Besides daytripping, what do we do?

As a new friend here said, “I mean, I have 10 fingers. These nails don’t file themselves.” Hah! I’m not doing much in the way of nail-filing (to be clear, neither is she). In fact we have catapulted ourselves into a life filled with activity. We’ve always been a pretty active family. Our kids don’t do long hours of unstructured downtime. Our kids don’t get “lounging.” (And while I confess, I like a good ol’ bout of time wastin’, it’s not just our kids who are active; Sean and I like to be active too.) We need to get out and do stuff. And of course, given that we now live in a new city with some exotic-seeming pass-times (surfing!), we’re thrilled to give them a go, along with our tried and true favorites. So, besides our daytrips, here’s what we’ve been up to.

The kids both go to school and this has matured them, Thora in particular. Thora is full-on reading, not merely reciting the lines from well-loved books. She’s reading! (I knew this would happen eventually, but it still feels magical, like there is no end to the luster of her intellect.) And of course I can’t talk about maturing without the inevitable nostalgia. What happened to my babies? I mean, look at this girl!

On days when we’re running behind, I can drop her off in front of the school with the car still running (and more relevant: her brother still strapped into his car seat), give her a hug and a kiss, hand her her school bag and hoodie, and watch her walk away, falling into line with the foot traffic of the other kids and their parents and little siblings as they make their way to the front door, looking so grown up and yet at the same time, her silhouette swallowed up by the backpack on her back.

And little Auric, what can you say about this kid?!? After a couple weeks of bounding into the play area of his school, me just a fading idea in his crowded mind, he did indeed go through a period of separation-anxiety during his 3rd week of school. But I’m glad to say that he rebounded and is again a happy boy, even when he senses me inching towards the exit. Yesterday, I bravely leaned into him (bravely, because there is always the potential for a tearful goodbye) and said, “Have fun. I’ll see you after lunch,” and he said, “I’m not going to cry, Mommy.” Cue heart breaking in 3…2…1… Now!

But it’s not all nostalgia-laced bittersweet moments. A lot of it is fun!

Both kids are in swimming lessons and making amazing progress. Thora, in one 30-minute lesson, went from doing an awkward doggy-paddle crawl where she stops to tread water and breathe, to doing a 4-stroke and breath-to-the-side crawl stroke. Besides being an awesome reader and thespian, swimming has always been an area of strength for her. She’s been in swimming lessons since she was 6 months old, almost continuously, and so I’m used to watching her lessons. But during this first one, I kept nudging Sean, saying, “Are you seeing this?!?”

Similarly, Auric is making progress. He’s put his face in the water a few times and has been… “pushed” is not the right word… “guided,” that’s the right word, underwater by his instructor, completely submerged to retrieve a sunken toy. This is the kid who still fights me when we need to rinse his hair during a bath!

In addition to her swimming lessons in the pool, Thora has started Surf Lifesaving, which is lifeguard training for the ocean.

Thora runs a relay race on the beach with her fellow Nippers.

She is in the Nippers level, the youngest of the club. The goal of surf lifesaving is to create crops of citizen life guards, people who are ultimately capable of saving someone who is having trouble out in the ocean. There is a competitive element to it too. The skills they master are combined into sport events that are used in competition. This past week, there was the Surf Lifesaving World Championship competition, in Adelaide, Australia, at which New Zealand beat out their main rival, Australia and their 14-year winning streak. For now, though, Thora does races on the beach and swims in the shallow part of the water and plays on a bogie board. There will be achievement tests in the coming weeks to test the skills of the kids, but for now, it’s mostly playing in the waves.

And as if that weren’t enough activity, Thora has continued her Tae Kwon Do training. The club she’s training under is a family effort: a father, mother, and their daughter teach the 20 or so students. People of all ages study together, at times breaking off into skill level groups, but Thora is the youngest of the group. This was pretty intimidating for her at first. Back in Cambridge, CW Taekwondo had such a large group of participants that there were several Little Tigers classes of kids between 4-6, with a curriculum aimed perfectly for that age group. Here, though, for example, they all warm up together, and so she does situps and pushups and planks with the teenagers and adults. On Friday, they all went for a timed run and she ran something close to a half-mile. But instead of being overwhelmed, she’s thriving. And the nice thing that happens here at her TKD classes, as well as at her school, the older kids teach the younger kids.

The kids aren’t having all the fun. Sean and I starting taking surfing lessons two weekends ago. During our first lesson, the water was almost too calm, the surf practically non-existent. Our coach, Frank the Surfer, said that was okay for our first time out. We focused on the basics. And if the waves were going to be less than perfect, I think we were happy they were smaller than ideal rather than bigger than ideal. But despite the little waves, miraculously I was able to get up for a few seconds three different times. What a victory!

Poor Sean had physics working against him. The waves were just not generating enough force to give him enough time to stand his tall frame up before the wave collapsed into the sand. However, during our second lesson, we had much more success. (At one point, Frank said to me, “That was a primo wave you rode there.” I can’t wait to pick up the lingo myself!) If we didn’t have the kids to worry about (they were happily playing with Frank’s assistant on the sand) we would’ve stayed in the water and surfed until our bodies gave out. It was a gorgeous day to be out on the water. The conditions felt perfect. At one point I looked up and took in the sight of the more seasoned surfers around us, some sitting on their boards waiting for waves, some riding them, and others paddling back out. I was struck by all the black dots of surfers, their wetsuits peppering the water as far down the beach as I could see. I thought briefly how cool it was to be out there, riding the same surf as all these other surfers, until I realized, “Wait. I’m one of them! Sean and I are two more black dots out here among them. We’re part of the collective!” Needless to say, we’re totally hooked, and in the coming weeks, we’ll be looking into getting our own wetsuits and a board to share. Fun times ahead, dude.

We spend a lot of free time at the beach. Auric and I went down to Midway Beach to collect long sticks of driftwood for the kids’ teepee. (They need hideouts in the house.)

Auric practicing drawing really tall “i”s.

Sean and I spend a lot of time running on the beach. Although I feel like I’ve perhaps lost some speed because of the beach-running, it’s not something I’m going to give up any time soon.

my regular running route

And our arrival in Gisborne coincided with the Gisborne’s only racing event, a quarter marathon, or just over a 10.55k (6.something miles). It was a two-loop course and both Sean and I did well. Sean ran 7:50 minute miles and I ran sub-8:30’s, which was enough to place me 11th overall for female finishers. A HUGE caveat: the Auckland marathon was that same day, so I’m sure the serious runners who would’ve normally smoked me were out of town. But again, I take what I can get! Sadly we didn’t get our usual post-race photo. (I mean, if you don’t document it and put it on facebook or instagram it, did it even happen?!?) But one person at our bridge club saw the results in the paper and congratulated us. I can’t seem to find the results online anymore. (You’ll have to believe me!)

The view from a lookout from my run in the Whataupoko (fah-TOW-po-ko) Reserve, down the hill over Gisborne and Poverty Bay below.

Speaking of results in the paper, to paraphrase a friend, we are taking the Gisborne Juniors-level bridge scene by storm.

They post the bridge results in the Saturday paper, so we’re famous!

We’ve played 6 nights of bridge since we’ve been here and we’ve won our East/West direction twice! (We came in 3rd on another night.)  We have our friends and bridge mentors Brian and Gloria from our old bridge club to thank for their instruction, and their mantra of “shun the minors.” We often do well because we’ll do everything we can to find our way to a major suit contract or no-trump, rather than play a part-score contract in a minor suit. Our opponents seem content to play in minor suit part-score contracts, and often that’s the deciding factor for our top boards. Thank you Brian and Gloria, and the gang at the MIT/Draper Lab Bridge Club. Your competitive and expert play gave us immeasurable experience. Thank you!

We’re finding our introductions to the Maori culture fascinating. I accompanied Thora’s class on a field trip to Whangara (FAHN-ga-RAH), a small village up the coast from Gisborne. The story of Paikea (PIE-key-a), the ancestor to the Ngâti Porou tribe, is at the heart of the film, The Whale Rider. Thora’s teacher is a member of this tribe and so he gave us a tour of the marae (ma-RYE) and the land around the community buildings and told us the story of Paikea’s arrival to the area on the back of a whale. (I’ll have a post on this alone. Stay tuned.)

Pikea riding his whale to his new home.

We are enjoying our beautiful surroundings. Our house is lined with rose bushes that are covered in white blooms at the moment. And of course, there’s our still-prosperous grapefruit tree.

We had our first raceway experience! I never would’ve described us a raceway types. In fact, if pressed, I would’ve said that we were not raceway types. But there was something very down-to-earth about this event.

Firstly, it’s a family event. There are bleachers, but most of the fans sit on the sloped grass that surrounds the track. Families bring picnics, (but of course there is the inevitable concession food). The engines are loud (but not too loud). Chunks of hard mud rain down on you, as they are kicked up from the whirring tires below (but it doesn’t really hurt). The cars nudge and bump and wreck (but no one got injured). The cars race, the wrecked ones make their way to the infield, the checkered flag comes down and the winner does a victory lap while the other racers drive off the track, the wrecked cars pushed by tractors or by other racers. And then the next race starts. We had no idea what was going on most of the time, but we didn’t really care. We watched the races and when the kids got restless, they wrestled in the grass a bit, and then rolled down the hill. We all had fun!

While we still get stretches of cold, windy, grey days, we’re getting more and more summery days too. And it’s encouraged some of this:

Al fresco dining!

and this:

We stayed in the water for a full 30 minutes that day.

Our garden is exploding! (Although so are the weeds. I’ll have a separate post when I put down newspaper and a layer of mulch.) We’ve had several salads consisting of greens entirely from our garden. The tomato and bean plants are loving life, as our the towering cauliflower and broccoli.


Auric’s favorite job

And we celebrated Obama’s re-election on Wednesday evening, with a local wine.

I was very humbled by how interested and concerned the people here were about the results. For a small country on the other side of the planet to care so much about our election results, a country that many Americans care little or nothing about… Well, if only Americans cared about the implications of global issues as much as the world thinks about the implications of U.S. politics… Humbling to say the least.

And I think that just about covers it. For the time being…

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2 Responses to Besides daytripping, what do we do?

  1. Gloria Tsoi says:

    Hi Sarah!

    74%! I’m very impressed! I am so glad you and Sean are still playing bridge – it makes me so proud to hear your bridge skills are faring so well. I love your blog, keep up the great updates!


    • expatmomof2 says:

      Thanks, Gloria! We miss you guys! And I’m glad you like the blog. It’s fun to do, but it’s extra gratifying to know that people actually read and enjoy it. Keep in touch! (And seriously, that offer to come visit was totally sincere!)

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