Thursday, May 26, 2016

Joy in the Hard Bit

Kiwis love their tramping or what some might call hiking.  There is a distinct difference between HIKING and TRAMPING.  Hiking is what the Burnett family does.  HIKING is manageable and doesn't require us to become pack mules and risk possible death to enjoy the great outdoors.  TRAMPING involves walking for days into the wild wilderness with all your food, water source, bedding and camp stove on your back.  Some tracks take up to 5 days to complete  (walking the whole time).  There is basic shelter along the way which you must book in advance and involves sharing with other random trampers.   It is advisable to bring a personal locator beacon on certain tramps should you need to be rescued out, in which case a helicopter would have to fly in to get you.  This of course is a service you will pay for should you need it.  (Check out the 9 great NZ walks here *which i hope to aspire to someday*)   Just this month an American mum and daughter made headline news with their brush with death during a tramp.  (Read it here).
Yeah, we don't do that.
We just HIKE.  
Our longest family hike being 26k which is long for sure but easy by NZ standards as it was very flat and we didn't have to carry gear to survive, unless you count water bottles and a cheese & cracker lunch.

i drag the kids on all sorts of hikes.  i love it because it forces the kids to hang out with me in the great outdoors and something about the fresh air causes them to TALK.  We ask random questions of each other about our favorite things, our pet peeves, we talk about the future, memories from the past and what is happening in our lives now.  Big stuff in small hikes.  


A few weeks ago i laid down a challenge... ROYS PEAK in the South Island.  It was a hike i personally wanted to do for both the challenge and the views.  The guide books rate it as HARD and to plan on 5-6 hours to complete it.  It is described as a strenuous up hill climb.  16k (10 miles) and 11258 meters elevation gain (4,127 feet.) 

This the entire way.


OK, it wasn't really a "challenge"... i FORCED them to do it, there was no choice.  Kid 1 and Kid 2 had totally different opinions on the matter.  One was keen (kiwi for "wanted to") and the other had to be drug along.  i could have done the trail by myself and i would have been perfectly content to do so.  In fact it would have been easier in many ways for me.  No coaxing, cajoling, motivating and multiple breaks along the way. 

But it was more than just a walk,  i wanted to demonstrate a true fact:  
Life isn't easy.  In fact it is quite hard at times.  

We have to choose to look for joy hidden in the hard.

All of us are going to at some point encounter trials and difficult times.  i want my kids' hearts to be prepared for the journey ahead.  What better way to train their life muscles than by giving them a tough physical challenging in the middle of breathtaking beauty. 

 It started off easy.  
We had fresh legs, happy attitudes and were forced to yield to the sheep bounding across our path.


Spirit where high

But somewhere shortly after the first hour things changed.  The Keen Kid decided she wasn't so keen after all and the one i was dragging was now leading the way.  

We spent 4 solid hours slugging uphill learning how to encourage each other and how to persevere when it's hard and you want to give up.  
We practiced being patient and kind to those slower than us and to be encouraged rather than resentful to those who are doing better.     
The views were stunning at every switchback and made it easy to find joy and beauty in the hard trek.  
We crossed over from paddock to conservation area where the sheep pellets were no longer littering our path. 

(i can't help it, i must diverge.  Can you believe this is somebody's farm land?!!  Often tracks wander through someone's personal property.)



Up we went.
Learning to lead with humility & encouragement; pressing on when you want to give up. 

The day reminded me of the wise words i was gifted with in college but didn't fully understand until later in life. 

"The Joy is IN the journey."
It is easy to think a final destination is our ultimate goal.  It may be a career, a relationship, a sickness, or a specific aspiration that leads us up a challenging path.  It is easy to lose sight of the journey itself because we are so focused on the end result.  More often than not though, it is in those hard traveled paths where some of the richest gems and joys of life can be discovered.  The more difficult the course the more there is to unearth along the way. 

"Consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let your endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect an complete lacking in nothing."
                                                                                                                                    James 1:2-4

 All three of us were on the exact same path that day but we all learned different things about ourselves and each other.  


To keep motivated we would track the shrinking size of our starting point.


After 4 uphill hours of small talk, deep talk, laughing and multiple drinks & snack breaks we MADE IT. 


There was nothing left to do really but sit down and take in the majestic views



We traversed our way down the narrow path to the very tip for the obligatory "We Made It" photo.   

It was the first time i have actually been nervous of heights.  The path was so narrow and all who had earned their right of passage were criss-crossing paths to get to the photo spot.  For a minute i was afraid not all 3 of us would make it back to the bottom in one piece.  
Once we finished our victory pics i asked my kids how mad they were with me that i made them do this
Faces at the top revealed their sense of accomplishment

As we retraced the ribbon of track back down we talked about how we each handled the challenge itself and how we can help others along the way in the hard bits of life.  
Both Kid 1 and Kid 2 said they were glad they did it even though it was the hardest thing they have done so far.  They would even be willing to do it again.  

 Joy in the hard bit

i am REALLY hoping this tracker is off!  The trail was 1km shorter than expected and we only burned 421 calories?!  
We timed our walk down at 1 hour and 45 minutes.  That was downhill at a good pace, no stops.  We felt very accomplished for coming in under the 6 hour mark.  That night we met up for dinner with some locals and of course they wanted to know how we spent our day.  i must admit there was a bit of pride in my voice as i told them the kids did the track in under 6 hours.  Turns out their boys do it in 3.  THREE hours!  They admitted there may or may not have been cardboard boxes used as sleds on the way down.  (i think they added that as an attempt to assuage my wounded pride.)


A couple of days later we took a nice comfy gondola to the top of Queenstown.  

Amazing views again although not as high an elevation.  This time instead of luke warm water guzzled from a water bottle and eating smushed sandwiches out of heavy backpacks, we had an all you eat buffet with multiple servings of dessert.   

    
     
We got to luge down the hill and chair lift back up.  
Not ONCE was there any need for coaxing, cajoling, motivating, nor multiple breaks or breakdowns along the way.   


Yet all three of us decided that although the Queenstown adventure was a fabulous time, it wasn't as nearly as satisfying and rewarding as our 6 hour hike.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

You Can't Make this Stuff Up

Awhile back i wrote a post on crazy things we couldn't fathom in Dubai (read about home life here and driving fears here)

Although NZ is vastly different from Dubai there are some things we still have hard time believing about NZ.  
The Scenery.  Really.  Can't make it up.  It does not seem fair that one country ended up with so much beauty. 
The colours are ridiculous 


and they have the best clouds ever!


Feijoas:  A much coveted fruit in season for a short time.  Locals rave about them.  The fruit is harvested only once it has fallen off the tree.  You scoop out the inside flesh and eat it with a spoon.  My kids will objectively sample any food and generally take a liking to it.  This is the one fruit i can honesty say NO ONE in our family cares for.  This of course immediately gives us away as foreigners.   Trust me though, I've tried.  i feel a sense of obligation to eat them now that we have a house with multiple trees.  i've baked with them, hidden tried them in various recipes and every time my family asks skeptically, "You put feijoas in this didn't you?!" and then it is left uneaten.  i have added sugar, spice, apples, coconut, made them into muffins and all sorts of various baked goods but there is just no hiding their flowery soapy flavour.  i am sure in the US they would sell great as a hand sanitizer fragrance.  i have recently manage to find ONE recipe i actually enjoy them in.  The ingredients include lime juice, sugar and tequila.  i have wisely decided against consuming all our feijoas as margaritas though.  i've surrender and now deliver bags of these fragrant fruit to our neighbours and friends.   They are so amazed we are willing to give up such a precious commodity and consider me a sacrificial and generous friend.

Pies:  They are a staple of the kiwi diet and consist of MEAT.   If you are asked to bring a pie to someone's house definitely positively do NOT bring a fruit pie.  Fruit pies are about as odd here as a meat pie is in the US.


Netball:  The game itself is great as far as i know.  (Think basketball but NO backboard and players are NOT allowed to dribble.)  i still don't know all the rules but my girl has really taken a liking to it.  i just don't know why it is an outdoor sport played in the rainy winter season and girls are required to wear sleeveless dresses as uniforms.  Games are only cancelled if there is lightening.  Rain, wind and hail on the other hand are all acceptable playing conditions.   Every Thursday, once the Autumn rainy season starts,  parents schlep out to the courts in rain boots, umbrellas and big black puffer jackets to watch our girls run around in cold soggy weather in dresses.  i was told once, "It is how we make our kids tough."  True enough.  Riley doesn't ever complain.  She looks forward to the one day guaranteed every week to rain.. .game day.  (Even as i write this it is Thursday and nearing game time and it is RAINING!)   Honestly, it's ME who doesn't love cheering on a game shivering on the side lines because obviously i wasn't raised Kiwi tough.



Sinks:  These tiny two faucet sinks are everywhere.  The bowl is hardly big enough to fit your hand in.  We still haven't figured out exactly how to best use them.  The red one spills out burning hot water and the blue puts out freezing cold water.  There is no mixer and they are spaced too far apart to try to mix the water yourself.  You get one choice.  It is only in the winter we really struggle with this.  Hands are icy cold and you really need to wash them.  What do you chose... Freezing or Scalding?  Chris is a fanatic about using warm water to wash his hands so it is quite comical watching him trying to mix the 2 by splashing water back and forth between both hands.



Dyers:  IF you have a clothes dryer (some don't) it is most likely to be kept in the garage.  If you are fortunate enough to find a home that actually has a laundry room inside the house, your dryer will very likely be hung upside down.  It is made to function both ways.  Right side up or upside down making it functional in either hemisphere.   



Trash Day:  Driveways are often long and steep.  On trash days we load all the rubbish and recycle into our car and drive it to the top for the garbage man to collect.



Sandflies: aka NZ's vampires.  i just recently met and richly fed them.  It didn't take me long to learn how much i despise them.  They look like mosquitoes but are 100x worse.  They attack you and can bit through denim.  Their bite causes an intense itching which will last a full week,  longer if you scratch them.  Turns out when your body temperature is nice and warm the itch intensifies.  Which means when you are cozy in bed in the middle of the night you will wake up wanting to scratch you skin off.  Horrible little buggers!



Mushrooms:  They come in all colours including purple!  You may have to take a walk in the south island to find them but they do exists.


Flat Whites:  Coffee here is AHmazing.  Completely understand now why they think Starbucks is a joke.


Screens:  NZ has no screens on any windows.  "Bring the Outdoors in!"  "Outdoor Living at its Best!"  This is a mixed bag for me.  i love that homes have windows and walls that completely retract and create the feeling of open space.  The walls literally disappear when opened all the way.

With that said, when the windows are closed there are guaranteed casualties as children, adults and small pets collide into those same windows that are no longer open.  Our current record is 3 in less than 3 hours.   


But the most frustrating thing of all are the creatures that find their way into our home.   Since there are no air conditioners we constantly have all windows open to cool the house in the summer.  There are the constant flies we have to live with along with the moths and mozzies (mosquitos) at night.  We find insects on our hair brushes and dishes.  



We have at times had random cats curled up in our bed and roaming our halls.  (This is a huge offence to the highly allergic cat hater in the house.)  But nothing beats the birds.   We have chased, trapped and released multiple birds while living here.


Some stories are worth telling even at the expense of one's own dignity.



We moved homes in December and much of the house was still packed in boxes.   The kids did managed to set up a Christmas tree and a Christmas village.






i had just stepped out of the shower when i heard a blood curdling scream coming from downstairs.  "MAAAAAWWMMM!"  i grab a towel dripping wet, wrapped it around myself and raced downstairs expecting to see blood everywhere.  Instead i see a girl frantically trying to rescue a large and frightened bird from the confines of our home.  It was desperately trying to find an escape path somewhere between the Christmas tree and Christmas village.  The only problem there was no possible exit in that corner of the house.  In case you didn't know this, when birds are frightened they crap A LOT and incessantly.  i frantically look around the bare room for something to catch the bird with as it continually crashes into the closed windows and peppers our Christmas cheer with droppings.  In my quick thinking i whipped the towel off my still dripping body and begin chasing the large bird around the house praying desperately this isn't the time our neighbours decide to take a peek into our windows to get a look at the new neighbours.


They would have been traumatized by the frightful sight.  It was carnage.  A bird pooping everywhere while smashing itself into every closed window in sight.  A little girl continually crying out, "Mommy! Help him!" A naked and wet mommy jumping over half empty boxes in pursuit of a bird with a towel in her hands yelling back, "Open all the windows!"  Teen boy enters the room and wants to know what the noise is all about.  He jumps in the chase in an effort to keep the bird from going further into the house.   (Apparently he doesn't find it too disturbing that mom is running around the house naked chasing a bird...)  Finally i am able to corner the bird and trap it in my towel.  i walk to the open slider and release the bird not sure if i am feeling proud of my accomplishments or complete humiliation as i realize the open window was of course the one facing all my new neighbours.   i wrap the towel back around myself with what little dignity i can muster and we start the "hunt for crap and clean it" task.  



Just another unbelievable day in paradise.      







Thursday, April 7, 2016

Land of Oz

We decided a few years back that we wanted to change our gift giving habits at Christmas time.   After packing containers of STUFF,  throwing away boxes of STUFF and struggling with each move to find places to put STUFF we decided we wanted to make Christmas less about getting.  We want our family to focus on the birth of our Savior, giving to those in need, blessing others around us and creating special memories.   Our poor little tree does look very barren come Christmas Eve.  It's ok though because we are learning you don't wrap experiences and memories in pretty paper to sit under a tree.
You live them.



We headed to AUSTRALIA otherwise known as OZ to those of us in the Southern Hemisphere.  We left Christmas Eve and found ourselves in Melbourne (pronounced "Mel-bun" NOT "Mel-BERN").  We stayed with some lovely friends we met in Fiji a few years ago.  We hosted a NZ trip for them now they were showing us "Melbun." 

Cultural Note: Kiwi's and Aussies are EXTREMELY competitive against each other.  Don't confuse the two, they will be offended.   Let's say you meet a New Zealander in the US and you say, "Oh, are you from Australia?"  They will want nothing more to do with you after that comment.  Same if you call an Aussie a Kiwi.  (CONFESSION: i can rarely tell the difference between an Aussie accent and a Kiwi accent.  If i admit that to my NZ or Australian friends they are both equally appalled i can't hear the revolting difference.) 

We spent a very hot Christmas Eve at Brighton Beach.  

Cultural Note:  Can you tell the difference between a NZ flag and an Aussie flag?  There's only a 1 star difference between the two.
 We learned about the value of beach front property.



Brighton Beach Boxes.  

Adorable little colorfully painted huts lining the beach. No running water or electricity.  A place to store your beach stuff and find some shade.   How much would you pay?! 
(Read about some Crazies here!)
(At $285,000 i am not sure i can legitimately use the adjective adorable anymore. )       



Christmas Day our gracious friends included us in their gigantic family reunion and lunch at the local Lawn Bowls Club.



Next day we headed to the country side.  We were on the lookout for the amazing Australian wildlife.



During our drive out to Flinders we were GIDDY to see kangaroos bound across the road in front of us!  (The only way to possibly capture this on film is to drive the whole trip with my eye glued to the camera.  Not gonna happen!)


i did manage to get a shot of one bounding across a field during a walk. 


We found a Christmas Beetle and various other types of birds and bugs.  We were able to avoid other deadly Aussie animals so we considered that a success.  

Cultural Note:  NZ prides itself on having NO deadly animals, spiders, snakes or plants.  You can walk out in the great outdoors and never worry about being harmed regardless of where you step or what you pick up.  Australia on the other hand is known for their strange and deadly animals and spiders.

     

But the views!

Will she remember this as the Christmas her parents didn't buy her any of the latest toys or the year she stood at the edge of Australia with her Mum?!? 

Next we headed to Sydney and played the part of ultimate tourists.

Friends in Sydney hooked up us up with a sampling of all the local junk food.  

We did it... We sampled Kangaroo meat.  That's how we roll, gotta try the local stuff.  The kids are keen to try anything!  (For those interested it is a gamy tasting meat and doesn't taste at all like chicken.)  i preferred it as a burger rather than on a pizza and honestly i'd choose a camel shwarma over a kangaroo burger any day. 

Cultural Note:  Kangaroos are so common they are considered pests and locals do consume the meat.  If you go camping you may very well run into some at your campground.  Friends of our shared how the cute little 'roos boxed and scratched their kids one summer.

But i mean come on!  How adorable are they?!  

The koala on the other hand completely harmless.

i am not kidding when i say we were tourists.  We saw the platypus, the dugong, the wombat
and the cassowary.  
The only thing missing off my animal bucket list was the adorable  
(rhymes with the way an Aussie would say Soccer... Socca')
We even caved and took our kids to Tussauds Wax Museum.  We kept telling ourselves, "Memories... Memories we are creating memories for the kids."

 Turns out even the Wax Museum is culturally based.  There were quite a few unrecognizable figures.

The kids actually refused time at the local amusement park.  A little too freaky it seems.



But the again the views...


There are lots of ways to save money as a family.   
Pay $250+ per person to climb the arch of the bridge (which would be very cool) or be frugal like us and pay 13$ to climb the tower to enjoy similar views but less thrills.   

i got to spend my birthday at Bondi Beach.

Bondi Icebergs Swimming Pool

One of the few pools in the world where you should check the daily surf report before swimming.  Pounding surf effects swimming conditions.

Bondi to Coogee Walk

i was treated to a delicious sushi dinner and hand made birthday messages written in soy.  These are sweet and fleeting days!

My mama's heart knows i need to hold tightly to images like these.

This teen guy willingly walked this way with his arm slung over my shoulder for 20 minutes chatting it up.  i am still a bit taller and can still wrestle him to the ground but i know we are just counting down the days until that all changes. 

 Taking in the sights of a different city is exciting and memorable but its the togetherness of ANYTHING that turns it into a remarkable memory.    

Chris and i try to make time for just us but often it is hard to make it work and rarely does it happen on family trips.  BUT how lucky were we to score a babysitter for our kids the night of NYE?!  
Aren't we Sassy Funky Fresh?!   
i mean really!  We get to take a dinner/dance cruise on the Sydney Harbor at New Years Eve! Feeling pretty fabulous and in our prime.  Not at all like an old married couple.  

We mingle, we dance, we meet and befriend other fabulous people from California.  We are TOTALLY relating and having a great time.   Just when we are feeling all fabulous and youthful we find out these very cool people who are SO like us (hear the sarcasm?) have only been married 6 months.  SIX MONTHS!  The only people they know that have been married longer than us are their PARENTS!  Our feeling of youthfulness quickly flies out the window but we are able recover some of our fabulousness when they swiftly mask their shock with, "We would never would have guessed we've been married 18 YEARS!"  Sigh 

We discuss similar service projects we've all done in Mexico.  We ask them how they ended up with the organization they went with.  "Oh, we connected through Facebook."  

Oh, OK....Mark Zuckerberg was still in diapers and the Internet wasn't even INVENTED when WE went to Mexico.

So from here on out we are hoping to cling to Sassy and Funky but thinking Fresh is now a mute point.  
We continued to danced the night away (because we can!) and take in the stunning fireworks show.  We gave in to the fact that we are indeed an older married couple with teen and pre-teen kids

but there is a whole lot of fabulousness to love about that!