Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Glow Worms

Things are getting a bit tight around here.  We are going on month #2 in temporary housing.  Sharing tiny spaces and tripping over each other and our things is getting tiresome.  Last week we had to down size to yet a smaller apartment, as we continue to wait for the delivery of our goods.  

Most people think NZ was the prime filming location for the movie, The Hobbit because of its beautiful scenery.  In all actuality it is the Hobbit sized homes that are the inspiration...SMALL.  Although we don't need to duck when we enter, we do have Hobbit sized beds, rooms and appliances sized to cook for Bilbo alone.  We decided that if we are going to live in Hobbit like standards we might as well take advantage of the knoll and mix it up a bit.  Thankfully, what NZ lacks in accommodations they more than make up for in the scenery.

Waitomo was our destination for a weekend getaway and is about 2.5 hours south of Auckland.  It is has been featured on BBC's Planet Earth and we went to see these GLOW WORMS of theirs.

Once we arrived in Waitomo were recommended to take this highly rated bush walk which was just down the road from our B&B.  Bush walk REALLY means...

 wandering across bridges to discover what is on the other side

Conducting feats of strength on jungle branches

and bravely entering dark drafty caves where dragons might be lurking or worse yet, giant spiders.

     We were advised that this trek was great during the day but AMAZING at night.  So around 9:30 pm we headed right back to the same path for a completely different experience with torches (aka flashlights), darkness and brilliant flecks of light.

(Unfortunately for both you and me, i did not pack my tripod.  It is still somewhere in a container far away from me AND if one wants really good night pictures one must use a tripod.  If not the pictures are completely blurry or the flash ruins the look of everything.  Sigh!)  

You will just have to trust me on this one...

Imagine standing on a bridge over a bubbling stream.  It is completely black outside.  The only thing you hear are your kids squealing with excitement.  Unfortunately, they are drowning out the soothing sound of the water.  If you manage to find a hole in the canopy of greenery above, you can spot the black inked sky punched through with millions of brilliant white stars.  Turning to either side of this stream just behind the ferns are stone walls spotted with bluish glowing lights set afire by glow worms.  It can only be described as magical!

The following morning we decided to take a proper tour of the insides of the official caves.

To get to these caves they took us through the country side

We passed cows grazing,

 Sheep clambering up limestone

Giant eels lurking in the water below
down winding paths

To where the limestone earth has buckled and formed a cave.

We arrive and don mining hats.

 It was  REALLY dark!!

There in the darkness, just above us the cave was a canopy of glowing blue.

i continued in my quest to get a picture of the little buggers :-(

Photographing the glow worms' delicately beaded strings used to trap their prey is much easier.  

 A bug trying to fly towards the light is quickly snared.

But the REAL magic happens in complete darkness.....

(Photo Courtesy of Spellbound Tours)

(Photo Courtesy of Spellbound Tours)

 All you see is the brilliant glow of blue and hear the drip dropping of the cave.  It was an amazing experience.  i'm sure ONE of the Tolkien movies deserves a scene in a cave like this.

"May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out."
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings

**If you want to get down and dirty and learn the science behind these worms click here to see BBC's Planet Earth section on glow worms.  

Be forewarned:  

To quote our tour guide, "These are maggots.  If they didn't glow nobody would care about them.  We call them glow worms because nobody would pay to see maggots with a glowing butt."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Rice Bubbles, Togs and Jandals

Living in Dubai we didn't need to learn the Arabic language.  The kids took Arabic everyday at school but are far from being able to communicate in it.  Everyone there spoke a broken type of English dripping with their homeland accent.  The expectation that you would misunderstand each other sat right under the surface of every conversation like a small but annoying paper cut.  How could you not misunderstand with up to 202 different nationalities living and working together?  Often in the middle of a discussion one had to check for the others' understanding, "Do know what I mean when i say....?"  

i found both comfort and amusement that no matter WHAT nationality your background, everyone in Dubai learns 3 or 4 basic Arabic words that allow you to communicate.

1. Khalas  (Enough!! or Stop)  i have heard this Arabic word coated with various accents and it never ceases to make me chuckle because everyone is bound to use it.  Whether you are from France, Japan, the Philippines, Ghana, Brazil, Texas, or Indian, if you live in Dubai, you know how to throw out a good "Khalas!" (which is usually said with a sort of throat clearing and an annoyed emphasis on the word)  Ex:  "Khalas! I can't eat any more."
2. Yella  (Let's go or hurry!)  Ex:  "Yella!  We are leaving!"
3. Habibi/Habibti (term of endearment for boy or girl and sung numerous times in Arabic songs) Ex: "Oh Habibti, I miss you!!"  (To be said with a bit of sing song voice in your voice.)
4. La!  (No!)  A personal favorite of mine when hearing moms reprimand their children.  "La, La, La, La!"  

To become conversational in Dubai Arabic all you need to do is mix any combination of the above words:
Example:  "No, Riley enough playing it is time to go home."  
Translates "La! Khalas Riley!  Yella habibti."

Lest any of you think now that we live in an English speaking country there are no longer language barriers.  Let me introduce you to:

Rice Bubbles, Togs and Jandals.

Luckily, i learned from my Australian, British and South African friends in Dubai that just because we THINK we all speak the English language doesn't mean we know what the other person is talking about.

When i converse with someone in the English speaking country of New Zealand,  i expect to be able to get all the information i need from them over the phone.  Within a few minutes though, i realize they are throwing out words that ring completely senseless in my ears.

For example, today i called up the local activity camp to clarify some questions i had regarding summer events for the kiddos next week. (NZ Fact: Summer is in January here which means summer break and Christmas collide.  Imagine the look on my kids faces when they realized they now have birthdays in completely opposite seasons!)  i thought i would be quite fluent and prepared to speak with the director and ask educated questions.  i had already looked words up online that i didn't understand.  My American English already knew my kids would be participating in; sailing, canoeing, kayaking, sling shot, and archery, but i had to Google ABSEILING to find out it means rappelling.  i knew TRAMPING translates hiking and MORNING TEA & AFTERNOON TEA means snacks for the kids which was easy to figure out based on context.  Armed with my grasp of the Kiwi vernacular, i thought i was prepared for an intelligent question and answer time over the phone.  That is until she started throwing out words like  TOGS, SUNNIES, DICKS and JANDALS.  Between the NZ accent and new phrases, i hung up dazed and confused and unsure i wanted my kids to attend this sort of camp.  Putting my mobile down and wiping the confused look on my face, i was able to clear my thoughts and re-play the conversation in slow motion through my head to recall words i know i have learned.

Riley is wearing JANDALS but Kyle is not

We are all wearing SUNNIES to protect our eyes

   In Dubai we always wore TOGS to the beach because everyone knows you swim better in a swimsuit.

As for DICK that is just Kiwi accent for the American word DECK where you hang out outside and enjoy the weather.  

This January summer we will be making Rice Bubble Squares which just doesn't have the same ring to it.

And for those of you that think i may be exaggerating the Kiwi language difference check out this site for more 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Glimpses of an Expat Exit

(Let me start by saying i am using a very wonky laptop.  Please pardon all technical issues below.  i'll try to get my tech person on it right away...)  

If you have ever wondered what it is like to move you, your family and all your STUFF half way across the world TWICE, here is a peek.  Although i hardly consider us experts, i know women who have done this most of their married lives and throughout various stages of mommyhood, i do know it is a process. It is demanding, exhausting, exciting and if you survive it, it will knit your family together and develop strength of character.

Expat (n.) a person temporarily living away from their home country for work purposes

Once you commit to an expat adventure, you find a way to settle yourself into a new lifestyle and culture.  You open yourself to new friendships with people from all walks of life and you learn to make close friends quickly.  Typically expats don't have family nearby so strangers quickly evolve into friend and then family.  There is an uncertainty in the expat "settling" as no one knows exactly when their time in a particular country is up.  You may enter thinking your time is 3 years and it ends up being only 2 as was the case with us.  (i know one lady who made an international move only to move back home 8 months later, while others presume 2 years and are currently on year 20). 

While in the states prior to our move we i, thought Dubai would be a 3 year assignment and figured after 3 years we would move back to the states.  But after making the adjustments overseas and being exposed to expat life all 4 of us decided we would be willing to expat it longer if given the chance.  We were quite surprised when we were informed that our Dubai time would be shortened.  i actually was quite sad.  Anyone who has moved away from the familiar knows it takes time to settle in, feel at home and find community.  Thankfully in the expat culture community happens much quicker and for that i am thankful.  Just when i learned to navigate Dubai roads confidently, grocery shop without tears, found doctors, ortho, hairdressers and friends that have become like family, now it is time to move on.

Once the moving date is established you start counting down to the unsettling of your home and life as you know it.  

A whole crew of movers descended upon our house to wrap and pack everything.  For 3 days they disassemble our entire house as bikes, beds, tv and couches are attempted to be formed into perfectly square boxes to save on surface area.

Anything especially breakable is put into handmade crates.  Comforting thought for the 2 months at sea right?!

A giant cargo container pulled up into our compound (yes, housing developments are called compounds in Dubai) and partially blocked our neighbors from getting to their house.  The entire contents of our home was then loaded into the container, locked up and taken directly down to the shipyard to be loaded onto a the next available ship headed to NZ.

4 family members, 7 suitcases, 2 weeks until the flight out of Dubai and 2 months until we will see our STUFF again.  We have moved numerous times within CA and i know that it involves about 2-3 days of feeling unsettled during that move.  After about 1 week we can be pretty well settled into our new home and have access to most of our comfort items if not our entire household.  
Not so when your things board a boat and you board a plane and you hope to all meet up again somewhere on the other side.
This is a great lesson to us as a family to hold things loosely while giving us a great appreciation for our blessings and comforts of home.

While most of our friends were adorning their homes with colors of Christmas, we made the most of the lobby Christmas tree where we would go to drink hot chocolate, eat our favorite Christmas snack and pose for the traditional "family in front of the Christmas tree" picture.

The Revelry

Because without a home or furniture and 2 weeks left in Dubai, we temporarily perched ourselves up high in a furnished apartment and attempted to make the most of our last days by wringing out every last bit of fun from Dubai before we left. 

           Life sized Gingerbread Houses and a Christmas tea with my Girl!


5K Color Run

Lunches with the Girls

 Late night chats would be followed by sleepy eyed school drop off

The Reflecting
 It seems only appropriate that our last few weeks in Dubai were spent up in the clouds overlooking the sights from a high rise.  It was a sort of poetic ending to our Dubai life.  Chris and i first viewed Dubai from this same hotel and view over 2 years ago to decide if we would indeed move our family and life here.  From this reflective vantage point we were able to get a birds eye view of our soon to be past life.  We replayed memories with friends through a game of eye spy and reflected on all the ways this move to Dubai has woven itself into our lives. 

Dubai Marina

A move to me is much like a well written book.  The lives of characters unfold within a unique setting between a clearly defined beginning and end.  It is only at the closing of the cover at the end of the book that the reader is able to fully grasp how the characters have grown, changed and developed within that story.  A truly good book always calls for a bit of self reflecting and makes you look forward to the next read ahead.  

Not only have our kids grown physically but they have experienced new cultures and have been stretched out of their comfort zone which i pray will imprint their character with compassion and courage.


Both Kyle and the Twisty Tower grew up before our eyes

In the end before the closing of the book and the actual Sifting of Sand there were lots of Parties, Hugs, Tears and Sad Farewells

followed by

We find ourselves in yet another part of the world, New Zealand.  It's not Dubai and not the US, it is new people, new culture and a new life.   We have lots of time together as a family to bond as we learn, sift and explore this new setting together.

Waiting for the Sand to Settle...
We are excited to say we have finally found a house and we can't wait to move in which is a major first step to the settling. Unfortunately for my Selfish side we will have to continue to wait a bit longer as our sea shipment isn't expected to be delivered until Jan 31st after it has cleared customs.  Apparently my Character side still needs a bit of a workout as i continue to learn patience and contentedness.  The good news is we have the great outdoors to explore and Chris has settled in his job and loves it! 

(Just to clarify his job description is not frisbee and beaches but that is pretty much how he feels about going to work) 

With this move we will be able say we have lived in all four hemispheres of the world and as we are finding our way in settling into another good book, i am anxiously awaiting to see how the story unfolds and how God develops the characters. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Finding our Bearings

Alright, i know, i need to change the name of the blog.  We are no longer in Arabia.  But the kids and i have also only been in NZ for 12 days and i can't say we i exactly feel settled anywhere.  Our last 2 weeks in Dubai were spent at breakneck speed with activities and events all day long and late into the night.  We went from a figurative 200 mph lifestyle to a complete dead stop here in NZ and i am still trying to get my bearings.  Side note: i just so happen to really like that idiom phrase since it is defined as "based on the literal meaning of bearings (your position in relation to other things)."

Things are good, we are just in a major transition.  i've started 3 different blog posts and can't seem to complete any of them.  One was about the adjustments of moving, one was about sad goodbyes in Dubai and one was about typical life in New Zealand.   i figure i will just jump in and start with this one...
My flight over with the kids went something like this.
Flight # EK418 was a 19 hour flight.  Just me the kiddos and 6 pieces of luggage.  Dubai to Sydney~ plane change in Sydney then Sydney to Auckland.  No problem we were ready.  That is until we reached the actual boarding gate and the final destinations were flashing as TWO places we were NOT heading to.  Bangkok and Christchurch?!

i was assured by the agent this was indeed the correct flight.  Just board the plane to Bangkok/Christchurch.  "You will stop at Bankok, get off, go through customs and get back on the exact same plane.  Then you will stop at Sydney (even though there is NO mention of a plane stop in Sydney) where you will get off go through customs.  Flight 418 will continue on to Christchurch but you will change airlines to fly to Auckland."  Awesome.  Our flight became a 24 hour flight just like that.  Meanwhile Chris is texting me, "That can't be right!  Don't get on that plane!!"  Yep!  It was a pretty great start to our move.  In the end we did get there as the agent advised just NOT as was listed on the original booking.  We each watched about 8 movies, ate 7 meals, reminisced about our time in Bangkok LAST Christmas while actually IN Bangkok, slept about 3 hours and had our feet in 4 different countries.

Needless to say my thoughts are all over the place but let it be known....
We are officially all in NZ!

Chris was amazing and set up our tiny temporary place (and by that i mean it better be temporary or we may not all make it out alive).  He earned extra husband points for not only having the apartment fully stocked with goods, but he also bought and put up a completely decorated Christmas tree!  Notice the silver shiny presents underneath, he invented a new form of gift wrapping...Tin Foil!  It matches the tree and can be done without scissors and tape.  Great additions to the presents i had pre-wrapped and sent from Dubai.

Moving internationally during the holidays is not something i recommend.  i think we are super blessed to be able to see so many different parts of the world but Christmas in a new country where you know not a soul can be a bit lonely.  Thankfully i have a wonderful little family that surrounds me and for my birthday i was treated to text and Facetime conversations from friends in multiple time zones and countries.  My Cup Half Full says living in another hemisphere is great because now i can find a friend to call or text at any hour of the day or night.  We now have multiple time zones to work with. 21 hours ahead of California and 9 hours ahead of Dubai.  

For now i can tell you that NZ is quiet, with scenic green hills and beautiful oceans.  Running here is amazing but tough as everything is directly uphill or downhill no in-between.  

A NZ summer can be colder than Dubai's winter which is funny because many people have been cheering my "summer" Christmas.  If only they knew so far most of the time i am in a sweatshirt whilst everyone else here is swimming in the ocean.... Brrrr!

We have been exploring areas and house hunting.  We will be renting during our time here and are learning that kiwi homes are very different from those in the states.  The other day a real estate agent poked fun at how "you Americans sure love your bathrooms" because we requested to look at homes with more than just one bathroom.  Future visitors to our NZ home take note!  

And while we are on the subject, i will address the International House Hunter Question.  (SPOILER ALERT: For those of you that are die hard fans you may want to skip to the next paragraph)  Everyone asks, "Why don't you apply for the show!?"  Well, prior to our Dubai move the kids FINALLY wore me down and convinced me to submit an application into the show. Honestly, it was something that just seemed dreadful to me.  Trying to find a house with camera crews following your every move and thought around a foreign country to replay every moment to the entire world?!  Not my idea of fun.  Add into the mix that Chris kept saying if we DID get on he would do all sorts of things to cause distraction and conflict.  Shocking right?!  ANYWAYS, we heard nothing from them.  That is until we were in Germany while on our way home from a trip to CA.  We had been living in Dubai for 9 months.  House Hunters Int'l emailed me and wanted to film our family.  i emailed her back and told her sorry but it was too late, we have already made the move, sold our home in CA and found a house in Dubai.  We went back and forth in emails as she was trying to convince us to still film and assured us they could still make it all work if we would just come back to California within the next month.  Seeing as we had JUST left CA 3 weeks prior, Chris has to work, they wanted us to fly back on our dime and the thought of PRETENDING to try to find a house with camera crews following your every move and thought around a foreign country to replay every moment to the entire world sounded even more horrible than the original, we politely declined.  Now you know.  (Our real Dubai hunt was blogged here.)
 Obviously we are still making our way in NZ.  The area is lovely while seeming foreign in yet a different way than Dubai did.  Oddly enough i feel like one foot is still partially planted in Dubai since we are still trying to navigate this area.  The fact that NZ shuts down almost completely for 2 weeks over Christmas has been a challenge for me as its hard to start feeling like this really will be home.  Chris on the other hand feels completely at home here and even has mastered the "other side of the road" driving while i am happy to be able to walk most places.  The kids love it as there are so many outdoor places to play.     

We are excited for the adventures ahead and are waiting to settle into a more permanent home.  Looking forward to see what is in store for 2014!