December 31, 2019 Dateline: Nelson, New Zealand
Forgive me for being a bit late on the Myer annual holiday letter. I started composing it in my head on Christmas day but hadn’t yet taken the time to sit down and get it out. New Year’s Eve (NZ time) seems like an auspicious time to do so.
So…..MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH, HAPPY NEW YEAR AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!
We missed receiving all the Christmas cards but enjoyed Facebook postings about your holiday fun. We really miss you all! Christmas brings out the nostalgia in us, and world traveling adventures seem to pale in comparison to family gatherings this time of year. (Just ask George Bailey.)
Anyone who knows me understands that I am fairly ritualistic when it comes to Christmas (rigid? obsessive?). I have only spent one Christmas apart from my parents, and this was the first without any of my birth family. We always do the same things, watch the same movies, and eat the same food every year. I love it! Translating our beloved Christmas traditions to the southern hemisphere with only the three Myers was challenging. But it was also highly rewarding: continuing some traditions and starting new ones. Staying in one place for two months has been a big help. This allowed us to get a tree and simple decorations (at the thrift store) and bake/decorate Christmas cookies. I didn’t have my cookie cutters, so I made construction paper templates of a few shapes. (I’m learning Kiwi ingenuity.) The little neighbor kids even came over to help. We also made sure to have our favorite Christmas classics on our Amazon Prime account for streaming Christmas cheer.
Even though we live in California with nice December weather, it’s still “winter” there, and it has been an adjustment having Christmas in the summer. Hot cocoa by the fire isn’t as comfortable, even though I was still craving it. Instead it’s shorts, jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops), and cold beers by the barbie. I missed seeing Christmas lights in town, but since it doesn’t get dark until after 9pm, people don’t bother putting them up (I assume). There are some Christmas trees up, but many people are busy with summer camping vacations so they don’t bother.
Instead of the OB Holiday Parade, we were treated to the Nelson Santa Parade, which was just as small-town and quirky. (Well, almost; nothing is as quirky as OB.) It started with a native Maori Santa and ended with the guy in the white beard, with lots of kids on bikes, music, and homemade floats in between. It was fun to attend with some new friends here.
Christmas shopping was more of a challenge. I knew it would be and I initially welcomed it. I often complain about America’s over-consumer culture and saw it as a plus that New Zealand has fewer stores and less stuff. (It’s a bit remote.) The reality was more difficult. I forgot how much I relied on Amazon for finding the “perfect gift.” Especially in our small city of Nelson, our options were limited. It took six stores to be able to give Lucas his traditional Christmas Eve jammies. (Apparently once over the age of 5, people don’t wear pajamas here?) Where did I finally find it? Kmart. Irony. Thankfully, we had all agreed there would be very few presents under the tree anyway this year since we need to travel light and we’re prioritizing experiences over stuff. A new tradition we hope to continue in coming Christmases.
Christmas Eve day we continued my family’s special lunch out tradition and added Star Wars.
I didn’t try and recreate our Christmas Eve dinner classics down under; Thanksgiving did me in. Instead, we enjoyed easy tapas and I attempted the Kiwi Christmas classic, pavlova. It’s a temperamental meringue base with fresh whipped yogurt/cream and berries. It was amazing and will also be a new tradition from now on!
I had been worried Christmas Day would be very lonely for us. However, thanks to the kindness of strangers (now friends), we were invited to join their family BBQ—a Kiwi Christmas tradition.
After our early and modest Christmas morning, we packed an overnight bag and readied our potluck dish to drive the 50 minutes to Tapawera, a town of 400 people. There we were warmly welcomed into the family of 29 people gathered to enjoy a summer holiday barbeque. I relished being surrounded by the grandparents, aunts, uncles and little cousins. We were crashing their party, but no one made us feel like that; they welcomed the wayward Americans with open arms (literally) and kisses. It reminded me a little of childhood Christmases in tiny Pomeroy, Iowa with my dad’s family, but with a relaxed summer Kiwi twist. We are learning first-hand how GOOD people are in the world.
Following Where Life Leads
I still marvel at how this all came to be and feel so grateful at how little decisions lead to big rewards.
First, I’m SO proud that we took the risk and made the sacrifices to do this trip. It’s a crazy, irresponsible thing to do for someone turning 50 to do…but it’s the smartest thing we have ever done. Next, we’re obviously thrilled we picked New Zealand (we knew we would) and then Nelson to settle in. (Why Nelson? The internet told us to.) Finally, we are so happy that in October we decided to cancel our previous Airbnb booking and accept a Workaway job on a sheep farm the week before we came to Nelson. That decision—which was made out of frugality—made all of this possible and our holiday brighter. (For those who don’t know, a Workaway is when you literally work for food and lodging. You agree to work for 4 hours a day and receive free lodging and food. You can do it all over the world. www.workaway.info. Seriously cool!)
Our Workaway hosts were amazing, and the experience was rewarding in itself. But they also introduced us to some of their friends who had a son Lucas’s age who was into basketball. Then this couple invited Lucas to go trick or treating with their kids (a new thing here). A couple of pleasant evening which could have ended there. But our Workaway was less than an hour from Nelson.
It turned out that our new acquaintances would be attending the Nelson Cider Festival in a couple of weeks, and they recommended we check into it. As fate would have it, it was on Dan’s birthday…so we now had an awesome birthday plan for him. We met them at the festival and had such a fun time hanging out with them all day! We had assumed that they would be polite, say hello, then go off with other friends. But that’s not the Kiwi way. We became fast friends and over cider, they actually invited us for Christmas BBQ and staying the night. (I was surprised a day later when they still confirmed that they meant it.) I don’t think they yet fully understand how humble and appreciative we are by that invitation.
It led to sleepovers for the boys, a Boxing Day brunch with our Workaway hosts, and one of the best nature tours we have had—of their parents’ 400 acre farm, complete with caves and waterfalls (see Facebook post).
And that is really the point of this Holiday/New Year’s letter. Our takeaway during our journey so far has not been the amazing places we’ve gone, seen or done. It is the people we have met. We have been overwhelmed by generosity and kindness so often—in Hawaii and New Zealand (you know who you are)!
As I reflect on all this, it is hard to believe that in last year’s Xmas letter, I was first announcing our intention to take a family gap year. A year ago it was just a newborn glimmer of hope, and today it is already half over. That is sad. The packing to leave our adopted home of Nelson has begun, and we hate the thought of leaving. However, we are very excited for the journey that remains ahead. Half over, but we still have eight countries to go! I can’t wait to see what we experience—and who we meet—on the remainder of our journey.
We will be moving much faster—and in non-English speaking countries—so we won’t have the luxury of forming the community we have made in Hawaii and New Zealand. However, we will still focus on the people and what they can teach us. We will enjoy whatever new adventures—and challenges—await. 2019 has been a huge year for us, and 2020 promises to hold even more!
In just a few hours we will be heading down to the Nelson town square for a family New Year’s Eve bash. [Here comes the sappy Christmas movie monologue…] We ring in 2020 with sincere gratitude and extreme excitement for what comes next. Whatever it is, we have learned that it will work out well and lead to many great memories. Yours will too!
Happy New Year Everyone! May all your new year dreams come true!