April 30, 2008

Off We Go, Again

And we're off. Again. This time it's just a quick trip to my parent's house in Sacramento to get our dog, Patsy--it feels strange here without her. While we're up north we're going to hop over to San Mateo on Saturday for the Maker Faire. I'm so glad we're able to go. It sounds awesome--the perfect unschoolers (and schoolers) day out. My parents will be joining us and hopefully my friend Zefra (yep, the one I said I'd take with me if we moved to New Zealand) will be there with her kids.

We're slowly settling in to life at home. I've been cleaning house like a maniac--very rare for me. I need to take advantage of the inspiration when it hits and boy has it hit hard. It's part of reclaiming my space, I think. Today I cleaned out and reorganized the kitchen pantry, washed all the blankets on our beds, and folded laundry.

We meant to get back to circus class with the homeschoolers today (Jerry's idea!) but both of us overslept so we missed it. Hopefully next week our body clocks will be back in sync with the rest of California. For now we're staying up really late, but absolutely loving being back in our own bed--my own bed, I should say. Jerry says he'll go back to his when Warren gets home. I love my bed! In fact, I think I should be in it now. So I'm going to stop writing, cuddle up under my freshly washed and sun dried blankets and read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I just checked out from the library (again). I love the library! And I love rediscovering all the things I love about home. Like Silverlake Wine. I walked there today and bought a bottle of crisp white wine. And our mechanic. He changed the oil on my car today. He's great! And Monkeyhouse Toys. Jerry and I stopped in to say hello to the owner when we picked the car up. I love her! And Netflix. We got three DVDs in the mail today. It's so convenient! I love Netflix! And--enough already. Geez. That's it--I have to stop. Now. This time I really am off to bed. (I love my bed!) Good night.

April 29, 2008

Home Sweet (And Smoggy) Home

We're home. After twelve hours of nonstop turbulence (seriously) we descended into the thick brown haze that frequently blankets our fair city. I was tired and irritable and very nearly lashed out at two women who were being critical of my home town as we waited in line at customs.

Them: Los Angeles is horrible. Did you see the air? It's awful. I don't know how people live here. And this airport is a nightmare.

Me: (silently, of course) Oh, shut up. I'm sick and tired of people coming down on L.A. for its smog. We happen to have one of the most active ports in the country. Yes, people drive a lot here, but half the goods that come into this country start at our port and get driven by smog-spewing semi trucks to the cities and towns of people that smugly sip coffee in their beautiful (and boring!) smog-free towns all because said coffee entered the country here in Los Angeles. And then, California tries to pass a law enforcing more stringent pollution standards on car makers and the stupid US government refuses to allow it. So zip it, lady!

Then I said to Jerry, "Ugg. I hate this smog. It's awful." But Jerry just put on this radiant smile and said "It might be smoggy, but it's home!" Whenever I complained (did I mention I was tired and irritable?) Jerry just beamed and said, "But we're home!"

Before we left for the airport back in Auckland, Warren took us to the little cafe close to our house in Parnell for some hot chocolate and we talked about what we'd bring back to L.A. from New Zealand, if we could. For Jerry it was his friends (and their entire families), for me it was the blue sky (with Italian hokey pokey ice cream a close second) and Warren wasn't exactly sure what he'd bring back, though he agreed the sky would be nice.

Then we talked about moving to New Zealand and what we'd bring with us from home. The pets, of course, were a given. Jerry would bring his best friend Jackson, and Jackson's family. There were lots of things I'd bring: the L.A. Public Library, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, the internet (it's painfully inadequate in NZ), our next door neighbor, my friend Zefra and her family, my parents, our local DVD rental place, and my favorite bookstore. Warren would want to bring his friends, the Lakers, and probably a few more things he didn't have time to mention because we had a flight to catch.

Our last week in Auckland was spent with the friends we had made. Wednesday we went to Rainbow's End with three of Jerry's friends. Thursday we met Cate and her kids at the bowling alley. Friday we met three families at Mission Bay for a picnic. And Friday night and Saturday (all day!) Jerry hung out with Shell's son. They went swimming in the hotel pool (three times in 24 hours), rearranged the hotel room, jumped on the beds, watched movies and had all kinds of fun.
Saturday night Jerry came down with the stomach flu, so Sunday, our last full day in Auckland, we stayed in the hotel room watching movies--it was kind of nice, actually. On Monday we said good-bye to Warren--he's coming home on Friday. We had a few last moments with Shell and her kids--they saw us off at the airport. And we said farewell to New Zealand. We were both sorry to leave.

Coming home to all that smog didn't help matters. (I later learned the air was so bad because there are fires raging in a city nearby.) So, as we sped down the freeway in a taxi, heading for home, I was feeling kind of ambivalent about being back. But then I stepped out of the car and got a whiff of the jasmine that grows by my neighbors driveway. I saw the explosion of color created by the bougainvillea arching over the entry to our house. I turned the kitchen radio dial back to my favorite NPR station. I saw that the library they've been building down the street from us is starting to take shape. I walked to the grocery store and heard the familiar sound of Spanish being spoken. And at the market I spotted a big pile of watermelon. When I left New Zealand you couldn't get watermelon--it was autumn. But it's nearly summer in Los Angeles. And that means summer fruits. Again. Three more months of summer fruits! Wahoo!!!! It's good to be home.

April 26, 2008

Goodbye DS

Jerry's DS and all his games are gone. He left his case in the bathroom at Mission Bay. We were having a farewell picnic with a big group of friends we've made here--having a terrific time, too, when he took it with him to the bathroom, set it down while attending to his business, and walked out without it. By the time he went back it was gone. We went back to Mission Bay the following day and plastered flyers all over the place offering a $100 reward (there were about 16 games with it!). So we're keeping our fingers crossed but not holding our breath. 

So if everyone could please think happy thoughts about the miraculous return of Jerry's DS and all his games we'd be most appreciative. Thanks.

April 21, 2008

South Island Photos - Doubtful Sound

One of the things I most wanted to do on the South Island was to spend a night on one of the fjords. The most famous is Milford Sound, but Doubtful Sound has a reputation for being equally beautiful, without the crowds. Since Doubtful Sound also required less driving time Jerry and I decided to go for the Doubtful overnight cruise. We boarded the bus early in the morning.
After about an hour and a half we stopped in Kingston for a ride on the Kingston Steam Train.
Jerry made himself at home in the baggage car
while I stood outside taking pictures.
Our bus was waiting to pick us up after the 40 minute train ride. From there we had another hour on the bus before we transferred to boat
for the hour long crossing of Lake Manapouri.
A second bus drove us from the other side of the lake across Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. The road through Wilmot Pass was built to move supplies for the construction of the Manapouri Power Station, completed in 1971. Access to the power station is via a 2 km tunnel that spirals down to the machine hall, 176m below lake level.

Here's our first view of the sound--which is actually a fjord. Caprtain Cook mislabeled it a sound. What's the difference between a fjord and a sound? According to the nature guide on our boat, a sound is a flooded river valley and a fjord is formed when sea water floods a valley created by retreating glaciers. When the bus driver let us out to photograph the beautiful view, this little Tom Tit landed on the rear view mirror of our bus, luring people away from the scenery to photograph his antics.
Before long we were aboard our boat, the Navigator.Jerry and I had our own room with an en suite bathroom--very extravagant after having to go outside and into another building to get to the shared toilet at the hostel!
There were about 60 passengers on board.We kayaked along this stretch of coastline. You know how kayaking looks all peaceful and easy when someone else is doing it? It's hard work when you're the one in the kayak! Especially if your 12-year-old son is in tow. Oh, and you know how annoying mosquitoes are? They're a walk in the park compared to sandflies! The kayaking was nice but after battling with the sandflies I decided there is a time and a place for DEET and we had arrived.
There's a Maori legend about the creation of fjordland. Once it was complete all the gods looked at it and were please. But one of them cursed the area with sandflies to keep humans from destroying the pristine beauty. It's worked so far.

This is the opening to the Tasman Sea. There was a big difference between the calm waters of the fjord and the rolling waters of the Tasman.Jerry met a boy named Matthew on the boat. He used to say he wasn't any good at making friends, but I think our stay in NZ has shown him that he's, in fact, quite good at it. He makes friends wherever we go.Jerry was so excited to be sleeping on a boat we stayed up talking well into the night. I was up early, though (Jerry slept in) so I could watch the sun rise.Jerry and his friends spent most of the morning in the lounge playing board games.Most everyone came outside to experience five minutes of absolute silence when the captain turned off the boat and all its generators.
It was awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

South Island Photos - Queenstown Day One

This was the view of Lake Wakatipu from our hostel (they call them backpackers) in Queenstown--minus the buildings. I zoomed in on the best part.Our first morning we discovered Caddyshack Mini-Golf. It's an indoor miniature golf center with a really cool interactive course. This is Jerry by the ski hole. Once you hit your ball into the hut on the bottom you get to watch it move up the chair lift, then roll down the ski slope.
Just outside the mini-golf place there was a bungy trampoline.
Later that afternoon we went jetboating on the Shotover River.
We sped through this canyon at about 70 km/hr. It's supposed to be really fun and exciting but I think I must have been in the wrong frame of mind. I kept wondering why the boats didn't have seat belts. And then, as we were careening around the rocks jutting into the river I realized I never googled "deaths + jet boating." I definitely meant to do that before putting my life into the hands of some thrill-seeking, twenty-something boat driver. I think I'll do that now. (Okay, so there was one crash back in 2001 and 11 people were injured. That's not so bad. Still, I think it's best that I forgot to check.)

April 20, 2008

South Island Photos - Dunedin

In Dunedin we stayed with Marcia's brother's family. He and his wife have four kids--the oldest was a boy just a couple years younger than Jerry. We went for a walk around a lake near their home.It was so pretty.They took us to the city center where we went to the museum. They had a whole room dedicated to the South Pacific Islands, with exhibits for some places I hadn't ever heard of. (Did you know there was a place called New Ireland!?) I was very happy to find one small exhibit on Kiribati.

This is the flag of Kiribati (it's pronounced kee-ree-bhass, by the way). I love this flag. But before I saw this flag on our map I had never heard of Kiribati. It's not one of those places that comes up in the news too often.

At the museum they had a model of a Kiribati warrior. He used the skin of a blow fish (or something like it) for head gear, so his head was all spiky. Pretty ingenious, really.

This is the Dunedin train station. 

After two nights in Dunedin Jerry and I boarded the historic Taieri Gorge Railway, at the Dunedin train station, for our trip to Queenstown.

South Island Photos - Oamaru

Oamaru is a smallish town that had a big boom in growth in the 1860s thanks to the discovery of gold in the nearby mountains, which led to a huge building spree. For such a small town it has a wealth of beautiful Victorian buildings.
As soon as our bus pulled into town Marcia's mom took us to the blue penguin colony where we watched the penguins waddle up the rocks
and into their burrows. (I didn't take these penguin photos--we weren't allowed to use cameras.)
Just south of Oamaru there's a fishing village that's famous for the giant boulders scattered across its beach. It looks like a bunch of giant children left their balls on the beach. Here's a more scientific description of what we saw from a website:
The Moeraki Boulders. . .are not like ordinary round boulders that have been shaped by rivers and pounding seas. These boulders are classed as septarian concretions, and were formed in ancient sea floor sediments. They were created by a process similar to the formation of oyster pearls, where layers of material cover a central nucleus or core. For the oyster, this core is an irritating grain of sand. For the boulders, it was a fossil shell, bone fragment, or piece of wood. Lime minerals in the sea accumulated on the core over time, and the concretion grew into perfectly spherical shapes up to three metres in diameter.

The original mudstone seabed has since been uplifted to form coastal cliffs. Erosion of the cliffs has released the three tonne captive boulders, which now lie in a haphazard jumble across the beach.

Further erosion in the atmosphere has exposed a network of veins, which gives the boulders the appearance of turtle shells.
Here's Jerry on a turtle-ish boulder.

And here's me. I love the yellow flowers that bloom down the hillside toward the beach.This boulder looked exactly like a dinosaur egg--or what I imagine a dinosaur egg would look like once the baby has hatched.