This week, we’re savoring this season of Christmas, the sunshine, the celebrations, and the slow-paced days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. All around us (and on our social media feeds), there are reminders that we’re deep into the season of Christmas. These are 10 signs it’s Christmastime in New Zealand. And, while some of these are slightly belated because the days leading up to Christmas are full-on in every first world country, we’re not finished with our Christmas celebrations just yet. My parents are coming next week, and we can hardly wait!
So, in the spirit of the season…
You know it’s Christmas in the Southern hemisphere when…
Santa-types are wearing fake beards, black boots, a red, red coat and matching pants rugby shorts, and a cut off t-shirt.
Also, if rugby shorts and cut off sleeves are not your thing, rest assured. They sell Santa costumes like this one with shorts and short sleeves.
Families are watching ‘The Grinch’ and ‘Frosty’ in Christmas jammies short-sleeved pjs.
Every event has mugs of hot cocoa with marshmallows water with ice.
There’s an explosion of red baubles, stockings, wreaths and heavily decorated Christmas trees strawberries, cherries, and heavily flowered Pohutakawa trees.
This picture was taken on a trip over to the Coromandel Peninsula last month when the Pohutakawa trees were just turning. Now the coastlines are filled with the vibrant red blooms of the “kiwi Christmas tree.” This one has a stunning view of the marine reserve.
The oven BBQ grill has been working non-stop in preparation for Christmas dinner. (We had a fresh caught snapper served grill-side for our Christmas dinner.)
Dining tables Picnic tables are laden with festive foods of every kind.
We celebrated Christmas with our dear friends. Precious people, great fun (and nerf wars), delectable foods, and the most stunning setting makes for a wonderful celebration. (P.S. There really is brown on those hills. Can you believe it? After an exceptionally wet start to the year, we have been unusually warm and dry for over a month.)
Worshipers gather for Christmas Eve candlelight services Christmas morning daylight services. (There’s just something odd about a candlelight service when you’ve just had the longest day of the year. That said, we still had a Christmas Eve candlelight service. We joined our friends at an Anglican/Methodist/Presbyterian Cooperating Church for Christmas morning.)
Cities Beaches are bustling.
Flipping the calendar to January means going back to work summer holiday, church camps, and 3 consecutive weeks off work for many. (We don’t have a three-week holiday coming up anytime soon, but we are making the most of summer vacation and looking forward to a few days at youth camp in a couple of weeks!
We’ve spent the rest of our holiday week hosting friends, picking strawberries, playing tennis, and catching up on a few work-related projects. Shhh… don’t tell the kiwis. They’re all in full vacation mode.
Life gets back to normal January February 2. (Actually, Q will be back to school and our mums’ groups will resume February 7. There’s a new year to ring in and plenty of fun to be had between now and then!)
Merry Christmas from the Southern Hemisphere. We hope you are warm (by the sun or the fireplace), well fed (with fresh fruit or comfort foods), and enjoying family and friends who are like family!
At a crisp 48 degrees Fahrenheit when we took these pictures, it was the coldest first day of school I’ve ever experienced. Thankfully, the sun was shining and it warmed up beautifully.
School Days, School Days
Dear old golden rule days
Our school boy and his dog, who waits for Q to return with her nose pressed to the porch railing every afternoon.
It’s official! Two weeks ago, Q started school. Real school. No longer in kindergarten (the kiwi word for preschool), we have a real school boy. That means a 9 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday kind of routine with morning tea (snack) and lunch to pack and reading homework in the afternoon. It’s all new for us.
In so many ways, it’s the most nostalgic school experience imaginable. Our neighborhood school is on the next block over—just a short walk or scooter through an ally pathway. Kids attend this school from year 1 (kindergarten) through year 8 (7th grade).
Not a cafeteria in sight, students chatter as they eat the morning tea and lunch they’ve brought with them on simple benches under awnings outside their classrooms, which open directly to the outdoors, or put on their sun hats and sit in the grass before hurrying off to play. 30 minutes for morning tea. 45 minutes for lunch.
Jaron and I both confessed to each other just yesterday morning after school drop off that we may have been known to test our own speed on Q’s scooter on the way home. Empty scooter to return home? Wouldn’t you?
The morning scooter ride is fun, but pick up times are simply the best.
As 3:00 pm nears, parents gather on those same benches outside the classrooms. Some push strollers while others share tips on strawberry picking and commiserate on yet another rainy weekend. The kids bound out of the classroom barefoot, dragging backpacks and jerseys behind them. I absolutely cannot wait to see our boy’s great big smile and hear the words, “Hi Mommy!” It’s the best part of every single day.
Then, everyone from our neighborhood walks home in a big stream of independent big kids with muddy legs from playing in the field and little kids with mums and dads in tow, all chattering about the adventures of the day.
For convenience sake, some of our friends from church who live further than walking distance park on our street for school pick up as well. It’s one big community building revelry every afternoon.
All of these things evoke a Leave It to Beaver sense that all is right in our world, but there are some unusual idiosyncrasies about our education situation as well.
Kiwi kids typically start school when they turn 5, no matter when that is in the school year. Then, everyone moves up when the new year starts in February. As it works out, some kids have more time–up to a year and a half of new entrance/year 1 (the American equivalent of kindergarten), while other kids have only 2 1/2 terms or quarters of their first year of school. It’s one of those things that can make your head spin if you didn’t grow up with this system.
Q turned 5 in May. Had he started school then, he would be starting year 2 (1st grade) in February at the ripe old age of 5 years 9 months, having had 3 quarters of year 1 (kindergarten). That’s a wee bit young and there’s no need to rush things if you ask me. This educational philosophy of mine jived perfectly with delaying his school start until we returned from the US. As it stands, he’ll have 5 quarters of year 1 (kindergarten) and start year 2 (1st grade) when he’s almost 7. Sounds like the makings of a great educational foundation if you ask me.
I’m in full on cultural translation mode when it comes to about everything else at school as well. Take these examples:
Stationary can be purchased through the school. It is generally the same price as the stationary at the store.
I think: That’s nice. They must be encouraging the practice of formal letter writing by selling fun stationary. Or maybe it’s a fundraiser? Great idea, either way. Maybe Q can use it to write a letter to some friends in America.
What it means: Stationary = school supplies. You can purchase your school supplies, which consist primarily of various notebooks (see picture), through the school so you don’t have to hunt for them at the store. Supplies like scissors, pencils, crayons, etc. are all purchased through the additional school fees and shared. This is a socialist education system, after all.
The notice in the school newsletter said, “Please make sure your child has suitable shoes and clothing for wearing on the field and/or courts for PE, as well as every other day.”
I think: Make sure your child is wearing tennis shoes (not the kind that will mark up the gym floor) and play clothes on PE days.
What it means: No shoes are necessary. Don’t bother sending your child to school with shoes. They just take them off anyway. Kids must wear shorts (not pants) on the field. The rule is “shorts for sports” (Comfort? Mobility? Holes in skin repair more easily than holes in pants?) and they must wear a hat for sun protection. Sunglasses are o.k. too as they protect the eyes.
Another notice in the newsletter said, “Whanau Hui Agenda as Follows: Karakia, Mihi, Whakawhiriwhiri, Karakia, Kai.”
I think: I would definitely benefit from Maori language school.
What it means: The Maori Curriculum Team held a meeting for families at the school. Family meeting Agenda as Follows: Opening prayer, Introductions, Discussions, Closing Prayer, Food.
The outtakes. Always so much silliness with this kid.
All in all, we’re adjusting. There have been relatively minimal tears. And, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t even cry on the first day. In fact, I was feeling quite proud of myself until an older lady in the line behind me at the post office said, “Look at this perfect card I found for my son. It says, ‘I was proud of you the day you were born and I’ve been proud of you every day since. You are a treasure.’ My son is turning 50, and this card says it all!” I smiled and nodded and tried to swallow the sudden lump in my throat and hurried to the counter for my turn. Sheesh. But truly, we are so proud and so grateful that our little guy is becoming a strong, healthy big guy and navigating this new “school days” phase of his third culture kid life so seamlessly.
When we were at the New Mexico District Family Camp in August, the kids made Koru necklaces out of clay. Q loves wearing his. These Koru (the brown swirly things), which symbolize new life, will eventually unfurl into more fern fronds.
We’re back! Finally. It has taken us a long time to get here. A month to be precise. Well, actually, it only took us one extra day to get home, thanks to this fuel crisis, but it has taken us a month to work our way back into some sort of normal. However, the world of our little family is changing drastically again this week as Q starts school at our neighborhood school. He’s going to love spending so much time with his neighborhood friends and some friends from church too.
Since pictures say it best, every now and then we sum up our day-to-day life during this season in five pictures and five pictures only. Right now, it looks something like this. You can see our previous picture summaries here, here, and here.
I was home in New Zealand for 7 days, and then jumped on a plane for Singapore, where our regional offices are located. We spent our days visioning for the future of theological education, so I didn’t get to see much except through taxi or bus windows or walking back to the hotel at night. Even so, it was fascinating to engage in this English-speaking Asian culture!
These three held down the fort at home, and even hosted out-of-town guests while I was away in Singapore. Aren’t they the cutest?!
It’s VISA time again! A massive amount of Jaron’s time has been spent collecting, filling out, and organizing all of the necessary elements for our VISA renewal, which, once approved, will allow us to live and work in New Zealand for two more years.
We’re savoring Q’s time with us during the days. We’ve squeezed in some time for art, lots of reading (We’re on book #14 of The Boxcar Children!), hosted a Play Cafe, and took a trip to the zoo. On Thursday, this kid will officially become a school kid!
It’s springtime in New Zealand, and I am 100% sure we have the most stunning tree on the block. This beauty greets us as we round the corner of our street to pull into our driveway, but don’t be fooled by that snippit of blue sky you see. Saturday was just a teaser. We’re back to chilly, windy days!
We’re wrapping up–Home Assignment, that is. I was prepared to write a Home Assignment update post last week, but in the face of massive fires in the Western US, hurricane recovery in Texas, hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and Florida, and a massive earthquake in Mexico, I felt like there were more important things in people’s news feeds. All this, plus equally difficult climate and political situations across the globe certainly puts many things into perspective.
So, this Home Assignment update comes with a sense of immense gratitude. Life is good. Our loved ones are safe and dry and warm and calm. In just a week, we’ll be en-route to New Zealand, so we’re soaking up the last few days of State-side adventures and sunshine. Can you believe it? There’s a certain slow-fastness, or perhaps a speedy-length, to a season when you’re totally out of your normal routine. Our lives have been so full in some of the best possible ways—full of story-telling and neck-hugging and grandparent-spoiling and friend-making and road-tripping and blessing-celebrating.
In the midst of all of that, we’re hoping our kiwi people and our dog haven’t forgotten us. We know their lives have been just as full as ours (dog included)—just in the completely different ways of the normal life of the end of winter on the Southern Hemisphere. On the other hand, we’re positive it has only been a minute since we said, “See ya later.”
This past week, we got to spend some of the sweetest moments with my home church, Shawnee Church of the Nazarene. It’s the church responsible for my formation as a baby, child, teenager, and young adult. It’s also just the kind of church that understands the importance of engaging intentionally in the global mission of the church. It’s really beautiful to be a part of a body—even if you’ve been serving elsewhere for many years— and to feel sent and affirmed and supported and loved and championed by that body. Together, we got to celebrate a long history and a beautiful future of supporting, nurturing, shaping, and engaging in the work of missionaries from around the world. Indeed, we are a blessed people to be a part of something so much bigger than any one church, one culture, or one country.
We’ll get to hang out with one last super-awesome church this coming weekend. In the meantime, the pictures are worth 1,000 words.
The end of Home Assignment stats look at bit like this:
On the Odometer: 5,095 miles (8,200 km)
Note: This already includes the 13 hour drive from Kansas City to New Mexico that we’re anticipating on Monday, but HOLY MOLY… We will have accumulated over 5,000 miles, folks! It’s the length of New Zealand about four times over.
On the Road: 75 hours
On our Plates: More Mexican food, and we’re anticipating Kansas City BBQ tomorrow night!! Hooray!! In our bowls: Blue Bunny Ice Cream (it’s simply the best) with chocolate chips sprinkled on top.
On our Minds: New Zealand, you’re on our minds! We’ll see you very soon.
As summer ends, a stop by giant fields of sunflowers is a must, especially in Kansas, the sunflower state.
Q has taken every possible opportunity to cuddle his big dog, Bailey, who is enjoying her sunset years at a “retirement home” (as we joke) with Grammy and Papu.
Another adventure involved lunch at the iconic Fritz’s restaurant, where a train delivers your order to the table.
It’s not a trip to Grammy and Papu’s house if it doesn’t involve at least one bowl of Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream with a few chocolate chips sprinkled on top.
Adventures with Grammy have been numerous. This one took us to the Moon Marble Factory, where we watched marbles being made by hand.
We loved getting to worship with the people at Shawnee this past weekend.
The Royals didn’t win, but we still had a great time at Q’s first Major League Baseball game. This kid has always loved baseball.
Folks, this is the breakfast food aisle at Super Walmart. Both sides, From one end to the other. Be overwhelmed.
Q has long been fascinated with fishing. His uncle, David, took him a few weeks ago, but Q only caught a tree. This week, our special family friends, the Edgar family, met us at a new-to-us park for a picnic and some very successful fishing.
Q caught a fish!
Meanwhile, at Camp Cresswell: Laylee (the second pup in this picture) has loved every minute with our friends, the Cresswells. We’ve gotten regular updates throughout her time with them, and we’re not quite sure she’s going to be keen to return to her life without cows.
Another day. Another trip to feed the cows. Another bath is in order.
This birthday boy loves treats–particularly chocolate ones. He also loves making silly faces and being goofy any chance he gets!
We’ve reached a big milestone in our family this week. Mr. Q turned 5! From Baby Q to Big Kid Q in a flash, it seems. Over the years, we’ve celebrated with Little Man Q, Construction Man Q, Cowboy Q, and Astronaut Q. This year, after much deliberation on the part of the birthday boy, we celebrated Paleontologist Q. Dinosaurs and fossils galore! I know these sweet days of themed celebrations won’t last forever, but they have served as really fun markers of our little guy’s ever-developing interests and inquisitive nature.
Turning 5 is a BIG deal in our neck of the woods. Typical kiwi kids head off to school on their fifth birthday, whenever that is in the year, or shortly thereafter. This mama is a little bit thankful that our travel schedule dictates that Q won’t start until fourth term in October. (Whew!) However, I did deliver all of his school enrollment papers to our neighborhood school this week, and it’s all feeling quite real!
Meanwhile, Q is jumping at the chance to give you his two cents on turning 5 and boy life in general. We took turns typing, with Q dictating the part that I typed. You can check out his blog post from last year here. Reading through it reminded me again how much he has grown up over the past year!
I am five. I am actually five. Turning 5 is cool because I will get to ride horses. I am not that excited to turn five though because things won’t be the same. I won’t get to ride in my stroller. (Yes, we have tested the limits on that jogging stroller.) I also won’t get to be with Mommy and Daddy as much because school will be every day and last longer than kindy. I won’t go to my kindy any more. I will go to my neighborhood school. I will have to do homework, and I am nervous about having to do a lot of things at school. I have friends that go to my new school already. They are from our neighborhood. Their names are Luke, Cadyn, Corbin, Hunter, Lucas, and Marshall. Plus, some friends from our church go there.
Celebrating as “King for the day” at kindy.
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Since I turned four last year, I have learned to ride my bike without training wheels, been skiing, learned about dinosaurs, and seen hundreds of dolphins in the ocean. I have been swimming like a fish! I like to swim, especially diving under the water and doing water twirls. That’s where I jump in and twirl around under water. One of my favorite things about this past year was that I had spoil days with Bapa and Gigi and my friends Ellie and Maxwell came to visit me. It was Ellie and Maxwell’s first time. I really hope they come again.
[Here Q entered a gazillion emojis, basically every emoji that illustrates something he likes (many of them multiple times). They, of course, don’t translate well to the computer, but it’s rather fitting because since he discovered the beauty of emojis a few months ago, he insists on adding his own personal touch to every text message we send to the grandparents. The conversation usually sounds like, “O.k. That’s all I want to say now. Can you take me to the part where I can choose my pictures?” If it’s something cool, you’ll likely get a rocket in his response, though he has a particular fondness for all of the vehicle, party, and food emojis. Typical.]
Laylee is my pup pup. She steals my furry friends, even though she has her own furry friend. She is the vacuum cleaner of food under my chair. She climbs up on the chairs and puts two paws on the table acting like she is a human. She gets in trouble for that.
You Will Never Run by Rend Collective is one of Q’s favorite Songs to play on the cajon (a box drum). Here, he decided to spontaneously demonstrate his musical skills for one of his teachers at kindy (April 2017).
I am really excited that later this year I get to go to America to see all my American friends. I made a bucket list of things I plan to do there. I am also excited that when I am five I am going to learn to tie shoelaces. I will learn how to ride a bigger bike, read more of my own books, and play some more songs on the cajon (that’s a box drum that I sit on). I play it at church sometimes. Oh yeah!!
I’m still nervous, but it sounds like 5 might be pretty cool.
Newly emerged Monarch butterfly on a grapevine in our backyard (March 2017). Q loves watching nature unfold in our yard. While there is still a butterfly or two around, We are currently watching the leaves turn and feeling the weather cool significantly. We brought the heaters inside this week.
In honor of a great two weeks with our first guests with kids, we’ve put together our list of top 10 international travel tips for parents. We’ve had so much fun over these past 12 days. We think the memories are definitely worth the jet lag, long hours on the airplane, and overcoming the apprehension of traveling with kids.
So, with no further ado, here are the Top 10 things we think parents should remember when traveling internationally with kids.
Welcome to New Zealand, sign design and wording by Q.
Get the Sky Couch.
Air New Zealand has this really cool thing where if you’re already buying three seats together, you can pay a teeny bit more to have a foot rest thing that raises and makes your seat into a bed. This is especially perfect for 2-8 year olds who are too big to be lap children, but aren’t really all that tall yet. When you’re flying overnight, it’s so worth it. At the very least, make sure your row has reclining seats and arm rests that raise. Once, ours didn’t, and it made for a verrrry long night.
Carry-on a surprise.
There are moments during long layovers or even longer flights when kids need a distraction. A small surprise—something they’ve never seen or gotten to play with before—is a great source of entertainment. Sticky window decals, a little action figure, or a new sticker book, etc. can all keep kiddos occupied in confined spaces for chunks of time. There’s something about the newness and the surprise factor that make simple things all the more fascinating.
Drink your water.
It seems so obvious, but it makes a big difference. If you fly much, you know the drill: take your empty water bottle through security and then fill it up. Jaron is especially good at making sure we all have our water handy. It’s even more important on international flights. Some people say that staying hydrated really helps reduce all the yucky side-effects like jet lag and ankle swelling. It’s probably true. Those little airplane cups don’t provide enough water to keep a flea hydrated. Plus, they’re totally not kid friendly. Everyone needs their own water bottle. Flight attendants are typically more than happy to refill them too.
“No worries. Don’t be uptight. Don’t stress. Don’t freak out over the little things.” That’s what our friends said in that order. It’s true. It’s not like you can change it anyway. Forgot to pack underwear? No worries. You can buy those. Kid spills lunch all over their clothes? Take a chill pill. Failed to pick up your passports off the kitchen counter? Now, that’s a reason to freak out. But really, the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your kids will likely be.
Cave explorers at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
On more than one occasion, I have pulled two suitcases while carrying a car seat on my back and pushing a kid-filled stroller with my stomach while balancing a pack-and-play on top of the stroller handle. Crazy stuff. I was happy to ditch the pack-and-play when Q outgrew it. However, on our last trip to the States, I said, “Never again.” Not “Never again will I travel,” but never again will I attempt to pack every little thing. Traveling is challenging enough. Struggling to manage your stuff sucks every last bit of joy out of the adventure, especially when you add managing a little person to the mix. It’s best to have at least one hand free at all times. We are mastering traveling very light, and my trapezius muscles are thanking me!
Oh, and our friends packed for a family of 4 for two weeks in NZ with 3 carry-ons and two checked suitcases, plus the car seat. Total. Considering they had at least 20 pounds of our stuff with them, I’d say they definitely killed it! I am so impressed and proud.
Our friends say: “Even if your kids no longer use diapers, don’t forget the wipes, water bottles, a change of clothes (in case your luggage doesn’t make it), toothbrushes, passports, food, a blanket, the essential stuffed animal, and a very few small toys and activities in your carry-on.”
A day at the beach in Raglan
Rock the routine.
There’s just something about routines that tells our brains what we’re supposed to be doing. On overnight flights, I make sure to change Q into pjs, brush his teeth, and do his normal bedtime routine to encourage the best possible sleep scenario. We carry on a small travel blanket that was gifted to us from a sweet church in Roswell, New Mexico and his stuffed dog. They are familiar and comforting. In the morning, he gets dressed and brushes his teeth, which signals that he can start his day.
Balloons over Waikato
Talk about it.
New experiences are often so abstract and even scary for kids, but the more we talk through what’s coming, the more successful their travel experience can be. Read books about travel. Show kids pictures. Talk about your routine on the airplane and let them know there might be lines at the airport. Talk about airport safety, what you’ll do when you get there.
Long before you leave, it’s great to help your kiddos get involved in the planning process. Q’s friend had heard about the glow worm caves. She thought they sounded so cool so we made sure to put that on our agenda. Today, when they were getting ready to leave, we asked the kids to help us plan what they’ll do together when we see them in America next.
These boys need alllll the snacks!
Snacks. All the snacks.
Kids (and parents) are happier humans when they’re well-fed. In order to avoid any opportunity for “hangriness” (that’s hungry and angry at the same time) to take over, pack snacks. Lots of them. Plan for the worst-case scenario: you sat on the tarmac with no flight service for 3 hours. Your child refused to eat any of the airplane food on the flight. Your flight was delayed so you didn’t have enough time to get food during the layover. And, you had to stand in a two-hour line in customs, which delayed your access to food even further. I haven’t ever had all of those happen on one trip, but flights and airports are sometimes unpredictable. Let’s be real, eating also keeps kids occupied, which is an added bonus. Take enough nutritious snack options to keep the family happy for the entire duration should you need to. We love individual packages of peanut butter and almond butter, nuts, fresh fruit (but not too much because you can’t bring it in to NZ), cheese sticks (for early on), sandwiches, rice cakes, non-sugary snack bars, pre-sliced raw veggies… you get the idea.
Tiffany family at Cathedral Cove
Ask for help.
Or simply just take the help that is offered. Sometimes you just need an extra hand, or you’re not sure where to go. Fellow travelers and airport employees alike can be so helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask, “Do I need to declare this?” or “Could you please fold this stroller for me?” or “Could you keep an eye on my kid while I just take a little nap?” Just kidding!! 😊 But really, ask for help.
The farewell picture… before the tears.
And our number one piece of advice…
Take your time.
Don’t get in a hurry. I learned this really early on in our parenting experience when flying domestically with a wee one by myself. The truth of this statement is amplified a hundred-fold when traveling internationally. The world is a better place when you’re not having to rush, when you can walk through the airport at the pace of your toddler, and when an urgent need for a potty break doesn’t derail the entire plan. Of course, there are exceptions where you have to frantically run through the airport. In that case, refer to #2. However, you can set you and your kids up for a really successful travel experience by getting to the airport plenty early, planning ahead for long enough layovers, and building in time to let the wiggles out.
In fact, “Take your time” is pretty helpful advice for traveling anywhere with kids. Here’s the truth: when traveling with small children you’re probably not going to get to cram 15 hour days full of museums or multiple beach stops. Traveling with small kids may mean you have to skip the surf lessons (unless you have a baby-sitter in tow), take more frequent breaks, or opt for the half day instead of the multi-day tour. However, you are going to get to see and enjoy things together that form deep memories and develop broad world-views. And those things pay dividends that no dollar amount can measure. We say it’s a totally worthwhile adventure!
Home. What does that even mean? Q and I have traded lush rolling green hills and waterfront views for big, blue skies and wide open spaces this week. We are officially on our first trip “home” to New Mexico and Kansas since moving to New Zealand. As I not-so-deftly navigated driving on the right side of the road through familiar small-town streets this afternoon, I came to understand in an even deeper way that home is where you are with people you love and who love you. Home is where you are known for who you really are; where you know others deeply. Home is where some of the deepest and most significant parts of your story are written. Sometimes it’s where you were born. Sometimes it’s not.
Amid the constant mental refrain of, “Stay to the right, Elizabeth. Right lane. Remember, turn wide when you go left. The other right, Elizabeth!!” I again gave thanks that I have a home in a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico and one in the suburbs of a Midwestern city and one in the middle of an island in the South Pacific. Indeed, we are blessed to have so many places to call home—to be loved by and to love so many.
The truth is that visiting isn’t all roses. Q woke up from his nap today crying for his daddy, ready to go home. Those weren’t the first tears we’ve had this week, and they won’t be the last. But an hour before and again this evening he had snuggled close to his Gigi and said, “I love you, I’m so glad I’m here with you.” So when he woke up sad this afternoon, we cuddled and I said, “I understand, Buddy, I really do. I feel the same way. This is tough. Our love for people and places on both sides of the ocean is real. No matter where we are, a piece of our heart is in the other place. We’re learning together how to navigate that.”
The grief of all we left behind 10ish months ago—the things that have changed and the things that haven’t—is running really close to the surface these days. There are vivid reminders everywhere. Truly, I think “out of site, out of mind” is a little bit easier mode of operation. Easier, maybe, but not better.
So, while we’re here, we’ll play hard, love deeply, write some important pages in our stories, and share some of what has been written there in the past months. Then, in a few weeks, we’ll make the long journey back to another home where we will live well, love deeply, write some important pages in our stories, and share some of what has been written there in the past weeks.
Jaron pulled over quickly to snap this picture while on his way to a pastor’s retreat north of Auckland last weekend. Just ahhhhh….
Back in the autumn (March to be precise), we wrote this post about our life summed up in 5 pictures. It’s a new season and we’re doing some of the same and some different things, so here goes round #2…
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:
Picture #1: Citrus Feast
Did you know that there are places in the world where citrus trees produce fruit year-round? No? Me either. But it’s true. We’ve enjoyed amazing oranges, lemons, and grapefruit all winter long (even when our grocery store shelves were totally bereft of salad greens). These oranges are from our District Superintendent’s tree in Auckland. Q can’t get enough of them so they sent a big bag home. They’re small but mighty with the most amazing flavor, the best juice, and the richest color.
Picture #2: Nazarene Theological College-Auckland is Taking Flight
This stack of books represents so much more than a juggling act of acquisition (life without Amazon… What?!). It represents the first class provided by Nazarene Theological College-Auckland, a satellite program of Nazarene Theological College-Brisbane, which was held last week. This class was a little like giving birth after 9 months of praying, planning, meeting, and preparing, particularly on Jaron’s part. 1 master’s student, 4 bachelor’s students, 3 course of study students, and an auditing participant worked long day jobs and then attended class for two weekends and a week’s worth of evenings, absorbing, reading, writing, reflecting, and presenting on pastoral theology. It was a first for Jaron as professor and the beginning of a new stage of Wesleyan Theological education in New Zealand. Exciting stuff.
Picture #3: Artist Q
This is the stage of the budding artist around our house. Q has many creative endeavors underway. The results are as varied as a robot and its charging station, a police headband, a letter urgently mailed to the grandparents, and a self-portrait. We’re going through sellotape (a.k.a. Scotch tape) like it’s going out of style and trying to view the endless stream of teeny scraps of paper as the celebratory confetti of 4-year-old life.
Picture#4: Spring has Sprung!
It is officially spring, and we couldn’t be happier. Just like springs we’ve experienced in the northern hemisphere, we’re being teased with warm sunny days that call for impromptu bike rides and spring cleaning the play house and then brought quickly back to reality by a rainy chill that has us huddled by the heater. Q is anxious to ditch his jerseys (jackets) and long pants for shorts and bare feet. These are the daffodils we planted back at Easter. We’re loving their vibrant colors.
Picture #5: Tonga (and Back)…or Bust
I’ve attempted to join the minimalist packing club and packed for a week in Tonga in this backpack (a consistent forecast of sunny and 78 degrees sure makes it easier). I’m looking forward to serving with and learning from our friends at Mango Tree. I am not as excited about saying, “See you later,” to my guys for a few days, although I know they’ll be perfectly fine grilling burgers every night and making Lego creations to their hearts’ content.
Perspective. It’s a funny thing. It’s one of those things that comes by way of experience, impacted by relationships and circumstances. For a long time, I have said I wanted to have a broad worldview, and living in a different country is helping me do just that, which means my perspective is being shaped.
We often find ourselves grappling with conversations and experiences that challenge and shape our perspectives. This happens in so many ways, from the grocery store clerks asking me about the U.S. presidential race almost every week, to having to order books 3 weeks before I want to read them (no Amazon Prime here), to finally looking up the statistics for how many Americans have concealed carry permits (its 3%) so I can tell my Kiwi friends that “No, not everyone in America carries a handgun, and no, contrary to what you see on the news and in movies you are definitely not in major danger of getting shot there.”
I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the American perspective on money. Whether we realize it or not we were raised in a land of plenty. Not only do most Americans have opportunity for high household income ($51,949/year on average), we enjoy a relatively cheap cost of living, freeing up more disposable income than much of the world’s population. New Zealand is also a fully developed western society. It too is wealthy by world standards. Healthcare and schools are good, and at $51,000/year, the medium income is essentially the same as the U.S.
On paper, the good ole US of A and NZ look about the same. But when the cost of living is taken into account, it doesn’t take long to see that the Kiwi dollar doesn’t go nearly as far. Here are a few perspective shaping examples.
United States Cost
New Zealand Cost
1 capsicum (bell pepper)
Hot water heater
8’ 2×4 board
Paslode Nails (2,000 ct)
Postcard stamp (domestic)
In the day in and day out, this boils down to living with less—smaller cars, a less updated house, fewer clothes…. It’s changing my perspective about what I need and want in what I think are really positive ways. But let’s face it, no matter how you slice it, the United States and New Zealand are both wealthy countries by the world’s standards, with plenty of resources and opportunities. I wonder how living with less, in both countries would allow our perspectives to shift from focusing on how much our dollars can buy for us to how much of an impact our dollars can have in the world around us for the building of the Kingdom of God?
We’ve enjoyed a few days of rest and winter as a family, skiing on Mt Ruapehu and hiking the Waitonga Falls Track.
* Note that U.S. prices are in US dollars and NZ prices are in NZ dollars. Just remember that the average income for the U.S. and NZ are about the same in their respective dollars, so this gives a pretty clear picture in terms of what the felt cost would be for a normal family. These are all things that we have actually purchased in both places.
Waitonga Fall Track… cold enough for bits of snow, warm enough for a hike and picnic, absolutely beautiful either way.
A couple of sunny days in a row have lent themselves to two-wheeled bike rides on the neighborhood sidewalks.
“Why is it so quiet in our house?” Q asked while sitting at the table for breakfast one morning last week. He didn’t wait for a response. Instead, he burst out with a loud, “Lalalalala!” that expertly filled the empty space with noise. Q’s question wasn’t so off base though. We’ve returned to The Normal around here. After nearly 12 solid weeks of visitors, including these, these, these, and these incredible people, our house and our caravan (vintage camper) are empty. The sheets are washed (though perhaps still waiting to be put back on the extra beds). The fridge is significantly less full. And the house is much quieter. It’s just so Normal.
It’s The Normal that looks like laundry drying on racks in the dining room. A mom, a dad, and a talkative boy at the table for dinner. Leftovers frequently. It’s Sunday mornings at church that start early and go through lunch time. And it’s Sunday afternoons filled with raucous Kids’ Clubs where whole families play, sing, learn, and eat together. It looks like swimming lessons on Mondays and three mornings of kindy for Q. The Normal looks like lots of reading and writing, hours/days of doctoral project work and sermon prep and conference attending for Jaron. It looks like Mainly Music and Happy Feet mums’ groups in the mornings, corporate prayer time on Wednesday nights, and preparing to host a group of Nazarene leaders from all over the world for a dinner of Indian food and pavlova dessert next week.
The Normal looks like teaching Q to ride his bike without training wheels inside the church when the rain just won’t stop and around the loop of our cul-de-sac when the sun peeks out. Noticing the flowering bushes and trees that have taken turns flaunting their beauty all winter long. Planning for a few days of R&R in the snow on Mt. Ruapehu a few hours south of us.
After all of the excitement of the past months, The Normal—as full as it is—might be leaving us feeling just a bit ho-hum. North American summer is coming to a close. Our friends and family are going back to school. Kiwi winter is still going strong. The season of a full house and a calendar full of anticipation is over for now. We aren’t expecting any more guests until after the new year. That doesn’t mean The Normal is the least bit boring. Jaron is preparing to teach a pilot class for a satellite program he is developing that will bring Wesleyan theological education to New Zealand for the first time. I am getting ready for a trip to Tonga. We’re excited to share more about both of those later. Q is swimming under water like a fish, making increasingly developed Lego creations, and arranging afternoon play times with his neighborhood buddies.
We know we can’t survive in the crazy all the time. In fact, The Normal is important. We need The Normal to push reset, to rest, to care for some relationships that have been neglected in the crazy, and to tackle the projects that are demanding attention (yes, I see you class curriculum that was supposed to be written weeks ago), and to plan for the next time visitors come en-masse and the house is noisy, the fridge is full, and the calendar is crammed with a new event every day.
Flowering bushes year round seem anything but Normal, but you won’t find us complaining.
We are the Graham family–Jaron, Elizabeth, the little guy Q. The three of us are on an adventure in faithfulness, currently serving in Hamilton, New Zealand. Being faithful requires much sacrifice and brings great joy. Adventure Graham is the place we chronicle our journey.