Friday, December 30, 2011

Karl's Adventures in Fiji - Part 2: Camping

One of the great things about visiting family when you travel is being able to experience more of the real country than when you're trying to figure things out by yourself. I got a chance to go to an activity with a church group. It was similar to camping, but with a house instead of a tent. If that sounds too cushy, just know that the weather in Fiji is such that any attempt at sleeping in a tent would be a very wet experience.

John spent about 5 minutes in the rain, and this is his level of wetness. That is, very wet. As in, he may as well have jumped into the nearby river.

It doesn't matter what kind of gear you have in Fiji. You'll end up soaked if you're not in a house. So we went to a ranch owned by a church member, and we stayed in an old farm house on the property.

It was fun to meet the boys and leaders and get to know these great people. They were very friendly and fun to spend time with.

They made some awesome eggplant curry for dinner.

The next morning we had babakau, which are like scones.

We also had samosa, which are stuffed scones (on the left), which we stuffed with the eggplant curry. Super tasty!

Card games were popular.

We also had a great fire that night.

And story telling.

One of the coolest things about this trip was building a bilibili* (bamboo raft) with Brother Dakunimata. He showed us how to build bilibilis and told us about the old days when they would build huge rafts called "H.M.S. No-Come-Back" to bring enormous loads of bananas down the rivers to sell.

* English is fine, but Fijian is more fun.

We built a couple of little bilibilis under the direction of the pro. First we chopped some stalks to bring to the nearby river.

We hauled the bamboo down to the river.

Bush knives were the tools of choice, of course.

We lashed them together with some non-traditional twine.

Then we had some races with two guys on each raft. Not quite enough flotation to stay on top of the water, but staying dry wasn't the point anyway.

The boys thought that John's life vests were pretty fun to wear, so they kept them on, even out of the water. They wore their life vests learning how to do geocaching with the GPS pro.

Overall, it was a fun and interesting trip for me. An impressive thing about these boys was that when one of the major activities planned for the afternoon didn't work out, I didn't hear any complaints. Instead, they sought out other stuff to do and ended up with no less smiles than if the original plans had happened.

From my experience with American youth, I'd expect about half of a group like this to complain about a trip where everything works right, and I'd expect almost all the kids to complain when something goes wrong!* Not these guys. They had fun regardless of the situation. Toby and Sam are not your typical American youth either, and they joined in on the fun.

* Aside from the activity that didn't work out, which was beyond our control, the activities worked out really well, thanks to John's great planning.

I have a lot to learn from these guys.

Thanks for good times John, Toby, Sam, Gabi, Dani, Jatin, Apenisa, Simon, Isi, and others I know I'm forgetting!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Snow for Christmas

Southfork '10

Unfortunately, we had to leave Flagstaff with its 2 feet of beautiful snow
in order to be with family for Christmas.
Of course, family is more important than snow
but we have all been a little heart broken not to have a
White Christmas.

On Christmas Eve morning the boys set out to find snow in the mountains.
3 Dads, 5 Boys, and Rubie went up to Aspen Grove
and actually found enough snow to do some sledding.

Aspen Grove '11

Seeing how it was very cold and the hill was in the shade,
they did not last super long but had a lot of fun nonetheless.
Finally, Max is old enough to really be able to enjoy the snow
for more than 20 minutes. Yay!
(Thank you for all the great hand-me-downs.
Good gear makes a big difference.)

Noah is usually heading for the jumps
trying to get as much air as possible.

Upon their return
we had a very nice (rather) calm and simple Christmas Eve:

making gingerbread cookies with Grandma
cooking and baking
trampoline jumping
eating Portuguese chicken, rice, and veggies
singing Christmas songs
reading Christmas stories
enjoying apple crisp and ice cream
opening one present each

Then this little guy went to bed

and Noah helped me put the presents under the tree.
It was fun to see him so very excited.

We don't believe in Santa around here and I like it that way.
Santa does not bring presents in Germany and
I have never been a fan of fairy tales or make-believe.
Without Santa,
credit goes where credit is due
and there is no need to tell lies.

I don't dislike Santa. Not at all.
So please don't dislike me.
We, as a family, have just decided to focus on different traditions.

The kids are in heaven!
Noah just finished putting together his Playmobil Fire Station
and exclaimed:

"Christmas is the best day ever!"

Then he quickly added:

"Not just because of the presents.
Because it is Jesus' birthday!"

Although it is hard for him to think of anything but his new toys,
he, too, knows the true meaning of Christmas.

We are so grateful for the Birth of our Savior!
Merry Christmas to All!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Karl's Fiji Adventures - Part 1: Bula!

There's no sense in going to New Zealand for a conference without checking out that part of the world at least a little. For most other people I talked to at ICCB 2011, that meant other parts of NZ. I would love to travel NZ, but Fiji had more going for it:

1) It is no less cool than NZ. Cool as in awesome. Definitely not cool as in temperature. I don't think I ever stopped sweating in Fiji.
2) Some of my favorite people in the world live there. Namely my sister, brother-in-law and 2 nephews.
3) It costs no extra money to fly there if you go with Air Pacific. I paid less than the conference discount with Air NZ. Although apparently part of the low rate at Air Pacific seems to due to a lower budget for sick bags.

With the approval of a very understanding wife*, I tacked on an extra week and a half after my conference to go to Fiji. So Bula Fiji!

*Once I have a real job, she can just come and not have to be so understanding. As long as I take dramamine.

The Lowrys were local pros and spent the week taking me around to the good spots. Thanks, guys! Even those not in this picture!

Fiji, as a south Pacific island, is a Land of Milk and Honey... Well, not so much milk - it's kind of expensive. Maybe fruit juice instead. Or just water. The place is like a steam room. And not so much honey as sugarcane. But you get the idea. How about "Land of Fruit and Mosquitoes."

Fruit is everywhere. The Lowrys had all kinds of fruit trees in their yard, including bananas, coconuts, kumquats, papayas, breadfruit, tangerines, and I'm sure a few others.

We also had the adventure of figuring out how to dig up cassava*. We mangled a few of them before the Lowrys' very nice neighbor came over and kindly spent a half an hour showing us proper technique. That was my first experience of many, in which Fijians were very kind and went out of their way to help us out.

*If you like tapioca or boba pearls, this is where it comes from.

It was also my first adventure with a bush knife, an indispensable tool to Fijians. It's basically a thin-gauge machete shaped a little bit like a stretched-out cleaver, with a long handle. No, I didn't cut any toes off. Don't rule out that possibility in the future, though.

We had picked the wrong cassava plants to dig up, and we ended up having to dig up several other plants, since their roots were intertwined. Due to some other miscalculations, we ended up not needing the cassava at all for what we had intended, so we ended up donating the whole pile of loot to various folks who could use it. Good times.

Fiji is also "Land of Super Cute Geckos." I think it's great to have these little guys cruising around the walls and ceiling, keeping the house relatively bug-free. Bugs are a part of life, and I think that's good. But you can get too much of a good thing, and geckos keep the bug numbers down. If you want your dwelling to be totally bug-free, move to the Arctic. But I digress. Cute gecko:

Fiji also happens to be home to some of the awesomest of natural pools, and the awesomest of rope swings I've ever seen: Colo-i-Suva.

It was so frightening to me to use this rope swing that I refused to do it on my first time there. The second time there I finally got the guts to do it, and it was truly amazing. I don't know if you can tell from these pics how high it is. Well, it's really high. Some of the Fijians climb up the tree itself and dive in. Wow. I'm not much of a swimmer, but I'm definitely not a diver.

Tons of fun and best hosts ever. Thanks so much John, Brenda, Toby, Sam, and Wilson!

Monday, December 19, 2011


I like the sign on the back of my 'new' car:

Bicyclists Against Dumb Drivers

I could not agree more. Unfortunately, there are plenty of 'dumb drivers' on the roads these days. And they are usually driving large SUVs or trucks...

Moab 2008

Of course we did not get a new car. In case you have not heard, we've had some major car troubles in this family lately. Since September our beloved Subaru Outback has spent a good amount of time in the car shop. It started having issues minutes after Karl and I declared that we are so happy our car has been running well and not given us any trouble since we replaced the head gasket 2 years ago. We were hoping it would hold up for the rest of grad school. Well, it did not. Not at all.

We had the radiator and some other stuff replaced at the end of September - $450. Then the brakes were having issues right before driving up here in November. We did make it to Provo where Karl's father was very kind and took care of it, including the bill - another $250.

We should be set now, right? We take a deep breath and think that our kids might actually find some presents under the tree this year. But - not so much!

We barely make it to the edge of town on our way back home to Flagstaff, when the car is overheating (again) and smoke is coming out the hood (again). Excellent! We are rather devastated to find out that the head gasket is compromised (again) and needs to be replaced (again)! How can we possibly make it through grad school without taking out a loan if our car keeps swallowing up all our money and then some? Very discouraging!

And how am I supposed to drive back up to Utah for Christmas? Karl is flying into SLC on his way back and I don't think I would survive Christmas with the kids in Flagstaff.

The Spinti Family to the Rescue!

Once Again!

I can't adequately express how much it means to us that we are able to borrow the Spinti's Subaru for a couple of weeks. They happen to have just bought a new car and now have 3 cars in their family. Because they are very generous and completely selfless, they volunteered their car for our family trip! Talk about a miracle!

Looks pretty much like ours, does not it? Well, it drives much better and I felt very confident in undertaking this trip without Karl. Thank you very much, Jennifer and family! We owe you big time...

As soon as Karl gets back, we are going to have to decide whether to put more money into our Subaru or or whether to look for a 'new' used car. Neither option sounds good. Ugh! How I hate money! How I hate cars! Wish I did not have to deal with either... But - rest assured - between the presents from my family in Germany and Karl's parents, there will be something under the tree for the kids next Sunday!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I am a lucky girl!

Happy Anniversary to My Best Friend!

It's been 6 * wonderful years!
I am very much looking forward to spending
the rest of our lives and eternity together!
I love you!

Karl has been able to tell us more about
his adventures in New Zealand (below)
and will actually be spending our anniversary in Fiji!
After his conference in NZ,
he just could not pass up the opportunity to
visit his sister and her family in Fiji.
Who could?
I am very excited for him!
The next best thing to me exploring the world
is cuddling my kids while Karl is exploring the world.

He has been gone for more than two weeks now and,
so far, the boys and I are doing well.
But because weekends are the hardest without Karl,
we actually piled into the car
as soon as school was out on Friday,
spent the night in Hurricane,
and arrived at Jen's house late Saturday morning.
Scott (was) volunteered to supervise the kiddos,
while Jen and I went for a run.
Good times!

Now we are at my fabulous in-laws
and loving it


I kinda wish we could've stayed home for a little longer.
We really miss the beautiful snow, blue skies, and clean air
that Flagstaff has been spoiling us with lately.
Come on, Utah, we know you can do better than
inversions, gray skies, and not even a tiny layer of snow!

*Aehm. Talking to my mother-in-law, I just realized that it has, indeed, been 7 years! Of course. Noah just turned 6. Duh! I do believe I have the wedding date right this year though! As you can tell, I am a real romantic...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Karl's NZ Adventures - Part 4: Tawaharanui

After my conference in Auckland I took a field trip to Tawharanui Peninsula, a place with amazing views. The peninsula is in the process of being restored to original conditions before modern changes to New Zealand. Basically, when you introduce all manner of mammals to a historically mammal-free environment like NZ, the plant and bird life is totally altered. So they decided to make this little peninsula into a kind of living museum. They fenced it off from the mainland with incredibly tough and impenetrable fencing and have done a huge effort to kill off the rats, mice, possums, hedgehogs, ferrets, stoats, and other mammals that are pests there. As a result, the bird and plant life is pretty amazing. Here are photos of the landscape:

The landscape was fantastic. Here are some photos:

Looking up through a cave on the shore

Looking out through the same cave

The caves were on the other side of this bluff.

Pohutukawa trees were gnarled and awesome. Most were blooming bright red too.

Cool lookin' seaweed.

Not hard to get to some awesome views.

It was too windy to hold my camera still for my panorama shots to line up, but you get the idea.

Too bad it was pretty cold. Otherwise I would've definitely been swimming.

I always grimace in my self-portraits while I try to figure out exactly what angle to point the thing.

Even some rain-foresty-type places.

Seems like a Flagstaff scene in the pines, within about a mile of the last shot.

I only saw NZ countryside for one day, but the city is cool too. It was enough to tell what I already knew - this is a great place to be. Maybe there will be a next time, preferably with family!

(The editor agrees!)