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Thursday, July 21, 2011



Stand back. I’m about to throw a Spok-AN-trum. A full-on, “I miss Spokane-my-friends-my-home-my-central-heating-and-my-clothes-dryer” tantrum. This could get messy. Are you sure you want to keep reading? Can’t say I didn’t warn you. Sucker.

There are several reasons for my American hissie fit. #1: I was meant to (i.e., “supposed to,” in American English) leave New Zealand this week.  I have an electronic itinerary stating the kids and I fly from Auckland to Nadi, Fiji, July 20th. We’re not flying to Fiji quite yet. I’ve already asked the travel agent to hold our tickets and re-book us for March, though I haven’t picked a date. You’d fear commitment, too, if you knew it cost more than $1,000 every time you changed your mind. And if you’d entangled yourself in a new relationship while diving, feet-first (brains last), into a new country. As the time of our initial departure date evaporated, I admitted I missed my family and friends, my 5 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom home, freakishly friendly neighborhood and school bus stop directly in front of our home. Life in Spokane, I think, would be a cake walk. A comfy, familiar day at the beach. Except, I’m probably wrong about that. None of us escapes challenges, no matter where we live. This very second, someone’s getting sick, divorced, dying, going bankrupt or running out of toilet paper in Paris, Majorca, Ireland and Cape Town. I know this, because I’ve visited all those places and talked to locals who’ve experienced at least one of the above. You can run, but life will find you. She has GPS.

Spok-AN-trum reason #2:  It’s winter. No wonder Shakespeare wrote, “Now is the winter of our discontent…” Who wants to be dis-content in summer? Even in New Zealand, with its fern trees, endless beaches and 12 shades of green, winter’s a game-changer. From what I’m told, July and August are where rubber meets winding Kiwi road. Winter separates mice from men and sunburned tourist from chilled-out locals. The Bay of Plenty, where I live, still receives heaps of sunshine and temperatures during day have hovered in the 50’s and 60’s (10 – 15 degrees Celsius). I’m told the weather this winter has been mild). But, (and this is a big but, maybe even as large as Kim Kardashian’s this-rump-writes-my-checks-rump), especially if you’re a soft, spoiled American like me, your flesh will goose-bumple at the fact many homes are heated to only 50 or 60 degrees. In the U.S., energy misers click the thermostat back to around 70 degrees (21 degrees Celsius). I have yet to enter a home in NZ equipped with central heating. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a humming heat pump (something like an air conditioning unit in reverse), wood stove or gas fireplace. The kids and I are fortunate to live with another American who believes in heat pumps and insulation. I’ve heard a couple theories explaining the paucity of artificial heat: 1) Early British settlers believed NZ was a tropical South Pacific paradise akin to Tahiti and therefore didn’t need heat, insulation or double-glazed windows, a tradition that continued long after the first winter proved them wrong;  2) NZ power prices have increased 7 percent per year since 2003, making it difficult for the average family to afford home heating. It’s not unusual for Kiwis to get socked with a $600 monthly power bill, even during a mild winter. The same family who paid $1200 for a year's worth of power now pays $2400 for the same electricity (http://www.consumer.org.nz/news/view/the-rising-cost-of-power ).

Two of Amy’s friends dropped by the house a couple days ago to borrow sleeping bags. “Are you going camping?” I asked. “No,” said Rick. “We’re staying in Taupo, at a home that’s really cold in winter. It’s ridiculous, New Zealand homes,” he said. “My dad puts on a jacket to enter a house. I don’t think that’s right.”
Squeegee-ing condensation in the morning in Taupo

I’m with you, Rick. I could hear that conversation as I watched our hosts this week in Taupo squeegee their windows. Condensation had formed overnight due to cold air inside. Several mornings ago, they said those same picture windows had iced. When I arrived at Greg and Sue’s, I sat at the kitchen bench (counter), chatting and chattering. I was the lone fidgeter. Greg’s son, Jake, sported a short-sleeved t-shirt. No one else wore a scarf. In addition to the scarf, I wore a long-sleeved shirt, cardigan, jeans and boots. The Boyfriend, Pete, gave me his black fleece jacket. Jake turned on the fan attached to the gas fireplace. That’s better, I thought. I can feel my nose again. 5 people in a room, and only the American was cold. Soft, I am. Wimp.  Maybe Kiwis are impervious to cold? Must you grow up here to relax at home in a t-shirt (gives new meaning to the phrase, “Just chillin’”) when it’s 10 degrees Celsius inside and 12 degrees outside? Later, sitting on the couch, surfing the ‘Net while everyone else watched “Diehard,” I was hot. Ah, heat. Glorious heat. In fairness to our gracious hosts, I was comfortably warm the rest of our stay. Sue even stashed hot water bottles under the covers at the foot of the bed.

Spok-AN-trum reason #3: Radically different expectations for a getaway with The Boyfriend, Pete. I registered Fiona and Finley for 2 nights at a sleep-away camp in Auckland more than a month ago (at $200 each, it was a splurge), thinking it would be fun for them to go hot-pooling, tree-climbing and penguin watching while I enjoyed some grown-up time. Pete and I both have flat mates, so alone time is precious. I pictured The Boyfriend and me at a cozy little bach (holiday home). Nothing flash (fancy), just a quiet place with a kitchen and space heater. Pete tells me he has a friend with a rental home in Taupo. The tenants will have moved out by the time we want to go. It’s a perfect option for a job-hunter walking a budget tightrope.
The Boyfriend, Pete, and friend, Greg in the Man Shed

Except, it didn’t turn out that way. I’ve stayed at backpacker’s (hostels) that were more intimate. We wound up spending our 2 childless nights with Pete’s best mate, his wife, plus 3 kids (2 teens, 1 adult). The 7 of us shared a bathroom. Ain’t romance great? Let me state, for the record, this family is lovely. Good, funny, Christian (you can be both -really) people you’d want as friends and neighbors. But after several hours of giving up Pete so he could help his mate build a shed in the backyard, then sitting down with everyone for a cozy night watching “Diehard,” (Part 2 or 12; I can’t remember) I started to feel like a spoiled child who wanted toys for Christmas but got clothes, instead. Clothing’s so much more practical. Suck it up, sista.

My inner toddler is kicking and screaming, saying, “It costs a lot of time and effort to organize 2 kid-free nights. I have friends lining up in Spokane who’d invite Fiona and Finley to spend a weekend and make me think I was doing them a favor. It’s easier in Spokane. It’s summer in Spokane. Everything costs less in Spokane.” Argh, it’s a Spok-AN-trum. A full-on, fists and feet on the floor Spok-AN-trum. If I return quickly enough, I can forget about this relationship stuff and be selfish. And safe. Where’s my suitcase? Passport? I am still in control. No offense to all you lovely Kiwis, but I am NOT staying here past March. I think about what a Spokane church friend wrote me recently:

The same voice that says: "Dawn, you COULD just return to Spokane, settle back in, raise the kids, and have a comfortable life here in Spokane..." may also be an expression of: "You've been through so much, you can't possibly be strong enough to risk that kind of love again. You really must retreat fearfully back into a blanket of bland, gray empty living. You can't try and fail again..." 
Of course, the truth is you CAN risk again, you don't HAVE to retreat, life doesn't have to be empty, and of course you can fail again, and you can succeed also. The only thing that is certain is that if you give up, you will have failed, all the way around…”

Nothing gray and bland about Spokane, except maybe during slush (melting snow) season that bridges winter to spring. It’s still our place. Besides, I’ve only known The Boyfriend 4 months. One-third of a year. Relationship jury members are still eating their taxpayer-funded lunches of Subway sandwiches. No verdict. We don’t have a verdict. Don’t need one.

 I feel strange. Stranger-in-a-strange-land-strange. This-wasn’t-my-plan strange. The next morning in Taupo, Pete asks if everything’s okay, “You seem strange,” he said. “I am strange,” I said. “It’s just the clock is ticking when I don’t have the kids. I want time away from them, but I feel guilty about that, too.I need to manage my expectations. I was hoping for time away with you, and instead  I get your mate, his wife, and 3 kids. I’m trying to see things from the other side, to imagine what we’d be doing if we were in the States. I’d want to visit with my friends, too. I’m really feeling the fact I’m not on my own turf. So much is out of my control.” That’s it, really – control. I can be OCD on the control thing. It doesn’t help international relations. It doesn’t help much of anything (or, as Pete pronounces it, “enna-thing”). Pete tells me he understands, and that he wants to finish helping his mate erect the shed that morning, but we’ll have afternoon and evening to ourselves. I take deep breaths and remember what my friend, Chris, recently messaged me: “…keep enjoying what is in front of you.” 
View of mountains from Taupo

It’s been a month since I’ve run more than 4 kilometers after spraining my ankle. I tape it up, pull on a hat and gloves and run to Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake (616 square kilometers, or 238 square miles).  The lake lies inside a crater caused by a volcanic eruption more than 26,000 years ago. Fog lifts from the lake at the same time each footstep clears fog from my mind. What’s in front of me? Good people, kind people, including The Boyfriend.  What’s in front of me? Left foot. Right foot. Over and over again. I run and pray, “Thank God I can run, thank God I can run…” I pass the same landmarks I first saw when my friends from L.A., Leanne and Mark, brought me to Taupo. Across the lake, coated in a white powder of snow tower the volcanic peaks of  Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe . Across the road sits a strip of restaurants and accommodation with names like Taste Cafe and Great Lake Motel. Just up Titiraupenga Street lie the Tiki and Rainbow Lodges, backpackers’ I’ve slept at before, in summer. Everything looks different in winter. Our second day in Taupo is gray. Cold.  Still, half-way through my run, at 5 kilometers, I’m warm enough to remove the gloves. I run a total of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). I’m elated. Relieved.

Later, Pete and I soak in the same hot pools at Spa Park that my friends and I visited in summer. My grown-up body and toddler heart start to thaw. I’m enjoying what’s in front of me. A dinner of Spicy Chicken Masala and Lamb Nawabi at the Indian Affair, just the 2 of us, followed by a chick flick at the cinema, surrounded by dozens of cackling Kiwi women, are redemptive.  Strangeness dissipates. You could almost see the wall tumbling, brick by brick.
Sunshine at Lake Taupo on Day 1 of our visit

For now, I’ve packed away my inner toddler. She’s inside my suitcase, along with my passport.

Did you make it this far? Thank you. The Spok-AN-trum’s over, for now. I have to go – to finish packing for the next road trip, the one that’ll take us to Hawke’s Bay to spend 4 or 5 days with Pete’s family. No tantrums on my part  (I can’t guarantee the kids’ behavior). And I promise to enjoy what’s in front of me.


  1. Life, here in Spokane, is as you left it. As it will be when you next return. We miss you. I'm glad you can enjoy what's in front of you--not always easy to do. I'm also glad you're running again. I've started to call that "clearing of the fog" you mentioned, "the shift." From pre-run anxieties and emotions to during and then post-run satisfaction and calm. It can be counted on and it feels so good.

    Thought I'd try to call this weekend, but if you're traveling, maybe I'll try next week. Love you tons. xxoo

  2. Mindy,
    Thank you so much for your message. I think of you too many times to count in one week. Seriously! You're right about the shift. Important mental work happens during a run. Love you, too. Will try to connect when I'm home 2 mornings this week.

  3. If you call, will you try my cell? I never answer (or hear) my home phone. I'll message you the number, in case it's been lost in transit. I think of you all the time, too. Miss you more than words can express.