Return to Kiwiland, Part III: Why New Zealand? Memmmmorieeees….

I know I haven’t give Reason #2 for our Return to Kiwiland, but I’m saving that one for right before we leave. Turns out there’s a third reason I hadn’t even considered: Nostalgia. Looking through photos from our year in Dunedin 20 years ago, I was ambushed by memories. Thought I’d share.

First of all, some perspective. Here’s Dunedin:

Fun fact: same latitude (south) as our then-home, Tacoma (north). But climate's more than latitude.

Fun fact: same latitude (south) as our then-home, Tacoma (north). But climate’s more than latitude.

And here’s a view of the town and its harbor (or “harbour”), looking down from Flagstaff Hill:

See those clouds? Yeah, we did too. A LOT. Only had six FULLY sunny days in 8 months.

See those clouds? Yeah, we did too. A LOT. Only had six FULLY sunny days in 8 months.

Think I showed our house already, but here’s a look from the front:

I know. We couldn't believe it either. The whole third floor was locked up for our stay, and we still felt lost in that house. Great for hide & seek, though!

I know. We couldn’t believe it either. The whole third floor was locked up for our stay, and we still felt lost in that house. Great for hide & seek, though!

Any stay in another country requires getting used to what one thinks as “weirdness,” which the locals call “normal life.” Here are a few examples.

1. “Burn time.” That was something they’d announce on the weather report, as in “this is how many minutes you can be out in the sun without getting bright red.” NZ sits directly under the hole in the ozone layer, we learned. (I’m assuming that hole hasn’t gotten any smaller, 20 years on.) So KIDS WORE HATS. Always.

Son One on a beach field trip with his First Form class.

Son One on a beach field trip with his First Form class.

2. Kiwis–the namesake of not only New Zealanders themselves, but also their money–are not only ridiculously rare, they’re also nocturnal. I got to see one on a tour on Stewart Island, at midnight, but our kids couldn’t stay up that long.

The only kiwi the boys got to see. (Wellington Zoo)

The only kiwi the boys got to see. (Wellington Zoo)

3. Aside from 70 billion sheep–OK, it was “only” 45 million, but then there weren’t quite 4 million PEOPLE in NZ at that time–Kiwis also raised elk for, of all things, the velvet from their antlers, which apparently fetched (still fetches? don’t know) a high price in some Asian countries. So weird to see elk penned up like cattle! Even weirder: they called them “Wapiti,” which is a northwestern Native American word.

Wapiti! Up in Marlborough Sound. The meat is sold too, of course.

Wapiti! Up in Marlborough Sound. The meat is sold too, of course.

4. Christmas falls in summer. At that latitude, it doesn’t get dark till around 10. So why bother with Christmas lights? They’d barely show. This might have changed, but back then, we saw hardly any. Took me a long time to notice what was missing.

But who needs lights when you have the Pohutakawa--the "New Zealand Christmas Tree"?

But who needs lights when you have the Pohutakawa–the “New Zealand Christmas Tree”?

5. New Zealand is officially bilingual. Here are signs from Otago University, in English and Maori:

"Wh" is pronounced like "f."

“Wh” is pronounced like “f.”

…and speaking of language…oh boy. Language. Don’t get me started. That’ll have to wait till next post. Till then, haere ra!

Return to Kiwiland, Part II: Why New Zealand? 2 Words: Milford Track

Kia ora! (Gotta start practicing my Maori for Pakehas–that is, white folks. I just said hello.)

Last post I promised TWO REASONS why the Mate and I are heading back to New Zealand 20 years after spending a year there.

Here goes reason #1: the Milford Track.

But before that makes sense, a little background. As I mentioned, when we lived in Dunedin in the mid-90s, our kids were small. Or, as the Kiwis put it, “wee.” Six and four. Therefore, our experience of NZ’s wonders was somewhat skewed.

For example, if you google Oamaru (the closest town of any size to Dunedin, where we lived), you’ll quickly learn that it’s home to a colony of Blue Penguins, the world’s smallest. I’m sure our boys remember the penguins–but not as well as they remember Oamaru’s AWESOME town playground, which featured a slide in the shape of a life-sized elephant.

Penguins, shmenguins.

Penguins, shmenguins.

We saw a lot of playgrounds in NZ. The Mate and I joked that we should write the kid version of Lonely Planet when we got home.

We also, of course, did a lot of hiking–what the Kiwis call tramping. Ready for some pics?

We tramped in native bush...(here, on the Abel Tasman Track)

We tramped in native bush…(here, on the Abel Tasman Track)

...and bush that had been pushed back for sheep...MILLIONS of sheep.

…and bush that had been pushed back for sheep…MILLIONS of sheep.

We tramped down south in the Gold Country (near Queenstown)...

We tramped down south in the Gold Country (near Queenstown)…

...and up on the North Island, in Rotorua (their version of Yellowstone's thermal areas)

…and up on the North Island, in Rotorua (their version of Yellowstone’s thermal areas)

We tramped up mountains--little ones like Mt. Cargill, Dunedin's high point

We tramped up mountains–little ones like Mt. Cargill, Dunedin’s high point

...and around the feet of Mt. Cook, NZ's highest peak. (Saw wild parrots here!)

…and around the feet of Mt. Cook, NZ’s highest peak. (Saw wild parrots here!)

We tramped through forests...

We tramped through forests…

...across beaches...

…across beaches…

...and across some pretty iffy bridges. (I had to piggyback the boys across; they didn't like the bouncing.)

…and across some pretty iffy bridges. (I had to piggyback the boys across; they didn’t like the bouncing.)

Most of these tramps, however, were short day hikes–normal kid fare. We only went on one multi-day tramp when my parents were visiting, so we’d have an extra set of arms to help carry gear or pooped-out kids. Tramping the famous Routeburn Track was not only once-in-a-lifetime memorable, it was also, turns out, a bit of a preview of the Lord of the Rings movies.

Son Two enters Mirkwood. Right?!

Son Two enters Mirkwood. Right?!

Which brings me back to Reason #1. We only managed part of the Routeburn (including walking behind a waterfall, so no one complained). We did not even attempt the Milford Track.

The Milford is considered one of the World’s Great Walks. You hike from hut to hut, no tenting, and you have to make reservations about nine months in advance to tramp in summer. This, of course, limits the number of people on the track (the Kiwi word for trail, in case you hadn’t figured that out). We probably couldn’t have gotten reservations even if we’d tried, that year. But we didn’t try. Because the distances between huts ranged from a few miles to twelve. Our kids were up for about five miles; the Mate and I were not up for carrying them, along with packs, for the remaining seven.

So I don’t have pictures of the Milford–yet. But I promised myself, when we left Aotearoa (“Land of the Long White Cloud”–NZ’s Maori name) un-Milford-tracked, that if I could manage it in our lifetime, We Would Be Back.

So that’s Reason #1. Pictures to follow–in a couple of months, probably. For now, here’s a teaser, courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons:

Thanks, AlasdairW! Can't wait to follow in your footsteps.

Thanks, AlasdairW! Can’t wait to follow in your footsteps.

Return to Kiwiland, Part I: Why New Zealand?

No, that’s not the title of my next book. But this post does have something to do with my next book. And New Zealand. And returning.

See, in a few weeks, Wing’s World will morph back to its occasional Travel Blog form. But only after I’ve returned from New Zealand; I won’t be blogging from Godzone.* So I thought I’d better use a few posts to explain the journey. There are TWO REASONS we’re going back.

*Godzone = God’s Own Country (Kiwis are rarely boastful, but this boast makes sense once you’ve been there)

Twenty years ago, the Mate had a sabbatical and we four Wings spent nine months in New Zealand. Specifically, in the college town of Dunedin—way down at the south end of the South Island. Sons One and Two were six and four. The idea was to go somewhere

a) safe

b) gorgeous

c) with a law school to host the Mate

d) English-speaking (although, in retrospect, that southern Kiwi accent was a pretty good linguistic challenge)

Plus– New Zealand?! Who DOESN’T want to go? And this was even BEFORE the Lord of the Rings movies.

The law school at University of Otago could not have been more accommodating. Here’s the mansion they found for us to house-sit during our stay:

[Disclaimer: these are uploaded from 20 year-old digitized slides. Sorry about the quality.]

Large house, wee son. (Boy, was that house COLD! No central heating.)

Large house, wee son. (Boy, was that house COLD! No central heating.)

The scenery could not have been more stunning. If you’ve seen the LOTR movies, you know. But just in case…

Near Arthur's Pass

Near Arthur’s Pass

The wild west coast, near Greymouth

The wild west coast, near Greymouth

One of the western glaciers--Fox or Franz-Joseph, don't remember

One of the western glaciers–Fox or Franz-Joseph, don’t remember

Near Haas (giant trout in there!)

Near Haas (giant trout in there!)

Along the Routeburn Track

Along the Routeburn Track

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

OK, OK, we get it, Gretchen–New Zealand’s gorgeous. What’s your point? 

Well–remember when I said we’re going back to New Zealand for two reasons?  That last photo is Clue #1. I’ll hint annoyingly about Clue #2 in my next post.

Till then–enjoy the changing of the year, and I’ll see you in 2017!

The All Blacks Haka and the Republican Debates: Is It Just Me…?

I’m not a rugby fan (unless you count the movie Invictus). But I am a huge New Zealand fan, and therefore, logically, I am a fan of the New Zealand All Blacks’ Haka.

Don’t know the Haka? Think war dance. Think Maori ritual. Think rhino pawing the ground before charging. Then watch this:

The team the Kiwis are threatening, their historical nemesis the South Africa Springboks–they look a little scared, don’t they? You can see that one guy swallowing. (I always wonder why the opposing team doesn’t just look away while they’re being “haka’d”, whistle a little tune, y’know, like, “dum de dum, I’m so bored…”)

But they don’t. They stand there and watch as if hypnotized. They can’t look away. Just like I can’t. Which reminds me of the U.S. presidential election. Specifically, the debates. More specifically, the Republican debates.

(Note: not saying I couldn’t use the Democrats as an example here, it’s just that this year, with the huge Republican field, and with Donald Trump, well…let’s just say that civility has gone out the window a bit faster, and with a slightly larger crash, than it has with the Democrats.)

They’re calling each other names on Twitter. They’re using words like “dummy” and “low-energy guy” (code for unmanly). Now, to you this might not seem parallel to the foot-stomping, chest-slapping, “I’m coming for you with my war club” violence of the haka, but…think about it. Isn’t the maturity level about the same? How about the overall effect on the viewer’s emotions? Or, conversely, how about the effect on rational discussion focused on solving problems?


I keep thinking about the mesmerizing quality of the haka, its compelling force. And I wonder: what if, prior to one of our national political conventions in 2016, some group performed a haka threatening, say, poverty? “We’re comin for ya, poverty! We’re gonna raise that minimum wage!” Or global conflict? “Aaargh!! We’re going to take in more refugees and stop secretly torturing political prisoners!”

Ehh–it’d never work. Might as well have a bake sale to fund the air force, like those old bumper stickers said. Meanwhile, I’ll watch the haka when it comes on, and the debates, and afterwards I’ll go take a shower and engage in rational conversation with someone.

What do you think? Does raw, animal aggression play any kind of role in our politics? Is there an upside to our political hakas?

Scottish Independence: Vote Either Way…Just Don’t Stop Debating!

I generally have strong political opinions, but on the issue of independence for Scotland, I am officially neutral…except in one area.

I love, love, LOVE to hear the Scots talk about Independence. Or the weather. Or anything, really. That accent makes me SWOON.

I really can’t tell you WHY Scottish accents thrill me to my core–I mean thrrrrrrill me. Part of it’s that rrrrromantic rolled R, for surrrrre. Then there’s that pure “u” sound: puuuuuure. Or pewre? It’s practically unspellable. But it sure puts a spell on me.


The vowels are fun too. In the mid-90s, my family spent most of a year living in southern New Zealand–specifically, the town of Dunedin. If I tell you that “Dun” means “town” in old Scots, you will understand that Dunedin is another way of saying Edinburgh. In other words, southern NZ was settled heavily (in both senses of the word) by Scots, and they left their mark on the accent there.

I came to think of it as the Great Vowel Shift. Short “i”s became “uh”s: fish ‘n’ chips became fush ‘n’ chups. Short “e”s became short “i”s, so the grocery chain Big Fresh was Bug Frish. When the PA system at the airport called passengers to the gate for “chicken formalities,” it took us a minute to realize…oh. Right. Check in. (We still get a giggle from that.)

Then there was the time our son Mac (short for McKenzie) came home excitedly from First Form to tell us, “There’s another Mac in my class!” Later we learned the boy in question was actually named Mark. While in school, our son went by “Meck,” or, more formally, “MecKINzaye.”

(orig. image courtesy

(orig. image courtesy

Could there be a blog post about a more trivial subject? I don’t care. I find accents fascinating. Even more fascinating: what makes certain accents appeal to certain people. Ready to join in? OK, I’ll start. Here are my top ten favorite accents in which to hear English:

1. Scots (Do they really speak that way ALL the time, amongst themselves? Or is it some kind of elaborate hoax they perpetrate on the rest of the world?)

2. Russian (ever seen A Fish Called Wanda? I don’t even need to hear Russian; a Russian speaking English does it for me.)

3. Italian (OK, that’s a gimme–who doesn’t have Italian in their top 3?)

4. Welsh–ooh, gotta think about that one, eh? Hint: Welsh speakers always sound as though they’re asking a question?

5. Spanish (even fakey Spanish: “Allo. My name ees Inigo Montoya. You keel my father. Prepare to die.”)

6. Aussie/Kiwi (there IS a difference, and Kiwis get annoyed if you call ’em Aussies)

7. Londonite (but NOT fakey Londonite–“Oi, guv’nor!” drives me up a tree)

8. Jamaican–wait a minute, this should go WAY higher up on my list…but I’m too lazy to start my list over, mon

9. Downeast Mainer

10. Alabaman

Your turn. What are your favorite accents, and why? Oh, and if you’re Scottish–don’t forget to vote! Guuuud luck on that!

My Goddaughter the Triathlete: Why I Can’t Wait For the Fourth of July

Last year I wrote about my “godkid,” Allison Snow. My theme was the word itself, the concept. Today I want to write about Allison herself—or Al, as I call her. I’m busting with pride.

I first met Al when she was a student in my 10th grade Honors English class. She was a competent, but not a terrific writer; a careful, but neither avid nor outstandingly insightful reader. In short, I enjoyed her as a student, but would never have identified her as one of my faves. One snippet did catch my attention, however: she wrote her “Turning Point in my Life” essay about the death of her father when she was twelve. I did the math and realized that she was only fourteen, a full year younger than most of her peers.

The following year, I and five of my braver colleagues started a pilot “school-within-a-school” half-day program called International Business and Global Studies. Project-based, with a fully-integrated curriculum and student-centered learning (are you glazing over yet?), IBGS attracted students who were bored with traditional classrooms. To my surprise, Al signed up and became an IBGS star. I still remember Al’s semester presentation on Greece, which included artifacts from Tacoma’s Greek Festival, which she had attended, on a weekend.

Even more surprising, Al became a cheerleader. That serious young woman, shrieking “Card-inal Pow-er!”— really? Should’ve tipped me off: in her quiet way, Al made her own decisions about what course to pursue, regardless of expectation. Motivated. Purposeful.

Her own family learned this during Al’s senior year. I was on leave in New Zealand (let’s hear it for spouses with paid sabbatical!), and Al announced to her mom that she would like her graduation present early: a plane ticket. Then she got on the school’s office email (not having her own—remember those days?) and asked me for permission to come visit.

“A cheerleader?” my husband asked. “For ten days?” (Not that he was being judgmental or anything.) Little did he know that visit would turn into three weeks.

Al mtn.

Once Al arrived, she realized how ridiculously short her trip was for coming such a distance. In a super-long-distance call, she talked her mom into letting her change her return ticket. She used that time to explore most of the South Island with us, babysitting our young boys. By the time she left, she was family…

…except in one regard. Although fit, Al was never what I’d call an athlete. Yes, I KNOW cheerleaders have to be in good shape, but the mentality is different: they don’t train like competitive athletes do. Although The Mate and I had mostly retired from racing, we still considered our daily workout the same way we considered meals: essential. I don’t remember Al ever offering to go for a jog with me. Motivation and purpose didn’t seem to go there.

Fast-forward ten years: Al, now a young teacher (like me—I know, right?!) decides to try triathlon. The results: one and three-quarter hours. 167th in her age group. Proud of herself.

Aha. Motivated. Purposeful. Here’s what happened next:

In 2007 and ’08, more Triathlons. Her times come down. 2009, three of ‘em. 2010: four.

In 2012, Al becomes an Ironwoman, in a race that took 12 ¾ hours.

And in 2014?  Personal Best by thirty minutes in a half-Ironman. Thirty minutes! And last week: First place female.

Al winning

I’m leaving out a whole huge category of pride here, over Al’s career as a star elementary school teacher. Today I’m celebrating Al the Athlete, entirely self-created.

When I became a semi-elite runner, I had an athletic family pushing me, college coaches, a track club. Al has a coach now, and a team, but only because she went out there and got them, all on her own.

On July 4, I’m going to run our little island’s 5k Fun Run, the only “racing” I do these days. Al’s going to run it with me…and she’s going to kick my butt. And I can’t wait.



“Godkid:” Now THERE’S a Word

Meet Allison, a lovely young-thirty-something teacher. This is how my husband and I used to tell people about her:

Us: Our adopted daughter Allison is coming to visit this weekend.

People: Oh, you adopted a girl? That is so wonderful; now you have a daughter along with your two boys. Do they get along well? How long ago did you adopt?

Us: Uh, no…not that kind of adopted. Actually, she kinda adopted us…

People: Oh.

Until recently, that’s the best way I could find to describe my relationship with a woman just barely young enough to be my biological daughter (if I’d started young myself). A woman I love like a daughter/younger sister/niece/friend. She’s also my favorite adventure buddy, ready to pop on her backpack and follow me up steep ridges at very little notice. Had we been given the option at an early enough stage, we surely would have adopted her. But Al came into our lives a bit more gradually than that.

Enchantments 2013 063

When I taught high school, Al showed up in my Sophomore Honors English class. She wasn’t a squeaky wheel; she certainly wasn’t the most talented writer. She was a neat kid whom I liked, but never considered I made much impression on her.

In her junior year, she signed up for a 3-hour pilot program, a block class called International Business and Global Studies. With the independent thinking IBGS promoted, Al hit her stride and became a bit of a star in the class. She also, to my surprise, became a cheerleader–a very serious, hardworking one. But again, I didn’t think we had that strong a connection. Plenty of other students seemed to need me more.

So, a year later, when my husband and young kids and I were enjoying his sabbatical year in southern New Zealand, I was surprised to receive a request from Allison: could she come visit? She’d always wanted to travel, and had managed to convince her mom to give her the trip to NZ as an early graduation present, since she had a built-in place to stay. Here’s the conversation I had with my husband about it:

Me: Yeah, she wants to come stay for, like, 10 days. Might be nice to have someone to help with the boys. She’s very responsible. She’s a straight-A kid, a cheerleader…

Husband: A CHEERLEADER?? Here? For 10 days?

Me: Oh, get over the stereotype, tons of cheerleaders are very smart and serious. Yes.

Long story short: Allison came. Her second-ever plane trip–flying solo to New Zealand! She ended up extending her trip so she stayed three weeks. The boys loved her. My husband was deeply impressed with her. And we all adopted each other.

Next year when she started college and her own family was going through a tough time, she moved in with us for a while.

So…our adopted daughter. Our relationship has only grown deeper as she’s become a teacher too, and a singer & guitar player, and a competitive athlete like I used to be. But still–kinda awkward to keep having to explain it to people.

But a few months ago it finally hit me: she’s my goddaughter! No, her mother and father never initiated that relationship in a ceremony. No, church was never involved. No, we have no official documents. But that phrase seems to capture the nature of our relationship perfectly.

That got me to thinking about the word. Goddaughter. Godson. Godkid.

We all know what it means: an assumption of love and co-responsibility. Parenthood without biology. Parenthood with built-in distance, maybe some legal assumptions, but nothing one would go to court about. Parenthood especially blessed by a higher authority.

But think about it: Godkid. How cool is that word? Doesn’t it conjure up all kinds of images?

So I thought I’d ask my readers: what does “godkid” mean to you? Do you have any, either church-related or secularly? Are you one yourself? Do you like the word? Is there another one that fits better? Let us hear!