A Full Time Daughter

Part Two

fullsizerender-19On that day in late June, when I left Mum to drive to the airport, I felt the least amount of sadness in leaving that I have ever felt in all of my goodbyes.  I knew that she would be well taken care of and that she wouldn’t be lonely or have to spend her days cleaning or cooking or worrying about the electricity bill in Winter.  This was the good life and she was long overdue for a taste.

Over the next month, we all returned to our respective lives as Mum adjusted to hers.  She told me stories of enjoyable morning tea’s and how nice everyone seemed to be.  While still in the adjustment phase that moving after living in one house for over 35 years would inevitably bring, she was genuinely excited about this new chapter in her life.  She could finally relax and enjoying buying herself some new furniture and recover some of her beautiful vintage pieces that she had treasured for many years.

And then everything changed.  I received a message from Mum’s dear friend Maria that Mum was in hospital with a probable chest infection.  I rang the hospital but she was already asleep so I left a message for her and then I let my brothers know.  2 days later they told us that they had detected a mass and their prediction was cancer.  A biopsy would give us more information.  We were knocked sideways.  I will never forget ringing the hospital after that diagnosis to speak to Mum and the nurse telling her that it was her daughter on the phone.  Her voice broke as she said “Oh no…” and there was a pause and then she said “Hi”, her voice again steady.  She was the patient but she was still my Mum, taking care of me while I tried to take care of her.  My brothers jumped on planes to get to Mum and told me to stay put for now.

James had the awful job of meeting with the Doctor and having to hear words like ‘terminal’ and ‘riddled with cancer’ and then having to communicate with all who loved our Mum.  From the biopsy results, they gave us the prediction that Mum would live 3-6 months.  It was a timeline that we first mourned and then as things progressed, began to cling to.  Mum wanted another Christmas with her nine grandchildren.  We promised her that we would make that happen.

My brothers moved Mum back to her apartment and I made plans to fly home.  7 weeks after leaving New Zealand, I was back and it felt like walking in to a nightmare.  Anthony had left the day before to fly back to Australia and it was clear from our conversations that things had progressed since he left.  48 hours after arriving, I was moving Mum from her beautiful apartment to a small room on the 3rd floor that had 24 hour care which she already needed.  James flew down to Wellington to help me with the move which I really appreciated.  And then it was just us.

And in case anyone envisions hours spent talking about life and love and lessons learned, don’t.  My Mum was never one to speak about what was possible, she was only interested in the here and the now.  Taking after her father, a dreamer she was not.  So I should have known better when I asked her “Do you have any advice for me?  For my life?”  She looked at me with the faintest glimmer in her eye and said “I don’t.”  And in that dark and depressing room, I burst out laughing which made her smile.  She was still my Mother and would be until the day she died.

Luckily for the both of us, I can talk so when Mum became too weak to hold a conversation, I would describe what my kids were doing and how much they missed Sunday’s at Nana’s house last year.  I taught the nurses exactly how she liked her pillows and what time she wanted her breakfast and how she liked her curtains opened at night so she could wake to the morning light and how the ice-cream they would bring her was her favourite part of the day so please don’t forget it.

I was so grateful for her friends Monica and Peter who lived in the same village and who visited every day, sometimes twice a day.  Her sister Alison came and I watched Mum brighten and contribute to memories of their childhood.  Maria came straight from the airport to see Mum.  My sister in law flew down from Auckland for the day which I so appreciated.  I kept my brothers informed just as they had done for me.

And then our dreams of months quickly became days and then minutes. My Mum died on the 25th of August, 2017.  I was by kneeling by her bed, holding her hand and telling her how much she was loved.  My brothers were on their way to New Zealand when it happened.  James was in India and Anthony was on a train to Sydney airport to catch his flight when I talked to him.  He said “I am not coming for Mum anymore, I am coming for you Suz.”   Just as James had done the day before when we guessed he wouldn’t make it.  And then in that room, I became the one with the phone and the worst news of my life to share.

I realise that a blog is not the place to tell this story but for me it is.  Firstly because never one to give a compliment, Mum told me over and over again that she loved what I wrote last year and that she would read it and re-read it.  And also because I can’t yet speak about this to all of my wonderful friends who have called without reliving it.  Not yet anyway.

There are finally, things to be grateful for.  I am grateful that over the last year, my brothers and I are closer than ever and that made my Mum very happy.  With busy lives and families of our own, not to mention all living in different countries, it can be difficult to maintain ties but we are more committed than ever to doing just that.  I am grateful that when Mum felt too ill to speak, I could put the phone to her ear and she could hear her sons tell her that they loved her and watch her tell them that she loved them too.  I am grateful that I have a husband that can take a call in the middle of the night with me saying that I need him to bring our three kids, after looking after them for 3 weeks, to New Zealand for their Nana’s funeral and he does not waiver.  No wonder Mum sang his praises whenever she had the chance.  And to my children who arrived after traveling for 29 hours the day before their Nana’s funeral, grateful doesn’t even begin to describe it.  I watched Poppy hand out funeral programs  and Tate give a bible reading with his cousin and Emma, at only 11, stand stoically and help carry her Nana’s casket out of the church.  And to the nurses, Liz and Moira and Heidi and Liz and Grace who cared for Mum and for me, I want my children to know your names because you are part of Mum’s story.  Thank you so very much. And to all of our friends and family that came to pay their respects, you made the day better by being there.

I will be forever grateful to be my Mother’s daughter.  She was one hell of a woman whom I can only imagine is enjoying a gin and tonic with all of her loved ones that went before her.

Cheers, to the good times.

Your full time daughter







The House with the Golden Carpet

Like each movie or book that decided to make a sequel and shouldn’t have, this story has two parts.  The first is one that I wish to share because it is a story about my Mum and the sacrifices that she made along the way.  I wrote this at the end of June, soon after my brothers and I had successfully moved our Mum from our childhood home to a beautiful apartment in a retirement village.  But I didn’t publish it because I wanted Mum to focus on adjusting to her new surroundings and embrace this new chapter in her life.  I told her I was going to write this and would show her later but I never got the chance.  The second part of the story is easier to write about than to speak about. At least for now.

Part One

I grew up in a house with golden carpet. Not golden in a fairy tale way but golden in a “hello 1970’s!” kind of way.  It was the first thing you noticed when you stepped through the front door.  My Mum bought this house and moved my brothers and I in to it after leaving my Dad when I was around 8.  My Mum and older brothers shielded me as much as possible which meant that it was far more difficult for them.  Sometimes being too young to understand what is really happening is an unknown gift.  I have a few concrete memories of that sad time but mostly, my memories resemble the microfiche files at the library(are they even still at libraries?).  There are a few memories that stand out but mostly that time is covered with a blurry filter.  My parents story is not my story to tell but I will say that even after leaving my Dad, Mum welcomed him to her house every Christmas and every birthday and major milestone so that we would never have to choose who to celebrate our lives with.  That is my Mum, small in stature yet stronger than anyone I know.

My Mum had big dreams for this house.  She dreamed out loud about putting a second story on the garage and maybe adding another bathroom one day(an addition that a daughter sharing with two brothers would have really loved…).  Our house was a small house within walking distance of all of our schools, the train station and five doors down from the tennis club.  We were lucky enough to have our cousins around the corner and one of my Mum’s best friends down the street.

Renovating our house became Mum’s third job(after working full time for General Motors and taking care of us).  My brothers often laugh at the memory of coming home from school to find Mum on scaffolding painting the outside of our house.  She took immense pride in the work that she did.  Inside, each door was removed, a paint gun used to strip all the old paint off, holes were meticulously filled then sanded, then finally primed and painted.  And on she went.  Each project had a savings account so that any small amount of money that was left over after feeding, clothing and housing three children was used in the most beneficial way.  From the beautiful brass hardware to the french doors and eventually a renovated kitchen and bathroom, each improvement made her stand a little taller.

From cricket matches in the back yard on Christmas Day(especially the few that I was allowed to participate in being the youngest and only girl in the family) to picking lemon’s off the lemon tree for fish and chips on a Saturday night to eating grapes off the vine that snaked along the garage to using our neighbours fence as my tennis backboard until the grass looked like the baseline on the last day of Wimbledon and I was told, in no uncertain terms to stop that immediately, the wonderful memories are too many to share.

Because life is lived in moments that develop in to chapters, this 35 year old chapter of living in this house is coming to an end.  Mum is starting a new chapter in a beautiful apartment that affords her warm sun and lifelong friends a short walk away.  To say it is well deserved would be the boldest of understatements.  My brothers and I flew home to help Mum move and to celebrate what this home has meant to each of us.  We all shared a few days of laughter and a few tears and finally a wonderful bottle of Dry River Pinot Noir(2007!)that my brother who lives in Sydney had left behind and we believed we were entitled to it because he left first…thanks Anthony.

With Mum already enjoying the warmth of her new apartment on a chilly Autumn night, I was the last to walk through our house and say goodbye.  As I walked outside and locked the door, I turned to give her one last look.  And I wondered if it was the house that had given us all those memories or simply provided a venue to house them.  It was by sheer hard work and determination that we were able to have this house to call home.  And all that credit goes to you Mum.  Because all along, it wasn’t the house that gave us  resilience  and a happy childhood and a safe and peaceful place to sleep each night.

It was you.


Part Time Daughter

On the worst of days, I thought this day would never come.  On the best of days, I hoped it wouldn’t.  Tonight, we get on a plane and leave New Zealand.  I am, uncharacteristically, emotional about this transfer of location.  Simply, we have had the time of our lives.  Before this visit, I was admittedly out of touch with everyday life in New Zealand.  How could I not be?  With the exception of the 7 months I spent preparing for my wedding, I have not lived here as an adult.  Ever.  I left at 18 with all the confidence of an adult and none of the life experience to back that confidence up.  

America became my new batch of firsts.  First serious boyfriend which predictably resulted in my first (and thankfully only) broken heart.  I left a trail of opportunities both seized upon and missed.  And I had fun.  Just as I was set to return home to New Zealand, I met my future husband and decided to stay.  Months folded in to years and life flew by at lightning speed.  Time is a thief that steals from all of us and I am no different.

During the many visits home over the years,  I spent time with my family and the friends that remained.  But I have learned is that touch and shared experiences are required to strengthen ties.  FaceTime and Skype can maintain a relationship but they can not deepen it.  I wanted my children to know their family on this side of the world and I wanted my family to know them.  A fortnight at Christmas would reinforce that there is love there, but maybe not the individual reasons why.  So I decided that we would come and live here for 6 months.  We would experience the joys and the challenges of living near family.  Thankfully, the challenges were neglible and the joys were numerous.  One of the things that I am missing out on the most is being a full time daughter.  Early on, Mum and I decided that Thursday’s would be our day.  We could lunch or see a movie or just sit at her kitchen table and laugh until our sides hurt.  While I know that weekend visits from the grandchildren were the big draw, the moments when it was just us, laughing like school girls, when time stood still for both of us, as if I had never left or maybe because I did, these memories are worth the world to me.  And I suspect for her too.

Under the guise of ‘for the children’, I could rationalise coming home.  I wanted to see if I could hack it.  Although I can fake an American accent like a professional actor (especially when I need to order b u t t e r r r r) I have never identified as American.  I was, and have always been,  a kiwi living in the States.

A few months ago, during a lovely lunch with my dear girlfriend, she casually mentioned that I must be looking forward to going home.  Never one to swallow my feelings or not share my thoughts immediately (I know-lucky husband…) I immediately launched in to a long winded yet surely concise argument about how New Zealand will always be home.  This has seemed a tough concept for many friends to swallow.  20 plus years living away?  And New Zealand still feels like home?  Yes yes yes.  One hundred times YES!!!

Leaving at 18 was, in retrospect, easy.  Ignorance truly is bliss.   I have watched my children not only develop strong ties to their New Zealand family (just ask them to describe their Nana and all the things they love about her) but also to this land.  Our land.  They have grown in ways that are both obvious now, and will reveal themselves in the years to come.  

From the very first mention of this adventure, my kids were on board.  Knowing that they would have to leave their friends and their home and most importantly, their Dad behind.  Maybe all kids would have been.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I will be forever grateful to Emma, Tate and Poppy for giving me the gift of coming home.  Without their enthusiasm and open mindedness, this idea would have remained just that. 

And to my husband who not only supported the idea of me taking our kids to live in New Zealand without him, who encouraged me to do it and not look back,  who never wavered in his support of me, I am forever thankful.  

Not too long ago as I was tucking my 8 year old son in to bed, he said to me, “Thanks for giving me this experience Mum.  But I am sad because now that I have friends in New Zealand and the States, I am always going to miss someone.” My reply confused him.  “You’re welcome” I said.  I then explained to him that he now has two countries to call home and what a gift that truly was.

As painful as it will be to leave, it will be wonderful to see my American friends again.  I am looking forward to wine soaked catch ups and the services of an over qualified babysitter that works for free(thanks J…). 

I just hope that when we see each other again, they welcome me back and not home.  

A Mind Changed

When planning this adventure of ours, American friends asked me what school is like in New Zealand. I told them I had no idea.  It had been too long for me to have any frame of reference.  I remember my primary school days being full of fun and knucklebones and elastics at lunch time and that one scary teacher in Standard 3 that spoke mainly Russian…

2 years ago,  I set up a meeting with the principal of my old primary school.  It went very well and she was lovely but the school had grown to a very large size.  I wasn’t looking for little house on the prairie small, just small enough that my children might see each other on the play ground at lunchtime and give or receive a hug if needed.  Once back in the States, I began researching my options.  I found a school with a very good reputation, in a suburb very close to the city, that I had absolutely no familiarity with.  I contacted the office and was told that they would be happy to accept my children as long as we lived ‘in the zone’.

  It has been very interesting to observe the many differences between our school in Nashville and our school here.  The most obvious difference is the amount of schooling.  Here in New Zealand, school starts at 9am and ends at 3pm compared with our school in Nashville which starts at 8am and ends at 3pm.  Although the school day doesn’t begin until 9am, kids are allowed to get to to school early and play on the playground.  My kids like to get to school at 8:30 so they have 30 minutes of playing on the playground and scootering with their friends.  Everything is far more relaxed.  From what other parents have told me, New Zealand and Australia have purposely implemented a less is more attitude towards homework.  My kids just do not have much homework.  Poppy has to read a small book each night and Emma and Tate are encouraged to read also.  No hours and hours of worksheets and projects.  

School work is done…at school.  Before coming to New Zealand, I admit that I was a one of those parents that never complained about homework.  If that was what it takes to get ahead then pile it on.  Within reason of course.  Watching my kids grow and prosper over the last 5 months has changed my perspective on school and the role that it plays in my young children’s lives.  In Nashville, tests were heavily prepared for and scores were emphasized as paramount.  Here, skills such as problem solving and critical thinking are what is valued more than the number at the top of your paper.  

One of the most glaring differences was made apparent during our first term (the New Zealand school year is divided in to 4 terms from early February to December).  Parent-teacher conferences.  Kids were asked to attend which was a first for us.    Emma’s conference was first.  I showed up, with a few non urgent questions in hand.  Emma’s teacher who is well respected in the school asked me to have a seat. Then I watched as he consulted with Emma about her learning to date and how she was feeling.  Then he asked her to come up with some goals for the rest of the term.  They spent the next 20 minutes articulating those goals.  Then she was asked to sign her goal sheet.  

Tate and Poppy’s conferences followed suit (yes even 5 year old Poppy had to come up with her own goals).  As we all walked home that night, I was struck by the fact that I had barely asked any questions.  The conferences were merely a chance for teacher and student to collaborate on goals and expectations for the coming weeks.  Not for parents (like me) to ask repetitive questions that I probably knew the answers to and stroke my ego a little.  It makes far more sense to involve the students in these conferences.  Give them some buy in.  I was impressed.

Back in the States, my kids lunch times are staggered throughout the day to accommodate seating everyone in the cafeteria.  That means some kids eat lunch at 10:30 in the morning with a small snack at their desk in the afternoon.  Kids get 10 minutes to eat silently and then 10 minutes to converse with friends before they can go outside and play.  Structure served with a side of more structure.  The amount of time allocated for Morning Tea time and lunch time is comparable to our experience in the US.  The time is just used differently.  In decent weather, kids eat their morning tea and lunch outside.  There are not any allocated areas for lunch, just wherever the student would like to sit.  It is up to them how much lunch they eat before running off to play.  Again, I was happily surprised with the amount of freedom my kids have during their days here. 

At my children’s school here, they have composite classes.  This means that half of the class are doing Year 5 work and the other half are doing Year 6 work.  Perhaps because I have lived in the land of structure for so long but I still can’t comprehend how the teachers can teach effectively.  But they do. The truth is that I am quite removed from their day to day learning.   Kids are allowed to be kids here.  Traits such as independence and thinking outside the box are strongly encouraged.  Field trips include ballets and plays and taking the kids on hikes. 

I don’t want to give the impression that things have been perfect.  Two weeks after the second term started, one of my children started complaining of stomach aches and didn’t want to go to school.  Their appetite and activity level were normal so I kept sending them to school.  When I got a call from their school telling me that my child wanted to come home but seemed fine, I knew something else was going on.  It turns out that my child was being bullied (please refer to Instagram post with a photo of me chugging champagne from the bottle).  I would love to say that one meeting with the teacher and the issue was sorted but things got a lot worse.  My child started staying that they wanted to leave New Zealand.  I went to war or so it felt.  I called meeting after meeting with the teacher and the principal.  Without a job or a husband, I had time.  I wanted action.  They were focused on feelings.  I am sad to say that the schools response was very 2016.  They were far too soft and far too concerned with political correctness.  I finally met with the Mother face to face and the bullying stopped.  In those 3 weeks,  the end of the day couldn’t come soon enough.  Jeff was as helpful as he could be on the other side of the world.  But it was up to me to handle, and it was exhausting.  

When Emma and Tate arrived here, their teachers immediately moved them up to the next year level.  In week 3, Emma stood up in front of her class and taught them computer coding.  Poppy had the opposite experience.  In New Zealand, most children start school either on their 5th birthday or the Monday after they turn 5.  When Poppy started school here in Wellington, she was 5 years and 5 months old.  Her teacher assumed she would be reading.  She wasn’t.  I didn’t know for the first term of the year that she was in a reading group by herself.  She didn’t complain, she just kept working at it.

So if someone were to ask me the same question today about the difference in education, I would ask that person to define what they mean by education.  I brought my kids to New Zealand to have an educational experience and they certainly have.  Ask them and they can tell you what Matariki is and they can sing you several songs in our native Maori language.  Ask them about our native Kiwi and what a kangaroo smells like or what an Afghan biscuit tastes like just out of the oven.  But perhaps what is most important is that you can now ask my children about their family here.  They will tell you about their cousins and they will tell you about their Grandad who was so much fun when he came to visit and they will tell you about their Nana, who spoils them with milky bars and most importantly, love.  

Just don’t ask them about saying goodbye.  

Until Next Time…

 One of Tate’s requests while we were in Queenstown was to bungy jump.  I have never and will never make that leap.  Jeff values his life too much and Emma claims she will when Tate does.   I knew he wouldn’t make the weight cut off but I still felt a little nervous as he stepped on the scale.  Thankfully, he was sent away with instructions to eat more cheeseburgers and come back in a year or so.  I have no doubt that given the opportunity in a few years that Poppy will hurl herself over that platform.  Thankfully, the kids were satisfied watching others ‘succeed’ and I managed to keep $400 and delay the onset of gray hair.

Our next destination was Aoraki Mount Cook.  Towering at 3,754 meters (12,218 ft), it is New Zealand’s highest mountain and one that attracts outdoor enthusiasts from all around the world.  The 2 lane road hugs the beautiful Lake Pukaki and delivers you at the base of the mountain.  While we did have time for lunch at the historic and somewhat dated Hermitage Hotel, we didn’t have time to truly experience all that this part of my country has to offer. 

 Our next stop was the Church of the Good Shepherd, a small stone church on the shores of Lake Tekapo.  I love a small, country church and this one is the epitome of that.  Except for the throngs of overseas tourists climbing over each other to get a photo.  I have no idea how to use photoshop so the fact that I managed to get some photos with only one person in them is a divine miracle in itself.  I took a photo of the kids on the front steps and so did hundreds of Japanese tourists.  It was okay until one of them ran up to Emma and fixed her hair…time to hit the road.

When the pioneers built this Church in 1935, I imagine their work was guided by a simple wish to provide a place to worship.  It is now, obviously, on the world map for photo ops.  And I contributed to the problem.  It made me more mindful of the world we live in and the intent behind a destination.  If we find ourselves along these beautiful shores again, I will plan accordingly and attend a service here.  Maybe the builders work is not in vain.  Maybe, just maybe, the very serenity they sought to provide is only found inside.

We then headed for Christchurch, the 3rd largest city in New Zealand.  This city was devastated by an earthquake on the 22nd of February, 2011.  The earthquake, 6.3 on the Richter scale, killed 185 people and earned itself the horrible ranking as the nation’s third largest deadliest natural disaster.  More often than not, New Zealand news does not reach me in the U.S. This was awful enough to make the worldwide news.  With a cousin and his family in Christchurch and many childhood friends, this hit close to home.  Selfishly, we were relieved that no one that we loved died that day.  Frantic calls were made and sweet American friends checked in.  Many New Zealand friends advised against visiting Christchurch.  They said it would be too depressing.  As a city that I grew up traveling to for tennis tournaments, I have so many fond memories of being there.  I wanted to go, if only for a few hours.  What I found was so inspiring.  A city that was in many ways, through violent tragedy, given a fresh start.  

I do not remember visiting a city that was so alive with hope.  The people who are there, choose to be there and their passion shows.  We had just enough time to stroll around the Christchurch Cathedral, and witness the devastation for ourselves.  It is difficult for kids to grasp things they can not see.  I wanted them to try to understand this.  I wanted them to see the devastation and the rebuilding of Christchurch.  I did not find it depressing as friends had warned.  I found the city to be uplifting and wondered how many cities, if given the chance, would make significant changes to their infrastructure.  More emphasis on walking and less on driving.  More designated green space.  The Avon river which I canoed many a day with my family, still winds beautifully through Christchurch.  The weeping willows are bigger than I remember.  

What do you think Christchurch did when their most famous church was crippled?  They built a cathedral out of cardboard. 

The next place we stumbled upon was the winery of one of my favourite wines, Black Estate.  Located in the picturesque Waipara Valley, the black modern barn structure located at the end of a very long drive was a beautiful sight.  So were the golden vines that my children could play amongst while we ‘shopped’. 

The last stop on our South Island adventure before catching the ferry was to pick up some crayfish from Nins Bin.  Since 1973, Nins Bins has been serving fresh seafood to locals and passers by.  With the ocean just steps from the point of purchase, it is no wonder this is some of the freshest seafood around.  

As we watched the South Island disappear from view, I reflected back on all the amazing things we had experienced and the places we had been.  New Zealand receives constant worldwide acclaim as being one of the most beautiful countries on this earth.  While my passport is not nearly as full as I desire it to be, I have been to some pretty spectacular places.  From the majesty of the Swiss Alps to the cobblestone alleys in Europe and the unforgettable blue of Morraine Lake in Canada, I have been very lucky to see some astounding scenery.  So is New Zealand worthy of such praise?  I may be a little biased but yes it is.  What sets my country apart from the rest of the world is the indisputable fact that there is such incredibly diverse landscapes in such close proximity to one another.  It certainly seems that around each bend in the road is something worth seeing.

Because of this blog, I have been asked by a few people for advice on what to see when they travel to New Zealand.  After 2 weeks of ‘seeing’ the South Island, I can say this.  If you only plan to spend a couple of weeks here, don’t aim to see too much.  Yes I know that for most of the visitors here, this trip will be a once in a lifetime.  Pick what you are passionate about (hiking, wine tasting etc) and focus on that.  

I know how lucky my kids are when they casually remark “The next time we come here…” One day I hope they know it too.

Mimosa’s and Games of Bocce

So it seems that when I left the last blog post with the words “More Queenstown sights on the blog tomorrow”, I meant in a fortnight…

After a full on day of driving to Milford Sound the day before, the kids were happy to hear that there would be much less driving around today and the promise of a lolly shop at the end of the day was enough to illicit smiles all around.  

After a lovely breakfast at our hotel, we headed out on one of my favourite drives in New Zealand.  The 45 minute drive from Queenstown to the tiny town of Glenorchy is absolutely stunning.  The road follows the Eastern edge of Lake Wakatipu and one would be remiss not to stop a few times to truly breathe in the scenery.  

Once you get to Glenorchy, there are a couple of cafes but the scenery is the true star.  The kids found a park to ride their scooters while Jeff and I grabbed a coffee.  I was struck by the fact that this skate park was built where it was, in such a prime location on the lakefront with views of the mountains.  

Leaving Glenorchy, we drove back to Queenstown where we headed to the renown Amisfield Winery.  In my research, this place had been repeatedly mentioned for being a lovely spot to enjoy a meal and be kid friendly.  William and Kate (of royal title) visited Amisfield in 2014 although I am guessing our visit may have differed slightly.  I doubt my chosen outfit of the day would have caused a fashion frenzy that follows the Duchess everywhere she goes.  Without the worlds media there to bother us (things to be thankful for) we enjoyed a lovely platter lunch and the kids devoured their gorgeously presented box lunches before running off to play amongst the vines.  J and I have never met a bocce court we didn’t compete on so our afternoon concluded with several (some of which friendly) games of bocce.  We left with several bottles of their delicious Pinot Noir and the hope that Poppy can get a bocce college scholarship one day…

Our last stop of the day was the picturesque Arrowtown.  Developed during the gold rush of the 1860’s, the downtown has been expertly preserved and now thrives as a lovely destination for locals and tourists alike.  The heritage buildings now house quaint shops and cafes that can easily fill an afternoon or two.  The kids sniffed out the lolly shop like the professional sugar hounds they are and we all agreed that today had been a very good day.  

Then it was back to the hotel for a late night swim and some room service.

The next day, we packed up our things, checked out of our hotel and headed to a development just out of town called Jack’s Point. Just 15 minutes from Queenstown, Jack’s Point is a relatively new community that features a championship golf course, a club house and some hiking and biking trails.  Situated on the shore of Lake Wakitipu, at the base of the Remarkables mountain range, it is a stunning spot.  Although they were setting up for a wedding, they were very welcoming and we were seated immediately.  I did what I usually do when I have a driver (husband) present at that hour of the day on holiday and a table full of people I have given birth to.  I ordered a mimosa. I was soon enjoying my libation and laughing with my family.  When the restaurant manager stopped by our table to ask us how we were doing, she asked me a question I did not expect.  “What are you celebrating?  A birthday?  An anniversary?”  All I could manage was “It is Saturday and I have 3 kids…” The mimosa game is a little on the weak side here in New Zealand, mainly due to coffee being the religion of choice.  I believe there is room for both and it is important to have goals…She did visit our table once more and completely redeem herself with the kind observation that our kids were the best behaved of any she could remember.  I didn’t dare ask her how long she had worked there or how many children she had actually had met.  I did thank her between generous sips of my mimosa.

More South Island fun tomorrow. Promise.

A Temporarily Secret Graduation

Today, according to Facebook and Instagram, my daughter graduated elementary school.  Or she would have if she was in Nashville.  She would have walked across a stage in front of her peers, been handed a piece of paper and she would have gotten to celebrate with her friends.  Friends that she has been with for 5 years.  It would have been the most significant moment in her albeit short academic career.  But she is not there.  And when she arrives back in Nashville, she will be walking the halls of a new school.  

So for a little while, I felt sorry for Emma.  Sorry that she didn’t get to experience the fun of the weeks prior to today and sorry that she didn’t get the chance to close this chapter in person.  Adults are all about closure.  With each beautiful Facebook post picturing her sweet classmates celebrating with their families, their faces glowing with happiness and pride, I felt a lump in my throat.  She of course realised that when she left her elementary school in January, that she would not be back.  And she was fine with it. A little sad but fine with it.  She didn’t picture the 4th grade graduation ceremony or the parties at friends houses.  I did.  I knew when planning this adventure that she would pay the ‘highest price’ because she would miss out on the last term of her 4th grade year.  And in my sometimes rational mind, I also realised that she would stand to gain the most from our time here in New Zealand.   I don’t believe you can have it all.  Not at the same time.

This past week, my Dad came to stay with us for 5 days.  He watched his grandson play rugby on the same University campus that he attended as a young man.  He listened to his youngest grandchild read and he asked my oldest lots of questions about life and school.  And before we knew it, the time had come to take him to the airport.  5 days that flew by in a flash.  5 days that gave me memories of my Dad with my kids that I will treasure forever.  

When I came home from dropping my Dad at the airport, I found these flowers on my doorstep.  My husband had anticipated that I would be focusing on saying goodbye, and not what was gained (memories to last a lifetime).  So he did the only thing he could from the other side of the world, he sent me some beautiful flowers and a sweet note that made me smile and feel very, very loved.

I know that when Emma looks back on her time spent in New Zealand, she won’t focus on the moments lost.  Rather, I know that she will focus on what was gained.  Because as her Mum who has watched her navigate this move from the sidelines, she has gained so much.  We all have.  For now, I won’t mention to Emma that she would be done with school if she was still in Nashville.  I won’t mention that she would be filling her tomorrow’s with days at the pool and at friends houses instead of welcoming winter and facing 6 more weeks of school…

But between you and me, congratulations Emma.  I tip my hat to you, graduate.

Xo Mum

Well Hello Queenstown  

Leaving Wanaka was bittersweet.  We spent the morning attending the local ANZAC ceremony (more on that later) which included beautiful bagpipes and bi planes flying over the lake.  We then hopped in the car to drive the spectacular Crown Range Road which connects Wanaka to Queenstown.  Our first stop was the Cardrona Hotel which has many honours, including being the most photographed pub in New Zealand.  Established in 1863, it has retained its charm and managed to thrive all these years without falling prey to the gift shop trap.  The kids had a ball running around the garden and we had a ball watching them.  After a rather leisurely lunch, we drove the remaining 40 scenic minutes to Queenstown.

If by any chance, anyone is reading this blog and thinking, “I want to go THERE!” , I need to warn you about something.  You will not relax here. It is, how you say, impossible.  Maybe because I have lived away for so long and maybe because my time here has an expiration date and I feel the need to see everything, but this place makes you tired.  New Zealand is a place to get after it.  I have come to the recent conclusion that the reason kiwis travel overseas so frequently is to relax…

Queenstown is no exception. Rather it is the center of the ‘problem’. Known as the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere and the home of bungy jumping, among other dangerous pastimes, it is a place to get really knackered. In a good way. I think.  We had 4 nights in Queenstown and a hotel that allowed us some ‘separation’. I pictured some R and R. I was wrong.

Go Poppy and J!!

You can not help yourself here. There is SO much to see and do.  Within hours of arrival, we were luging down a mountain.  See what Queenstown did there?  Drive in to town, drop bags at the hotel, head straight in to town where you immediately take gondola up the mountain and luge down…repeat last steps over and over again.  Tate said it was the best day of his life.  

The next day we left Queenstown to see Milford Sound.  Rudyard Kipling described it as the eight wonder of the world.  Granted that was a while ago…1891 to be exact but I thought this fact would give my blog a more academic flavour.  The drive to Milford Sound is almost more beautiful than the actual destination.  

The drive to Milford Sound takes approximately 4 hours.  You can either take a sightseeing cruise or start hiking the famed Milford Track or do a short hike, continually remind your children about that 8th wonder of the world thing and get right back in the car because your nice hotel wins over camping. We chose the last option.

  I brought Jeff to Milford Sound in 1998 and he thought it was closed.  Thankfully, because it is already difficult to get to in a country that is, difficult to get to, it remains uncrowded and spectacular.  That Rudyard Kipling was a very smart fellow.  More Queenstown sights on the blog tomorrow.

More South Island Adventures

After spending an incredible afternoon on Wharariki beach, we headed to our motel in the tiny town of Collingwood.  After a quick dinner and showers, we put the kids to bed and sat outside our unit with our plastic chairs and wine, talking about the day and watching the gorgeous sky.  

Collingwood, with a population hovering around 240 people, is tiny.  I have never stayed in such a small town.  The next morning, we walked out the back door of our motel, across the street to a charming little old house that is now a restaurant.  The food was incredible and the coffee was the best we have ever had.  I am a new addict but Jeff considers himself worthy of saying it is the best coffee. Ever.  

From Collingwood, we headed further south along the west coast of the South Island.  It is a part of New Zealand known for its ruggedness.  It is remote and wild and unlike anywhere else in New Zealand.  From stunning, deserted beaches to rainforests that seem unending, this is a drive everyone should take.  The west coast gives you a sense of an unchanged New Zealand.  Imagine Big Sur, Costa Rica and Maui one turn in the road after another.  This place could turn boys in to men in no time.  

One of the reasons that the West Coast is not more populated is the lack of accessibility.  And the weather.  It can be quite rainy on the west coast so we were not surprised when it poured down for most of our day long drive.  We did get to see the famous Punakaiki rocks or the Pancake rocks as they are also known.

That night, after a long day of driving, we finally made it to Franz Joseph.  Due to the heavy rain that showed no signs of stopping, the small town was choc full of sad tourists who had to delay or cancel their glacier hikes.  We didn’t plan on taking the kids up on the glaciers because

  •  It can be quite dangerous and the thought of Poppy with crampons on did not make me happy
  • I didn’t want to spend $1000
  • I wanted to save some things for our next visit
  • I didn’t want to spend $1000

So we were the happy family in the corner of the pub, thrilled to be out of the car and the rain.  The kids didn’t know they had missed out on taking a helicopter to the top of a glacier and we didn’t tell them.  We did buy them dessert that night…

Our next stop was the beautiful town of Wanaka.  We arrived by early afternoon to the most stunning Autumn day.  After checking in to our apartment, we walked in to town to grab lunch and explore.  The small town is built around the spectacular Lake Wanaka which serves as a back drop to year round fun.  There is skiing in the winter and every water sport imaginable in the summer.  Originally a gold rush town, the secret is out and the population is growing exponentially.  

Not too long ago, I had casually mentioned to my girlfriend that I wanted to climb Roy’s peak.  It is a popular hike in Wanaka that has been on my list.  I should know better than to mention things like that to said girlfriend.  The next day, she and her husband had arranged for family to watch their two beautiful girls and they had booked flights to Wanaka.  Uh oh.  So I did what I do best, I researched the hell out of the hike.  I read reviews that mentioned words like ‘easy’ and ‘gentle’ and then I read reviews that used words like ‘dying’ and ‘painful’…I asked so many random strangers on Instagram who posted their enviable pics how they found it/how long did it take/did you hire a Sherpa/are you an Olympic athlete???  I also had to book a babysitter for my kids.  I have never used a babysitting service while away in a strange place.  Thankfully, at 7am the morning after arriving in Wanaka, I opened the door to meet Bess, the greatest babysitter in the entire world.  

And then said friends Bindi and Derek were at our door and we were off.  God. Help. Me.  

Now New Zealanders have the worldwide reputation of being tough.  Tougher than tough.  Any one who has traveled the world seems to have some “I met some kiwis in – who were crazzzzyyyyyy” stories.  New Zealanders invent things to test your will and your desire to live.  I have been gone a long time and at 42, I may not be the best representation of that brand of kiwi, if I ever was.  But I made it.  WE made it!  After reaching the top (it was no Everest so I will decline from using the word summit) and enjoying the stunning views, we climbed half way down and enjoyed a mountain picnic.  Thanks to my Sherpa/husband, we had champagne and the most stunning scenery to enjoy it with. 

 After making it down the mountain, we headed to a pub to, essentially, pat ourselves on the back with more alcohol.  We then spied my youngest, flying around the skate park across the street on a scooter.  I texted Bess who said that they had found 3 scooters at the recycling place and my kids were having the time of their lives.  I could see them from where I sat, with Jeff and my dear friends, that my kids were being taken care of and loved.  They had had the best day with Bess and I was so thankful.  

Like everywhere in New Zealand, my amateur photos do not do this place justice.  This place deserves every accolade it has ever received.  I am learning that I do not have to climb mountains to embrace my countries heritage, but I do need to be bold.  It felt bold to trust a complete stranger to take care of my kids.  If felt bold to climb higher than I have ever climbed before. And that’s not just a line from a horrible Miley Cyrus song.  We all spent a day out of our comfort zones and we are all better because of it.  

Seal Pups and Chambray

To the many (two) fans (relatives) who wanted to know if I am still blogging, the answer is yes.  Our holiday was jam packed and I am now planning an actual relaxing break.  In August.  The next adventure for the Dimpled Explorers brought us to the famed region of New Zealand known as Golden Bay.  After extending our stay in Kaiteriteri, we only had one day and night to experience some pretty amazing places.  Time to get a move on.

The first stop was Te Waikoropupu Springs (Pupu Springs) which is a place of spiritual significance to the Maori people.  The springs are a waahi tapu (a sacred place) and signs are posted at the entrance asking that the waters be respected and not touched.  The springs are also famous for their water clarity which has been measured at 63 meters and until 2011, was considered second only to the sub glacial water in Antartica.  The clear waters were a beautiful sight and you could feel the reverence all around you.  If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting this place.

Our next stop was the gorgeous Wharariki Beach.  After parking our car and dodging the two peacocks in the car park, we walked for 30 minutes across rolling farm lands and massive dunes to arrive at the most stunning beach.  This beach, in its scale, reminded me of Canon Beach in Oregon (of the movie The Goonies fame) but with far less people.  

Within minutes of stepping on to the sand, we found rock pools full of seals and their pups.  They were wild and free and beautiful.  Just as they should be.  We were respectful and careful of the seals and stayed a safe distance. Surprisingly, they came to us, curious.

A certain seal pup found Poppy and Tate’s shorts too tempting and tried to bite them.  Clearly a seal pup after my own heart with a taste for chambray.   These are the moments that my children will remember.  Or I hope they will.  But that is the mystery of ones childhood, what sinks in and what doesn’t.  It’s anyone’s guess.  As I watched my kids throwing their football and skipping through the shallow water, I did a very adult thing.  I lost that living in the moment thing and wondered how they would ever be able to enjoy another beach again.  The beach that we travel to in Florida is beautiful but never this uncrowded.  And then I remembered the true gift of childhood is that they do not compare and contrast anything.  Things are not better or worse than fill in the blank.  They are only capable of being in the now.  Long may that continue.