Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The wrong side of the bed

Yes it has been awhile.  Sorry, seems that land life and internet predispose me to FaceBook and gmail.  But, an update is in order.

First off - although this will be a brief update on our life in NZ since I last posted, I am primarily doing this to post about my year long struggle with my hip, so if you are not interested in a blog about how I have come to be having an old person's surgery, don't read past the next paragraph.

The crew of s/v Evergreen are pretty much entrenched in land life in New Zealand.  After 14 months of living aboard, which included a winter with me working, full time school + teenager activities for Josh and at long last a full time job for Dennis, we bailed to a flat on land.  Josh and I are much happier and Dennis is dealing.  Hey there is plenty of room for beer, wine and spirit making, so how can he complain?   Now we are only weeks away from Josh finishing up year 13 at Takapuna Grammar.  He will head down to Wellington for University at the end of January.  Hard to believe he will be leaving the nest..... wasn't it only yesterday I was singing "Twinkle, Twinkle" and wishing he would sleep?  Not sure what Dennis and I will do once he is settled. Right now we are examining our options.  Oh yeah and we got a cat - Ronan.  Yes, pretty sure we have lost our minds.  Ronan is  - well a cat with a cat personality.  He likes his humans, and would hang out with us more during the day if we were home, but we're not, so he hangs out with the upstairs neighbors.
Josh and Rose pre Winter Ball Party
Ronan from his throne high above his subjects

Okay this paragraph is not about my hip so read on.
Our application for permanent residence is being processed.  Having permanent residency will make planning for the future much easier.  I will be able to move jobs at will and we will be able to come and go from NZ as we like.  I know I would be fine with missing the winters here - maybe hanging out in some blue lagoon in Tonga or Fiji or Vanuatu or New Caledonia.  With sailing in mind, we are looking at purchasing a mooring in the Bay of Islands (N. end of the N. Island).  It is beautiful up there and the sailing is good.

Keep in mind the population of NZ is 4.5 million which is less than half of the population of LA county. So, no way to get economies of scale - in anything.  Fewer people - good in our book. Fewer choices and a "she'll be right" attitude toward things is what makes NZ - NZ.  We love it and as with all loves we take the good with the bad.

Okay here comes the hip part - won't hurt my feelings if you bail out here.

Healthcare in NZ is actually pretty good for socialized medicine.  As with all healthcare, NZ is heading the way of the US and the world in terms of affordability.  The question becomes how does a government funded healthcare system keep up with the demands of an aging population and technology?  There is a private insurance component, but - get this - it is really only for surgery.  For an outrageous sum (approaching US premiums) you can get office, drug, dental and vision coverage.  Most people just go to the public or pay for a visit to the GP.  Sort of like the old days in the US, sort of.

So how did I become a consumer of this healthcare?  Did you know that not only do the Kiwis drive on the wrong side, but bicycle brakes are reversed as well?  I didn't know that when I got my mountain bike in June 2014 - I do now  - through painful experience.  Yep  first ride out on my bike I braked hard (with my right hand) and went flying over the handlebars.  Landed on my right shoulder and hip.  Now this was far from my first ever fall - right?  You all know that "I fell" should be my middle name.  Anyway I figured a little ibuprofen (which i might add is stinking expensive here) and a few adjustments by the chiropractor and I would be back to normal in no time.  WRONG!  After 10 weeks of chiropractic treatment my neck and shoulder were back to normal,  My back/leg/hip - not so much.  So off to the GP, who sent me to PT (or physio as they say here).  After a month with little or no improvement Sam (my amazing physio) referred me to a sports medicine doctor.  An xray and mri later, that doctor referred me to a surgeon specializing in hip arthroscopy.  The wait for that appointment was close to 3 months, so in the meantime the sports guy sent me for a steroid injection in my hip.  That really helped the muscles around my hip and got me exercising again (to a degree) but i still had the grinding pain in my groin. Walking and stairs are the worst, thankfully once I am on my bike it is great.

I got through our hike of Milford sound - which was hard but amazing.  Loved it and really loved seeing Corinne and Larry from New Mexico.  Also did the Timber trail 42 km on our mountain bikes in July - cold and beautiful.
Milford Trek

Timber Trail

I finally saw the hip arthroscopy specialist in May.  Really nice man, sadly he said that arthroscopy was not a treatment option for my hip and referred me to a joint replacement surgeon.  I saw the Joint replacement surgeon (Hugh) at the end of May, and the rest as they say is history.  It was a real process to get ACC (accident coverage provided by the government) to finally decline to pay for the hip replacement.  I had been told by both surgeons that it was highly unlikely that ACC would cover as the hip deteriorated rapidly after the accident but the arthritis was already there.  Anyway now our private insurance will cover and off we go.

My surgery is scheduled for Wednesday 21 October (that is the 20th for you Northern Hemisphere folks).  I am not first on the schedule (or list as they say here) which is a bummer, but that's okay. I anticipate I will be home on our Sunday.  I am trying to stay positive about the recovery, Hugh (my surgeon) is adamant that I am off 6 weeks and will not release me to drive for that time.  I will have a ceramic on ceramic hip something like this:

It should last 15-20 years.  No marathons in my future, but hiking, biking, swimming, sailing are all in.  May I also add that I look forward to being able to put my right shoe and sock on without pain and contortions.  Trust me its the small things.

They say you should never undertake these types of surgery until you just can't stand the way things are.  Well I am there.  I always said I would be a poor chronic pain patient - I was right.  It has been a real struggle to not define myself and my life by my hip pain.  I feel old and my sense of self is all out of whack.  I take drugs so I can tolerate other drugs.  I exercise and it hurts and I don't exercise and it hurts, so I exercise.  Finding that amount and type of exercise that keeps me strong enough to rehab well but doesn't push me over the edge of pain and/or mess up my sleep has been a tough negative feedback loop.  And it is a constantly changing target, seems to me that I am slowly deteriorating.  so yes when I got the text from Hugh at 930pm asking if I wanted a surgery date less than a month out - I said yes (hell yes really, but these guys are still not used to me :)  ).  So it is only 6 more sleeps and I think "surgery" has finally made the top 10 on the worry list. Dreamt about it last night - nothing bad, which says to me that my inner self really is ready to move on from this stage of my life.

Well, there you have it - you are caught up with my life and its little dramas.  I will keep you posted on how things go.  Feel free to communicate with me somehow over the next 6 weeks.  I will be dying for human interaction.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 16 2014

Wow! – 7.5 months in New Zealand.  Time sure flies. We seem to have settled into our routine.  The NZ version of suburbia as a live aboard.

Josh is very busy with school.  The IB(International Baccalaureate)  program is pretty intense.  I think for the most part he enjoys it.  He has a tutor for Physics as he has never been exposed to physics before and all his classmates have had at least on year.  He is keeping up, so it is all good.  Socially, phwew!  Busy boy.  He has a very diverse and nice group of friends and they are constantly up to something.  No girlfriend (that we know of) but you never know when that will change.  Not sure where he would find time for one.  He has picked up two new sports – waterpolo and rugby.  I certainly have no clue about the rules for either and frankly watching hurts my stomach.  In water polo I worry that some punk from the other team will drown him and rugby – OMG they hit hard – and no pads.  Can you hear him now?  “C’mon Mom – really?”  As long as he enjoys it – right?  Hopefully I won’t have a stroke worrying about him……He has lost 5kgs and rearranged the rest – looking pretty buff.  Is it wrong for Mom to notice?  How impressed am I that he is up at 0515 three days a week to bike to the gym!!
Waterpolo team
After rugby

Takapuna Grammar School - kinda like Hogwarts.
Dennis is not working. He has applied for a job – will interview when things at the office are back under control from the un forecasted cyclonic force winds last week.  The job is with the Department of Conservation working in the Islands doing re provisioning and ensuring biosecurity is enforced.  Right up his alley.  Keep your fingers crossed.  He is busy though - doing maintenance on the boat, working his still and keeping Josh and I fed (which is a full time job itself with Josh). He just completed installation of a new hot water heater.  Seems US and NZ plumbing fittings are very different.  Not sure I understand it all, but it gives him a pain.  Next is chasing down and fixing the water leak on the engine.  AARRGGHHH sounds like more plumbing!!!

So yeah – last week’s storm.  Pretty crazy.  15K+ miles under our keel and the most wind we have seen has been right here at the dock.  Dennis slept through the whole thing!  Hard to believe I know, but hey he turns off the worry button when we are tied to a dock.  Frankly for me and Josh it was too noisy – we had to be up in the morning, so ear plugs were not an option.  Also we were heeling like crazy.  So around 0245 we were up – adding lines, securing things on the deck and taking the bikes off the side of the boat.  Dennis’ bike got a little munched – hoping it is fixable.  Mine was okay, but we put it on deck anyway.  After securing Evergreen, Josh and I walked down the dock to check on Don Quixote (friends from Mexico/Seattle area).  Wow it looked like an earthquake the way the dock was undulating.  Josh figures the height of the wave was at least a foot.  DQ suffered some damage to her solar panels, but fortunately was being blown into the dock – so all secure there.  The major damage occurred to the Ferry ramp and Marina office building.  The ferry loading ramp blew away, bounced off the office roof and landed in the water between shore and the dock.  I think Josh and I just missed it.  I bet it would have been cool to see.  Anyway the office has a huge hole in the roof and the ferry ramp is toast.  Ferry service started back today from their slip in the marina.  Will be interesting tonight to see the backing in process.  The office has been moved to the building next door, which also required closing of the lounge, necessitating a new study place for Josh.  Not sure when the lounge will be available, but in the meantime DQ has let us set Josh up in their boat.  They don’t live aboard anymore and the slip is very close to the gate.  Just set it up yesterday – so far, so good.  They say it was the worst storm in 35 years – gust to 170 kph (so like 100 mph).  The severity wasn’t not forecasted until late Tuesday night, so most people were caught unaware.  The original forecast was nothing to get excited about, hence no one was concerned.

May have to enlarge, but this is the before 
see the blue roof thing, that is what blew away
After - blue thing is in the water between
 the rocks and the dock

I am working at a private surgical hospital as their Quality Manager.  It is very nice, very laid back.  Soooo not what I am used to.  Funny when a good thing stresses you out.   I really like it and the people I work with.  NZ has a very different health care delivery system.  This hospital only does surgery - day stay and inpatients.  No ER, no in house pharmacy or lab, no ICU (a small intermediate care unit but nothing more specialized), no blood bank.  It is generally a nice calm and controlled environment.  Many things are the same as the US as far as healthcare initiatives (surgical care improvement project, who check list, VTE prevention, CLABSI project) and just as many things are totally alien (very little in the way of lawsuits, laid back to the point of needing cpr, attitude about things, no joint commission).  So I have lots to learn and get used to.  My commute is about an hour.  Ferry to the city, bus and then a 1.1km walk.  It is pretty nice.  I enjoy the time to wake up or regroup.  Driving is horrendous and takes the same amount of time.  So I am doing my thing for the environment and staying sane – works for all.

New Zealand itself also has its good points and not so good points.  But, for the most part I think the good outweighs the bad.  With only 4.5 million people it is not crowded – 1.5 million of them live in the Auckland area, so doesn’t take long to get away from it all (on single lane windy roads).  However it means not a lot of competition in the economy – a seller’s market.  Things like clothes, housing, shoes, housewares, electronics are outrageously expensive.  More than importing to an island can account for.  I think really that is my biggest issue.  In Hawaii we paid 10-20% more for things because of shipping – here it’s more like 110% more.  Sad when it is less expensive to buy and ship from the US.  The rest though is pretty good.  Josh is in a good school in a safe area.  It is obscenely beautiful.  The people are friendly and don’t get their knickers in a twist about much (except maybe the All Blacks –rugby team).  The laid back thing has its good and bad points as well, but…… nothing is perfect and here is pretty darn good.

Dennis and I have also made some good friends and are much more social as a couple than we were in CA.  So, also nice.  We went to a school fundraiser dance last month – What a hoot.  Great music, relatively inexpensive alcohol and free food.  Good company and dancing.  What is not to like!  Oh yeah and raised money for school sports programs.

On the downside I have been unable to work cycling into my life.  I just can’t see me getting up and out the door by 0400 to ride by myself in the dark.  The roads here are really not conducive to riding – it is all stop and go with traffic.  How crazy is it that there is a beautiful bike lane right up to the intersection, then it disappears and there is nowhere to go except into the traffic?!  So I have re boxed my bike and put her in storage at a friend’s house.  Can’t bring myself to sell her yet – maybe in the summer.  In the meantime I am looking for a used mountain bike.  There are some good places to drive to for mountain biking and once I have one, it is something Dennis and I can do together.
Thanks to all for the birthday wishes on facebook etc.  I had a great weekend - Rugby, Godzilla, friends, cake and in NZ I don't have to share with Dennis - Father's Day is in September!!
Not much else to report on these days… Work, eat, sleep – repeat.  Back to looking forward to the weekend.

Josh Birthday
Josh School Picture

Monday, January 20, 2014

Boring day to day stuff

So yesterday the marina sent out emails for wind warnings.  Fortunately yesterday the wind was blowing from the NE which we are protected from.  Today, no email but saw gusts to 45 kts!  The wind has shifted back to its normal W/SW state, a state that we are not protected from, so its been quite the ride!!  Definitely glad to be tied to the dock and not on anchor.  Also a good day to catch up on my blogging.

Not much exciting happening in our world really.  Dennis' current project is building a still.  Gin (well alcohol in general) is very expensive here, so not only does this project keep Dennis occupied, it should pay for itself in the end.  He is doing tons of research (as per Dennis protocol), making trips .to the hardware store, plumbing store and I think we have visited all of the brew shops in the greater Auckland area.  Of course it is a "some assembly required" project, so not exactly sure when the first bottling will occur.  In the meantime I try to stay out of his way, help when needed and provide regular feedings.

A work in progress

 Josh starts school next week - hard to believe.  I managed to pick up his uniforms at the shop - all second hand and in great shape.  All the money saved there went into new running shoes ($200 on sale) and black school shoes ($99 also on sale).  Josh observed that we doubled the number of shoes he owned all in one day.  I suppose he will get alot of use out of both, but still - ouch!  He is excited to go back, and will start as part of an established group of friends, which he is really happy about.  It surprised us to discover how stressed he was about making friends.  We just don't see that as an issue for him as he gets on so well with adults.  But, I guess when we thought about it, it would be stressful to go to a new school not knowing anyone.  Thanks to Mera, that is not an issue now.  We anticipate that between his curriculum and water polo that he will be very busy.  He has certainly had a busy social life this summer.

I am trying to keep busy as well.  A little challenging given the boat doesn't lend itself to more than one project at a time.  I have been spending some time with Kim's mum Pam (Kim is my friend that works here at the marina) .  Pam is visiting from S. Africa, helping Kim out with her 2 boys during the summer break.  She is good company and I will miss her when she heads home this week.  I did try my hand at making granola to go with our homemade yoghurt.  My first attempt was pretty disappointing, but trying to eat thru it so I can try again.  Thanks to everyone that sent me their recipes.  I also want to try to make my own sausage, as the sausage here is not really growing on us.  I have a meat grinder, but need to find a "stuffer" attachment.  I guess I have been spending too much time with Dennis in the DIY brew shops.  Seems that DIY cheese making and sausage making go hand in hand with beer brewing, spirit distilling and wine making.  Yes, I really need my work visa to come through..........

We did move the boat from G dock to F dock on the 12th.  It went well with the help of Pam and the boys.  We will have to move again in February - only 2 slips down the same dock.  We will be 10 steps closer to land.  Our current finger neighbor will be happy to see us and our steps leave.  He works out of his boat - a small import/export business.  Personally I have seen him wearing a full mask respirator - hmmm just exactly are we making?????  Anyway our new finger neighbors do not live or work aboard, so should be a better arrangement. 

So there you have it - my hurry up and wait for a visa life.  Trying to think positively and not stress too much.
Dock steps - storage compartment view
Yep they are big and take up more than our half of the finger.  The wind has us pushed far away from the dock today.  You can also see the bike storage arrangement.  I am not able to get mine (front) off from the dock when the wind blows like this.
Dennis' lime and mandarin trees - We had to bring them in to protect from the wind

2 peppers and a fern to round out the garden.

Shakespear Regional Park 18 Jan 2014

A beautiful weekend for a walk, so we headed a little north to Shakespear Regional Park.  Originally settled by the Maori, then the Shakepear's who had a sheep farm.  This was a beautiful walk that started on the beach and circled the headland of the Whangaparaoa penninsula.  We saw Pukeko's, native NZ birds that make chickens look like rocket scientists and California quail - the males have "ludicrous" top knots.  Baby quail are so tiny they looked like leaves blowing across the path.  As they rustled in the tall grass next to the trail, I was again reminded of "Jurassic Park" as the velociraptors (I think) stalked their prey.  Of course I have no pictures of these birds.  The quail were too fast, and was too tired by the time I figured out what the Pukekos were.  The trail itself was more like a walk thru the pasture land, lots of hills and sheep. The fences have sheep proof grates (like for cows), regular vehicle gates and sheep-proof gates.  We are getting better, but still have a long way to go before we can consider ourselves fit.  The other thing I forgot to get a picture of was the PPF (Predator Proof fence).  It keeps out all the bad transplants - rats, possums, rabbits, stoats, mice and cats.  They are hoping the Kiwi will return to this park.  In between the grazing fields they have replanted native trees and grasses.  After our hike we drove down to Gulf Harbor Marina to check it out. Even though we are exposed here at Bayswater, we still like the location the best.  Enjoy the pictures:

 Oh did I mention the Park is bordered by a military area?  I loved the signs and the fact that we didn't have to sign a waiver to get this close.  The bottom of the first sign says "Do not touch any military debris, It may explode and kill you".  Really?  I just love this place!!!

 You can see the fence for the military land just past the signs.

 The view from the lookout - looking back towards Te Haruhi Bay where we started from.  The red roof on the middle left is the Shakespeare homestead.

 And here is one of the many sheep.  You can see the track goes through their pasture.


 Looking north.  I love the way the water looks at low tide.
 Looking south.  Great day for sailing.  This was Pink beach - I guess it sort of looks pink - if you squint and look thru your polarized sunglasses.  :)  More Kiwi humor?
 A sheep proof gate that even if you left unlatched the sheep can't get thru.
 Looking down on Te Haruhi Bay.   I love the trees on the ridge line.  If you enlarge the picture you can see that they are almost perfect.
Auckland - far left
Takapuna  - center

The beach at Te Haruhi Bay with the cool trees from above.  Okay I looked them up - they are Norfolk Island Pines (araucaria heterophylla). 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mercer Bay Walk Jan 2, 2014

The weather here is a little different in terms of summer than we are used to.  None of this "every day is nice, with varying degrees of hot and sunny".  Nope it rains here in the summer – often.  So when a good day comes along we have decided you have to use it to our best advantage.  With that in mind we decided on Jan 2 to go for a walk in the Waikatere Regional Park.  In deference to our not so fit bodies, we chose the Mercer Bay Walk.  The book describes it as an easy 40 minute walk with great views.  Good thing we chose an easy walk as the up and down about did us in.  A real trail is more difficult than the walks we have been doing here in Bayswater.   Regardless, it was a beautiful walk with excellent views.  I loved the textures of the hills, so different than what we are used to.  The picture doesn’t really do it justice.  After our walk, we decided to have our lunch on the beach we could see to the north.  Typical Kiwi humor – the black sand beach is called Whites beach – go figure?  And, I am pretty sure that of the 4.5 million people in NZ – at least a 10th of them were at this beach.  There is only one road in and out, so I am glad we left before the hordes.  The road is windy and narrow – puts Patterson Pass to shame.  We saw one cyclist – definitely a risk taker.   Enjoy the pictures:

 Mercer Bay Walk - View to the south

Carol with the NZ Tiki (not the correct Maori word) woman.  Legend says she died of a broken heart on this cliff mourning for her husband who died out on the water fishing.
 Mercer Bay Walk to the south - higher up
The picture doesn't do the texture of the hillside justice, but I really loved the way it looked.
 Whites Beach from up high.  Sure doesn't seem crowded from up here   
Whites Beach and the Hordes
Toes in the black sand photo op for all my friends needing to participate in a "Code Lime"

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone!! 

I decided to post my Christmas letter because I don't have email addresses for you all. Basically a very bridf synopsis of the last year. So, here goes:

The New Zealand branch of the Morrison’s, hope this Holiday Season finds everyone happy and healthy.  

This Christmas season finds us in Auckland (Bayswater) New Zealand with plans to be here until Josh finishes high school. 

Josh finished his freshman year of high school at the end of May.  He did online public school in Hawaii so he could swim with the Kapolei High School team.   He enjoyed the swimming both with the high school and the Hawaii Swim Club.  He continues to make us proud.  He didn’t get too much of a break before he started working on geometry, psychology and biology – his sophomore home school curriculum.  This was in preparation for starting the next school year here in New Zealand which begins in January.

We left Hawaii on June 15th headed for Fanning Island 900 miles away.  It was an okay crossing, with no mechanical issues – well except that we discovered the generator didn’t get enough water on that tack – but it didn’t break.  We met up with Moondance  (Doug and Carla) there.  From Fanning we headed to Christmas Island, where we spent more time than planned due to arriving during their Independence holiday – week (really a week?  A country that wouldn't fit in California takes a whole week off to celebrate - must be nice).  Both of these Islands are in the Line Island chain, but part of the country of Kiribati (Kiribas).  It was quite the cultural experience.  Fanning had just recently gone up on the internet, so was kind of weird to see folks with phones and computers, but no food on the shelves in the store.  Lots of chickens, but no fresh eggs for sale.  Main protein source – fish.  Fanning hadn’t seen a supply ship in 3 months when we arrived, but while we were there they had 2 (can you say party?).  Christmas Island (Kiritimati) was somewhat better as they have an airport and are a regular stop for cargo ships.  We took on more fuel there – a major calamity averted when the delivery truck realized they had gas and we paid for diesel.  We were glad that Dennis and Doug had decided to wait around.

From the Line Islands we headed to Suwarrow in the Cook Islands.  We did break up our trip there with a stop at Manihiki.  That was not the greatest anchorage, so we ended up on a mooring.  We never got off the boat, just got a couple of good night’s sleep and moved on.  Suwarrow is so beautiful, probably at the top of the list of best places we have been.  There are no year round residents, only two rangers from April to November.  No supply ships at all – only cruisers.  Beautiful beaches, lots of birds and fish.  We had our first taste of coconut crabs there – yum.

Our next stop was Pago Pago in American Samoa.  It was nice to go to a US territory.  We were able to provision at the Costco- type store there.  Yay - familiar things. Got a McDonald’s fix (not that we needed one, but it was convenient) and took on more fuel – the last cheap fuel.  American Samoa is beautiful, but there aren’t many good anchorages outside of Pago Pago.

Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) came next.  We cleared in at Apia (only choice) their major city.  Wow – at a marina.  There were still many signs of the cyclone that went thru the year before.  We were able to see a fire dancing show and an amazing cultural demonstration by local Samoans.  Our car tour of the south Island included the Bahai temple, Robert Louis Stevenson’s home and several waterfalls.

Finally Fiji.  We spent almost 2 months in Fiji and it still wasn’t enough.  Our friend Paul Freshour from New Mexico joined us in Savu Savu and stayed on through New Zealand.  Fiji is amazing!  Lots of blue, blue water, sandy beaches, good snorkeling and fishing - And inexpensive!  The people are very friendly.  We certainly enjoyed exploring this country.  We highly recommend it.  Poor Evergreen had one of her tightest squeezes ever getting into our “slip” at Vuda Point Marina. Talk about being shoe horned into a space.  When we finally settled we only had the width of a fender on either side!

We left Fiji for New Zealand on October 31.  This was one crossing we were all secretly dreading.  It has a bad reputation.  In anticipation of that, we enlisted the aid of Brad (weather router extraordinaire) again and at his suggestion – Commander’s weather.  Good planning, good luck – not sure, but we had an excellent crossing and only 8 ½ days.  We checked into Opua in the Bay of Islands on Saturday November 9th.

Our time in New Zealand so far has been great.  We did some exploring in the Bay of Islands, spent 12 days in Whangarei and are now settled into our berth here in Bayswater – across the harbor from downtown Auckland.  Josh, through his friend Mera (s/v Don Quixote whom we met in Mexico) is meeting kids his own age.  He is enrolled in Takapuna Grammar School, swimming with the water polo team and generally having a great time. I found a job that I think I am really going to like, and so we are waiting for one last piece of paper from the US and then will submit my work visa, Josh’s student visa and Dennis’ visa.  I am hoping that will all be done by the end of January.  Until then, Dennis and I will start to explore our immediate surroundings and hopefully some of the countryside. 

It has been an amazing year.  Since leaving Hawaii, we have been in 6 different countries, experienced many different and interesting cultures and people and ended up in a place we are sure we will be happy in for the next couple of years.  We hope you all have a very Happy Christmas and we wish you all the best in the New Year.