New Zealand Round 2

Towering alps and exquisite waterfalls. Te Anau to the Fiordlands, Queenstown and  speedboating down the Shotover. Lake Tekapo, made of glacier run-off, milky and frigid and stunning.

The south island of New Zealand is more raw than the north island. The sheep far outnumber the humans. It’s a place of stark contrasts and sudden mood swings.

Flying to the country was a fairly straightforward overnight plane trip, but landing in Christchurch proved to be the first of a series of unanticipated adventures.

I think somehow, we get more than our fair share of those.

I like to say, we get plenty and more than our money’s worth out of life.

The pilot announced our arrival with a hearty “Good morning!” and proceeded to point out the view. The rising kiwi sun struck the tops of snow covered alps in a stunning introduction to the country.

Then he pointed out the obvious. The mountains were all we could see. Civilized areas with runways were totally fogged in. He decided to circle on auto pilot and see if the fog would lift.

While we waited for the plane to run out of gas, we were treated to a glorious bird’s eye tour of the area. Bonus!

Our pilot ran out of patience instead.

Down we plummeted toward the place where he was pretty sure a runway was.

We were completely blind until rooftop altitude, where the fog ended. Suddenly the tarmac was right under us and if the landing was a little bumpy and abrupt, we didn’t mind because now we could breathe again.

The cabin burst into applause.

We rented a camper van on the outskirts of town, filling out an amazing amount of paperwork.

Then we flipped a coin to see who was going to drive first.

I won.

As usual, my statement on Day One was, “How hard can this be?”

It was the ultimate backseat driver’s dream. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car.

Which means you drive your car on the left side of the road. We spent the trip chanting “stay left, stay left, stay LEFT!”.

Our first destination was the gondola ride across town, and I drove right through the middle of the city. We had no intention of stopping. But when our one way street starting to turn us the wrong way, I needed to pull over. A nice big parking lot seemed like a safe spot. Which it was.

Turning around and leaving proved a bit challenging.

It’s not my fault I backed into the lady’s shiny new red car.

I had plenty of space and I was going super slow and Hubby was giving directions via large and sweeping arm gestures.

I stopped when his arms went straight up into ‘touchdown’ position, not because of the little crashing sounds from the far depths of the camper. The kitchen galley back there was full of pots and pans that clanked along during the road trip. I just thought they wanted out to play.

This is why you fill out all that rental paperwork.

So that when a woman from another country gets hysterical because some crazy american tourist has put her tail light into said woman’s driver car door, the aforementioned crazy american can just go back to the rental place and say, “Dude, this is your problem and I am now fleeing the country. My bad.”

And flee we did.

Hubby drove the rest of the trip, which is just as well because then I could laugh every single time we bought petrol. He would trot around to my side of the car and hop into my lap to drive away.

I could warn him when the roundabouts were coming. These are circular intersections that will hold you hostage until you make the iron clad decision to exit, just to stop turning. You do NOT want to go the wrong direction in a roundabout.

Our camper van let us park all over the south island. We woke up to a different view every morning and didn’t worry about hotels or pit stops or restaurants.

We searched for greenstone, wandered among Paparoa’s Pancake Rocks, admired glacier ice caves, discovered suspension bridges.

Be warned. This is the land of the bungy jump and the fastest motor bike in the world. Kiwis thrive on adventure. So if you’re told it’s “an easy walkabout”, it’s an all day life-or-death tramp through the Abel Tasman jungles. Now you know.

We didn’t have time to see the penguins or the glowworms.

But they’ll be waiting when we go back.

New Zealand Round 1

The way we choose a vacation destination is simple: Hubby insists it has a nice beach.

I insist it’s a place we’ve never been before.

He insists it has a reason to dress up for dinner.

I insist it’s free of spiders the size of manhole covers, weird plumbing and weather.

Not that we ever go anywhere. But if we do, there are criteria.

It’s our own fault we ended up so picky about world travel.

When we took our first trip on our 10th anniversary, we went to New Zealand, and wouldn’t you know it, we hit the mother lode on our first try.

Not to date us or anything, but we found this place before Frodo Baggins did.

And I totally claim it. Ours.

I had the fun of my first airplane ride (12 hours long) driving on the wrong side of the road (crashed my first day) and seeing a place so devastatingly gorgeous that the whole rest of the planet pales in interest.

Plus, only sheep live there. No creepy crawlies with fangs. Perfectly safe.

The natives speak english and they’re happy to take your tourist dollars in exchange for some local excitement.

As a matter of fact, when we went our dollar was about 2 to 1 of theirs. It was like the whole country was having a ‘half off’ sale.

I suppose Frodo Baggins has taken care of that by now.

Hobbits.

I want to tell you about our trip in a couple of pieces but I won’t be able to do it justice. We rented a camper van in Christchurch and drove the south island before hopping a ferry to the north island and flying out of Aukland.

We saw deep jade green fjords and glaciers carving through gorges and beach rock blowholes and yellow orange sulphur springs and great fern tree forests and towering snow-capped alps and vast prairies of blowing grass.

Countless miles of beaches.

Christchurch has postcard perfect English gardens and fairytale architecture, and then sends you up a mountainside in a glass cable car for a wild view of untamed wanton countryside, with a backdrop of the south pacific.

We stopped at a McDonald’s and did not order the burger with beet slices.

We stopped in a little pub in the middle of nowhere and ate sticky buns and at people’s homes, ate roast lamb with mint jelly.

New Zealand is “down under” but never (I mean ever) confuse it with Australia.

Have you seen a haka? You don’t want a piece of that.

We went in September, and the air rates are a bit lower then. Seasons are reversed. Our beginnings of fall are their beginnings of spring. We brought warm clothes and were told to expect rain every day. It only rained once, during the night, during our entire two week venture.

For those of you who are curious, yes, Christmas holidays are spent on nice warm beaches.

Santa wears a speedo.

I’m going to open this particular travel story up to you beautiful wonderful loyal readers. If there is something particular you’d like to hear about New Zealand, put your request/question into the comment box below and I will try to address it next Tuesday.

If you actually live there – you lucky ducks you – by all means add your two cents to the forum.

And don’t forget your contact information so we can all come stay at your place.

Five Kids Five Ways

It’s scary that my kids are so radically different from each other.

For a person who lines up her cans in the pantry, it’s pretty harsh.

I submitted identical genetic samples, raised them in the same house with the same rules with unvaried routines, and they are from five different planets.

And that’s only if Pluto counts.

I see the new mommies struggling with nap times and feeding questions and juggling all the baby books I used to have memorized and I just want to group hug them.

We try so hard to get it right the first time. Ok, every time. The responsibility of an entirely dependent little human is overwhelming.

What you need to know is that your little one was born with a complete personality.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Maybe the instruction manual didn’t appear with the placenta but baby will be telling you all about herself as time marches on, so on the other hand, you can’t really screw it up.

Having kids is like going on a blind date with someone you’ve already promised to marry.

You have no idea in advance if he is stubborn or artistic or has a harelip or will drive you nuts with a bad knuckle-cracking habit.

You assume, however, that it will be love at first sight.

And you’ll spend the rest of your life being regularly surprised by who this person is.

Kid number one I raised “by the book” (there’s a new one every year) and a more free-spirited independent thinker, you won’t find.

Kid number four was raised by a pretty independent free-spirited approach and he’s a steady, linear thinking, self-possessed person. He loves to go “by the book”.

By kid number five, I just shook the Magic 8 Ball and let it decide whether his nap time was going to be attempted or not.

I look at a child once in a while and ask, “Who are you? Where did you come from? This must be from your father’s side of the family. Waaaay down the line.”

It’s stupid that one size won’t fit all when it comes to discipline, either.

Kid number one couldn’t be begged bribed or beaten into obedience. If it was his idea in his own time and he had his own reasons, he did it.

Kid number two dissolved into tears with one harsh look. She’s 21 now and still hates being naughty.

Kid number three treated everything as a good laugh. And she still laughs at my attempts at discipline.

Can you understand why I just gave up?

These days, I’m begging kid number five to please just send me to my room for a time out.

I wouldn’t trade motherhood for all the tea in China (and that’s really saying something) but frankly, along with all these free-wheeling celestial bodies, I would have loved some order in my universe.

Maybe NASA has the manual.

It’s About Time

My son and I are sitting in the waiting area of the local medical lab. We are sitting as close to each other as possible and not touching the armrests. We should be wearing cough masks over our faces.

Not because we might cough.

Because the other patients in this crowded room might.

Most of these folks are here to get blood drawn. There is always a line for that.

We are here for the radiology department, a place where appointments are made in order to have patients seen in a timely fashion.

Ha.

We were told “15 minutes”.

These are medical minutes, which vary significantly from all other minutes.

Let me explain.

Vacation minutes have approximately 30 seconds in them.

Work minutes have 90.

Texan minutes run around 2 to 1 with football minutes at least 3 to 1. If a football game has 10 minutes left in the game, you can estimate sitting there with a leg cramp for about another 45.

This is to accommodate all the TV commercials and to encourage live fans to buy another beer.

Apparently, New York minutes are the fastest known, possibly holding a mere 10 seconds. You don’t want to blink in New York.

Dental minutes vary depending on your services. An hour cleaning will last about an hour, but a root canal has the potential to carry you into next week.

Medical minutes vary even more, but always in an expanding direction.

Sitting in a waiting room is about 2 to 1. “The doctor will be in in just a moment” means “He’s taking a call from his wife, he’ll get here when she stops talking”.

“The nurse will be right in with your shots” translates, “When she finds the right hypodermic, the bandages, the smiley face stickers, and waits an additional 10 minutes for you to work up a powerful fear sweat or a sufficiently crying child”.

Having you actual blood drawn can last for days. Never watch. Breathe deep.

Think vacation minute thoughts.

Our particular medical minutes this day lasted only “15 minutes” at a time but went on for an hour.

When directly confronted with this wrinkle in time, the receptionist stated that “once a patient has been checked in, he may not leave the building” but instead of just saying so up front, they wanted each and every patient to feel that their medical care was just around the corner.

It was.

We just couldn’t get there from here.

Nine, Ten, a Big Fat Hen

It’s weird. You never see a poster tacked up on a light pole with:

“MISSING! Large Hen. Black and white stripes.
Answers to “Lucky”. Owners heartbroken. REWARD!”

Although I grew up with dogs and rabbits and birds and turtles and guinea pigs, chickens are just obviously the pet of choice.

They are self grooming, cuddly, colorful, and they eat your kitchen scraps and leftovers.

They roost at night. All by themselves.

And they give you eggs for breakfast.

Many times, we’ve had hens in our large backyard, and they roamed free during the day, gobbling up bugs and visiting with the neighbors through the fence. They came running when we called them and followed us around like puppies, begging for treats.

They never went rogue and so long as we remembered to close the henhouse every evening, things were fine.

Our phone did ring at 2am once. The little old lady next door was calling to report that one of our hens was being eaten by a fox…right under her bedroom window.

This was a new one. We’ve had possums and skunks and raccoons and coyotes and weasels in town before. It was almost worth losing a hen to see a fox.

One afternoon I watched out the window as a huge red-tailed hawk swooped down at the hens. It pulled up at the last minute and landed on the ground next to them. The hens and the hawk were the same size, and the hawk realized after several minutes of deep and desperate thought that he would never be able to carry one away.

The stare-down ended when the hawk flew off.

Our hens always did have a little attitude after that.

Cheeky things.

Once in a while, the kids were allowed to dabble in other pets.

We had hamsters that escaped regularly. I didn’t really grudge them their freedom. Less things I had to clean. They would eventually return after a couple of days to their little hamster palaces.

Except the one who set up shop sandwiched between the kitchen countertop and the dishwasher.

It’s startling when you reach to open the dishwasher door and whiskers are sticking out over the handle.

You scream, leap backwards and drop your fine china.

Not pretty.

And exactly why a pet reptile or tarantula will never happen.

My sister was having the same issues with her children; small pets that were fun for a week, then just one more thing to take care of once the kids were bored.

She came by for a visit once and disappeared for ten minutes.

Blending back into the house of kids and chaos with a sneaky smile on her face, she mentioned that they no longer had the two tiny pet mice her kids had picked out a month ago.

“Oh really?” I asked, “Did they escape? You should check your dishwasher.”

She frowned a little as she poured coffee.

“Well,” she replied, “I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to find them.”

She sipped cheerfully then. “On the other hand, you have some really high protein eggs coming in this week.”

Yeah. Eew. Chickens are carnivores.

Glad she didn’t need to get rid of a turtle.

The Backseat Driver

Well, it’s finally happened.

I’ve heard of the odd but true situation where dog owners and their dogs begin to look like each other. Watch the opening scenes of “101 Dalmatians” to see my research.

I know about the weird syndrome that occurs when a couple has been together so many years that she will sneeze and he will blow his nose.

But when I suddenly discovered one day that Hubby and I were holding a synchronized swimming performance in the car, I almost drove onto the sidewalk.

I am usually the family driver. You’ll see why in a moment.

Naturally, I look both ways before entering an intersection.

In tandem, so does Hubby; in the same sequence at the same speed.

“A car’s coming,” he’ll point out helpfully.

“Watch the bike,” he’ll mention, just in case.

We put our seat belts on, flip the sun visors down, and put on sunglasses simultaneously.

And the two-driver car pulls out onto the road.

“You want to be in the far left lane through this stretch of road,” he begins, “it moves faster at this time of day.”

Hubby is a backseat everything.

He drives me crazy even when we aren’t in the car.

His mind is a constant whirl of analytical hypothesis.

He will not hike with you and be admiring the wildflowers. He will be summing up the degrees of the slope we’re walking. He isn’t getting the groceries. He is comparison shopping between name brands and store brands and calculating the cost per ounce.

If you present him with a question, he will not give you an answer. He will ask you twenty questions in order to fully understand your original question before he takes a week to plot out a trajectory for his conclusions.

What if he worked for the Pope?

“Uh, Pontiff? I know you’re The Man and all, but you want to rethink that latest statement. Maybe for a decade or so.”

“Excuse me Mr. President? You absolutely do not want to push that button. We need to think through all of the ramifications and extrapolate probable results of this action over the next 50 years. Yes, I know Russia already pushed their button, but we just can’t be so hasty.”

“Little Timmy, are you sure you need the bathroom? How long ago did you use it? What have you been drinking since then? How much? The nearest bathrooms are ten, twenty, and fifty miles down the road. How long do you think you could hold it?”

When I drive, I am getting from Point A to Point B.

When Hubby drives, he has entered a video game.

He is constantly re-calculating the location of every other car on the road, their speeds, and the attitudes of the drivers.

God forbid anyone makes eye contact. It’s seen as a direct challenge and the game is on.

He is loudly backseat driving for them as well, although they don’t often know it.

If no one presents a driving game for Hubby, we are treated to a running commentary similar to tuning into an AM radio station. “News and weather together” every fifteen minutes.

“Boy, looks like it’s gonna be a hot day today. Look. The car already shows it’s 89 degrees out. I wonder if it will cool off closer to the coast? But I think we’ll get a santa ana before the end of the week. It’s just gonna get really hot. I’m guessing high 90s.”

On the up side, we always see the cops before they see us.

On the down low…we should probably just get swim caps and goggles if we want to pull this show off right.

Mine come with ear plugs.