A visit from cousins

The last weekend in June, we had two of Ben’s cousins, Chris and Laura Lee, visit us from Texas. That weekend was a real blast! Packed full of sight-seeing and talking and fun! Here’s some of what we did with them:

We showed them the NYC skyline from across the river at night,

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we rode the subways,

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walked the Brooklyn Bridge,

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took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty,

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and we went to the World Trade Centre memorial.

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Look, the Freedom Tower is finished on the outside!

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We went to the Intrepid,

and we went to the Met with our friend Shannon.

We saw Grand Central Station,

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we had coffee/hot chocolate at Le Pain Quotidien,

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and we walked through Central Park.

We went dancing at the Midsummer Night’s Swing at the Lincoln Centre. Pity Ben couldn’t be there, but Chris gallantly danced with all of us girls. He also made up this real simple line dance that got a whole bunch of people around us dancing too: an old Asian lady, a few couples, a few old guys and an Indian girl with some serious hip-action!

Sunday was a little calmer and lent itself to some times of fantastic conversation. We went to church in the morning and in the afternoon Ben went to Evensong at St John the Divine with them. The weekend was over all too quickly! You guys will just have to come again!

A visit from the Baneks

In June, we had a lovely visit from Ben’s Uncle Walter, Aunt Nelda and cousin Alexander from Texas. They were here for 4 days and we got a really good amount of sight-seeing done with them, balanced by a nice lot of calmly visiting at home.

We took them to our favourite touristy spot near our house where you can get a fantastic view of Manhattan from across the river.

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The girls enjoyed rolling down the little grassy bank there.

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There is a war memorial near the look-out and it tickled my funny bone that it had been yarn-bombed, quite likely for Memorial Day or the 4th of July (we were sort of in-between both).

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We took the Baneks to see a few NYC sights, and of course the Brooklyn Bridge featured on the list!

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Lunch at Le Pain Quotidien was delightful, followed by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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From there Ben and Uncle Walter took the kids home and Aunt Nelda, Alexander and I went to see St Bartholomew’s Church where there were stained glass windows she wanted to see.

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Then it was on to Times Square and to see Once on Broadway!

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Thanks for making us one of the stops on your roadtrip, Baneks! We really enjoyed our time with you.

Marica’s recital at Steinway Hall

Marica and Esther started piano lessons the week after our piano arrived, and have both been enjoying it a lot, no doubt because of their excellent teacher (who also happens to be our friend!), Shannon Murphy.

For the end of year recital (end of the academic year) Marica performed two of her pieces that she’d learned. It was pretty soon after starting, given the fact that we got our piano in April and the academic year ends in June, but she did really well! And get this — they had the recital at Steinway Hall! Wow. It’s pretty cool to say you’ve performed at Steinway Hall!

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Marica really enjoys learning piano, and not a day goes by that she doesn’t practice or tinker around playing things by ear. She’s figured out how to play plenty of songs just by having heard them.

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Well done, Marica! We’re proud of you!

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I got a cute photo of the three sisters on a pretty seat in front of the recital room beforehand.

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Life in limbo

Since the last time I posted, we’ve moved into our temporary apartment for the month of March, settled into a daily routine with homeschooling in the mornings, and all of us have gotten sick. New climate, new bugs — it was to be expected!

The apartment we’re in is nice and spacious, with 3 bedrooms and a big dining table where we spend a lot of time each day.

The best thing about this apartment would have to be the view. We can look out the living room window or our bedroom window, or go out on the porch and see Midtown Manhattan right across the river. It never gets old.

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The kids looking out the window, waiting for Ben to come home on the bus.

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However, while this place is very comfortable and meets all our needs, the interior decorating is not quite our style. I like art (though, not necessarily this painting), but I’m not sure that the size of this picture in the dining room is quite appropriate for the size of the room. 

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There are a few more …interesting… pictures in our bedroom, which in the beginning I found a little intimidating, but now I don’t notice them anymore. Well, I manage to ignore them most of the time.

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There are many more glitzy decor touches that I just don’t quite go for:

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Mirrors on the beds. (??)

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Fake flowers are an abomination and should be banned from all existence on this earth.

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The house has all these attempts at glamour, and yet the maintenance is a bit shabby, like the chandelier with only a few working light bulbs.

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I’ve saved the best for last. In the dining room, there is a throne. Yes, a throne. I ceremoniously placed all our school books on it. We call it The Seat of Education.

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We started homeschooling in earnest last week. I’m using Rod and Staff for Esther, and the Logos 2nd Grade curriculum for Marica. So far I’m very happy with it. The workload seems good and the work is at just the right difficulty for both of them. I aim to be done by lunchtime every day so that they can use the afternoon for playing.

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We also have signed the lease for an apartment for a year, starting in April. We’ll be living in the Heights section of Jersey City in a 3-bedroom duplex. It has a great big open space downstairs which I hope to turn into a playroom/schoolroom, which will double as a guest room when we have guests. I look forward to settling in there — I’m getting a little tired of being in so many temporary places! We’ll post pictures of the new place when we’re there. :-)

Marica got some Lego this past weekend as a belated birthday present from me. We went to ToysRUs and got totally overwhelmed with the selection but she’s happy with the one we ended up with. Man, Lego is much cheaper here than in New Zealand!

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There is no plug for the bath, so the kids have been taking showers, and Laurelin’s been having baths in the kitchen sink. This cutie melts my heart, and has her sisters twisted around her little finger!

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The Aliens are back in the Apple

After two long, but pretty good flights, we’re back in New York. If you told me a year ago that I’d be here now, I would have laughed and said, “Yeah, right!” But here we are after a few whirlwind weeks of getting ready to move.

We got to the airport in Auckland with heaps of time to spare because we picked up our immigration papers from the Consulate first. Yes, we cut it that fine! We were glad we were there early, because it took us two hours to get all checked in — those new little check-yourself-in booths are great if you’re flying by yourself with no extra bags, but they’re just not designed for flying with a family with extra luggage and car seats and other such paraphernalia!

The girls did so well on the flights — the two older ones slept 10 hours on the 12 hour flight! We managed to get a bassinet for Laurelin, which meant she could sleep in that while Ben and I tried to get a little sleep too. The cross-country flight from LA to NYC was, as usual, the harder of the two, but at least this time we flew with Virgin, so it was a little nicer than with AA or United.

We went through about 6 months of pressure regarding the girls’ and my green cards which we had been told both by an immigration lawyer at TripAdvisor and by the Consulate in Auckland had to be re-applied for. We did all that, with no time to spare, but thankfully it all worked out. Only to get to border control in LAX and for them to tell us that we sure went about it the hard and long (and expensive!) way, and that we could have come into the country on our expired green cards. The guy said, “We would have given you a bit of a lecture, but of course we would have let you in!” <sigh> It was just one of those moments where you close your eyes, breathe deeply, and laugh. Otherwise you might cry!

Since we’ve arrived on Friday we’ve been staying with our pastor’s family in Brooklyn. They are just all so lovely and very hospitable! It’s been a lot nicer to come this time and know people here. We got to catch up with quite a few people at church on Sunday, which was nice too. Though I was reminded how transient an inner city church can be — lots of people have left, lots of new people have joined.

This week we move into our temporary apartment where we hope to be for a month while we look for a longer-term place. This process can be exhausting because what you see online is often quite a different story in practice. But we’ll get there, I’m sure. :-) I’ve already scheduled a bunch of viewings for Saturday and next week, and I’m hoping we don’t have to look for too long!

We have also got a car! We got a silver Toyota Sienna on a 3-year lease. We thought a lease would be a good way to go for various reasons, so we now drive a brand new car. We have never had a new car, so we don’t quite know what’s hit us. It has 47 miles on the clock — it’s that new! Wow.

Ben started work today and is excited to get into the work here. He’s pretty glad he doesn’t have to work remotely with so many skype calls anymore!

Much to the girls’ delight, it snowed today. Though just a dusting, much to their disappointment (and the delight of all commuters!). Still, they made the most of it before it all melted away and had some fun in it.

Okay, this is probably long enough. Will update more when there’s more to tell!

Flights booked, date set!

We started this blog almost four years ago with the words “so we’re going overseas in a month”. They do say history repeats itself…

About six months ago, Ben got a job offer with TripAdvisor who was hoping to acquire Oyster.com, where Ben had worked in New York. He’d continued to work for Oyster remotely through Brush Technology after we got back. We were on the fence about the offer for quite a while, as we thought we’d come back to settle here, but eventually we made the decision to go back. We weren’t planning to return, so we let the girls’ green cards expire (after having been in NZ for 12 months). So U.S. immigration, here we go again…

But we’ve finally got to the point in the re-immigration process where we can set a date for our return to New York. God-willing, we’ll leave Christchurch on the 17th of Feb, and leave Auckland on the 21st. Less than a month away, and things are finally seeming more real!

It’s definitely with mixed feelings we go back. Looking forward to working in New York again, looking forward to getting to know our old NYC and MeRF friends again, but sad that we’ll be so far from most of our family, uncles, aunties, Grandma & Grandpa and Ouma & Oupa.

In related news, we put our house on the market (see the TradeMe Property listing). If you’re interested in investing in the Christchurch housing market, get in touch. :-) Here’s a photo of the front for posterity:

Our house

We’re looking forward to the move and to settling back into NYC, but in the meantime we’d love to hang out with our friends here in the weeks before we go! And we look forward to being closer to Lillian & Jeremy and other extended family and friends in the U.S.!

The start of The Roadtrip

We had a rather stressful start to our roadtrip. I was overly optimistic (or foolish?) and hoped that everything might just fit into 6 suitcases plus a bunch of little bits and pieces. My reasoning for this was that I couldn’t see us parting with much more — I only kept the things I really wanted to and had gotten rid of more than felt comfortable. So, I was being overly optimistic and also very worried. Ha!

Thursday morning came (did someone secretly delete a week out of the calendar?!) and we packed up the last bits, I cleaned the last things that needed cleaning, and everything got moved into the front room. Right about the time we got to this point in the proceedings, I get a call from the people who were going to move in after us. I had told them that they could move in mid-afternoon when we’d left, and here they were calling me right around noon telling me how they had hired a U-Haul truck and were paying a guy by the hour, and could they please come now because they didn’t want to keep paying him more than they needed to? I had lived in New York long enough to be able to firmly say they couldn’t get in until the landlord had inspected the property, but I was too flustered to tell them to forget about it!

I forgot to mention that they had a friend turn up a bit early who was going to help them move in, and he was sitting there on the rowhouse steps looking at Ben trying to squeeze in all our belongings into the rental car.  He personified Hipster — Converse type sneakers with socks pulled up, too-short shorts, a snug T-shirt, and the most ridiculous green round sunglasses. He was trying to be helpful and carry some things out, but by this time we had done most of that ourselves already. He made helpful comments such as, “How do you plan to get all that stuff into the car?” I think he’s probably a pretty nice guy, but right at that moment all we wanted him to do was evaporate.

So about 15 minutes after the phone call, his friends turn up with their U-Haul truck, and they sit there, double-parked, right behind our car. Just watching. I should have charged them $5 a ticket for watching the show or something. :-)

After a while of trying different ways of arranging our luggage, we came to the conclusion that we were not going to fit all the things we hoped to. So out came the kids’ toy and book suitcase, and about half its contents was left on the side of the road. Along with the stroller. And my nice white table cloth, an empty suitcase, and all our towels, and a bag full of foodstuffs I had hoped to take. We must have made quite the comic sight there on the side of the road! I sure hope those things made some other people happy (instead of going in the trash!), because the toys and books we had left at the end were good ones. The kids still have some toys and books for the trip (don’t feel too sorry for them!), and then we could fit everything in. But only just. The space between the girls in the back seat was stacked up to the ceiling of the car, I had a box of books by my feet that we were taking to the Snoeks’ in Connecticut who had offered to take some things back with them when Ron goes for business trips. It was a bit ridiculous, and I’m sure we looked funny! If I had any presence of mind, I would have taken a photo for you to chuckle over.

Around this time the people got tired of sitting in the truck watching our little show and asked if they could start moving things in. I firmly told them not until the landlord came. So they waited a little while, then came over again and asked if they could move things into the backyard, so then their things would at least be coming out of the truck. By this point I was not at a point to argue anymore and just said whatever, go ahead.

Finally the landlord came to inspect the place and it all worked out fine and we got our hefty deposit back, and we got in the car for the trip. We first grabbed some lunch at McDonald’s, dropped our modem off at the phone company and then headed off on a trip that was supposed to take an hour and a half.

We got to see some nice scenery and a nice view of our beloved Brooklyn Bridge on the way out from an angle we hadn’t experienced before.

I said the trip was supposed to take an hour and a half — it took three, thanks to New York traffic. But we got there, and it was great to see Ron and Judy again. They are such a great, down-to-earth and hospitable couple, being in their home calmed the frazzledness from the morning significantly.

It turns out that Ron is travelling to New Zealand soon, and we twisted his arm to take a suitcase back for us. (Thanks Ron!) So, we left the box of books there that will come in drips and drabs over the next few years, and then we repacked a few things into a suitcase, and also got rid of a pile of stuff. That freed up some space, but things were still very tight in the car, despite us being down to the hoped for 4 suitcases.

How did this crazy family find a way to overcome all odds to travel more comfortably? Who did they meet up with next on their roadtrip? Stay tuned for the next instalment of The Epic Roadtrip, coming to you (hopefully) soon!