Year Four

March 27 marks my fourth year of being a U.S. expat. Once again, I’m still amazed that I’ve been away this long. Lucky number four finds me in the midst of moving on once again to what will be my 31st home since I’ve been gone. My boyfriend accepted a job up on the North Island in the Hastings area, a spot we happened to visit last year on a mini-vacation. Napier is nearby which was the Art Deco town located on the Pacific that I loved so much.

To recap the past year: it was an interesting one! 

I always get out to the vineyards when fall comes to capture the beauty of the changing leaves. We found a spot that was hilly for once so I could get up above it all and capture the (almost) whole picture of this interesting section.

In May, we took a trip down to Kaikoura to visit the seal colony tucked in the woods near a waterfall. Pups are birthed here across the road from the ocean, giving them a safe haven to play and learn all about seal life. Sadly, this area was destroyed by the massive November earthquake. News is that the colony has relocated close by and is doing well.

I still struggle to grasp the months vs. the seasons here when looking back at photos. We went to a small event at a French vineyard in July which is the dead of winter here. People helplessly looked on as this sow dug up a good section of the land and little girls were mesmerized by busy bees.

Meanwhile, our friend’s vineyard was filled with lambs and mothers tending to the “mowing” of the grass and fertilizing the grapevines.

We drove up to Nelson a few times and my life would not be complete without stopping to take amazing photos of low lying clouds.

Out of pure desperation, I was forced to start making my own flour tortillas. I’ve gotten much better at making them round, but it still takes a solid two hours to make and cook just 20 of them. I make sure to savour each and every one.

For Halloween, I tried my hand at some decorative pumpkins which I tried to sell and that went over like flannel sheets on a hot night.

My fascination with lemons continues, having a warm glass of lemon juice to start my mornings off right. The lemons from my neighbour’s 100 year old tree never ceases to amaze me.

And then….it happened:

We were violently shaken awake at 12:02 am feeling like the house was about to come crashing down by what was later categorized as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Thankfully, this turn of the century house swayed and rattled with the movement which probably saved a lot of damage. The only major thing that broke was the chimney. It even stayed intact luckily, as we were standing quite near it when we left the house not thinking it could have potentially fallen on us.

The road to Christchurch is still blocked off to this day with no indication of when it may open again. We haven’t felt many quakes in the past couple of months but the thousands of aftershocks following the big one made me feel helpless and vulnerable.

Then, three days later, I received my temporary residency. Glad that worrying is over with. I’m now allowed to stay in New Zealand indefinitely although my travel is restricted after two years so I would have to either never travel or apply to become a permanent resident.

On a happier note, I was introduced to our local “pest” by Kiwi standards, the hedgehog. The dog started finding one in our yard which alerted us to her presence and then she had babies! It was a very dry stretch of summer for a while after they were born and the dog would find them wandering out in the daylight. They were small and seemed either hungry or thirsty so I would take them in for a feed and water then put them back under the house.

When I started not seeing the mom around anymore, I felt I had to interfere with nature to make sure these kids survived. I ended up marking them with nail polish so I could keep track of their weight and they were named accordingly. One came back to us with mites so I had to take him/her to the vet for treatment and hang onto that one about a week longer than the other two.

Adorable little creatures, they were. I became pretty attached to them and hated to see them go. I set them free at a reserve near the house which has a creek running through it and other hedgehogs present so I know they will have plenty to eat and good places to hide. I expect they are still alive and well.

With a new job on the horizon and the prospect of selling the house, we had our work cut out for us. We learned how to refinish a timber countertop in the kitchen that was badly in need of refurbishment. Not to mention cleaning up the two front bedrooms which were never used by us. 

Many gallons of paint later and hundreds for new carpet netted us two gorgeous, livable rooms that anyone would be happy to have.

The house sold after only five days on the market which had us scrambling to find somewhere to live up north. Unfortunately after three solid days of looking and one offer put in, we ended up with nothing. So I put my old comfortable shoes on and delve into being homeless again after having finally become used to staying in one place for the past couple of years.

A new chapter once again is upon me but it will be a welcomed change (I think). We’re moving out of the rural lifestyle and knowing your neighbours and clerks at the local corner store to the “big city” with traffic lights and unfamiliar faces. We won’t be immune to earthquakes but at least the gas prices are cheaper and there are more choices as far as buying “things” goes. We will even have a great sandy beach nearby (although the water will still be stupid cold). On to a new adventure!

 

 

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Another Summer Christmas

new zealand christmas lily
Christmas Lilies

It’s been an interesting month since the earthquake. We had thousands of aftershocks and when it finally started calming down, there were about 5 noticeable shakes yesterday registering 5.5 or lower and one on Christmas morning. A few days after the big quake in November, I finally gained residency! It was a huge relief without much of a plan B in place for what I’d do had I not gotten it. I can officially call New Zealand “home” now and am happy to be here.

I can’t say that I’ve gotten used to being warm on Christmas or having the flowers and veggies starting to grow. My neighbour gave me a couple of stems from her Christmas lilies and img_0425proclaimed, “Now your house will smell like Christmas!” Well who would’ve thought anyone would associate lilies with Christmas instead of pine trees? I love the smell of lilies so I proudly displayed them as Andy sneezed and complained they stunk. She also gifted me at least a pound of fresh, large strawberries from her garden…the best I’ve ever had. The woman has a talent when it comes to growing.

My strawberries are now going through a growth spurt and are getting bigger leaves and flowers. They’re sweet and juicy and I love picking them while perusing the garden, still warm from the sun. The raspberries are also taking off and I’ve put baby mantises on them as well as on top of the flowering celery where flying bugs go wild. I hope to give the babies a head start on life and find them flourishing in the yard by the end of summer. I estimate that there were well over 800 babies born in this yard alone!

Baby mantis on the raspberry bush
Baby mantis on the raspberry bush

The tomatoes I started growing over a month ago have gotten huge and one is finally turning orange. I’ll have a bumper crop, ending up giving most of them away. The strawberries near them are also getting large.

Tomatoes and strawberries

The first bell pepper (or capsicum as they call it here) of the season is doing great! I have used seeds from one I bought at the store to make more. I’ve also got a red chili plant and am starting to grow jalapenos which are very expensive and rare here.

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As an interesting aside about the  major quake, I read that all non-fruiting vegetables immediately went to seed. Thinking they were under attack from the violent shaking, it was their way of making sure the next generation survived. Plants are so amazing!

My freaky cauliflower bloomed and I harvested it the other day. To me, it tasted nothing like cauliflower but it wasn’t bad. I grew it because I wanted to have something different. The first time I saw one was in California and was amazed there were actually plants in the nursery here, so I grabbed some.

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The red grapes are slowly making their way to maturity and I also found that we have some cherry plum trees across the street! I’d never noticed or heard of them before. A mix between, you guessed it, a cherry and a plum produces a large cherry looking fruit that tastes like a plum. The pit and flesh is just like a plum with a slightly sour skin. They’re a bit mushy when red, but hey…they’re free!!New Zealand cherry plum

My other neighbour enlightened me to loganberries…a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. They often have a banana taste to them which blows my mind. They’re great in cereal! She had a huge crop and is more than happy to share those along with the lemons on her hundred year old tree.

New Zealand cherry plum loganberries
Cherry plums & loganberries

The feijoa tree has been blooming with gorgeous little flowers that remind me a lot of the pohutukawa tree blossoms, popular along the coastlines during summer. Lots of yummy feijoas on the way!

feijoa blooms

In other news around the yard, the calla lilies I also didn’t know about last year made an appearance….the most beautiful colour ever! A light purple mixed with cream and light green. I’m so fortunate to have them!

new zealand calla lily

purple calla lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was lucky enough to find an Angel Trumpet at the garden center too! These remind me of Central America, as they’re all over the place there. So majestic and beautiful, their aroma is strongest at night.

angel trumpet

For a very brief few weeks, a beautiful bunch of flowers appeared from out of nowhere with the most intricate petals. It reminded me of a swan.

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Another unexpected surprise was the appearance of a hedgehog living under the house! The dog alerted us to it one night by scratching and barking at the back step. I shined a flashlight in there and saw a bunch of quills so that was exciting! Apparently the hog was out before dark in the yard and the dog had a go at it. I have no idea how he manages to keep it in his mouth. The quills are very sharp and I came out to find him or her in the typical ball, waiting for things to calm down. I waited patiently and it finally uncurled and crawled back to the safety of the house. They are a great addition to the garden, eating slugs, creepy crawlies, grubs and other pests. As my mother said, “Your garden is magical!”

hedgehog

My garden where I find hedgehog digging spots
My garden where I find hedgehog digging spots

Another trip to Pollard Park found the roses in full bloom (over 800 different bushes!) and some wild blue flowers that looked fake coming off of a large succulent.

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Gigantic roses

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Tequila Sunrise roses
Tequila Sunrise roses

I have no idea where they come up with rose names but a lot had to do with drinks like Hot Chocolate, Raspberry Ice and this Tequila Sunrise.

 

 

 

pollard park roses

These zinnias and lilies were happy in the sun!

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It’s amazing the work that goes into making these huge flower beds in the park. This time it was for The Lions Club.

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It’s been nice to have over 15 hours of daylight but the weather continues to be unpredictable. We actually had to start the fire yesterday afternoon! It’s time to get in some exercise after many, MANY months of hibernation! I hope everyone has a great new year and that America’s new leader will make a change for the better.

 

That’s How You Shake It Up!

blenheim rowing club

Thirteen hours after the earthquake hit early this morning, I sit here waiting in anticipation for another one. The house is continuing to shake every few minutes and I’m thankful to still have one. This is the worst I’ve been through yet at 7.8, hitting Hamner Springs, a little over 3 hours away. A couple of minutes after midnight we were violently shaken awake and we bolted out of bed thinking the house would collapse. After getting outside, I looked up and saw lightening. I thought to myself, “That’s odd…I’ve never seen that here before.” It was actually the power lines sparking and soon thereafter, the electricity went out. I had no hope for getting power back on until late in the day. We wouldn’t have water either because we’re on a well. I thought of my friend with her emergency prep kit…which we don’t have. I tried in vain to get an internet connection through my phone but couldn’t. He finally got through and saw the magnitude of it and where it hit.

Thankfully, the power was restored a couple of hours later. Aftershocks continued throughout the night and I didn’t fall asleep until 3am, getting up around 6 to assess the situation. Fortunately nothing but a few seashells had broken, falling from a tall glass vase (which somehow survived) on the mantle. The TV fell off the stand but didn’t break. The chimney however, (which is for the antiquated stove in the kitchen that isn’t used) appeared to have moved slightly and has a crack in it.

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Spring Creek Reserve

We went to our river to walk the dog and huge fissures are now in the track. The Blenheim Rowing Club had massive liquefaction and even bigger gouges in the ground. The land looked as if it had been torn into strips, like a piece of paper. Earthworms tried to escape the shaking but were now stuck in the sandy mud. I tried to throw as many out of their soon to be graves as I could. Apparently this whole place was grassy, as you can see some sticking out of the mud. It must have looked like a boiling cauldron when it happened.

blenheim rowing club liquefaction worms

blenheim rowing club

blenheim rowing club liquefaction

blenheim rowing club

blenheim rowing club liquefaction

blenheim rowing club liquefaction

I can’t say I’ve ever seen liquefaction before. It happens during quakes when saturated soil loses its strength and causes it to act like a liquid. Parts were like quicksand still and the mounds and craters looked like something you’d see on the moon.

blenheim rowing club liquefaction

blenheim rowing club liquefaction

blenheim rowing club liquefaction

blenheim rowing club liquefaction

GNS Science is reporting that in Marlborough (the region where I live), the earth moved horozontally two meters to the north and one meter down vertically.

Blenheim CBD is in good shape, with nothing going on as usual. Looked like a little work was going on at the ASB Centre and the Pizza Hut was buzzing with activity. Some shops were closed pending inspection, with their merchandise scattered all over the floor. The Warehouse, the largest shop in town, was also closed.

It’s an odd feeling of vulnerability that most people never have to experience. You wonder if another one will come and sit around waiting…for something. It’s unsettling to feel the couch rocking beneath you, wondering when it’ll all stop. There seems to be this strange feeling that you need to stay around home and not do much. Try to do something to keep busy, but not TOO busy. Make time pass and things will settle down. It’s hard to know how to feel about something you rarely go through. An event that could be life threatening and change your entire world in a matter of seconds. I’ve had a persistent lump in my throat and I notice my shoulders are unusually tense. I suppose this is what’s called anxiety!

Hopefully, the worst is over now. Although as I write that, a 6.3 just happened. And to add insult to injury, we’re expecting 140km/h winds tonight with heavy rain. It’s gonna be a long night.

Eerie sky after sunrise this morning
Eerie sky after sunrise this morning

Is There an Exorcist in the House??

Well, THAT was certainly an interesting evening.  I was in bed, dreeeeeeeeaming away until I was jolted awake by what felt like my bed balancing on the top of a huge bowl of jello.  It felt like some giant had reached into the refrigerator that was my bedroom and shook the bowl back and forth to see if it had set up yet.  Something started banging on my roof, something fell off of the ledge next to my bed and then I knew immediately what was going on.  Ironically, I had JUST been reading a guy’s blog that night about his time in Puerto Viejo and he described going through his first earthquake too.  I look at the clock 3:43 a.m.  The dogs started barking, the howler monkeys started yelling and the shaking stopped.

Once I had my wits about me, I knew I should probably go outside.  Then I was worried about the huge trees and electrical poles and determined I was somehow safer in the doorway of my bedroom.  I stood there a while and nothing else happened.  Boy, I’ve never felt anything like that before.  It was somewhat terrifying.  It’s almost indescribable how the bed just felt like it was floating on water…the legs of it knocking against the floor…I seriously felt like Linda Blair in the Exorcist for a fleeting moment.  The howlers would NOT calm down for a long time.

So I go back into bed.  I stay awake thinking about what just happened and how I had just told my dad that I thought I’d been hearing some kind of activity lately.  It sort of sounded like thunder, but it wasn’t quite thunder.  Then I realized that I’m about a foot above sea level and the beach is one minute away.  Hmmmmm.  Ok, I should get on the internet and make sure there are no alerts out.  I HIGHLY doubt there are any warning systems here unless the police go around with a loudspeaker and by that time, it could be too late.  I could hightail it up Margarita Road (probably run into the dog again) if I needed to get to high ground.

So I type in (as I had just done the day before) ‘earthquake costa rica’ and in big red bold letters on the first page, it read: ‘5.6 magnitude earthquake 12 km SSW of Guabito, Panama’.  I click on the link and see that it’s very close to where I live.  That border line between CR and Panama is where I am.  I think I’m about 20 miles from the border, maybe less.

quakeI couldn’t find any alerts and seeing that it happened inland I sort of doubted a tsunami, so back to sleep I went.  All is well and there were no damages reported in Panama from what I’m reading on the news.