Friday, June 20, 2014

Lost in the Map

Remembering New Zealand is overwhelming... encompassing. I get lost elaborately remembering each detail and reliving every moment, often replaying specific scenes over and over in perpetual succession.

I long for that time. I yearn for the uncertainty and the loneliness that I knew and I ache for the embrace of those by whom I have been irreversibly altered.

It comforts me to find that vivid memories have not yet been lost. A single glance, a quick remark, one piece of advice... so simple yet each so firmly rooted in my history and forever more my future.

The miles traveled have been etched as a map across my soul. If I breathe deep enough I can taste the ocean air surrounding the Otago Peninsula. If I close my eyes long enough I can reach out and touch the mountains reflected in the Mirror Lakes.

I get lost there, in my map. I keep going back because the exploration hasn't stopped; it will never stop. There is always something left to discover and a new depth to consider and hope to understand.

Sometimes I get lost and I worry that I won't ever come back. What could possibly be more fulfilling than a place filled to the brim with scars of growth and triumph? It's a tough thing, convincing yourself to stay away from paradise. And yet I am away longer and longer and the whole thing starts to feel like nothing more than a faded dream.

Except for The Guide. As the Velveteen Rabbit was taught, "... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

Not sure how many (if any) readers are still out there. It's been an awfully long time since I've shared anything here, but I think about my journey and the impact it has had on me nearly every single day. Some part of me feels like if I process my photos or share a new blog that it somehow signals the end of my trip -- a closure that I am not interested in discovering. However, I think I have come to understand that by cementing my memories on the page (digital or otherwise) that it will only serve to immortalize them for years to come. Hopefully I can make up for lost time, as this blog has brought me a great amount of joy and I can only hope to share a piece of that with you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Road Goes Ever On and On..

This article was originally published in the Washtenaw Voice, the newest extension of my Graphic Design/Photography studies. It was not an easy feat trying to condense my trip into 1100 words (as I'm sure you can guess by my typically-wordy entries), but it was a rewarding challenge to embrace. It also featured a sneak peak of images, of which you readers will see much more in the coming weeks! I hope you enjoy.

I've followed countless times as Bilbo runs impulsively from his door at Bag End – past the pigs, through the vegetable garden, and over the weathered fence, gaining momentum as he races along the footpaths of Hobbiton. His eager anticipation is palpable, as the first steps of his journey unfold. When asked where he is off to in such a hurry, Bilbo shouts the essential mantra for every soul propelled by wanderlust: “I’m going on an adventure!”

Without a doubt, this adventure is real. I can tell you I've stood at the gate of Bag End and gazed upon the rolling hills of Hobbiton. I've lain in the grass where Bilbo’s 111th birthday party was held. And when I couldn't take any more photos of the iconic landscape from my childhood musings, I was presented with a complimentary beer at the Green Dragon Inn.

Arriving in Middle Earth marked the realization of a goal I had set for myself many moons ago. The goal was simple: Travel to New Zealand within the next five years. I arrived with three months to spare in the fifth year – and no shortage of spirit.

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something… but it is not always quite the something you were after.”

Unlike my own journey, Bilbo’s was indeed quite unexpected. I am sure many of us can identify with the reluctance Bilbo felt before leaving the comforts of his own home in search of adventure.

But without challenging opportunities, how are we expected to test our resolve? Bilbo did not find the Ring in a pretty field with flowers, and we also must embrace uncomfortable, sometimes dark, situations if we hope to uncover treasures of great worth.

With Hobbiton checked off my must-do list, I joined an adventure bus that gave riders the chance to experience New Zealand as a dynamic and cohesive tour. I had embarked on this trip alone, and was concerned that the personalities in the group might interfere with my wanderings and wonderings.

What surprised me was how quickly this mixed bag of international travelers was able to foster a meaningful atmosphere – group dinners, family photos, cakes and cards celebrating the birthdays of recent-strangers.

“There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.”

It didn’t take long for me to get attached to my new companions. They pushed me to explore adventures that even my typically open mind had written off. On the eve of one particular day-trip, my roommate took it upon herself to convince me I should join.

Her efforts resulted in one of the best highlights from my trip: driving through a lush rainforest to go hiking on a frozen glacier. “It’s just ice,” I had told myself, but the vast, constantly moving landscape presented a staggering purity that I’ll never forget. To be such a minute visitor in a wild arena capable of such natural force was awesome in the truest form.

Above-ground hiking was not our only wild encounter. Donning wetsuits and rubber boots, we spent an afternoon crawling and squeezing our way through the glowworm caves of Planet Earth fame. I’m not sure what I expected, but I found myself encased in a few tight spaces desperately fighting off claustrophobic paranoia.

You can do it. Don’t be a wimp. If he can fit through, so can you. None of the typical mantras brought any relief; my only motivation was the understanding that forward motion was the only thing keeping me alive.

When I look back, I realize that my moments of confinement account for less than 10 percent of the afternoon, which helps me to recall the canopy of luminescence and the bellows of group laughter more clearly.

I also consider the fact that Bilbo, while equipped with the Ring, did not have any glowworms or friends to help him find his way out. (I’d like to note that there are multiple ways to experience the infamous glowworms that do not require any amount of hiking or squealing. Please do not be dissuaded.)

It was encounters like these that allowed me to trust more fully – both in my own capabilities and in my communion with others. But as much as I had come to appreciate the benefits of my close-knit group, I resolved to cut ties with what was familiar and easy and comfortable, and once again venture out on my own.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

I spent a few weeks dating myself. Romantic dinners were enjoyed pouring over a new book, while generous glasses of wine continued to pour nearby. Lazy days were spent entirely in bed.

Photo walks through the numerous gardens were followed by late-night strolls along the harbor. Intimate moments were shared with complete strangers, as I remained open to the intelligence and stimulation within.

Make it a point to find and enjoy local delights – there are plenty of adventures hidden within daily endeavors if you are just willing to dig a little.

Maybe you’ll jump in a car with five strangers to see a live rugby match, but I can guarantee you won’t come home strangers. Maybe you’ll book a flight to see that seven-piece funky-soul-reggae band and discover a native ghost along the way.

Perhaps you can splurge and attend a red carpet premiere of the latest Hobbit film. But what do I know? I’m just some girl who stuffed her life in a backpack and boarded a plane.

Just as Bilbo took a leap of faith in leaving the comforts of Bag End, I encourage everyone to rebuke the complacency that comes with material possessions, and take the first steps of your own adventure.

You may find that a lack of tangible distractions allows a clearer sense of identity and confidence to shine through, whether you share it with companions or treasure it internally. An adventure can be in the next neighborhood or the next country, just as long as it removes you from your comfort zone.

Through the soaring highs and the heavy lows, I have found more fulfillment and satisfaction in three months of wandering than in years spent on my own couch. Because when it comes down to it, each of us is “just a little fellow, in a wide world after all.”

The road goes ever on.. The start of the tramping trail. Waiheke Island, NZ.
Tramping trail on the coast of Waiheke Island, NZ.

An inviting Hobbit hole in Hobbiton. Matamata, NZ.

The Party Tree of Bilbo's infamous 111th birthday party, with view of the Green Dragon Inn. Matamata, NZ.

Down from the door where it began.. Bag End and its gate. Matamata, NZ.

Group photo with Stray family, in front of Gollum's Waterfall. Tongariro National Park, NZ.

Milky Way over Blue Duck Station. Owhango, NZ.

The lighter side of Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe). Tongariro National Park, NZ.

Cape Foulwind walkway along the West coast of NZ's South Island.

Silhouette group photo through a cave on Fox River, NZ.

Glacial wave-like ice formation on Fox Glacier, NZ.

Hiking across Fox Glacier with a backdrop of the rain forest.

Mirror Lakes reflecting the Misty Mountains (Southern Alps) of NZ's South Island.

Waterfall inside of Milford Sound, NZ.

Taiaroa Head Lighthouse. Otago Peninsula, NZ.

Coastline along the Otago Peninsula, NZ.

Moeraki Boulder, naturally occurring spherical boulders along Koekohe Beach, NZ.

There are 10-14 sheep for every one human in New Zealand. Seen here just below Castle Hill, NZ.

Re:START Stacks. Following the earthquake, businesses reopened in shipping containers. Christchurch, NZ.

An 'angel' hangs suspended during a late night Arts Festival in downtown Christchurch, NZ.

Mud Battle. A hostel group lathers up with mud from hot geothermal pools in Rotorua, NZ.

Reflecting pool outside of The Gallery and Cafe in Helena Bay Hill. Bay of Islands, NZ.

Moureeses Bay. Bay of Islands, NZ.

Wine and appetizers were complimentary at the premiere of the Hobbit. Embassy Theater, Wellington, NZ. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Be A Traveler, Not A Tourist

"If you're twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel - as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them, wherever you go." - Anthony Bourdain

I consider Anthony Bourdain to be one of the great voices of our generation. From his Travel Channel program No Reservations and his recent CNN upgrade with Parts Unknown, to his fascinating culinary memoirs Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, to his various appearances all over food related authorities, one would be wise to heed the demigod's words on any available topic. The most impactful (and easiest to remember) is his mantra to "be a traveler, not a tourist."

There are two parts to pulling this off. First, you have to dispel the temptation to be a tourist. Don't follow the beaten path the whole time. Don't take a photo of every sheep you see (there are approximately 10 sheep for every 1 human in NZ). Don't fixate on creature comforts, whether it be an expensive hotel or a trip to McDonalds. Don't worry about what you look or smell or sound like, other than to maintain some level of respect for those around you. For instance, bring wet wipes if you can't shower frequently, or if your hostel's showers create more filth than they remove..

After you've deconditioned yourself from acting like a tourist, it's time to look at the world from the perspective of a traveler. You're here to see new things, taste new foods, learn new cultural traditions! Find the hidden creek or the less-famous hiking path. Talk to locals and other travelers - I have found that firsthand accounts are more trustworthy than just about any guidebook. Ask questions. Trust strangers. Everyone has the potential to be a creep, but then you can't run around being scared all day, can you. Be wise, but open. Be flexible. Just because it's called English doesn't mean they speak the same language. Adopt new lingo - including measurements (curse you, imperial system)! If you can learn to be more of a traveler than a tourist, then sweet as, cuz! You'll eliminate the rubbish no one's keen on hearing, and I reckon you'll have heaps more craics along the way.

"..That without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions, and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund." - Anthony Bourdain

Admittedly, I spent the first month on the tourist track. Stray bus took us to all the main stops, a few lesser known extras, and Karlyn provided us with the few true traveler opportunities. After running around on my own unaided, it was time to see NZ from a local perspective. I arrived back in Christchurch while the Lion's Den Men were busy with school and work. A fantastic excuse to explore the city, camera in hand.

It's taken me a while to be comfortable with a camera in my hand. Despite actually having studied photography (admittedly not extensively, but much more than 98% of today's self-proclaimed photograpers), I have somehow managed to guilt trip myself every time I bring my camera out in public. I'm making a lot of progress, and I'm grateful that this trip has forced me to overcome the unfortunate guilt and fear. Mostly I've just stopped caring what anyone on the street thinks of me, but I've also come to recognize that taking photos - thoughtful, meaningful photos - is a way of honoring each place you visit.

I feel closer to the heart of Christchurch, after sharing intimate moments with nothing but a lens between us. Portrait photography is a personal and unmistakably invasive process. You want the subject to relax, to trust, to be comfortable.. so you can then capture and exploit their raw human emotion. And just because a city doesn't have a face doesn't mean that it doesn't move and grow and reproduce. It has soft sides and dark sides and a history littered with scars. I'm just as grateful and honored to capture her beauty as I would be a human soul - perhaps more, considering that she is a collective of the countless souls she has housed and inspired.

I specifically enjoyed spending time and money in Christchurch - the honest reason I was so intent on coming here. If I've come to this country to spend dollars and collect memories, what better place than somewhere to whom those resources can be most helpful? After the earthquake in 2011, I have been magnetically drawn. My first life-changing experience with the marriage of independence, wanderlust, and service took place in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and it has left a permanent mark on me in more ways than one. Christchurch was ready for me, and on my one day in town they surprised me with a full Arts Festival that ran until midnight. Vendors made up a "Lost and Found" market, street performers entertained with flames and straight jackets, and finally, massive friar puppets controlled by 4-5 people each haunted the streets after dark. An eerie tribute to a city named Christ-church with its cathedral in ruins.

"Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life - and travel - leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks - on your body or on your heart - are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt." - Anthony Bourdain

Utterly pleased by my fortunate travel timing, I made my way back to see Marek and Alex. After taking them back downtown to see the tail-end of the fest, we ended the night with pizza box calligraphy and Louis CK brilliance. Almost missed my flight the next morning on account of seeing a ghost.. Kinda wish I had.

From Christchurch, I stopped in Taupo en route to Rotorua. I had lined up a Work For Accommodation situation in Rotorua - I would be cleaning toilets in exchange for a free bed each night. (Please don't tell my boss back home that I'm skilled in cleaning now..) Before my commitment, I had a few days to see Taupo through the eyes and windows of a local. Higgs was gracious enough to offer me his home and his city, while I spent my days sick in bed with the cats. Animals always have a way of popping up when I need them most. Everything helps except those pesky puppy dogs. I wanted to maintain respect, but too many red flags left me eager to board the next bus. I had left a piece of myself in Christchurch, and I knew I needed to go back after Rotorua and claim it.

What's that saying about the necessity of cracking a few eggs if you want to make an omelet?

"The way you make an omelet reveals your character." - Anthony Bourdain

It takes a few missteps, a few broken hearts, and more than a few scars to travel along your path. But if you're willing to get dirty then I think you're better able to own that dirt. To own your mistakes. To celebrate your triumphs. To be proud of where you've gotten. More than learning to be a traveler overseas, I think we must fight the temptation of remaining a tourist in our own lives. So you struggle with something personally? Educate yourself, come up with some strategies. So you want to see if he's the real deal? Go find out. So someone in your life deserves an apology? Deny your pride. Be a key player on your own path - be an active traveler, not a tourist being helplessly dragged along.

And go read some Anthony Bourdain.. "What nicer thing can you do for somebody than make them breakfast?"

P.S. Christchurch photos will have their own post eventually.

Woodfire stove in the Re:START section of Christchurch.

The eye of Sauron is always watching.

Animals when I need them most.

Catching up on Breaking Bad!

One of many encouraged, even commissioned, works of graffiti. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride..

"Buy the ticket, take the ride.. And if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well.. Maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion"
- Hunter S Thompson

Sunny the Rocket and I left Queenstown, stopped in St Bathans, and drove through to Dunedin. I had been there the previous weekend, but hadn't had ample time to soak up the city. With our van of three people, sleeping in a neighborhood had been no problem. But when a solo girl tries to do it in the pouring rain, people start knocking earlyyy to make sure you're okay.

I'm fine, thanks, apart from being awake now. Kiwis: too friendly for their own good? I suppose it's all a part of the ride.

Their concern did allow force me to get an early start on the day, and I was able to navigate the entire Otago Peninsula before 2 pm. A stunning drive.. you get to Pilot Beach at the end and realize just how isolated NZ is from the rest of the world. Killer coastlines and creatures - swarms of albatross, puddles of seals, and whispers of penguins - dropped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A humbling realization of how small we are.

Back in Dunedin, I walked around the city for nearly five hours just to make sure I had seen and captured it all. The previous weekend, I had opened a bottle just before heading to the rugby game. Realizing I couldn't take it in and I didn't want to scull (chug) anything, I re-capped it and hid it in some bushes. Days later, my beer was still there and tasted just as sweet. Win! That night I enjoyed my brew in a real bed at a Backpackers downtown.

Driving north, I stopped at Moeraki Boulders to see the oddity of spherical rocks strewn about the beach. Dozens of these perfectly round boulders dotted the area. I'm still not convinced whether they are natural or manmade. I took plenty of freakin pictures, tell me what you think?

I ended the day with a familiar face.. Queenstown friend Marek had offered a place to crash with he and his roommates in Christchurch: the "Lion's Den", as it was dubbed. It was nice to be in a real dwelling.. No hostel, no lodge, no car seat. A real apartment with friends and passions and inside jokes. And academics! Sometimes I forget how stimulating the conversations within academia can be. I've downplayed that aspect of my life for many years, but discussions and debates I shared in the Lion's Den have encouraged me to refocus my priorities when I get back home. Funny how 'vacation' can motivate you to work even harder. Stefan Sagmeister explains the concept well in his TED Talk The Power of Time Off.

After an evening right at home as one of the guys, Marek made a delicious breakfast of properly cooked bacon (he is from Canada and totally gets it) to send me on my way. I was looking forward to my drive through Arthur's Pass - the famed mountain road between the East and West coasts of the south island. It was hailing and raining and it was magnificent. Beautiful, eerie bridges with immense amounts of water cascading powerfully over the top. Winding roads allowed me to find out just how Sunny liked to ride. As I would be driving back across the same way, I figured I would save any extra hikes for better weather the following day. A welcome tasting tray at Monteith's Brewery proved to be the only worthwhile reason to visit Greymouth on the West Coast. I ended at a very cute and eclectic Global Backpackers to escape the downpour for the night.

Back across Arthur's Pass. When stopping to get gas (in NZ you never pay for gas until after you've filled up. This honor system would never fly in sketchy, greedy America..) I noticed weather signs that called for snow. As I drove towards the pass, multiple signs told me not to carry on without snow chains for my tires. Warning! Snow! Carry Chains!

First thought? Honey, I'm from Michigan.. I can handle the snow. Second thought? This is a rental car! I don't have chains! How am I supposed to cross without getting stranded in the mountains? Final thought? Shrug. I'm going anyway.

And it was fine. It was snowing and hailing, yes. But it was mid-morning, which meant no accumulation yet, and some warmth had arrived to prevent slippery pavement. It was, however, much too windy for those extra hikes I'd saved.. Guess I'll just have to come back to NZ. Bummer.

Stopped about halfway through for coffee, and as soon as I said hello and was prepared to ask for "a Long Black for Takeaway", the lady immediately asked if I wanted proper drip coffee. Whaat?! Classic, North American drip coffee does not exist in NZ. You can get a Short Black (one shot espresso), a Long Black (two shots espresso with hot water, and my personal fave), or a Flat White (which includes milk, so I've never tested it). Apparently the nice lady's daughter lives in NY and she recognized that someone with my accent might appreciate a taste of home. To be fair, I have grown so accustomed to the bitter espresso that the drip coffee was completely underwhelming. The thought counted for a lot though, and my gratitude added extra flavor to the cup.

There are these funny little mischievous birds called Kea. They are the world's only alpine parrot, mostly olive green with hints of bright orange underneath, and have been dubbed "the clown of the mountains". Marek's roommate Alex had warned me about them.. that they were becoming a bit of a nuisance, but as a protected species there is nothing you can really do. Sure enough, I braved the snow for a moment to snap some photos and suddenly I had a tail. This inquisitive Kea hopped right on top of my car! He poked his head down over the window to check me out, and I assumed he was looking for a way into the vehicle. Scared shitless turned into totally fascinated, as I realized he was intelligent and bored, so he and I played a quick game of hide and seek before I carried on. Cheeky little fellow.

After clearing the main pass, I explored the Castle Hill area that features large limestone boulders used by early Maori as shelters during their migratory days. Can you imagine that ride? People get so excited and worried about travel these days, but what a joke it is compared to real traversing. Life-threatening, eye-opening, culture-forming travel. New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to be inhabited in 1250 AD and it shows in the best and worst ways possible. There are very obviously still hundreds of square miles that no human foot has touched. The terrain too uneven, the bush too thick, the weather too unpredictable. Untouched beauty. God's virgin earth. So little of it remains on our globe, it is worth celebrating. The cons of being so far down the colonization line is that your internet sucks and you are essentially a combination of everyone else's cultures. But the good outweighs the bad. You learn more by being in a place like this than you would in a big, nondescript city. Which might be why I appreciate broken Christchurch and zany Wellington more than anonymous Auckland..

If you're looking to learn, don't fluff the pillows and click the remote. Buy a ticket. Get on the plane. Find the bus. Go exploring! Back in Abel Tasman, our Stray skydivers got phrases written in thick black marker on their forearms, to display during freefall. Much to my mother's disappointment, I wasn't able to jump out of a plane this trip. But if I had, I know what I would have written..


Otago Peninsula

Otago Peninsula

Otago Beauty

Dunedin, for my mother.

Dunedin, for Ingrid, my typography mentor.

Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders


Monteith's Tasting Tray

The lineup. I substituted an IPA for that shitty Radler shandy. 

Balsamic treat.

Castle Hill. Early Maori shelters.

Kea on my sideview!

Kea flying away. Beautiful.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

But What About Thanksgiving?

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, I am struck by the fact that the rest of world moves straight from Halloween to Christmas. Halloween is a time to impress friends with the most self-absorption you can muster (a few years ago I was Snooki, for example..), and Christmas is a time mainly focused on the delicate balance of giving and taking. But what about time just to sit and be grateful? To wonder aloud how there are so many blessings for which to give thanks?

If this sentiment solidifies me as 'another one of those emotional Americans', consider me Proud To Be.

After emerging from the barrage of rainy days spent fighting inner beasts, I found that Queenstown was the most hospitable of hosts. I had planned to spend four, maybe five nights total. After more than two weeks soaking up the city's essence, I felt right at home navigating the streets and strolling along her soothing wharf.

I am thankful for every soul I've met along this journey, but the Universe spoiled me rotten in Queenstown. I am particularly thankful..

For Kylie.. who taught me a better way to journal (and therefore blog), who was happy to share the childlike joys of luging and gondola rides overlooking the city, and who allowed me to open up like only an over-emotional American with late night Fergburger* can.
(I'd like to take a moment and give the Universe some credit here. It had been raining all morning - week, really - but Kylie and I decided to trek up the gondola anyway. As we arrived at the top, the sky broke and we had beautiful weather for each of our five trips down the course. As we finished our final ride, the sky started spitting out hail and I giggled at the fortune of our timing.)

For Camille [read: kuh-My-lee].. who taught me that anyone can be your Brooo!, who understood the value of a well-timed cough drop, and who quickly became a friend worthy of altered travel plans.

For Julie.. who was a wonderful date after my Strays left: dinner-for-two at the fancy Italian joint, movie date with popcorn the next night, and consistent trips to Ferg complete with unintentional stalking of boys. Yum. She also taught me that when traveling, it's okay that some items on the list can only be checked off crudely and unceremoniously (as in the case of Milford Sound - wind, rain, hail, but checked off nonetheless).

For Higgs.. who was a sweet puppy dog when I needed a virtual cuddle the most, and who forced me to produce the exact meaning of 'lolol' [laughter of legitimately open lengths]©.

For Zac.. who didn't know me, yet graciously offered a ride with his friends to the All Blacks rugby game in Dunedin (a whirlwind event, like any good gameday), who served as the best half-dead panda god that ever was, and who taught me the value of looking fresh each and every day.

For Tom.. who managed to identify General Aladeen and Michael Jackson's lovechild on the dance floor, who appreciated the simple joy of a play structure after dark, and who left me with the biggest mystery of my travels.

For Fill and Elli.. who showed me what a great friendship can look like.

For Marek.. who undeniably provided me with the most intellectually stimulating conversations I've had in years ('You ooze intelligence'), who reinforced the value of a good wander by oneself, and who taught me that even subtly snobby Californians deserve a second chance. You're a legend, too, my friend.

For Tanya.. whose appreciation of crispy bacon made us instant pals, who reinforced the importance of capturing memories within a photograph, and whose love of Fireball reminded me that I do have friends worth cherishing.

For John.. who helped me realize just how Irish I really am, and who proved we make a damn good pair of wingmen.

Even those from my past whom I've forgiven (and whose forgiveness I undoubtably require) - but refuse to forget, I found on my mind a lot during my time in Queenstown. I am thankful for memories shared and lessons learned..

M.. whose attentiveness and thoughtfulness was unprecedented, even when a lack of maturity was unavoidable.

B.. who unintentionally taught me some of the hardest lessons in foresight and fortitude, and whose level of frustration was only surpassed by the continued depth of his love.

T.. whose patience and support was never fully appreciated by a partner with growing pains.

A.. who taught me to define loyalty.

S.. who repeatedly received unspeakable treatment yet never gave up on the potential he saw buried inside the blimp.

C.. whose alliance reminds me that it's better to build friends than rekindle wars, and who never lets me wallow for long.

M.. who never allows me to apologize for who I am or how I feel, and who continually teaches me the beauty of intersecting paths.

Where would I be without these people - new and old? Where would any of us be without the blessings in our lives? While you dance to 'Santa Baby' and await the arrival of Christmas and its tangible gifts, stop for a moment to give thanks for the intangible and immeasurable blessings you already possess. And if you'd like a taste of the real Stout Christmas (I'm pretty sure Jenni's with me on this too), turn up the spirit with Amy Grant's Christmas albums from '83 and '92.

Queenstown may have been a battle for me, but I went in ready to fight and I feel that I emerged victorious. I went face to face with my own demons, we had a civil discussion, both sides were heard, and then I smashed their little skulls.

Adventure Capital of the World, eh? Let me tell you what I know about that. Sophisticated nights on yachts were followed by sloppy meals at Fergburger (repeatedly). A side trip to Milford Sound was exhausting (ten hours on a bus for a 90-minute boat ride) but worth it - if only to see the Misty Mountains, the Remarkables, and the Mirror Lakes along the way - and you better believe I bought my commemorative Spoon! Strolling through the Queenstown Gardens was a refreshing and therapeutic break from the IPA-less pubs. A whirlwind 24-hour trip to Dunedin with a car full of strangers will never be matched nor forgotten. 'How do I get back to the Octagon?' 'That way..ish.' Free drinks taste better when established businesswomen are toasting to the independence of your journey. Getting caught on film and watching it the next morning? A surprisingly nice ego-boost. While the activities and side trips were heaps of fun, it was the exploration of myself and my supporters that led to the success of my stay.

As I finally pulled away from Queenstown in my newly rented car, Sunny the Rocket (it came pre-christened with a rockstar name), I was a little apprehensive to once again venture on my own. Not because I was afraid of my own company, but I now realized how much I wanted to share this experience with another soul. You can see now why my adventure with the Guide came at precisely the right moment..

Yet another reason to give thanks.


*Fergburger. Hailed as the most famous eatery in Queenstown and the best burger in all of NZ, it 'is quite well known internationally despite not being a chain and only having one location'. Wide selection of burgers, super fresh ingredients, huge portions. Open a whopping 21 hours a day, 7 days a week. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was the best burger I've ever had (RIP Blimpy Burger), but it's not a bad sign that I ate there four, or five.. or six times (nevermind that it was across the street from my hostel). However, my highest marks go to Ferg Bakery next door.. mouthwatering baked goods at a reasonable price.

1. Explaining to a group of finance investors what an IPA is.. They legitimately did not understand.
2. Getting out of bed after both the Wolverines and the Tigers lost.
3. Yachts, shots, and futbol despots.
4. Learning to play Flukey Ball! Thanks to Fill and Elli :)
5. Being taught the rules and strategy of rugby from a jolly gentleman who was kind enough to humor me throughout the big game. (I still think it pales in comparison to both futbol and football.)
6. Trying pâté. Texturally intimidating, but my fear has been happily overruled.
7. Driving on the left side of the road!


1. Nico, myself, Kylie, and Knut
2. The last group night out
3. Waving goodbye to Stray
4. Kylie and myself riding up the gondola!
5-7. Overlooking Queenstown from the luge course
8. Fergburger
9. Fettuccine Carbonara dinner date
10. Ferg with Julie - a Greflie (Group Selfie!)
11. Terrible photo of Milford Sound
12. Zac, the panda god
13-14. The Dunedin gang
15-17. The All Blacks (NZ) play Australia (Oz)
18. Tom and Zac
19. Elli along the beach
20. Zac and the Jaeger Train
21. Tanya and her Fireball obsession
22. John (right), myself, and our young apprentice Aaron
23. Gettin feisty with a new top and a new 'do
24. Battle wounds (bruises on knees and feet)
25. Blogging scene
26. Shameless record of good hair day
27. Service Above Self
28. Queenstown Gardens
29. The Silver Fern is NZ's national symbol.. Ferns, ferns, ferns.. Everywhere
30. Sent to me as the newest Stray family photo.. :(
31. Sunny the Rocket!