they kept swallowing me up and eating me like a bug getting caught in a Venus Fly trap. I could see the headlines now, “Death by Sheet.” They kept coming off the clips and then swelling up into a big balloon, I thought it was going to carry me off to Never Never Land. I could relate to Mr. Frodo, again! Haha. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. . . and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

 
I guess the laundry has to just pile up during the weeks that it’s cloudy and rainy, because you put the clothes out to dry and they never do, or they just get wet again, or blow away. We’ve seen a couple of articles of clothing that belong to us in the bush down below; maybe a wild animal will use them for a blanket. Or we can go to a laundry mat; I suppose that’s what we will have to do in winter. I don’t understand not having a dryer these days, or a dryer connection; this isn’t the time of the Great Depression, we are decades past that. It saves energy, but, is it worth all the time and energy and frustration? I don’t think so, haha. And especially it is not worth any of this living in Wellington, because of its weather. Our clothes are getting all stretched out and they are always wrinkled and cold when you put them on. Oh, how I long for a dryer, to put on clothes hot and soft and wrinkle free, fresh out of the dryer. Sigh . . .

 
These are some of our frustrations and things we’ve been adjusting to and dealing with. It hasn’t always been easy, but then there are the good, and beautiful days when the sun is warm and looking out our window we just can’t believe it. Or walking along the harbor and soaking up the sun and reveling in the days that are nice.

 
As the saying here goes, “You can’t beat Welly on a good day!”

 
Just pray that you don’t have an ugly day in Wellington . . . cold, cloudy, and rainy, or days with gale force winds. And pray for money, too, a lot of it! A good attitude would help as well, but this post is not a good example of that from me!

Valentine’s Day

On Valentine’s Day, our first to celebrate together as a married couple, as husband and wife, I learned the art of improvisation. And that living in a foreign country is not an easy thing.

 

Of course we both said we didn’t want anything and not to get each other a gift for V-Day. I also knew Josh had something planned for us to do and that we couldn’t really afford to get fancy gifts for one another; I knew all this. But, I wanted to get him something! I love giving gifts and couldn’t stand the fact to not give my husband something special on Valentine’s Day, our first being married. I already had a plan; not a big one, but a plan nonetheless. Josh took the car to work every day, which had already been an adjustment on my part of not being able to get in my own car and go run an errand whenever I wanted to. How much I have taken my having a car, and us having 2 vehicles between us when we first got married, for granted. Anyways, well, right down the hill and a little ways down the road was one of the suburbs. I knew of a dairy, which is on nearly every corner here, and these are called Tip Top. Basically like a little convenience store. Why not walk there and get Josh something? A perfect plan I thought, and he would be surprised and wonder when and how I had done that. I wasn’t going to get anything big (obviously if I was going to a convenient store!) but I love, love giving cards and want to have one to celebrate all of our special events so we can keep them and look back years to come and remember where we were that moment in time and how we felt. So, I hoped they would have a card there. If not, I would walk a few more blocks down to the Warehouse (the Walmart of NZ). I was actually pumped and excited about the idea, and I could finally be independent again and do something on my own without Josh having to hold my little hand, haha. I’ve felt so helpless here many times. I got all ready and walked out the door. Cloudy. As I started walking down the steep (very steep) road down to the main road below, it started sprinkling or more like a heavy mist. Oh great, it’s going to pour down rain on me! I had already walked down to the beach one day on my own from our house, and decided after climbing Mt. Everest on the way back home (our road), that I wouldn’t do that again. Going down was fun and easy, but not back up. So now, here I was thinking, I’m going to get stranded in a tropical cyclone and not be able to walk the hill (as people call them here) back up to our house. Oh well. I was determined. And I love my husband.

 
I kept walking. It was nice with the ocean on my right-hand side, and still unbelievable that this is where I live, and that I was walking beside waves crashing into the shore. I felt paranoid and like everyone was out to get me, and eyeing every person suspiciously walking my way and always checking my back. I wished Josh was with me. Haha. So I kept walking, crossed a couple roads, and was by now feeling cold, wet, and damp, and suffocating in the humid air. The store was further away from our house than I thought. At last, I made it. I was greeted by a sweet, Indian lady at the front counter. Well, what do ya’ know? There was a stand with greeting cards and I had several options for a Valentine’s Day card! I was quite surprised. I took out every card, and read each one twice, and pondered, and pondered some more. They were all pretty cheesy and cheap, but I at last found one that I thought that couldn’t have been more perfect for us. Success! I couldn’t believe my luck. Hmmm….what else can I find in here? Ah-hah! Yes! I was delighted to see a bottle of sparking white grape juice. How romantic and sweet would that be? And such a surprise. We both love that and have made it our tradition to drink it to celebrate special occasions.

 
Might as well make use of my time and money there, and I even grabbed a package of toilet paper, which we had just completely ran out of that day. I was making a killing! I was feeling so proud of myself and just imagining how surprised and impressed Josh would be, and how much he would love that I went and got him a card.

 
I carried my items up to the counter, and she scanned them in and gave me the total. I already had a knot in my stomach when I looked at the credit card scanning machine and noticed that there was a big piece of black tape on the button I needed; Credit! This isn’t going to work for me; I knew it. I’ve been so confused by our different cards and the pin numbers, and how sometimes you have to push credit and sometimes cheque, it was so daunting. I remembered how to do it this time, but to no avail. Our American credit card only works using the credit button, which for some unfortunate reason, was not working at this particular store. Okay. Well, that’s why I also brought our New Zealand banking card as a back-up, which I also remembered how to use. The first card was invalid. And now this one. I knew the NZ one wouldn’t work probably because we still had all our money in the other account, but I was hoping beyond hope. Of course I didn’t have any cash on me, so I got all sad and embarrassed, and said, “Well, I guess I can’t get it. I’m sorry.” And had to leave it all on the counter and walk away with the biggest lump in my throat. I had to fight from bawling as I walked back home in the cold and wet air, but my eyes were blurry with tears. It was one of those moments where you are completely overwhelmed; by everything. Frustrated and just feel depressed. I had a pity party for myself for several minutes and felt so angry and sad. I can’t do anything! I can’t even get my husband a Valentine’s Day card, for crying out loud! And we were out of toilet paper, to boot! I felt like a failure. Of course it wasn’t my fault, but that is how this emotional girl felt. I felt like the day was ruined and I felt like just giving up. This country had defeated me. I knew I could walk several more blocks to the Westpac ATM and try and get cash out, or walk to the supermarkets, or the Warehouse, and I thought about it only for a mere second, because I knew that none of those options would work for me. So why bother?
For, you see, this was not my first encounter of bad luck concerning money matters. A couple months before, when we had been staying at Keith and Elsa’s house still, I felt like I needed some alone time at the coffee shop (which means there had been an argument between me and Josh, haha) and so I had him drop me off at Starbucks. I was all alone, like I wanted to be, but which was not such a good thing in the end. I ordered a chai tea latte, and tried to use my banking card, but, it didn’t work. Later I learned I had pressed the wrong button (who would have known)…credit when I should have pushed cheque. Well, it still could have worked for me, why does it have to be so complicated? I asked the cashier girl if they would take American dollars, haha, but her and the drink maker guy just laughed at me. How embarrassing! I felt like everyone was watching too, and so I had to do the same thing then and say I’m sorry, I guess I can’t get it. And hung my head down and (can you imagine the Johnny Cash song, “ . . . I hang my head and cry” . . . haha, what a perfect soundtrack that would have been for that moment) and started to walk away and to the table, since I had no ride and had to wait for Josh to pick me up. Ugh. Then the guy called out to me and said, “hey, you can still have it, I already made it and there’s no point in it going to waste!” I said, “No you don’t have to do that. Are you sure?” And he said no worries and gave it to me. That made me feel even worse! What a loser and low-life I was! Haha. And then I felt mad at Josh too, like it was his fault, which it really wasn’t of course, but everything always worked for him, and I needed his help. I couldn’t do anything and nothing worked for me. When Josh came back to pick me up, I told him the situation and he went ahead and paid for it, which made me feel much better. Needless to say, I wasn’t going back to that Starbucks again.

 
Another time, Josh had asked me to go to the Westpac ATM one day while he was at work on a Friday, when our rent was due at our flat, and to withdraw from Bank of America account some money and then go into the bank and deposit it into our New Zealand Westpac account so he could pay online. I knew that wasn’t going to work, and I had him explain it to me over and over again. So I went one Friday with Jenn after our bible study and had her drop me off and wait while I did that. I tried the ATM, and it of course didn’t work. I even went inside and talked to the bank people, and the guy even called Bank of America. But they couldn’t help me; they said maybe there was a glitch with the ATM machine and to try another location. I wanted to go around the corner, grab him by the hand, and say, “all I want you to do is walk with me out here to this stupid ATM and help me, and make it give me my money. Or why can’t you give me my money?” But I didn’t do that. I just left the bank empty-handed, and upset again at Josh, because, it was his fault, of course! Haha, I am being sarcastic but I felt mad and frustrated that nothing seemed to work for me, and I knew and told him it wasn’t going to work for me, which was true. I still don’t know what the problem was that time; well, actually, I think I pressed the wrong button.

 
I never felt this dumb in America!

 
Anyways, so back to Valentine’s Day. On the way home, empty-handed, I decided I would take a short-cut and what I thought would be an easier way home. There were steps, the pedestrian access that led to our road, View Road. Lots and lots of steps and a sidewalk with several switchbacks. I wanted to avoid walking along the busy road too that I had walked on my way to the store, which I knew I needed in that moment; I didn’t want cars driving by and staring at me, especially if I was crying! I don’t know why I thought that route would be easier, it was ten times worse! Each day I seemed to realize how out of shape I am, and wondered how people do this. It was like the stairway to heaven. After the steps, it wasn’t over. Just up and up. More ramps that climbed steeply. I was so out of breath and exhausted and started crying some more because it was just never ending. What a baby, I felt like. Along the way, though, I must have started to feel a little better, because I was noticing the beautiful flowers. Hmmm….

 
I finally reached our road, and still had a long ways to walk to our house, but at least I was on top of the mountain. I was passing more flowers along the way, and though I know it’s not kosher for girls to get guys flowers, I thought I could make use of the situation and improvise. Bring some beauty to our little flat and celebrate Valentine’s Day and have a beautiful, colorful bouquet of flowers sitting on the table and smelling so sweet for when Josh arrived home from work. Well, my little brain got to thinking some more and I had an idea. I could make a fun game out of this! I picked up flowers from people’s yards (shame on me) but didn’t care. There were so many different varieties of flowers at each house; I was amazed. And these are just the wild flowers of New Zealand that grow so freely! I felt guilty any time a car drove by and I tried to hide them behind my back. I just knew I was going to get in trouble.

 
I was practically skipping when I got back to our flat. I picked some more from our pathway and I had one of the most gorgeous bouquets I had ever seen. God’s flowers! I put them in one of our coffee mugs and was feeling quite happy. I knew I was running out of time if I wanted to do what I had planned in my mind, and I had to hurry; I really wanted it to work out. I was going to plan a scavenger hunt for when Josh arrived home from work. Well, I started on it, and was going to put a picture of us, our engagement picture with a note on it from me onto the desktop on our laptop, but then I couldn’t figure out how to change the background. It wasn’t working for me! I was obviously already stirred up emotionally, and I found that to be the last straw. I wished someone were videotaping me that day because I sure was creating my own soap opera. After that mishap, I threw myself onto the bed dramatically with my hand to my brow and just wept. I guess I was in need of a good cry, because I sure let it all out. I cried for a long time. It’s kind of funny now in retrospect, but it wasn’t then. I felt so hopeless and I just wanted to go home where everything was easy and simple. Where I could have bought a V-Day gift for Josh, several in fact, and where I could have driven one block over to Target or Walmart and had a heyday with the amount of perfect cards to choose from. I lay there for a long time, deciding I would be a baby and that the day was ruined and I would stay like that until Josh came home and just wallow in my misery and make our night worse.

 
Alas, though, I got over myself. I started working frantically and writing notes, or the clues on pieces of paper. I used my creativity and thought of different places to put the slips of paper and make him have to figure out where to look next. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too hard, and that he would figure it out otherwise we would be in trouble! It was actually a lot of fun! I even discovered how to leave the photo of us in which I wrote another clue, to just leave it on the screen for when Josh opened up our laptop. Everything was finally coming together. I had to hurry, because he was going to be home soon. I put on a dress and got my makeup all pretty and put on my fancy, long, dangly diamond earrings and my scarf from our honeymoon in Santorini, grabbed my tennis shoes and purse, locked the front door, and left our flat. Where was I going? You might be wondering. Josh was going to have to find his present, and I wasn’t going to make it that easy for him.

 
We had recently discovered beautiful walking trails right down the street from our flat, that led to an amazing lookout over the Pacific Ocean, at the very southern point of the North Island. On a good day, we could even see the awe-inspiring silhouettes of the South Island’s mountains in the distance. We had walked there together the night before, and watched the golden sunset, taking in the beauty.

 
So, I hiked to that point (yes, in my dress, but I did bring my tennis shoes which I switched into once I got off the main road) where the bench was that we sat on the night before. I thought that was such a romantic place. The clues, if Josh understood them all, were going to lead him to his Valentine’s Day present, which was, of course . . . Me!

 
I left the house at 5:00, rushing and hoping that Josh wouldn’t get home early and see me and ruin it all. Takes about 10 to 15 minutes to get to the lookout, so I waited there. And waited. And waited some more. He usually got home around 5:45, and I was just praying that he wasn’t stuck on one of the clues, otherwise this plan wouldn’t work. We only had one cell phone between us at the time, not even a landline, so I was beginning to imagine all the possibilities of how this could go wrong and if he didn’t find me, and then I went home, but then he was looking for me, and then filed a missing persons report with the police! The sun was shining and it was so beautiful and I thought how neat it would be for him to see me sitting at the top of the hill all dressed up, just waiting for him. It kept getting later, and then some dark clouds started rolling in again and I just knew I was going to get drenched. Oh, please work!

 
A feeling of relief and nervousness and excitement and happiness overcame me when I saw him appear around the bend down below and look up at me. He was smiling so big, so happy to see me. And, I could tell he was tired and out of breath, haha. It was actually a pretty steep climb, and he took the harder route too, and had his backpack on. I hoped he wasn’t upset and that I hadn’t ruined any of his plans or making us be rushed, but his smile made me know that all he cared about was to see his wife. He got to the top and I was holding a notebook that I had been writing a letter for him and on one of the pages I had written in big, block letters, “Happy Valentine’s Day!!!” and underneath that in small letters, “I love you Josh! Here is your Valentine’s Day gift…ME!!!” I was holding this up for him as he walked up to me. He was going on about how he couldn’t believe I had done this, and that it was the coolest, best thing anyone had ever done for him. Then I got up and hugged and kissed him, and he told me how beautiful I was. It was all so very sweet. We stood there a few minutes talking about how he found me and what he was thinking, and then just taking in our surroundings again. I said I hoped I didn’t ruin tonight’s plans or make us behind, but he said we were still great on time. Success!

 

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We walked back to our flat, and I could tell just how happy Josh was and how he appreciated what I had done for him. I told him the whole story, too, haha. Got back home, and he finished getting ready, then we headed out the door for the plans he had made for us. In the car was a gift for me, a chocolate candy flower with the most delicious truffle inside that tasted like a brownie. He had taken a nibble out of it already, haha, which I thought was quite funny.

 
A big surprise was where he was taking me for dinner. I had always been talking about and obsessed with this restaurant we always drove by in Wellington on the waterfront, and our favorite area, Oriental Parade. It was a restaurant out on the water, and converted from an old ship. I thought it looked so cool, and been begging for us to go eat there one day, but we had never gone yet. So he told me that’s where we were going. Yay! And he pulled out movie tickets, which I had been telling him forever that I wanted to see, “The Vow” starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams. I had seen the preview with my friend Adeline when we went to the movies together one time, and I thought how romantic it looked and that Josh and I had to go see it. My husband did good.

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We did end up being behind though, which I felt a little bad for, but also the restaurant took ages to bring us our food; the kitchen was obviously extremely backed up. He was stressed, and then I was stressed because it was getting to be where we would only have like 10 minutes to scarf down our food. We still had to drive to the theatre which wasn’t too far away but we were worried about parking (a nightmare to find and extremely expensive….the parking Nazis live in Wellington). Tick, tock, tick, tock. Great, we were going to miss our movie which Josh had already booked online for. They finally brought us our food, and I do believe we inhaled it in five minutes (and I am the slowest eater ever!). The steak was delicious, the best one I had had since our time here, as I have been extremely disappointed and not found one I liked yet. Potatoes au gratin and fresh green beans; mmm, those were the best! Wished I could have enjoyed it more, but we hurried and rushed out the door and Josh peeled out of the parking lot. “Calm down! It’s okay baby.” I felt bad though.

 

We were lucky to find a parking spot in like the only parking lot in all of downtown that the theatre is fortunate to have instead of searching for a parallel spot on the street (which Josh is extremely good at parallel parking; I have been so impressed with him for). Got into the theatre to see the movie had already started which was a bummer, and I think we had only missed about the first five to ten minutes, so it wasn’t that bad.

 
The movie was good, pretty romantic and sweet, and got us both thinking those “what if that happened to us” questions. I think it made Josh very troubled, haha. I wasn’t super impressed with the movie, but we still really enjoyed it and our time together. We walked out of the theatre holding hands and feeling weird that we were in Wellington, New Zealand celebrating our first Valentine’s Day together as husband and wife. Of all places, never thought we would be where we were that day. It was pretty cool.

 
So, I learned to improvise, like I said earlier, and that living in a foreign country is not easy. But I also learned, or remembered, that I am one lucky girl. I have the sweetest husband in the world, Josh Fears, who I am so thankful for and in love with, and who loves me more than anything in this world. I feel this love from him every day. He is so good to me. I learned that gifts, and even my favorite thing of giving cards, don’t really matter. I know, I know, I’m sounding like a Hallmark commercial, though they wouldn’t approve of my last statement. But really, all that matters was our love for each other, and being together.

 

JF + LF = LOVE

The Hobbit

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

I still remember that day clearly, as though it were yesterday, yet it is still almost merely a dream-like memory. I was in the fourth grade, and I loved to read. We had a program at our school called Accelerated Reader, which awarded you for reading lots and lots of books. To participate in this activity or game I would like to call it, you had to take a test on the computer after reading the book to see if you actually read it or not; how well your comprehension was. On the test, it also told you what level of reading the book was. The more books you read, the higher the score, of course, and then you could also get a prize! Two ladies who would often dress up as characters from books would wheel a cart down the hallways and come into our classroom on Fridays and with such enthusiasm that kids adored, announced the winners and hand out prizes for the student’s high scores. This was certainly a huge incentive to me, but even without this bribery, I would have been no stranger to the walls of my school’s library. This place fed my love for stories; of fairy tales and adventures, of romance and tragedy, of animals and nature. My imagination could run wild because of this place and when reading a book that was well written, I was there; it became not words on paper, but reality; I was there running alongside the characters and facing the monsters and bad guys they fought, and falling in love with the brave knight who came to my rescue.
One day, a young girl in the fourth grade I was, I walked into the library and scoured the shelves in search of a good book and new adventure. I do judge books by the cover. At least I did then, and pretty sure now, too, as I have found myself putting back a book or two at Barnes & Noble in disgust if I don’t like the picture on the front, shame on me, I know! I was browsing that day when I saw a BIG—and I mean especially big for the little fourth grade girl I was—book that was tall and thick and yellow golden in color. I pulled the heavy thing off the shelf and I know my eyes just lit up and got wide with wonder and excitement. A painted illustration of a great big, scary and formidable dragon with fire breathing out of its angry mouth, guarding its bed of brightly colorful red rubies, and green emeralds and golden treasure. In big letters, a simple, yet intriguing and captivating title, it read, (you can read the title out loud, and be very dramatic when you say it, for emphasis and to imagine how I felt in that moment) . . . “The Hobbit”. Woah! You don’t have to tell me twice; I was sold! What in the world is a hobbit? I thought. Oooh, I couldn’t wait to go home and read it and find out. What thrilled me to the core was looking in the back and seeing what the teachers had decided what the grade level of reading this book was… “9th Grade”!!! I felt so proud of myself, I was about to try reading a book that the big kids read in their English classes…what a High Schooler reads! I went home and read that book, and have had a love for hobbits ever since. Call me a nerd if you want, but I even wished that they were real and I probably might have imagined they were J I took the Accelerated Reading test later, and passed with flying colors. Yay! That book captured my attention wholeheartedly and fueled my adventure-hungry mind and inspired me all the more to create my own stories; in my head and on paper. You see, Bilbo, the main character, or, the hobbit . . . he and I have a lot in common. At first, he thought he had no need for adventures in his life; for, after all:

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” (Gandalf the Wizard)
“I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” (Bilbo)

And yet, there was a fire, a longing that grew stronger each day in his heart, to leave his comfortable hobbit hole and set out on an adventure. And what an adventure he had, and he discovered something along the way that set the stage for an even greater tale and the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, by the same author J.R.R. Tolkien. A funny thing about that . . . after I read The Hobbit, I was slightly confused because of how it ended. I was kind of like, that’s it? Like there should have been more since it thrust me into this great tale with all these characters and Bilbo finding a ring, and a great war, but then it just ends with really no resolution, just like it’s hanging there. I always thought that a little strange and I found myself a bit disappointed, yet I still loved the book.
Imagine my surprise and understanding when three years later, I was in the library and saw another book, three in fact, to make up a trilogy called The Lord of the Rings. After reading the back of the books, it was like a light bulb went off and I had to slap myself in the face for being so dumb, I felt like an idiot! Of course The Hobbit left you hanging, because that wasn’t the end; that was just the beginning, the prequel to the biggest story of all time! As you can see, I am quite a fan, and highly recommend all to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece. In junior high, two of my best friends, Jade and Kiri, were also fans and were currently reading the trilogy. I checked the books out, but I never got very far in the first, The Fellowship of the Ring. I kept re-checking it out, but it was such a hard read; a lot more advanced than The Hobbit. It was kind of frustrating. I still hadn’t forgotten about the trilogy, and was encouraged all the more to pick it up again and read the whole thing when Peter Jackson began filming and brought The Fellowship into theatres my sophomore year of high school. That same year, I finally read through the whole trilogy; I wanted to finish it before all three of the movies came out. Tolkien’s story has impacted my life tremendously and I am so glad that the story was brought to the big screen. Throughout high school, I continued to be best friends with Jade and Kiri, and we were OBSESSED with the movies and the book. It was a big part of my life and every year we had a special bond together as we made it a tradition to go to the theatres and watch each film together for the first time. It was perfectly set up since the first one came out our sophomore year, “The Two Towers” our junior year, and the final film at the end of our high school days; senior year brought us “The Return of the King”. It came out around Christmas time each year, so it was our reward and treat, after our finals were over, to go eat at Olive Garden and then watch our favorite stories played out for us with the characters we envisioned in our minds when reading now real characters that we could really put a face to. The final film is gut wrenching to the fans, and to anyone with a heart. That’s what I love about the story; all the themes that we as people can easily relate to. Themes of hope and friendship and loyalty, and Good vs. Evil. It’s awesome! The story was also about saying goodbye to friends, and the tears flowed like a river from me and Kiri’s eyes as we watched the film; knowing that this was the end of our tradition and nearing the time when we were all three going to have to part ways to our different colleges and say goodbye.
My love for this literary masterpiece carried with me on to college as well, and I spent my whole senior year in the library engrossed in books and research writing my senior thesis on “Christian symbolism in ‘The Lord of the Rings’”. I would sit in the library many days listening to all three of the movies soundtracks on my I-Pod to stay motivated, haha. You can laugh at me, I know, that is kind of embarrassing. But I am so grateful for this story, and it honestly even helped me in my Christian walk, especially writing my thesis, using a story I love and being able to relate it to God.
Well, as you can guess, if you know any thing about those movies, you probably know that it was filmed in, none other than where I am right now. New Zealand. And thus, back in high school, my love for this land that was Middle-Earth began. I have to go there! I told myself. I dreamed of going on my honeymoon with my husband. I did think it would even be cool to possibly live there one day if I were brave enough. Funny how life works out.
And, like Bilbo, I am on an adventure now. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings also inspired me to have my own adventures. I guess life itself is an adventure too, when you really think about it, and like the wise and insightful Helen Keller observed, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” At times, and before coming to New Zealand, in fear I thought about staying in my little hobbit hole, comfortable, warm, and safe, surrounded by all things familiar. And yet, the same fire and longing in my heart to be part of a grand adventure calls me to look out the window at the mountains in the distance and at new roads I must tread, pick up my walking stick, and carry my little (but not hairy) feet down the dusty road, thinking, “Still round the corner there may wait, A new road or a secret gate.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

Currently, while we are residing in New Zealand, Peter Jackson is filming “The Hobbit” here, again in the land that became known as Middle Earth to many people. I keep hoping we will come across them filming one day as they shoot throughout the North and South island.

Well, the day came that I heard some news and learned something even better than coming across them filming . . . I could actually BE in the movie!!! I could be a hobbit! Thanks to Antony who saw the ad on TradeMe and told me about it, they were having an extras casting call in Wellington! With this long intro of my history with The Hobbit and LOTR, you can only imagine my reaction. This was like the most exciting, best news in my life! Haha. So, that is what I mentioned in the previous blog, that Josh and I did on Saturday morning, January 28th, the day after moving into our flat.

I knew I didn’t quite fit the requirements listed on the ad, but I didn’t care and knew it was worth a shot and to be able to say I at least went to the casting call to be in “The Hobbit”, in New Zealand! It don’t get much better than that! I never thought I would be able to say that. The ad said they were looking for extras to play hobbits, being shorter than 5’ 1. They were also looking for tall, slender people to play elves, being at least 5” 5’ if you were female. If you didn’t fit that, they said they were also looking for people with character faces . . . which I think that means you look kind of ugly, haha. Oh, great! I don’t think I have a character face to be an Orc or a woman of the wild. And, I am too tall to be a hobbit, and too short to be an elf . . . I’m right in the middle, being 5” 3, I think. I was always pretty short in school and I guess about average now, but I actually didn’t prefer to be a hobbit (though I would still take it!) but was so excited to think maybe they would choose me to be an elf. And then I could star opposite Orlando Bloom! I wore a green and blue and white dress that I had worn for me and Josh’s engagement pictures, and put part of my hair back to make my ears stick out more and I straightened my blonde hair. I would be the perfect elf! I was going to wear my high heels but Josh was smart and told me to just wear my flats because they would most likely make us take our shoes off anyways. We woke up early that morning and I got all ready. I was so nervous I almost felt sick! Haha. I was like, what if I really get it? Oh, I would be so nervous! And what if they make me try out by doing a speaking part, reading from a script? We were like, nah, they wouldn’t do that to be an extra.

The casting call was at a school hall in Lower Hutt, an outlying suburb of Wellington, at 1:00 p.m. I knew there would be a huge line, so we left early though I was afraid we might not be early enough. We left our flat at about 11:00 and arrived between 11:30 and 11:45. There was a long line all right! Driving over there and arriving and seeing the long line of people, nerds like me, hopeful of being chosen, I just couldn’t believe I was doing this. Josh was excited for me and kind of making fun of me too, haha. But hey, he was alongside me and said he of course was going to try out too! I was like, “you’re gonna get picked and be an Elf, and I’m not gonna be in it! I will be SO mad at you!” We had to park pretty far away next to a river, and then walked down the road to get to the end of the line. I was still pretty nervous. So, we waited in the hot sun for quite a while, but then the line started moving before 1:00 which was good, so we really only stood out there for almost an hour. Some guys came around while we waited handing out information sheets that we had to fill out with our measurements, talents, where we live, and availability. When Josh read that you had to be available on 9 hours notice pretty much any day of the week, for the filming that would occur between February and June, he knew he was going to have to pass. I already knew he probably wouldn’t be able to with his full-time job, but that just confirmed it. I’m sure he would have gotten chosen if he did try out, because he really would be the perfect elf, which would have been pretty dang cool to say my husband was an elf in one of my favorite books turned into a movie!

With each step that got closer to the front door, the more anxious I felt and my stomach was filled with not butterflies, but birds, angry birds. What if I really did have to act out a part? Or what if The Peter Jackson was in there, along with Frodo and Bilbo? I was hoping Gandalf was in there with his white staff, so he could make me grow just a few inches taller and I could fulfill my dream of being an elf. At last, Josh stepped out of the line, and I was on my own and alone to walk in the doors of that little school hall. The guy at the front, who was kind of big compared to me and intimidating, separated us into two lines. He told me to go left. I wonder what that means? I thought to myself. As predicted by my husband, I had to take off my shoes. I had noticed a lot of girls wearing stilettos and clomper heels, so I’m glad I didn’t look like an idiot doing that after all. I didn’t see Peter Jackson in there, which I was a little disappointed, just normal people. Lucky them, though, they get to work on this film. I felt like I was shaking as it was finally my turn to hand the girl my piece of paper and stand against the wall as she measured my height. She yelled it out to the other lady sitting at the front table, I’m not sure what it was though I don’t remember plus I think she was using the metric system. The lady handed me my paper back after she had written a note, “blonde hair, green dress” I guess for when the reviewing panel would look at the pictures later. I wished I had a pen to scribble another note saying, “Pick this girl!” I was motioned to another line where we stood against another wall and a lady took a picture of each of us. I was watching all the other people in front of me, and even asked the couple in front of me, “Are we not supposed to smile, or do you know?” because they were all straight-faced and almost frowning. I want to smile! I thought. They said just be serious, I guess. Hopefully that was the right thing to do, because that’s what I did. It felt weird and awkward as all the people in line were just staring and the girl took two or three pictures, full length and up close, and I stood there trying not to smile. And then, that was it! I walked out of there and instantly felt my nerves calm again and relieved that that was over. I don’t know if I could handle being a movie star, with all those flashing lights.

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I walked out and found my husband, who I was very glad to see again. We were astounded by the long line of people…it was outrageous! We had gotten there in the nick of time. It was stretching far down into a park and almost all the way out to the busy highway. Which, by the way, when we had been waiting in line outside, it was right by the super busy motorway and the traffic was jamming up as everyone was in the turning lane to get into the parking lot. We drew a lot of attention to passerby’s as they honked and waved and just stared at us weirdos. It was a tight squeeze in our car and we almost got scraped by trying to get out of there, but eventually, we made it out.

Well, I had done it! I had tried out to be in “The Hobbit”! Who gets to say that? Haha. Never thought I would.
We later learned that I was quite lucky, because the turn out was so phenomenal and exceeded expectations and became dangerous due to the highway, that they had to shut down the casting call early. They were only expecting 1,000 people to show up, but over 3,000 are estimated to have shown up. Only 800 people, myself included, got to make it in the doors and have a chance. In fact, it made international news! You can read a couple of those articles here:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/culture/6283608/Hobbit-casting-call-in-capital

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/culture/6331323/Wannabe-hobbits-turned-away

http://www.buzzbox.com/news/2012-01-31/peter-jackson:rings/?clusterId=8297790

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It was an amazing day and experience to say I got to be a part of; whether I get to be an extra in the movie or not. Who knows if I would get a call, as the selection process is still underway; I have a long time to find out or not whether I would make it. Either way, I cannot wait until the first part comes out (they are making The Hobbit into two films) and the world premier is set for Wellington in November. I’m not sure the date yet, but we are staying until it premiers. I want tickets and I want to go to the event that they supposedly bring the red carpet out for in the streets of this city I now live in. Boy, I’d go bonkers, and I will be that screaming fan that nearly passes out that they show on TV. And I will meet Peter Jackson, and Elijah Wood, and Orlando Bloom. I might even have a cup of tea and eat lembas bread with them, too. It’s on my bucket list anyway.

I shall leave you with the trailer for “The Hobbit”. When I first watched this online a couple months ago, I was by myself, I wish Josh had seen me, but I literally screamed and really squealed with delight when I watched it and clapped my hands. I was so excited! I couldn’t believe I was living where they are currently filming it and I have already seen some of the landscape! The music, the dwarves singing their song; I can tell it’s already an amazing soundtrack and just seeing the background, it was all almost just too much for me. Somebody might need to sedate me before I go see that film in theatres. And I want to watch it here. How cool would that be? Man, this trailer gives me goose bumps watching it, too. I’m a big fan, can you tell?

In Search of Shelter

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” -Henry David Thoreau

Before coming to New Zealand, and all my life, I had this romantic ideal of living like a gypsy. Of being a vagabonder, traveling around and living in different places. Picking up your bag and off to a new place the next day and not settling in but living like a nomad, so you don’t get bored with the routine but have the world to explore and see, all at your feet. I think I thought about it dreamily before meeting Josh, and upon meeting him, we both expressed our interest and desire to travel abroad, to see and discover the world, and not be stuck in the same town doing nothing and seeing nothing, just waiting until you are old and retired, and miss out on life. We shared the same dream and vision. Amazing. When dating, he had talked about living abroad, possibly China, which I cringed at that idea but just smiled and nodded sweetly at him as you normally do when dating. Haha. No, I actually do remember expressing that I didn’t picture myself living there long term. We later talked about our dream place to go, which I said was New Zealand, and talked about going to this exotic, far-away land on our honeymoon. Those plans changed along the way, and we chose Europe instead, which was pretty sweet, to say the very least. Then, Josh filled my head with talk of maybe living abroad, as in my favorite place, New Zealand, one day after we got married. That sounds foolish, I thought to myself, but didn’t dare to mention aloud. I did express my true sentiments vaguely, however, and said that might be a little hard to actually live abroad, away from family, though I would love to tour and visit all these places I’ve wanted to see; maybe stay for a few months at a time. Along the way of dating, in a short time I might add, we both fell madly in love with each other, and then got married. And then, what were once ideals as foreign and distant as the miles that truly separated me from New Zealand then became within my grasp; a dream that I could catch in my hand. Josh isn’t just all talk, I had been finding out along the way. He is a man of action. Not only a dreamer like me, but a doer. What a discovery I had found! The thoughts of living away from home that I had once just waved my hand at as in like “yeah right, we can talk about it, but it will never happen” were now something I had to really think about.
Only a couple months, if even that, into our marriage, and already seeing the monotony of a daily, routine life stuck at what we felt were boring jobs that we were not passionate about, just to pay the bills, stuck in a boring town with nothing to do . . . we weren’t meant for that! We told ourselves. We can’t get stuck in that trap, not yet at least, and be the people we have often talked to who said, “Man, I really wish I had done that. I always wanted to travel the world, but . . .” or whatever the reason may be or dream was that they let remain buried inside. One thing that maybe holds people back from traveling and living abroad is a secure, good-paying job, with wonderful benefits and room to move up, which was something I had, and wonderful, fun people to work with and boss who I greatly respected. Not every one has that, and looking back, I really am truly still thankful to God for that job and the people he blessed in my life working there. But, at the same time, and Josh and I both felt this way because that is just in our nature; we felt trapped. I felt like a caged bird that desperately needed to fly out the window and pursue her dreams, and fly, far, far away. Josh is wired the same way as me, and our greatest fear was to be stuck doing something we don’t want to do and then later can’t get out of that rut and just be filled with regret. We were at a time and place in our lives where we had that freedom; no kids or anything to hold us down and to really prevent us from chasing our dreams and traveling and seeing the world.
So, we talked about it, and the more we talked about it, the more scared I became. Wow, we really are going to be doing this? It didn’t seem possible that it really could all work and to leave our families behind for so long, but at the same time, I was thrilled and felt like jumping through the streets that we were going to make our dream happen, and make a life change and move across the world to the place I have wanted to go for years to at least visit, and now live, New Zealand. And hopefully do mission work along the way, or help the church or some person in some way (that sounds so vague, but we both have that desire that God has something planned for us great to do, whatever it may be, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, just still don’t know what it is or maybe it will have just been one small, seemingly insignificant action, word or event that will hopefully change someone’s life). To experience life in another land filled with different people and culture and a land filled with God’s beauty. A land of adventure, an outdoor paradise where we can hike and climb mountains and be filled with mountain top experiences. To meet new people and hear stories and make friends that we would have a lifetime bond with. So many dreams and ambitions, and we were finally taking the action to make them happen. Even as it all was happening and the contacts we made along the way before coming, we knew God had a hand in it. It was all so easy, the planning and preparing part. Almost like we had God’s blessing, and I really felt good and like it was the right thing to do; like he was almost telling us we should do it.
And then the day came, the final hurdle or step I had to take where it meant no turning back; to quit my job. I gave my two-weeks notice and the weight was lifted off my back afterwards; it was such a relief! It was like holding my breath before plunging into an icy cold lake, the nervousness, emotion, fear, and excitement in telling every one our plan. A quote by Pico Iyer described perfectly what I had done by quitting and his words can apply to anyone:

“Quitting, for me, means not giving up, but moving on; changing direction not because something doesn’t agree with you, but because you don’t agree with something. It’s not a complaint, in other words, but a positive choice, and not a stop in one’s journey, but a step in a better direction. Quitting—whether a job or a habit, meanings taking a turn so as to be sure you’re still moving in the direction of your dreams.”

We took that action and took those steps, and we did it. And by George, I am proud of us! Looking back now and realizing what we did, it honestly amazes me and how it all worked out. We have truly been so blessed and by the people we have met and friends we have made, God has certainly been there, holding our hands and in the process, bringing Josh and Lindsey closer together. It hasn’t been easy, and I don’t foresee it always being easy the rest of our time here in New Zealand, and the rest of our life together as husband and wife for that matter. I’ve already realized that marriage is harder than I thought it would be, though others warned that beforehand, haha, but it is hard. And why wouldn’t it be? I read an article where a guy talked about the ups and downs of the first year of marriage, and how it is the hardest year. He compared it to culture shock. How fitting! It is culture shock in the beginning; so completely foreign to be living with someone and learning how truly different you are from one another (the biggest reason obviously being that he is a man and I am a woman, and I wonder sometimes how in the world do the two sexes co-exist?) and changing your independent lifestyle and adjusting to each other and the different fighting styles and all that is entailed with going from dating to being engaged and planning a wedding, to being married and living in the same space, and dealing with the stresses of life at the same time. So, though it hasn’t been easy all the time, it has also been amazing. In just a few months, Josh and I will, Lord-willing, have survived the hardest year of marriage, the first year!!!! There may be others reading this who have decades of years of experience in being married, and may be laughing at me and saying, “Ha, girl…just you wait!” and hopefully not, haha, but I know I am so happy to see the improvements and the growing and maturing and bonding we have experienced together through all this . . . being thrust in a foreign place where we don’t know anyone. And a fresh start to begin together. No old baggage, but just brand-spankin’ new suitcases to fill with new experiences and friendships and stories to tell. It is a growing experience being a wife, and a growing experience living in a foreign country. Culture shock at first, feelings of bitterness, negativity, and frustration, but that eventually turns into a chapter in a book you had to get through to get to the good part; where you are happy again and see your surroundings in a new light and appreciation and with eyes filled with love that reflect the way you felt when you first saw the green hills and ocean sprawled out before you, the land of New Zealand, or the way you felt when he looked at you and said, “I love you” for the first time. The look in his eyes that you will never forget.
Josh bought a book while we were planning our move over here and preparing to get in the mindset of being a traveler living abroad. It was an excellent, eye-opening book, truly insightful and I highly recommend it not only to those who love to travel or wish to do what we have done, but it can relate to many things in life and pursuing your dreams whatever they may be (and also where that Pico Iyer quote came from). The book is called “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel” by Rolf Potts. He defined this term vagabonding quite well, and sums up eloquently in words what we are doing:

“Vagabonding—n. (1) The act of leaving behind the orderly world to travel independently for an extended period of time. (2) A privately meaningful manner of travel that emphasizes creativity, adventure, awareness, simplicity, discovery, independence, realism, self-reliance, and the growth of the spirit. (3) A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible.”

All three of these definitions I can see quite clearly now and have experienced along the way. Being a vagabonder, I had imagined before and envisioned myself and Josh, meant living out of our suitcases or backpack strapped to our backs filled with a few articles of clothing basically the entire time we were here. Living in different parts of the country and staying at odd jobs here and there, and maybe eventually finding a place to settle. I honestly had mixed thoughts and visions of what it would be like here: I idolized the idea of being a gypsy living out of a caravan and traveling and living in a different part of the country one week, and rolling on out the next to a new place, but, by now, and because of a close encounter with a certain caravan, this idea was a little liberal and not quite my cup of hot tea (something I’ve learned they love to drink, as opposed to iced tea you order at every restaurant in Texas). But I also liked the idea mainly of traveling around for a little bit, and then finding a city to live in for the rest of and majority of our time. I wrestled back and forth with it all when thinking about this move, and reading the Vagabonding book that encouraged and Josh’s words urging me not to get sucked into a plan; not to have it all planned out like we already knew the story and ending, but just let it come and play out on its own. As a quote from the movie Dan in Real Life, “Plan to be surprised.” Well, we have been surprised along the way, that is for sure, and yet, we did end up in Wellington, the place we first talked about moving to and where we thought we would end up living in the end, or Nelson. And we are true vagabonders, considering we did all of the above definition of Rolf Potts meaning of the word. To be a true vagabonder, we decided, does not mean we have to be a “backpacker” and travel the country with no roots to settle or home to call our own and just living with other people or staying in motels, hotels, caravans, hostels or backpacker’s accommodation the whole time. We have already achieved the status of being vagabonders. Now was the time; the time to unpack our suitcases and finally hang up our clothes; in our own closet. To have a home to finally drop those bags on the floor and feel the burden uplifted from not having to carry those things around everywhere for a few days at a time and wonder where we were going next. And to have the burden uplifted from our spirits to finally relax and unwind in our own space. To have a home of our own where we could place a “Welcome” mat at the front door, where we could hang our memories on the wall, and where we could create culinary masterpieces in the kitchen. To be alone; together. And a place where I could finally see all the clothes I had actually brought and not have to dig and dig and never find what I was looking for, and if I did find it, it was wrinkled. My clothes needed a hug from the Snuggle Bear; he would not be proud of me.
All of that to lead into what I thought I would get at in the first paragraph, but I tend to go on several journeys in my head and ramble once I start writing, haha . . . the process of looking for a place to rent.
Here’s how it works in New Zealand; instead of having rent due once a month like I had been used to back home, you pay per week. I had discovered that prior to moving, when looking on TradeMe and imagining where we would live, that they were listed by price per week. Did I mention the cost of living is higher here? The cheapest place, but would probably not be livable, on average could be $250 NZD a week. Wouldn’t recommend going that route though, but aiming a little higher price wise. $300/week you could find something decent, but most that were worth looking at were around $350 a week and up. Wow. That’ll break the piggy bank soon, we thought with forlorn. We set that as our budget though after a while of looking on the Internet, to try to make $350 NZD the max. By the way, the rate exchange of the New Zealand Dollar (NZD) and the U.S. Dollar is as follows: 1 NZD = .83 USD (as of March). A little math, not my favorite subject, but here goes, I calculated in my head: 350 a week times 4 weeks in a month . . . that equals $1400 NZD. Which is 1153.00 USD. They do pay more over here though, and with making $15 an hour for a minimum wage job, both of us making that, and if we had somewhat regular hours doing the property management, we could make it maybe. I’ve never been a budget person, my dad would not be proud nor would Dave Ramsay, but I have tried before and made several budgets, but I soon forget about them and eat whatever I want. That is a weakness for both Josh and I, is food. We like to eat, and we like to eat out. Oh, and we hate leftovers. And sandwiches. Dry, white, thinly sliced, bland bread that sticks to the roof of your mouth and a slice of ham or turkey. Bleh!! Makes me want to gag. One of these days we will change, haha, but we did that back home a lot too, went out to eat (which I realize now how cheap it is to do that back in America, aggghhh! Somebody send me a bean and cheese burrito from Rosa’s café, right now!) and we certainly had been eating out a lot since being here as we didn’t really have our own kitchen. We did a few times at Keith and Elsa’s house, but not as much as we should. I don’t know why I am divulging all our financial weaknesses to the public, haha, but it is all part of our story and the experience I guess. Anyways, my point is, I have had to keep up with budgets and I lived on my own with my salary for 2 ½ years, paying student loans and rent and groceries and utilities, and I made it. But, since we have gotten here, and even being married back in Tyler, but especially since arriving here, I have placed all of that in Josh’s hands. I feel very helpless and don’t do anything on my own, which isn’t a good thing I guess, but I will learn how to do all the financial and day to day activities out in facing the real world of New Zealand. For now, though, I have Josh do everything for me, even order my Chicken McBites at McDonalds; it’s like I’m too scared to even do that! Haha. I do trust Josh too, and that is why I put all the financial stuff in his very capable hands.
When you rent a place, you have to pay the deposit as mentioned earlier, or the bond, which is usually like 4 to 5 weeks rent in advance. Some of the real estate companies have letting fees, which is a rip-off, but a week’s rent that goes to them that you don’t get back. I guess that’s fair though as it is part of their salary, and we do get or should get the bond back in the end. However, that is a lot of money up front to be asking for, and something we had to have before getting a place.
I didn’t mention this earlier, and this is an important part of the story, and a God-thing I believe. We already knew how expensive it was to move into a place with the up-front costs. Well, one day we came home to our temporary home, and the next door neighbor of Keith and Elsa, who is actually their landlord, a sweet little lady who we had talked to a few times in passing, brought forward a proposition. A much needed proposition I might add. She asked if Josh would like to paint the inside of their flat while they were away. She had received a quote from a painter which she thought was quite high and asked what Josh would ask for if he painted it. Well, after thinking and talking about it, we jumped at that opportunity and he gave her a price which would include her getting the supplies. The amount was quite generous and would easily pay for the bond and help us out so much. Hip hip hooray!
He had been doing that off and on during the days we weren’t doing cleaning, and it was quite a long process. Most days we stayed at their flat, both of us either were overwhelmed with dizziness or headaches. Part of the package though, and we didn’t complain too much about that. All the while we were thinking that the hard work he was doing gave us hope for the reward of the money she would be paying him in the end and it gave the place a brighter, fresh look and felt like we were somehow helping out Keith and Elsa for letting us stay and would be a nice surprise for them to come back to (we did ask for Keith’s permission first, haha, and they were all for it). So, a little blessing from God at a time when we desperately needed the money.
I love looking at houses. For months before coming, I had poured over pictures online at properties for rent, looking for us a perfect place, even though we wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it when I would find something I loved. I base decisions on pictures. Of course the price has something to do with it, but if I like the pictures I see of a house or when looking of where to live or vacation, then I am sold. Forget practicality; just show me the pictures! Growing up, whenever our family was looking to move across town, my mom and I would jump on the chance to go look at Open Houses. We sometimes even went to places that there was no way we could afford, but just for the fun of it and to pretend. Those are some of my favorite memories! My mom and I shared that same passion, and as a little girl I would imagine I was the Real Estate lady dressed up in my black business suit/skirt and red heels and offer a silver tray of appetizers to the potential buyers. Then the clients and I would laugh and I would give them a tour and become their best friends, finding them and selling them their dream home. One day . . . this is on my bucket list of things to do in life. And I will do it. Someone once told me I couldn’t do this or this was not for me. There will always be those “nay-sayers” in our lives.

And what I have to say about that is, shame on those people who try to destroy our dreams and tear us down! When I met Josh, I was amazed at how positive and encouraging he was. And I knew he was genuine; it was not just to win me over (and I can attest to that because he is still my ego booster each day) but that is who he is and how he was raised. There are two people in life and two types of people you and I can choose to be: we are either here to build people up, or bring people down. It’s a choice. Not easy to be one to lift people up each day, but it is something we should strive for I think, especially as Christians. There is too much negativity in this world that is poisonous and contagious; so many hurdles people have to overcome which is mainly other people’s opinions and judgments of them. We so desperately want to be approved of by others, and we base many decisions on what other people will think about it. I want to be the light, the one who brings out the best in people and lets them see that good side of themselves and make them believe their value and to follow their dreams. To be true to themselves, not fit someone else’s mold. I’m getting off-track again, I know, aghh, I can’t help it. It just reminds me of my thankfulness again in finding Josh, and people like that whom I have met along this road of life. I admire that about him and want to emulate it, especially to him, though I have often already failed in that department. I say all that to say, follow your dreams! Pursue your God-given talents and passions, your dreams, with your whole hearts! I met my husband Josh because my parents followed their dream. Seriously! So neat to think how that worked, and it was God’s plan too. They left Midland, a place they had lived my whole life and for 24 years; they made a change and a step in a new, better direction and followed their dream of one day owning a Bed & Breakfast. They bought a B & B in East Texas and moved to Mineola. As for me . . . I liked the idea of being close to my parents again and as things weren’t working out for me in San Marcos and I wanted a new life from that horrible place filled with negative people I was at in San Marcos. So, I moved to Tyler. And because of all that, I met Josh. Thanks Mom and Dad!! Haha.

I also have learned and want to say this: Don’t let that one person make you doubt yourself, not only your hopes for a career or talent/passion, but makes you doubt yourself as a person. And stay as far away from that person as you can possibly get, I mean run for the hills, because their words can be detrimental to your soul. It’s funny how we as people could have a whole crowd of followers behind us, cheering us on loudly with positive praise, but we somehow only see and hear that one person in the corner, alone and whispering taunts and negative criticism so softly, but that is left resounding in our ears for years to come. I also once had a professor who almost made me throw away my dream and passion for writing. And what’s worse and what broke my heart, was she did this to just about every student in that class, saying things that made them feel like they were not good writers. It was a class for the purpose of bringing out our creative thinking from our minds and hearts and transferring those from the pen onto paper. I don’t know what her hidden motives or agenda was, but her bitterness affected so many students and it was not the necessary construction criticism, but merely her own negative and cynical opinions. Never a positive comment or praise or encouragement. She crushed so many spirits and dreams in that classroom. Shame on her. And now here I am, after nearly four years from graduating college, and I am back to writing again. And I love it! I didn’t stop writing because of her, it had an affect of course, but I did write for newspapers after that, I just didn’t write mainly because I didn’t have a reason to. No English papers or college newspaper to write for. And with my jobs at law firms I had since graduation, I had and made no time for it. Carpe diem, seize the day! Haha, I feel like I’m preaching a sermon or giving a talk at a pep rally, lol, some things just fire me up and writing just liberates me. Writing, though, is risky and scary, all at the same time. For those writers out there, those who love to write, you know what I mean. It makes you reach down into the very core of your being, and splash that onto paper, deciphering all the while what you choose to reveal to the world, and what to keep locked inside. It is a battle. A couple of quotes I found express what I am saying and I know I am not alone in this type of thinking (I love quotes too, by the way, but you already noticed that) sums it up: “Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.” ~ Franz Kafka and a quote by Carlos Fuentes, “Writing is a struggle against silence.” Those may sound pretty dramatic, but they are very true, I think.

Back to what I was getting at, and back to the real story here! Haha. During our stay at Keith’s house, we had the opportunity to go look at places for rent. This was not an easy process, as most of the places we called, or the real estate companies, were closing their doors for the holidays and out of pocket for like two weeks! Hello? What about Lindsey and Josh? We need to find us a home! I wondered about the others looking for a home during the holiday period, and wondered how frustrating this could be and that we were most likely going to have to wait. It was a fight to get to view properties before some of the offices would be closing, but there were some places that weren’t listed with a company which were generally easier to get a hold of.

Let me talk about the places we did look at. Now, that was another fun, little escapade, most of the time, but that was also stressful for us. I’ve heard stories before how looking to buy a home with your spouse and especially when you have kids, can be quite stressful. You have to find the right place and a lot of people and opinions and needs and wants are being fit into an equation. I also remember this from growing up in our family and it took a long time to find and decide on the home that would fit all of us. Same thing in looking for a place to rent (though less pressure than buying, that’s for sure). When I went to college, it was the dorms for me the first two years and the last two years my best friend who became my roommate found us an apartment in Lubbock while I was back home in Midland for the summer. She hunted and found us the perfect one, so that was pretty easy on my part, I just trusted her judgment. Then I moved to San Marcos after graduating, and with my parents went apartment-hunting. It was not only my opinion there, but my parent’s input which I valued, but in the end I had no one to share the place with or to ask approval of, and so it was up to me and what I wanted. Same thing when, almost a year later, I moved to Tyler. Then I was really on my own and had a friend’s opinion as help, but once again I was living on my own, no roommate, so I made the decision based on what Lindsey wanted; no one else. Well, then Josh and I happened, and we got married, and that was very easy because he was already living in our future married home, which I just moved into after the wedding. It was his grandparent’s old house (another blessing from his parents and from God!). Then we moved to New Zealand. And it wasn’t so easy anymore. It wasn’t that difficult of course, but it was different and a bit challenging as it was now what I had experienced and watched growing up; two people’s opinions and needs and wants being fit into one equation. Looking back now and even at the time, though, it was overall very fun going house-hunting, or flat-hunting. I would get so excited when a realtor called us back and said we could come view the house or flat. Most who called, however, did tell us to drive by the place first before setting up a viewing appointment. Which, we learned, is usually a sign that we wouldn’t want it.

One of our first flats to look at we were told to drive by first. So we did. We are all for the view, and to have an ocean view was one of our big requirements to hopefully find. In the pictures online, this one had a view. We drove up the narrow streets and found the flat; it was the bottom one it said. So, down the steps from the road we went to get to the top floor and we were in awe of the view. We really wanted to see inside the bottom one so we (despite my urging Josh, “Noooo!!! Don’t do that!), knocked on the door of the top unit to see if the neighbors had any information. A little old lady opened the door and welcomed us like we were her own grandchildren. She was a happy lady, and urged us strangers to come inside her home so she could find the key. Wow, we weren’t expecting that, but to have to go through the company first. Josh was like, “Haha, see! I know what I’m doing!” The little old lady reminded me of Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf visits him and he’s running around his hobbit hole, stressed and trying to find things and talking to himself. Like a chicken with its head cut off. She was very short too, haha. Her cat walked in the door and I was trying to follow it around while she looked for the key so I could pet it; I love cats and needed to hold one and pet it to make me feel good inside. That was comforting that even if we didn’t have our own cat, if we got this place I could see this cat and we had a sweet neighbor to make us homemade chocolate chip cookies. The view from her living room was breathtaking; with floor to ceiling windows overlooking out onto the city and harbor. Find the key! I was thinking. Another old lady walked in the same time, her friend, and rolled her eyes at her ditzy, disoriented friend and immediately found us the key. Yay! So Josh and I walked downstairs and into the flat for rent. The first thing to notice was the smell. Old. Old, old, old, and I mean old! Like something had died in there, ugh! It was nothing like the views or window or floorplan from above; in fact, I don’t know really what it was. There were hardly any windows, it was dark and cinderblock walls that made me feel like I was in a prison. Josh looked at me and already knew what I was thinking; he was trying to be positive and saying he could fix it up and paint it, but I was like “Ha!” It not only smelled old but looked very old too, no updates or anything modern, which we could live with of course, but just the feeling inside was not pleasant. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was choking. We could hear the old lady’s little feet scampering around upstairs, which I thought was quite funny. Anyways, so we got out and gave her the key, and peeled out of the driveway. Josh said he didn’t feel good. Haha, neither one of us did; we felt super anxious and it took me several minutes to feel like I could catch my breath and breathe normal again.

We learned a lesson, and started driving around looking at most of the places first outside before making an appointment. Some of the locations were not good or they just looked flat out junky and no telling how it would be inside. Plus we still wanted to find a place with an ocean view, but our budget was looking like we wouldn’t find that.

There was one particular house we found for rent in a place called Titahi Bay. The name had me sold already. Sounded like paradise! And it was brand new! This was actually earlier on in the story, we looked at it before the painting job was given to Josh. It was behind a house and it had a backyard and a deck that had a small glimpse of the Porirua Harbor. The owner was really trying to rent us the place and said we could even cut down the trees or have someone do that for us so we could have an even better view. Porirua we had discovered was not one of our favorite suburbs and it was the furthest of all the suburbs from downtown Wellington, but at least here we would have a view of water. We walked in and I was amazed. I wanted it! Everything was new and modern, the kitchen appliances were top notch, and there was none of that separate hot and cold faucet thing going on. It had two bedrooms too, which we were thinking would be a plus if our families ever got to come visit us. The bad thing to us at the time, however, was that it was almost to our max price budget, which we were hoping to really find something a lot cheaper with our situation at the moment. It didn’t come with any furnishings either; no refrigerator, washing machine or dryer. That was before we knew of the possibility of having the paint job to fund the bond cost, so we had to give it up also as the owner said a lady in Auckland was coming down to view it and most likely was going to take it. I really wanted it, but Josh was very practical and realistic, which I am so glad in retrospect that he convinced us not to get that place.

We viewed several places and drove by many. One day, for the same price of the first flat we looked at, being a little under 300 a week, we found a studio apartment downtown and called about it. I didn’t like the idea of a studio, but we knew we might need that at least starting out, especially if it came furnished as we didn’t have anything to bring to the table, or table to bring for that matter. We met the real estate agent outside the high-rise complex and I liked the idea of being downtown and close to all the activity, but already noticed that it was further away from most of the life and didn’t have a view of the harbor. Unless, I thought, it was on one side of the building and way at the top we might have a view. He took us into the brand new building, up the elevators which they were still working on, and into a tiny hall, opened a small door into an entryway, and then another door. Those pictures I love to base my decisions on the Internet can be quite deceiving. In the picture, it looked really big, or big for a studio anyways. But this was not what we found. A miniature Cracker Jack box; without a prize inside. It wasn’t even the same apartment that they had a picture of! That made me mad. It was a different bed and an entirely different layout of what they showed online. Grrrr. We could handle living in a hotel room, at least for a while because the square footage gives you room to move around, but this was a joke. Even if a single person lived there, it was so cramped I think they would soon develop a split personality and start fighting with their alter ego. I should find out how many square feet that was, because it was quite absurd. With a studio, the bed is in the main room, there is no bedroom, but there wasn’t but like three feet total of free space and room to move. If we moved there, one of us would be spending a lot of time in the bathroom, or on the balcony, which did not have a view of the ocean. It came fully furnished though, which was appealing, especially to practical Josh. And it was brand new, we would be the first tenants; so modern which we loved the idea of. We had been house-hunting for quite a while now, and having those feelings of desperation again that we had become familiar with. Time was running out on our stay at Keith and Elsa’s house, and we also had the pressure of how fast these places go, university students coming back and taking them before we had a chance, and also finding the time to look at these places. And, as mentioned, it was sometimes impossible to get a hold of the agents. Why can’t they be a slave to their jobs like we are in America? I was beginning to think. So, after we looked at that place, Josh wanted us to take it, and I didn’t. I then learned what it’s like to be married; and looking for a place together. And stress certainly brings out the worst in us. It is probably easier looking for a home though, to buy, or if we were in different circumstances. We were on a time crunch, running out of money, and several factors mentioned above to contribute to the stress it had become. It was no longer fun! Haha. I do know that if we ever own our own home someday, Josh and I should never wallpaper a house together.

So, after much debate and trying to convince the other who was right about the topic, we finally decided the studio was not the best idea either. We were getting about ready to pull each other’s hair out! Phew, this was getting to be a lot harder than we thought! Well, one evening after house-hunting and feeling desperate and frantic, we saw a glimmer of hope when looking online at TradeMe, my new obsession of looking each day at the new listings. We found one that was just posted, that sounded like the perfect deal. There was only one picture, but it said that it was currently on the market, and as no potential buyers, the owner was going to take it off the market in a couple months. This also meant a reduced rent rate for the hassle. It gave a link to the posting on the real estate website, which gave us several pictures; we both liked the looks of it! The suburb was Khandallah, one of the closest to the city and had a view of the harbor and ocean at a price of the 290 we seemed to be favoring lately. We got a hold of the owner, who we learned did not live here but two hours away and wouldn’t be back until the first or second week in January. She gave us the numbers of the tenants currently living in the flat, though, so I texted them. We learned they were also out of town (bummer) on holiday until the 6th, but said we could go look at it from the outside. It was the upstairs flat, they said, and we could climb the stairs onto the balcony to look in the windows.

We drove by, and walked down the driveway from the road and saw two buildings in the bush (forest). One building was atrocious and looked very run down, which I hoped was not the one we were looking at. Thankfully it wasn’t but the one next door was, and it wasn’t the best appearing from the outside. We have noticed that about a lot of the houses/flats here as many of them are old and not a whole lot of flash. Oh well, we could live with that. It could use a lot of work on the cosmetic appearance from outside; paint and pulling of weeds. A two story house that really just looked like a box with a few windows. The one that was for rent was on top and you had to walk across a concrete walkway. There were no windows that we could look through from the front and we almost walked away but then I said about the stairs on the back balcony that the tenant had said to climb, or a ladder he had told us. We walked down the steps and heard some loud kids crying, the downstairs neighbors who the mom and her kid saw us go to the back and look at the ladder. Haha. She talked to us through the window and we said the tenants told us we could climb the ladder to stand on the upstairs deck/balcony and look in the windows to see what it looked like. She was like “Oh! I didn’t even know that was there!” She seemed anxious we were going to fall, which I was scared of too, but we climbed the wooden ladder, opening the trap door and with Josh’s help, he pulled me up onto the narrow wooden balcony. What a view from up there! It was a cloudy day, and we were still amazed at the beauty and we could imagine what it would look like on a clear day. The harbor, the city . . . we would even be able to see the ferry coming in. And our own deck! The windows to the flat were so tall and wide giving a panoramic view. We looked inside and I was quite surprised. It actually looked decent! We could only see the living room and kitchen, but the living room was big and plenty of room to entertain guests, with an open plan from the kitchen with a bar. Well, we may have just found what we were looking for. We went back down the trap hole and ladder, and were about to leave, when the neighbor downstairs called out to us. She said that she could show us her place so we could get an idea of what the upstairs one looked like. She said they were the same floor plan, but there’s was more messy because they had kids. We were very grateful. So we toured the place, meeting her family along the way; she was really nice and helpful. We liked the layout and the bathroom was in good condition and seemed a bit more updated than some of the places we had seen. And we just kept thinking of the view we would have.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. We did not want to have to wait for the tenants to get back from vacation for us to look inside, because we were afraid someone else would get it first. Although we did consider that the upstairs might be different from the bottom, we didn’t think that much of it and just knew we wanted it. So, we called the landlord and said we looked at it from the outside and the tenants were on vacation until the 6th, but we didn’t want to miss this opportunity, and if we could apply for it and hold it, or put down some kind of deposit. The landlord was thrilled and said she had several calls from people interested in it, so we should give her a holding fee to show we are serious of $150.00. Those reading this are probably wondering why we would do that when we didn’t even look inside the place, but we did it anyways, and we did it with haste. We felt pretty good about the situation; that we had found a place and didn’t have to keep looking. In the back of my head, though, and probably Josh was thinking about it too, there was a sense of uneasiness or not being quite satisfied and giving me doubt; that being that we didn’t look inside of it. We waited for a week or two from the time we gave the lady the deposit and got the rental agreement in the mail that she posted us, until the time came for us to look inside once the tenants got back from vacation. I was so eager for them to get back so we could see inside and get an idea of how to decorate it and what we had gotten ourselves into. As of then, we hadn’t signed the agreement and sent it back to her, as we were waiting to look inside. A big plus with the place besides the cheap cost was that it came with a lot of furnishings that would in turn save a lot of money; the fridge, microwave, washer/dryer, couches and bed.

At last, the day came when the tenants said they were back from vacation and would leave the key under the door while they went out for us to look at our future home. We were so excited, and brought the camera with us. We opened the door, and the first thing, after walking into the hallway, and first place I went into, was the bathroom. Maybe I should have looked at that last. I felt my heart sink and I was filled with dread and disappointment. I did like the fact that the toilet was in the bathroom and not in a separate room, but this bathroom was hideous! The worst part about it, that really threw me for a loop, was the “shower”. It was in the corner and it was just like a hole they had cut out into the wall. It was a wooden box, like a chicken coop, closet, or gas chamber when I looked inside of it. It was like built into the wall; it was very tiny and the wood that it was made out of, the bottom of it was at least three feet tall, so you had to step way over it and climb up into this box. It’s kind of hard to explain. You would have to be very strategic and crafty to get up into that shower, and avoid hitting that wooden hurdle or hitting the sink that was nearly blocking the way. There would certainly be no room to turn around in that shower or scrub yourself, and it was very dark inside. So, without providing a photo of this shower, the flooring was aluminum, and so try to imagine an upright commercial oven built within the wall. Oh dear, I’m going to get trapped in the shower or pass out from feeling so claustrophic. And never mind the separate hot and cold faucet, that was not a big deal compared to the shower, but it did add to my dismay. The toilet was certainly old school with the pipe running up the wall and a wooden toilet seat cover that didn’t match the rest of the white toilet; I hate that. No cabinet space or shelves, which was fine, I just was thinking I will save a lot of time in the mornings now getting ready. I won’t get ready, I decided; putting on makeup and blow-drying and straightening my hair, nor will I take a shower for that matter. No, I won’t be spending any time in that bathroom. Not a good way to start out the tour of our place we had put a deposit on already. Why were we so irrational? I began thinking. We should not have done that. The frustration was already seeping in, after seeing that bathroom. I was getting mad at both of us for getting in this mess and then he was getting upset because I was not happy so far with what I was seeing.

The bedrooms were good though, and the bedroom that would be ours had a view of the ocean, so that helped my spirits a little. Then we walked into the living room that we had seen through the windows and I noticed even more from when we first walked in; the smell. Incense and curry. It was very overpowering. Josh being positive as usual said that smell would go away and the black markings on the wall from the burning of incense (looked like years worth caked on the walls) he could fix by painting. He said if the landlord let us paint it, maybe she would even pay him or give a discounted rent price. The view from the living room made us both feel better, but, at the moment, it didn’t feel good enough of a reason to live there. We already had doubts about the appearance from the outside and not feeling too proud of that or the run-down house next door and wondering who lived there, and the bathroom scene was taking over my thoughts. “This looks so much different from the one downstairs!” I said. I was upset. The downstairs was in way better condition and had smelled really good too, it must have been recently painted and the bathroom was way more updated; it certainly had a normal shower with a glass door; it looked nothing like this place. We walked to the kitchen and our shoes squeaked and stuck to the greasy floor. “Well baby, these people obviously aren’t very clean and don’t take care of the place, it won’t be like this once it gets cleaned up and painted,” said my husband. The kitchen sink also had two separate faucets for hot and cold water, which that just about nearly did me in. “NOOOOOOoooooo!!!!!” Haha. I already knew I was going to burn my hands at the bathroom sink, and now I had no second option; I would either scald my hands or freeze them at this sink too. A vent was placed in the window (I have no idea how they did that) of the kitchen, which was very ugly and trashy. It was pretty dirty in there and needed a lot of work that we weren’t expecting. I was not positive at all, and just said how I really felt about it to Josh, which upset him and we both felt so frustrated because we knew or felt like there was nothing we could do about it. We already put down the holding fee and had the landlord’s hopes up as we had been texting and calling her off and on and she was excited for us to be moving in, and that we were from Texas! Of course, though, we hadn’t given her a bond yet or signed the agreement, so I was like, well I’m sorry but I just don’t think we can do that! I don’t think I can live there. Josh had laughed at the shower when we first looked at it, and I knew he would be more bothered about it later too, like me. He wouldn’t want to step up into that hole of a shower either! We were distressed. What to do, what to do.
“You want me to call her and tell her we changed our minds?”
“Yes!!!” Then, “Noooo, let’s just think about it.”
“We don’t have time to think about it.”
AGGGHHHHHH!!!!
It was back and forth. We had time to think about it some more, and then I was like, “it will be okay, we can make it work.” But we said to have him call the landlord and say the condition of it, if we could get it painted and about the shower situation, if she could improve that and maybe get a new one, or normal thing put in instead of the box in the wall.

So, that was back and forth, and she really wanted to please us and work with us, and then she seemed frustrated too and almost arguing about it and saying she didn’t think it was that bad inside? Or that it needed paint and what was wrong with the shower? She said she had lived there and had no problems with it and she could look into installing a new shower, but that would cost a lot of money. Also, as time went on and we were discussing and trying to figure out, she was saying that even painting it she wasn’t sure if she could afford that right now as she was tight on money. Well, that didn’t sound like a good situation to have for a landlord already right there.

I eventually got better with the idea, for the most part anyways. Trying to be positive, we both said we could make it work. It made Josh happy when we went shopping one day and I started finding decorations for our new place and telling him how I envisioned we could make it look and look nice with making the bathroom black and white themed and have the kitchen be a coffee theme. So we bought a few things for the new place and were hoping to make the best of it in our minds.

However, I do recall having moments when I was alone and I would just sit there and think about that shower. Mostly it was when I was taking a shower, and I just cringed at the idea of that tomb in the wall. We were still communicating with the landlord and she was planning on coming down the next week and said Josh could help her with painting the living room, kitchen, and bathroom; she had decided she would work on that for us, with Josh’s help painting. All during this time, I was still getting on TradeMe and looking at the new listings, haha . . . I just couldn’t help myself. I was hoping to find some good deal; a lifesaver that would really save us from having to move into that place. The closer it was getting to move-in date, which would be like the 18th of January we were told, the more I was dreading it. I found one on a particular day that we went and looked at but didn’t like, and then Josh called on a couple more houses, but they weren’t showing them until later that week. Man! I was surprised though and glad that Josh was at least trying, and realizing he was having doubts about moving into the flat as well. We were still going to do it, though, unless amazingly something came up. Once we were getting the calls about the late viewing times, we were taking it as a sign that we just needed to stick to the deal we had made.

So, in the meantime, our stay at the Copeland’s house was coming to an end. They arrived on Tuesday, January 10th, and we moved out. Not into our new flat, of course, as the move-in date was the following week, but Antony and Jeanette Raine had graciously agreed to let us stay in their home for the week until we could move into our new flat. We were so grateful for their hospitality as well. Once again, we were packing up all our belongings, stuffing our suitcases, and unloading them into the Raine’s guestroom. It was a cozy and comforting room with a nice view of the green hills in the background.

The day before, on Monday, our last day at the Copeland’s house, I didn’t mention this but we finally did have luck with a flat for rent that we called about. The viewing time was the following day, so Tuesday, when we were moving to the Raines. Josh told the realtor we would be there to look at it. I can still remember the flicker of hope I felt when I was putting on my makeup in the bathroom and I heard Josh talking on the phone and saying we could view it tomorrow. I had found this particular flat on TradeMe and saved it to the watchlist and my notebook I had put several asterisks beside it, meaning I really liked what I saw at least from the ad. It was the same price we were about to pay, and it had views of the ocean, and it was on the other side of Wellington, at the very south of the North Island and by the airport. The pictures looked amazing, but we know how that is, yet I still had a very good feeling about this place. Josh told me, “Okay, we are going to look at this one, but if we don’t like it, then no more of this, and we are just going to stick with the one in Khandallah, and no more looking on TradeMe!” “Okay!” I said, excitedly.

After we unloaded our bags at the Raine’s house, we headed across the bridge over the harbor, through town and out to Houghton Bay, where this flat was located. The name of the street was already an incentive; View Road. As we drove up the steep hill, we could not believe the view! It was at the very top of the mountain with views of the bustling airport, Lyall Bay (home of a popular surf spot and beach), and mountains in the distance. To the far right was the vast ocean, the Cook Strait. Woah! Can you imagine if we lived here? I hope we like it inside! We waited for the realtor outside in the driveway and in the meantime talked to another girl who was there for the viewing as well. She was from the States too, and talked about life in Wellington and how miserable and wet and damp the winters are here. Not an encouraging pep talk, especially as it was sprinkling and cloudy that day. I didn’t care though; I wanted to see inside this flat. It’s probably a dump inside, I thought, or smells putrid. The outside was definitely not designed or decorated to put it on the cover of the Parade of Homes magazine, but we were used to that by now. It was a triple-decker, and the flat we were looking at was at the very bottom of the stairs.

At last, the realtor showed up. They are a lot more chill and relaxed than the ones I’ve encountered back home, and slightly a bit more unprofessional, yet still nice and helpful. We went down the long flight of stairs and walked into the flat. It was decorated shabby chic, and had a lot of Marilyn Monroe posters. That always helps when a place is kept up nice, and the couple that was currently living there had definitely done a good job in making it homey and modern and clean. Josh and I both looked at each other and smiled…we loved it! The views were absolutely to die for! It was an open plan and the kitchen also had a bar; the kitchen was amazing. It was on the corner of the house and it had windows on both sides, giving the ultimate in panoramic views; overlooking the airport, the beach, and Wellington harbor in the far distance. I could wash dishes with a view like that! And become New Zealand’s next Master Chef (a show that I soon became obsessed with since being here).

In the pictures online, it had looked like the mattress in the bedroom was lying on the floor and touching the walls because the room was so small, but I was surprised to see that it was slightly bigger than I was expecting (but tiny compared to American standards still) with about a foot on each side of the mattress to the walls.

The part I was anticipating the most, however, was . . .dun, dun, dun, dun . . . the bathroom. That had become the make or break deal it seemed. I was hoping to not have to go in there and have an “Eek, eek, eek!” moment, but more rather a gleeful reaction. I had never been so happy in my life to peek around the corner into the bathroom and first of all see the sink. One faucet!!! A normal faucet that actually lets you regulate the temperature! I could almost hear the game show announcer on his microphone yelling out, “You just won a modern toilet! Aannnnndddd, a Brand New, SHOWER!!!” Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a Winner! And the crowd goes wild! Cheering, cheering for Josh and Lindsey, because we found what we’d been looking for and longing for. It was a normal shower, with glass walls, a glass door that you just walk into like normal people do; not an impossible obstacle course like the other flat. Oh goodness, I sure hope we can get this place! I was thinking to myself.

One of the other best things about the flat was the huge balcony deck outside. It gave plenty of room to walk around on and even put a big table out there to eat on, and giving the most superb views. We would be able to watch the planes come and go, and the ferry and cruise ships going back and forth to the South Island, if we got this place. We were eyeing the other girl we had been talking to as she was asking the realtor questions about the place and how to apply for it. She had been telling us how hard it is to find something to rent because they go fast. Josh was asking the realtor questions too, and we were learning that it was basically first come, first serve on whoever applies and if approved and reference checks. Another person came to look at it while we were there, so then we rushed out, or more rather, I followed Josh who basically ran out the door and up the steps.
“You like it?” He asked me.
“Yep!”
We both loved it. He was ecstatic about it, as was I. Then lets get it!!! We rushed to the nearest library; we didn’t even wait to drive all the way across town to get our laptop. We were in that much of a hurry to do the online application. It was fun; racing to beat the other girl who we knew was probably on her way to apply as well.

We were so anxious and hoping with all our hearts that we would get it. I didn’t think we would, because it would be too good to be true.

Josh texted and called the realtor a couple times that day to make sure their office received the application. Then, later that very day we spoke with the realtor who told us our application was approved! We were now the new tenants of a street called View Road.

After an explanation of the situation to the landlord of the flat we had been looking at in Khandallah, who was not surprised she said, we were rid of that ordeal. Hopefully we didn’t leave her too upset with us, as we said we would let her keep the $150 holding fee we had put down on the flat just because of the hassle it was on her and the cost of putting the ad on TradeMe. Thank goodness, no more nightmares of being trapped in that shower.

The move-in date would be later that month, but we were so relieved and happy that we finally found a place we would live for our time in New Zealand. In two more weeks, we’d be moving into our own home! With a view of the ocean!

Christmas in New Zealand

So, speaking of Christmas, that was another thing that was completely different from back home and another dose of culture shock. In December, in Texas, it’s winter, and it’s cold. Of course, that may seem obvious to those reading this back home, but that’s why it was so different for us since we were in the beginning of their summer in December, with mostly sunny, moderate days (it had usually been in the 70’s F since we had been here). There had been several cloudy rainy days since we arrived, and a bit chilly (the nights especially as I mentioned earlier) on some occasions, but it was not the bitter cold of winter where you bundle up in your big jackets, scarves, and gloves, drink Mom’s homemade Wassail by the fire, and smell the burning of wood filling the air and feel the warmth from the house’s heater. I felt myself missing that familiarity that just naturally comes with Christmas; what makes Christmas, Christmas, if that makes sense. And, to boot, hardly any one decorates for this holiday! In America, and always around my house and must be where I gained my love for this time of the year, because of my mom making our home a winter wonderland, people go all out decorating. I saw a few houses with decorated Christmas trees in their front windows, but people didn’t put lights up on the outside of their houses or Rudolph or Santa Claus on their front lawn! Honestly, I could count on one hand the houses that I did manage to see that had any lights. That is just unheard of, and I found it very depressing.

 

Our spirits were uplifted one night, however, the week of Christmas, when after church on Wednesday several of us met up and carpooled and followed each other to go look at lights. I had mentioned or asked Jeanette and Antony the following Sunday if there was a good place to look at lights, and they said there was a couple neighborhoods in the area that do this and they could take us. Well, I guess that had turned into a good idea and turned into a group thing, which made me feel completely delighted to be sharing in the joy together. That was always a tradition in our family, on Christmas Eve usually, to pile together into our car, with mom’s Wassail, bring our favorite Christmas CDs, camera and a video camera, and drive around to gaze in wonder at all the houses with bright lights. I loved, loved, loved doing that . . .just writing about it now and thinking about it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I can still hear “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, “Sleigh Ride Together With You”, and “Carol of the Bells” now, as those were some of my favorite songs, though I have so many favorites when it comes to Christmas. This was a very bonding time for Josh and I as we got to ride together in our little, red hatchback and listened to Christmas songs on my I-Pod and followed the rest of the crew to search for lights. And I mean hunt them houses down! Apparently, there was a map that had a list of houses in the area that had actually decorated for the season. It was a handful, literally. Our first house we came upon, I was so happy to finally see a house decked out in lights! I think I was even more excited than the little kids who came along, and I didn’t want to leave the house as we stood in the driveway staring dreamily at the lights and decorations. Others didn’t seem to be as thrilled as I was, and we were the last to leave, but my heart was filled with joy. We drove around for about an hour stopping along the way at houses that were decorated to take pictures, and then came upon this one house that is the main attraction. The neighborhood was packed with cars and I could get a glimpse through the fence and trees that we were about to walk into a magical wonderland. We had to pay a couple dollars each to get in, but it was worth it. There were little display windows everywhere with the tiny little Christmas villages, and all the windows of the home had a beautiful Christmas scene or theme going on. The front door to this immaculate, two-story home was opened and the staircase was covered in presents, Christmas trees and decorations. I gasped in wonder at the beauty and I felt so happy. Josh was amused and filled with happiness to see me like this; he must really love me. We stood underneath one tree together sprinkled with blue and purple lights and I felt like we were living in a fairy tale as we hugged and I twirled around looking at the romantic glow all above me.


That was a happy night, and I was sad for it to end. The hardest thing about Christmas in New Zealand, however, no matter if every street corner had been decked out so that we felt like we were at the North Pole, there would still have been something missing. Our family. This was our first Christmas together, married, husband and wife, which was neat and special for us, but we both had a longing to be with our parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, and I wanted to be with my nephews too. It was our first Christmas to ever be away from our family. The miles between us, that I had been busy and not trying to think about, now really seemed infinite. I thought of all the memories I have with my family growing up and all the traditions we did which I hope to still keep alive once we start our own. With each year that has passed, I have mixed feelings of Christmas; of course it makes me feel happy, but lately I had noticed this almost sad, empty feeling when it was over and after the presents had been opened. I don’t really know how to describe it or explain what it means, but as you get older you miss having that child-like excitement that makes kids squeal and believe in Santa Claus. It’s sad to have to grow up sometimes, haha. I think that child-like wonder and excitement is still in all of us, though, sometimes and in some people buried deep, but it almost always shows its innocent face again. Part of it too might be that as I’ve gotten older, I can’t ever really think of anything to ask for. What has mattered is sharing in the traditions and the spirit of Christmas with your loved ones; your family. Since my sister has gotten married and raising a family now, there have been a couple times when we have not been able to spend it together, as they alternate every year between my brother-in-law’s family. I know that’s part of life, but I always thought it was a bummer when we didn’t get them for Christmas. And this year, being all the way in New Zealand of all places, so far away that we are 18 hours ahead, well, I decided that we aren’t going to have any more of this business in the future. We are spending every Christmas with both of our families, all of us together, and that’s just all there is to it! If Josh and I want to have our own time alone, well we can do that too, but every December we are going to make sure we share our time with both of our families. So weird to me still, to think, that I am married now! That I have my own family now, me and Josh.
Anyways, so we both found ourselves missing our family and I dearly wished to be home in our decorated house with my Mom, Dad, my sister Hollee and brother-in-law Wes, and my adorable nephews. I missed just being with my mom and dad and talking to them in the living room or in the kitchen, and sitting around the dinner table catching up and laughing, and me telling stories. I missed sitting in the living room with them watching Christmas movies and my dad’s new love of the Wallace and Grommit movies. I missed the smell of the crème brulee candle, or warm apple pie, or spiced Cinnamon candle my mom would always have burning, and her delicious baking; just to be in the presence and comfort of your loving parents who love you so much and who you are and who are proud of you and where you can always be yourself. And I wanted to also be with my new family, my in-laws, as well as my brother and sister in-law(s), and the rest of Josh’s family whom we had celebrated Christmas with together the year before when we were engaged. I also remembered my college friends, and the fun times we would have together celebrating the season the days before our exams and before heading to our homes. One of my best friends, Emily, always listened to Christmas music for like two months leading up to Christmas, haha. I found myself missing those songs and singing along with her as we would decorate our apartment, and the Christmas parties we would have at our place with all our beloved friends.

 

Christmas is a sentimental time of the year, what with all the heart-warming songs and cheesy family movies that make me cry when I watch them. I’m an emotional and sentimental girl, what can I say. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, haha, because at the same time, this was a new experience for Josh and I and made us grow closer in the end. Despite the differences between the two cultures and the climates during this time, it was also very exciting to be spending our first Christmas together and part of our first year of marriage in a new country, in New Zealand. It still floors me at times that we are really here. Downtown Wellington and around the harbor they did decorate, and there were the native trees all along the bay that had white lights and the shape of them really look like Christmas trees. Wellington harbor is known for being one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. Also, by the waterfront was a tree of lights that changed all different sorts of funky, brilliant colored lights.
The following Sunday, the week before Christmas, after church my new friend Adeline had asked if we wanted to go shopping, so we followed her family and she rode with us to the mall, which I was happy to see was filled with the Christmas spirit; purple and gold décor everywhere. She and I shopped around and I was figuring out what she liked so I could get her a gift later and I was also getting ideas for Josh, which I had no idea what to get him. That was fun, and I was glad to get to know Adeline better and make a friend.
A few days later, Josh and I went back to the mall, split up and went shopping for each other. We had a time limit and I was frantically searching to find him something he would love. Over the past few years I have also found myself stressing out about Christmas, when shopping (which, who doesn’t I guess) but I love getting gifts for people and I just want it to be the perfect thing for them, and it takes me forever to decide and pick it out, because, well, I can be very indecisive and like to take my time. Josh and I are completely opposite in this, which maybe that’s just because he’s a boy and I guess guys don’t like to shop, but he always, even at the grocery store – it’s like he is on the game show Supermarket Sweep, where as for me, I can stand in one aisle looking at the shampoo bottles or makeup for an hour. On I went, to the bottom floor of the mall, and he stayed on the second, and we were to find our gifts for each other and meet at the food court in 2 hours. That’s not long enough for me! I had seen this book in the bookstore when looking with Adeline that drew my attention for him, and I kept seeing it, so after double checking in every store that there was nothing else, then I decided to get him that book: a travel memoir about a man’s travels in the middle east. I hoped he would like it, made me feel stressed out hoping he would haha. By the way, that is another difference here, is the price of books. I mentioned already how expensive the cost of living is here, well for example, most paperbacks go for 30 to 40 NZD. Crazy! In America, these same books would be like $15 to $20. I was so relieved to have found my husband a gift. I also found a dessert cookbook for Adeline, which I thought would be perfect for her. I actually found his book on the second floor, so I was looking around and hoping he wouldn’t see me or be in the same bookstore, then found the gift wrapping service, and got it wrapped up and hid it in my purse. We met at the food court and were very happy to see each other and he of course was trying to figure out where my gift was and where was mine; we were both very sneaky.
We had already gone shopping a few days earlier for our families, which I got my parents a picture book of New Zealand that would be perfect for the coffee table, my grandma a NZ magnet, and for my sister’s family and nephews I got a children’s book ‘Kiwi Christmas’. We got those wrapped and packaged and dropped them at the postie (post office) en route to America. I hoped the gifts would get to our families before Christmas so they could open it when they were all together and read the story.

Josh and I received a sticker-slip on the door when we came ‘home’ to Keith’s house a few days before Christmas, so we stopped by the post office and found two packages; one from his family and one from mine. It was neat to think that how far and where all these packages had gone, that they had flown across the ocean. It’s amazing how all that works. I wanted desperately to open the present from my parents, but I resisted the urge, with Josh’s help, to save it. He opened, or at least snuck a peak, at the package from his parents, but after looking in and seeing a couple things, he felt bad and then said he would wait too.
Before Keith had left, he told us that they had a Christmas tree in their closet that we could put up if we wanted to. One morning I walked into the living room and found that Josh had found the Christmas tree and set it all up and placed the red and gold ornaments on the tree, and gold star on top, and had hung up a couple stockings. I thought that was so sweet of him.
Josh had a little trick up his sleeve, and said he had a Christmas present surprise for me. Oh goody goody gum drops, I love surprises! So, on Christmas Day, he drove me to my surprise. We drove into Wellington and I had all kinds of ideas of what he could be up to, but I was trying not to think about it and guess; I was so curious! We then drove along the Oriental Bay and found a parking place. We had passed by a sign I noticed that I thought I had then figured it out because we had talked about it when we first arrived. The surprise was . . . Josh was taking me SAILING!!!!! He had booked us a ride with an experienced guide who would lead our little excursion. I was thrilled! Never in my life have I done this before, so I was very exited, and a bit nervous too, hoping I wouldn’t get seasick. We waited at the station and saw who the guide was; a sandy blonde, long-haired surfer looking guy who had to have been from California, until he started talking and then I remembered we were in New Zealand because of his thick accent. Far out dude! Josh and I lathered up with sunscreen and he could tell I was nervous, but ready for this new adventure. Wellington is nicknamed “Windy Wellington” so it was kind of funny that the day we sailed the water was as still as glass; the calmest I had seen it since we’d been here. That was fine with me, though, as we loaded up in the sailboat with the guide, a young lady about our age, and a little boy. Since there were so few of us and the guide seemed to like us, this was going to be a hands-on boating experience. We were sitting at the back, so the guide asked if I wanted to steer the boat. “Sure . . .” I said hesitantly as I grabbed the lever and he directed me on how to move it. I guided the ship out of the harbor, maneuvering in and out of anchored boats, all on my own! That was cool, but I was hoping I wouldn’t have to steer the whole time; I didn’t like the pressure and thought I was gonna sink the boat.

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We crawled out into the bay with the use of the motor, and then finally he lifted up the sails as he explained how the wind and sails work hand in hand. Very complicated and I wish I could relay it back to you, but I don’t remember and I didn’t understand a thing he was saying about watching the red and green strings on the sail to see which direction they are blowing in the wind and all the technical aspects. Josh was intrigued and got it, but I was just trying to keep the boat afloat. It was funny though, because the guide had turned off the motor and was using the wind to move us along, but there was hardly a breeze. We could tell he was embarrassed, though the weather of course was not his fault, he still wanted this ride to be entertaining and worth our money. He was watching the couple of other sail boats further out in water and said he could see the wind blowing on top of the water, so we headed that direction to see if we could catch some action. Up until that point, I had gotten used to the calm progression and being flat on the water. Boy, was I in for a ride! The wind definitely picked up a lot. We at last reached where the wind was, and the boat came to life. It was all a fast blur as he explained what we had to do, and that we had to walk across from one side of the boat to the other once he got the sails up . . . and I was still steering, and Josh was in charge of the ropes. He told us when to go on the other side of the boat, but it was more like fall for me. That was not pleasant as I fumbled when the boat was then going all the way up on its side and I hadn’t moved out of the way enough (though I did duck so that the big pole didn’t hit me) but the rope somehow got my ear when we were switching sides, giving me ropeburn and I’m pretty sure I remember hitting something else too along the way. It all happened so fast. By then the boat was all the way sideways . . . so the part we had been sitting on, that side was now resting on the water, and we were now up in the air. I was still steering, which was very hard in those moments and hurting my arms, and my heels were digging into the boat and my legs were straining too and started shaking as I was trying so hard not to fall down. The boat was at a 90 degree angle, and I was so scared that it was going to tip over and we would fall out and go underwater. It was very scary! The tour guide was just laughing at me though and said not to worry, that this was nothing and that it had weights underneath and was made so that it was impossible to tip over and sink. We finally leveled out again and were sailing straight and flat on the surface, which was much better.

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He showed us how to tack and jibe, and I got to do the ropes as he explained all that to us. We had to keep switching sides too, which scared me because of the last time, but I got better about it, though I still stumbled once and Josh just tried to help me and was making sure the rope didn’t get me again. I feel like everything’s out to get me sometimes! Haha. Josh was having so much fun and I had more fun once I didn’t have to do any of the work. I was amazed at how complex it was and that one person can man all of it on his or her own. It was awesome, though, and so beautiful out in the harbor and seeing all the other boats and the buildings and mountains and kayakers and seagulls and the list goes on; there was so much for the eye to behold and take in. What a wonderful and unique gift! That was something I’d been wanting to do my whole life one day . . . I love sailboats, they are so pretty and peaceful looking, and here I was sailing, actually controlling the boat myself and not just riding. And that I was with my husband, sailing in one of the most beautiful harbors in the world, in New Zealand, on Christmas Day!

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That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I felt so proud of myself and very accomplished afterwards. Josh and I were both very happy and I was so thankful to him. He was completely impressed with sailing, and said he was going to buy a sailboat now. It was funny seeing him so excited about it, and asking our guide about taking sailing lessons, which I hope he gets to do while we are here.
Saturday was a pretty perfect day, and it continued to get better after our sailing. People were really taking care of us too, and knowing that we were away from family, we were invited by our friends to spend Christmas with them. So, on Saturday, Christmas Eve, we went to the Raines house to spend time with their family. I was delighted to see how Jeanette transformed the dining table into a Christmas display so decorative and festive it looked like it came straight from a magazine. She had even made name plates by putting decorative cards with our names onto pinecones in front of our place settings. A beautifully decorated and lit Christmas tree in the living room certainly made us feel the spirit as well, and we had a wonderful dinner with Antony, Jeanette and their sons Kevin and Jeremiah. Toby, their beloved dog who we had grown quite fond of, was there as well. The home-cooked meal was delicious; barbeque ribs, roasted potatoes and kumra, corn on the cob, and green beans. We even had sparkling grape juice in fancy glasses, one of my favorite things to drink and celebrate a special occasion. Jeanette is originally from Alabama, and knows the importance of and how to make the perfect glass of sweet, iced tea (which apparently is not popular over here, only hot tea). All of the food definitely hit the spot. We also had little wrapped presents on our table, which I had seen in the stores called Christmas crackers. It kind of looks like a big tootsie roll wrapped up in Christmas paper, and Josh and I opened our first one together by pulling a wire from each end. I screamed and felt my heart jump when it made a loud popping sound like a firecracker just went off in my hand. All along, whenever I had seen those in the store I had been wanting to buy a package because I thought there were cookies inside (or biscuits, as they are called). I was quite surprised that there were no cookies or crackers but that it was called crackers because of the loud cracking, pop sound it made. Inside were little souvenirs; charms and a paper Christmas hat crown to place on your head that also had jokes written on the inside. That was a neat tradition to be a part of and something I wasn’t expecting. The Raines had also gotten Josh and I both gifts that were placed under the tree; I opened mine and couldn’t have received a more thoughtful gift. It was a glass Christmas ball ornament with a two-sided picture inside; one side had a picture of the Kiwi bird and flag and said “Happy 1st Kiwi Christmas 2011”, and then I turned it around to see me and Josh’s wedding picture! She said she had gotten it off of Facebook and then printed it out. I thought that was so sweet and it is something I will always cherish. They gave Josh a 2011 Rugby World Cup shirt, which he really loved. We had bought them a coffee table book of landscapes from around the world that we thought they would enjoy.
After eating supper and opening presents, Josh and I rode with Jeanette and Antony and Toby to the green, peaceful countryside outside of Wellington, somewhere we had not discovered yet. We stopped at this one farm nestled in a valley between the hills and took pictures of the sheep and petted the miniature horses and donkeys that came up to the fence to greet us. Antony and Jeanette both have a passion for photography like Josh and I do, so that is something we have in common. They are very talented photographers. We drove around some more listening to a variety of music from Antony’s playlist, which I really enjoyed listening to, and a few Christmas songs until we reached another beach we had not been to yet. As we stood on the rocky beach, in the distance, we could faintly see the outline of the mountains of the South Island. When we got back to their house, we ate a delicious trifle that Jeanette had made; berries, creamy pudding, and bits of vanilla cake inside; so yummy. We had a wonderful evening and were very appreciative of them inviting us and making us feel so welcome.

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Since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, we decided that we would celebrate our Christmas the following day, on Monday, and open our presents then, and also it would be Christmas back home so we could Skype with our families. A few days before, Josh had another treat for me and wanted to spoil me and we booked a room at the Museum Hotel on the waterfront and across from the famous Te Papa Musuem (which I forgot to mention that part along the way, but we did go there one day because its on the must-see list for Wellington. I guess I just don’t like museums after all, I decided after going there, and maybe I’ve always been like that. I would recommend it still to others because there was a lot of cool interesting stuff to learn about, but it was huge and so much to see and I just felt very antsy and like it was too much information to take in. But that’s just me, Josh really found it fascinating as do many people.) Anyways, so we were going to spend Christmas Day night, Sunday night, in a fancy hotel overlooking Oriental Bay, not far from the Copthorne where we had spent our very first night in New Zealand. And we were to pretend that it was actually Christmas Eve, and that Monday would be Christmas Day. So, after church Sunday night, and before our next Christmas party at the Arulandu’s house, we checked into the hotel and took our stuff to drop off in our room. That is seriously one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever seen, especially when you walk in and see the artsy décor and fancy paintings, furniture, chandeliers, and floor length mirrors. Our room was fashioned in dark blacks and silvers, creating an elegant and romantic mood. We were on the fourth floor, and I was surprised to see that we had a view of the harbor, and a big balcony. That is one of my favorite areas in all of Wellington, on the waterfront and Oriental Bay, because of the beauty and all the people out and about to enjoy the view. We also had a view of the tree of lights, that was in the park across the street. Originally, we had talked about spending our first Christmas in New Zealand somewhere way up in the mountains in an isolated, rustic cabin in the woods, but we couldn’t complain at all. “It don’t get much better than this!” I said to Josh. I could tell from his smile that he was quite satisfied with our room and we both ran across the room and jumped onto the big comfy, fancy bed like we were little kids. We didn’t want to leave, but then we were excited to come back to our room later that night, after another Christmas gathering.

 

Adeline had also graciously invited us to spend Christmas with her family, so it was held at her parent’s house, the Arulandu’s. There ended up being quite a few people as more were there from the church, which kept it very lively and entertaining. The food was so good as it was catered from the Malaysian restaurant they owned; we had curry, barbequed wings, rice, and a table full of desserts. It was a perfect evening and we all ate outside on the picnic tables and on the patio. I wore a dress and walked around barefoot and didn’t need a jacket . . . on Christmas Day! I gave Adeline her present, which I take it that she loved because she squealed with delight when she opened it. She and Carl gave Josh and I these pretty, glass New Zealand coasters and an oven mitt/pad that had a map and pictures of New Zealand on it; perfect for us to decorate our new place with (when we found one!). Their family had also previously made a gingerbread house (a tradition my family and I used to do too, haha, which made me think of them) and then we all gathered around and ate the creation they worked so hard on. My belly was full and content! We had a wonderful time and just felt so blessed and amazed at how we were being taken care of and to have new friends who cared about us.


After that, we drove back and took the scenic drive along the bays, stopping to take pictures of the sunset and boats. We got back to our hotel, parked and then walked some more along the waterfront and Oriental Bay which is decidedly both of our favorite places. The tree of lights was a popular attraction, which we went to and were wondering if there were big presents under the tree, but realized there were huge bean bags for people to lay on underneath and look up and see the lights fastly changing colors. I thought that was awesome! We found us a bean bag and snuggled together and felt like we were on drugs if that’s what it feels like because it was weird looking at it from that angle. Felt like we were zooming into space traveling at lightspeed or that we were in some video game. It was fun, and neat to see all the families and little kids being so fascinated by it. I will say it was a little weird laying there and then looking beside you and a stranger’s face just right there in your face; a little bit of a space invasion, but it was cool nonetheless. There was even a telephone booth set up for kids to call Santa Claus, which I thought was cute. Then, we walked around the water some more and took pictures and looked at the stars above, and talked about how neat it was what we were doing. We never pictured ourselves being here and we really felt far away from the rest of the world. Though it was hard being away from family, there were times and at that moment when we told ourselves that we are a family now; we are starting our own and creating our new memories as Lindsey and Josh. It was very bonding and we felt so happy knowing that two years before, on December 6th, we met each other at the back of the auditorium at Shiloh Church of Christ, and that Josh gathered the courage to meet this new girl he saw come in late and sit in the pew in front of him. And that day, thus began our love story. Sigh.
Our first Christmas together, married. I love that boy Josh so much! The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful view of the harbor with the boats and the bright shining sun and people walking and just hanging out along the waterfront. By the way, Josh had brought the top of the tree of Keith and Elsa’s Christmas tree with us, along with all the decorations, haha. We placed all our gifts under it as well as the packages from our parents, then went to town opening them as we sat on the bed. Definitely a different Christmas than I’ve ever had before, and it was weird still as it didn’t feel like Christmas, but it was fun and happy nonetheless. Josh loved my book I got him, which was great news to me. My hubby gave me something I had been longing for and looking at each time we’d go to a bookstore, “The Lord of the Rings Location Tour Guide” book. Woo hoo! His parents gave us money and clothes, which I was happy to have some new blouses and my mother-in-law did such a great job picking them out! His grandparents sent him birthday money and Christmas money for us (which, I forgot to mention earlier, his birthday is on December 21st, and to celebrate that together, that week I had treated him, though I guess it wasn’t really a treat b/c don’t think it was my money and I wasn’t even able to drive him there, ha, to a place that had his favorite thing . . . wings!) Anyways, and then my parents had sent us money and gift cards to Amazon, Starbucks and Sephora. Also, a couple of my favorite movies for the time of year, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “Gremlins”. My mom sent some lip gloss and a little headband that had mistletoe on top! How cute! Lol.

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We then checked out of our hotel and headed back to Keith’s house and Skyped with our families, which was so wonderful to see them, but that was emotional nonetheless. Our Christmas in New Zealand was definitely different and challenging at times, but it was also an experience we will always remember and that was special and we can tell stories about for years to come!

Culture Shock

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” — Frank Herbert

We arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, or to our new home, on Thursday, December 8th—exactly a month since the day we boarded the jet plane in Texas. It was such a relief to know we had finally decided where we were going to settle for our year in NZ; and we both felt completely in agreement that this is where we were supposed to be, no more moving around! How funny that coming here we thought we were just going to be vagabonders for a while, well, I guess we were in the end, considering how much we moved around for the first month as soon as we got here, but by this time, it was just completely exhausting emotionally and physically and we were wanting to have a house or apartment of our own to move into. But, of course, you have to have a job first to make that part work, which, was one hitch in our move to Wellington, something we didn’t have yet, but we weren’t too worried about that part falling into place. When Josh and I had first started just talking about moving to NZ and hadn’t completely decided on it yet, the first contacts we made were with the church members in Wellington, which was our first pick when just talking about it, that we would move there. That changed from day to day as we finally decided we were going to do this, and bought the plane tickets back in August. We researched job sites online on TradeMe and Backpacker Board NZ, finding different jobs that interested us throughout the country. We did want to travel around for our first couple months here, and thought we might would eventually end up in Wellington after we lived in Hanmer Springs for a while, and then maybe Nelson. Funny how it all worked out in the end and that we ended up where we first thought we might live one day those many, many months ago in our home town (which now seems like a lifetime ago!). Interestingly enough as well, that Keith, a great Kiwi/American friend, was our very first contact in NZ; we talked to him via e-mail all the months leading up to us moving, and he gave us tons of advice and encouragement to help us in our transition.

And now here Josh and I were, living in New Zealand, in Wellington, and now friends with Keith and his wife Elsa, and that they were being such hospitable Christians and letting us stay in their home while we looked for jobs and a place to live. It was just amazing to me, and especially looking back, at how this plan has worked out, and thanks to God’s help. He made this dream possible for us and that it came true, and made the transition so easy, in all reality, with the help we received from our Christian friends.
Josh and I unloaded our car (which has been completely packed to the rim, it’s like playing Tetris trying to get all of our stuff to fit in there!) putting our suitcases and backpacks and whatever else junk we have somehow already accumulated into the Copeland’s house. As far as job prospects, we already had a few that might be a possibility for the upcoming New Year. Ok, here’s how it works in New Zealand, something I have observed and which is completely different from America; during the Christmas and New Year holidays, everything shuts down…for like a month! That is hardly an exaggeration either. New Zealanders, or shall I say, Kiwis, enjoy life to the fullest. That was something we found out right away. Josh was e-mailing all types of businesses asking about possible employment and we both were applying online for jobs, and most of the responses we received were that they would know more and get back with us or interview after the New Year. They were about to go on holiday. Businesses, or most of them, seriously shut down and go on holiday for like three weeks surrounding Christmas. Not all do, but most said that they would get back with us after the holiday. This was not the best timing I guess for me and Josh, however, to find a job and was a bit frustrating. But lucky for the businesses! Also, how it works here, which knocked me off my feet and blew me out of the water when I first heard about this deal . . . for most professional jobs in NZ, employers give their employees not one, not two, not three, but FOUR (4) WEEKS PAID VACATION!!! I’m not lying, I know, that is so hard to believe as an American that this could be possible, I thought people were pulling my leg when they told me this. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working there, even if just a year, you get this wonderful gift. Good grief, at my last job and how it works for everybody else too in the States I guess, you get one week’s paid vacation for working there a year, and thereafter, if you’ve been there two years, then you accumulate two weeks paid vacation. Which, in the end, I didn’t get a full two weeks even though I worked my little butt off for two full years. Hmmm….maybe America should take a hint from how people live their life in New Zealand, I mean that’s what I’m talking about and how it should be! It’s not all Work, Work, Work, slaving away in a crammed office wasting your life away doing pointless, monotonous work that you get no credit for in the end, and no play, just work, go home, and go to bed, and then the same thing the next day. And work so hard just to get that one week, or two if you are really lucky, vacation that you might be able to afford. No, in New Zealand, people like to get off work at five, if they have an 8 to 5 job, and I mean leave the office at five. In general, from what I’ve heard and seen thus far, they don’t stay at the office until 8 or 9 at night and go up on the weekends, a slave to their jobs, but they go home at 5 and on the weekends to their families, or go outside to play; play outside in this beautiful playground that God made for us to enjoy. And by giving their employees 4 weeks paid vacation; that truly says enough right there.
There is a balance, or should be, in life between work and play. And in order for us to play, Josh and I still desperately needed to find a job.

 

At last, Josh got an interview scheduled for the following week, set up with an employment agency, and then I had luck with applying for temporary receptionist jobs as I got word back from another employment agency as well scheduling me for an interview after the holiday break, on January 9th. That was a long time to wait, but made me very happy and hopeful. Josh had his interview for December 12th, which he went to, and said it went very well. The agency said he would be hearing back from them in the next few weeks after they pass on his information to different businesses. It was frustrating to have to wait until after the holidays, and we hoped we would really hear back from them, which I had hopes we would because, well, of course anybody would want to hire my smart husband! In the meantime, we shared a home with Keith and Else for the next couple weeks, who was in and out a lot for work, until he left to go to Mexico. We hadn’t been hearing back from Josh’s interview yet, and we were needing money and to have a secured job; we honestly felt a little lost and pretty down. Everything had basically shut down, which was annoying because there was nothing we could really do until after the holidays . . . just wait and hear back from the places we applied, and hope good would come from his interview and my upcoming one.
Then one day mid-December, Josh got a call from one of the places he had e-mailed to see if they needed any work, and it was a contractor who did jobs for property management. This didn’t sound too exhilarating, but we were happy to have work! What was even better, was that Josh and I would get to work together (yes, we were still happy and in love despite the stressful circumstances . . .we enjoy each other’s company J). It was commercial and residential cleaning for a property management company. I can’t say I’ve ever done that before, but it was actually interesting to me as Josh and I drove together across town to a house overlooking the ocean, and waited for the owner of the company to come and show us how to clean houses. I laughed to myself at what we were doing; I never pictured Josh and I doing that, though I guess we were imagining us working for hotels/resorts doing reception and/or housekeeping, and this was pretty close to the latter part. Our boss man finally showed up; his name was Erol. We walked up the many steps (all the houses are built on the mountain sides, so I am finally getting calf muscles that I always wanted!) to the house and met the lady who lived there. She was pregnant, due in two weeks she said, so as I waited for Josh and Erol to bring up the cleaning supplies, she and I stood at the window looking at the amazing view she had, and just talked for awhile. She was really nice and I told her where we were from and about our working holiday visa, which she thought was really neat that we could do that now, and said she always wanted to do something like that too. The lady also talked and bragged about NZ, so that was really cool, I thought. I actually felt really good inside too that we were helping her out, as she said the house chores are nearly impossible for her to do now in her condition. She stayed in the house nearly the whole time we cleaned, which felt a little weird, but wasn’t too bad. I spent the time cleaning the bathroom while Josh did the kitchen and Erol helped clean too and gave us some helpful hints. I didn’t mind the work that day, and I would go in the kitchen every now and then or wherever Josh was and we would just kind of smile at each other and tell the other what a good job they were doing. Josh strapped the vacuum pack on his back (that was a sight to see; he actually likes vacuuming lol, which I don’t mind at all because I have always hated doing that almost more than anything!) and I mopped, which I have hardly ever done in my life because I think it’s pointless and gross and doesn’t do the job like a Swiffer Spray Jet does! It wasn’t so bad though, and it took us about two hours to clean the house.

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After we were done and gathering our supplies to take back to the van, we talked with Erol for a bit and I learned that his thick foreign accent was actually Turkish. He talked about his culture and how he ended up in New Zealand; he had left Turkey a number of years ago to immigrate to New Zealand leaving his Turkish/German/English interpreting career behind. I found him to be one of the most interesting people we had met thus far, from the stories we had already heard from him. He warned us of how the city was going to clear out in a few days almost completely, as everyone leaves the city and goes up north to vacation for the holidays. Wellington becomes like a ghost town, he said. I wished we could go vacation up in Auckland and the Bay of Islands, where you can actually swim in the water because it’s warm enough. People do swim in the ocean around Welly, but I think they are crazy; it is freezing! Most of them wear wet suits too. So, I wasn’t looking forward to the ghost town part. He also talked about upcoming work for us, that it would get busier in January because we would have a lot of property management end of lease cleaning work; where you thoroughly clean the empty house from top to bottom. It had to be spotless he said, because the property managers inspect it and are very strict. At least that meant we had jobs lined up in the future, and would be kept busy until we found another job. That is, if we even got something else, for we were thinking we might be okay if we both worked doing this together, and we would have more freedom. It was good for now, though, was all that we knew; at $15/hour. We completed that job around lunch time, and Erol said he had more work for later that day (I was thinking, oh no! haha, I didn’t want to work anymore, I was done for the day in my head), but learned that it was a job for Josh, to go with Erol after lunch to go clean gutters. “Whew!” A sigh of relief from me. We laughed nearly the whole way to McDonalds, laughing still at what we were doing, and that Josh was going to be riding with Erol in a white van filled with cleaning supplies, and going to clean gutters! Oh well, more money for us, which we needed. For the next few days, there were no houses to clean, but only gutters. Josh said that in NZ you have to have some kind of special training or certification to legally clean gutters, so Josh spent the time holding the ladder for Erol, as he told stories of his life in Turkey and how one day he wanted to open a kebab shop here, which kebabs are now Josh’s favorite food.
Now, throughout this time, the weeks of December and even into January, I found it to definitely be one of the toughest times, and when the culture shock seemed to have completely sunk in. We both remembered by then what Kevin Moore had told us and prepared us for when he picked us up that day which seemed ages ago, when we first arrived in New Zealand the month before. He said it was a normal thing to go through, to first get to a new place and be so excited and in awe of everything because it was new; even the things that were different from back home, which we find interesting at the time. He said that would last for a while, but then the phase would come of culture shock where those things that you found new and cool because it was different in the beginning will then annoy you, even the little things, and you will feel sad and even depressed, and of course with being homesick and missing family and friends back home. He said he and his wife had these feelings, and these are completely normal; that it can last a period of time, but that the negative, sad part will eventually pass and we will feel back to normal. He was definitely right. I had studied about this phase too and learned about it in an Intro to Missions class I took at LCU, and had experienced it a little myself when spending a summer on a mission trip in Mexico.
The negative and depressed feelings had definitely arrived. We found ourselves complaining about everything, I certainly was. Instead of being grateful for all that had gone right and how we were being taken care of, I just complained because of the things that were different from back home. And it’s always all in the little things too, that sometimes make the most impact. It’s not like we were in the slums of Africa or in a completely different from America culture like India or China, and maybe that’s why it was so hard. I had been warned of that too, before coming here, by church friends who lived in NZ but were from the States; that it’s things you don’t expect to be different, not obvious culture differences, but you would just notice along the way and that would annoy you. You don’t have to move to a country that speaks a different language to experience culture shock; for we were in a place that was completely different nonetheless, even if just small things, they build up and start to get to you. An example; the bathroom situation. In every place we had stayed or been in thus far (besides the hotels) and the flats we had looked at (we had already looked at a couple in Wellington, of which I will talk about later), there was something I found that really made me scratch my head and ponder the meaning of. The toilet (you say here, “I need to use the toilet” or “I’m going to the toilet” instead of “I’m going to the restroom” or “bathroom”) is in a separate little room entirely set apart from the rest of the “bathroom”. So, you open the door into a tiny little space that you can barely turn around in, where the toilet is, then after you are done with your business, you go out of that room, back out into the hallway, and then into the “bathroom” where the sink and shower are. Why are they separated? I have no idea. To some, that may not seem like a big deal and maybe I sound dramatic, but that was something completely unfamiliar and foreign to me, and something I did not understand, but found simply annoying.
Also, the majority of the houses here are very old, and cheaply made, and feels like we are still living in the 1970’s (if you haven’t noticed by now, I don’t like that time era, though I didn’t live back then to know if it was good or not, but I hate the music, décor, clothes, everything). I’m sorry if it sounds like I am bashing New Zealand, I guess I kind of am, but these were just my honest thoughts and feelings, and you will probably see throughout this blog that I will complain about NZ and America, and I will also praise both places for different aspects of these two countries I have now experienced living in. The toilet room is usually in the middle of the house, which I have found very awkward in that something else I had learned to despise was how quiet it was inside the houses. I haven’t mentioned this yet, which was another shocker to me, but there is no central heat and air, or ceiling fans. I still can’t get over that and not sure if I ever will. People just leave their windows open in the summer to keep cool and have fresh air flowing so the house doesn’t stay damp, and in the winter, they freeze. At least, I guess that is what we will have to do once that arrives, I was thinking to myself at the time. Some homes have a heat pump, kind of like a portable air conditioner unit, just heat, but most do not as these are very expensive to install. So, in order to keep warm, buy a little space heater and not an electric blanket as they have back home, but a heat pad, that you lay on top of the mattress and under your sheets, and turn it on before you come to bed so that your tush will be plenty warm when you at last fall asleep. And, dress in layers if it gets cold in the house, so we had been advised. I’m not a big fan at all of being cold, and I have always cranked up the heater and loved listening to the sound of it ventilating throughout the rooms of the houses, apartments, and duplex I have lived in throughout all of my life up until now. Yes, it is December in New Zealand, which is mid-summer as the seasons are reversed as you may well be aware, but it still has gotten very cold at night, so I can only imagine the winter time. I guess another thing that I loved and never realized about central heat and A/C back home not only for its practicality in keeping people either warm, or cool, but for the sound of it. For those of you reading this back home, this might be hard to understand, but imagine, or if you really want to experience what I mean, just go and turn off your heater right now (as I know it is winter there now, so hard to believe). Then, just sit there until you get really cold to know how that feels, but also, sit there and listen to . . . the quiet. Maybe me and Josh are the only ones who have a problem with that, but when you are used to hearing the noise of either the heater or the air conditioner going on your whole life (especially living in Texas), then the sound of a completely utterly still and quiet house is unnerving.
It has been so much of a problem for Josh, that as soon as we got here, well after a couple of weeks I guess, when we could hardly stand the silence at night, he went and bought a portable, six-inch tall fan to listen to the sound and be able to fall asleep. That is one of his quirks, I learned early on in our marriage, that he has always, and has to, and I mean HAS TO, sleep with a fan going. When we got married, he brought in this big, huge, ugly box fan into our bedroom and turned it on high that sounded like we were in an airport hangar with all the plane’s engines on full blast. If I tried to turn it off (which I have done a few times) well, I definitely learned what makes Josh tick and how to push his buttons is to mess with his fan. And, he has learned that I have to sleep with a lamp on. Somehow, though, I have gotten the bottom end of that deal, though he does do every thing else for me and does everything to make me happy, that is something I have mostly gotten the shaft on. Living alone and on my own for two and a half years before getting married, I had gotten used to the comfort of having either my leopard or maroon lamp on at night, which made me feel safe and the soft warm colors were comforting and always coaxed me to sleep. Since I’m married now and no longer sleeping alone, I should feel safe and not need a night light anymore, says he, and he can’t sleep with it on, but I think he has a problem too in his obsession with the fan. What can I say, there have been many a fight or sleepless nights all because of a fan and all because of a lamp (and a stubborn boy named Josh and a stubborn girl named Lindsey). We have gotten much better, I am proud to admit, and have found ourselves more compromising on this issue as we have matured in our relationship and in our marriage (most nights).
I digress, again. So back to the bathroom. Another thing is the toilets don’t flush like they do in America. And, the biggest puzzler of all I have found in many a bathroom is at the sink. There is not one faucet, but two. On the left, is the nozzle, or faucet, with the big red “H” on it. Well, from that faucet comes out, yep, you got it right, hot water. On the right hand side of the sink (the sinks are tiny as well, by the way) is the faucet for cold water. There is no magical third faucet in the middle for warm water, or even lukewarm water. Nope. So, when you want to wash your hands, and I’ve even found this in some kitchens, you can imagine what happens. You either freeze to death or burn your hand off; there is no in between. When trying to wash my face, I would cup my hand and fill it first with cold water, then hot, wait for it to cool off a bit in my hand before it all dripped out, then splash my face. I tried that a couple times, but soon decided I would just have to go without washing my face, and have a face full of zits. Apparently, this separate hot and cold faucet thing was a popular trend when building the homes in New Zealand way back in the day. I thought to myself, you know, I would really like to meet the genius who came up with this design and no, not shake his hand, but slap him up the side of the head and yell, “What were you thinking??!!” It was after these negative and angry emotions and outbursts I would feel inside that I would then feel bad and wonder what was wrong with me; I sound so spoiled and ungrateful and that’s really not even a big deal at all, at least we have water, how could I complain? These were my thoughts and feelings though, and I am not sugar coating them, as you can tell, at least concerning our culture shock period. I came across a quote the other day that I really liked and found very applicable. Moslih Eddin Saadi said, “A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” Well, I know I certainly have my wings all right.
Part of our extreme negativity, I’m sure, had in part to do with our frustration of being in limbo. The current job situation might work out, but we weren’t too hopeful on that being very steady work and pay, which was needed in order for us to find a place to rent. We were on a time limit too, and hoping to find an apartment, flat or house very soon, to finally have a place of our own to call home and not be living off of other people’s hospitality, and to be moved into our place or at least have found one before Keith and Elsa got back. Was this all going to work out after all? Were we just going to get too frustrated and find it too expensive and give up and go home? We had our days when we both would say that in anger and when we were feeling down, and both of us were quite homesick with Christmas quickly approaching. We just had to keep trudging along, and pray about it and have faith that everything was going to work out, which was sometimes easier said than done!

Napier

It was Tuesday, the sixth of December. We didn’t say much on the road back to Napier, just kept thinking about our latest experience. I actually had an interview that afternoon, at a hotel that I had e-mailed the week before, when we knew we were coming to Napier. I had dropped my resume off the day before, and they called asking for me to stop by. That did not go so well. Maybe we were not meant to be in Napier either. I felt horribly depressed and extremely emotional; I didn’t know what we were to do. We drove around again going to different hotels asking if they needed any reception or housekeeping positions available. Still no luck. This hadn’t been a good past couple of days, and Josh knew how upset I was, and knew I needed to rest because I also didn’t feel good. We checked into the motel we had stayed in our first night in Napier, and I had never been so happy to lie on a huge, soft, clean, comfortable bed and have a nice, relaxing, hot shower. I already felt so much better.

We had earlier contacted an elder from the church of Christ in Napier, John Shepherd, to let him know of our situation and that we were thinking of living in this city. He wanted to meet with us during the week sometime, and he called again that day and said he could drive us around and that he also maybe found a place we could rent. We didn’t have a job yet, which is probably what you need first before looking for a home, haha, but we couldn’t keep spending our money on a motel, and we were somehow hopeful we would find a job here. There were orchards and vineyards out the wazoo, so there had to be something; we just had to look hard. It was almost like our situation in Hanmer Springs again; once we are in a place, we hit the ground running to make it work out, sometimes without really thinking too hard about if we really like the place or not. If we weren’t desperate before, we definitely were now, we felt we needed to make this work. Mr. Shepherd picked us up, and I was so happy to meet him, he was so nice and easy to talk to and had quite a sense of humor. I enjoyed listening to him and Josh talk; he was like a grandpa-type figure in our story. He showed us a place for rent he had seen in the paper that was pretty cheap, which we drove by but found the location not in a good area. He then took us to meet his wife, Anne, at their home. We stayed there for a few minutes just chatting, getting to know each other, and talking about ideas of finding jobs for us. I really liked both of them so much, and felt comfortable with them. They said we would be in touch and then he dropped us back off at our motel. That night, Josh made dinner in our room and we sat on the balcony, feeling a little better about our situation. We had been surprised though to learn, when we were talking to the Shepherds, about the congregation in Napier, that it was an older generation church, with no one near our age. Our friends in Wellington had given us contact info for a couple around our age who went to that church, which we were glad to know but I guess they had stopped going there in the past few months and were now attending elsewhere. We hadn’t met up with them yet, but I was hoping we would still be able to be friends and hang out with this couple. This was a bit discouraging in a way, to be the youngest couple by a long shot at the church there. Well, maybe that can be a good thing, and we can help this church out by helping with community outreach and help bring in younger families. Josh and I walked to the beach after dinner, and talked about this and talking about the pros and cons of Napier. We decided to still give it a go, and continue job-hunting again in the morning.

The next day, Mr. Shepherd called us and offered for us to stay in their spare bedroom while we were looking for a job and place to rent. How nice! We graciously accepted their offer, and moved all our stuff to their home. We had become quite the vagabonders! Then we went looking for jobs. Now it was like being in Nelson again, stopping at every orchard and vineyard we passed by. We found one vineyard with a café that sounded promising of possible upcoming positions in the café. After looking all day, we drove by a flat (that is what they are called here when there are two or three houses in one building, like a duplex, but most of them here are stacked up on each other as they are built in stair-step design on top of the mountains) that was a very reasonable price. It had a great view with an ocean in the far distance, and we peeked in the windows. I love looking at houses! I think I should be a real estate agent one day. Growing up, my mom and I would love going to open houses together, I remember whenever we were looking to move across town. I had been looking on the Trade Me website (like Craigslists, but with houses for sale/rent also) for months leading up to our move over here, always looking at the houses and excited to see the pictures and dreaming what we would live in when we got here. I always hoped to have a view, but didn’t think that would be too likely because of the extreme higher cost of living in this country.

We went back to the Shepherd’s house that evening and ate pizza and ice cream with them. We really enjoyed their company and hospitality. They left for a while, and Josh and I sat in our room, which was the office filled with bookshelves of spiritual books. It was time to have a talk, again. We had a heart to heart honest talk about what we should do, and what we felt like we both needed. Didn’t have a job here yet, maybe a couple of possibilities, especially with all the work Josh had also been doing in calling and e-mailing different possible employers in an attempt to get us a job as soon as possible. We hadn’t attended the congregation here yet, but I said how I was feeling about the lack of people our age. I said how I need to have friends and Josh said he really wanted that for me (he is always looking out for my well-being, I love him); girl buddies I can talk to. It would be a plus to both have Christian friends our age to relate to and help our Christian walk. Felt like that was something I was really needing at the time, we both knew that is what we needed and to help us grow. We could stay and help the church here as we had said and we considered that, but after talking for an hour about it, we knew the final decision, and in our hearts what was the overall best thing to do. Go back to Wellington! And stay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It felt so good after talking about it and coming to that decision; I felt overwhelmed with relief and happiness. We had already made friends with people in the church in Wellington, and I had a feeling that I would become closer friends with Adeline and Elsa. Josh had guys his age too, and that made me feel good to think about for him. Also, I didn’t mention this earlier, but when we had stayed with Keith that night, he had told us that if it doesn’t work out in Napier and we want to come back to Wellington, that Josh and I could stay at their house for a month, for free! I don’t think I have ever met as such hospitable people as we have in New Zealand. Keith would be at his house a couple more weeks he had said, working until he headed to Mexico for the Christmas holidays to meet up with his wife Elsa, and then they were to stay the rest of the holidays in the States, until they came back the second week of January. I couldn’t believe he had offered that and thought that was so kind, and also didn’t think we would need to take him up on it at the time. However, we knew this might be a lifesaver to us now, as we were wanting to finally find a place to settle down, and we knew where that was. It would also save us so much money while we tried to find a job and place to live in Wellington. We called Keith to see if the invitation was still open, and offered to pay. We were very welcome as the invite was still extended and to not worry about paying.

The next morning, Thursday, Josh got up early and told Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd what we had decided to do. He said they thought that was a good decision for us, so that was really great. I am so glad that we met them and am grateful for their welcoming spirits and the help they gave us.

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Me driving for the second time since we’d arrived…on the busy road this time, though. Aghhh! 

We said goodbye, and this time as we hit the road, we felt better than we ever had. We finally knew what we were doing now. I couldn’t wait to get back to Wellington. Relief, peace, and happiness filled our hearts. The four-hour drive back was a piece of cake and seemed much shorter than our journey a few days earlier. When we arrived in Wellington and saw the harbor sprawled out and the open sea, and the tall buildings, we felt like we were home. At last, we had found it; our new home away from home.

Consumed by Wanderlust

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

~J.R.R. Tolkien, from “The Lord of the Rings”

Whither then, Josh and I definitely could not say. All we knew was that, in all honesty, we were quite ready to be leaving the South Island. On to the next adventure! The South Island’s landscape was breathtaking, and we had made friends along our journey. We knew we would be back to visit, for there is so much to explore, but the North seemed more appealing to us in the end, to live. We had several contacts and friends that we had made before coming and that we met our first few days in the country, in Wellington. Our plan (for now) was to go try out the adventure lodge outside of Napier, 4 hours north of Wellington, on the east coast. The idea brought our minds peace knowing that we would be closer, or at least have easier access, to our friends and the church in Welly. It also had a well-established congregation. As we crossed the ocean on the Interislander Kaitaki ferry, I wondered at what Napier would be like and if we would like our new job, and if this was a good idea. The work was for accommodation, something we still felt like we needed to save up a little money. I felt excited; it’s fun and mysterious when everything is just up in the air! A bit nerve-wracking, which Josh seemed more wracked than me about it. Before coming, we talked about traveling and how much better it is when there is no set plan (or so he was trying to convince me), to just go with it and see what happens, because that is the adventure of it all, and truly living like a vagabonder. I felt scared of that idea when thinking about it in Tyler, but now that we were here, our roles seemed to switch and I didn’t mind the not knowing feeling—most of the time. There were days when I just wanted everything to fall in place at that moment and find a place to settle. For the time being, though, I felt positive. “A good traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving,” said Lao-Tzu. We will see if I still like that quote by the end of our travels here in New Zealand, and know whether or not Josh and I are good travelers (at least, according to Lao-Tzu).

While on the ferry this time we stayed inside the ship more than out on the deck. We ate in the cafeteria, and I felt the rocking and moving of the vessel . . . made my legs feel shaky and I felt slightly nauseous and I didn’t want to eat. Thankfully I didn’t get sick though J I suddenly remembered something and dug in my purse to see if I still had it. A free pass to the Kaitaki lounge. Antony Raine had given it to us before we left Wellington, and we had completely forgotten about it. I hoped they would let us in the closed door reserved only for VIP. Well, not really on a ferry boat, I exaggerate, but nonetheless I felt sneaky opening the door and relieved when the little old man looked at our card and then treated us like we were something special. Too bad we hadn’t remembered earlier because we already paid for lunch and had just missed a free meal, oh well though. There wasn’t anything too fancy about the room, but it’s all a matter of mind, and I felt quite content. It was very quiet and calming in the lounge, with free drinks, cappuccinos, lattes, snacks and big screen TVs. And comfy couches to just lie on and relax. I had Josh get me a cappuccino and I rested on the couch and read the paper, occasionally looking out the window as we were approaching the North Island. I felt like we were living in the shoes of Jack Dawson in the Titanic, fictional character or not, when he dined with the rich folk in first class where he did not belong and gave his speech about living life to the fullest. Maybe I just sound like a girl who hasn’t been around or seen much of this world, haha, but I felt like a Queen. It’s the little things in life that make you happy.

The captain announced our arrival into the harbor. We left the lounge, hurrying up the stairs and out onto the top deck, crowded with tourists excited to see our destination. I felt my chest well up with happiness and relief seeing the tall buildings and the sprawled out city of Wellington and the houses scattered on the hills. Strange, I had been missing this place. It felt so good to be back, back into “the connect”, as Josh would say. That’s a phrase he taught me, though I have always known that feeling before just not been able to find the right words for it. The connect is in a place that’s alive…where you feel alive. Big cities define the connect. People, cars, buses, trains, planes, ships . . . everything is on the move. There’s action, always something going on, stores and restaurants are open late. There is life. The opposite of that, and how we mostly felt on the South Island, is being in the disconnect. Small towns are usually in the disconnect, or you can really feel that way being out in the country and going for hours not seeing any cars pass by. In really small towns, the shops shut down at five and then the streets are a ghost town. Then you just get that really bad feeling inside sometimes, especially at night in those places, like you are all alone. Everything is quiet. That is what it’s like to be in the disconnect. Or, just watch the movie “Napoleon Dynamite”, and then you will know what I mean. Anyways, so were back where there were people, lots of people, cars, rush hour traffic, and skyscrapers. I never thought of myself as a big city girl and I’ve always wanted to live in the country, but maybe the city is where I belong. Josh and I both automatically felt better inside and we both simultaneously kept sighing out loud, ridding ourselves of any anxiety that was there before.

We drove off the ferry and into the parking lot where Keith Copeland was awaiting our arrival. He was graciously going to let us stay at he and his wife Elsa’s house for the night, before we drove up to Napier the next day. And, Keith was there to take us to Red Rocks. We rode with him in his 4 x 4 Longhorn SUV out to his favorite place. The day was exceptional as we arrived late in the afternoon. The clouds had been chased away and nothing but blue skies to lighten our spirits as we passed through the city streets bustling with people and energy. Keith told us that there are not a whole lot of sunny days in Wellington, as it is generally cloudy and rainy (and windy), but he supposed it makes days like this one all the more glorious. We drove out to Red Rocks beach, as it is called, because of the red (obviously) and purple rocks from volcanoes—or as the history from the native Maori of New Zealand say, blood. I found an article on http://www.newzealand.com that describes the history a little more that I thought I would include:

“The Red Rocks are ancient pillow lava formed 200 million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions. Small amounts of iron oxides give the rocks their distinctive colouring.

Maori folklore tells two stories relating to the colour of the rocks. In one, Kupe – the famous Polynesian explorer – was gathering paua (shellfish) here when one clamped his hand. He bled and stained the rocks red. In the other story, the red is the blood of Kupe’s daughters. Fearing for their father’s safety on a long voyage, they gashed themselves in grief over his absence.”

Now, we were going off-roading! I’ve only done this like once and I was leery of my stomach since I had just gotten off the ferry, but it was exciting too. Josh sat up front and I sat in the back holding on for dear life and laughing as we hit the rocks hard and fast and sped through puddles, jolting our bodies up and down and sideways. I didn’t like that the road was so close to a steep edge leading to the beach below, but I tried not to think about it. And I prayed. The scariest part was Devil’s Gate, a narrow crevice between two, menacing boulders, attainable up a steep slope and only if driven by careful and experienced drivers with the correct vehicle. The warning sign posted at the entrance of this crafty maneuver made me suggest, “You know, I can let you guys do this, and I’ll just wait on the beach for y’all to come back.” No, no, that wouldn’t be any fun! So I held on tight and closed my eyes. We got stuck at one point and I opened my eyes seeing how frightfully close the boulders were and one wrong move or spinout and . . .then the truck went for it and the truck sped up over the rocky hump (pretty sure we were up in the air for a second or two) and then I opened my eyes to see that we were safely through Devil’s Gate. My heart was pounding, but I was laughing and smiling to have done something brave and new. We got out and walked along the rocks collecting paua shells. That’s a New Zealand trademark, and a huge source of income. It was my first time to find one in the wild. The shells are rainbow glistened inside, and are polished and sold or turned into jewelry and sculptures. I looked around and once again felt myself so happy. “I really like Wellington,” I said to myself. I almost didn’t want to leave it. The smell of the salty sea air, the blue water, the mountains, the countless bays, the big city feeling; so much diverse landscape in one area.

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We finally left Red Rocks and then followed Keith out to the suburb they lived in (Elsa had left a few days earlier to go back home to Mexico for the holidays and Keith would join her later). The menu tonight was creating our own homemade pizza, so we went grocery shopping together. Keith gave us a tour of the Countdown, telling us what all was different from back home (he’s from the States too) so that was interesting and very helpful. Well, while we were shopping, we had paused for a moment and looking up at the shelf about something Keith was explaining, when suddenly, I heard a loud noise and then the ground beneath me started shaking and swaying. . . just moving! The shelves shook a little bit, and I thought maybe a huge grocery ladder or a big box of crates had fallen in the back of the store. Now let me tell you, the floor moving like that, the earth itself . . . one of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever had. We all looked at each other and were thinking, “Surely not?” Yep. We had just been in an earthquake. When we got to Keith’s house, our theory was confirmed by news on the Internet. The earthquake had actually hit in Picton, on the South Island, where our ferry had departed from earlier that day. A 5.8, which is reasonable for one to raise their eyebrows at that number. It was the highest magnitude Wellington had felt in several years. The news said that people riding on the ferry when it happened had said it felt like the boat had hit something like a big rock in the ocean and that the ship jolted. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep too well that night, I just had a really bad feeling. I didn’t like feeling helpless as the earth just moved underneath my feet, and I kept thinking about the earthquakes in Christchurch earlier that year. Great, they never have earthquakes in Wellington, until we get here!

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The next day, Sunday, we went to church at the Wellington Church of Christ. It was so great to see everyone again and I was encouraged to hear the singing filling the small building and listening to the lesson. Afterwards was a potluck lunch, which we stayed for and filled our bellies with delicious food before hitting the road. Everyone seemed surprised to see us again, so soon, but we told of our plans of going to Napier and trying that out; if that didn’t work, we said we would definitely come back here.

I had mixed feelings about leaving Wellington this time. I was eager to see more of the country and our new possibility at the adventure lodge, but felt a bit sad again to be leaving the city and the church. At least we would be closer and could come visit on weekends. We began our journey down a road we had yet to travel and headed north on the North Island. About an hour outside of Wellington we passed through the Rimutaka Ranges; a curvy, winding road through the mountains that makes you hold your breath the whole time. Thankfully, neither of us got carsick. The views were incredible though, of these bush covered, green mountains. The next three hours of our trip seemed long, but the scenery was beautiful as we encountered more green rolling hills covered with hungry, grass-eating sheep. When we approached Napier, the land flattened out a bit and I almost felt like I was in West Texas again except for the apple tree orchards and vineyards. At last, we arrived in Napier. We got there Sunday evening, and it was cloudy, not a good combination after a long trip and arriving at a new destination. I will be honest, and maybe I’m just weird, I was trying to be positive in my head and open, but I wasn’t too impressed with what we saw. As we drove into the downtown though, I liked it more and then we drove onto the Marine Parade and saw the ocean. I love seeing the ocean, if I haven’t already said that J We were worn out and tired physically and emotionally, and hungry. We found a motel on the Parade and grabbed a bite to eat. Tomorrow, we would be going to the adventure lodge, to our new job.

The next morning, we drove around and went to different hotels to see if they had any jobs available; our thinking was that we would work at the adventure lodge for a while and save money by staying there for free, then get paid work in town and find a place to live. That was just frustrating though as we had no luck the places we tried, and we didn’t really know what to do since the lodge was 45 minutes out of town and would be hard to drive in every day if we did get a job at the time. So, we decided to stick to our plan, and go to the lodge. Though the drive was stunning and through mountains, each mile we drove just meant further and further away from the store, and McDonalds. We were still trying to be optimistic; at least putting on a happy face for each other. Where is this place? We thought. After about an hour’s drive, we saw a big sign for the adventure lodge and turned off onto a dirt road. A dirt road out in the boonies leading to our new home? Man, we were far away from the rest of the world. The landscape was picture perfect, though, with the green covered mountains, pine trees, a river running alongside our car in the valley and we even saw a waterfall!

Finally, we approached the office, which was located right next to a horse stable. Maybe I would learn to be a horse whisperer during our time in isolation. There was the cutest dog (besides my Pomeranian, Rusty, RIP) I’ve ever seen sitting on the front porch of the office, a little snow-white Maltese that came running up to me and Josh as soon as we got out of the car, like he had been waiting for us, and a golden retriever to welcome our arrival. We were introduced to the owners and greeted warmly by them, shown a map of the area, and told that our caravan was ready for us. Oh dear. I did not have high expectations knowing it was a caravan (a camper), but was hoping that maybe it was a nice one, or maybe would have a little bathroom inside. We drove down another dirt road, and had to share the road with some horse back riders, then turned a corner and saw the campground far down below in a deep valley with the river we had seen earlier running beside it. Wow. When we drove down the road into the valley, we passed by the cabins and I was praying the owners would let us stay in one of those. Well, we rounded the bend and saw our new home. Three little caravan camper trailers–we were told we would know which one was ours . . . “it’s the bigger one,” they had said. What bigger one?! They were all the same . . . tiny. Silver aluminum exterior tastefully accented with bright orange, straight from the 70’s, or again, Uncle Rico’s nice little crib in Napoleon Dynamite. I didn’t even want to look inside! I did, however, have to look inside eventually. I stepped up into it, and well, what you see is what you get! One little room . . .to the left was the “bigger” bed or mattress, against the window, in the middle was the “kitchen” with a couple cabinets, a faucet over a covered up sink (which obviously didn’t work), and a mini fridge that wasn’t cold. A few feet over were two more mattresses against the wall. Orange carpet and red-orange curtains. No bathroom; instead, we had to walk up a hill to shared facilities. There was a little nightstand table in between the two twin mattresses that had a lovely decoration to add to the mood; a dead flower in an empty beer bottle. Which is exactly how I felt, after seeing our new home.

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So this was the worker’s accommodation. Free accommodation in exchange for three hours of work a day; the rest of the day is yours. To do what in this forsaken place? My good, positive attitude was going out the window. I stepped out of our caravan and looked up at the mountainside looming over head and heard something I didn’t like. Quiet. Where was everybody? Where were all the campers and people . . . life? We should have known though, I guess, coming here blindly as we had done since our time in New Zealand, driving to new places and promises of good-sounding jobs and set-up, but not at all what we envisioned. There were two other workers there that day; one girl from Germany, Sophie, who lived in the opposite caravan, and a Canadian girl, Dakota, who apparently we unintentionally kicked her out of her caravan. She had been staying in the one we were in and I guess hadn’t moved out yet, but Sophie met us first and moved her stuff out for her, as they would now be sharing a camper so that Josh and I could have the bigger one. The middle caravan was occupied by another male worker, but he was not at the camp then. Our caravan was right by the kitchen/restaurant. Dakota was surprised and not too happy I think, when she found her stuff gone, replaced by our suitcases, when she walked up to our caravan after leading a group of riders on a horse trail. I felt bad for her and could sense her loneliness of being in this place.

Josh and I had bought an ice chest (or chilly bin, as they are called here) and we made sandwiches and ate at a picnic table and listened to the quiet all around us. I could tell he was not feeling well being there, haha. We kept saying we were trying to be positive about it, but we both knew we felt super anxious and not liking the idea of this at all. We’ll give it a try, though, and stay here a few days and just see how it goes, I’m sure it will get better. We had time to ourselves until later that afternoon, when the owner lady would meet with us to talk about our duties here. So we took our time looking around; we walked down to the river, skipped rocks on the river, waded in the river, took pictures of the river, listened to the river, thought about the river . . . yep, we were pretty bored. I could do this for a couple days to get away from everything, but day in and day out? We were told that the camp was about to get full with, the New Zealand Air Force. The vans filled with guys and a few girls arrived later in the afternoon, and then it was not so quiet anymore. They were pretty loud and obnoxious, but we were glad for the break in the silence. We met with the lady and she told us about the arrangement; basically what we already knew, two to three hours of work a day. The staff kitchen was ours to use, lunch and breakfast was up to us, though dinner we could eat at the restaurant in exchange for helping cleanup in the kitchen afterwards. That didn’t sound so bad, and I had a feeling this lady was a really good cook. She said the weekends get super busy and that there might be paid work upcoming with Josh helping out on the river rafting and paintball events, and for me working at the front office as a receptionist. That sounded a little promising, to actually get paid, but Josh and I were still thinking about our little caravan waiting for us outside. She was saying how Sundays are busy too, which wasn’t good because of church. Hmmm, what to do? As you can imagine, this was all quite stressful and didn’t seem like we had too many options. Maybe we should just do this for a while to at least save what money we did have and eventually get the paid work in town. Our hearts were troubled, as they would say, haha.

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There were some beautiful moments we had there that day though. We had also spent some time on top of the hill by the front office (where we had to stand in one spot to hopefully find reception on our cell phone) and looking at the beauty around us. I loved seeing the horses in the pastures, looking so elegant and graceful. Also, playing with the little Maltese; he was so soft and would lay in my lap and playfully bite my hand and growl, he was a feisty little thing and it was so cute because I have no idea how he was able to see with his white fur covering his eyes. Another moment I will always remember was while we were waiting for dinner, I walked down the pathway towards the river for a little alone time. I felt God’s presence all around me so very strongly. That is why I love being outside, and it reminded me of my times at church camp growing up. It was my favorite time of the day, nearing sunset when the sunlight is in its golden moment and you can feel its warmth and comfort and the hope that it brings to your soul. There was a fence on either side of the path, which I love fences out in the country, and yellow flowers and tall grass just waving in the breeze. Not a bad view with the mountains surrounding us and hearing the sound of the river and birds singing. “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music . . .” it felt like. Or alive with God’s voice quietly saying and reminding me, “I am here. Look at what I have made!” It was a glorious moment. I sang a couple of youth group songs out loud, which just made me feel so good. Josh then joined me and we stood there for a few minutes taking in the sights and sounds.

 

Then, it was dinner time! We helped in the kitchen a little bit before it was ready, washing dishes as they were being used to make the meal. Our chore was to do all the dishes after the Air Force guys were done eating . . . there were about 50 to 60 of them altogether I think. We had a nice little chat with the owner as she was cooking and learned a lot about the hard work they put into making and running the camp. It was a pretty good set up for the campers who came to stay and all the activities they had to offer and the freedom people need to get away from the city life sometimes. I just didn’t feel too pleasant on the living situation for the workers. The food looked and smelled delicious; we were starving. I felt awkward when the army guys stood in line getting their food and Josh and I were in the kitchen with our aprons on. I felt like a dork! At last, though, we got to eat out on the porch; it was a pretty night. We sat with Sophie, and the owners. The vegetable and meat lasagna and garlic bread hit the spot, as did the apple crumb for dessert. A free meal; that was tasty! All that food was burned off very soon when we washed the dishes after dinner. I’ve never washed and dried so many dishes in my life; it was never-ending! Josh and I made a pretty good team, I was proud of us. It was quite funny, though, and I would laugh to myself at the sight of Josh and I in our oversized (on me) aprons, frantically working to wash all the dishes and get a good system going. I’d rather pay 50 bucks for a meal than to have to do that every night!

There was nothing left to do after that but walk out into the pitch black darkness to our awful caravan. We snuggled, as there was no other choice but to be wedged together close on our little mattress. It was very cold. The air force guys’ laughter filled the night air for a while, followed by the sound of complete and utter silence, interrupted only occasionally by buzzing insects. These insects dwelled with us in our home sweet home; we both kept slapping ourselves and itching, getting that creepy-crawly, tingling feeling you get after seeing a spider. This is just not going to work, I said to myself. It was neat at least looking out our window and seeing the diamond stars dazzling brightly above. Our weariness was probably a good thing that night. It helped very little, however, in the end, for we both kept tossing and turning and felt very cold, restless, and uneasy.

In the morning, after about two hours of sleep, we woke up to each other and did what any married couple would do in our situation; we fought. I’m surprised we didn’t wake up the whole camp as we were basically outside and not behind closed doors in your own home like it should be when you need to fight with your spouse, for it’s hard to keep your voices down when you are downright angry. The situation was neither one of our faults; we all know that, but who better to blame in the moment and take out the frustration on than the one you love the most and the one you should be supporting in a tough time as this? In hindsight, we can all say that, which is how we should have been, but the wrath of the gods seemed to have been unleashed. It was also the worst possible time to be a girl, which magnifies the situation a hundred times more. So, after yelling, tears, stomping away angrily, and a few minutes apart to cool down, we came back to each other feeling horrible, and sorry. After talking, apologizing, hugging, and me crying a few more tears, we came to a mutual understanding . . . time to hit the road Jack! Well, not for Josh to hit the road Jack and leave me, but for us together to get the heck out of dodge.

But how would we tell the owners? We felt bad about that, as they were needing our help, especially with the upcoming busy weekend and motorcycle rally. There was no other choice, though, we had to leave. We walked to the kitchen together and asked if we could speak to the owner privately. Thankfully Josh did the talking, saying our situation and how sorry we are, but that this was just not going to be able to work for us. If the accommodation had been better, it might have been a possibility, but considering that, the remoteness, not being able to get away for church, no paid work at the moment, and all the feelings mentioned above, we were sorry but we had to leave (we didn’t tell her all those reasons). We said we would stay that morning to do our three hours of work, though. She looked quite surprised and disappointed, but was nice and understanding about it. So, after that awkward talk, I was left to more awkwardness by Josh leaving me to go mow the property, and I had to stay with her in the kitchen as she made breakfast. Sophie later came in the kitchen and I watched as the two of them cooked and I helped with the dishes. I didn’t say much, I just felt really bad and hoped the owner wasn’t too upset.

After breakfast was made (which I so wanted to eat it, but couldn’t), then the owner left and said Sophie would show me how to do our duties and I would help. I would have done anything to have swapped places with Josh even though I don’t think I have every mowed a lawn in my entire life. We had bathroom duty. Yuck. And remember who we were cleaning up after too. Thankfully, the guests were quite tidy, so it wasn’t too bad. It was no fun, and I was thanking my lucky stars that in an hour or two, we were out of there! Sophie was shocked when I said we were leaving; “Oh, when?” I guess she thought I meant we would get paid work in town eventually and later leave like in a month and I said, “Today”. Haha. Yep, Josh and I don’t play around!

I feel like I should be paid to have to stay in that camper, but instead I was doing the dirty work, and not getting any cash. After two hours of cleaning floors, sinks, and showers (I am happy to say I didn’t have to do the toilets), we were finally done. And I was so relieved to see our red car parked by our caravan, meaning Josh was finished too. I walked up to him loading up our suitcases in the car, and he smiled and we both laughed and hugged each other. We cleaned up our caravan, emptied out our food from the shared kitchen fridge, and spit on the ground beside the aluminum and orange camper to show how we felt about that. We drove up the road to the office, said goodbye to the pretty valley, and goodbye to the owners. Another beautifully awkward moment. It was bittersweet to leave the snow-white Maltese whom I had befriended, but it was even sweeter to leave that bitter place. It’s a good thing we left, because if we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing and you wouldn’t be sitting there reading this blog because Josh and I would have killed each other!

Dates: Saturday, December 3, 2011—Tuesday, December 6, 2011

“Time I was on my way . . . Ramble On—North to South”

Tuesday morning (November 15th) we woke up feeling quite rejuvenated and excited. We liked what we had seen so far of Nelson, but our job offers of working at a camp and resort/lodge in Hanmer Springs (an hour and a half away from Christchurch) were calling our name and we wanted to drive down there and check the town out and make a decision to either stay there or come back up to Nelson. Josh had been e-mailing and making several contacts and job possibilities in preparing us to come here, so we had a good place to start upon arriving. We met up with Cameron and Alison, a couple who worked with the church in Nelson and who we had been talking to for a while before coming as we thought we might possibly live in Nelson. It was so great meeting them. They showed us around Nelson…we walked the streets of the cute little town and the weather was perfectly warm and sunny. Nelson is known as being one of the sunniest places in all of New Zealand. We ate at Burger King . . . oh yeah, by the way, they do have a few American chain restaurants here which is good to see. McDonalds (which we eat at like every day!), Subway, and KFC. Anyways, and they also took us up to a lookout point on a big hill overlooking the beach and ocean. I couldn’t believe my eyes! That is one of the prettiest views I’ve ever seen. The water was sky blue and off in the distance we saw mountains . . . the tops dusted with alabaster white snow. It was neat that we had made new friends; Cameron was a native New Zealander and Alison was actually from the States so that was cool since we had a lot to talk about. Went back to their house for a bit and they gave us a wonderful gift, a pretty picture book (my favorite!) of New Zealand’s National Parks. Alison also made us chocolate chip cookies, I think probably some of the best I’ve ever had! We chatted for a while, then Josh and I told of our plans to check out Hanmer Springs to see if we liked it and if not we would come back there.

So we were off . . . Again. I tell you, we really hit the ground running as soon as we got here. Needing to find the right place to settle, with good jobs and most importantly, a good church home we could worship with and help out and who would help us grow spiritually as well. The drive southeast to Hanmer I think was supposed to take like two hours. We left at 2:00 in the afternoon. We were hyper and happy driving along the scenic road to Hanmer, at least for the first half of the journey. We passed through several mountain ranges and more curvy, windy roads with the cliff right beside you and of course the huge logging trucks rounding the corner fast and making us gasp each time. You never come upon those trucks when the road is straight and safe, just when you are turning those sharp corners high above the valleys below. We made several pit stops to take pictures and take in the views. And the SHEEP!!!!! Don’t think I’ve mentioned those yet, but I’d never seen so many, well, really any! They are so cute! They just cover the green pastures and you can see them up in the mountains and hills. I couldn’t help but laugh every time I saw a sheep. Josh and I just wanted to hop the fence and go catch one and hug it. The fields were also covered in flowers too . . .yellow and pink. The closer we started getting to Hanmer, the colder it was getting, and the clouds rolled in. We saw rain in the distance and I begrudged the thought of us having to drive on the mountain roads through that. I got lost in my music listening to The Lord of the Rings soundtrack on my I-Pod, haha. I’ve always loved getting lost in my imagination on road trips. It’s okay to talk every now and then, but even growing up and going on vacation with my family, I would just listen to my own music, (I guess most kids/teenagers do that anyways) look out the window the whole time and just think and imagine adventurous tales. I looked up at the mountains and could see Frodo running away from the Orcs. I’m a nerd, I know, but that’s okay, I admit that when it comes to LOTR.

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Well, what was supposed to be like two hours was becoming a road that never seemed to end. I remember what the Wellingtonians told us of the South Island . . . desolate . . . barren . . . rural. I definitely was feeling that we were entering no man’s land, and feeling it hard. Guess that’s what we have been wanting though, but it really is intimidating once you are in the situation, and not used to it. Maybe I am a city girl at heart? We entered the rain storm, which was brief and wasn’t too bad, but still scary. We passed by a huge river that kept following us along the road and was so beautiful. At last, about 4 ½ hours later, around 6:30 in the evening, we crossed the rickety bridge and into the town, or shall I say, village, of Hanmer Springs. Population: 660. Yep. One of those places where you blink and then it’s gone. Can’t say I was the happiest camper at that moment when we drove into town. This is IT? I thought. We were exhausted and hungry, and both feeling anxious about its extreme remoteness. The towering mountains were hovering over us and I had that suffocating feeling. That might sound weird, but remember, I am a girl born and raised in a land that’s flatter than a pancake, called West Texas. I felt that way for a long time when I first moved to East Texas and the trees blocked my view of the sunsets. The town itself was cute with the little shops, definitely a ski town. That’s where people from Christchurch go to vacation, and it is known for the hot thermal pools. The weather was cloudy and cold and windy and it was sprinkling too, so that didn’t help the mood. Josh and I were, needless to say, irritated and cranky. If I’m in a bad mood, I don’t hide it . . . well, I guess I do except to those closest to me. Since the few months we’ve been husband and wife now, Josh has come to know the good, the bad, and the devil in me! Haha. We had a little spat, as they would say in the old days, and then he asked what was wrong because I was just being mad and couldn’t explain why. The anger then turned to the truth as he kept asking what was wrong, and then I just started crying and said, “I don’t like it here!” haha. It’s funny now, looking back. I sounded like a baby saying that. But it was true. He pulled over to the side of the road and hugged me and we had a sweet moment. We both needed to take a chill pill. And maybe get some sleep . . . and food to fill our tummies. We were probably still a bit jet lagged too, as it had just been a week from that day that we said goodbye to our families and boarded the jet plane!

We decided that everything would be better in the morning, and we would have a fresh approach and better attitude and not judge the place yet. So, next day, we went to the camp that we were to work at, and which was the reason for us coming. In New Zealand they have a ton of work for accommodation jobs as backpackers flock here to travel and explore the country. The camp was one of those types of situations, which we knew would be great for us just starting out until we found more steady, paid work or saved up more money and moved elsewhere. We had figured we would just stay there a couple months at the most anyways. Or . . . maybe not. We went to the camp, which had beautiful views and the cabins and layout of the camp was really good. I grew up going to church camp, so the idea had appealed to me, plus we would really like to start a camp some day. I guess you never really know until you get there, what something is going to be like. The accommodation that was going to be provided to Josh and I for our two hours of work a day was a 3 x 3 little box. There were two twin mattresses on a board, and those mattresses weren’t even beside each other! And that was it. I think a couple shelves on the wall, maybe. I couldn’t have even fit my purse in there. Oh dear. I was wondering what Josh was thinking as we were shown our “accommodation” and hoping he wasn’t going to make us stay. We left the parking lot and Josh was like “Well there’s no way I’m doing that!” Thank goodness! We felt like chickens with our heads cut off as we went to the other hotels and resorts he had been e-mailing that had offered us jobs or possibilities before coming, and asked if they had any work for accommodation offers and no one did. Maybe we would have to stay at that camp. Or find a place to rent, which didn’t look too promising of finding in such a small place. We both get determined to have something work, though, at least for a few hours that morning, haha. But, after going to the different lodges and still thinking about how remote we were from civilization and feeling like the mountains were closing in on us each minute, we got back in the car and left Hanmer in our rear-view mirror.

And we didn’t look back.

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Our only picture of Hanmer Springs, haha

What a sigh of relief! Guess it was time to head back to Nelson. We took a different route this time and headed east to drive along the coast back north. It was a long drive from Hanmer to the ocean and I felt a little nauseous driving through more mountains again but thankfully still hadn’t gotten car sick the whole trip. Though this was all nerve wracking and stressful as everything was up in the air, overall I have been amazed with myself for feeling so calm since we’ve been here in New Zealand, unlike how I felt every day back home in Tyler. I guess that’s what working in a stressful law firm all day long will do to you. And the recent life-changing event of just getting married and adjusting to that. My anxiety and stress-levels have been lower here than they have been since, well I guess since the day Josh proposed to me on August 30, 2010 . . . life got pretty crazy the day after that! But that’s all just a little side note from me J

Josh and I both felt better when the road met the sea again. We love the ocean and decided we need to be by it. Makes us feel better. NZ is pretty sweet because even if you are smack dab in the middle of the island, you are never more than 2 ½ hours away from the ocean. We could have made the trip all the way back up to Nelson that day, but Kaikoura was too breathtaking a sight to see and our hearts felt at peace there. Kaikoura is a small, seaside town with books of things to do. Wish we could have stayed there a long time. We booked a room in a motel with a view of the turquoise blue waters and those snow-capped mountains we had seen from Nelson, which were much closer now. What a sight to behold! I love seeing the fishing boats just sitting there, anchored in the water, patiently awaiting her captain to take her out to sea.
Kaikoura is the place to see dolphins, seals, albatross and whales. We got to see a seal. We walked out to this rocky shoreline and suddenly came upon one taking a nap. Josh wanted to touch it, but I don’t think they let you do that. There are whale-watching tours and such, which we didn’t get to do, but will hopefully go back to do one day. We needed that day to just relax in a room with a view and with the sound of the ocean to put us to sleep.

The next day, Wednesday, we finished our journey back to Nelson. Along the way, we saw several colonies of seals, which made us both happy, especially Josh who was even more eager to see them than me, haha. It was cute seeing the wild seals hop around; they are so goofy. Some of them looked up at us as we stopped to take pictures, and they looked mad. Those things are pretty big! I don’t think I would want one chasing me, even if they might seem to be slower on land. We passed through Marlborough again and the city of Blenheim, and stopped there to maybe look at working in a vineyard. Blenheim wasn’t my favorite though, and Nelson was still in our minds. I’ve never seen so many backpackers and backpacker vans. That would be fun in a way, but I just don’t think I could do that, even though we currently were being vagabonds living out of our bags at the time. I was starting to get tired of staying in a different place each night and digging through my suitcase. We both were feeling that way, of needing to find a place to settle.

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After another day of traveling, we made it back again to Nelson. The next day, Thursday, we applied for our IRD numbers, which we have to have to legally work here, I guess for tax stuff. I am so glad Josh is handling all that mumbo jumbo, I wouldn’t know the first thing what to do without him! Haha. Things started feeling a bit stressful again the next couple days as the places we had contacted before with possible work said they didn’t need anyone at the moment, or to check again in a month. The past couple days my throat had been scratchy, and this day was feeling a lot worse and I just felt so run down and exhausted. I knew I was trying to come down with something and was coughing a lot. Josh drove us around and he stopped at nearly every orchard and vineyard outside of Nelson asking if they needed any work. No, not yet. Bummer. The season for working in a vineyard wasn’t very busy yet, at least they were saying that, but to check back. Hmmm…we both were liking Nelson though, how come we weren’t finding a job? Staying in a motel every night was costing a lot of money too, we needed to start making some mula and saving up so we could rent a place. God has been helping us out all along the way, that is for sure. Especially in every person we have met, who have helped us out and just been our friend. That’s something I know I will treasure, is all the characters in this story. Josh got an e-mail that Friday from Paul, someone he had somehow made contact with a long time ago, one of our first contacts, before coming. Still not quite sure how we made connection with him, I think someone from church had passed his info along. Anyways, he e-mailed Josh and said that he had just got back home to Nelson from visiting the States, and to call him. Josh called him and Paul said he had a job for him. Hooray! He was a contractor working on building houses and landscaping, so that’s what Josh would be doing, and it was good pay too. Wow! They also invited us over to their house for lunch the next day. We went over there Saturday afternoon, and just had a lovely time with Paul and his wife Lynn. They were such friendly, funny, happy, and just good people. Their house was beautiful too, and Lynn had a talent for decorating and I felt more at home because my mom has always been such a great decorator and made our houses feel so homey. The two of them were true Kiwis, I loved their thick NZ accents. We were so relieved too that Josh had a job.

After we left their house, my ear got clogged up and I could not hear at all out of my left ear, it was so muffled like I was underwater. Oh great! Josh and I went back to our motel and I felt horrible. Then my ear starting hurting so bad, man it was so painful! I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way before. I was pretty worried and just depressed that I was getting sick. My cough was still really bad too, the kind that just itches and is annoying. My husband went and got me some ear drops, which really helped, but it was awful not being able to hear out of one ear. Guess I would have to go to the doctor on Monday, yikes, in a foreign country!

The next morning, Cameron and Alison invited us to have church with them in their home. That was really good and so was the discussion. I still felt miserable, and obviously looked miserable, and they said I should really go to the doctor. Nelson had an after-hours clinic, so went there. If you aren’t already sick, you know you will be after you leave the doctor’s office filled with people just hacking away. It was a pretty expensive visit and the receptionist was rude and acted like we were dumb Americans who didn’t know anything, but oh well. The doctor examined me (I made Josh go in with me, I was scared haha) and said I had an ear infection. We had been warned about people usually getting sick when they first come here, I hated that I had to succumb. She prescribed amoxycillin antibiotics, but didn’t say anything about my throat or even look down it! Which felt pretty swollen…I probably had strep too and didn’t even know it. So we then went to the pharmacy and got the medicine and cough syrup and cough drops. No fun. Anyways, Paul had called the night before after we got back from visiting with them and offered for us to stay at their house for a while to help us out until we found a place to live. What a blessing! People have just really been so hospitable and wanting to help. We brought all our stuff with us Sunday afternoon, and settled in to our room in their home. I stayed to myself that evening and slept a lot as I was sick.

We spent a week in their home. Josh went to work with Paul every day, and I stayed at home with Lynn. I slept a lot of the day the first part of the week, I couldn’t hear all week long, ugh! My cough did finally get better as the week progressed. Josh said his work with Paul was really tough labor. He was getting tanned being out in the sun all day. I missed him when he was gone. This was a good situation job wise for him, but I couldn’t help but think that I didn’t want to be apart from him all day long, we came here wanting to hopefully work together if we could. That felt like part of the stress back in Tyler and how it usually is I guess, working 8 hours a day in a cramped up office, coming home stressed and exhausted and empty with seemingly nothing left to give to each other as husband and wife. I did have an interview coming up with the Morocco Resort, which would be fun, but I really wanted us to work together. I felt lonely without him and was so happy when he came home each day. The interview didn’t pan out though after all, at least not then, because they said they were fully staffed at the moment, but wanted to meet Josh and I. They said they might be having work come up at Christmas, but that wasn’t helpful to us then. Speaking of Christmas, Lynn was a fan of keeping the holiday season alive. Her house became a winter wonderland as she put up ten Christmas trees, each with a different theme. I even helped her decorate one, and it was really fun. My mom always went all out for Christmas too, and I would spend all my money if I had any on decorations.

While we stayed at their house, two American girls (Jenny and Katie) and a German girl (Toni) came and stayed a couple nights too, so that was cool. They were here visiting NZ too and had been working on Paul’s family farm up north. This week, by the way, was the week of Thanksgiving. Paul and Lynn had a novel ideal and Lynn was excited to make us feel at home and for the girls to work together and create a Thanksgiving meal. I forgot they don’t celebrate that holiday over here! Haha. That was awesome, and so thoughtful of them. We all pitched in and I made my Granny’s sweet potato casserole. Last year was the first time I’ve ever made it, and it turned out great I must say and I loved it. I wasn’t too sure at first how it would turn out here, because they don’t have canned sweet potatoes, and it is different…it’s called kumara, and it’s not orange, it looks like a regular potato. When I was making it I thought I put too much sugar in it and had ruined the dish, but after baking it, well it turned out quite well J We had a fancy chicken (they don’t really sell Turkeys only around Christmas and it’s like 70 to 100 bucks). The menu also consisted of homemade rolls made by the fellow Americans, German Spätzle, salad, cranberry sauce, dressing, and a delicious sparkling cranberry drink. We all went around the table and told what we were thankful for, which was really neat. We said how thankful we were to be here in New Zealand, and thankful for our families and for each other. Josh and I both did miss our families… I did get to Skype with my parents that day, and I really felt homesick to be with my family. It was pretty emotional, I’ve never not been with my parents on Turkey day. Anyways, this was so good that we got to do this, though, and we were so thankful that we had such a unique Thanksgiving Day in New Zealand. As we finished our meal around the festive table, Lynn asked if Paul had any words of wisdom, and he laughed heartily and said, “Have lots of kids—my only regret is not having more kids.” They have four children, and their daughter Bekka was there to celebrate with us. Josh and I both really liked Paul and Lynn a lot, they have such good hearts and were so gracious to us and fun to be around. We stayed at their house until Saturday, as we didn’t want to impose on them anymore, we checked into a motel that offered a cheap, weekly rate. It helped us out so much by them allowing us to stay and eat with them that past week, which we are forever grateful to them for.

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Sunday Josh and I had church on the beach. Cameron and Alison were on vacation for the week, so Josh and I bought crackers and grape juice for communion and headed to the beach. That was really neat, though kind of hard to focus fully since there were a lot of people there. It was cool to hear the waves as we had a bible study and sat there and were quiet to take it all in. Made me think of the song, “Have You Seen Jesus My Lord, He’s here in plain view . . . Have you ever stood at the ocean, with the white foam at your feet? Felt the endless, thundering motion, then I say you’ve seen, Jesus My Lord.” I love that song. We used to always sing that at camp and in youth group. We walked along the shore and we could both sense that we felt distressed. Earlier that week we had found an apartment overlooking the entire harbor, it was an awesome place, and we were really thinking about settling in Nelson. That Sunday, though, we talked about how we were feeling as we finally found us a quiet, secluded area on the beach. This was paradise, and one of the prime places to live in NZ. There was something missing though, that we felt like we both needed. For us spiritually, we needed to live somewhere with a strong, solid congregation to worship with that would help us grow and who we could also hopefully do some type of mission outreach as well, whatever that may be, or just serving in the church itself and being involved. We were beginning to think that Nelson might not be that place for us. We felt pretty lost as to what we should do. Wellington was sounding really good to me, because of the church there. It was a pretty good size (for NZ standards, the churches are definitely smaller here) with around 50 members or less. We had both enjoyed our time with the church members for the few days we had first arrived to the country, and plus most of our contacts and friends we had made were mainly there. We still didn’t know though. We would think about it and pray.

There’s always been a feeling that God has a purpose in us being here, bringing us to New Zealand. I remember in a bible class back home, this married couple was trying to have a baby but were having problems with infertility. They were heartbroken and frustrated, but still faithful. One day, the two of them weren’t there, and I remember this older, wise lady said a prayer request for them and said, “I really believe that God has plans for them, and I feel that they are going to be parents,” she said, “but we just don’t know what that looks like yet.” I loved how she eloquently voiced her thoughts and think that can be applied and said about many situations, including ours. I know that God has blessed us and has been working behind the scenes in so many ways in us getting to come to New Zealand and I really feel like he wants us to be where we are, or maybe it’s just me who wanted to come and thought God wanted it. But I really felt that way when we first got the idea to come to this country that God was maybe even telling me to. I have always been so passionate about mission work, especially after mission trips in high school and college. Of course we also both wanted to come to NZ because of the beauty, it’s a land of adventure and for the outdoorsy type people, which fits us both to a tee. Like I’ve said, I wanted to come here since first watching the movies LOTR in high school. My church home in Midland, Westside church of Christ, supported a missionary in New Plymouth and our preacher would come over and preach and then go back home and have a slide show report to our church. What I’m saying is, yes, Josh and I came here for our own reasons including our love and passion of traveling and wanting to explore and experience different parts of the world. And we also came with the hope of a greater and deeper purpose as well; to help people and to help the church. We aren’t here to “be missionaries” or I guess I mean by being paid or supported to do that; we don’t want any one’s money. We came knowing that we are getting jobs, paid work, and to hopefully do some type of mission/church work and/or social outreach on the side. I can’t guarantee we even will end up doing any of that, but I pray and we both feel in our hearts that we are meant to be here to do something. So, to relate that to what the lady said, we both feel like we are meant to be in New Zealand for some greater purpose, to do some kind of mission work . . . but we just don’t know what that looks like yet. And who knows? But that is exciting. And it may even simply be attending church some where and encouraging the Christians there. I do think we are here to grow too, both Josh and I, spiritually.

Our faith is a journey, one through valleys and mountain highs. I’m definitely not where I would like to be at all and haven’t been for awhile, I used to be so strong in college while I was at Lubbock Christian University. It helps going to school where you have chapel every morning and teachers who pray for you during class. But anyways, I want to be back on fire again. We are all on a journey, which is encouraging I think. Who are you going to meet along the way? Who am I going to meet? Am I going to help them, or just knock them down? Will the people I meet along the road help me, or just be out to get me? Wow, I told you or I’m telling you now at least, I can really go off on some tangents. Lol. What I’m saying is….Josh and I had a lot to think about that day on the beach. I was definitely proud of him for saying that the most important thing is the church; we could live in a paradise place but what we need is a place that is going to help us grow. We said we would think about it and what to do and see how this week went and maybe start looking on the Internet and his list of contacts at going elsewhere. We also were still feeling a little weird being on the South Island. That might not make a whole lot of sense, and it’s probably mainly psychological, but the idea of living on the North Island where there are more cities and more people just sounded good to us. We like the connect.

The day that we had driven around the week before looking for orchard and vineyard work, we had come upon one orchard (an apple orchard on a hill overlooking the valley and ocean in the distance, so pretty!) that had said he might have work come up in a couple weeks. He called us that weekend and said he had work starting up on Monday doing apple thinning. Josh’s job was good that he was doing, but we both wanted to try the apple thinning out and we would be working together. I’ve always seen pictures of people picking apples in New Zealand and have wondered in fascination at how fun that would be. It was on our mental bucket list of things to do here. Josh got the okay from Paul and his boss to try this work out, so we started our first day of work out in the orchard thinning apples on Monday morning. Oh, and I forgot to mention that while we were on the beach the day before, I was wearing shorts and was stupid and didn’t put sun screen on my legs. The sun is harsh. So, my legs were burnt to a little crispy. The elements didn’t seem to be in my favor; I still couldn’t fully hear out of my ear, I was still coughing and my throat was really swollen, and I could barely move my legs with the pain from the burn. What a combo! But, we trudged along. There were about ten other apple thinners, most of them our age, boasting from different parts of the world . . . another American, a few Germans, and some Kiwis. Josh and I got to share our apple tree rows, which made me happy because we got to be together and I didn’t want to have to carry around a ladder. Josh was nice to me and did all the ladder work, trimming the tops of the trees. Apple thinning is not apple picking . . . I guess that’s pretty obvious but it’s when they are about the size of big grapes and you have to go through the branches and just thin them out and take out the clumps, leaving a hand-widths space so they can grow to be big Granny Smith apples. I’d rather just pick the apples when they are full grown, but this way you had to have a method. The bosses kept coming around and checking our work like slavemasters and would tell us if we were doing it right or wrong, haha. We were either taking too many off, or not enough. That day was cloudy and rainy, which helped us go faster. It’s not paid by the hour work, but by how many trees you do. They said everyone generally goes slower at the beginning, starting off at $13 NZD per hour. Our bosses said some make it up to $20 an hour. Well, I would like to meet that person! We tried to go as fast as we could, but it was a slow work. Orchard work, I decided, is only glamorous in the pictures. We started at 8:30 in the morning, had a 30 minute lunch break eating sandwiches (gross! Haha) and then off at 4:30. That’s a normal 8 hour day, but we were on our feet all day long in the hot sun. I couldn’t imagine doing that another day! How do the backpackers and hippies do that their whole time in NZ? Josh didn’t like it either, haha, it wasn’t just me. The apple thinning in the three orchards the boss owned he said could be three weeks worth of work for all of us. Goodness gracious! By the end of each day, I felt myself just nearly collapsing with exhaustion and I would keep walking over to Josh and stand underneath him on the ladder and pout, “Baby, I can’t do it anymore.” He’d encourage me and lie about how much time we had left until 4:30. The day itself did go by pretty fast doing that, which was a plus. The middle of the week, though, in our search back at the motel on the internet for work somewhere else, Josh had found a job, another place he contacted before coming here. Guess it was good to make different contacts for options when we came in various parts of the country. It was another work for accommodation job at a resort in the mountains, outside of the city of Napier, up on the North Island at an adventure lodge. Our accommodation was a caravan, which is basically a camper trailer. That didn’t sound too appealing to me, but we were desperate and wanting to be on the North Island, and we had heard that Napier had a good church. We still were needing a free place to stay as the money we had saved coming here was slowly running out. I guess we sound pretty impulsive, but we did come here to travel and we were trying out our different options until we found a place where it all fit.

 

We told our apple thinning boss about the new work we found and us wanting to live on the North Island after all, which he didn’t seem too happy about. Every one also is very proud of where they live, we noticed, which I would be too. The North defends the North, and vice versa. He had said when we started the work earlier that week that we only needed to give a day’s notice if we wanted to quit, so that’s what we did. Thursday was our last day to thin apples in Nelson. Goodbye and good riddance to that, I say! We booked our ferry ride on the Interislander for Saturday, December 3, 2011. After two weeks on the South Island, we were already heading back to the North! I felt that this was the right thing to do, and we were actually pretty ready to get back. It was sad to leave Cameron and Alison, though. We hadn’t been able to spend much time with them considering the circumstances and us trying to find jobs and figure out what we were supposed to do, and that was the hard thing was knowing we were leaving them and I know or at least I think they wanted us to be there too. We will be back to visit for sure though, and hopefully we can maybe take a trip with them sometime while we are here. We said our goodbyes to them and to Paul and Lynn, who we were going to miss as well, on Saturday morning and then drove two hours to Picton and waited for the ferry to come take us back to civilization.