Friday, December 16, 2011

Get Out There

Twenty years from now you will be
more disappointed by the things that 
you didn't do than by the ones you did.
So throw off the bowlines, sail away 
from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds
in your sails.  
Explore.  Dream.  Discover

Mark Twain

I drive a 1994 honda mini van to work every day.  Five of us live in a house with one shower and no heat despite a fairly cold winter.  We have a used tv bought for $50 and looks like something the Flinstones used and no video game console.  Jenny hangs all of our laundry out to dry because our dryer barely works.  Life has never been so good.  I had high expectations for what life was to be like in New Zealand which is an approach that is most often a set up for disappointment.  I am happy to say that my expectations have been exceeded in every way.

I spent a good part of my early adult life living by the carpe diem philosophy.   Seize the day, right.  Live for the moment, let the future sort itself out later.  That works quite well when you are young, single, and only have to provide a few bucks each month to take care of rent, a couple of frozen pizzas and a few beers.  At some point I realized that it is the times in life when things are going the best, maybe the easiest, that you should begin to look for the next challenge.  One can live each day to the fullest but also should look at where they are and where they want to be in twenty years.  We had a great life in Kansas City.  Not much for scenery but we had family, a good neighborhood with great friends, and I had a job I  enjoyed, working with people I will always love and respect.  More than one person asked me why I would want to move my family away from all we had and out of the country.  My response was usually something about taking the family on an adventure.  I have found that it is the challenges in life that make us grow and become more flexible.  This has been an experience we have all grown from both individually and as a family.  I have always felt that travel and seeing how others live makes me a better person.  Not better than the next person per se but better than the person I used to be, and I can use all the help.

 I am very fortunate to have a job that is fairly portable and of some need here in NZ, but I am most fortunate to have an amazing family that was up for the challenge of moving abroad.  For me coming here was a piece of cake.  I had a job lined up, a schedule to adhere to, doing a job that is ultimately the same as back home.  All I had to do was show up on time learn that tylenol is called paracetamol and start seeing patients.  Jenny deserves all of the credit for how smoothly things have gone here.  I know this is no surprise to anyone but she is truly an amazing woman.  She is very good at adapting, making friends and looking out for her kids.  Most importantly she worked tirelessly upon our arrival to make sure the kids settled in quickly at school, had friends and things to do.  Within weeks she knew most of the other mothers was volunteering time at the school, had the kids involved in some sort of activity, and was coaching the 5 year old basketball team.   She also quickly learned how to navigate through foreign grocery stores with unknown product names and has created some of the best home cooked meals I have ever had.  With a limited budget Jenny visited all the thrift and second hand stores around to make our unfurnished rental a home.  All that and she had time to train for and run a 1/2 marathon on the hilliest course imaginable. I am amazed by her and how she has met this challenge and have fallen in love with her all over again.    

The kids too have really impressed me.  They walked into school in a new country in the middle of the school year and have really thrived.   Owen was a bit nervous at first and even shed a few tears walking into school for the first two weeks because he felt ignored by the other kids.  He never once complained and would bravely walk into school trying his hardest to hold back tears.  Six months later he is now regarded as the class clown, gets chased around the playground by all the girls and gets invited to everyones birthdays.  Skyler was pretty much comfortable from day 1 as she has alway been able to make friends easily.  She has taken dance class and with a group of kids, performed in front of  a large audience recently and did a phenomenal job.  Lindsey too has made many friends and has been to many slumber parties with her fellow year sevens.  She has been able to do horseback riding once a week as well.   I think she has found something she is passionate about as she will go willingly to ride even in the coldest or nastiest weather.  She also enjoys, even in the cold weather, to throw on a wetsuit and go boogie boarding.  I have always deeply loved my children but I have a new found respect for them and what they are capable of.  

In short, whatever the future holds, this has been an experience that has brought us closer together as a family.  We will always have memories of road trips, not all good by the way (see Road to nowhere piece), beautiful scenery and adventures not readily available at home.  Wherever they go the kids should  be able to look back with pride at how well they adapted at living in a foreign land.

My advice to anyone reading this is to get out of your comfort zone from time to time.  You don't necessarily have to move abroad but actively seek out challenge for yourselves and your families.  Picture yourselves in 10 or even 20 years.  What will the future you have wanted to see or do in that time frame.  Actively attempt to do them and you will have no regrets.  Granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, new cars or houses are nice but they can wait.  What is life but a collection of memories, relationships and experiences, both good and bad.  These are what make us the people we are.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Brad had a medical conference in Sydney, so the kids and I were lucky enough to tag along and keep him company. We  went with another family that has become our very close friends. They are from Canada and Brian works in the ER with Brad. They have two kids, Jasper, who is 6, and Keira, who is 3. Owen and Jasper are very close almost like cousins, and Daryl the Mom has become my JJ, Brandi, Shelley, and Kim all rolled into one. She is a doll and I love her to pieces. Daryl and I spent the days with the kids while the men were at the conference. Brad could hardly stand though not  going to the exhibits with us so he would usually meet us and run back to the conference to try and fit in a lecture or two. Brad lived in Sydney for 2 months back in 1992 to play in a Rugby League, so he was looking forward to revisiting the city and I was excited about seeing Sydney for the first time. 
We pulled the kids out of school for 6 days, which is easy to do here in Oakura because the school values family travel time and understands the importance of it. Most educators agree that travel is more meaningful and engaging than school assignments, and the best learning moments are sparked by our surroundings and our time together. So when we returned to school this past Monday the kids were not handed stacks of paper work that was missed nor was there any pressure to make-up missed work. They were simply asked to write about their trip and share with the class. So simple but yet so logical.  
 We decided to splurge and fly Emirates. Since Emirates hub is Dubai, we knew we might not get the chance again to fly them once we got back to the states. Brad really wanted to fly in the biggest commerical plane in the sky which is the A380. This plane was so comfortable and modern that we actually did not want to get off the plane when it was time to disembark. I went to the bathroom 4 times, only because it was so beautiful (wood paneling) and smelled so good!! The entertainment system was incredible, as it had 1,500 channels. Any and every movie was available to watch, as well as video games and news from around the world. The airplane had camera's on the front, rear and bottom so we could watch the plane take-off and land from different angles. The whole upstairs was private suites, which included spa showers, bars and beds with mattresses. We could only imagine how the rich and famous travel because as we loaded the plane and walked past the stairs that led up to the first class, the flight attendents were standing there with trays of wine. We all must of looked up with some sort of expression that was saying "please" but the stewadress sadly and very gently shook her head at us as if saying "don't even think about coming up those stairs."
 I got up early Saturday morning before the kids woke up and went for a long run, and this is what I saw as I rounded the corner. I did not have a map on me, but I knew I was running in the direction of the Opera house so I came around the corner and saw the Opera house for the first time it blew me away. It was emotional to get to actually see something that we have all seen pictures of since we were kids, espically something as iconic as the Sydney Opera House. Running is the best way to soak in the sensations of theses new destinations and to explore them as fully as possible. I talked Brad into getting up with me the next morning (and I needed his internal GPS system) and running across the Harbour Bridge. We had a great run and enjoyed being a part of the early morning rush of walker's and runner's who use the bridge as part of their daily commute.

Eating lunch at the outdoor plaza @ Manly. 

These last few pictures were taken at Manly Beach. Manly is a 30 minute ferry ride from central Sydney.  The beach is spectular with water as blue and clear as Hawaii. The currents here and at the next beach we visit (Bondi) are crazy. They have some serious rip tides and the currents travel in all different directions. I did not take my eyes off the kids as they swam and played on boogie boards, since Australia is notorious for shark attacks!! I felt some relief that the lifeguards were patrolling the water (they would go out in their motorized raft), and they were strict about keeping swimmers between two flags marking a relatively small space.

Bondi Icebergs Club

On the famous walkway between Bondi and Congee they were having a Sculpture by the Sea exhibit.  There were hundreds of people on the walkway as a result of the art work, and as Daryl and I approached the top part of the walk we noticed the crowd had thickened and there were tons of police and photographers about. There was a roped off area, and there were a lot of paparazzi  taking pictures of some people in this roped off area. So I start taking pictures also, not sure who I am taking pictures of but I knew it must be someone important since everyone else is! I finally ask the European couple next to me "who are we staring at?' They looked at me like I was from Mars and kindly answered "Princess Mary and Prince Frederik of Denmark." So it was fun to watch this Danish Royal family roam about. I never did get a good picture of the couple, I wish I would of though because they are a very handsome couple. 

Daryl, Keira and I on the walkway between Bondi and Coogee.

Bondi reminded me of a European beach with it's older buildings and the rock faces. 

Daryl and I got the biggest kick out of this guy! His swimsuit says "Piping Hot" across his ass.  

These last few pictures are of Bondi beach. Bondi beach lived up to it's reputation as a grown-up playground crowded with beautiful bodies sunbathing, surfing and partying. The kids once again loved catching waves on their boogie boards. The people watching on this beach was spectacular, I was totally entertained by the crowds. 

Indiana Owen or Crocodile Hunter Owen?

These last few pictures are of Sid. Sid is the Koala that we had our Koala encounter with, he looked as if he had eaten way to many eucalyptus leaves. However this is what I learned about Sid and other Koala's at Sydney Wild life "Contrary to popular belief, eucalyptus leaves do not make koalas drunk. Koalas appear drunk or lazy because they have developed a low-energy lifestyle to compensate for their extremely low-energy diet." What a bummer!! I liked the idea that this fat, lovable species was perpetually buzzed!! This experience was mainly for Skyler , as she has always wanted to hold, and or pet a Koala. 

Shot taken from the Sydney Sky Tower

 These were shots taken at the Botanical Gardens. Those things hanging in the trees are known as "flying foxes," which are  a type of fruit bat. They took up residence in the gardens when much of the forest habitat was lost to farming. When you look up there are thousands of these bats hanging upside down, and flying around. It was an awesome sight, I have never seen anything like it.  Lindsey thought they were cute, and they strangely were as they spread their wings and flexed their bones. At dusk the city sky is full of them flying by along with native white cockatoos. We also came across a Hibicious tree which was home to about 100 rainbow Lorikeet.

There is a Harbour Bridge walk that takes you on the outside of the bridge, up one side and down to the other. On the left side of the Bridge there are a group of people doing the walk, they look like ants in this picture. 

The Opera House was a short walk from the Botanical Gardens
Eating dinner on a wet night in China Town. 
We rented a two bedroom apartment in Darling Harbour for the week and once we arrived we were quite disappointed in the cleanliness of the apartment. The sofa was filthy, dirty walls and the AC did not work. So I very kindly ask the Hotel manager up to our apartment, and let him know how disappointed we were with the quality of the room. We do have pretty low standards but for $400 a night this place was not acceptable. The manager agreed with me and moved us into another apartment. Well, he moved us into a Penthouse apartment with our own terrace and 360 degree views of the city. It was awesome, so awesome that we had to tell the kids to never expect to stay in a penthouse again, but we were going to enjoy every minute of it!! 

view from the "Penthouse"

Brad and I were shocked to see a Krispy Kreme store in the Sydney Train Station, but the kids were ecstatic to eat something familiar, and reminded them of home. 

Two amiogos taking a siesta on the train ride to Canberra

Thanksgiving dinner with good friends. We had delicious steak, roasted vegetables, salad and apple crisp for dessert. 

This is the roof of Parliament House

Brad and Chris
We have good friends that line in Canberra which is only 3 hours west of Sydney so we hopped on a train and go and visit. Brad and Chris were on the Snowmass Ski Patrol together for about 8 years. His wife Kylie (she is from Australia and the two meet while she was on vacation in Aspen) and I hung out together in Aspen. This was 15 years ago, so it was really special to get to meet their 3 beautiful daughters and spend some time together in the capital city of Canberra. Chris was an excellent tour guide as he showed us around the city and took us into the capital building and the National Museum, we even got up close and personal with a few kangaroos. It was a treat for Brad and I to put away the guide books and let someone else show us the city. We enjoyed the Becvarik's hospitality, espically the chocolate pudding and homemade waffles. We hope to return the favor in NZ sometime.  

On our last night in Sydney we were lucky enough to enjoy Darling Harbour's "Santa Fest," which was a  water parade in the harbour and an amazing firework display. It was a fitting farewell for us as it marked the end of another great holiday here in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Brad and I both agree that Sydney might be our favorite international city. It is urban, yet easy to get around, flashy yet laid back. It is also one of the most kid friendly cities we have ever visited. We were staying in a busy harbour  next to the central business district where there is a sprawling playground, and easy ferry access. Catching ferries the way you catch cabs or subways in other cities is one of Sydney's Charms. There was not any attitude as one might encounter in some other American cities, nor was there   swarms of people rushing about, but yet there was a constant buzz in the air. There was quite a large Asian population, and the only Aboriginal I saw was on a postcard. I loved the bustling waterfront shops, exhibits, restaurants and of course boats, boats everywhere!! And the best part about Sydney is the famous beaches, and the surf culture that surrounds them. The fashion in Sydney reminded me of what going clubbing back in the 80's might of looked like. High heels, tube tops, and some mighty tight dresses. It was quite a change from the laid back, understated and earthy kiwi fashion. The city had more of an American feel to it than where we are living in NZ, and that felt good after being away from home for 5 months. I even found a store that sold pop-tarts for a mere $11 and we all went to Hard Rock Cafe and ate some good ole fashion american hamburgers (hamburgers in NZ are made with bread crumbs and are served with a beet root on top), and we came across a Gap store. We all enjoyed our time in the city and look forward to going back one day.