baby-eating-breakfast

Sunday Breakfast

My favorite family tradition from growing up is Sunday Breakfast.  Every Sunday after we would get home from church my dad would make waffles or pancakes and my mom would make eggs and sausage.  Mmm… it’s the best!  Since Scott loves me so much, he’s offered to carry on the tradition of Sunday Breakfast even though it’s not his favorite thing in the world to eat the same meal every Sunday.

We were going to make pancakes this Sunday, but we found out that we had run out of gas for the stove (no griddle here).  We acted quick and decided to make German pancakes since they are baked in the oven.  It’s not a dish that my family ever made when I was growing up, but it’s still breakfast so it was perfect!

We invited our host to dine with us.

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Making Sunday Breakfast made me miss being home eating waffles with my parents, grandparents, brother, sister-in-law, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Yeah, we would have quite a few people over for Sunday Breakfast some times!  Here’s a video I put together of our last Sunday Breakfast with everyone before we left Texas:

While Scott was making breakfast for us, our host put up a Johnny Jump Up that his 20 year old kids used when they were young.  Carter was a little hesitant at first, but once he realized that he bounced he had a blast!

Sunday evening we sat down with our host and talked about the best places to see on the South Island.  He showed us maps and recounted several stories of his experiences traveling down the west coast.  He kept saying, “Oh, it’s just magical there!” and it got Scott and I even more excited to make the trip down the west coast.

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We’re so grateful for our host!  He’s done so much for us and been so great with Carter.  We’re really looking forward to planning our trip down the west coast and experiencing the magic of the South Island!

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Sunny Nelson

Contrary to what we’ve experienced since we’ve been here, Nelson is actually one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.  It’s nickname is “Sunny Nelson” for that reason.  Unfortunately for us, New Zealand is experiencing some very unusual weather for this time of year and its been cloudy with morning showers pretty much every day last week.  Saturday was different though, we woke up to the sun shining through the windows and birds singing!  We decided to pack our day full of fun to make the most of the good weather.

In the morning we “test rode” bikes.  We’d done quite a bit of research as to the laws about babies on bikes and there was nothing about children under 1 year.  We wanted to know if we were allowed to ride our bikes with Carter in our baby carrier.  We even went out of our way to talk to a bicycle shop owner, a city counsel employee, and an employee at the AA (a travel company, very similar to AAA) and no one had an answer for us.  We decided that we’d test it out and decide if we felt comfortable with it since it was undecided as to whether it was against the law or not.

Here’s a video of Scott trying out riding the bike with Carter in front:

Scott was scaring me so bad riding around like that!  After riding up and down the street next to our house, we decided it was the most comfortable for us and for Carter to have him ride on my back in the carrier.

After our test ride there was a parade going on a block away from our house so we decided to walk over.  It was a parade to recognize the First Response teams in the area.  It was really cool to see all the old vehicles; there was even a horse and buggy ambulance!

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The parade was a lot shorter than we expected so we went on a walk up the hill to the Melrose Historic House where there was a vintage sale going on.

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The Melrose house is one of the last surviving grand homes in Nelson and it was definitely grand!  It was up on a hill and surrounded by gardens–definitely a breathtaking sight!

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There’s a perfect little cafe inside the house with antique china for tea and roses for decoration.  The baked treats looked so good and the smell that emanated from the door was mouth watering!  But we took one look at the prices, saw a $9 brownie and walked away.

We went through the main doors of the house to find the vintage sale.  It was quite interesting and we were a little confused as to why some of the items were there… There were childrens’ books from maybe 10 years ago and dish sets from the 80s.  Obviously they were using the term “vintage” very loosely.

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On the way home from the Melrose house we saw a park and decided to find a nice sunny spot to take Carter out of the carrier and let him stretch and play.  The grass was still a little wet so we headed on to the swings.  Carter absolutely loves the swing!  Here’s a video in case you needed some convincing:

Ain’t he cute?  We’re not sure where he picked up the high pitched growling sound from, but he’s been doing it for weeks now and we think it’s kind of funny :)

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Carter fell asleep on the way home from the park.

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Once rested, we wanted to put our relearned biking skills to use so we planned a trip to the coast.  As we got our bikes from the garage we noticed some gray clouds starting to form, but we didn’t let that stop us.  We hopped on our bikes and rode to the coast.  Even with the gray skies it was beautiful.

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I was quite sore from the riding so we stopped at a deck and used a ladder to get down to the shore.

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We look so dorky with our helmets on… but at least we’re being safe, right?

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The skies were getting grayer by the minute so we mounted our bikes and rode quickly home.  Just as we rounded the last corner to our home it started to drizzle–we’d made it just in time before the rain.  Even though the skies had been the bluest blue and very clear all day, it ended up raining.  We still haven’t experienced a day without rain since we’ve been here in Nelson, but we won’t let that get us down!

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Arriving in Nelson, New Zealand

Warrived in Nelson, New Zealand around 3pm (which was still 7pm to our bodies) after the windiest bus ride I’d ever taken.  It took me a few minutes to realize that the ground wasn’t in fact moving, but after I got my balance I grabbed our bags from the storage area and we gathered together on the sidewalk. That’s when we met our host for the next month, John (name changed).

John is a man of many wonders.  He is a tall, slender, round lens glasses-wearing man with sharp sideburns and an earring in his left ear; he wears clothing suited for adventurous outdoor activities and would look completely comfortable in a picture with either a beach or an active volcano in the background—or both.  His first impression tells a story longer than some of the books I’ve read lately, and one thing was certain: I wanted to get to know this man.  I could tell he was a man of knowledge.

John is also a man of kindness.  He, as the owner of the house we were renting a room from for a month offered to pick us up from the bus stop, knowing we were coming with child and heavy backpacks.  He drove us a bit through the town to get us oriented and then took us to the beautiful villa he calls home and showed us our room as well as the rest of the house.

The house was pristine. It was over 100 years old and recently renovated, so it had a great mixture of old vintage flair with modern convenience.  Other features included a view of the ocean from the 2nd story deck (which also contains a jacuzzi we have yet to use), lush foliage surrounding the property, and windows absolutely everywhere. There was so much natural light you almost never needed to hit a switch.  We were more than elated to call this place home for the next month.

It took us a couple days to really get our heads attached to our bodies.  For the next day or two Carter insisted on waking up at 3 am and screeching happily and incessantly, which we took as his sign that he liked the new place.  Though I’m sure this won’t be the last time we encounter baby jet lag, it certainly hasn’t been as inconvenient as I thought it would be.  Emily and I, on the other hand, had a bit of self discovery to deal with.

With a week of intense on-the-go constant travel followed by an immediate halt and bad weather, a couple questions arose as to what our purpose in this Twelve Countries trip was in the first place.  It was your classic catch 22: we were thrilled with intense travel, but we knew we couldn’t keep up, especially with Carter in tow and a lack of money in our wallets; yet staying in one place too long was starting to seem like we weren’t making the best of our time in an exotic, beautiful country.  So we did what all people do in great confusion: we went to the library.

We needed to know what would help us capitalize on our 3-4 weeks in Nelson, since we knew we weren’t going to have the option of hopping around from city to city like many travelers do.  After all, our purpose in this trip is to LIVE in twelve countries, and living entails planting some roots to a certain degree.  The library seemed like a good thing for a local to do, so away we went hoping to find some inspiration to guide us toward a good adventure.

We no sooner entered the library than found exactly what we were looking for. On a table was a flyer for something called “Heritage Week”, and as we peered through it we found an adventure in the form of a city-wide scavenger hunt, which involved us moving about to different sites, parks, buildings, and areas of the city in search for landmarks, history, and potentially useless information we’ll never remember—but it gave us a way to explore things in the city we may never know otherwise.  We took the challenge, and the next day we broke the curse of travel boredom.

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8 Tips for Traveling With a Baby

Disclaimer: Every child is different so even if something worked for me, that doesn’t mean it will work for you.  There are several other ways of travelling this extensively with a young child, but these methods are things that worked given our specific circumstances.  There is no scientific data or research regarding my methods, I just did what felt comfortable and what felt right for me and my child.

Here are 8 tips for traveling with a baby based on my personal experience on a 3 hour train ride, 11 hour flight, and 6 hour bus ride (in addition to several shorter bus/train rides and flights) all within 2 days.

1. New Toys

Toys are good to have on long journeys, but the key is to bring new toys.  A new toy will distract him at least a little bit longer than a toy he always plays with.  Here you can find a post with pictures of the toys I brought for my 7 month old.

2. Use what’s around you

Oftentimes, the things around us proved to be better distractions than toys, even the new toys.  Carter loved to inspect the seat belt on the airplanes and it kept him busy for at least 15-20 minutes–he would scratch at the belt and try to lift the release clip.  He loved playing with the plastic cups after we drank our complimentary beverages, and the complimentary toothbrush, spoons, and straws.  He also loved shaking pill bottles and chewing on medicine bottle lids.

3. Snacks

Carter is still just nursing, but I started introducing solids to him when he was 5 months old so that I’d be able to use food to distract him.  If he was really restless I would eat a snack myself and give him little pieces as I ate, usually apples, bananas, or crackers.  And whenever we got airline food I would let him have pieces of what I was given.  He had no interest in the baby cereal that we brought for him, but he loved everything else!

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4. Relax

I know it sounds silly, and it’s much easier said than done, but if you’re stressed out your baby will be able to tell and he’ll be more on edge.  I tried my best to enjoy the very long, uninterrupted time I got to spend in close quarters with Carter.  We sang songs and played pat-a-cake.  I took advantage of the the time I got to spend holding and cuddling Carter as he slept.  One day he’ll be too old to rock to sleep so I’m enjoying all the chances I get now.  Just try your best to not stress out because if you’re anything like me stress leads to headaches and a stressed out husband and if you can avoid either of those, everyone will be happier :)

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5. No Expectations

I’ve learned to have no (or little) expectations, because then I can’t be let down.  I don’t expect to have a well-behaved child.  I don’t expect to sleep on a red-eye flight.  I don’t expect to watch a movie or read a book.  I don’t expect the time to go by fast.  I don’t expect to be comfortable.  Then, when good things do happen and I end up sleeping for two hours straight, reading a chapter in my book, or realizing that I only have 3 more hours of an 11 hour flight, I get excited and have a new burst of energy and stamina to handle whatever comes at me next!

6. For Popping Ears

Over the last six months I’ve started using essential oils, especially for my baby.  I’m still learning a lot, but so far I have had several positive experiences.  For popping ears on the airplane, I used melaleuca oil on myself and my baby, applied just behind the ear.  It didn’t keep my ears from popping, but it was definitely soothing and I noticed a difference with Carter.

Nursing was also a huge help for popping ears.  Whenever I was able, I would nurse Carter for take-off and landing.  If he was too distracted to nurse, I would feed him little bits of food and that kept his mouth moving with sucking and chewing motions.

7. Personal Space

Sometimes Carter needed his own space.  I definitely did not see this coming at all–I thought he always loved being held.  With international flights, they assign passengers with babies to the front seats that have more leg room and they also have optional bassinets available for use.  We would let Carter sit on the floor and play with his toys and our bags or we would sit him up in the bassinet and put some toys in there for him to play with.

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I highly recommend reserving the seats in the front with the most leg room if possible.  It was incredible how having leg room for Scott and I and a place for Carter to play on the ground for a little while made such a big difference in the comfort of our flight.

8. Practice, Practice, Practice

It doesn’t matter if you’ve done hours on hours of research regarding traveling methods or checked off shopping lists of toys and snacks to bring if you haven’t tried it out beforehand.  For example, if your child already has a hard time sitting on your lap for long periods of time, then it’s not going to be any better when you find yourself on a plane.  Here’s what I did at home to practice for what situations might be like on a plane:

  • I held or rocked Carter to sleep for naps and bedtime.  This made it so he was comfortable in my arms to fall asleep and he was able to sleep comfortably for long periods of time.  I also was able to learn how to sit and hold him in positions where I was comfortable enough to sleep.

  • For his play area at home, I would occasionally only give him 1 toy at a time to play with and when he got fussy or was done with that toy, I would switch it out for a new toy.  This technique was great for the plane because it made his toys last substantially longer than if I would have given him several toys at one time and let him pick and choose which ones to play with.

  • A bedtime routine.  Routines are awesome.  Even though we were in the LAX airport with lots of lights on, announcements on the PA, people talking and laughing, and tons of people walking by I was able to do our bedtime routine of reading a book, wrapping Carter in a blanket, and singing to him and he fell asleep!  It definitely took longer and I had to repeat the singing several times, but he calmed down and was able to zone out his surroundings and fall asleep for almost 2 hours before we had to board the plane.

I would love to hear any experiences you’ve had or any methods that’s worked for you being as how we have 11 other countries we’re going to travel to during the course of the next year.  Please write your comments below, or contact us on our Facebook page!

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Baby Toys to Travel With

When thinking about what baby toys to travel with, my advice is to observe what your own child is interested in close to the time of travel.  I didn’t have very much space to pack for toys, so I wanted to be sure that what I brought would be put to good use.  Carter is teething so he loves anything hard that he can put in his mouth and chew on.  It was important to me to have several different textures to be able to offer to him.

Whether you’re traveling, on a budget, or short on space, I feel that the following toys have been a great investment:

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Infantino Monkey

This Infantino monkey has been the best teething toy ever!  I bought mine at Target.  It’s made out of an incredible material that is smooth and makes a little squeaky noise when chewed and it has a variation of hard and soft places to chew on.  It also has an actual squeaky noise maker in the head which always gets Carter excited.  We tried the elephant version of this toy on a long road trip when Carter was 5 months old and it didn’t work well at all.  I felt that the elephant was a lot harder of a material making it difficult for Carter to chew on.  He might have just not been old enough to get the best use out of it though either.

(Apparently the earlier version of this monkey has been recalled due to the choking hazard of the tail.  The tail on the new version, which I bought, has been redesigned and is not posed as a choking hazard any more.)

Shoe Laces

I also noticed that Carter loves any kind of drawstring or shoe lace.  I made the one pictured above out of shoelaces that I bought at Target and wooden beads that I got at Michaels craft store.  A funny thing about these toys is that Carter only likes them if they are placed around mine or Scott’s neck as if they are drawstrings in a hooded jacket.  They have been great though and have provided a mixture of textures and shapes for Carter to play with.

Foam Bath Toys

Another toy (or toys) that have been great for Carter as he is teething are the foam bath toys.  At Target I’ve only seen the foam letters, but my mom found these rocketship themed ones and I love them!  Carter loves to suck and chew on the hard foam and we’ll fly rocketships around Saturn and meet aliens together.  It came as a pack of 24 pieces, but we only brought a few for the trip.  I don’t know how long they’ll last once he gets his teeth in, but they really have been amazing for teething!

Plastic Rings

You can’t go wrong with plastic rings.  Carter loves the different bright colors and the textures on the different rings.  They are also awesome because I can attach one ring to a seat belt or belt loop and even when Carter drops them they don’t fall to the floor!

Finger Puppets

These finger puppets have been great.  I love that they are educational and I can teach Carter animal names and noises with them.  They are soft and provide a different texture for him to put in his mouth giving him a new sensation for his aching gums.  I got these as a gift so I’m not sure where these particular finger puppets can be found, but I also really like the ones at IKEA.

Toothbrush

I’ve been amazed at how long a toothbrush can occupy Carter.  The texture of the bristles on his gums is like nothing else any other toy that I’ve found can offer.  And he absolutely loves to run his fingers through the bristles after he’s substantially soaked them (Scott’s least favorite thing about this toy haha).  This “toy” is super cheap too which is very nice!

Plastic Utensils

These items are great and I don’t have to worry about losing them because I usually pick them up for free at restaurants (or on the plane) and I can toss them whenever I feel they’re getting gross.

What toys have you found are useful for a teething baby?  Carter might get bored of the ones I brought pretty soon!

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The Way to New Zealand: Part III

We awoke to the sound of our human alarm clock at the bright hour of 3am, after almost 10-11 hours of solid sleep.  We weren’t tired so we didn’t mind, but it’s likely Carter’s happy squeals for the following 2 hours kept our hosts alert as well.  Our bus didn’t leave till 7:15 and the stop was a half hour’s walk, so we had some time to kill.  I finished editing and uploading the first vlog from our trip and we all had some breakfast of muesli and toast. We managed to kill all the rest of our time and took off on foot.

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When you book a ticket on a website called nakedbus.co.nz, there’s fair reason to be skeptical.  I figured that, due to the lack of nudity on the site, it was not a title meant to be taken literally, and was in fact a bus service.  Thankfully we were not asked to remove our clothing upon stepping onto the bus.  I can’t imagine what the seats would smell like had I been wrong.

naked-bus-new-zealand-rideBeing 4 hours ahead of everyone else’s time zone, Carter was awake and having a blast letting everybody know it.  It’s becoming an interesting notion traveling with a baby on services that are normally quiet such as airplanes, buses, and trains.  He’s really not a loud child, and he almost never cries (when Emily is holding him, that is) – but he LOVES to make noise.  Despite the hypothesis that taking Carter on this trip would stunt his growth or ruin his learning patterns, he seems to be well on his way to learning how to speak, and can make out all the sounds for “mom” and “dad” without fully knowing what they mean.  I give him a month before he’s forming full sentences and asking politely for a cup of tea. Or not politely.

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Though at first I was doubting my reasoning for taking the long bus instead of just getting another flight to Nelson, no later than an hour into the journey and we were seeing scenery we had never before knew existed.  This must be what all the fuss is about when people speak of New Zealand.  Or so we thought at the time… exactly thirty minutes later our right window was filled with the view of the ocean crashing on volcanic rock formations while our left was displaying mountains of green for miles.  I went full tourist and dashed from left to right holding my camera, almost never letting go of the trigger.  The camera went from a full charge in the morning to about 15% by mid day.

In Blenheim we got off the bus and waited for a different one for about an hour.  Our next bus arrived to take us to Nelson.  I grabbed our bags and was about to stow them in the section below when I realized something – I didn’t have our camera.  I looked around the area we had moved our stuff to for the past hour “When you book a ticket on a website called nakedbus.co.nz, there’s fair reason to be skeptical.” and double, triple, quadruple checked. Nothing.  Emily came back from the bathroom and I asked her if she knew where it was, to which she replied with a blank face and an open mouth.  This was day three and we had already lost a chapstick, baby medicine syringe, Carter’s blanket, and my jacket.  It almost didn’t seem like real life.  I figured the camera would get stolen, broken, or used up before I would lose my death grip on it, but apparently everything I know is wrong.  Emily had to coerce me to move again as we needed to get on the bus before it left without us. But all I could think about was how to get that camera back.

I was already planning my bus hijack when we checked our tickets with the driver.  I spouted my ticket number melodramatically and the driver cut me off and asked the finest question I had ever heard:

“Did you just lose your camera on the last bus?”

Like Christmas, I nearly jumped up and down as if Santa himself delivered my shiny red bicycle to me.  I barely heard the words, “It’s on the next bus – we’ll wait for it” in my excitement. And waited we did. A solid 7 minutes later the bus arrived with our previous driver tsk-tsking me for not taking the advice she gave us three times and checking our area thoroughly.  I thanked her profusely, loaded onto the correct bus, and apologized to the fellow passengers as I walked my shameful march to the back seat where Emily had made residence.  The shame was worth it. I had my camera back and I could breathe again.

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The Way to New Zealand: Part II

Eleven thirty PM: the flight on the Fiji Airways Airbus A330 was finally ready to take off, after boarding an hour prior.  Carter was so tired, and the announcement lady did her absolute best to keep him as awake as possible. Also, I’m pretty sure she was flicking the lights on and off every time he was close to being asleep again. I could be wrong, though – I had been awake for 20 hours at that point, so I might have had a bit of delirium clouding my memory.

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So we took off. I took some video of us leaving the ground for the very last time, the last bit of America we’ll see for the next 11 months.  Filming the occasion seemed like a good idea at the time, but I don’t think you can even see outside the plane window.

All things considered, the 12-hour red-eye flight wasn’t so bad. We didn’t get any sleep, but hopefully the people around us did, as Carter was only loud during a 5-minute mental breakdown at the equivalent of 4am (not clear what time zone we were actually in at thatfiji-air-bassinet moment).  The more annoying part of the trip was my favorite announcement lady interrupting our sleep to tell us that they’re coming to give us “dinner” at really inconvenient times, followed by another flicking-the-lights-on-and-off session. She seemed to really enjoy those, they occurred quite frequently throughout the flight.

When we landed in Fiji for our layover, it was sunrise. We all poured out of the plane like liquid body and luggage and quickly realized where we should have gone for our first country.  The Fiji airport seduces you immediately by having all the gates on the

“If the Fiji airport was a semi-outdoor low-tech sweat lodge, Christchurch airport was the exact opposite.”

outside of the building.  Seriously, there were tropical birds chirping “Bula” (“hello” in Fijian) to all the new arrivals while the sun peeked over the mountains covered in the greenest green you can possibly imagine.  By all means it was paradisiacal. And no sooner did this heaven announce itself to us that we had to turn away from it and walk into a dark, sweaty building full of airport security and duty-free tchotchkes.

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We nibbled on a couple egg-n-cheese pot pies from the food court, finishing just in time to board our flight.  A flight which has now taken the award for worst. flight. ever. Maybe it was the unfairly strong smell of body odor from surrounding ethnic passengers, or the one and a half foot sitting space that isn’t big enough for my derriere, or the grimy armrests that probably haven’t been cleansed since the plane’s creation, or the bathrooms the size of trucker showers reeking of old man poop, or the sharp metal that seemed to protrude from every angle.  I didn’t much like our 2nd plane ride on our way to New Zealand. Thank goodness it was only 4 hours long and not the 12-hr haul we experienced last night.

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There were some redeeming qualities, but not because of the airline’s sake. We’ve met a few wonderful people on this flight, perhaps brought together because of the fight for oxygen (seriously, the B.O. was pretty bad). But it’s reassuring that there are great people in this world and that it’s not hard to find them.

We landed, and couldn’t get off the plane soon enough – the smell was beginning to penetrate our clothing.  If the Fiji airport was a semi-outdoor low-tech sweat lodge, Christchurch airport was the exact opposite.  Immediately out of the gate you enter a large room with no people in it, go through security and customs, pick up your bag, and walk out of there within 10 minutes (or 5 minutes if you didn’t forget to remove the pieces of apple from your child’s food toy thingy).  No lines, no TSA employee frisking your goods for some shape that resembles a gun, no removal of shoes even. Just nice and easy.

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After a debate whether to take the thrifty option and wait for the bus or fork over 10 extra dollars for a shuttle ride, we rode into town on the shuttle and stopped at our destination for the night, a little house we had rented a room from through AirBNB.com.  Little did we know, this was the “bad” part of town.  Whoops.  Lucky for us all that meant was that we hear a couple ladies of the night working the corners at 2 am.

We got into the house with the hidden key and took a sigh of relief. Then breathed in again.  The smell of wet wood and black mold filled our lungs. Emily and I looked at each other, and promptly gave up – we couldn’t do anything about it, so we might as well dig our heels in.  At least it didn’t smell like body odor.

Within an hour of entering our residence for the night we met our hosts, a lovely German couple who were housesitting while the true owners were in Australia for a bit.  Andy was wonderful enough to let me hitch a ride to the grocery store, and Emily went to sleep with Carter as I did so.  I needed to get some fruit and granola bars for our 6-hour bus ride the next day.  Andy and I got to talking about what he was doing in New Zealand, and how he liked Christchurch, and which streets in the city consisted of Red Light District.  We also drove past Christchurch’s downtown, which was significantly disheveled due to the massive earthquakes the city had in 2010, and then six months later in 2011, from which it never truly recovered.

Grocery shopping in New Zealand is… exactly like grocery shopping in the States.  You enter a sort of foyer as you pass through sliding doors and grab your cart or basket.  You’re directed towards the produce section, then can browse the aisles of foodstuffs at your leisure until your cart is sufficiently full.  You go to the counter and pay for your food, and can even speed up the process by using their convenient “12 items or less” lanes.  The only differences were that the checkout counters feed you through the left side of the counter instead of the right, and you can’t buy a 5-gallon bucket of cheese puffs. Which, of course, is tragic.

There’s not a whole lot more to say about the day, except that I was asleep within 5 minutes of reaching home, and only woke up to the sound of colorfully dressed women yelling at each other about sidewalk territory.

And no, I don’t have any pictures of that.

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The Way to New Zealand: Part I

The morning started all too soon. It was 5:47am when I awoke, and I couldn’t bring myself to put my head back down and drift off like usual – today was already much too exciting.  I decided to get up and work on a video that was well overdue (and still is) about us leaving home once and for all.  Today was really a continuation of that experience, as later this evening we were set to be on our way to Fiji, and then to New Zealand from there.  Even remembering the 11:30pm red-eye flight we were taking wasn’t enough to keep me in bed. I knew instantly I would regret this later.

We took our time doing our laundry, packing our things, and eating our continental breakfast and finally moseyed our way out the door around 11am.  Carter was finally being the easygoing child he usually is and didn’t give us any guff when we put him in the carseat for yet another long, unfamiliar drive back to San Diego (we were in Vista, about 50 miles north).  This peace gave Emily and I a glorious and ocean-filled drive down to our destination, which happened to be Balboa Park.

After scoring a parking spot worth coveting we promptly piled out to explore our new surroundings, eager to put to use our trusty pocket camera, which at this point we were pretty certain was going to give our big honking DSLR a swift kick to the back seat.  I could blab on and on about this camera, but I’ll save that for another post.

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balboa-park-3Balboa park is beautiful, with museums and Spanish-influenced architecture darting the entire park.  I’ve been there once before on my own and there was enough to keep me busy just walking around and gandering at the free stuff like gardens and sculptures; as a family it was just as fun, and we got to show Carter a bit of what makes San Diego amazing.  Maybe someday when we’re not cheapskates we’ll be back and actually visit some of the museums as paying customers.  Cheaper than Sea World, that’s for sure.

It quickly became time to leave so we headed back to our rental. We had timed it just right to make it to the return facility with 10 minutes to spare, just in case we hit some traffic on the way. Thankfully we didn’t hit traffic… but as we remembered that we hadn’t yet filled up the gas tank, we started to panic. We pulled into the nearest gas station we could find under $4.50 a gallon and pumped as fast as we could.  As we were about to pull out Emily kindly reminded me that I forgot to get the receipt from the machine, which we apparently needed to prove to the rental place that we actually did buy gas. I boogeyed into the convenience store and had the clerk print the receipt.  Except for missing the exit and severely angering a guy who was trying to cut me off, we made it still with 5 minutes of buffer.

train-san-diego

From the rental facility we hiked to the train station about half a mile away. It was during this period of time that I managed to lose my jacket while it was hanging off of my side bag, the first of many lost items during our trip’s first leg.  We didn’t realize this until we hopped on the train and went two stations away.  We doubled back, but by then it was long gone, probably nicked by a well-needing homeless gentleman.  The jacket was a huge loss… I loved it like a child, and it had our “Twelve Countries” logo embroidered on it.  Maybe if I’m lucky the bum will wear it on cold days and give us free outdoor advertising. There’s two sides to every coin.

train-san-diego-coastline

I hung my head in failure as we made our way to the San Diego Amtrak station where we purchased some last-minute tickets to Union Station in LA. It was to be a 3-hour train ride right before a 12-hour plane ride, and I was not eager to it.  

“It was the most comfortable I’ll likely ever feel in Downtown LA traffic.”

But I was pleasantly surprised – despite reading nothing but negative reviews about Amtrak, not only did we have a ridiculously comfortable ride, we also had a killer view for at least half the journey as we made our way up the California coastline.

Navigating Union Station was easier than I imagined it being, and when we got lost we simply asked one of the guards who pointed us the right direction towards the LAX bus.  The bus, like the train, was expected to be horrible. It was the opposite, and it was the most comfortable I’ll likely ever feel in Downtown LA traffic.  I half expected the driver to get up mid-traffic and distribute hot towels to all the passengers.

carter-laxLAX, on the other hand, performed exactly as expected. It was crowded, stuffy, and didn’t have enough outlets for all the people needing to charge their phones. It was just our luck that it was here we would wait 6 hours before boarding our flight.  We arrived a bit earlier than desired, but we were essentially subject to the public transport arrival times, and this was the hand we were dealt. I’m sure there’s many worse airports to be stuck in. No more complaints here.

Besides, the worst part of the trip to New Zealand was yet to come.

australia

Why Travel to Australia?

Why travel to Australia for a month, you ask?

The beauty

australia-heath-ledger

The incredible wildlife

australia-heath-ledger

The accents

australia-heath-ledger

The scenery

australia-heath-ledger

The food

australia-vegemite

Okay have I gone too far?  Let’s just say I’m sad I won’t be seeing Heath Ledger during my stay in Australia (rest in peace Heath, rest in peace).  Ready for a serious list?

The beauty

Growing up I always wanted to go to Australia and when I thought of Australia I thought of Sydney (I mean who can forget “42 Wallaby Way, Sydney”) and obviously the iconic Sydney Opera House.  Unfortunately, going to Sydney is not in our plans just yet, or our budget for that matter, seeing as we’re going to be living in Brisbane which is a 10 hours away by car.  But we’re still going to try to make it.

australia-beauty

The incredible wildlife

I don’t care that Aussies think of kangaroos like we do deer.  I’m so excited to see kangaroos all the time and I won’t get sick of it.

australia-wildlife

The accents

It might help that the man with the accent in this clip is beautiful, but I think my favorite accent out there is an Aussie accent.  I wish Carter could pick up an Aussie accent, but I think he might be a little young to be picking it up while we’re there.  Maybe if I can just get him to say “Mama” in an Aussie accent… is that even possible?

The scenery

Australia is an island full of variety.  It contains the outback, tropical rainforests, mountain ranges, and lots of coast.  Since we’ll be in Brisbane, we’ll get to experience the subtropical climate while living on the Brisbane River and surrounded by heavy forests.

australia-scenery

new-zealand

Why Travel to New Zealand?

Everybody knows New Zealand is the most scenic country in the world.  Within this country’s borders resides thousands of completely unique plant and animal species, a thriving and diverse economy and culture, and almost every climate that exists on our planet from desert to rainforest.  It. Is. Incredible.

So why travel to New Zealand?  Here’s a few reasons why NZ is first on the list:

The scenery

New Zealand Scenery

The nostalgia

New Zealand Lord Of The Rings

The laid-back culture

New Zealand People

The fish n’ chips

New Zealand Fish n Chips

The adventure

New Zealand adventure

The hikes

New Zealand Hiking

The weather

New Zealand People

 

On a more personal note, I’ve had a dream to visit both Australia and New Zealand since childhood, which was before the LOTR films came out (though that definitely helped seal the deal).  It seemed like the perfect mixture of exotic and stable, all within a relatively combined space.  I had met several people from NZ and had several friends who had traveled and lived there.  Everybody loved it.  And of course, if everybody’s into it…

What we Want to Do

While we are going to be there for a month, we won’t be able to travel about the country as much as we’d like – New Zealand is one of the most expensive countries in the world, and, contrary to popular belief, we’re not made of money.  We’ll be lucky if we make it to North Island at all in fact, thanks to the almost $60-per-person inevitable ferry ride.

But anyone that says North Island has it all is a superb knucklehead.  Though there’s plenty of awesomeness to be had up there, even other Kiwis know South Island is where it’s at.  There’s rainforests, HUGE mountains, beautiful lakes, beaches, rivers, etc.  The majority of the Lord of the Rings locations are on South Island.  I heard God vacations in Queenstown.

New Zealand abel tasman

On April 4th we leave Los Angeles, CA. On April 6th we arrive at the Christchurch, NZ airport. From there we will take a bus up to Nelson, NZ, a small cutesy town that sits on the doorstep of the northern coast and Abel Tasman Nat’l Park, which was rated one of the most beautiful places in the world by “Lawnmowers, Etc” magazine in 2003. Just kidding about that last part.

There we will make our home for a month.  We’re already jealous of our future selves.

New Zealand would be an amazing adventure no matter where we stayed, and though we’re happy we get to spend a month there, that isn’t nearly enough time.  I’m excited to kick off our journey in the most beautiful country on earth, and I can’t wait to share the experience with my family.  Provided I don’t go bankrupt in week 2.