Sometimes pictures say it best. If we had to sum up our day-to-day life during this season in five pictures and five pictures only, they would look something like this:
1. Fall leaves. The weather is definitely getting cooler. Leaves are starting to change colors. This morning it was about 15 degrees Celsius (59 F) in the house. Chilly. But the days are still warm, the sun is shining, and our lemon tree and grapefruit tree are loaded with newly ripening fruit.
Kind of makes me think of Moses and the burning bush…
2. Who doesn’t love a little fixer upper project?! This was our best yet… way more attainable that an entire house! 😉 (Been there. Done that. A couple of times.) We bought this gem of a play house off of the infamous kiwi Trade Me, though it was looking a little worse for wear at the time. For a mere $26.00… plus gas to and from Auckland, McDonalds dinner for the bunch of Samoan teenagers it took to get it out of the original backyard, Bengay for some 30-year-old guys’ backs, wood for the deck, paint, elbow grease, and some flowers, it has become the pride of the backyard, the attraction of the neighborhood, and Q’s happy place. But “We got that for $26.00” sounds so much more dramatic.
3. Hey neighbor! We have a lot of neighborhood kids. And I do mean a lot. Maybe 30, give or take a few? We love that the little ones and big ones alike stop by to play (and quiz us on American stuff). We’ve had many games of tag and hide and seek around the house and through the yard lately. On Good Friday, we had barely pulled into the driveway from a service in Auckland when these guys rode up on their scooters. They noticed the Resurrection Eggs we put together at Kids’ Club the previous Sunday. Easter eggs are such a novelty that they immediately began opening them, and thus began an impromptu conversation about Jesus, death, and resurrection. Only one of our four visitors that day had heard the Hope of Easter before.
4. Speaking of Kids’ Club… We have a small but growing number of families that join us twice a month for wild games, engaging Bible stories, songs, prayer and evening tea. It’s the church. With tons of energy.
5.So you want to be a pilot? Q’s kindy (preschool) took a field trip to the tiny Hamilton airport this week. Jaron tagged along. They needed a bunch of parents and I was committed to leading Mainly Music at the time. Jaron and Q gladly used the opportunity to fantasize about their shared dreams of becoming pilots <insert terrified mom face emoji here>. In fact, Jaron was in a three hour seminar on how NZ health and safety regulations affect churches following the field trip, when he sent me this text message: “By the way… just googled the cost of getting a pilot’s license in NZ. Gonna start saving my blow money.” Oh brother.
We attended a tenebrae service with friends of varied denominations on Thursday and then had the privilege of participating in the Auckland Telugu service on Good Friday.
We’re anticipating the a monarch butterfly from this cocoon sometime this week.
Easter is a big deal. Actually, that is quite understated. Easter is the biggest deal. Death conquered. Hope restored. Fear eliminated. Life granted. Christians around the world intentionally journey through the wilderness of Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday before we arrive at Easter Sunday.
Glorious Easter Sunday. It has long been my favorite celebration of the entire year. It’s a day of grand celebration marked by Easter lilies and the promise of spring; the church family gathered and the Christ candle lit; joyful singing and responses of “He is risen, indeed!”; bread eaten and cup offered; pastel ties and bright floral dresses; ham and deviled eggs and a table full of the most delicious desserts. The very essence of remembering Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is tied to the very rhythm of the earth, with Easter Sunday falling on the first Sunday after the northern hemisphere’s spring Equinox. All of creation seems to shout—Christ is risen! Spring is here! There’s new life in Christ! Out of the barren wilderness of winter, we experience the hope and anticipation and alive-ness of spring.
Except in the southern hemisphere.
I totally get that nearly 90% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere. For 90% of the world, Easter falls in the spring time… a time when trees and flowers bloom and even the cute little bunnies and baby chicks signify new life. But for the other 10% of the world’s population, the celebration of the resurrection takes places as the leaves are changing colors, the weather is cooling, the flower blooms are fading, and living things are in the process of decaying. Where’s the hope in that?
The fact is that the majority of world’s symbols surrounding major holidays come from the western countries that colonized the likes of New Zealand and the great economic drivers of the world found in North America. The rest of the world tags along even when snow in the tropics and pastels in the fall make no sense at all. Granted, egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and new spring dresses are obvious non-essentials (and… gasp… even distractions) to the celebration of Easter. But if we removed the Easter lilies, sprouting grass, and freshly laid eggs as well, then what would be left of our Easter celebration?
Easter (along with the significant dates tied to it) is the only holiday of the year with a date that is tied to the seasonal rhythms of the earth. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. But Easter after the fall equinox? It seems so wrong. The truth is, I was tempted to fall prey to a pity party of my own making. No Easter lilies. No bright colors. No anticipation of spring. True, Jesus didn’t just come to save the people of the northern hemisphere, but what about the symbols of the resurrection that tell the story year after year with their rhythms of life, death, and resurrection? Don’t they have significant places in our celebration as well?
Pity party aside. I began to look more closely for symbols of the resurrection among the leaf piles and rain drops. God is so big. Surely the God of all creation has some signs of the resurrection for me (and the 730,000,000 other people) who live on the bottom half of the globe. Baby birds chirping from their nests aren’t the only things that sing the story of Easter.
Lo and behold… I’ve found some—signs of the resurrection in the autumn. Symbols that point to the hope of Jesus even as we are pulled daily towards the wilderness of winter.
Daffodil bulbs. It’s time to plant them. We’re putting them in the ground this week, remembering that Jesus was completely buried. The Romans and the church leaders alike wanted to forget about him much like bulbs lay long-forgotten in the ground. Next spring… sometime around August or September… the daffodils will sprout their heads and bloom, and we will remember that on Good Friday, Jesus was put into the ground, but he didn’t stay there. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring.
Monarch cocoons. Monarch butterflies love swan plants. We have five small ones planted along our back fence. We’ve been watching the caterpillars literally strip the stem as they gluttonously consume all of the leaves. On Friday, we discovered a couple of new cocoons attached to the bottom of large leaves nearby. Sometime this week—Holy Week— those cocoons will open to reveal big beautiful brand new monarch butterflies. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring.
Hot cross buns. Ahhh… food. It’s so important. We like to feast our celebration, and after 40 long days of Lent, Easter is a feast day above all feast days. During the Easter holiday, the overwhelming majority of kiwis do two things: sneak in one last holiday (vacation) at the beach before winter and eat hot cross buns. It’s true—there is more to hot cross buns than a little ditty for instructing budding musicians. Warm buns filled with spices representing the burial of Jesus and marked with a cross on the top have a long history with many affiliated legends. They were deemed so special by Queen Elizabeth that they could only be made and eaten on Christmas, Good Friday (to break the fast from Lent), and burials. If caught baking the buns any other time, you’d have to give them up. We’ll try our own delectable hot cross buns for the first time this year as we celebrate the resurrection, grateful for a reason to feast and the freedom to feast on whatever we want.
Let leaves fall and cool winds whisper of the coming winter as they may. Creation—the very rhythm of life itself—is still telling the story of the resurrection beautifully, purposefully, rhythmically. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. May the hope of Christ be with you this Easter season.
We just put our first guests on the plane back to the States. While they were here, we stepped out of our day-to-day lives for a couple of days and played tourist. We parked our almost-minivan among tour buses and brightly painted camper vans before queuing up with throngs of Asian tour groups led by guides with tall poles topped by brightly colored pom poms, 20-something American backpackers, and 50-year-old couples on holiday from the United Kingdom.
Tourism is a big deal around here. It’s an $81.6 million per day industry in New Zealand, second only to dairy in terms of foreign export earnings. Hobbiton alone employs nearly 200 people. While the vast majority of tourists come from nearby Australia, China, the U.S., the U.K., and other Asia Pacific countries also send their fair share of scouts.
We had fun checking out a few things commonly on New Zealand vacation itineraries. We figured we were just doing our research for various groups, families, and individuals that we’ll get to host in the future. You can go ahead and bookmark this now for your own future visit. 😉 Here are a few things we learned along the way:
Make a wish list: I hope you are making a list of things to do on your dream trip. Actually, we are very well situated for day trips of all kinds—an hour and a half south of Auckland, an hour from Hobbiton, 45 minutes to one coast, an hour and a half to the other, an hour to glow worm caves, two hours to Rotorua… you get the idea. Skydiving, bungee jumping, stand up paddle boarding, surf lessons… you name it New Zealand’s probably got it.
The Hobbit Holes are just so cute!!
Pick and Choose and Plan Ahead: I’m a planner so this is perfect for me. But seriously, there is so much to do, it’s hard (read: impossible) to fit it all in. Without a strategic plan, it would be easy to miss out. Even still, I tried my best for over a week to get Trip Advisor’s highest rated glow worm cave tour booked for our family. When it came down to it, they were one seat short on the boat the day we had available for the tour so we couldn’t join. Oh well… there’s always next time. 😉 The redwood forest (planted from seeds brought as a gift from California 110 years ago), made for an excellent Plan B.
Rotorua’s redwood forest
Save your money… or not: Scratch that. Definitely save your money. New Zealand is expensive. The food, the petrol, the stuff… it’s all expensive. The really touristy stuff is no different. Hello $79.00 NZ/per person to venture into Middle Earth or $150.00 NZ/per person to swim with dolphins. It adds up. But there’s tons to do that is absolutely free, as well… amazing hikes, beautiful beaches, freezing cold swims, waterfalls abounding… Those have been some of our most favorite things of all, which brings us to #4.
Blue Springs has been one of our favorite places since we first visited in December. It probably always will be…. and it’s FREE!!
Stop at the “Scenic Lookouts”: To be truthful, there are so many scenic lookouts, you can’t always stop at every one of them. But when you do, expect something good. Oh, that looks like every other hilly pasture in New Zealand? Take a gander back in there… you might just find some of the purest water in the world… or something else altogether unexpected. We talked Jaron into stopping at one and found these fantastic waterfalls.
Enjoy the journey: The roads are often narrow, hilly, and winding. The speed limits are necessarily slow. It takes longer to get places than we’re used to, but there’s always a bit of the ever-changing landscape to admire out the car window.
Never leave home without a rain jacket and a pair of jeans: Don’t be fooled by days that dawn bright and sunny (or by the ones that start out shrouded in a dense fog), the weather changes frequently down under. I, for one, like to be prepared when things can quickly become cool and wet. I was under-prepared when we went to Tauranga on the east coast earlier this year and have learned my lesson. We had nearly perfect weather while our guests were here, but the next week-and-a-half look to be full of moisture. In New Zealand, you just never know, and neither do the meteorologists.
Talk to people: People are excited to share their stories… where they’re from, what they do, what they have planned on their adventure. At one table, the five of us in our group were seated with two different middle-aged couples from the U.K. and a young television writer from Los Angeles. Fascinating.
At times it felt really odd to be lumped in with the rest of the “foreign tourist crowd,” particularly in light of the fact that we’ve spent the past three months working so hard to assimilate into the culture. There were those awkward “I’m not really sure how to answer your question” moments when people asked the proverbial, “Where are you from?” Uhhh… The United States… the southwestern part… but we live in Hamilton. We’re not really tourists. Plus, we’re always building relationships along the way… like the tour guide from Wales who spent 6 months working in orphanages in Uganda, but is now hoping to play for a legit rugby team in New Zealand someday. At the end of the tour Jaron handed him a slip of paper with his phone number and used his newly acquired Kiwi language skills to say “Next time you’re in Hamilton give me a ring and we’ll have you over for tea or we’ll go to lunch, my shout.” To which he simply replied “Ah legend, thanks mate!”
Real life includes checking out the hot air balloons at 7 a.m. Balloons over Waikato is on this week. Hot air balloons are always fun… even on foggy mornings when they have to stay tethered.
Exploring Hamilton Gardens, magnifying glass in hand.
Only Bapa’s shoulders would do.
A rare moment of quiet coloring, resulted in a fine dragon picture.
TradeMe… sort of like Ebay meets Craigs List… has been a source of all kinds of treasures for us (as it is for all good kiwis). This $26.00 playhouse find is almost finished undergoing a fabulous makeover!
Just driving by…
We’re all enjoying the benefits of Jaron’s parents visiting for a few weeks… projects getting completed around the house… laundry magically washed, hung out to dry, and neatly folded on a regular basis… the best kind of childcare… belly laughter and high pitched squeals of joy… an impromptu trip to the beach…. special treats to taste. We have been grateful for the opportunity to share our new world with them, for their willingness to be explorers with us, and most of all for their love and support.
These days have reminded me of some reflections I had several weeks ago when we were at youth camp. They still apply.
Q walked hand in hand with Neville Bartle, our District Superintendent, down the hill and across the grass toward the beach. It was sprinkling lightly, but he was chatting all the way. My giddy feeling of relief was quickly followed by a twinge of guilt. It has been a challenging season for the parents in our house. And for the 3-year-old as well.
I’ve heard little people in this age category described as threenagers or threenados. Both seem fitting.
Tantrums appearing out of nowhere. Meltdowns over the silliest things. Lack of body control. So many necessary consequences for disrespectful words, disobedient actions, and straight up defiance.
More than once, Jaron and I have looked at each other and shrugged in confusion over a little body that had crumpled to the floor in tears and frustration over something we were failing to understand.
“Next time it’s time to go to the park, I’m not going to want to go!”
“Next time I can have a special treat, I’m not going to!”
“I don’t want to do anything fun!”
“I’m not going to play with any friends!”
“Can you help me choose my clothes… No, don’t help me with my clothes. Go out!!”
“Get out of here, Brother! I am not going to play with you!” He doesn’t have a brother. Or a sister.
Real words in the midst of anger, tears, and self-imposed (and sometimes parent-imposed) time-outs in the bedroom. The emotions have erupted out of nowhere on days when he’d had plenty of sleep, healthy food to eat, more than adequate attention, and numerous opportunities to do something fun and engaging. Remove any one of those factors and the volcanic activity skyrockets to hazardous levels.
By the time we watched Q skip off with Neville at camp that day, we were exhausted. A few minutes of a reprieve felt like a gift.
Q returned from his adventure full of tales of fishing for Nemo with sticks they’d found, soccer game play-by-plays, shells they’d gather to use as digging tools in the sand, embellished versions of the 3 Little Pigs, and a cute little rhyme he has repeated numerous times.
The reprieve from Mommy had been a gift for him too, it seemed.
I reflected on the way kids need grandparent-types—biological or otherwise— to shower them with undivided attention, spoil them with things or activities that seem like treats, and give into the rapidly changing whims of a small child. But my reflections quickly turned inward. Two whole hours without a whine, a complaint, or a crumpled-on-the-floor-crying-fit. Two. Whole. Hours. It seemed impossible. What was I missing?
The next morning as the two wandered off again for adventures only known to them, it hit me. The footsteps. They were slow. They were careful. They were wandering here, then there. My footsteps are quick, direct, and purposeful. These two walked exactly side-by-side. How often did I walk 10 steps ahead, calling back over my shoulder, “Come on, Honey. Walk a little faster, Buddy?”
Sometimes slow footsteps aren’t an option. Sometimes my child needs to be hurried out the door if we’re ever going to get out the door at all. Sometimes 3 year olds and adolescents alike just lose it.
But what about the other times? What if I slowed my steps wayyyy down? What if I didn’t watch the clock on my phone? What if when I shared our To Do list with him I didn’t put a time frame on it in my mind? What if I took a page out of Grandpa’s book?
I put it to the test one day when we didn’t have a mum’s group or kindy hampering our schedule. We had three errands to run at three different locations: buy a birthday gift and a thank you gift, purchase 7 items at the grocery store, purchase 3 items at the bulk bin store. It would involve getting in and out of the car three times. It would probably push the 12:30 lunchtime boundary. If disaster struck, the last one could be postponed.
I armed myself with snacks and the determination to take it slow. Even our departure time was delayed by a shared snack before we left. Even though I always pack snacks when we leave the house, we’d really be testing Q’s internal I’m-hungry-and-I-need-to-eat-lunch-bell.
We slowly walked the length of the mall to find what we were in search of. Q perused every toy, pushed every lever, felt every stuffed animal, and commented on every action figure before settling on a game and a book for the birthday gift. We walked across the parking lot to the book store, slowly, while he munched on raw cashews out of a Tupperware container. I declined when he asked if we could ride the carousel. He conceded. We talked about our favorite horses on it as we walked by slowly. At the bookstore, we searched out the other half of the birthday gift by plopping on the floor to read half a dozen books, look for hidden pictures, and re-read the gift book just to be sure. Errand #1—gift buying–accomplished. 1 hour 45 minutes. No tantrums. No whining. Time consuming. Miraculous.
The you’re-teetering-on-the-brink-of-lunchtime-alarm was going off in my head, but we headed to the grocery store. 30 minutes. Boom. I can handle that. In a world where we’re still navigating a new-to-us grocery store and new-to-us food products, that was a win for everyone.
Errand #3 proved to be easy. The bulk bin food store carries his favorite granola which we were planning to buy. We thanked the store owner and climbed in the car. As I pulled into the driveway, I realized I was tired, but not harried. I felt accomplished and peaceful. We accomplished our To Do list. And we enjoyed it. We enjoyed each other.
There are plenty of days when it isn’t possible for three “short” errands to take three hours. But there are a few days when they can—when I can match my steps and my pace to a three-foot-tall person who is busily exploring his world, wondering about how the carousel works, and requesting that every book be read aloud.
There are hours when tantrums happen. Out of the blue. For no reason. And, there are times when my slower steps and less-hurried persona cultivate peace in my little person. And I am reminded to take a page out of Grandpa’s book just a little more often.
Hamilton Gardens is always one of my favorite places to visit, especially when they open cool new gardens and structures.
The author grinning proudly after making it safely back to our driveway.
Libby and Janci had us over for the most amazing authentic Indian meal. Another story for another day.
Elizabeth, Jeanine, John, Q, & Jaron enjoying a little park on the edge of Napier.
There’s nothing better than a leisurely breakfast at Emporium during a rainy morning in Napier.
Bapa and Q in Napier.
Kiwis are all about their tea… and their coffee too. They claim they invented the flat white pictured here (and probably the tall black and short black as well).
Napier’s coast line.
Just followed one of dozens of little “scenic view” signs visible on any road trip and found this little gem of a view.
Afternoon neighborhood shenanigans. The neighbor kids think the American grandparents are fascinating. They’re also pretty excited about a little project we’ve been working on in the front yard.
Jaron’s parents are here visiting us for the first time. We’re having a blast showing them our stomping grounds, exploring some new places, watching the sticker shock register on their faces over the prices at the hardware store, and savoring Quentin’s delighted belly laughs as he plays with Bapa and Gigi. We’ve even snuck in a couple of dates…early morning at the Hakarimata Summit and late night at Star Wars (Yes, we are the last people on the planet to see it in the theater!). This week’s post is a guest post courtesy of Jaron’s dad, John.
by John Graham
“Does this car have cruise control?” I asked myself as I struggled behind the wheel of the 2004 Honda Fit.
I would have to wait to find out because there was no way I was going to take my eyes off the road until I reached my destination 124 kilometers away in Hamilton, New Zealand.
In fact, I was having a flashback to the summer of 1973 when I took Driver’s Ed as a 14-year-old on the Lovington High School campus. I can still remember the steely stare of Coach Bill Rippetoe as he ran me through the paces of driving a car through the streets of Lovington.
That seemed like such a piece of cake compared to what I faced now.
Jeanine and I had barely been in the island country four days before my son, Jaron, who now is the pastor of the Church of the Nazarene here in Hamilton, asked me to help him pick up a new car he had bought in the capital city, Auckland, an hour-and-a-half away.
It seemed like an easy assignment to me. In fact I kind of looked forward to the challenge.
There was one little hitch I was a little nervous about. My license back in New Mexico expired at the end of February so I made a trip to the MVD in Lovington two weeks before we left the country. I paid my fees, got my usual bad mug shot and was told the new license would arrive in 10 days as the clerk punched a hole in my old license and handed me a piece of paper that said I was legal to drive—sort of. The temporary license stated that whoever looked at the “temporary license” I possessed could make their own determination of whether I was legal to drive or not.
To compound the problem, I failed to bring my “temporary license” to New Zealand with me.
I told my son I was a legal driver, I just didn’t have the right papers to prove it. In fact, all I had to do was follow him closely and do everything he did and all would be well.
On the way to get the car, I kept replaying in my mind how I was going to explain the hole punched in the only license I had with me to a New Zealand policeman. “Yes sir, that’s right officer. In America they punch a hole in your license so you can wear it on a lanyard around your neck so you don’t lose it.”
I hoped I wouldn’t get stopped.
So there I was, behind the wheel of a car the size of a big go-cart zipping through city traffic at speeds of 100 km per hour (60 mph) and driving on the wrong (left side) of the road. Every part of driving that had been ingrained in my being since a young teenager was now being turned upside down in this 57-year-old brain.
It took all my mental power to keep the car in the middle of my lane while sitting on the right side of the vehicle. It was so unnatural. Soon I could feel my hands getting sweaty as I gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Sweat started to form on my forehead.
“I need some air,” I thought to myself. My fingers fumbled across the dash trying to find the controls to the air conditioning, but my eyes never left the road.
Every time I reached up to turn on the blinker, the wipers came on. (Like everything else in this car, they are opposite what I am used to in the USA.)
Maybe heading out in an unfamiliar car, in an unfamiliar country, in traffic in the country’s biggest city, and without a legal license was not the best idea.
After about an hour of white-knuckled driving I began to settle down and the traffic was now moving at a steady pace as rolling green hills passed by. Hey, this isn’t so bad, I thought.
By the time we pulled into the driveway of our destination in Hamilton, I was feeling like that confident 14-year-old 43 years ago. And as the wheels rolled to a stop, I finally took my eyes off the road and checked the steering column.
No, the car does not have cruise control.
Sometimes the shot through the window captures it best: the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand. Photo by John Graham