Hello Nelson, Goodbye Nelson

Many months ago instead of dutifully watching my girls enter their school I turned to Jeremy (fellow drop-off dad and kiwi insider) and said “Hey, where in New Zealand should I live?”. He knew nothing of the plan but responded “Nelson, it’s the sunniest place in the country, it’s surrounded by 3 national parks and vineyards. Also, there is a burgeoning craft beer industry”.  Well that was easy. From then on we decided that the town of Nelson, NZ was going to be our destination.

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Cut to the day before our arrival in Nelson. Despite months of looking and weeks of intense scrolling and emailing we still had not found a place to stay – nor had any leads. Staying in a motel was our only option and even those were packed because apparently the “World of Wearable Art Festival” is a thing and lots of people travel to attend. Then, finally, during dinner at a Thai Restaurant with atrocious wallpaper (see below and spot their logo for bonus points) our first lead panned out.

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A small but furnished temporary flat was made available to us for a couple weeks while we searched in earnest for our ‘permanent’ home.

And so we pulled into Nelson the following day with an actual destination to feed Google Maps. We’ve been learning to be wary of Googs since arriving but we found the place just fine. It was miserable out. Raining, chilly, and Lyla was pale from car-sickness.  Surprisingly it was the same temperature inside as it was outside, 8C or 46F. I scanned the wall in vain for a thermostat. Jeremy hadn’t mentioned the part about kiwis being in denial regarding winter.  The funny thing is we Canadians think of ourselves as hardy folk, and for the most part we are, but it really only applies to being outside. Single digits indoors means power outage to us. Sure we can brave -40 with toques and parkas but we need to return to a temperature controlled house – as any civilized human would expect. That night the girls slept with 4 layers on, 2 comforters and 2 blankets.

Even though we had arrived we still hadn’t settled. We now poured all our energy into finding the perfect place.  As the days passed the perfect place became a place, and then anything with a roof. Apparently Jeremys the world over were recommending Nelson to their friends. Nelson is a popular place to live. Because it is built in amongst hills, bordered by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, cheap sprawling suburbs aren’t an option, and the town council has restrictions on new housing. The result is a property shortage.  This was compounded by the fact that we didn’t need a place for a full year and it had to be near a school that accepts international students. I could go on but it would be equal parts boring and bourgeois. We were at the point where we were considering moving on from Nelson, not just to the outlying towns but anywhere in New Zealand. Then, I’ll admit it, for the first time we were wondering if maybe we had made a mistake. But the night is always darkest before the dawn.

We got the magical email from a house owner one evening and the next morning we jumped in the car and drove north to check out a small rural property 45 minutes away. The previous day we had acquired a 2-disc CD from the Salvation Army titled: On the Road Again – Songs for Roadtripping.  We popped it in and let Willie Nelson and Roger Miller serenade us as Nelson faded out behind us and we headed into sheep country proper. We were afraid to be too confident but Spring was in their air and you know how that goes…

So goodbye Nelson. We weren’t fond of your single glazed windows but loved your quaint strip, gardens, your insanely beautiful beach and the several little hikes originating from downtown (including one to the ‘Centre of New Zealand’.

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And here is us leaving our temporary flat in Nelson where every night Lyla prepared fancy deserts and we watched movies about either New Zealanders or Marvel superheroes. (Spiderman Homecoming, The Fastest Indian and Boy were stand-outs).

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So now, finally, we have arrived and are settling in.

We have a perfect little house amongst towering gum trees, fields of hops, grapes and frolicking lambs.  We are halfway between a tiny village called Upper Moutere (quixotically pronounced Moo-tree) and another tinier hamlet called Lower Moutere. We even have doubled glazed windows and a thermostat!

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The girls have bright bedrooms on the main floor and can watch the sheep from their beds.

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Julie’s office:

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My office: (where I am currently typing this)

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There is one more ‘room’ in the house that Lyla wants to share with you but you will have to wait for that.

For the first time in my life I am living in a place that isn’t walking distance to anywhere but at least it isn’t too far a drive. The girls’ school is a 5 minute drive away but we’ll save more about that place for another post. The Riverside cafe where we get our fresh raw milk and proper coffees is 8 minutes away. Most importantly ping pong at the Upper Moutere Community Centre is 5 minutes away and squash (both the sport with courts and the produce at the grocery store) in Motueka is just 13 minutes away.

So now with all the bureaucracy of moving to a new place done we can finally start living in it. We are reveling in this gorgeous bizzarro Game of Thrones world. Summer is coming…

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Photo copier

Yesterday we had a no screens day and Lyla and I came up with a super fun game. The game we made up is called photo copier. We find a photo in a magazine and copy the photo. Here are some examples. We try to find the closest clothing to the picture.

Then we get objects similar to the one in the picture.

Then finally we try to find the background that matches the most.

This game is super duper fun to play, we’ll be playing this all year!

Wishes

When I pictured our time in New Zealand, I always saw us in a big ole truck or a dusty campervan. You know what I mean: something soulful and beaten, that had seen some miles and could handle a rough road.

When we landed in Auckland we had two days to buy a car. We had six grand, seven suitcases, four people, and a need for a third row.

I scoured the huge used car lot for my soulful ride. One that we could use to blast tunes, climb mountains, park beside our tent in the remote corners of the country. Joel followed me around discussing fuel economy and practical details. Some of you may recognize this familiar dynamic in our relationship. Ah, marriage.

Impractical choice, girls.impractical

After hours of searching, and getting trapped in the backseat of an old station wagon, I had to concede defeat.

We were actually trapped. Damn you, child locks!trappedinacar

Unfortunately, folks, big ole trucks guzzle expensive New Zealand gas. And campervans are so filled up with equipment and stories from past adventures, they they can’t hold seven suitcases and two rambunctious children. So, what we got was a 2005 Toyota Wish.

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She’s silver and lived the first 12 years of her life in Japan, like many of the used cars here. (To be clear, it is not her Japanese origin that I object to, although this does prove to be a challenge later on. I loved the big old clunky Isuzu Pajeros that lined the lot). But the Wish is good on gas, and the trunk fits all of our suitcases when the third row is folded down.

She is so practical. And so boring.

I don’t really like her face. She is that kind of car that looks too aerodynamic, all smooth lines and rounded edges. Despite being 12 years old, her interior is so clean that she feels like she was driven by a ghost, or some Dexter-like serial killer. She has a navigation/stereo system that is entirely in Japanese and loaded with a strange mix of Fleetwood Mac, French jazz, and Christian rock (live concert). This wouldn’t actually be so bad, except that the songs play in no discernible order, and after every third song a person comes on and says some things in Japanese, then ends with the words: Music Stylist! in a very loud, cheesy radio DJ voice. I’m sure that in 2005 it was the hottest piece of car stereo tech going, but we have very little idea how to control the system, despite much earnest button pushing. My one year of introductory Japanese at university is not helping.

The navigational map shows the car in Japan, so that’s interesting. There is a helpful little puppy (our car’s icon, I guess?) that sits on the screen, waiting to scamper around Japan, which of course, is a lovely island country, but the wrong island country, and thus, entirely unhelpful.

The cigarette lighter doesn’t work, which means we can’t charge our phones, or smoke expensive imported cigars on the road. The Toyota Wish didn’t come with a manual, and apparently it doesn’t exist anywhere online. Well, maybe it does, but we don’t know how to download it because the website is in Japanese. Needless to say, our relationship did not begin well.

But. Lyla has smushed some peanut butter chocolate into the backseat.

And. The car has carried us safely along the windiest, skinniest mountain road we have ever driven. As usual, during the scary part we were too scared to take any photos.

The Wish was also there when our booking fell through and we had to stay in the motel owner’s trailer for the night.

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In the wee hours of the morning she helped us board the Interislander ferry in Picton…

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Ferry Time Lapse

…and she waited patiently for us until we drove off onto the South Island. She took this sign in stride.

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She is waiting faithfully for us every morning when we leave our slightly dingy temporary apartment to find ourselves a New Zealand home.

The French jazz album is actually awesome, when it plays, and we found some good used CDs in the charity shop that our Wish will play when she’s feeling kind.

I am coming around.

A wise man once told me that when things don’t work out, just smile and sing Little Birdie. The song says: “Got a short time to stay here, and a long time to be gone”. So who cares about a car with soul? We’ve got it in spades already.

Meet our car, Little Birdie. She’s our practical Wish.

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P.S. Joel is, of course, trying to fix the cigarette lighter. If you know anyone who has the time and skill to read a car manual in Japanese, let us know.

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Phase One Complete

Dear friends,

We know our blogging is ridiculously slow and not really in chronological order. Forgive us. We are new to blogging and sometimes we have no wifi. Plus we are sort of living out of a van or airplane or trailer or tent. But we are now in Nelson, NZ, settled temporarily in a (slightly chilly) flat and have some time and space to reflect on what has transpired over the last few weeks.

There were so many good and funny and fabulously beautiful times on our road trip across the States. Here are some of the best moments, in photos.

Roadtripping is hungry work. (alternate title: 75 chins)IMG_20170915_130222

This was Joel’s favourite rock formation. It’s called Mexican Hat and it’s huge.IMG_20170915_164431

Location: The spot where Forrest Gump stopped running. Stop Forrest, stop.IMG_20170915_171726

The girls got a kick out of crossing the Arizona-Utah border several times in one minute.IMG_20170915_174216

Our campsite in Monument Valley (named after the popular ipad app). IMG_20170915_185804

Sunrise with a canine friend.IMG_20170916_072456

The best lunch stops are always off of dirt roads. Improvised hike to the Colorado River.IMG_20170916_131143

Swimming in the Colorado with the Glen Canyon Dam (Page, Arizona) in the distance.IMG_20170916_140032

Secret spot.page picnic

Vermillion cliffs. (Thanks Andrew Paul for the pro tip)IMG_20170916_153106

Hiking down into the Grand Canyon from the North Rim. Julie is standing at the top of a sheer drop-off similar to the one on the upper right. This was a big deal for her.IMG_20170917_153032

2.63 complaints per minute.IMG_20170917_155857

Crazy views.PANO_20170917_134450We found a charming couple in their sixties during a water break. When we told them we were headed to New Zealand – they showed us their NZ jade wedding rings – they were married in Nelson! Good omen if ever there was one. IMG_20170917_161513

Wide, deer-filled meadows and big sky in the Kaibab National Forest.IMG_20170917_164125

Camping outside the North Rim.IMG_20170917_183214

Chilly mornings. Our water froze overnight!IMG_20170918_085844

Later that day…. (we actually found a hotel without a casino in Vegas)IMG_20170918_173022

Getting our kicks.IMG_20170919_123745

Postcards.IMG_20170919_124627

Random public art in the desert.IMG_20170919_124928

Timeless.IMG_20170919_125749

Salt flats in the Mojave. Ain’t no thin Oreo.IMG_20170919_131049

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Hiking in Joshua Tree. 360 immersive photo here.IMG_20170920_110236

Escaping the heat.IMG_20170920_111011

Classic Americana Roadtrip scene.joshua tree bbq

Very small pool but Julie is making the best of it.tub read

Good morning Joshua Tree.sunrise in jt

Yet another gratuitous roadtrip shot. roadripper

Arrival in L.A. Thanks to Rob and Georgie for Oasis Jalilicutty.jalil pool

Phase one complete.  From here on out we live in the future.

 

It’s cool and it’s also cool.

Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20170922131514 Have you ever tried ice cream almost as cold as space? Well we have! We went to a part of LA called Old Pasadena and we found nitrogen ice cream.

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It was the creamiest ice cream I’ve ever tasted and you had the ability to make your own flavour of ice cream from scratch. There were three steps. First, you had to choose your type of milk. We chose coconut milk because Cammy feels sick sometimes when she has regular milk. Second step is to choose your flavour of ice cream. We chose butter cookie dough and they put that with the coconut milk. Third step is to choose your toppings inside or on top. We chose Twix and got them to mix it inside. Then they flash freeze it with nitrogen ice cream – I mean liquid nitrogen. 🤣🤗 They put it in a special machine and smoke fills the room.

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The ice cream is awesome, it might be hard to find but it’s totally worth it. And my Dad even promised that we should go back when we are back in town. Punch-line finish!

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F.O.M.Oab

I visited Moab at 18 and again in my 20s, specifically Arches National Park, yet I knew I would return one day for more. It was always going to be a stop on the itinerary. In fact, it was probably the biggest draw for me when deciding to drag the family across the continent in our van. When we finally rolled into town it was pouring rain, with uncharacteristic gray clouds filling the sky. Although I was considering trying to make a go of tenting, the womenfolk wisely over-ruled me and Julie found a great little (extremely dry) cabin.

Moab had certainly grown since I was last there. There were now tons of motels and hotels and even a packed microbrewery in town. We needed to beat the rush the following morning. I had my heart set on waking up the family before sunrise and taking the famous Delicate Arch hike at dawn. (The Delicate Arch is on the Utah license plate).

Amazingly, we were able to rouse (in the loosest sense of the word) the kids early, feed them, coffee us up, and sherpa all our stuff back to the van on schedule. We pulled up to the entrance of the park before the ranger/fee-collector, but saw a very disappointing sign on the entrance booth window: “Road to Delicate Arch hike CLOSED due to flooding”. Tough break. On the upside, it probably would have been packed with tourists (the wretched masses, nothing at all like us!) We ended up taking a hike we hadn’t even considered, and it didn’t even have the reward of an arch sighting, which are all the rage at Arches.

It was only when we were alone amongst the towering, red-hued sandstone monoliths in the dramatic light of daybreak that I realized that the solitude in this beautiful place was the real reward. Cool timelapse! I would take this quiet grandeur over a bustling photo op. The Delicate Arch is certainly a cool sight but it comes with a catch – you must endure the hordes of the great unwashed snapping pics on their iPads – a Faustian bargain not worth making. Sometimes sharing a moment with so many others kills the moment entirely. Or at least that was the story we were telling ourselves. We did a few more absolutely incredible walks around the park before piling into the van to ‘put our hours in’ for the day.

Before exiting the park we noticed the Delicate Arch hike was now open. We hesitated briefly but drove on, having had already had an amazing visit. We didn’t need to see the Mona Lisa.

Doodle in the desert

Today we arrived at Joshua Tree and our airbnb is super cool!! In mine and Lyla’s bedroom there were these cool wings on the wall.

And there was also a super big Jenga that was really cool, but also it was pretty loud when it fell!

Anyway, overall our place in Joshua Tree is super fun and cool

even though it doesn’t have WiFi.

Losing my edge

The comments online were light on warning and heavy on rapture. The drive was “a little bit scary” but the views were “awe-inspiring” and “stupendous”. No problem, we thought. We are scuba divers, skydivers, paddlers of wide Canadian lakes. How could a scenic drive through the Colorado National Monument unravel us?

But lately I am scared of the edges of things: cliff tops, skinny trails on hikes. My eighteen-year-old, skydiving self has been replaced by a woman trained to see kid-sized holes in the bottoms of guardrails; I can’t stop the image of lovely, small limbs falling over the edge of the world. I was about to face a 22-mile winding road, the car often driving two feet away from a 50-storey drop.

It all started out well. We were optimistic! Lyla was sporting an adventurous, danger-is-my-middle name mohawk. There was this. But at the first viewpoint, aptly named Cold Shivers, I found my demons closing in as I got closer to the guardrail. Camille’s natural curiosity became death defying, each step the one before the fall. It was a time to breathe deeply, take in the glory and grace of nature, but suddenly the contents of the van’s glove compartment needed my immediate attention.

This sign did not help.

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As we piled back in and continued the drive, it became apparent that it was not just me. I leaned away from the cliffside window, glancing down now and again, like I was watching a horror movie through half-spread fingers.  Joel’s nervous laughter and his tightening grip on the wheel gave away his true feelings. The van crawled along the edge of the cliff in a torturous Catch-22: more speed increased our fear, but less made the whole thing more excruciating. I wish I could show you some more pics, but we were thinking less about preserving the moment and more about getting through it.

What had happened to us? Were we just getting old and scared? We had escaped our routinized lives for exactly such things! Here to see the world, in all of its majesty and magic. How was it that I could delight in the insane video game of riding my bike through Toronto traffic in rush hour, but this was my undoing? This question gave me a moment of bravery and perspective, but then we had to go around another hairpin turn two feet away from the cliff edge. And the wind picked up.

We got out to take a break from the stress, only to see lightning in the distance.

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Just after we took this, a soft-top jeep carrying a group of 60-somethings barrelled by. So much for my age theory.

We finished the drive, obviously. We did not go over the edge, our family van a fiery ball for other tourists to gawk at. We even saw this guy.

But in case you are anticipating a clichéd “do something that scares you every day” ending to this, let me be clear. We did not feel triumphant at the end of that drive, just a sort of boney exhaustion, and even some defeat. I still don’t like the edges of things.

But I am feeling humbled and grateful, which is a good place to be. And valleys are pretty beautiful too.

 

Furbelly finds a new treat!

On one of our first stops Mummy and Cammy went to the supermarket because me and Daddy had to finish a little bit of my meal. They looked at the Oreos and Cammy found something new. Thin Oreos! None of us knew what it was. We all loved them. And you can eat two and it’s the same as a normal one!

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I know I’m doing a lot of my blog posts on treats, but that’s the whole point of the trip. A little while after we finished the first package, we went to another supermarket. I asked mummy: “Can we have these Halloween Oreos?” She said no. Then she saw thin, salted caramel Oreos. They are delicious. And when we sneak them in the back seat, there’s no chocolate evidence on our lips!

P.S. We finally have cell reception again and now we also have lemon Oreo Thins.

The paradox of Mormonism

Two funny Utah beer pics.  The first is a prudish supermarket sign and the second is a microbrew named Polygamy Porter (tongue firmly lodged in cheek). Normally prudishness isn’t a natural bedfellow to polygamy but hey, this is Utah!

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