September 8, 2012

Spring! Today anyway.

It's that time again...  When the days are getting longer, the sun has a bit more warmth and the wood burning fire in our house is getting a rest (some days, and much to the cat's chagrin).  Soon, the clocks will Spring forward and after-work walks will be longer and dinner will be later. My favorite thing about this time in Dunedin?  Magnolia trees.  They are magnificent. Especially against the oldest buildings at the university. The rhododendrons aren't too shabby either. Ah yes, and the daffodils.

Of course it is also the still the time when we'll have at least one more multi-day session of bone-chilling temperatures accompanied with sideways rain and a snippet of hail.  And it is also the time when the wind decides to exhibit its true force, blowing all those gorgeous blossoms right off their branches and making you pull your coat tighter around you, cursing the fact that the next major landmass south of here is Antarctica.

So I must be quick and get out and have a look!  I'll walk the long way to work today.  Spring time relief is still early and fleeting, we're not outta the woods yet.


July 23, 2012

The View From Here

The view from Signal Hill in north Dunedin.  James and I spent about 1 hour walking up here on a crisp winter day.

I just spent the last three weeks completing my field research away from Dunedin.  It was, as fieldwork always is, totally exhausting.  It was also productive and successful (hooray!) and I can now move on with my research, analysis, writing and more in pursuit of that seemingly elusive PhD dissertation.  I have a long road ahead still, but I'm thrilled the chapter of away-from-home fieldwork is complete. 

Rather than talk about those weeks away, tonight I felt like just sharing a few photos of old Dunedin town, because... I'm so glad to be back.  It really is beginning to feel a bit more like home here.  Traveling for travel's sake is fun; traveling for work or research is overrated.  It's hard to eat well and evenings, when the work is done, are boring.  Back in Dunedin, I must say the weather's been wonderful this winter, our house is warm, our kitchen in stocked with yummy things to cook, the neighbor's cat is great company, and my husband was all smiles picking me up at the airport.

The view looking across the harbour and over to the Otago Peninsula.

Dunedin is a quirky little place, with its pros and cons like anywhere. I spend a lot of time immersed in musings about those pros and cons - both are significant for a migrant far from home.

But today, I think I'll just enjoy the view. 

Looking down and over town.  Those tall buildings in the foreground are the hospital and university.

Carry a thermos of hot chocolate and a packet of 'biscuits' and it's just that much better.

June 10, 2012

Roots Can Fly

During my last visit back to the States, I finally managed to go through some of the family china that my mom has been keeping for me in her cupboard.  There's a full dinner set of my great-grandmother's that I have always loved.  The problem, of course, is moving a full dinner set of antique china from Arizona to New Zealand.  It's fragile, and it's surprisingly heavy -- they don't make things like this anymore!  A full dinner plate weighs almost one pound!  In the end, I just sorted through this dinner set, made an inventory of what's there, and wrote a list of the pieces I'd like to claim as mine.  Then I put it all back in the cupboard. Getting it all over here seemed like an insurmountable task at the moment.  I'll get there though, I do have a bit of a plan now.  It involves packaging and mailing some and hand-carrying some on my next trip.

For now, however, I did bring a different set of plates back. These ones are a gorgeous pattern called Singapore Bird.  They were a wedding gift to my mom and dad, a gift from my grandmother's friends.  It's not a full dinner set but more like a dessert set.  There's medium sized plates and tea cups and saucers. I brought the plates... and one tea cup.  The weight of just that was more than the allowable weight of a carry-on on Air New Zealand.

April 19, 2012

A Twist On Be-Longing

Several weeks ago I went to a play at the University of Otago entitled, Be-Longing.  It was a lovely, innovative play about immigrants in Dunedin.  Upon entering the small theatre, the usher approached me and asked if I would please first head over to a map on display and put a pin where I feel I belong.  I immediately just about stopped short in my tracks.  I thought I was going to cry, standing there in front of that map with a little pin in my hand!  I was stunned to realize that I was tempted to put the little pin on Dunedin. 
The events that have lead to this new grounding in Dunedin are not events that I ever could have predicted.  Several months ago I was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called Primary Myelofibrosis.  It all started with a routine blood test. Then I was called back into Student Health. The next day I was in the Haematology/Oncology department of the Dunedin Public Hospital. And the day after that I was having a bone marrow biopsy which, when the test results came back some time later, confirmed the diagnosis.  I’ll post more about the disorder some time. For now, it’s enough to say it is serious and will require some management for the rest of my life.  The prognosis is pretty unknown, the only cure is a bone marrow transplant, but that is not deemed necessary at this time as I am a best-case scenario patient for long-term management.  

Ever since the diagnosis, I’ve been wondering whether or not to mention it in my blog.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize it would be really hard for me to blog WITHOUT mentioning it because this is now a large and important piece of who I am, pervading even my migrant experiences.  Though the two may seem unrelated – being a migrant and now having a chronic condition to manage – they are, actually, very related.  I realized this when I wanted to put the pin of my belonging, for the first time, in Dunedin. 

See, this huge and unexpected medical experience has basically changed everything.  I can’t do a comprehensive description of what the last months have been like, but we’ve have been on a wild ride of tests, research, copious information, treatment plans and medications.  I have also sought out a naturopath, a meditation guide, changed my diet and implemented an exercise regime all to help me cope physically and mentally.  I have cut back to part-time studies.  And this is only the beginning of the changes we’ve been handling.  My husband has been on this wild ride with me at every turn.  The doctors have been amazing and my care here has been exceptionally high quality.  We have a long road ahead of us, managing this situation, but we’ll get there. I’m determined. 

All of this has made me feel immensely grounded right here, right now, right where I am.  Five months ago, I didn’t know I had any health problems, now I know I need medical intervention to stay healthy and alive and that intervention is based right here, in little old Dunedin, the town at the end of the earth -- with a medical teaching hospital I can see from my kitchen window! My care has been free, my prescriptions are $3, my doctor takes a good amount of time with me at every appointment.  We have a lovely new house, in which I can rest and recuperate between the ups and downs.  We even have a lovely neighborhood cat that keeps us company (when she pleases, of course!)  I have a valuable handful of concerned, supportive people here for me. I even have a hair dresser who is basically an unrecognized health and mental health practitioner herself!!  I am right here. I am, actually, precisely where I am supposed to be.  I may have come to feel this way eventually anyway, but this situation has really sped matters up!

My ties to my friends and family overseas have also been strengthened because of all of this.  I am connected to them intimately on a daily basis and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s hard not to be closer to some of the most important people in my life, especially with my new-found appreciation for the preciousness of loved ones. But I have a new odd peace about my situation. 

As I stood in the dimly lit theatre, having a mini internal crisis, the usher sort whispered and said, “You can mark two places if you’d like.”  Whew! I had to laugh a little. She was probably afraid I was having a breakdown. Crisis averted. I put a pin on Alaska, I’m not ready to give that place up. And I put a pin on Dunedin, still surprised that for the first time, I do feel a sense of belonging here.  And then I mentally put a little pin on every other place where I have a dear friend or family member supporting and thinking of me. 

March 1, 2012

House into Home

My sister brought my childhood teddy bear over to me last week.  "Sunshine Bear" enjoys the view from his new digs in Dunedin.

For most of my 20’s, everything I owned fit in my car.  When I moved to Alaska, without my car, all my possessions fit in my backpack.  My first year in New Zealand, I lived in my boyfriend’s (now husband’s) old work van for several months while I worked on fruit orchards.  I had a long and sincere conversation with a fellow van-dwelling orchard-worker about how living in a van is good for your soul.  It’s freedom itself. Whether a backpack or a van, living as a self-contained little unit keeps you mobile and unencumbered.  

For years and years I lugged around a small, tattered, plastic folder with some of my favorite photos – snapshots of friends and family as well as artistic, decorative shots.  I also carried a small ball of twine and some clothes pins.  I’d stretch the twine out, pinning it to a bare wall, and then hang photos from it like you hang socks from a clothing line.  It looked great and when it was time to move, the pictures went back in the folder and the ball of twine was wound up again.  At the next place of residence, it took just 5 minutes to hang it all up again.  In this way, 'home' really was quite portable for a while; I created it by hanging a few photos on the wall.   

During these years of nomadic living, however, I daydreamed about someday having framed photographs hanging on the wall of a possibly-more-permanent dwelling. These days, though I will always have another 'home' too, I am trying to create something more permanent here in NZ – to Settle In. My sister was just here for a short visit and she brought two 50-pound suitcases with most of my family treasures that have been patiently waiting in my mom’s closet. Now I have my dad’s old baseball glove, my teddy bear and blankie, my baby book, my grandfather’s camera, my great-grandmother’s Christmas ornaments and more.  It’s so special and significant to have these things here that I almost can’t talk about it!!
And – I also have photos, in frames, on the walls of a home that my husband and I recently bought together.  It has character, great energy and an AMAZING view.  We count our blessings with this place daily.  When my friends Nick and Kelly from Alaska were here, they helped us move into our new house.  Kelly walked right in, picked up a framed photo, and hung it on the wall, proclaiming, “There. It’s your home now.”  I have left that photo right where she put it.

A framed photo of a friend and myself about to jump in a cold, Yukon lake.

I’m keeping the twine, clothes pins and a folder of photos ready should the North American horizon or some other location call us back into another adventure…  But in little steady ways, this house is also turning into a home.
More FRAMED photos. My dad's baseball glove and more.

January 27, 2012

Heaven's Called Okarito

I wanted to do a second little posting about just 2 days of my West Coast trip - just about a little place called Okarito.  It's about 20 km off the main West Coast road. 

I can't remember where I first heard or read about it, maybe I just saw it on the map and headed that way.  But I knew there was a campground - and a beach - so I decided to check it out.  Before seeing it, I just had a feeling it'd be the kind of place I'd stay for 2 days, rather than 2 hours. 

I was right. 

Okarito allowed me the space to think through a lot of things that have been going on in my life.  It was small, quiet and safe.  The community-run campground had just the kind of vibe you might imagine a community-run campground to have.  Cycle touring families, hippies in vans, locals just passing through, tourists who got off the beaten path a bit - we all shared this nice little patch of grass by the sea with a small shelter covered in painted murals.  Fresh herbs were offered for sale to spice up your camping cooking. 

The old wharf.

I walked a lot, I had a quick cold swim and I even rented a kayak on the spur of the moment and paddled around a gorgeous protected estuary and up a small river for several hours.

I read, skipped stones, chatted with a little Swiss boy about the lion on his T-shirt.  I drank coffee and got out my new watercolor paint set.  And I mulled some things over.  At some point I found myself thinking, wouldn't it be nice if there could be some sort of sign to let you know that everything in life is going to work out alright?  Not to say there won't be challenges and hardship, but you know, just something to offer that vague reassurance?  Then I looked around myself and chuckled -- what more of a sign could I want? 

January 23, 2012

Inevitable Comparisons

A bit of West Coast 'highway'.

I think it's natural, even unavoidable, for a migrant with two or more countries to compare 'here' to 'there'. I try not to do it TOO much, at least not out loud, because I know it gets old for people to hear.  But I believe it's a necessary and common way for many migrants to create links between what are otherwise often disparate 'lives.'  

And yet, while I value this comparison, and believe it will (and should) continue (to some degree) for many migrants throughout their migrant existance, I also find myself not needing to do quite as much of it lately. And I recognize that to be significant too.  In some ways, I am more able to let here be here.  This place, any place, just is what it is.  And lately, in many ways, I've been able to live a bit more in just this time and place.  This year, my 5th in New Zealand, I have been feeling - at best - more enjoyment and comfort in life here, or - at worst - simply resigned to life here.  (Hey, being "resigned" to something may not sound as nice but it is still a form of acceptance that I will embrace!)

Last week I had a chance to do a bit of comparison -- between 'here' and 'there' (Alaska and New Zealand) and between 'now' and 'then.'  "Now," is January 2012 and "then" is 8 years ago, January 2004 when I first arrived in New Zealand. Within weeks of showing up at the Dunedin Airport with a suitcase and a backpack, I had bought a $700 car and started driving around the South Island by myself.

This road trip included some time on the West Coast of the South Island - known for its wild terrain and narrow, windy roads where 2nd gear is common.

Its notorious for its heavy rainfall and dense temperate rainforest. 

It's famous for magnificent mountains rising from the sea, with glaciers pulsing down the valleys.

 It is remote and sparsely populated.  Sound and look familiar?  Hm, just like Southeast Alaska.

I have not been back to the West Coast much at all since 2004. Until last week. In 2004, I was a bit homesick.  I was a little bit nonchallant and unattached in relation to the staggering beauty of the West Coast.  Afterall, I'd come from, dare I say it, a place where the glaciers flowed even grander, the forest grew even more densely, the weather was even worse, the population was even smaller and quirkier, and many things could eat you.  Maybe.  I suppose, in hindsight, I had a bit of trouble just enjoying what I was seeing on the West Coast because I was so freshly removed from Alaska -- and, I knew I'd be going back.

Now I have been away from Alaska for 18 months - this time - and perhaps more significantly, I don't know when I'll return, either to visit or to live. So last week I visited the West Coast with less-biased, less divided eyes.  And what I found was SO wonderful.  I found that the West Coast is strikingly beautiful.  It's wet and wild and remote.  It's covered in native New Zealand bush with kea flying overhead and fantails buzzing you.  I found that driving my little car along the only bit of space between the sea and peaks was breath-taking.

I walked to hidden lakes and remote beaches.

Koru, or a fern frond and a NZ icon, with lake. 

I watched sunsets and hung out under the full moon. 

This time, I was just a little bit more "here." 

But I'd be lying if I didn't mention that along with my new-found appreciation for enjoying the West Coast for just exactly what it is, I love that it just feels so... Familiar.

This could be SE Alaska or West Coast, New Zealand!!

January 6, 2012

Happy New Year!

Only in the Southern Hemisphere can I write a blog post about Christmas/New Years and making a pie from freshly picked cherries!  

It’s been an awfully long time since I wrote a new blog entry about anything at all -- and my excuse is not a novel one.  Things have been busy!  We’ve moved into a new house in Dunedin (photos to come) and we absolutely love it.  We bought a new (to us) car – a simple 2002 Toyota and my absolute thrilled excitement about it is justifiable when I explain that my previous car was a 1989 Toyota that we paid $200 for! I’ve been studying and working and these things are going well…  My mom has come and gone – she came for 3 weeks to experience the oddities of Christmas in mid-summer.  And last but surely not least, I was recently diagnosed with a health condition that requires some managing.  I won’t write about it right here right now, but it has been a significant experience.  

What do all these things have in common?  They have all greatly impacted and primarily advanced how “at home” I feel in New Zealand.  Indeed this last year, overall, my 5th in New Zealand, has been some sort of a turning point in feeling more peacefully settled in this country.  More on some of these things later…  But for now, a couple of little things.  This year, I got to make Christmas sugar cookies with my mom just like the old days, but with some New Zealand flare.

And, on my way home from my in-laws at the end of a lovely Christmas Day, I realized that it didn’t feel quite like Christmas was complete yet – because I hadn’t been to the beach!!!  Goodness, I am turning a little bit more Kiwi afterall.  

So on the way home, I made a quick detour and felt much better.

And what did I do on New Year’s Day?  Well I went for a long, hot tramp (hike). 

 And on January 2nd I picked gorgeous, fresh cherries straight off their abundantly covered trees at an orchard in Cromwell.  And on January 3rd, I made a delicious cherry pie.   

Now that’s a good start to a new year in mid-summer that I could turn into a tradition and get very used to!  

 And Happy New Year!