Kia Ora

Kia Ora


New Zealand, where we’ve just spent a two-week holiday, is also known by its Maori name, Aotearoa, meaning “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

Lake Manapouri, which we crossed to reach the even more stunning Doubtful Sound.

More than one person mentioned this mythical cloud before our visit. I’ll leave it to those of you interested in learning more to look up how the islands got this name. We had clear days and cloudy days, but somehow, even the gray skies looked lovely against the deep green and grey of the mountains in the landscape. I’ve always been an ocean lover—I’d choose the beach over mountains pretty much any day, but my admiration of New Zealand’s beaches will have to wait until our next visit. It was the mountains I fell in love with this time around.


We were also advised, repeatedly, to pack for all weather. Again, I’m glad we listened. We saw temperatures that, even in summer, ranged from 3C (or about 38F) all the way to 25C (about 77F).

We were fortunate to be able to spend a whole two weeks in New Zealand, but it was only two weeks. I won’t pretend to have a deep or thorough understanding of the country or the dynamics of its white New Zealander-Maori relations, but I will say that, on first impression, I’m struck by the degree to which Maori language and culture have been integrated with modern New Zealand. Examples: road and other public signs are bilingual, there are a couple public Maori TV stations, and plenty of merchandise, etc. lists the Maori name along with or instead of the English name.

We spent several nights in the southwestern area of the South Island: the Southern Alps. In addition to the breath-taking beauty of the mountains, the area includes one of about ten dark sky reserves in the world: areas where artificial light sources are so strictly controlled that the stars can still be seen with unreal clarity. Orion, which has become a familiar constellation to us in Australia, was actually a little harder to spot because we could, for the first time, see so many other stars crowded in and around it. It’s rather astonishing that lit nights, which we regard as generally beneficial, actually diminish something so beautiful.

This natural beauty was on the South Island. Before that, though, we began our trip with a few days on the North Island. For all you Lord of the Rings fans out there, you might enjoy these pictures from Hobbiton, where all the [outdoor] scenes of the Shire were filmed.

We would drive a hired car around to the various destinations, as New Zealand is small enough to be quite drive-able (especially compared to Australia or the United States). On the advice of our Kiwi neighbours, we decided to stay in holiday homes, or “bachs,” along the way. This was advice that we heeded and are so happy we did. I mean, what hotel would give you a view like this?



All this beauty came at a price: internet access was very hard to come by. It was a revealing insight for me on a personal level to realize how much I relied on having my friends Google, email, WhatsApp, etc. at the tip of my fingers. I didn’t like how uncomfortable–initially, anyway–their absence made me, and it has given me something to think about.

Deep thoughts aside, here are some more moments from the trip:

Anyway, in the end, it was a special and memorable trip, ending with some quality time in Christchurch with old friends from Columbus.

People have asked and will ask about it. As we have done since photos were invented, I will show pictures, like this,

Lupins along the side of the roads we drove.

and this.

The milky blue colour of this water is the sun’s reflection of the glacial flour that floats near the top of the lake.

But in the end, pictures don’t capture what it’s like to be here. To feel the magnificence of this place, you’ll just have to visit New Zealand yourself.

Kia ora, everyone.

A Lesson from Bilbo Baggins

Hobbits are homebodies, a fact I remembered when I saw the movie The Hobbit recently. Bilbo Baggins has created a home full of physical comforts and reminders of the goodness of his past. Home is the place in which he can exhale deeply and let himself be embraced by all his favorite things. Home is to Bilbo, in the words of an old IKEA commercial, the Most Important Place in the World.

But then Bilbo decides to follow Gandalph the Grey and a band of dwarves he doesn’t know to places he has never been and to encounter creatures he has never imagined. Thus the movie begins. But this scene, in which you see how precious his comfortable life is to him, and his decision to then go off on his adventure, struck a chord with me.

I too happen to love our home and the life that we have built in it. I have tried to make it a place where my family, immediate and extended, and my friends can feel at home, and be embraced by a feeling of comfort and well-being. Sometimes I wish for a snow day just so everyone can stay in our warmest, softest clothes and just be.

But I have also been thinking a lot lately about the calling of my faith not to be too attached to my world, and to be willing to pick up and follow a new path, if doing so advances my spirituality. Many are the Biblical parables of people who stumble on this path because they cannot give up the security of their belongings, their positions, others’ opinions of them: whatever it is they hold most precious. If I heard this calling, would I be quick to follow it? I want to say yes, absolutely. But if I am being completely honest with myself, I like coming home to a warm house. I like having warm clothes to wear (I like warmth–can you tell it’s winter?). I like having a bicycle and running shoes, whose uses bring me enjoyment. I like being able to sink into bed at the end of a long day under the warm (there it is again!) covers. I like that I have good relationships with others that allow me to get more done.

I don’t believe I am being called to give these things up at the moment, mind you. But the point is that I ought to be willing to.  I would like to reach a point where my priorities and focus are always so aligned that I would leave the trappings of my world without hesitation. I would like to know that before I ask myself, am I ready to part with this thing, I see instead the good it can do me and others to part with it, and that it doesn’t matter whether or not I am ready. I would like to know that I act first out of love for others before I think of my own interests. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Ever wondered about this? How easily could you leave your world? The reason need not be spiritual advancement. Sometimes it is helping a friend or taking risks to support something that matters to you. Sometimes it is, simply, going on an adventure because your life has become too routine. How do you decide that you need to leave the comforts of your home, physical or emotional? At what point is it worth giving up home? Bilbo won’t find out for a long time that his sacrifice was worth it. Worthwhile, I believe, do most of ours end up being, if only we will take that first leap.


“Maybe you had to leave in order to miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out 
how beloved your starting point was.”
― Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care 

One of my favorite memories of the time when my husband and I were still dating is the sight of the Columbus skyline, back-dropped by a magnificent purple and orange sunset. We were driving home from dinner on a highway that had recently re-opened after a long construction period, and it was an unfamiliar view of a city that was both familiar and breath-taking.

Columbus has its stunning views, sure, but I don’t think that is why it struck me. It might have been the first time that I realized how familiar this place was to me, how much it felt like home. I was in my mid-twenties at the time; it was that period of life when every year or two, there was a move. New apartment, new roommates, new chapter. I hadn’t spent more than a year at any one address since leaving my parents’ home for college. My parents’ home was home because of their love and presence, not because of the place. No place felt like home. So to suddenly find that a place felt that way to me was remarkable.

Why? What is home, anyway? Why does one need it? Why does place matter so much?

Place grounds memories. You drive by a restaurant and remember that one time that you had that really fun dinner there with a now-scattered group of friends. That’s the park where you lost that hat you loved so much.  You drive by a street and remember friends who once lived there. You were walking down this street when you had that monumental conversation with someone. There’s the fun little shop you and your sister shop at whenever she comes to visit. Not having these mini-reveries throughout your week is like going through a whole winter missing your gloves.

Also, the mundane details of our lives are filled out by place. Everyone goes to the grocery store. This is what mine looks like (produce is on the right). Need a bakery that makes great vegan cakes? Here are the ones in town I’ve tried. There are the dry-cleaners I’ve known so long I’d trust them with my childhood coat–the one my child is now big enough to wear. Any fellow book lovers who come visiting will be treated–subjected?–to the couple of bookstores I love so much. Even non-physical aspects of place give context to daily life. Radio stations are a perfect example: part of settling into a new place is finding the radio station(s) that suit one’s taste.

Much as I’d like to believe that I am–or was anyway–a global nomad, able to pick up and move and make a new life somewhere else, the truth is that creating a new life in a new place requires painting a whole new backdrop for your life. Finding the stores that carry the things you want.  Finding the hairstylist (can I hear an amen, women?) to whose scissors you’d entrust your hair. Finding the restaurants/pubs/coffee shops where you see yourself becoming a regular. These are the things that make settling into a new place exciting. Yet I think it’s the prospect of knowing those things, going to those places, over and over and for a long time, that ultimately thrills me. And now, the recognition that I’ve done that is what brings such sweetness to this place.