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Still Here

There hasn’t been a lot to report around here lately, absorbed as we’ve been by our low key routine; school lunches, kids to school, a little housework but not much for this teacup sized place, a few groceries, a walk on the beach. Our only after school activity is Della’s Tuesday afternoon surf class and if all after school activities included an hour where you could sit on a gorgeous beach for an hour reading, looking up every once in a while to watch your daughter catch waves, I wouldn’t be so crabby about driving to them. I’ve been cooking a lot, but keeping it simple because ingredient mix ups continue to plague me- I cannot find unsweetened chocolate to make the chocolate buttercream of my cravings, or white marshmallows for a batch of rice crispy treats (the bags always, insistently, contain white and pink both) Thai basil for my favorite stir fry and even a request for a chuck steak for this simple recipe left the butcher scratching his head (I need a translator app for cuts of meat apparently.) I have been taking advantage of our quiet after school window to get the kids more involved in the kitchen, chopping cucumbers, mixing up apple crisp topping, stirring the sauce for homemade macaroni and cheese, our most important ancestral recipe. The kids for their part are happy with the slow pace; an after dinner bike ride around the neighborhood or frisbee on the beach is plenty far afield for my homebodies.

In the past month, we’ve had one ambitious weekend where we hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19 km (11.5 mile) walk past the volcanic cone of Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom) a barren crater, several vividly colored alpine lakes and some smelly, steaming vents. Thinking ourselves clever, we drove down on Friday and hiked the first few kilometers in to another one of those handy DOC huts and spent the night there, hoping that would give us a jump start in the morning, but oh what wishful thinking that was. On a sunny Saturday in February, at least, the trail was a traffic jam. The scenery, though striking, lost some of its charm shared with hundreds of others at every lookout and rock concert worthy lines at the toilets, though at least fifty brightly decked hikers were nice enough to cheer my kids on. It’s meant to be the best day hike in New Zealand and one of the best in the world, but honestly, I wish the folks at the DOC would find another route or two to shill. We did this hike as part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit 12 years ago, and I don’t remember it being quite such a circus. If you go, I recommend off season or an early start (although there were headlamp equipped people on the trail before dawn.)

After the Crossing, the kids and I limped back to Mt Maunganui and left Vance behind to hike even more, his turn to be alone. He chose to do the Round the Mountain track that circumnavigates Ruapehu, the big rumply volcano that sits south of Ngauruhoe. The 66km long trail was much more rugged than the cushy Lake Waikaremoana track I did solo, and it looks like it will cost Vance a few toenails, but I dare say it was worth it for the peace and the scenery he enjoyed.

Somewhere in all this empty time, it occurred to me that we ought to be planning our next travel leg and even (gasp!) start thinking about next summer when we’re back in the States, so we’ve spent time this past week plotting our route through Laos and Vietnam – a combination of buses and trains that we hope won’t be too painful – and booking hotels and guest houses. I’m intrigued by the rave reviews that suggest Vietnam is the nexus of my travel ideals – friendly, clean and cheap. Not clean and expensive, or dirty and cheap, or dirty and surly, but all that is good at once! Could it be?

My initial weariness and reluctance to wade into logistics started to fade as I read articles (like this) about the food scene in Vietnam. I’ve long appreciated a good bowl of pho on a damp Seattle day, so I’m thrilled at the thought of tasting it in Hanoi, maybe for breakfast, and taking a cooking class or two. Thinking about our final two months in Africa, we discovered that we had transcribed the dates of our Tanzanian safari wrong, so that was a little excitement. It’s all (mostly) fixed now.

More excitement came in the form of Cyclone Pam, who arrived on Sunday night, preceded by a weekend buildup of anticipation. Would surf lessons on Saturday morning be cancelled because of the swell? (they weren’t) Would we lose power in the anticipated 120-160 km/h wind gusts? (we didn’t) Would school be cancelled Monday? (it wasn’t) Not that Pam didn’t produce a miserably rainy night and a soggy Monday, but no more than two kids who have spent the past five years in Seattle would expect as a regular part of the changing seasons and the arrival of fall. The arrival of fall and confusingly, the presence of chocolate Easter eggs in the stores, indicate to us that our time here is nearly done. Term 1 of school finishes on April 2nd, and by April 6th we will have left this bubble of peace for the madness of Bangkok. We’ll be ready, but not quite yet.

post-Pam waves

post-Pam waves

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