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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

our safe house

We're moving to Sydney in about five weeks.  Which means I can't poop right and my left eye is twitching.  Because, so far, all we have in Sydney is one brand new shiny job.  For my husband.  That's it.  No house.  No schools.  No neighborhood.  No car.  No brand new shiny jobs for me.  And Jesus' birthday is in five days.  Not a good time to have kids running around without teacher supervision or shoes and my Christmas cards not done.

This week we plan to pick a neighborhood in which to live in Sydney from our living room in which we live in Auckland.   I can’t order a pair of pants off of J. and get it right but for some reason my ass thinks choosing a house overseas is going to be easier.

But we do have some frontrunners so that’s something.  We found areas in Sydney that we know little to nothing about but seem cool when you say them out loud.  Paddington.  Balmain.  Rozelle.  You've got to roll your "r" to make that last one work.  These little pockets of people are located near where my husband will work.  In the city.  Close proximity to his office so I don't have to be a mad single mom is one of the demands of our new home.  Also on the list:  a great public school system and a bathtub.  You really don't know how much you miss a bathtub until you live in a house with three bathrooms and zero bathtubs in a country where shoes are not a priority.  Showers don't clean dirty feet.  Bathtubs do.    

The good news is people have been very helpful here.  They say nothing but nice things about the areas we're thinking about.  Lots of families.  Lovely.  Really good schools.  That's what I'm talking about.  In the city.   Sounds like a bathtub must be involved.  But not as safe as New Zealand.  Come again?  

One frantic Google search later, I discover the bad news.  The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research website.  It lists all the hotspots for crime in Sydney and classifies them by color.  Yellow for low density hotspots.  Orange for medium density hotspots.  Red for high density hotspots.   Which I read as yellow – oh, orange – my, red – GOD!  I plop in our areas as fast as one can plop in areas and for a second I think a blood vessel has burst in my retina.  Red is everywhere.  Paddington.  Balmain.  Rrrrr-ozelle.  I already feel violated and I haven’t even packed a box.

Which is good.  No boxes packed means no boxes to unpack because I suddenly decide I'm not moving.  I make high stakes decisions just like that.  But before I allow this thought to become words and these words to become a beautiful little breakdown, I see BOCSAR is kind enough to break their color-coded system down further by offense.  There are a lot of offenses.  Some really bad ones.  Breaking and entering and assault.   Bring in the paddy wagon.  And some not so bad.  Malicious damage to property and stealing from a motor vehicle.  Crimes that my four-year old perpetrates on me on a daily basis.  And I realize I’m not afraid.  Just like Eminem.  I need a box.

Side note:  I like Eminem.  

hello, car thieves!

The problem with living in the safest country in the world is you're living in the safest country in the world.  New Zealand.  It’s like a G movie over here where the cops have no guns and the kids don’t lock their bikes and streets are clean without ever having street cleaning day.  But, sadly, this is not reality.  Reality is the rest of the world.  And the rest of the world is rated R and they have guns and locks and really dirty streets.  There are 4.5 million people in all of New Zealand.  Take that same number of humans and pack them into one city -- Sydney -- and you are going to get a couple of dumdums doing dumb things.

So, to the future dumdum who is going to break into my car and steal my CD player, you are a dumdum.  And stealing is a dumb thing.  And you should really think twice about it.  And if you don't, please pop out my CD as there is a good chance it's Eminem and it's mine.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

a kangaroo named russell crowe?

You know those Lifetime movies where the husband lures his American wife to another country so he can kidnap their children -- but replace ‘their children’ with ‘her career’?  This is nothing like that.

That said, we’re moving.  Again.  But not back to Los Angeles or my career.  To someplace closer and far more stable.  Sydney, Australia.  Where they keep the kangaroos and Russell Crowe.  Come February you will be able to add us to that list.  My husband got another new job.  He seems to be printing them like flyers in the basement.  Even though we don’t have a basement.  Maybe in Australia we will. 

The job was offered last week while we were on vacation in Fiji (with my very generous in-laws who hand out holidays like handshakes) so we came home, unpacked and repacked our luggage, and flew to Sydney.  Like a bunch of jackasses.  If you’re in three beautiful vacation destinations – Fiji, Auckland, and Sydney – all in the same week and you are not in the Navy, that kind of makes you a jackass.  If not, saying that last jackass statement definitely does.  Either way, we were doing what we had to do.  Recon mission.

My husband has been to Sydney a couple of times but the kids and I haven't so we had to make sure we could live there.  Our hot Fijian tans were greeted with cold Australian rain.  My first impressions attacked me.  Sydney is so big and a city and there were buildings ev-ery-where.  Panic set in.  I can’t live in big and a city with buildings ev-ery-where.  Besides, we were supposed to move back home next.  I mean, what about my career… and our friends and family… and my career?!  We never seriously talked about moving from another country to another country. I wanted to go down to the basement and print flyers with pictures of my WGA card on it.  I wondered if the American consulate would help me with the reward money. 

And then I calmed the crazy lady down.  In the Lifetime movie version of this, I would’ve slapped myself.  My supportive best friend/lawyer played by Tracey Gold would’ve tried to stop me and told me to breathe.  So I breathed.  Because the next day came with clarity and sunshine and coffee.  Just what you need when you’re making big life decisions.  I went over everything I already knew.  I moved to New Zealand – NEW ZEALAND! – and most of my hair didn’t fall out of my head.  My husband found a great house and a great school in a great neighborhood.  I worked on three NZ television shows.  I finished a feature spec and it's way better than the one I didn't finish.  And my family was happy and intact and full of belly fluff.  In the end, the belly fluff was all that mattered.  Everything I already knew reminded me that moving to Auckland was the best decision I have ever made.  (The worst:  that asymmetrical haircut/bob in the late 80s.)  There was no reason why another leg of our once-in-a-lifetime adventure wouldn't be the same. 

So we're moving to Sydney.  And it's going to be great.  I just hope Russell Crowe is hiring.  And that he likes jackasses.




Sunday, October 23, 2011

one year and some change

Air NZ lounge
and a Charlie-sized chair.

A little over a year ago we packed up our house and put endless boxes of whoknowswhat into storage and hugged our friends and family harder than we’d ever hugged them before and went to the airport.  And we got on an airplane and watched a thousand movies and flew over an ocean and fell asleep a little but not enough and then we were in New Zealand.  Living.  And as scary as the prospect was, the reality is amazing.  Even without Target.

My conclusion is this:  When you move to another country and half your crap is in a storage unit, you get a do-over.   At putting one foot in front of the other.  It’s like a having a near-death experience but without the light or the tunnel or the handy defibrillator.  Moving to another country, once you get through all the paperwork and forms and ‘why are you here?’ questions, makes you feel so much lighter, fresher, freer, and suddenly happier.  The act of shedding stuff and stress and the fact that we were now living in Kansas in the 50s were part of it.  But so were we.   

As it turns out, our family was bogged down with life back home in Los Angeles.  Everything just wore us down.  The house.  The street cleaning.  The 405.  The underworked me.  The overworked him.  Thinking of something to eat for dinner every single night over and over.  We got lost in the monotony of it all and misplaced our joy.  That’s not to say we weren’t happy.  We were happy.  But we were like a much loved but slightly abused stuffed animal.  Always smiling, never blinking, being dragged around on the ground by life as we were ever-so-slowly coming apart.  Bits of our belly fluff were everywhere and we had no clue.  

And now.  A year and an ocean and no Targets later.  It’s as if we’ve been sewn back together.  With unbreakable threads of meaning and joy and simplicity.  By the best stuffed animal seamstress in the world.  Our family is happier.  Our quality of life is better.  Our belly fluff is back where it belongs.  

We’re still smiling but now we remember why.  


Our plane to happy land.

Monday, July 18, 2011

happy 5th of july, america

I have been out of the United States for over nine months now.  Nine months.  I’ve gestated quicker.  While it’s been an adventure of a lifetime and a lesson in adaptation, I think the harsh reality of our move is finally sinking in.  It’s not missing my friends or family.  I knew that was the cruel price of a one-way ticket to the antipodes.  Or no longer seeing Nicole Kidman at Starbucks at 26th and Wilshire anymore.  Six times I saw Virginia Woolf.  At my Starbucks.  Either she was intentionally stalking me or I was accidentally stalking her.  I did like examining her Botox so maybe--  (My wrinkled forehead and) I digress.  What I didn’t expect from this move was the toll it would take.  On my holidays.  

I had this epiphany on July 4th.  Actually, July 5th.  The festive star-spangled day came and went two weeks ago and you know what I did?  Nothing.  Stayed home and wrote.  Not in an American flag bikini.  Without a twelve pack of anything.  Didn’t make eye contact with a single hot dog.  It’s not that I forgot it was Independence Day.  I just didn’t remember.  When you remove all the stars and the stripes and the ads for Old Navy’s something off of everything Fourth of July sale and the Veterans on the corners of West LA and the fireworks and the dogs barking at the fireworks and the Americans, you’re not left with a lot of reminders.  Absence doesn’t make the heart go stronger.  It just makes you forgetful.  And hot dog less.    

But this was not the first run-in with a messed up holiday.

Halloween 2010.  Imagine the least decorated block in your neighborhood and you’ve just imagined all of New Zealand on Halloween.  My new country has yet to embrace this holiday of begging.  That’s okay.  Traditions take time.  But what wasn’t okay was this:  a house with a paper pumpkin on its door (universal sign for “we have candy”) ran out of candy at 6 pm.  As we found out from someone yelling down from an upstairs window:  “Sorry, we ran out of candy!”  What the what?  They were our first house!  They ran out of candy?  And did they just relay this information to us by shouting down from their upstairs window? Our little Frankenstein and tiny devil were pissed.  It seems impossible to run out of candy at 6 pm unless a. you never had any candy to begin with and you’re mean, b. you only had one piece of candy and you’re mean or c. you ate all the candy and you’re mean.  We concluded they were mean.  And ate all the candy and their stairs. 

Thanksgiving 2010.  Charlie Brown had an easier time.  No one here had turkey for sale because no one here eats turkey unless it’s Christmas.  Want a turkey sandwich for lunch?  Too bad.  But I get it.  It’s not their holiday.  It’s ours.  So we were on our own.  Just like the Pilgrims way back when.  But with access to a store that sold meat.  Our local butcher advertised that it carried beef, poultry, duck and pigeon (!) so we had to order our turkey.  It came a week later.  From I don’t know where.  Frozen.  And cost us about $95.  It tasted like pigeon.   

And then came Christmas 2010.  Smack dab in the middle of summer.  Piles of pine trees for sale next to the cricket field.  My in my flip flops and my husband in his shorts searched for the perfect one. The kids coated in SPF 30 watched.  It was weird.  Christmastime should be cold.  I would’ve accepted chilly, brisk or even mildly windy.  But it wasn’t any of those.  It was hot and sunny and beautiful.  And therein lies the weird.  Have you ever tried to have a snowball fight with sunshine and grass clippings?  It’s almost as hard as singing “Jingle Bells” in a tube top. 

Which brings us to Mother’s Day 2011.  I reminded my husband this holiday was coming up so it wouldn’t sneak up on him.  Like it does.  But he assured me he knew.  He was all over it.  He and Mother’s Day were like that.  Insert close up of his pointer finger and middle finger tightly crossed.  Cut to Mother’s Day weekend and my husband acting like he was just snuck up on.  “Wait.  Mother’s Day is THIS weekend?   I thought it was next weekend like in America.”  Oh yes he did.  To which I replied, “Mother’s Day is THIS weekend in America, too.”  Husband:  “Huh.  Well, you’re going to love what I planned next weekend.”  And I did.  But still. 

Father’s Day 2011 was not without its problems.  Found the perfect scarf for my husband.  Wrapped up some gumboots for the early morning soccer/mud games.  Kids made the cutest cards.  I even let him sleep in while I snuck out super early to get us coffee and a paper.  And that’s when it happened.  I ran into my friend Jenny and she told me the bad news.  It wasn’t Father’s Day.  I was shocked. “What?--  I thought it was THIS weekend like in America.”  Oh yes I did.  To which Jenny replied, “Nope.  Father’s Day is in September.”  One scarf, a pair of gumboots, a couple of cute cards, a NZ Herald and a hot cup of coffee later, my well-rested husband was not disappointed by the news of another Father’s Day.   

Next up is Labor Day 2011.  September 5th.  We don’t have high expectations for this day.  1. Because they don’t spell labor like that here and 2. it’s not Labour Day here.  Life will probably go on as normal – our new normal – and that’s okay.  They say change is good.  I’m starting to believe them.  Even though our American holidays are all jacked up over here, the ones we do remember to celebrate have turned out to be some of our most memorable. 

Now all I need to do is figure out how to get that second Mother’s Day.  And my forehead less wrinkly. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

eleven meals with mom

When someone comes to visit, you go out and eat and drink.  When someone comes to visit when you’re living in a foreign country after no one has visited you for six months, you go out and eat and drink A LOT.  This is what happened when my mom came to visit for eleven days.  Food didn’t stand a chance.  My liver was played by Sandra Bullock and was blindsided by Pinot Noir.  It may have won an Oscar.  I’m not sure.  I probably ate it.   

Back in the 80s when I was so very small, I had this beach towel with this scantily clad hippo in a bikini on it.  Below this sexy fat mammal were the words, “If you got it, flaunt it.”  I don’t know where I got it or why I had it or why my mom would let me, a so very small girl in the 80s, have such a beach towel but I had it.  And I never really understood it.  I used to think, “If I have what?  What am I supposed to flaunt?”  I was clueless.  Not anymore.  New Zealand is that sexy hippo and it is totally being flaunted out here.  The fresh produce.  The clean food.  The just-caught fish.  The smaller portions.  The endless vineyards.  And a real nice proper cup of coffee. 

And Mom and I had it all.  Seems only right that I now flaunt it.  Unbutton your pants.

1.  Prawn risotto with zucchini and topped with rocket.  Friday lunch at Alphabet Bistro.  Mom flew in from LA this morning and this was her very first meal in New Zealand.  It was important that it didn’t suck.  So I took her here and ordered the prawn risotto.  Even though I was at this restaurant the day before for lunch with my husband and ordered the very same thing.  He thought it was redundant.  I knew it was a sure thing.  It was.


2.  Steamed New Zealand green lipped mussels in chardonnay, garlic and fresh herbs.  Saturday night family dinner at Iguacu.  Which we call Iguana because we’re not quite sure how to pronounce its actual name even though we’ve only eaten here about five hundred times since we’ve moved here.  The mussels were unbelievably fresh with sauce you would drink out of the bowl if people didn’t judge you for drinking sauce out of the bowl.  (Please note this picture was taken about ten consumed mussels and a bottle of wine too late to properly represent this yummy dish.  Sorry, Iguana.)

3.  Smoked chicken, brie and caramelized onion panini with some sort of relish.  Sunday afternoon lunch stop on our way to Piha beach.  The most beautiful beach ever.  Just a sandcastle away from the beach where “The Piano” was filmed.   We bought this sandwich at a dairy.  Tiny little market with a little bit of everything.  Including a delicious smoked chicken, brie and caramelized onion Panini with some sort of relish. It didn't win any beauty contests but it did win our $9.50.  Food is not cheap, did I mention that?

4.  Salmon and avocado on a sunflower roll with tomato chutney.  Monday lunch at Milk.  This is a little café in my husband’s office building.  Which is down the street from the school where Mom and I volunteered all morning in Max’s class.  They were making masks for literacy week.  Everyone had to pick out a character from their favorite book and then make a mask to parade around in front of the whole school on Friday.  Max chose the blue penguin from Club Penguin.  Club Penguin is not a book.

5.  Waiheke Snapper with mussel croquette, butternut, pine nuts, broad beans and FLOWERS!  Mudbrick Winery on Waiheke Island.  This restaurant is described as one of the most romantic places on earth.  And it was.  But since Mom and I aren’t romantically linked, we choose to describe it as one of the best drinking places on earth.  And it was.  I ordered the Waiheke Snapper and not only was it awesome, it was beautiful.  It was stacked and arranged and drizzled and flowered and topped with a pile of foam.  I’m sure the waiter told me exactly what the foam was but the Mudbrick Sauvignon Blanc refused to let me bring home that information.

6.  Breakfast salad with bacon, poached egg, tomato, avocado and mesclun dressed in fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.  Wednesday lunch at Café People.  Charlie turned four on this day.  Mom and I celebrated by sending him to school and having this amazing salad.  If the breakfast salad could’ve ordered lunch, it would’ve ordered the breakfast salad and ate itself. 

7.  Nachos with homemade tortilla chips and everything that’s good in the world:  cheese, guacamole, margaritas, the Pacific Ocean.  Thursday lunch at Dos Amigos in Mission Bay was perfect.  There is not much Mexican food in New Zealand but what they do have is off the charts fresh and mighty.  Hola.

8.  Ravioli with Jerusalem artichoke, sage and walnut brown butter.  Friday night dinner at Coco’s Cantina.  Coco’s Cantina is one of those places where adjectives such as hip, dark, small, cool loiter about like the people standing at the bar waiting for a table.  If you want to eat here, you will have to wait.  A long, long time.  But if you can stand it, literally, you will be rewarded.  With this dish.  Because.  Oh.  My.  God.  C-razy good.

9.  Dinosaur cake.  Saturday birthday party for Charlie 4th at Seedling.  A super cute kiddy craft store that sells super cute kiddy crafts.  This making of this cake involved a lot of assistants.  Mixer lickers (Max and Charlie), homemade frosting whipper (Mom), dinosaur body carver (me), expert froster (my husband).  This delicious quadruped was reduced to crumbs as the last verse of the Happy Birthday song still lingered in the air. 

10.  Trim flat white.  Sunday morning coffee from Mink Café.  This little brown takeaway cups may not look like much but the coffee from here – Mink and the entire country of New Zealand – is THE coffee.  I know other places say they have the best coffee in the world but they’re liars.  I’ve been to Spain, France, Costa Rica, Starbucks.  The moment the first New Zealand trim flat white hit my lips, I was besotted.  

11.  Maketu Prime Beef and Blue Cheese Pie.  A random meat pie Mom and I picked up at the grocery story eleven days ago.  Mom took the 1:05 pm Quantas flight from Auckland to LA on this day.  At 1:06 pm I realized we never got around to that pie.  It had 2,095 kilojoules (kilowhat?) of energy.  I decided I couldn’t consume all that energy without her so I didn’t.  Plus, it expired sometime between meal one and the 1:05 pm flight. So instead of using a picture of an old expired meat pie, here's a baby goat.  We went to a farm after we dropped Mom off at the airport.  We didn't eat the baby goat.

And there you have it.  Eleven meals with Mom.  I hope I made it very clear you have to come to New Zealand.  With or without my mom.  If not for the in-your-face beauty and the clean air and to visit me and the relentless hills and the ridiculously cute baby goats and the kind people and the charming accents that make you sound like you belong in a barn and the way “man oh man, is it pretty here” feels rolling off your barn tongue then come for the food.  And the wine.  And the COFFEE!

Someone please tell Starbucks we're through. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

the other me

I am not alone.  

That's what I discovered yesterday at Max's first soccer game.  I was standing on the sidelines in the mom zone, in yoga pants and a ponytail, watching my very red-faced seven-year-old while wrangling my very energetic three-year-old.  Next to me was another mom, in the same yoga pants and a ponytail, watching her very red-faced seven-year-old while wrangling her very energetic three-year-old.  A ball was passed or a kid ran by or something sporty happened when this went down.

Other Mom:  "GO, FINN!"
Me:  "GO, MAX!" 
She looked at me so I smiled at her.  You cannot call me unfriendly.
Other Mom:  "Where are you from?"
Never sure if I'm supposed to say America or Los Angeles or the States so...
Me:  "America--  Los Angeles--  The States."  
Other Mom:  "Oh, so you're new here?"
Me:  "Yeah." 
Other Mom:  "Me, too.  We just moved from Brisbane."
Hmm.  She just said "just."  I should probably correct myself.
Me:  "Actually, I don't know if I'm technically still new.  We've been here six months." 
Other Mom:  "Me, too!"
What?  Why'd she use the word "just" then?  Strange.  On a side note, if we're really counting...
Me:  "Actually we came at the end of September so eight months is probably a more accurate--" 
Other Mom:  "We came in September, too!  Has it been eight months already?"
She really has to get her story straight.  But she's right.  Eight months goes fast!
Me:  "I know.  So fast.  My husband came out before us in June--"
Other Mom:  "My husband came out before us in June, too--"
No.  Way.  Did my husband have a second family? 
Me:  "After just getting the job offer in May--"
Other Mom:  "My husband was informed of his transfer in May--"
She knew!  She knew my pain!  Misery, meet company.
Me:  "I was left alone with the kids for three months!--"
Other Mom:  "And I had to pack up the entire house!--"
I'm still mad I had to pack up the entire house and it's been eight months!
Me:  "ME, TOO!"
Other Mom:  "Worst time of my life--"
Me:  "The absolute WORST time--"
Awful.  Awful.  Awful. 
Other Mom:  "I fought with my husband on the phone across the pond all the time--"
Me:  "I picked Sky-ghts (Skype fights) with mine every chance I got and then walked out of frame."
Hmm.  I wonder if I can say across the pond?
Other Mom:  "That's so funny.  Are you all settled in?'
Me:  "I am.  Well, the kids are."
Other Mom:  "Same here.  It's time to for me now."
Me:  "Me, too."
And we looked at each other and smiled.  I guess I can't call her unfriendly either.  It was time for us now.  Even though we only knew each other for about three soccer plays, we were destined to be friends forever because of this moment, this bond, those three awful, house-packing months...


And then someone rang the bell and the game was over.  All twelve games on this very large soccer field.  Mom zone was suddenly flooded with sweaty, red-faced seven-year-old boys in need of water and lollies and, I don't know, maybe some deodorant?  Next thing I knew there was a scuffle between my boys over who got the orange candy (Max) and who got the purple candy (Charlie), and she was gone. The woman who had been living my life in a different continent with a different man and different children and a different house and a different accent and a different hair color and yet the SAME yoga pants was gone.  I was confused.  How could she have left without saying goodbye?  Hadn't we made a connection?  Aren't we destined to share our war stories?  And that's when she tapped me on the shoulder.  She was still there.  With the other four thousand soccer moms wearing yoga pants and ponytails.  I really have to get a better look for soccer.

Other Mom:  "Hey, so, I'll see you next week."
Me:  "Yeah, I'll see you next week."
Dangit, I wish I had an Australian accent.

And that was it.  And that's when I realized that was all that needed to be said.  When you have a connection like me and whatsherface, names and words are superfluous.  I have no doubt we will be friends forever.  Or at least until next week.  When I am NOT in yoga pants and a ponytail. 

Me:  "G'day, Mate!"
She can't hear me -- partially because she's already in the parking lot but mostly because I don't say this out loud -- but if she could, I know she'd smile.  Me and the other me are very friendly. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

911 is 111 in NZ

You know what’s great about me?  I like to multi-task.  Make a list.  Get things done.  And when it all goes well and things actually get accomplished, I’m not going to lie, I feel pretty darn good about myself.  You know what’s not great about me?  I’m easily distracted.  By the lure of anything.  I wouldn’t be a good fish.  I’d have a hook in my gill as soon as I discovered I had free will and opened my mouth to bite the shiny thing.  And as I swallowed my own blood, I’d probably feel like a really dumb fish.  But I’m not a fish, I’m me.  And me plus multi-tasking plus distractions equals not good things.

8:15 am.  This morning.  I decided to make some hard-boiled eggs.  That way whenever someone wanted a light snack or a quick breakfast, the eggs would be there.  Genius!  Or it would be if I didn’t come up with this idea right as I was in the middle of doing five other things – all of which involved yelling at my two kids.  1.  Get dressed!  2.  Get your socks on!  3.  Brush your teeth!  4.  Well, find the sunscreen!  5.  WHERE ARE YOUR HATS?!  Not the best time to add to the list but I did it anyway.  6.  Put a pot of water on the stove with six innocent eggs, set the knob to high and leave…  the… room!

What could go wrong?  Ask Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

This is where I blame New Zealand.  There are hills.  And houses.  And houses behind houses.  And houses down driveways behind other houses.  And lots of vertical living.  That’s our house.  A house behind a house sharing a driveway with another house and we have three floors.  You know what living in a house with three floors means?  You are invariably never on the same floor with what you need.  Watching TV on floor 1 and need slippers?  Floor 2.  Putting clothes away on floor 3 but left laundry basket by washer?  Floor 1.  This morning, getting kids dressed, socked, teeth cleaned, SPF’d, hatted (yes, Microsoft Word, “hatted”) and all of us out the front door on floor 2… and poor forgotten semi-boiling eggs?  Floor 1.    

8:35 am.  Walking my children to school is one of my favorite things to do.  It is a chance to spend time together, hold hands and take in the beautiful ozone-less sunshine.  It’s moments like these I’m sad we’re not on a reality show so a camera crew could capture this pure joy.  But then four deep breaths later when a squabble has erupted, I’m so thankful E! isn’t giving shows to non-Kardashians like myself.  Still, I love leisurely walking with my kids and lingering at their school. 

Back at my house:  six boiling hot eggs scream for help.  No one can hear them.

9:00 am.  After I confiscate a Lego Ninjago figurine from Max (for some reason he thinks “no toys at school” means “sneak toys into school”) and drop off both boys, I head to my husband’s work.  Back in LA, we had two nice new cars and always seemed to be driving here and there alone.  We never saw each other.  It was a horrible way to live.  So, in NZ, we decided we only needed one car.  A ’99 Honda CRV.  That is not a typo.  We own a twelve-year-old car and you know what?  It’s just fine.  It’s better than fine.  It’s shiny and comfortable and it turns left AND right.  We’re definitely being kinder to the environment now and I drove a hybrid back home.  If Leonardo DiCaprio knew we existed, he would probably bake us a thank-you cake.  But I digress.  So, every morning, this is our routine.  My husband drives to work in peace, I walk the kids to school in non-peace then I walk to his work to pick up the car and drive back home to work in peace.  End of day, we all pick up Daddy.  Good for the environment, my husband, our children and my ass.  Not so good for the eggs on the stove.

9:11 am.  Completely forget I have eggs on the stove.
9:12 am.  Pet a dog.  Dogs are irresistible. 
9:13 am.  Stretch out my hamstring. 
9:15 am.  Continue walking.
9:16 am.  Notice how hot the sun is so early in the morning.
9:17 am.  Turn the corner and see the Sky Tower.
9:18 am.  Notice how big the Sky Tower is.
9:19 am.  Think about stopping to get a coffee.
9:20 am.  Realize I don’t have any money on me.  Just my phone, my keys, Max’s Lego Ninjago and-- EGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGSSSSS!!! 

A series of expletives are then released.  Like doves at a wedding. 

9:22 am.  I fuh-reak out and start to multi-task like a crazy person.  1.  Reach in pocket to pull out phone and accidentally send it crashing to the asphalt.  2.  Reach down to pick up phone with newly shattered glass and Lego Ninjago flies out of my pocket, disassembles itself and pieces go everywhere.  3.  Start running like my house is on fire because MY HOUSE IS PROBABLY ON FIRE!  4.  Call husband to see if he turned off the burner only to find how he has no idea what I’m talking about so I hang up on him.  5.  Run down hill.  6.  Run up hill.  7.  Curse Auckland and its hills!  8.  Text my neighbor friend to let her know I think my house is on fire.  9.  Check the time.  9:30!!!  10.  Pray. 

When you think your house is on fire, you imagine the worst.  This is the worst:  My house is on fire.  All three floors.  My neighbor’s house is on fire.  The house in front of my house is on fire.  The hills are on fire.  The city of Auckland is on fire.  Leonardo DiCaprio is going to hate me for burning down New Zealand.  It’s a bad, dark place. 

I finally get to the car, buckle my bad, dark place in the passenger seat next to me and race home.  I am a complete and utter mess.  I pray to God but I’m sure He can’t understand me because, again, complete and utter mess.  All is interrupted when I hear the wail of a siren.  Waitaminute, that’s not a siren.  That’s silence.  I look up in the sky to catch the plumes of smoke.  But there are no plumes of smoke.  Confused, I turn down my street and-- Hey!  Where’s all the ash?  And that’s when I see it:  my house.  Behind a house.  Next to a house.  Not on fire.  At all.

9:42 am.  I burst through the front door on floor 2 and fly down the stairs to the kitchen on floor 1.  I gasp.  On the stove are six of the hardest-boiled eggs in a tiny puddle of water.  A tiny puddle of water that should not be there yet there it is.  I then do what anyone in my shoes would do.  Multi-task. 1.  Burst into tears.  2.  Thank God a lot.  3.  Call my husband to let him know I almost burned down the house BUT didn’t and then hang up on him.  4. Google what 911 is in New Zealand.  5.  Eat an egg.   

Monday, March 28, 2011

cock-a-doodle nightmare

We never set our alarm clock in our house.  Not even when we have to get up early.  Our iHome doesn’t know what to make of us.  What kind of people NEVER set their alarm?  Hobos that’s who. 

We are hobos. 

Monday, 6:11 am:  Max enters our room.  “Mom, I had a nightmare” as he crawls into our bed.

Tuesday, 5:54 am:  Max standing over me.  “I had a nightmare, Mom” and then he slips into our bed.

Wednesday, 6:04 am:  Max suddenly in our bed.  “I dreamt I had a nightmare.”

Thursday, 5:48 am:  I roll over to find Max.  “Had a nightmare.”

Friday, crack of crack am:  Max.   Bed.  Me.  “Nightmare.”

Almost daily this morning routine happens.  Unfortunately the only one to blame for my seven-year-old son being a scared little rooster is me. 

I dwell.  If there is any tragedy or disaster or kidnapping or accident on the other side of the freeway, I have to know what is going on.  I’d like to think it’s the journalist in me that has to know the facts -- I aced a Journalism 101 class my first year in college eighty-seven years ago -- but I know it’s more because I can’t help but think, that could’ve been me!  After I think of all the victims and their families and the motherless/fatherless/brotherless/sisterless/grandparentless children left behind of course.  Then, that could’ve been me!  I’m not proud of this.  Seems a little narcissistic if you ask me.  Airplane crashes into the ocean on the way to Paris.  Those poor passengers.  Hey, I went to Paris a year before on almost exactly the very same flight – that could’ve been me!  Toyota can’t brake on the freeway and crashes into retaining wall.  That poor driver.  Hey, I have a Toyota and go on the freeway and sometimes think my brakes act a little wonky – that could’ve been me!   Mother of two kidnapped at grocery store and later found dismembered in her trunk.  That poor woman.  Hey, I’m a mother of two who shops at grocery stores and has a trunk!   I never took Journalism 201 if you’re wondering why those headlines aren’t better.  But you get the picture.  I dwell. 

I am a facebook friend with CNN.

Cut to poor Japan a couple of weeks ago.  Earthquake.  Tsunami.  And then a volcano erupts?!  I felt so terrible for that country – really, really, REALLY terrible – and thought a lot about those poor people on that dinky little island in the ocean.  Those poor people on that dinky little island in the ocean.  Then.  Hey!  I live on a dinky little island in the ocean – that could happen to me!  And, well, it’s true.  Earthquakes happen in New Zealand.  We are surrounded by water on all sides.  And I can see a volcano from the end of my street.  I think, for once, I felt justified in my narcissistic thinking.  It really could happen to me and my family.  I knocked on endless wood.  I updated all three of my earthquake kits which are now known as my earthquake/tsunami/volcano/dear-God-I-hope-I-never-have-to-use-these kits.  And I watched A LOT of news.  Normally I try to shield my children from bad things.  They don’t need to dwell on stuff that doesn’t affect them.  I’ve got that covered.  But with Japan it was different.  Max was raising money for the tragedy at school (by coming to me and asking for a gold coin – NZ $1 or $2 – every other day) and it was important to know why. 

CNN packed a bag and moved into our hobo house.

Monday morning/this morning, some God-awful hour a.m.:  Max crawls into bed with me and it went exactly like this:

Max:  “Mom?” 
Me:    “Yes, honey.”  
Max:  “I had a nightmare.” 
Me:    “Oh no.  What was it about?”
Max:  “I dreamt that a volcano erupted and hot lava knocked over the Corunna Avenue (our street) sign and came down our driveway.  And then I went to China in my flying car to see Donny.”
Me:    “Who’s Donny?”
Max:  “Kid from school who’s from China.”
Me:    “Oh, well, it’s a good thing you had a flying car.”
Max:  “I always have a flying car in my dreams.  Just in case.”

So now I’m looking into getting a flying car.  Just in case.

Monday, March 14, 2011

a close nit family

One of the great things about living in New Zealand is how cute everything sounds.  Sunglasses:  sunnies.  Breakfast:  brekkie.  A lot of anything:  heaps.  Lice:  nits.  Yep, nits are cuter sounding than lice.  I dare someone to tell me otherwise. 

My first introduction to nits was at my 3-year-old’s preschool.  At drop off one day I found a sign attached to the sign-in sheet.  “Nits have recently been found on a child at this school.  Please check your child’s hair daily.”  The sign was laminated which meant this happens heaps.  My initial, knee-jerk response was, “oh, dear God!”  Then, “these people are vile!”  Followed by, “I can’t leave my clean, nit-free child here!”  I was appalled by the cute-sounding bugs camping out in some toddler’s part.  I wanted to take Charlie home, disinfect him and put him in a bubble where he’d be safe.  But I had to write that day (I have make-believe deadlines that I try to meet and then invariably miss) so Charlie had to stay.  Still, I was grossed out and instantly formed severe negative opinions of the unnamed nit family at Charlie’s school. 

Cut to three weeks later.  Last week.  It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  A whole hour before I had to start collecting kids.  I was home working on my screenplay (this is year two, people – I need better deadlines and/or stop moving out of the country) when the phone rang.  The phone never rings.  I have two friends here and we don’t talk on the phone.  One lives right next door and the other is a cricket mom.  Not the mom of an actual cricket but the other kind.  Anyway, phone rang, I answered.  It was Charlie’s preschool.  Uh-oh, I thought.  Scraped knee.  Or cut lip.  Or green snot.  Never did I think I would hear this:  “I know you’re going to be here soon but we just noticed Charlie was scratching his head and, well, it seems he has nits.”  Egads!  (I know this is an outdated expression but I really think it captures my feeling at this point so I’m going with it.)  I abandoned my screenplay (buh-bye, make-believe deadline) and zipped over to my son’s school.  Which is five minutes away by foot and one and a half minutes in a car.  Another great thing about New Zealand.  It is small.  The country.  The island.  The city of Auckland.  I usually walk but nits = car so I’m there before they knew it.  I apologized profusely to the teachers who were oh so kind and understanding and then go to sign Charlie out and there it was:  the laminated nit sign.  Double egads!  We were the gross, dirty, vile unnamed nit family at Charlie’s school!   We walked to the car in shame.

Four seconds later, Charlie and I were at my seven-year-old son’s school one block away.  My sons canoodle more than Cameron and A Rod so I knew Max was infested, too.  His teacher was appreciative of the early intervention and we were on our way to the chemist (way cuter word than pharmacist).  Now I grew up in the 70s in Texas.  There was no such thing as organic or non-toxic back then.  I drank Coke like water, we regularly flea-bombed our house and my parents smoked indoors and often with the windows shut.  Growing up like that makes you either do exactly the same things with your kids or the complete opposite.  I went opposite and then some.  We drink filtered water like water, we don’t use any toxic pesticides ever and smoking is banned in restaurants, airplanes and our house.  So, I called my husband on the way to the chemist to alert him of the situation.  He had one request of me:  please please please just get the chemical treatment so we can be done with them.  He did not grow up with Coke, fleas or second-hand smoke.  I said I would try and then proceeded to ask the chemist what the most effective nit treatment was and it was for kids so I’d like it to be as natural as possible.  I tried.  I did.  But I couldn’t.  The chemist had just the answer for me.  A box of Mr. Nits.  All the treatments had been personally tried by him and this was the one he liked the best.  I was sold.  The nits were dubious. 

Thirty-five NZ dollars and an hour later all three of our heads were slathered with the Mr. Nits solution.  A really drippy, non-toxic combination of coconut, sunflower and jojoba oils.  And we waited.  Watched TV.  Did some maths (questionable cuter name for math).  Skipped cricket practice and seeing my cricket mom friend.  Scratched our heads.  And then waited some more.  The good thing about non-toxic treatments is you can leave it on your head for hours and hours and it will do you no harm.  You can not do this with a mouthful of Coke and expect to keep your teeth.  After many hours, it was time to run the nit comb through the hair.  One by one, like a mama chimpanzee, I de-nitted my babies.  First up, Charlie.  He had a few little guys and some eggs.  Then came Max.  He had a lot of little guys, some eggs and a couple of big ass adults.  I was horrified by this but then remembered they were on the head of my child and they were nits and not lice.  Same thing, yes, but the cuter name made it slightly less disgusting.  And then I did my own hair.  And oh my, not a good day to be me.  Max may have had the most nits but I had the most hair and the most hair loss and nits.  Because you use a tiny, wire comb, you tear out a lot of hair.  Unfortunately I was already going through some involuntary hair loss from the stress of the move here four months ago so intentionally pulling out my own hair was not what my look needed.  But it is what it got.  Every tug of the comb resulted in a few eggs, maybe a nit and ten strands of stressed-out hair.  Do that over and over and hairless cats everywhere start to think you’re one of them.  I immediately traded in my adult-sized ponytail holders for mini child-sized one and I still had to wrap them three times around.

The thing about Mr. Nits is it kills nothing except your self-confidence from lack of hair.  The oils are supposed to separate the nits and the eggs from your strands and scalp and the comb removes them.  It is a safe system but one that requires maintenance.  Every day we’ve had to run that Mr. Nits nit comb though our hair.  Each day we found less and less evidence of how gross we used to be.  It has now been a week since my phone rang.  It is advised to repeat the whole treatment seven days later for any eggs that weren’t removed and may have hatched.  So here I sit with a garden of botanical oils on my head.  The nit comb eagerly awaits my attention.  I will no doubt lose more hair.  But I know that the last strands standing will be the shiniest and smoothest ones in town.  Mr. Nits is not only a semi-effective nit removal system that requires seven full days of action, it is an above average deep conditioning hair treatment. 

I should probably tell my cricket mom friend about it tonight at practice.  Her hair has been looking a little limp and dodgy (not good).  But that would mean naming the unnamed nit family.  With only two friends in my back pocket?   Bloody-hell (all-purpose expletive) no!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

give me a summer break

Here’s the thing about summer breaks.  They are great.  Everything about them is great.  The long, leisurely days.  The hot sun.  The super fun play dates.  The endless daylight.  Day camp!  Like I said, great!

If you’re a kid.

If you’re a parent, summer breaks include all the ingredients of a nightmare.  Long, leisurely days equals really bored, whiny kids.  A hot sun means gobs of extra sunscreen on bored, whiny kids.  Super fun play dates require endless amounts of parental energy to make them super and/or fun.  Too much daylight keeps kids wide awake hours after they should be dead asleep.  And then there’s day camp.  The middle of the night on-line registration because your son has to has to has to be in Rocket Launcher camp, the inflated fees, the lack of parking for drop-off and then again at pick-up, and the reality that the kids are not there long enough during the day for it to be called “day” camp and should instead be called “a couple hours in the morning” camp.  You see, and I’ll say it, as great as summer breaks is for kids, they can be completely exhausting for the parents of the kids. 

Me.  I’m talking about me. 

Now times that by two.  Not by two children.  Which I do have.   But by two summer breaks.  One full summer break (with two children) followed immediately after with another full summer break (with the same aforementioned two children).  And now you’re reading a page from my tear-filled diary.

My children weren’t supposed to have two summer breaks.  They were supposed to have one.  Like every other kid on this one-summer-break-per-kid planet but then the unthinkable happened.  At the end of May 2010, just before Summer Break One (which will from here on out be called SB1) was to happen, my husband came home and told me he got a job offer.  My simple “where?” was knocked off its feet with a “not in this city, state, country or hemisphere.”  After my brain temporarily shut down and my mouth spat out “Mexico?!” my husband spared me further embarrassment and told me the answer.  The answer was so not Mexico because it was too busy being New Zealand.

New Zealand!!!

Don’t try to imagine what took place next because you can’t.  My husband took the job and flew to Auckland the next month to start.  And left me.  Alone.  With the kids.  And the city of Los Angeles.  And (gulp…) SB1.  Everything that was hard about summer breaks was now fifty-four thousand times harder because I was doing it by myself.  The relentlessness of the days.  The sunscreen battles.  It was Groundhog’s Day with SPF30.  Every day, my children were shocked that I wanted to apply sunscreen to their (gasp!) faces.  Play dates!  I actually appreciated the play dates because they meant I wasn’t the only source of entertainment for my children but, since I’m on a complaining rampage, the PLAY DATES!   And the stupid three-hours-out-of-twenty-four-is-not-day-camp day camp.   I was exhausted by day two.  Luckily, summer break is only three months so I had only 88 more days to go.  And I had to pack up the entire house.  Shoot me with a Nerf gun. 

I barely survived.  If Jeff Probst knew I existed, he would’ve given me a lit torch and then immediately put it out.   

But I did survive.  With the help of friends, family and buckets of wine.  And somehow, we all ended up in New Zealand.  At the, ahem, end of September.  Now, if you’re following along with your school-issued calendar, this means I got three extra bonus weeks of SB1.  (Note to future moving-to-New-Zealand-from-LA-at-the-end-of-September families, you’re strongly advised not to enroll your children in school because it would be too disruptive to start school and then pull them out after only three weeks.  To them.)  But there we were.  In Auckland.  And it was beautiful and quiet and air so clean you could breathe it and… school was on a break.  My kids couldn’t start until October 11th.  So, tack on a few more weeks to SB1.  But it was okay.  What’s two more weeks after three months and three weeks?  It’s four months and a week is what it is.  Still, the break was soon over and the boys were FINALLY in school.  I ran around my rental house naked and joyous.  For about four seconds until I realized this was one son’s school’s 4th term.  It was to last only six weeks and then…

Summer.  Bleeping.  Break.  TWO!

I had SB1 from June through mid-October and was now about to have SB2 from December through February.  Where is Jeff Probst when you need him??? 

In a blink of a very tired eye, I found myself knee deep in SB2.  And it sucked way more than SB1 did.  Time on this side of the equator goes by very slowly so our days seemed like fortnights.  Ozone layer?  Not so much over here.  So, every morning I threatened death or sunscreen.  Our play dates were neither super nor fun because we didn’t have any because we had no friends.  And “day camp” was me refereeing two little boys fighting in a trolley at a grocery store mid-day.   SB2 was brutal.

Jeff Probst was oblivious. 

But somehow I survived.  You know what they say, what doesn’t kill you.  I was as strong as an ox who ate an ox who could lift an ox.  Don’t examine that sentence too much because it may not work.  My point is, it is the 1st of March and there are no children here.  Because they’re in school.  And not on summer break.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t naked and joyous.  Okay, maybe not naked.  Our rental house was furnished with clear fiberglass chairs from Italy and I’ve had two children that way.  But I am joyous and I intend to stay that way.  And when we return to the States?  We’re coming back at the very end of the month of August.  Hear that, summer break!