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Home Waters

Back on the water, Olympia, WA USA

We went sailing last weekend. It was late Sunday afternoon, on a friend’s small boat. We sailed back and forth in superlight summer breeze across the head of Olympia’s Budd Inlet. After a whirlwind past four months, we felt…done.

Back in May, still in New Zealand, we bought a house in our old, affordable Olympia neighborhood next to Capitol Forest, packed and shipped our stuff back to the U.S., moved Wondertime to the sales dock in Whangarei, kissed our good ship good-bye, took a quick RV trip up to Cape Reinga, jetted back to Washington State, signed our house papers, moved our eight bags in, unloaded our storage unit, bought some patio chairs, then sat back and listened to the birds twitter in the tops of our 7 acres of trees with a proper Pacific Northwest IPA in hand.

Was it as easy as that? God no. Many times during the process of returning home did I feel like I was going to explode into a thousand pieces. But it was necessary, and knowing that kept us going. Earlier this year, we tired of the struggle and pulled the plug. It was that simple. The lack of any kind of support system was wrecking havoc on our family. Struggling to make financial ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world was disheartening, with Michael trudging off to a well-paying job daily. We had to sneakaboard to sleep in our home. We couldn’t afford to visit our families, and they couldn’t afford to visit us. We missed them, and were sad they had missed so much of our girls growing up already. Our simple life aboard and abroad had become anything but. We love New Zealand so, it was a terrible decision to make.

Somehow, it all came together and we were back in Olympia by late May. In June, Michael started work again and the girls and I kept ourselves busy making our new house a home (o massive thrift shops! how I missed you!), rekindled old friendships, and played in our creek. It’s been a quiet summer: catching frogs, getting to know our new/old neighbors better, carving trails, camping in the backyard, fireworks, sprinklers, s’mores over the fire, watching the weeds grow. Settling back in. Missing New Zealand profoundly, as we knew we would. Everyone does.

It’s late August now, only two more weeks until school starts up. Michael’s been helping our good friend Garth (you might remember reading about him on our way south, he was our first brave crewmember) get the engine of his little Pearson 28 running before summer’s run out. We finally got the chance to head out with him last weekend, on a perfect PNW late-summer afternoon.

Sailing our favorite waters

Of course, the engine wouldn’t start when we got out to the boat. Not a problem for Michael MacGyver Johnson who jumped below, contorted his body in impossible ways in the tiny quarter cabin and rewired that sucker. He was determined to get us out on the water.

As expected, the engine purred to life soon after and we puttered out of the marina. In 5 knots of wind we put up the sails, cut the engine, and felt the weight of our world drop away at the so familiar sound of water trickling past the hull.

Leah had been below reading her kindle (having earlier refused to go out with us because “my sailing days are over” and “sailing is stupid”). She grabbed a life jacket and joined Holly on the bow. Not far ahead was Hope Island and she suddenly begged to go there, to see the Onion Tree once again, hike our trail again. We hated to break it to her that we were only out for a few hours, and besides we hadn’t a dinghy with us and weren’t going to swim ashore. Another day, we promised.

Sailing girls, Olympia

We zig-zagged back and forth several times, then Michael handed me the tiller. It had been a long, long time since I’d held a tiller on a small boat. Such a simple and true thing. Just a titch in one direction or the other and I could feel the exact moment when the boat was satisfied. I’d hold it there for a while, and then the wind would shift a bit, or change in velocity and I’d have to make the proper adjustment. Then we’d carry on.

With the tiller in my hand, I saw that everything I wanted is right here: two beautiful, happy children, a partner in life, love, and adventure who is willing to grow and change alongside me, a loving community, a cozy home, a daily shower, a desk of my own, cats sleeping under it, paid writing gigs, memories of grand adventures and seeds of more to come, and my beloved Salish sea, once again on our doorstep.

Our house. "It's shaped like a boat!" my Dad said when I emailed him the line drawings from NZ.

Our little house. “It’s shaped like a boat!” my Dad said when I emailed him the line drawings from NZ.

 

Brand new simple pleasures

 

Our backyard. No nature deficit disorder here.

Our backyard. No nature deficit disorder here. The creek will be filled with putrefying salmon come November. They swim from the ocean into Puget Sound, down into Mud Bay, and upstream to our little creek where they leave their little ones to grow.

 

My dream come true: a writing desk with a view

My dream come true: a writing desk with a view, and the sound of ravens outside.

 

Meet cat #3 (not a typo): Lulu. We love her.

Meet cat #3 (not a typo): Lulu. We love her. She joins Penny and Tui, older siblings we adopted from our local cat rescue.

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Our Family Adventure Podcast

Wondertime family at Cape Reinga, NZ

The team at Family Adventure Podcast recently contacted us to talk about our sailing journey and we are thrilled that the podcast is up! Listen to us muse aloud about why we left to go sailing when our youngest was still in Pull-ups, how we paid for it all, what living in New Zealand was like, why we left, and what we’ve been up to for the past few months and what’s next.

You can download the podcast from iTunes or directly here. And a HUGE thanks to our new friend-on-the-wrong-oops-I-mean-other-coast, Erik Hemingway for including us in his family’s project of inspiration. Do head over and listen to the other podcasts too but beware the wanderlust they will cause! Enjoy!

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A Good Voyage

last night at sea

Two years ago today we were sailing across the Pacific Ocean. Three adults, two kids on our 38-foot boat. We were almost there, in fact: the equatorial doldrums were behind us and the lush island of Hiva Oa was only four more sleeps away. The air was soft and warm. Our trusted ketch was charging along towards her landfall with the wind positioned perfectly on her side. The beam reach to paradise every sailor dreams of.

It still feels like a dream, even now. The kind you wake up from, disappointed to have been shaken out of it. You close your eyes and want to slide back into the land of dreams, back into the billows of sweetness that filled your sleep. But it’s slipped through your fingers and you’re suddenly wide awake and the dream is gone. But not really; the memory of it is vivid and it makes you smile as you lay there, remembering. The memory of it is enough.

It’s taken us two years to digest the enormity of the voyage we undertook when we departed Olympia in 2011. In a way, the past year and a half of sitting still has provided us more time for introspection than all the nights at sea put together. Truth be told, when we slipped into the dark Bay of Island waters, engineless, that night we arrived in New Zealand I knew the voyage was done. The four of us had succeeded, together, and made it safely to our destination with a million memories made along the way. Our dream had become real.

The satisfaction hasn’t waned since then. Sometimes I close my eyes and the memories are so vivid and real it’s like I’m right back there: snuggling in our bunk, reading to the girls as the boat rolls along with the swells, laughing late into the night with friends newly-met, Leah and Holly’s incredible sisterly bond, Holly dancing the hula in Bora Bora at 3, watching piglets scurry along a Tongan road, burying each other in beach sand because it’s the only thing we need to do that day.

I’ve wondered what our young daughters will remember of the journey, but now I know that’s not what’s important. They might not remember the details, but they each have gained a deep sense of possibility. They understand that you push onward through the challenges to get whatever it is you want. They are old enough to see the ones I plow through on a daily basis. They know there is so much more to see of the world, that it is a huge, fascinating place and we’re already dreaming up new adventures together, even if not aboard the deck of Wondertime. Leah wants to travel to India, Antarctica, and scuba dive in Fiji and I don’t doubt she will. Holly wants to be a singer and a dancer and we will help her make that real.

A few things have come to the forefront of the many hours of rumination Michael and I have shared together, and alone. What’s truly important is the lessons that we’ll all bring along with us in all our future endeavors. It’s not a long list, but it’s the only one we need:

The most important thing is the people who love us.

Life is everything.

This is true everywhere.

The open sea is not calling me as it once was. Just knowing she’s out there is enough. It’s time to go home. And give back.

landfall

Landfall, Hiva Oa. April 12, 2012.

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A New Adventure

I’ll write more later, but I just wanted to put a quick note up that we’ve officially put Wondertime on the market.

View her details here.

We’ve sailed as far as we needed to, but she’s ready to travel on with a new family.

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99.9% Lucky

Girls in paradise

Recently, I’ve seen a few cruising-related internet memes something along the lines of this: “It’s not luck, that I’m out sailing my yacht around in paradise. It’s 100% pure hard work.” This kind of rubs me the wrong way and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I mean, it is sort of true really: we could just be armchair sailors reading sea stories by the fireplace wondering what it’s really like out there. We could be living in a comfy cozy house with all our loved ones an hour or three drive or flight away, wondering what it would be like to be on the other side of the world, never having made the sacrifices to actually get here. It does take a whole shitload of work to set sail; read some of my entries from June 2011 for a trip down crazy-stress-but-in-a-very-good-kind-of-way memory lane. We sold everything, spent everything, we’ve sacrificed time with beloved family members and friends back “home.” But we had to do it. There just wasn’t any other option for us.

So, I understand the hard work part. But before we could even make the “hey, let’s go cruising” decision a whole lot of other stuff happened. I can’t see how I can attribute them to anything but “luck.”

First of all, we were born in the United States of America to average middle-class families. We weren’t born in Tonga, where the average worker earns about $25 USD per day. Or Mexico, where the average monthly wage is under USD$1000/month and typically far less. Very very few people in either place own yachts. You are very lucky if your family owns a small skiff. Not everyone in the U.S. is as lucky as us of course: an obscene amount of the American population are homeless and/or lives in poverty.

Michael and I were each born to parents that were university educated and had well-paying jobs. They taught us the love of reading at very early ages, encouraged us to do our best and study hard both in and out of school. We were expected to continue learning after high school graduation. Most of all, we were encouraged to follow our dreams and made to believe that we could do anything we wanted. Our parents taught us that the world was our oyster. Not everyone is so lucky to be born into supportive families like ours.

Michael was lucky that his parents took him cruising at 13 and sparked a dream to cruise with his own family.

I was lucky to log on to webpersonals.com in 1998 and spark up an “instant” message conversation with an interesting boy, which led to lunch at Dad Watsons in Fremont and 14 years of marriage.

It was our good fortune to land jobs in the IT field as the Seattle tech boom was exploding. This allowed us to buy our first yacht before either of us were 25.

We were lucky to be blessed with two perfectly healthy and delightful daughters.

I am lucky to still have my good health, despite almost 28 years of T1 diabetes.

We were lucky to sell our house in a downward-trending market. We’d put a lot of elbow grease into the property over the three years it was ours and were able to land enough profit to pay for a floating home and a trip across the Pacific.

In New Zealand, we feel outrageously lucky to be residents here now. We are friends with a family from Pakistan. Their daughter is the same age as Holly. They arrived here within days of us. The dad works with Michael at his IT company. It took them six years for New Zealand to approve their application for residency, the same process that took us six months. It’s hard to feel lucky, though, at something so unfair.

Things continue to happen, at a rather alarming pace, that are hurling us towards things that we’d envisioned but are now becoming real. It’s clear that we are exactly where we need to be. Maybe “luck” is not really the right word, but “fate.” Whichever it is, I am 100% grateful for all that the universe has given us, which is allowing us the chance to work to make our dreams real.

Bliss

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Back to School

First Day of School

While it seems like summer is finally getting underway here, it’s already back-to-school time. Yesterday, both girls started their new classes at their Auckland primary school. It was Holly’s first full-day of school, ever.

I was so looking forward to it. All of us were. We were all a bit tired of bumping into each other on the boat and looking forward to this week, when we could each head out into the city on our own to learn and explore. I was anxious to get started on writing down some of the stories that have been bouncing inside my head. Both girls were excited to see the friends we hadn’t been able to see over break again.

Today, after dropping them off at their new classrooms for the second morning in a row I came back to our empty, silent boat. I made myself a latte and sat down, the whole settee to myself. And felt the unease that had been looming settle in.

Yesterday after school I tried to coax the girls into telling me how their first day back at school was. “Oh, it was good,” Holly answered. “Fine,” was Leah’s response. They both had had fun at recess and were glad to be able to play together this year. After a little downtime with a snack and an audiobook, the girls threw on some ratty shorts and t-shirts. They grabbed their life jackets and jumped down to the dock and peered down into the water, their small fishing net poised to snatch any unsuspecting fishes that would soon swim by. I had dinner on the table before I was able to coax them back on the boat, each girl talking at such a rapid pace I could barely follow them: they’d seen tiny jellyfish with bright red middles, spent some time scraping invasive fanworms off the dock, caught some more shrimp, were certain they’d seen a nudibranch (“but it was dead”).

The memory of this wants to break me apart today.

Day 1 agenda

Year 1, day 1 agenda

I remember all that we experienced over the school break: hiking out at Great Barrier, Leah’s fascination with carnivorous plants (resulting in a pile of books from the library and our very own Venus Fly Trap that we miraculously haven’t killed yet), afternoons at the swimming pool, Holly singing along to friends jamming on ukeleles late into the summer’s night. It seems cruel to stuff them into these classrooms that seem boring even to me: a few books on a shelf, a couple buckets of blocks, a table of computers and some ipads stuck in the corner. Teachers that seem rushed and busy and overwhelmed, already. The days of dressups, sand boxes, fingerpaints at school gone for good. I can’t help but wonder: what are they actually learning? How to get along with others? How to sit quietly and wait your turn? How to sit in your cubicle and get your work done as told? The cynic in me sees what the end goal really is.

Leah’s hope for school this year is that there is more science this year than last. In my heart I know she’s got years before they move on to the type of knowledge she regularly seeks out on her own, before they move on from the basics of reading, writing, and maths. I just tell her, “I hope so too. But we can learn about science on our own too.”

At the age of 8, I watch Leah invent projects for herself, get interested in subjects and want to research them to death. There’s a pile of notebooks in her bed that is filling with notes and drawings. She plans outings for us, museums she wants to go visit. She asks for certain books from the library and spends hours reading in bed to herself. Maybe this is all that learning is about. After years of feeling overwhelmed by the idea of homeschooling, I think I finally understand that my main job would be to just get out of the way.

Then again, it’s been eight looooong years since I’ve had this many hours all to myself so maybe it’s just something to get used to. It’s always difficult sending your last baby off to school. But now I’m writing this at 1 in the afternoon, not at 11 pm. The girls’ primary has allowed us to immerse ourselves in the community and culture here in ways that keeping them to myself wouldn’t. Everything comes with frustration, at some level. We’ll settle in. And then it will be time again for something new.

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Sailing to the Wild

Kawau ForestOne of the things that is great about New Zealand is how seriously the country takes it’s holiday vacations. Many companies, like Michael’s does, completely shuts down from the week before Christmas to long after New Years. Even here in central Auckland countless cafes, doctor’s offices, and retail shops sport “back mid-January” signs on their windows a few days before Christmas. With three weeks of vacation ahead of us, we provisioned the boat and headed out of the city, just like in the old days.

It was blowing 25, gusting 35 knots from the southwest when we pulled out of our Auckland slip. This is, we were to find out, not unusual summertime conditions. We would also learn that the weather we’d had a year ago, during our first New Zealand summer, was highly unusual with day after day of calm, sunny conditions. We kept within the protected confines of Waitemata Harbour and tucked into Islington Bay of Rangitoto Island 12 miles away.

The wind howled over the low land protecting us in the bay all afternoon and evening. It finally let up overnight and we headed out into the completely calm Hauraki Gulf the next morning. And motored in glassy seas the 25 miles to our next anchorage, at Kawau Island. North Cove is quite protected and we spent a week there as the wind howled day after day. Santa found us, we hiked around, we met some of the local neighbors and visited with Lin and Larry some more.

Santa spotted at Kawau Island!

Santa spotted at Kawau Island!

Christmas Eve 2013

Christmas Eve 2013 (The notebook is Leah’s, full of trick questions for Santa to answer…thank goodness for Wikipedia.)

Screams echoed throughout the bay when the girls spotted the hitchhiker on our dinghy - a massive stick bug!

Screams echoed throughout the bay when the girls spotted the hitchhiker on our dinghy – a massive stick bug!

After a week we thought we had an opening to sail further north to Whangarei but once we rounded the top of Kawau we were greeted with wind and waves right on the nose. Whangarei was 40 miles directly into the wind. We’ve learned enough by now, finally, that it’s perfectly fine to turn around and wait another day. So we did. The following morning we were greeted with 18 knots from the west, directly from the beach, and had a fast, flat beam reach all the way into the river. We made such good time that we decided to keep going — it was New Years Eve after all — and head into the town basin instead of anchoring near Bream Head as we had planned. Incredibly, the wind cooperated and we sailed nearly the entire way up the meandering shallow waterway in a very light breeze (admittedly, the 2 knots of current with us helped).

Sailing up the Whangarei river

Sailing up the Whangarei river

There is a new drawbridge just before you reach the Whangarei town basin. We tied up to the courtesy float there around 1700 and called the bridge operator on the VHF. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “The bridge is too hot. There is not enough clearance to open it due to the expansion. I will check it in a few hours to see if it’s cooled and shrunk a bit. Also, the bridge is closed for peak traffic until 5:30.” We watched a single car pass over the bridge in front of us. Scratching our heads, we cracked a cold beer, heated up some beans and sausages and ate our New Year’s dinner waiting for the hot sun to set on the murky green river.

New Year's Eve at the overheated Whangarei River bridge

New Year’s Eve at the overheated Whangarei River bridge

It was 2100 by the time we were tied up at the town basin wharf. But on our way in, we fell in love with this place. Funky cruising boats like ours tied up everywhere! Not a sleek, white racing boat to be seen! The river is lined with boatyards and marine shops and dilapidated boat sheds. Heaven! Quiet! As you might expect, the town didn’t get too crazy for New Years and the carpets were rolled up early. Our family sat below, aboard Wondertime talking about our favorite memories of the year while sipping cold glasses of bubbly drinks (champagne for Michael and I, fizzy apple juice for the girls). Holly didn’t quite make it and stumbled to her bed at 11:30. Leah did fine and blew our airhorn with gusto at midnight. Then we joined the rest of the dark town already in bed.

At least it's a warm rain, Whangarei town basin

At least it’s a warm rain (Whangarei town basin)

The best bookswap in NZ (Whangarei)

The best bookswap in NZ (Whangarei)

We only had a day to meander around town but that’s pretty much all you need. We took some hot showers, did a few loads of laundry, picked up some fresh fruit and salad greens at the Pak ‘N Save across the street, chatted with the super friendly locals, then floated on back down the river.

At Marsden Cove we met a customs officer and checked out of New Zealand. Then we headed straight out 25 miles, bound for the closest waypoint in international waters, turned around, and motor-sailed back in, with a breathtaking sunset guiding us back to shore. The next day the same customs fellow welcomed us back to New Zealand, stamped our passports and gave us a fancy paper stating that Wondertime was officially imported as part of our resident belongings, GST-free.

Return to New Zealand (Bream Head)

Return to New Zealand (Bream Head)

Relieved to have our “business” officially done we finally felt like we were on holiday. The next day brought the perfect wind: 20 knots from the northwest. We pointed the bow to Great Barrier Island and covered the 50 miles out to the edge of the Hauraki in no time. The wind gusted to 25 at times, the seas were bouncy and steep — the gulf is shallow — but thankfully aft of the beam. There may have been an accidental jibe (it’s the autopilot’s fault) followed by a few choice words, but at least no one was sea sick and nothing broke.

Which made coming into the calm, protected harbour of Port Fitzroy all the more sweet. We really didn’t know what to expect, but had only been told that the Barrier was amazing. Port Fitzroy is a completely landlocked harbour, about 5 or so miles long with smaller bays to anchor in scattered all around the perimeter. Most of it is Department of Conservation land, with only a handful of private houses scattered around and the teeny tiny settlement of Port Fitzroy itself. It was green and mountainous. We hadn’t seen anything quite like it since Canada. Inside, the wind was gloriously calm.

Port Fitzroy anchorage, Great Barrier Island

Port Fitzroy anchorage, Great Barrier Island

We only had a week here, which was not at all long enough to fully explore this wonderland. Every day the four of us hiked through native bush on immaculate tracks, all nikau palms and fern trees and giant kauri, past waterfalls, old logging dams. We swam and snorkeled — briefly! This island is pest-free which means native birds flourish and their incredible songs woke us each morning. We spied nests in the mud walls right alongside of the trail and tiptoed around them, as the tiny birds inside peeped for food. And the bugs! The treetops literally screamed with the sound of cicadas and our ears rang with the cry of them calling for mates. There were giant stickbugs and beetles. Right from the shore we watched an octopus drift from rock to rock, hunting. It is a wild, wild place and we never wanted to leave.

Swing bridge, Great Barrier Island

Swing bridge on Great Barrier Island

Wondertime family, Great Barrier Island

Smokehouse Bay, Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier. You can heat water on the wood stove and then have a private hot bath inside, or in one of the outside tubs. Or just swing, as we did.

Smokehouse Bay, Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier. You can heat water on the wood stove and then have a private hot bath inside, or in one of the outside tubs. Or just swing, as we did.

Post-snorkel cozy up (Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier)

Post-snorkel cozy up (Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier)

But the city called us back. There is money to be made, for now, and school will start up again in a few weeks. With days of strong southwesterlies in the forecast, a parade of boats motored along with us, due SW, back to Auckland. Along the way, we found cell service again and got the news that our friends in Vava’u, Tonga were safe after cyclone Ian passed, despite 100 knot winds in the area and were incredibly relieved. We arrived back to our slip safely, and didn’t check the forecast again for weeks.

Our magic carpet

Our magic carpet (Great Barrier Island)

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16 Things We Love About New Zealand That Surprised Us

Auckland pohutukawasI know my posts lately have been a little whiney. But while we’ve been feeling a bit homesick and have been missing our lazy, warm tropical island days (I know, cry me a river) there still is at least one moment of each day where I feel a sudden giddiness that we’re in New Zealand, indefinitely. There is so much to love here and I’m sure you know all about the good wine, scenery, famous movies and friendly people. Here are a few things that have surprised us about our adopted land that we’ve grown to love, in no particular order.

1. Pohutukawas are quiet green bushy trees most of the year, scattered throughout the country in city parks and on beaches alike. But then in early December, a few weeks before Christmas, KAPOW! They burst forth with bright red fluffy flowers all over, just in time to celebrate the season. The New Zealand Christmas trees are certainly the prettiest we’ve ever seen.

2. Christmas at the beach Despite retailer’s continued efforts, Christmas here is still less about the stuff and more about spending time with your family, usually at the beach and followed with a sausage sizzling on the grill. The Christmases of my childhood were always a huge affair with decorations everywhere, elaborate meals, parties, piles of gifts and my mother no doubt took years off her life preparing for it all. Not me: I love the simplicity of a few basic decorations (see “Pohutukawa” or “Look girls! A Christmas tree!”), a couple of gifts for the girls from Santa and a day of just being with friends and family with sandy toes under the sun and time to enjoy it all. It helps that the school summer break starts a few days before Christmas, a time of year so good that it even has the best name ever: Silly Season.

We Love Sand

3. Bare feet Apparently, even in the city and at primary school, shoes are completely optional.

4. Jandals If they are not barefoot then Kiwis protect their piggies with a pair of jandals, otherwise known as flip-flops or thongs. Even in winter here on the North Island. Which brings me to….

5. Winter in Auckland No snow. No frost. Lots of sunny days between rain and wind and thunderstorms (which keep it interesting). Just right.

Our Auckland slip on a sunny day last winter. Locals tell us it's *never* this nice usually.

Our Auckland slip on a sunny day last winter. Locals tell us it’s never this nice, usually.

A mid-winter hike in the Waitakere. The hats are just for fun and show, it's really not that cold out.

A mid-winter hike in the Waitakere. The hats are just for fun and show, it’s really not that cold out. Muddy and wet, yes.

6. Legends Aotearoa is a land of myth and legend: the taniwhas, Tāne Mahuta, Maui, Kupe, the first wakas to sail to NZ from Hawaiki. Maori stories live rich in this land and are interwoven into life everywhere. When you walk through a great forest, or gaze out at the Tasman from a clifftop, the spirit of the land is omnipresent and it’s easy to feel why this is the land of story.

The gannet colony at Muriwai beach. Amazing.

The gannet colony at Muriwai beach looking over the Tasman. Amazing.

Tāne Mahuta. Lord of the Forest.

Tāne Mahuta. Lord of the Forest.

7. Language On a planet where languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, it’s so refreshing to see Te Reo Māori, the original language of New Zealand, being studied and celebrated and respected here. The girls learn Māori words and songs at school, Universities offer tuition-free classes, there is even an entire TV station broadcast mainly in Te Reo Māori. Coming from a place where people are denigrated for speaking languages other than English, it’s incredibly hopeful to hear the words of the ancients freely spoken.

Holly learns about Maori traditions at Kindy during Matariki, celebration of the Maori new year which occurs in May/June.

Holly learns about Maori traditions at Kindy during Matariki, celebration of the Maori new year which occurs in May/June.

8. A Land of immigrants In Auckland at least, in addition to hearing Māori being spoken you are just as likely to hear Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Tongan, French, Spanish, German…you get the idea. Auckland is the most international city we’ve ever been to with residents coming from literally around the world. The girls’ central city school is a true united nations of students and we’ve got friends from South Africa, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Ireland, China. I’ll have to write more on this later because it’s the aspect that has had such a positive impact on the girl’s view of the world as well as really feeling what it is to be an American.

Leah and favorite school friends

Leah and favorite school friends

9. The schools It took a while for me to get used to just handing the girls over to others to teach each day but thankfully the excellent schools here have made the transition easy. New Zealand schools are not bogged down in standards and testing and constant evaluations like US schools are. While they do have general guidelines to follow, schools here are free to experiment, adjust their teaching plans to suit their students’ specific needs and take on new ideas at a rapid pace. What this means for us is that both girls have learned a whole lot this past year, but more importantly they love school and think it is great fun which is the best lesson they could learn there.

Leah hated homework - or homelearning as they like to call it here - at the beginning of the year but now she thinks it's fun. Win! She turns in her last sheet tomorrow, summer break is coming!

Leah hated homework – or homelearning as they like to call it here – at the beginning of the year but now she thinks it’s fun. Win! She turns in her last sheet tomorrow, summer break is coming!

Holly's Kindy class visited a climbing gym this year for a field trip. Adventure sports starts early here.

Holly’s kindy class visited a climbing gym this year for a field trip. Adventure sports starts early here.

10. Swimming Knowing how to swim here is akin to knowing how to add 2 + 2. Starting at age 5 at primary school all kids spend two days a week during the summer/fall terms working on their swimming skills. Most primary schools have their own pools. The Auckland swimming pools even let kids in for free to swim anytime up to the age of 16. Makes sense when you are surrounded by ocean.

Holly at the Tepid Baths, Auckland

11. An unarmed society Want to know the most shocking thing we learned after arriving in NZ? Not even the police carry handguns. No kidding. Cops walking down the street in Auckland are noticeably firearm-free; they have to call in the special armed-force for any serious crimes. This is not a land of guns, but it’s not gun-free: there is a rigorous application, education and interview process to gain a firearms licence and the guns themselves are tightly controlled and monitored. As a result, gun crime is extremely rare. 2007 data shows that for every 100,000 New Zealanders there were 0.16 homicides by firearm. For every 100,000 Americans? Nearly 3.

12. Awesome signs

Stay Sober - Get the Boys Home

Kiwisaver? Or work 'till you die.

Danger

Cheese, Kindergarten or Timber?

13. Southernmost Polynesia Just like the islands of Hawaii are the northernmost Polynesian islands, the islands of New Zealand are the most southern. For some reason we thought when we left Tonga we were leaving Polynesia largely behind but were happily surprised to find that is definitely not the case. Maori culture is very similar to that of the Marquesans (some believe the Maori came from eastern Polynesia originally). They say Auckland is the largest Polynesian city with not only a large Maori population but people from Tahiti, the Cooks, Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Fiji also have made their home here now. While it’s regretful that they are unable to make a good living back in their home islands, we love the vibrant culture that Pacific islanders have added to the already Polynesian New Zealand: the food, music, art, tattoos and color of Polynesia is all around us here and we love it.

Maori carving at the Arataki Visitor Center, Waitakere Ranges

Maori carving at the Arataki Visitor Center, Waitakere Ranges

14. Panelbeaters Our first car here was a late-90s model Subaru station wagon, just like the many others we had back in Washington but with the steering wheel on the wrong side. Well, one day Michael was turning into the parking lot at our marina and the car behind him neglected to stop and dented the trunk fairly badly. Since the car was only worth about $2000 we thought for sure the insurance company would total the car and just give us the cash. Nope. They paid nearly $2500 to fix and repaint the whole aft end of the car by a local “panelbeater” shop. (We sold that car not long after for $1800. Sigh). The whole point of this is to illustrate that New Zealanders are loathe to just throw perfectly good things out if they can be fixed. Since we are stuck on two tiny islands thousands of kilometers from anywhere, people here don’t abandon things that are broken, they fix them. Or beat them back into shape, apparently.

15. Cussing and boobs If you are offended by hearing f-bombs on the radio in the middle of the day or nekked boobies on your television after the kids are in bed, well, you should probably keep your radio and TV off here because no one else seems to mind. We get Hell Pizza delivered right to our boat on a regular basis and I nearly neglected to stop my own car on Ponsonby road one day when I looked up and saw this billboard:

Traffic Stopping Billboard

16. Kids in bars The first time we visited the local sailors pub to grab a pint and a bite to eat we tentatively stepped into the dusty dim room and asked if kids could eat inside. “Sure,” the barkeep said, “As long as they don’t drink or smoke!” Yeah, I think we’ll stay for a while.

The can get their own drinks.

They can get their own drinks.

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Giving Thanks, New Zealand 2013

Sailing into the Hauraki GultIt has been three long years since we’ve had a proper Thanksgiving feast with our dear families. We both, Michael and I, come from families who gather each year and give thanks around a table sagging with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes…the works. It’s not the food we miss, obviously, but the closeness of treasured grandparents, siblings, parents, cousins and the special feeling that a gathering of generations brings.

Perhaps it’s the time of year or maybe it’s that we’ve just passed the one-year mark since we first sailed into New Zealand waters. Whichever it is, we’ve been feeling so homesick lately. Painfully so. The other night I was a blubbering bawling mess, I wanted to be back home in Olympia so bad that the next morning I got online to get quotes to put our little ship on a big ship back home [I also learned that I’d have to start selling my organs to be able to afford that.]

We are getting pretty used to life here but I still crave the familiar so much it hurts sometimes. I want to hug my Grandma. I want my Dad to see how much his granddaughters grew last month and hear Holly’s latest “joke” live. Silly things too: I want to go to Costco and buy a tub of those salty smoked almonds I love so, I want to pop down the street and fill my growler with ice-cold Fish Tale organic pale ale. I want to drive down the street to Starbucks to have a coffee with my dear friend Stacy and talk about all the cute and annoying things our kids have been doing over vanilla lattes.

Bigger things too: sometimes, we admit, we look at Windermere.com and sigh at all the affordable houses and dream of having a little cabin of our own just a short walk to the beach. I look at Lincoln Elementary’s lunch menu and weep (our Auckland primary offers Subway on Fridays). Sometimes we just tire of the questions: “You’re not from here are you?” “You are American? What are you doing here?” “How long do you plan to stay here?” “You live on a boat?!?” Sometimes it’s fun to tell our story, but sometimes we just want to blend in. Sometimes we just feel exhausted with it all.

Now the Holidays loom which doesn’t make it any easier. I will say that the fact that it’s pretty much summertime and the sun is shining warm and bright and I’m living in jandals again does make this a bit more tolerable. And then we got a special invitation for a true American Thanksgiving up at Kawau Island. We tidied up our home and set sail just like old times.

We dropped our hook in North Cove, in front of Mickey Mouse Marine, the shop and home that Lin and Larry Pardey made over the past 30 years after they’d sailed their little boat into that bay once upon a time. There was another boat there, Ganesh, the new home of another well-salted pair, Carolyn and her husband Captain Fatty. At the dinner Saturday night, we learned Brion Toss was in town as well, along with the crew of Galactic, another cruising family from the NW. And a whole bunch of other interesting local characters.

It was as amazing as it would seem, to be in the company of such revered, friendly, funny and well-travelled writing sailors. A lot of the talk wasn’t about sailing at all it turned out. But I did pinch myself listening in to Larry and Brion banter about the merits of three-strand rope. Our daughters were playing with Lin’s slinky and got it all tangled up of course. Someone suggested “give it to Brion!” so we did. That kept him busy for a while. Lin whipped up a Thanksgiving feast of epic proportions in her small galley kitchen and when it started to rain we moved all the tables inside their cozy tidy home. We called all the kids up who had been running around somewhere playing in delight then all 35 of us stuffed ourselves around the tables sagging with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes…and gave thanks that we were together here nearly at the end of the world. We realized we were with family this year after all: our family of sailors, a gathering of generations.

Later, after the dishes were cleared and our bellies were stuffed yet again with pumpkin pie and apple pie and zucchini bread and chocolates and more wine we sat back and listened to Captain Fatty play his guitar and sing with his sweet wife Carolyn’s voice filling in.

Our view of our world shifted a bit then in that beautiful wooden room Larry built with his weathered hands now filled with music played by legends. How lucky we are to be in this place, far from home. Experiencing things that we’d once dreamed of, things we’d never even been able to imagine. The feeling that things are unfolding as they should, that we just need to be open to them and not afraid.

Thankful for the fortune that our lives are filled with the wonder we craved when we set off into the world.

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Aotearoa Trick or Treat

Auckland Trick or TreatAs we haven’t had a good trick or treating since we were in San Diego in 2011, the girls were on pins and needles for days leading up to this years All Hallows’ Eve in Auckland. They had their costumes planned out for weeks (Potato Bug Leah and Holly the Fairy, again). We invited one of Leah’s best girlfriends from school and her mum along with us for company (and to show us the best local spots for free candy). After a dinner of bloodied boiled brains (i.e. spaghetti) we set out into the bright evening springtime streets of Freeman’s Bay.

We wandered down the street and eventually ended up near an apartment complex. We were the only trick or treaters around. In fact, the street was so empty we wondered if we had the date wrong at first. Finally we spotted something — a picture of a pumpkin on the door of a nearby apartment. It was kind of difficult to see through the flower blossoms.

The three girls ran up to the door and knocked. They jumped back a bit when it opened and a nice looking woman poked her head out. Then they remembered to say “Trick or treat!” She smiled at them and tossed a handful of candy into each of their bags. Success!

Wandering around a bit more we came across a few other decorated doors. Eventually we passed another small group of trick or treaters, kids the girls’ recognized from school. They’d just come from Anglesea street, and told us that was the street to hit so we continued on that way.

Springtime All Hallows' Eve

Springtime All Hallows’ Eve

The first few houses were dark and the little white picket fence gates were closed so we continued on. Above us clouds were starting to spit out rain so we tried to hustle the girls along in case they decided to open up (which can happen at any moment in Auckland). We came to a little house that had a group of young chaps hanging out on the front porch, sipping glasses of white wine. One of them was dressed like a zombie so we figured they might be game. Our trick or treaters were rewarded with a bit more candy in their bags.

A little bit farther up the street we found a house with the gate open and a note tacked to the door: “Only knock IF you can answer a riddle…have you got what it takes to claim a reward?” The girls hesitated, unsure, but then knocked. The door was opened by a fellow wearing a bright yellow character suit. He grinned at them and asked if they knew which Pokemon he was. He was answered by blank stares, from all of us. We waited. Finally, he announced that he’d make an exception due to age (too young on the girls’ part, too old for ours, apparently) and candy was dished out.

By this time, it was raining full force and we hid under a carport for a few minutes while we waited for the cloud to pass. We looked into the window near us and watched a little Halloween party happening with everyone cozily sipping drinks and plates of treats on the tables. We were thinking those people had the right idea.

As we knew it would, the rain eased after 10 minutes or so and we continued on. More dark houses. Then we were thrilled to come across one that was decorated in the good old American style with huge fake spiders and cobwebs, a bloody “KEEP OUT” sign strung across the tall solid white gate. Which was locked. Hmm. We kept walking.

Another brightly lit house a few houses down. The girls walked up the path and knocked eagerly on the stained glass door, no longer nervous. An older fellow answered. We had hung back and overheard him saying things like “Oh dear, let me check,” and saw him go into the house. He came back a minute later. “I don’t seem to have anything. I’m so sorry. Oh wait a minute.” He was gone again for a minute and returned. “I have some money, but I only seem to have $50 notes…” Behind him a woman was wrapped in a towel, having just gotten out of the shower. We finally realized what was going on and waved to him, telling him not to worry about it. He appeared relieved.

It was dark by this time and the last few houses we’d visited while walking back on the other side of the street appeared to have emptied their candy bowls into the girls’ treat bags. Or as happened a number of times, the person who answered disappeared into the house for a bit and returned with a small bag of candy they must have retrieved from the pantry. Much of the candy in the girls bags were unwrapped chocolate pieces, marshmallows, gummy bits, pineapple lumps. We all ate some along the way.

We decided to try one last lit house on our way back to our flat. After the girls proudly declared “Trick or treat!” we could hear the woman who answered the door apologize profusely, saying that she’d just gotten home from work and didn’t have any candy. The girls didn’t mind; with their treat bags bulging and their feet and legs tired we continued on up the dark and empty street to bed.

It certainly wasn’t the San Diego Halloween of 2011, a thronging street party with houses decorated like Hollywood sets and people handing out full-sized Snickers bars and bags of M&Ms. Auckland Halloween 2013 was just as fun though, to experience people trying out this holiday that is a bit new to New Zealand and watching them see how fun a night of silliness with neighbors can be.

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