Thursday, July 17, 2014

E Noho Ra, e Aotearoa!

Well, it happened.  We took a few breaths, slept a few sleeps, and blinked our eyes a few times, and before we knew it, this...

...turned into this:

First day versus last day.  

I gotta say straight up that, as I type this entry, I've got a gigantic lump in my throat, I've already wiped a few tears, and Steve has given me two hugs for encouragement.  I have been putting off this post for a few weeks, primarily because we've been super busy getting settled back in Utah, but also a little bit because I have enjoyed writing this blog immensely and I am heartbroken that this is the final post.  

Before "The Kiwi Chronicles" my blogging track record had been sporadic at best.  After arriving in New Zealand, I made a goal that I would post at least two times a month, with updates and some photos.  Well, here we are...106 posts, thousands of photos, and nearly 30,000 views later!  It's been such a pleasure to blog about our New Zealand adventure and to share it with all of you.

I originally planned to have this last entry be a guest post from everyone, a chance for our family to be able to summarize their experience in their own words.  Getting everyone to actually sit down and write something has been more of a challenge than I anticipated!  Therefore, I'll be doing most of the summarizing. :)

Luke and Landon had a great year.  When we arrived in New Zealand, they were very temperamental, sleeping in cribs, wearing diapers, and getting most of their calories from milk bottles.  Throughout the course of the year, they matured greatly, transitioned to big beds, started eating with more variety (although we are still working on quantity!), got potty trained, Luke broke his elbow, they started preschool, and became Sunbeams at church.  Generally, the twins evolved into more pleasant and reasonable little boys, expressing their thoughts and feelings in the cutest little voices you'll hear.  I'm saddened that they won't remember the time spent in New Zealand, but I hope they'll enjoy reading the blog and seeing the pictures of all of our fun adventures.  We're already talking about how we can do something like this again in 8 or 10 years, for Luke and Landon's benefit!

Emily's year was incredible.  Despite the very rough beginning, once Emily finally joined us and enrolled in school, it was pretty smooth sailing all year.  I cannot express enough my appreciation for the wonderful folks at Winchester School, who tenderly took Emily under their wings and helped her to excel.  The kids in her classes were some of the kindest and sweetest kids I've known.  Emily had an A+ year.

Emily's amazing teacher for the latter half, Mrs. Tuck (Fiona -- as Emily says, "like on Shrek!"), made a wonderful scrapbook with all kinds of photos and mementos from Emily's year.  On Emily's last day of school, which was just two days before Emily's birthday, she made Emily a huge cake and this awesome card, signed by the classmates and teachers.  

Even though Emily was always asking when it would be time to go back to school, she still managed to have fun on our many outings:

Cameron is perhaps the most sad of all the kids about having to leave New Zealand.  He made great friends and had a terrific year at Winchester.  He became somewhat of a school celebrity because of his storytelling.  He is a wonderful writer with a special imagination, and he can sure craft a tale, that kid.  His teachers loved him.  He was also known for being such a kind brother for Emily, often coming to the rescue if there was a question or issue with her.  This was one of my favorite views on a daily basis -- watching Cameron guide Emily to the car after school, almost always with his arm around her:

Cam is one-of-a-kind.  I'm glad that he enjoyed our time spent abroad. 

Julia grew from a girl to a lovely young woman in New Zealand.  She transitioned to high school, made some great friends, learned a lot, did well in her classes, joined the soccer team, won an iPad!, and broke her arm.  She and Rachel became completely immersed and involved at church in the Young Women's program and developed deep bonds with the other girls and their leaders.  Julia was perhaps the most nervous of our kids beforehand about how the year in New Zealand would shake down, and we are so pleased that she not only endured, but genuinely enjoyed the journey.

Rachel's year was not always easy.  There were times when she grew weary of some of the influences around her that caused her to feel low.  We are so proud of her for digging deep and making the best of the year!  She worked hard to earn her Young Womanhood award and has proudly worn her medallion every day since.  She rarely complained about waking up for early morning seminary (unlike her mom, *cough*).  She absolutely loved the youth of our ward.  I know that our experience prepared Rachel (and all of our kids) for some of the challenges that life will bring.     

I took this picture of Rachel and Julia walking to school on one of their last days.  As it turns out, they won't ever go to the same school again, so this was a tender moment for me!  I love that they are such good friends, and I know that New Zealand brought them even closer together:

I'm so proud of all of my kids for being brave, having good attitudes, trying their best, and learning to love more deeply.  I truly feel like I have some of the awesomest kids around!

(scuffle, grunt, heave -- those are the sounds of me wrestling Steve to the computer to write his own stinkin' summary!)  

From Steve:  

How can I summarize one of the most amazing experiences of our lives in a few short lines?  Read the blog.   Mindy has beautifully documented the experience throughout the past year.  I’m not sure I can add much.  I would like to express gratitude to the people who made this experience possible for our family.  Thanks to Vista Staffing for arranging interviews, helping with heaps of paperwork and supporting our large family throughout this process.  Thank you to the doctors and nurses in Palmerston North Hospital for being so welcoming, accommodating, professional and for being excellent at what you do.  I had a wonderful experience working amongst you.  My career has been enriched and prolonged because of you.

Our church whanau was incredible.  You gave meaning and purpose and depth to our experience in NZ.  Thank you for your service to us, and for letting us serve you.  We have been strengthened and inspired by you.  You have have spoiled us for all future wards.

Mostly, I want to give my thanks and appreciation to my family.  When I first started talking about doing this several years ago, the idea was met with minor skepticism, but not outright derision.  I don’t think anyone really thought that we could sell our house, take time off of work, find a job in NZ and move to the other side of the world with 6 kids in tow.  I knew that this was not going to be a simple or seamless transition for anyone.  Mindy had to agree to sell her beautiful home, the kids to leave possessions, friends, schools and everything they knew.  It wasn’t easy.  It was dang hard at times.  Gut-wrenching.  Especially traveling without Emily initially.  We knew that her visa would eventually come through, but we had no idea how long it would be.  Going through some of the initial challenges of a new life in a new country without sweet, little Emmy made us all question why we were there.  

I have to say, however, that through it all, this little band of ninjas was awesome.  Mindy is a rockstar.  She handled the transition with class and grace.  She loved and served and sang and danced.  She was up for every adventure.  I could not ask for a better companion, and could not imagine doing this without her.  Our kids were amazing.  They dove into the deep end and swam.  New schools, friends, teams, and church callings didn’t faze them.  We traveled all over the country in an old van without AC, DVD’s, or even a functional radio, with nary a word of complaint.  I could not be more proud of their positive attitudes, sense of adventure, resilience, and willingness to serve.  Our year in New Zealand exceeded all of our expectations.  It was worth all the work, the effort, the sleepless nights, the expense, and the discomfort.  We had experiences that we will never forget.  We were touched and inspired by people that changed our lives and will forever be part of us.  Arohanui whanau!

(sniff, sniff)  Holy cow, Steve, I was already feeling tender, dang you!

I am so grateful for Steve for his hours of work and research and time, both before we departed and throughout our stay, in an effort to provide the most positive and enriching experience for our family.  During the planning phase, while I was nodding my head and saying that I really wanted to do this (but really thinking, 'I'm not sure we'll ever pull this off!'), he worked tirelessly to make this little pipe dream of ours a reality.  Without his efforts, we'd still be sitting around, saying to each other, "Wouldn't it be SO COOL to take our family to New Zealand for a year?" :)

It's so surreal to be on the other end of this experience now.  We are already talking -- often -- about when we can go back and do this again.  I loved New Zealand with all my heart.  It is a stunningly beautiful country.  Even more than the scenery, though, I loved our beautiful, kind friends who embraced and welcomed us, and made the experience so special and enriching for us.  We will fondly remember our Kiwi experience for as long as we live.  It was one of the best years of my life, and I got to share it with my amazing husband and kids -- my favorite people on the planet!  I'm so thankful for what I learned about myself, especially this. . . I can do hard things!  And so can you.

We felt that we were a strong, close-knit family before our move to New Zealand.  Our bonds have grown deeper and our love stronger as a result of this experience.  We saw some beautiful places and met some amazing people, and we did it together!  Priceless.

Circling back to our final moments... We were surrounded at the airport gate by most of our favorite friends.  The tears flowed freely as we said our final goodbyes, and a few of our friends performed a powerful haka.  We hugged and kissed and gave one last wave, then walked across the pavement to our waiting airplane.  The sun was just setting as we flew away to Auckland (Mele captured this image -- look closely for our little airplane!):

Once buckled into our seats, we continued to wipe our eyes.  The sun and clouds looked so peaceful and beautiful -- I had to snap a few pics:

Twenty-something hours later, after a rushed check-in in Auckland, a very long flight over the Pacific, and a frustrating baggage dilemma in San Francisco, we landed in Salt Lake City.  As the Wasatch mountains came into view, and then downtown SLC, Steve and I reached to squeeze each other's hands.  We were tired, and relieved that all the traveling would soon be complete, but it struck me that I was not nearly as "giddy" as I originally thought I might be.  Landing in Salt Lake meant that our New Zealand adventure was officially over.   That made me feel very sad.

But I remember thinking, 'What a blessing it is, that I feel sad about this being over.  That means that I gained everything from this experience that I hoped I would (and much more).  If I were bouncing up and down, grateful that it was finally over. . . now that would be REALLY sad.'

We were greeted by our parents, and some of our siblings, nieces and nephews.  It was wonderful to see them all again!  Hugs and kisses were shared all around.  We were exhausted, and felt like we'd aged a few years in that 24-hour span, but when I look at this photo, we don't look much worse for wear!

With gratitude and affection and love, we bid farewell to our beloved New Zealand.  
E noho ra, Aotearoa!  'Til we meet again.