Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another Trip Around the Sun

Friday, December 31st, 2010
New Year's Eve

The sun returned to us on Wednesday, so Matt and I have spent the last couple days of 2010 soaking up the brilliantly bright sunshine. On Wednesday the wind was still up so even a short walk on the beach proved chilly, but back here at the Wavehaven it is much more sheltered, so we spread out towels in the backyard and lay in the sun tanning for an hour or so in the afternoon. The sun was HOT! A nice change from our weeks of rain and storms. On Wednesday night we went to see Fat Freddy's Drop, New Zealand's most well known band. They are incredible, and while they can sell out huge venues, they like to play the little small town places, so we only had to drive the 3 km into Oakura to see them! It was a glorious concert, they are absolutely stellar musically, a really seamless group that plays a fusion of funk, dub, electronica, and reggae using various keyboards, guitars, and a fantastic brass section. We had a great time, but all the smoke in the air under the big tent at the venue led to me waking up with a full blown cold the next morning. I had been fighting off a minor one since Boxing Day, but the late night and the smoke put it over the edge. I feel fine besides my clogged up sinuses!

We've been staying pretty busy here at the hostel. Almost every room was full up with Jono's family and other guests for the days after Christmas, but everyone cleared out on Wednesday so we've had plenty to do with sorting out the rooms, making beds, and doing load after load of house laundry. We're now enjoying the company of four guys who are staying a few days, from Scotland, England, and Canada.

Yesterday I got up early to find Matt already up and making me a delicious breakfast of streaky bacon, a very tasty omelet, toast with lemon curd, and coffee- a wonderful surprise! After breakfast on the sunny deck, we headed off for Back Beach, where Matt put in over two hours of surfing while I had a lovely ramble along the beach, discovered a trail along the top of the cliffs over the beach, and sat in the sun on the rocks.
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Back Beach is surrounded by some really amazing cliffs.

 Paritutu Rock at the north end of Back Beach

View south from Back Beach. The very furthest headland is the point at Weld Road, near the Wavehaven.

We will ring in 2011 tonight here at the Wavehaven in good company, and those of us down here in New Zealand get the privilege of being some of the first in the world to greet the new year!

2010 has been quite the year. It's been a year of amazing growth for me and Matt, and included the marriage of my brother to my awesome sister-in-law, plus the weddings and first babies and other big life changes for many of my friends. It was the year I was accepted into graduate school. It has been a year of gardens, learning new skills, fun jobs, new friends, surfing, family reunions, camping, and all kinds of great memories. It has also been the first full year in which I have blogged regularly! There have been ups and downs this year, of course, but it's the good stuff that stands out. Particularly, 2010 was the year in which Matt and I decided that we were game for the challenge of living abroad together for 8 months, and dove into the work it took to make that happen. We quit our jobs, packed our U.S. lives away into a storage unit, and flew 7,000 or so miles from home to chase summer. Now we've spent over three months in Aotearoa and have had the kinds of adventures and experiences that we'll remember forever, and seen some of the most incredible places in this corner of the world. I'd say 2010 has been a success.

We will spend most of the first half of 2011 here in The Land of the Long White Cloud, going home at the end of May, and I will start working towards my Masters of Public Health at the end of September. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess what 2011 will hold for us. I'm looking forward to finding out!

So here's to the old year gone, and a fresh new one on the doorstep, full of potential. I hope you all enjoy your next trip around the sun, and may it include friendship, laughter, good health, adventure, and happiness for all, mixed in with the hurdles that will undoubtedly test all of us along the way.


"We twa ha'e ran aboot the braes & pu'd the gowans fine
We've wandered many a weary foot sin auld lang syne.

And here's a hand my trusty frien' & gie's a hand o' thine
        We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet for auld lang syne..."        
-Robert Burns

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dreams and Schemes

Wednesday, 29th December, 2010
Oakura, New Zealand

*(Somehow I've gone almost 2 months without realizing that I was pronouncing "Oakura" wrong. I've just never heard a local say it until a few days ago- everyone here calls it "The Village." It is, in fact, "oh-AHK-oo-rah." Who knew?)

With all the downtime Matt and I have had here in Taranaki, we've been doing a lot of reading, researching, brainstorming, and generally thinking about what kinds of things we'd like to have in our life when we get home to the states and in the more distant future. We aren't in a position to make any concrete plans at the moment, but this time of no work and lots of relaxation has encouraged us both to think about what dreams and goals we have for our future and what kinds of things we'd like out of our life. We've checked out loads of books from the library in New Plymouth, read all kinds of blogs, and talked endlessly about our ideas and inspirations. It's all still just in dream form, but since a lot of it ties in with simple living and some of the things I've written about in the past, I thought I'd share a bit of it here, with Matt's blessing.

The next two years after we get home will involve me being in school, which will ideally be a time for both of us to learn and absorb as much as we can about public health, farming, nutrition, conservation, green living, environmental impact, and all kinds of skills like carpentry, construction, animal husbandry, land management, and all manner of other things that will help us be as self-sufficient as possible. Long term ideas involve a small farm in the Willamette Valley, strawbale and earthbag buildings, a B&B/Farmstay where we can educate our guests about the benefits of local economy and fresh natural food, and taking over a farm whose owner can no longer work the land but wants to ensure that it remains in use for farming.

I've been thinking a lot about budgeting, simple living skills, frugality, and self sufficiency for a variety of reasons. I already do a lot of these things but aspire to do more, because they are good for the earth, the economy, my health and that of my family, and, I believe, for the community. However, also on my mind is the fact that next fall I will be entering a 2 year Masters Degree program without much in the way of savings to pay for it. I have been prepared to go into debt for this degree since before I took the GREs, but I want to stack up as little debt as possible, and that means keeping as much of what I earn as I can, and putting that toward school loans, and eventually towards buying property. The more I can make with my own hands rather than pay for, and the more I can cut costs in my life, the faster I will get out of debt and the sooner I will be able to own a home and be financially secure.

Here are some notes I've scribbled in my journal while reading various simple living blogs for inspiration:

When I get home- find time for:
-Making bread regularly
-Making granola again!
-Try making my own soap and household cleaners (should have tried this long ago)
-Making household linens as needed
-Handmake all gifts

School expenses: make do with what I have, buy textbooks secondhand if at all possible, use the library and sites like to their full advantage!
-don't buy new school supplies unless absolutely necessary. I know I have a big stash of paper and pens back home, there's no reason not to use those- duh, but I need the reminder. New school supplies are enticing!
-ALWAYS pack lunch. If I want coffee, I need to take it with me in a thermos.
-Do my very best to land a general assistantship at school, i.e. lowered tuition

It might seem funny that we are spending so much time thinking about life back home while we are over here, but I am really happy that we are getting the inspiration from our time here- we have had more experiences with farming than we've ever had before, are witnessing a totally different way of life and attitude towards agriculture, and being so far away from home and a place to call our own makes us that much more aware of what we want from home when we get there.

Of course, we know almost nothing about what our situation will be when we get home- we'll be pretty poor, will have to find work and a place to live, and really have no idea what is in store for us, apart from the fact that I will start school at the end of September. But apart from our ideas for the more distant future, most of the things we've been discussing are things we can put into practice no matter where we end up. Of course we'd love to rent a house where we can have a big garden and chickens and have the place to ourselves, but whether we get that or whether we end up with a tiny apartment with 15 square feet of yard space, we will be able to live simply, cook well and shop effectively, make things for ourselves rather than buy them, and lead a purposeful and deliberately frugal but full life.

It does seem a little incongruous to be talking about lack of spending and all while we are over here on a journey that is almost guaranteed to be a money suck, but honestly I don't regret a single cent that has gone towards our experience in New Zealand. We are learning so much, are meeting so many amazing people and seeing such incredible places, and we are getting exactly what we hoped to get from this trip- farming experience, loads of surfing, and shaking all the sillies out so going home and being settled sounds really good. And we have a good deal more of this journey in front of us before we return to the states, and I am glad for that. It's just really fun to look forward to what we want from life when we get back stateside! Sometimes it takes being far away from everything you know to put everything in perspective and make you see what it is you really want.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Very Kiwi Christmas

Merry Christmas!

We had a wonderful sunny Christmas with good company yesterday, complete with a barbecue, cricket, playing with lots of littles, drinking lots of champagne, soaking in the hot tub under a clear starry night, and ending with Matt bagging hist first possum on a late-night expedition with Merv! All in all, a wonderful time!

Matt and I had agreed that we weren't going to give each other presents this Christmas, but I couldn't resist and filled his stocking with a couple treats/souvenirs for both of us, and he was nicely surprised on Christmas morning!
We'll probably use the potholder forever, and hopefully keep the tiki ornament our whole lives. The chocolates were ones we also sent to our folks back home, but hadn't tried ourselves. It turns out I can't stand the feijoa one, but Matt likes it. The flavor is too musky for me. I hope my family likes it...
The wine was our gift to Merv & Michele. It's from a winery just a few minutes from their farm, and is a delicious boysenberry wine that Michele had recommended to us last time we were there.

The farm from the road above- cool locale, isn't it?

We headed out to the farm at 11 AM, and met Merv's parents and his brother and sister-in-law and their three kids, as well as Merv's nephew from Darwin, Australia. All in all we had five nationalities represented, since Michele is Canadian by birth, we are from the States, and Merv's sister-in-law Angie is from Austria. Instead of a heavy afternoon meal, the traditional Kiwi summer Christmas meal is a good old "barbie" and lighter food instead of a roast dinner. The Kiwi Christmas also apparently involves a lot of drinking, so there was a steady stream of champagne, wine, beer, and bourbon & coke flowing all day!
Merv, master of the barbecue.

My dinner plate: new potatoes, ham, salmon & pasta salad, green salad, chicken kebabs, sausage, steak, focaccia bread, and chickpea salad.

Dessert: Tip Top ice cream (naturally), fruit, and Angie's incredible homemade tiramisu.

 Our youngest Christmas compatriot. 

 The kids' table, and Buddy, hoping for spills!

The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking, munching on leftovers, chatting, enjoying the sun, and watching Merv, his brother and the older kids partake in a game of cricket/baseball that was very entertaining.

Michele, John, and the youngest girls.

I feel very lucky to have been invited to share in a family Christmas celebration, and we had a wonderful time. The adults were really good fun and we had some great conversations. The children were amazing, very friendly, and hilariously clever. I was given one-year-old duty for awhile, read "The Three Little Pigs" to the 3-year-old, and the two eldest serenaded us with their versions of various Christmas songs, mostly involving Santa getting stuck in the chimney.

After all the relatives took off, the remaining four of us headed out to the wood-fired hot tub, on what turned out to be a completely clear night. Even well after the sun went down, we could still see Mt. Taranaki through the darkness:

With zero light pollution, the sky was packed with millions of stars, and we had tremendous views of Orion and the Southern Cross and saw loads of shooting stars. What a way to spend Christmas. By midnight, I was totally exhausted, and headed for bed, but Merv took Matt out with the spotlight and a .22 to see if they could bag some rabbits or possum. They are major pests to farmers here, and possums in particular are incredibly destructive to New Zealand's environment. Have no fear, though- Matt did his part to aid conservation efforts in New Zealand by shooting his first possum.

 Coffee and possum, anyone?

I know it might seem a little out-of-place to have these photos along with our Christmas celebration here, but every farmer in New Zealand shoots possums on a regular basis, and it's pretty much a part of daily life. We think it's pretty awesome that Merv & Michele made every attempt to give us the ultimate Kiwi experience, and this is definitely part of it!

This morning we all went out into the pasture to shift the cows onto some new grass (which is growing wonderfully now that we've had so much rain) and I took a few pictures of the stock and the gorgeous green country.
 Look closely and you can see Matt on the left, rolling up the electric fence. 

The beautiful valley below the farm. 
We came back to the Wavehaven early this afternoon, and I've been resting and writing while Matt is down surfing. An epic swell came in this morning, and when we went down to Ahu Ahu a few hours ago, there were about 30 surfers out in the various lineups, and load of cars and families having their Boxing Day picnic at the beach. I'm still pretty tired and am enjoying the quiet here, and the awesome memories from our Kiwi Christmas! Also, incidentally, this was the first Christmas that Matt and I have spent together. It was definitely a good one. Today it's Christmas back in the U.S., and here's hoping you all have a wonderful day and enjoy yourselves as thoroughly as we did!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sun, a Hike, and Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve 2010
Oakura, NZ

Happily, the sun came back to us for the day yesterday! We got a nice warm, if windy, day in the midst of all the rain (which is back today) and took full advantage by spending most of it outside! We hit the beach at Weld Road just before noon, at the highest of high tides I've ever seen there. The full moon is making the tides very extreme, and the ocean was invading the river and leaving very little beach out of the water. It was sunny and blowing 12-15 knots, and throwing out some crazy waves and currents. Matt headed out for a surf, but the conditions were beyond my ability. With the river too deep to wade across, I found a back way across a bridge and through a paddock to get to the south side of the river mouth, where I sat in the hot sand and watched the surfers and the waves.
(Click on photos to enlarge)

 Crossing the paddock, a not uncommon way to access the surf in New Zealand!

 Carpark and river mouth at Weld Road. Gorgeous, eh?

 VERY high tide!

With the surf not particularly manageable, we decided after lunch to take a hike we'd been meaning to do for some time, but needed to be done on a clear day. We drove up into Egmont National Park, literally across the road (if you look at a map of Taranaki, you will see that the national park is perfectly circular around the mountain, except for a blobby bit on the northwest side- that bit reaches to about 800 metres from the Wavehaven). We went up Lucy's Gully to the trailhead for the hike up to Patuhua, the highest point in the Kaitake Range, some of the foothills of Mt. Taranaki. On a side note, we recently found out that Lucy's Gully is named after an old Maori woman called Lucy, who lived in this area from 1820-1916. Her husband and son were buried in the woods just across the road from here, and every year Lucy would make the trip from Oakura to keep a solitary tangi (funeral observance) at the site, then would recover from the ordeal with her friend who lived in this very house. We've heard tell that her spirit actually is still around, and there have been a number of guests over the years who have seen her ghost in the back bedroom- which happens to be ours! No worries, though- by all accounts, she was quite a cool lady, doted on all the local children and was a very strong character, so would be quite a positive spirit to have around :) When she passed away in the early 20th century, she was buried up in the gully next to her husband and son.

The hike we took yesterday is a loop track, with a spur up to the summit of Patuha. It turned out to be quite a gnarly trek, but well worth it for the views and for the exercise! It was almost all through the dense native bush, full of crazy vines, tree ferns, and loads of songbirds, New Zealand pigeons, and tuis.

 If you enlarge this photo, you will see me up at the top- the trail was VERY step almost all the way up, and slippery from the recent rain. Luckily, some kind soul had left two nice hiking sticks at the trailhead, which we used and then left in turn for the next trampers.

 Matt, off-roading.

 View of Oakura Village from about a third of the way up.

Loads of amazing fungi on the trees.

It was about an hour and a half of uphill hiking to get up to the top. We didn't manage to make it all the way to the summit- we were totally knackered when we hit a rocky open area with fantastic views, and decided to call it good, since we had a pretty decent hike to get back down!

 Not bad for the 23rd of December!

 Matt, keeping Portland weird, as usual. 

 New Plymouth, from the top.

 Patuha, with Mt. Taranaki hiding behind it.

An immense erratic and landslip in the gully below the summit.

At some points, the trail was a bit hard to find. Can you tell where it is in this photo?
Matt of the jungle. 

On the way down, via the other side of the loop, we came around a corner not too far above the trailhead, and found ourselves in a gorgeous redwood grove, with a completely open understory, far different from the thick, tangled bush we spent most of the hike in. We had a major moment of "Hey, wait- are we in California?"

It was almost 7 pm, and the evening light coming through the trees was incredible. 

It felt absolutely wonderful to get outside, and to give my body a good workout, even if it was a bit steeper than we bargained for! It felt like a really nice Christmas present, and Matt and I agreed that we felt pretty intrepid, and were grateful for the opportunity to take a hike that is not catered to tourists and is pretty far off the beaten track. What a way to spend one of the longest days of the year!

And with that, today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow morning we will head up to Merv & Michele's for a day and night to celebrate in true Kiwi fashion, while missing all of our family back home. We feel so grateful to have a bit of a surrogate family here in New Zealand, and also grateful that the forecast is calling for a clear and sunny Christmas Day before the rain really sets in again! Here's wishing you all a wonderful holiday, however you celebrate and whoever you may be celebrating with. May you all spend the day in good company, hopefully with lots of joy and laughter!