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normal.

18 Jun
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This is the weather for my last week in Christchurch. I am thinking of heading south, paying homage to the Scottish stronghold of Dunedin. The problem is, the further south you go, the colder it gets.
 
I am eternally skeptical of every Kiwi that claims a ‘cold’ winter. In my mind I instantly pull up a side-by-side comparison of a wet, 40-and-50-degree discomfort to a rip-your-face-off wind and 5-foot snow bluffs in Walmart parking lots. Then I picture my resident Alaskan, John, laughing and stroking his fisherman beard at the whiny-ness of my lower-forty-eight woes.
 
Nevertheless, this claim of ‘winter’ got me thinking. There are millions of people that celebrate Christmas on the back patio in t-shirts and sunglasses. The same people take January trips to the beach and pack park picnics for lazy Saturdays. Fellow Northerners, I know, this sounds weird. But, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, this is your normal.
 
Normal, eh? This is the idea that sells the study abroad pitch. The experience of a ‘new normal.’ The patient observation, then participation in a culture you do not and will not ever own. To inhabit the foreign, trying to put on the eyes of the native. Moving into the neighborhood and saying ‘hello’ or ‘hola’ or ‘guten tag’ or ‘Kia Ora.’ We crave to shed our tourist mentality and be a cog in a machine that isn’t ours.
 
Whether it’s a rainy winter, an unexpected ‘u’ in colo_r, or that sacred time of day known to some as ‘afternoon tea’, I have had the privilege of taking the kiwi normal for a whirl. The good news is, I survived…

A (very) Concise Kiwi Dictionary

24 May

Bruh/Brew. The kiwi accent allows this word to mean bro (as in brother) or brew (as in beer). This seems to be especially handy as Kiwis are enamored with both their fellow man and a full-bodied lager.

Choice. The first of these words is a sort of interjection and can also be used as an adjective. It is similar to the word good or sweet! (i.e. Check out my new longboard, bruh…. Choice! or I went to this choice concert last night!)

*Mean is very similar to ‘choice’ but more often used as an adjective than an exclamation. Except, of course, if you teach MAOR107 and you are talking about rugby, in which case you can use mean whenever and however you like.

Cheers/Chur. Kiwi equivalent of ‘Thank you.’ You can use cheers when someone holds a door for you, before drinking a pint, and as a salutation in a letter or email. The variant ‘Chur’ may or may not actually existent—It could be just a consequence of the accent. However fallible my ears may be, I often hear ‘cheers’ being said as ‘chur.’

Jandals. The equivalent to our flip-flop. Also used by the Aussies.

Keen. To be interested or desiring something. (i.e. Are you keen on going tramping this weekend?)

Mate. noun An affectionate term used to refer to a friend, to get someone’s attention, or deftly inserted as a sentence filler. Similar to ‘bruh’ (see above, ‘brew’) and also the American ‘dude.’ This term is paramount to the understanding of any male Kiwi relationship.

Sweet AsPossibly the most stereotypical kiwi phrase, deriving its meaning from the lack of a third word. It can mean sweet as this or sweet as that, but is left incomplete for rhetorical purposes. It is also quite important to note that ‘sweet’ can be substituted for almost any adjective depending on how pure your Kiwi blood runs. (i.e. I just drank an entire gallon of milk!… Sweet as, bro!)

TrampingBackpacking, plain and simple. (Hiking is known as ‘walking’)

journey.

1 May

Middle-Earth,

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“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

When you go looking for Mordor you are bound to find yourself on the way. Frodo and Sam were certainly subject to this inevitability, but the final scene inside Mt. Doom lets linger a message of community— a need for loyal friends in dark, perilous times—rather than the moral of self-discovery. But, what if Frodo had to go it alone? What happens if he doesn’t rescue Sam from the river Anduin at the breaking of the fellowship and take him along on the quest? Can you imagine it? Maybe the LOTR (Lord of the Rings) would be the story of a singular hero. Maybe the job doesn’t get done at all. Nevertheless, Frodo and Sam do have each other and, with tears in our eyes at the close of the Return of the King, we recognize that a loyal companion makes all the difference in the end.

I recently played the role of Frodo-without-a-Sam for a week this Easter. My mission: Visit LOTR filming sites stretching from Auckland to Queenstown. That’s a drive of 1500 kilometers (935 miles) over sacred Middle Earth ground. Kicker: I did it alone.

I began my journey with a 7am flight to Wellington, with great excitement to re-explore my favorite NZ city. A friend made on the road provided lodging for the weekend, The Embassy theatre provided a screening of The Hobbit in HFR (48 frames per second!), and the city itself was in no short supply of coffee for early morning adventures and late-night kindle hours. Windy Wellington allowed me a visit to the forest, with the kind direction of two ladies, where Frodo and friends hid from the Black Rider in the Fellowship of the Ring. It was a nice walk indeed, but the spot itself had been beaten down by time, weather, and visitors like myself. With some disappointment and shortly before my flight I made stops at Weta Cave (the tourist portion of the CGI and props studio for LOTR) and Stone Street Studios (indoor film sets) before gliding into the starry Kiwi sky.

Now, I would like to tell you three stories from my journey, but you must know in doing so I will have to leave out many other details that are very worthy of telling, however, at another time and place. These three stories find their importance in both their prominence in the LOTR story and the effect they unwittingly exerted on me.

The true beginning of my Middle Earth trek began outside the small town of Matamata. On a sheep farm set in the hills and vales of the North Island sits the Shire, Hobbiton itself. I drove my campervan an hour from Auckland with a freshness that comes only with keys in the ignition, beginning a road trip. As I finished humming with the ode Concerning Hobbits, I  pulled into the parking lot of what looked to be just another tourist-ridden, albeit certainly worthwhile New Zealand gem. It was tourist-laden, but soon enough that didn’t matter. Only the charm and subtlety of the Hobbit world was of any importance. After an hour lunch and a bumpy bus ride onto the actually property that served as the film set, we entered Hobbiton. For those of you who are new to LOTR—Hobbiton is home to Hobbits (as you could have guessed!) and serves as the departure point for Frodo and friends on their preliminary journey to Rivendell. Hobbiton is painted as a simple, unbothered home of rather agoraphobic little people called hobbits. Gardening, drinking, and social drama are hobbit occupations and they accomplish all three quite well in their hillside homes.

I feel as if I both lived at the film set for a year and only got to see a glimpse of it in a passing moment. We walked through Hobbiton village listening to our guide talk about Peter Jackson quirks and local knowledge, but the scene spoke for itself—maybe that accounts for the lack of questions we asked our guide. Anyway, it wasn’t long before I was standing in front of Bag End, Bilbo and Frodo’s iconic and lovely abode. Then, I caught up to the group after taking a panorama of Sam and Rosie’s two-doored hole. Across the bridge and into the Green Dragon we went for a half pint of ale. And that was it. The tour ended and I was left dreaming about feeling the Middle Earth sun on my face and visualizing the vegetable patch at the bottom of Bagshot Row.

Not long did I tarry in Matamata, for a long drive I had ahead of me. My next destination was Mordor, Mt. Doom—known in New Zealand as Mt. Ngauruhoe and the ever-famous Tongariro Crossing. This part of the trip was less romantic, more sweat, fog, and the eeriness that accompanies volcanoes. I hiked into Tongariro National Park early in the morning, walking toward a row of volcanoes shrouded by fog and tales told of a flying rock zone. My trip up to the Tongariro crossing was easy-going, passing by a group of mocking high-school boys and a trio of American outdoorswomen. My decision for a Mt. Doom summit bid was preceded by a short conversation with a couple at the base of the unmarked journey up. I remember saying, “A 3 hour trip, that seems generous”

The man replied, “That’s return trip. . . Mt. Doom, eh? I really want to get one of those lava rocks from the top, you know?”

My eyes fixed on the trail leading into the fog, and unintentionally snubbing his remark I ended with, “Well, here we go,” and I walked away from the only humans I would see in the next two hours.

The climb started gently, as all do I suppose, but quickly turned into a sandy, 45-degree haul that stayed true to its warning—“No marked path.” I was soon scrambling with feet and hands, using rock outcrops to gain ground when I wasn’t stopping for 30-second breathers. Higher I climbed, the fog stayed, and no summit was in sight. When I finally stopped for lunch, I heard sliding rocks and German being spoken from not too far off. Investigating, I climbed up a slope on my right, and sure enough ran into two German guys that gave me the good news that the summit was just a few minutes away. I scrapped the lunch plan and pushed for the top. Five minutes later I found myself standing on the edge of the summit crater of Mt. Doom looking into the foggy innards of the place where the ring of power was forged. It was only at this point that I congratulated myself on a hard-fought climb and, at the same time, become utterly and hilariously aware of my LOTR nerdiness. But, standing in the lifeless austerity of Mordor, I was completely ok with it. And that was that. And then I ate lunch. And then I ran down the volcano just like we all used to leap down those Lake Michigan sand dunes. Absolutely amazing.

A day after my stay in Mordor, I traveled to the filming site of Rivendell, known to the elves as Imladris and to the Kiwis as Upper Hutt (northernmost suburb of Wellington). The same location was used to film the river Isen, chief water supplier to Saruman’s fortress of Isengard. This locale was much less impressive than the previous two, but not so in my appreciation of it. I drank in the forest setting with the same mouth that has drunken from the stream in the woods behind my house in Indiana. In fact, the forest of Rivendell (actually Kaitoke Regional Park) reminded me much of home, touching the part of my heart that will be eternally a young boy in his forest kingdom.

I hope you can see what I saw. Obviously not with your eyes, but with your imagination and in your own tales of self-discovery. I found different pieces of myself along my journey, or rather merely read the words that were already inscribed on my soul—the part of me that surrenders to other-worldly charm, like a hobbit village set in a grassy hill; an awareness of my strange prerogatives and the volcanoes I will climb to pursue them (also quite a testament to my determination, I think! You would say so too if you saw that slope.); and a deep, abiding love for my home that, simply put, is who I am.

Christchurch: a walk, a garden, a pub

28 Mar

I am often guilty of a moral or idea-centric type of writing. Sorry about that. I haven’t said much about what’s happening outside of my own head—undoubtedly a consequence of the constant activity up there. But, I think I will take a break from ideas, feelings, morals, and philosophy for today. I want to give you a plain account of Christchurch. Things see and sidewalks walked. Hands shaken and food eaten. Stuff I do and pictures on the side.

Sound good?

Cool beans.

Yesterday, a friend from Purdue, Chandler, a friend from UWisconsin-Plattville, Kim, and I went a-walkin’ to downtown Christchurch. In my month of residence here, I have walked from uni (Kiwi term for college) to the CBD (central business district) before. It’s not any more than an hour walk if you put your head down and make a mission of it. However, this Saturday we chose the bus because most of our walking was going to happen inside the CBD. Ok, onward.

We got off the bus with few plans and so we started our exploration at the Re:Start Mall near the bus station. This place is so cool, let me tell you about it. First, most of central Christchurch is a mess. Rubble, empty lots where office buildings used to stand, and lots of fencing blocking the innermost parts of the CBD. The lack of venue and activity makes the central district a rather deserted place at most hours, even on Saturday afternoons. In the case of this downtown mall, however, businesses got together after the big earthquake and took a step forward, occupying the central part of the broken city. Here’s the catch: the stores are shipping containers. There is a bar, bank, bookstore, coffee shop, Apple store, pizza kitchen, and it goes on. Imagine it, a mall of shipping containers—stacked, cut out, prepared for human occupation. Oh, wait, you don’t have to imagine it all on your own. . .  I have a picture!

 

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We left the mall and went north in hopes of finding a little shop called Canterbury Cheesemongers. Cool name, eh? We found it, but unfortunately they closed up at 4 pm. . . on a Saturday. Seems strange, eh?

So, we changed course and passed by Christ’s College, a high school rather than a college, and made for the Botanical Gardens. I had also been to the Botanical Gardens before, but never had I climbed a Sequoia planted in the late 19th century. It was tough, but a British boy named Toby helped me out. Check it.

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Tree-climbing, compliments of Toby ‘the boy wonder’

We meandered through the gardens and (ah!) the rose garden was a nice sight, fountains littered here and there. Our path was now to the road to drop off Kim at the bus stop to go back to uni, but not before we encountered another, and much bigger, tree in the gardens. I am very keen (kiwi word for interested) on trees.

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Chandler and I bid Kim goodbye and made our way a bit south of the CBD with the determination of two dudes headed for a pub; we were on a mission for a beer and a belly full of pub food. On the way we passed by European car dealers, a half-destroyed Canterbury brewery, and a few Christchurch parks. Excellent!

Quite on cue, we strolled into our destination, Pomeroy’s Old Brewer Inn, reputed to be the best pub in Christchurch. And it delivered. Once we found out how to get a table—apparently sitting yourself down at any place that doesn’t have a ‘Reserved’ sign is Kiwi pub etiquette. Not long after we got some beer tasters Chandler and I were knuckle-deep in pints and two bowls of mushroom soup. I selected the Invercargill Pitch Dark for my beverage because of my curiosity of dark beers. Let me tell you, I found my new tall and dark acquaintance to be quite pleasurable. Chandler, struggling to translate our Kiwi server’s diction, had something of a light American ale with a mid-swallow citrus taste. Then came the main course; for me that meant a Meat Pie filled with chicken and veggies and all other sorts of warm, good things plopped on top of a landscape of mashed potatoes. I predicted it would be something like American chicken pot pie. It was, sort of. The ‘pastry’ shell on top was hard, but cut-able and the softer side had been flipped to the bottom. Good choice, I say.

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Our walk back to the central bus station involved three detours. First, we encountered a fridge-turned-public-book-exchange. The content (i.e. the books) wasn’t so impressive, but the idea is ingenious. A miniscule library without librarians or library cards. People sharing and learning.

Then we saw the former site of the CTV building that had fallen in the 2011 earthquake. Now it is a flat, concrete lot that serves as a sort of gathering place for those who lost someone in the quake. Flowers, pictures, other remembrances stuck out here and there in the fencing. Caddy-corner to this lot was another memorial; this was one built rather than one destroyed.

In a grassy, rocky lot sat 185 white chairs. Lined up row after row after row, flowers at the foot of each chair. 185 people died in the 2011 earthquake and this artistic endeavor was soon after built in their honor and memory. It was a powerful sight for me and even more so at night—eerie and beautiful in the whiteness of the chairs reflecting the floodlights above. It is hard to describe. I felt humbled, educated, helpless, and drawn into a reflective mood. But words do injustice here. Take a look for yourself.

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We arrived at the central bus station after perusing a video store (our third detour) and going on about the different subgenres of anime film. Our bus gladly dropped us to our flats, and no more than 10 minutes later we called it a night. What an adventure. Ah. . .

The Lonesome Traveler

5 Mar
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Mt. Cook National Park

 

Of all the countries on the face of our green and blue and brown planet, New Zealand must be the most ‘backpacked.’ Now before you start rattling off stories of backpacking through Europe notice two things: 1.) We are talking about ‘Middle Earth’ here and 2.) Many backpackers in New Zealand are Europeans fleeing from the influx of Americans backpacking through Europe. Now that I have successfully shamed you into my way of thinking, let’s get to the point. . .

Backpacking culture is odd. Heavy bags, showers few and far between, and constant migration from hostel to hostel makes for a volatile existence. Yes, volatile. The odd truth in the whole deal is that people love it. In fact, these people who love it will buy a van, drive around New Zealand sleeping in the back (when necessary), eating ramen noodles and beer, resolving to take life one day at a time. When you talk to these gap-year vagabonds  nothing but sheer optimism comes from a white smile in the middle of a dirty face. I don’t count myself among these people, but I have shared a few dorm rooms with them. I traveled around New Zealand for two weeks with everything on my back. And yes, I did love it. But, remember what I said before? It’s volatile.

Traveling alone and without strict purpose is one of the most freeing and frightening occupations. Most of us have traveled with a friend, our families, or with a spouse. On these trips two or more minds and multiple careers of experience are involved in decision-making process. The decisions might even have been made prior to the trip. There is nothing wrong with this style of travel. In fact, it seems intuitive. The pleasure of comfort, traveling with taste and preference in mind—conservative travel is practiced for good reason. Traveling alone is less often practiced also for good reason. When one travels alone, he/she is everything. I mean everything. The decision-maker, the doer, the ignorant, the voice of reason, the whisper of doubt. Everything is on one set of shoulders, figuratively and literally. The pressure is no undoubtedly great, but so is this idea: You are completely and utterly ‘off the grid.’ Those who have experienced ‘off the grid’ existence will say it feels like pure glory, nothing short of a 1776 kind of freedom. And at the same moment it strikes a deep, harrowing, lonely chord in one’s soul. You feel like you can do anything and nothing and either would be the right decision. You are always one misstep away from disaster and injury. I once felt these poles of emotion, and lacking any better method of explanation, I wrote a poem about it.

—————

Oh, lonesome traveler

Pariah with bags packed

Folded, rolled, wadded under

The pressure of carry-on rules

Your eyes are set on that wilderness

Someplace long deserted, protected by neglect

Going far away into the fold of an unseen home

 

Plane and train and back and legs

Quick but never rushed, patient enough

You are feared and worshiped by those who cannot tell

A friend, shared by all and owned by none

A grin, smirk, positive slant of mouth, each a measured smile

Always close, many feet, but always alone

 

Why won’t you stay?

What is it that you are looking for?

Exactly, he says

A vast and rolling sea of hills

A quiet embrace of everything big and small

And hard and good and real

To see and remain unseen

To give and never take

I am he and he is forever I

A lonesome traveler, an idea, a man set apart

—————-

I traveled alone for close to two weeks before settling into my Christchurch flat. The pleasures and fears and paradoxes of this poem seem vague and incomplete, but they are nonetheless true. They drum up the sort of feelings one would have on the road alone. You may have read Kerouac or Into the Wild or watched the rather disappointing Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, but traveling alone remains unknown to you unless you do it. Unless you go intentionally and go alone, you will not understand the heights and depths of emotion.  But if you do tread the lonely road, expect to be amazed.

The Revolving Bus Door

5 Feb
Bus travel is tolerable. A ‘necessary evil’ as Bane (Dark Knight Rises) would call it. Much like the doctor’s office or the middle child (kidding!). Like all methods of travel it does have some virtue. In its defense it is quite inexpensive and fairly convenient. And when one is in the planning stage of travel, something’s virtue has almost complete influence on decision-making. ‘$26 for an 8-hour, cross-country ride? Yes, please!’ The vices, however, reveal their less-than-pleasing identities the moment you climb those yellow-edged stairs. Right on cue. First, the surprise of who will be sitting next to you. Then, the new friend coughing on your lunch. And, of course it isn’t a true bus trip if there isn’t a slight scent of blood or urine wafting through each passenger’s nostril and out the other. Unfortunately, the old manwith scraggly long hair is nearly always the culprit.

20130204-204557.jpgIt was I, the great decision maker, David Ballard, who elected to take the bus. The responsibility of my demise falls squarely on my shoulders, but like I said, cheap and convenient. Auckland (northernmost and largest city in NZ) to Taupo (Adventure town sandwiched lakeside and mountainside) leaving at 9 am. I began my trek, three bags balanced perfectly on back, front, and in hand, from my hostel at one side of the highway valley, down College Hill into the trough of Victoria Park, and up again to downtown with 15 minutes to spare. Sweating, happy, ready to leave, I tossed my bags against a concrete wall and swapped some coin for an overpriced Gatorade to restore some of the electrolytes which were now a dark spot on my t-shirt.

Departing the terminal, the journey seemed promising. Half bus load, one person to every two, maybe three seats. Then, we picked up another group. And then another. The bus was full, and everyone entered toleration mode. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who enjoy close quarters in the get-to-know-you scenario. As if the closer you are to someone more you can know about them. Relationships by osmosis? We call these happy people ‘Social Butterflies.’ I do not claim membership to this group, rather I accept my role as conscientious observer of others’ strained and telling interactions. The people-watcher at the mall. The psychologist of the office. The merry-go-round operator at the fair. However, that day I was feeling particularly open to whosoever the divine bus coordinator (Because when it comes to buses, God has to be delegating this stuff, right?) would give to me. Lemme teya ‘bout it.

Allie, a cute blonde from Minnesota is my first seat companion. She sits down, smiles. We exchange names and a stunted handshake. Our conversation lasts well into the first hour and then drifts away slowly due to the inevitable combo of my awkwardness with girls and the short list of commonalities. I bid her farewell at Hamilton, her transfer point. My next guest is Kane, a hulking, dark man about my age. We talk military and philosophy, kiwi beer and kiwi slang before a seat opens up behind us, and he accepts the relief both of our knees have been begging for. I am glad for the new room for my ten-foot-long legs and my break in decoding Kane’s mumbled kiwi words. My last and most quizzical friend is Maka, a Samoan man. Strandy beard and lacking most of his front teeth. His first 50 words to me after we met were a singular utterance of the word ‘choice’ accompanied by an exaggerated, pumping head nod and a toothless grin. Apparently ‘choice’ is something of a kiwi affirmation. It became clear that Maka had recently smoked a lungful of cigarettes, which exhausted my interest in our prolonged conversation about forestry and his mother. I felt guilty not continuing our talk, but lo! a reassuring calm came over me as I looked out the window at the rolling hills and pine forests of my new home. My exhausted mind was at peace again; glad to be sitting next to Maka, glad to be on this God-forsaken bus, and most of all glad to be amidst the natural beauty of New Zealand.

…..And here I sit behind a plate of eggs and toast, looking at Lake Taupo and drinking a long black, waiting for my 12:15 to Wellington. (Sigh)

The Perfect Cup

14 Jan

Perfectly-dimly-warmly lit room. Warm & cozy, not too hot. Coffee aromas, milk steaming & screaming. A wooden chair & a circular table waiting just for you. Few people can resist this scene. And there’s a reason for that. There is nothing quite like watching a rainy afternoon melt into a grey then black night from the insides of a coffee shop. A good book accompanied by a cup of coffee is never bad for the soul.

Often, my soul requires just that.

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I said before that few people can resist the allure of the coffee shop. This is true and for good reason. However, there are also few people who can experience a coffee shop purely and completely. This may sound snobby. It may sound flat wrong. It’s ok, I understand how you feel because I was there once too. Try reading that 3rd sentence again. Your gut reaction to my bold statement is important. Read on and see what I mean.

Fact: Dan in Real Life is my favorite movie. I find that it narrates my life better than most anything. In the final scene of the film, we join Dan and his three daughters in pursuit of Dan’s-brother’s-ex-turned-Dan’s-new-love-interest at the end of a long, emotional weekend with an eclectic, yet close-knit family. We have come to know Dan as a heady, misunderstood character, but in this final sequence we ignore his past mistakes as we cheer him on to choose his heart over his head. He eventually meets up with Marie at a nearby bowling alley only to be discovered by his family kissing her mere hours after she broke up with his brother.

Yikes.

Many of Dan’s fears and misgivings are necessarily tested in the final scene. He rediscovers his heart and the importance of listening to it. The last bit of the film is a voiceover by Dan himself. We see his car drive over a bridge and into the city to find Marie. We hear his voice reading his first column as a syndicated writer. The topic: plans. Dan and his daughters walk on the rainy sidewalk in front of some glass windows. Dan’s voice continues, saying how we all hope our children make safe, smart decisions and how our plans rarely work out the way we hope. Dan stops in front of the glass window and Marie, who is treadmilling, looks on with a huge, helpless smile as she slows her stride. Dan’s final lines read: So instead of asking our young people “What are you plans? What do you plan to do with your life?” maybe we should tell them this: Plan to be surprised. And the movie ends.

. . . Coffee Shop. . . Dan in Real Life. . . Plans. . .

Let’s connect some dots. I work at this homegrown coffee shop that just exudes homeyness. It is so hard to explain, but it is so real when you feel it. Listen to sound of the name of this place as you read it: Greyhouse. So smooth. Often customers walk in and order a drink in Starbucks language. I lovingly remind them that we are Greyhouse, not Starbucks.  We serve regulars and larges, not talls and ventes. Innocent mistakes. These mix-ups are completely acceptable, even cute at times. They fit well within the atmosphere of grace we try to promote. We think learning is good. However, there is another sort of thing that doesn’t fit so well. Maybe you know what I am talking about, but let me give you a few examples. Things like: hovering right next to the counter like a thirsty hawk when we tell you there is a 15 min wait, taking a crepe without so much as asking if it belongs to you or Bridget or Jimmy, asking why I put your drink in a to-go cup when you asked for it that way but in your mind wanted it otherwise, and the classic “I come here every day, why can’t you do x,y, or z for me?”

Common denominator: Expectations. Every person wants the perfect cup of coffee. Dan’s perfect cup would be obedient daughters and a successful writing career. But what if life actually happened according to our expectations? What if I handed you the perfect cup of coffee every morning? It wouldn’t be so perfect after a while, would it? Sometimes we act like every want and need and expectation of ours has the right to dictate reality. Like, we should get whatever we want and people should recognize this as law. As if our expectations could create a better reality. How wrong is that? How narrow-minded does that sound? It is a refreshing sight to see someone’s perspective broaden. To realize just how small and insignificant expectations are. How limiting they are. How dangerous they can be.

So, I am going to New Zealand for 6 months at the end of January. Do I have expectations? Sure. I expect my plane to stay in the air. I expect that my professors will teach me something about philosophy. I expect people I meet to speak basic English. Maybe this is a better question: Am I forming an ideal New Zealand in my mind? This one is a bit harder. Truth: I am trying very,very,very,very hard to be aware of my expectations. I am trying to limit it to the basics. I am no longer looking for the perfect cup of coffee in New Zealand. You could say I am learning how to live in reality. And I know I am going to mess up. But, I hope I am open to learn. Or at least learning how to learn. And that’s where I’m at.

Learning.

If I want a certain planned-out type of experience, then going to New Zealand is the last place to fulfill that want. Staying at home on my couch is a much easier place to control my reality. Someone at this point wants to ask, “So you are telling me that you can ignore all the information, all the advice, all the stories you have heard and just form basic expectations?” My answer is “No. Ignore is the wrong word. Also, read the last paragraph. I am still learning.”

I know that I have a limited amount of time in NZ so advice and stories are important informers. But not important enough to dictate my reality. I am choosing to “plan to be surprised.” That’s why I am writing this. This is my commitment: To be wise enough to use my expectations and plans to an appropriate extent. And then drop them like a bad habit.

Hey, the end is near. Read on. It gets better from here.

We can help ourselves. And we can help each other. We don’t have to be ruled by expectations. Nor do we have to be rid of them completely.

How?

Go. Do stuff. With people you love.

Listen to people. Be patient with them. Learn from them. Smile at them.

Use your expectations wisely and sparingly. Also, take Dan’s advice: Plan to be surprised.

When you’re wrong, admit it.  Ask for forgiveness. This is hard, I know. But remember, love is greater than fear.

Drink coffee, but don’t expect it to be perfect. Because it won’t be. And that’s ok.

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P.S.  This was a long post, I know. None of my future writings will be this long, I promise. Also, it is up to you to remind me of my own advice when I am in New Zealand buried underneath my plans and unmet expectations. This will be important. I am counting on you.