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Sunday, 19 February 2012

Christmas in New Zealand

Since I am going back and writing about our time thus far, I hope it's not confusing with the dates, I am still trying to get caught up to today, but it is taking a while to write about our adventures (which I am having a very fun time writing, by the way!)  This blog entry is kind of a Part II of the previous post, "Culture Shock".  
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 the Bland family and with the Fears.  So weird to me still, to think, that I am married now!  That I have my own family now, me and Josh.  Mr. and Mrs. Josh and Lindsey Fears J I love to say that, and I sometimes still want to say my old name out of habit, Lindsey Bland. 
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 Malachi and Noah.  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, Mr. and Mrs. Fears, Adam, and Hayley, and the rest of Josh’s family we had celebrated Christmas 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 store is like he is on the game show Supermarket Sweep, where as me I can stand in one aisle looking at the shampoo bottles or makeup for like an hour.  So 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 for Noah and Malachi I got a children’s book that was a Kiwi Christmas for them to read.  We got those wrapped and packaged and sent those off to America from the post shop, and I hoped that they would get their gift before Christmas so they could open it when they were all together and read the story.  We actually got a 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. 
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. 

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!
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 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. 
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 Fears.  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 J

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. 
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 Tyler (which now seems like a lifetime ago!).  Interestingly enough as well, that Keith Copeland 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 the Copeland’s house with Keith 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. 
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 J (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!  


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. 

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.  

On our drive back to Welly, Josh spotted this little baby sheep had escaped the fence and was on the wrong side, right by the busy motorway! He called the number on a sign by the farm entrance, and told the farmer about his runaway sheep. The farmer hurried down in his yute (truck-like vehicle) and honked his horn until the sheep came back into his pasture, and safely home to his mommy who was calling for him.

"Come baaaack here son!"

The Little Lost Joshua Lamb


Saturday, 18 February 2012

Consumed by Wanderlust

(Saturday, December 3, 2011—Tuesday, December 6, 2011) 

“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 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. 

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! 

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. 

Are you kidding me??

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.  Well she hates us, I thought to myself, as she came in to get one thing that had been left behind . . . a twelve pack in the not so cold refrigerator.  I don’t drink and don’t advocate it at all, especially as a Christian I think it’s best to avoid it all together . . . but, I thought that girl might be my best friend by the end of a week there, and I might soon be raiding her fridge.

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.

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!