March, 2012

18 Mar 2012, by


The nature of blogs is often to be rather self-centered: to examine what’s happening in your life and try to make some sense of it, through writing, publicly. Blogging is defined as writing an online journal, so I guess a little navel-gazing is expected… But I tend to get a little restless when I feel the focus is too “selfish”.

When I was writing blogs in the news business, I tended to focus as much on current events as I did what was happening in my life. However, that’s not been the case lately. Our family’s move to New Zealand has forced my focus more on me and my family’s experiences. Not that I haven’t been following current events along the way, but frankly, I haven’t processed them in a way that would make me feel as if I would be adding anything to the discussion by writing about them right now. That may change soon…I was inspired by listening to two talks by Germaine Greer and Thomas Friedman, at the New Zealand International Arts Festival Writers and Readers week. However, before I tackle that, I want to focus on something much more pressing to me. It is still personal, but focused on others: the people of Wellington, New Zealand.

Have I expressed how we have been welcomed with open arms here? I know I’ve blogged about people behind the counter wanting to take the time and chat with their customers. However, I don’t want you to think that spirit is limited to retail stores. I had an experience last week that describes what I mean best, so I’ll share that first. Last week, I drove to a nearby city, Lower Hutt, to look at a table advertised online. Somehow along the way I lost track of my phone which had the exact address and phone number of the home where the table was. I did remember the street name and stopped at a gas station where an attendant and I scoured a map to find out how to drive there. I also thought I’d remembered the house number but when I arrived, no one answered. So I took a chance and knocked on the next-door neighbor’s door.

Picture the scene: I, a stranger, start trying to explain my bird-brained move of losing my phone and yet still not giving up my hope of trying to see this table. The neighbor, instead of shutting the door and politely excusing herself, instead declares this is a mystery she needs to help solve. So, she invites me into her home, lets me log onto her computer, where I am able to get the phone number of the table-owner. I then use her phone to call and although I get a message machine on the other end, I also hear the homeowner’s full name. The helpful neighbor then recognizes his name as someone who lives just down the street and sends me trotting to the right house! I turn up there, half an hour late, but I am still welcomed – despite my crazy babbling and apologizing for my lateness and trying to synopsize what happened. At each step along my journey, instead of backing away from me, everyone involved in my dilemma just laughed and helped me “sort it out”. Call me grateful. Embarrassed, but grateful…

We have had experiences like this at every turn. Every “contact” we were given before we moved has invited us into their homes and entertained us for hours, with fabulous food and conversation. One couple even took us on a personal tour of neighborhoods so we would be able to orient ourselves before choosing a home. We have traveled all over the local countryside visiting various friends’ homes. The people with whom my husband works have hosted us on holidays and weekends – sometimes on more than one occasion. This goes beyond just being polite. This is genuine goodness.

Now that we finally have a home, our neighbors have proven to be phenomenal. The first weekend, we were invited across the street for a “gorgeous” dinner. (Love how that word is used over here.) Parents have given my children rides to school, hosted my husband and me at their homes for after-work drinks, asked me to join the local choir and invited my husband to the monthly men’s trip to the pub. They have included us in their circle at school picnics and local concerts. (That picnic blanket I bought when I first arrived is getting good use these days.) I have had two neighbors even send us baked goods along with their numbers in case we or our kids ever need to get a hold of them. We haven’t even been in our home for an entire month!

The people we have met here in Wellington have been kind, generous and adventurous. One of the reasons I am so impatient to get completely unpacked and settled is so we can reciprocate and even reach out to other newcomers in the same way. The people here have given me something to aspire to…and I intend to live up to the challenge!

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Peaceful Wellington Botanic Garden

I just fried my husband’s fancy cappuccino maker. For those of you who know my husband, the machine itself and our mutual love of coffee, I can hear your collective gasp all the way down here in New Zealand. Here’s how it happened: in my pre-coffee haze, I plugged the Swiss-made magic-bean-into-liquid-energy maker into the wrong plug in our transformer and zapped our much treasured appliance with 220 volts of electricity. When smoke and sparks appeared, my older son helped me carry it out of the house so I didn’t burn that down too.

I went weak at the knees when this happened. And I was furious with myself! All I could say was “how could I be so stupid?” The question I should have asked was “why didn’t I just slow down?” I could have pulled out the machine and plugged it in properly if I weren’t in such a hurry.

One of my goals when I made this big life change to leave my career and move halfway across the globe was to slow down. I’ve mentioned this before. Well, this painful moment, as you might imagine, helped finally to get the message across that I haven’t slowed down enough. I know, though, that I will need to be reminded again…and again.

A friend just recommended I read a book entitled “In Praise of Slow, How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed” by Carl Honore´. I haven’t made time to read it yet but I will…promise. If anyone has read it and has incorporated any of its lessons, I’d love to know how.

I do know I will have to change my habits, and they are deeply ingrained. For all of my nearly 20 years in the news business, I had no choice but to move at high speed, meeting deadline after deadline. As a working mother, who at one time had two young children at home and a husband in graduate school, I could not afford to break my fast stride. Now, though, that graduate degree has paid off for my husband and I have the luxury of changing my fast-forward lifestyle. It means I am going to have to force myself simply to stop and re-think not just what I’m doing, but also how I’m doing it.

I have always found a good way to re-set my focus is very simple: get outside and take a walk. It’s like meditating in motion. Now that we have a puppy and live just steps from the Wellington Botanic Garden, the impetus is obvious. One step inside that magical place, and I find myself taking a deep breath – enveloped by the lush nature and peace that surrounds us. It’s an instant perspective-changer. Those walks don’t happen often enough. I need to learn to make them a habit.

Sound at all familiar? I know I’m not alone. As I write this, I have to admit that I have repeatedly ignored an online prompt from an application I’ve downloaded onto my computer. It asks me to take a 30 second break every so often. The program is called “Time Out”…and you can choose to do what it asks or ignore it. I do take that break – probably every fourth time. But the program makes my husband and kids crazy! They can’t stand being asked to slow down – even if it’s just to push the button to put off the slowing down for later!! So I know I am not the only one who feels challenged.

The challenges continue. As many of you already know, I am in the midst of unpacking our family’s belongings as we try to settle in to our new home here in New Zealand. We shipped over practically everything we owned! Not surprisingly, we are overflowing. My mission now is to downsize. Phase 2. Phase 1 was leaving behind “heaps” of stuff in Northern California. However, as I consider what to get rid of and what to consolidate, I don’t want to make any snap decisions. So, we are just ignoring things like the headboard to my master suite bed that won’t fit in the cozy upstairs of this nearly 100 year old home. It’s sitting in the living room. This is not what I’d envisioned. I thought, now that I’m not working full-time, that I could get this house pulled together fairly quickly. It’s time to revise my timeline, step past the piles for a while and just live with it…as I mosey along the garden path outside my home instead.

“She’ll be right” is a kiwi phrase that comes to mind as I face this slowing down challenge. And I know in time, she will…

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