I had to laugh at myself the other day, Peeps, because, like most parents of a newborn, I was absolutely convinced my child was the best-looking, smartest, most adorable kid this world had ever seen. Gerber, sign this kid up, stat. I mean, just look at those baby blue eyes.
And then yesterday I ran across this photo (scroll all they way down to the bottom) of a wee three-month-old Benjamin.
Huh. He looks different than I remember him. In fact, he resembles most young babies: chubby, somewhat bald, and rocking’ the grubby old man look.
Ahh, those amazing rose-tinted glasses of early parenthood.
Speaking of parents and children:
How’s this this for the ultimate christmas wish list? The dad’s commentary is even more hilarious. This morning Ben decided to dictate his list to me over breakfast. It was quite succinct: “Dear Santa. I want trains”.
The Statesmen Journal ran an article on my favorite professor at Willamette. Woohoo DPC! If you are a high school senior looking for an awesome biology program with great teachers, go to WU and ask Dr. Craig to be your mentor. He urged me to go to Costa Rica for a study abroad program, landed me an internship at the BLM (which was the best summer job ever), and had me happily wading through a taxidermy course my senior year. Yes, this man can even get you excited about roadkill squirrels, he is that good.
Last week we watched the documentary Blackfish, about the capture and use of orcas by Seaworld. I'll never go to Seaworld - I can't stand the thought of our Pacific Northwest whales held in such small enclosures, but I'm also struggling on a larger scale: orcas aren't the only animals with giant home ranges currently kept in captivity. As someone that adores taking her child to the zoo for the wonder of seeing magnificent beasties, it's proving to be a troubling ethical dilemma for me. Where does the scale tip in favor of educational opportunities/endangered species propagation vs. animal cruelty?
You Are What You Eat. I’m not fessing up as to what the interior of my fridge currently looks like but these are fascinating. (thanks Sara!)
How are you balancing Christmas presents this year for your kids? We’re struggling to find a happy medium between toys and activities. We really want to take a trip to the southwest next year (because our Yellowstone trip with a six-month old Ben was fantastico) but I have a hard time imagining that Benjamin, on Christmas morning, will be super stoked when we bust out with: “You’re not getting any presents this year kiddo, because we’re all taking a family trip....in six months. Aren’t you excited?!”
Cue the hysterics.
And: “Where the #*%&# are my trains?!”
So far we’ve settled on one ‘big’ present, some books, a pair of PJs, and stocking stuffers (which will probably be mostly rail-themed, thanks to the Christmas letter mentioned above). Welcome to the dilemmas of parenthood.
Have a great weekend My Dears.
Gerber! Seriously, how are you going to pass on this awesomeness?!
It’s currently residing on our front porch, still wrapped up, and I just about had a heart attack at 3 am this morning when I was roaming around the house (not loving this pregnancy back pain) and caught sight of a tall, sinister ‘man’ peering in the window.
The tree has thus extracted its revenge on us for cutting it down. Well played, tree.
For the past three years we’ve gone out to Enchanted Winds Tree Farm in Issaquah, which is a small but friendly family-run farm along the Issaquah-Hobart Road corridor.
This year Ben really got in on the tree selection process. He found several acceptable toddler-sized candidates.
Mostly he loved running around playing ‘farmer’ in his stompers (aka rain boots). Gotta love the toddler perspective on life, right?
Our ‘winner’! Sorry tree. We promise to send you off to compost heaven so you might come back again someday.
Don’t forget to warm up inside the barn with the all important cookies and hot cider. We were thankful to escape with all of those fancy ornaments intact on the tree behind us. Ben the whirling dervish.
If You Go:
Enchanted Winds Tree Farm http://www.enchantedwinds.net
Seasonal Hours: Th & F: 10-4:30, Sat & Sun: 9-4:30
Costs: Tree prices vary but our 7’ Doug Fir was $47
A few tips:
Wear your wellies. It gets muddy.
They provide saws and pads but we’ve discovered that it really pays to bring your own nice, sharp hand saw, if you have one available. The first year Chris and his dad spent about 20 minutes hacking away at the trunk with the provided saw. This year Chris had it down in three minutes.
It helps to have someone push the tree from the top during the cutting process. This makes the cut wider and speeds things up.
On December 7th the Newfoundland Dog Club comes to the farm and will pull your tree in their little carts back to your car for a small donation. It’s really a hoot to see the working dogs suited up with their harnesses and carts.
Be a nice doobie and tip the kid that carries, shakes, packages, and then ties your tree to the top of your car. No need to bring straps as they provide the twine but a cargo blanket is a plus if you have a fancy car.
There are many different ways to approach trip planning and we’ve tried several of them over the last ten years.
First there was our trip to Europe after college that consisted of us not planning. We’d get off the train in a new town and walk around until we found a suitable backpacker lodge for the evening. We’d ask the front desk for restaurant recommendations and our fellow travelers for activities in the area that they'd enjoyed. This fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach can work really well in many parts of the world. It can also mean that you spend the night on the train station waiting room bench because all the hotel rooms are sold out.
Then there was Peru which was also us not planning - we sourced everything out to a travel agent. There were a few reasons for this but it mainly had to do with Ben, who was 20 months old at the time. I wanted a tour guide’s local knowledge of child-friendly activities, a car to be waiting for us when we arrived at the airport, and hotels with cribs. Definitely the most expensive way, but so worth it in this particular situation.
This trip was planned entirely by us. I spent many, many hours on TripAdvisor reading reviews and pouring over NZ guide books from the library. And in the end, we had a few hits and a few misses, not surprising, given our inexperience with the country. There is definitely an argument for using a travel agent: they’ve been to all the places they recommend and can weed out the winners from the losers.
In the end, we made most of the car and hotel reservations in advance but waited until we’d set foot in the country to make activity plans.
And then everything went onto the master spreadsheet. After my passport and credit card, this was the item that I least wanted to lose as it had all our travel details: flight info, hotel confirm numbers, drive times/directions, and activity recommendations.
Here is an example of a daily entry. Click on photo for close-up.
First, an overview of the day’s plans. In this case, it was a big driving day: Going from Russell to Rotorua, with one hike to break things up around mid-day.
Followed by the driving distance, estimate of how long it would take to get there, and basic directions.
Then the activity details, including a short description (and possibly a DOC website link):
And lastly, hotel information (including confirm #s, which have been removed here), costs, type of room, dates of reservation, etc:
We lived by this thing while traveling! We also found the NZ isites to be a great source for maps and tourist magazines with coupons. There were only a few tours in which we showed up without clipped discount vouchers in hand.
After Bay of Island and Rotorua, Waitomo was one of my favorite stops in New Zealand. We started off our adventure with the 1km Ruakuri Walk - definitely a must-do tramp when visiting Waitomo.
There are caves, gorges, and fantastically structured limestone formations.
Then we joined SpellBound Tours (see info below) for an amazing two-cave trip.
Into the cave we go..
Hard hat! Lights! Warm clothing! check, check, check.
We chose this tour because it didn’t require suiting up in a wetsuit and jumping off rocks. And it was known for the incredible glow-worm experience.
I tried my best to photograph the glow worms but it was a miserable failure. There are a few professional shots down at the bottom too, but they simply cannot convey how incredible it was to be in a cave lit entirely by biolumenessence.
Beginning the rafting portion of the cave experience.
How do you tell the difference between stalactites and stalagmites? Stalagmites are ‘mighty’ because they have to grow up from the ground!
The New Zealand glow-worm is one of the most interesting insects of the New Zealand fauna. It occurs throughout the country in limestone caves, unused mining tunnels, along stream banks, in damp bush-clad ravines, in damp shady crevices, and under tree-fern fronds in rain forests. The Glow-worm Grotto in Waitomo Cave has become world famous because of the tens of thousands of glow-worm larvae which live on the walls, ceilings, and stalactites of the grotto.
The New Zealand glowworm is a fly belonging to the gnat family. The larvae, pupae, and adults of both sexes are all luminous. In the larval stage the light attracts prey in the form of other organisms, while in the pupal and adult stages the light attracts the opposite sex.
[Sonja here: “Glow worm” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Much better than “Glow maggot”, which is, in fact, what they are]
The larva prepares a nest in the form of a tunnel of mucous and silk, and suspends from this an array of fishing lines composed of the same materials. Prey is snared in the long sticky fishing lines. The larva hauls up the fishing line on which the prey is entangled and consumes the trapped insect. Up to 70 lines are let down by one larva and, depending on the size of the larva, the lines vary in length from under 1 cm to 50 cm. Each fishing line consists of a long thread of silk which bears at regular intervals a series of mucous droplets giving the appearance of a string of beads. The droplet size is about 1 mm in diameter. Nests and lines can be reconstructed and repaired. Fully grown larvae measure up to 40 mm in length and adult flies average 15 mm in length. The life cycle appears to take 11–12 months, with the larval stage lasting eight or nine months. Breeding shows little evidence of being a seasonal phenomenon
By far the coolest part of the tour was getting into a raft and floating down an underground river that was lit entirely by glow worms. It was light enough to make out the features of the people sitting next to you. Truly spectacular!!!! Seriously, GO DO IT, if you’re ever in New Zealand.
Well, that’s a wrap on New Zealand. Thanks for coming along for the ride, Dear Readers.
Waitomo Lodge Motel - Looks like a ho hum motel from the outside but it’s slick Scandinavian modern inside with great beds and a nice kitchenette (micro, fridge, and plates/cups/utensils). Big grocery store just up the road. From $125 NZ/night. Just fifteen minutes from Waitomo.
What to Do
Ruakuri Walk - 1 km. This short walk is a ‘must do’ when visiting the Waitomo area. Includes caves and classic limestone outcrops in a pretty river gorge. Spellbound Cave Tours - a smaller tour company than the regular outfits, you’ll skip the enormously overcrowded caves and enjoy an incredible underground experience, complete with a subterrarium boat ride and a glowing tunnel. Our group of 15 was perfectly suited to exploring two separate caves. Our guide Norm was excellent. Includes a short bush walk and tea/coffee/cocoa. Good for those that aren’t up for the getting wet or have some mobility issues (or are pregnant!).
What We Considered
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Trip- from their website: The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company is New Zealand’s first black water rafting adventure operator. We’ve been sharing thrills and excitement since 1987, and have experienced guides who will take you safely through the stunning underworld of Ruakuri Cave. What began as a special treat for a brave few has developed into a spectacular tourism attraction that gives visitors of all ages the chance to abseil (rappel), weave, jump, climb, and float through a glowworm-studded subterranean wonderland at Waitomo Caves.
I came across this post from several months ago. Must have forgotten about it as it never made it past the draft stage.
Our insurance changed between Ben’s birth and this pregnancy so I called up the other day to see what we’d be on the hook for, money-wise.
Back in 2010/2011 it looked like this:
Midwife appts: $20/visit
Birth (35 hr stay at birth center): $300
Total for Ben’s prenatal care and delivery: approx. $500
This time it’s a bit different as we’re shelling out 10% of total costs. Here are the current numbers for delivery at the Group Health Family Beginnings Birth Center:
Vaginal delivery: $14,000
Fourteen thousand doesn’t seem too wildly out of line. Last time we had a nice room, a nurse that was dedicated solely to our care (and acted like a labor coach), and a midwife. Following Ben’s delivery, he had his own nurse and an OBGYN came in to handle some of my health complications. There were frequent follow-up visits for both Ben and myself throughout the duration of our stay. And you can’t forget the awesome hospital food.
$29k for a c-section is a lot of dinero, however. Needless to say, we’ll be trying for vaginal birth #2!
Kids aren't cheap, eh? And this is only the beginning...
Has anybody been following Will and Kate’s pregnancy? I can’t seem to help myself. Anxiously waiting to hear what name(s) they bestow upon the newest little royal. As for me, I’m hoping they have a girl. After two kings (Charles and William), they’ll be ready for a queen again! (update: well, we know that this turned out. All hail future King George!).
The Waikato River, New Zealand's longest river, moves gracefully north from Lake Taupo between banks 100 metres apart. Just before the Huka Falls it enters a shallow ravine of hard volcanic rock. The effect is nature's large-scale equivalent of a fire hose feeding into a very fine nozzle.
The previously placid waters roar and rumble at great speed along the ravine before bursting into space out over Huka Falls to crash into the turbulent pool 11 metres below. A foot bridge right at the top of the falls puts you in a prime position to get up close and witness the frightening display of more than 220,000 litres of water blasting by every second.
From there, it was past the charming down of Taupo, along the lake, and south to Tongariro National Park (Whakapapa Village). It’s hard to tell in this photo, but one of those cloud puffs is actually a smoking column rising from the top of the mountain. We are in volcano country!
We stopped at the visitor’s center to bone up on regional history and take a short tramp along the ridge.
The visitor’s center is above 3,500 feet in elevation and the vegetation is strikingly different than the lush forests at sea level.
Lord of the Rings Fans will recognize the non-CGI version of Mt. Doom (below):
From Tongariro, we continued south, eventually turning off the highway in Raethi and heading into the Whanganui National Park. This is a spectacular drive, which begins with very pretty pastures and a view of Tongariro in the distance.
We quickly left the sheep and cows behind for the wild NZ forest. Whanganui is also listed as one of the “Great Walks” although in this case it’s a paddle down the river, not a tramp through the countryside. Two or three day canoe trips can be arranged with overnights in Department of Conservation huts along the way.
This is definitely a trip you’ll want to do during daylight hours, both for the view and driving as the road is twisty, narrow, and perched above the steep gorge. It’s also unpaved for approximately 20km, although that may change in the coming year.
At last! Our little cottage for the night. The only neighbors are the sheep next store.
Sleeping three people (one queen and one single), this tiny cottage in the equally tiny hamlet of Korintini is bare bones but comfy and equipped with a killer view. Full kitchen, linens, and tea supplies provided. Bring books and dvds because there aren’t many activities in the immediate vicinity. Also, the nearest store is 45 minutes away so stock up on groceries before heading out to the cabin. The owner, Lois, lives close by and is a charming host.
A good-jumping off point for those wishing to do a jet boat tour. Also check out the Maori pa across the street. The cabin is well-signed and located on the Whanganuai Road, approximately 45 minutes north of the town of Whanganuai. At the time of this writing, it was $100 NZ for the first night, $80 NZ for each additional night. We had one mishap with the cottage that I’m a bit hesitant to write about as I’m sure that it’ll be rectified immediately: a family of possums had moved into the attic and we had quite an exciting night as they were hosting a jolly party above our heads. They quieted down in the morning but it lead to a rather sleep-less night on our part. Contact: Lois Gilbert: firstname.lastname@example.org. No website. Here is the google street view.
Flying Fox Retreat
This place looks fantastic and is close by to Kohu Cottage. At the time of this writing it was closed; in the event that it reopens in the future, it might be worth checking out. http://www.theflyingfox.co.nz/
Things to Do
Pipiriki to Whanganuai - This drive is considered one of the most scenic in the country and it’ll be even better once it’s fully paved. It follows the Whanganuai River as it twists and turns it’s way to the ocean. There aren’t many view points so make the most of the ones you spot along the way. Currently portions are unpaved and it’s a rough two hour trip.
Huka Falls - a nice place to stretch your legs, use the (pay) toilet, and admire the view. Just north of the town of Taupo.
Ridge Walk at Tongariro National Park - Go for as little or as long you’d like; the views are amazing once you leave the bush. Trail entrance just above the visitor’s center in Whakapapa Village.
Additional Activities to Consider:
Jet Boat to the Bridge to Nowhere and Canoe Ride Back - Really wish we could have done this - but there are a number of rapids on the river and we ultimately decided that it wasn’t the best pregnant lady option
Taranaki Falls: If a long alpine hike isn’t your thing, consider the 6km falls hike, leaving from the visitor’s center at Whakapapa Village.
Taupo: We were charmed by this little town by the lake. Wish we’d spent more than an hour exploring the shops and lake-based activities. As it was, we popped in to buy Ben an official All Blacks rugby ball and then continued south along the lake shore.