I stopped blogging long ago to protect our process with Marvin and Rose, to protect Marvin and Rose specifically, and to protect the legal guardianship process in Uganda, generally speaking.  Now that we have been to court and have been granted legal guardianship of them, and have been through the US embassy process and have their visas in hand so we can come home, I can safely rant and rave about them, with no ramifications.  I won’t be talking much at all about the specifics of the process, but if you’re at all interested, it’s a wonderful country to adopt from, and I can hook you up.  shoot me a comment with your email address and we’ll talk.

What I would most like to do tonight, one of my last nights here in Uganda, is to introduce our newest family members to family and friends, who may be wondering what these little people are like.   It really does feel like they’ve been with us forever already — I had a moment where things were really hard, and I had one of those morbid disaster fantasies where I wondered what it would be like if this whole thing didn’t go through, and all I could think of was the emptiness that Mark, Lucy, Dexter and I would feel without Marvin and Rose in our lives.  We have our fair share of uphill climbing to do in the coming months and years, as no adoption comes without an emotional price to pay, but these little ones have already captured our hearts, and are well and truly part of our family. 

So, without further ado, let me introduce Zachary Marvin Nuwarinda Pullyblank and Naomi Rosemary Owembabazi Pullyblank…

Marvin, who we are starting to call Zachary Marvin, and will eventually probably mostly call Zach (except when he’s in trouble, when all four names will be VERY effective, I think) is the cutest, sweetest little guy, who is currently in the process of seeing what exactly he can get away with in this family.  If you know us well, you know that the answer to that is “kind of a lot” but it feels like he’s looking for more concrete boundaries from us, so don’t be surprised to see that we are a little (ok, a lot) more strict with him than with our other kids.   Our other kids did not do well with absolutes, but Marvin seems to crave them, and need the line drawn in the sand for him.  I’m hoping this is a phase, and that he’ll relax into a kid who doesn’t feel the need to challenge me to get my attention, but we shall see… when he does have my attention, he is a really sweet kid who is a lot of fun, very generous, and really affectionate.  He LOVES boda bodas and motocars (motorcycles and any kind of automobile, the bigger the better), kicking a soccer ball, being tickled, listening to music on lucy’s ipod (and today came to me requesting “mama say mama sa ma ma kusa”), helping with laundry, taking showers (ok I feel incredibly guilty for wasting so much water, but he can stay in the shower for hours with a few cups and it gives me a chance to NOT make sure he isn’t pouring water on the floor), SWIMMING (I can’t believe how quickly Ugandan kids go from terrified of water to jumping in and going under with a huge smile on their faces) taunting his little sister with any food or toy he has that she might want, singing songs in Runyankole, and anything with his mama — he very quickly figured out that having a mama is a pretty sweet gig,… oh, and drumming.  he loves drumming, and I’m so happy we went with the slightly larger drum to take home, as he seems pretty musical — one example of this is that he harmonizes with my cell phone every single time it powers up — doesn’t copy the tune, but harmonizes with it.  Maybe it’s a strange brain malfunction, but I find it fascinating.   He can be really challenging when he looks right at me and does exactly the opposite of what I’m telling him to do, but he’s so dang cute when he does it, it’s easy to forgive and forget, which is one of the most important parts of parenting, I think.  He has a hard time going to sleep sometimes, even with me right there with him, and sometimes wakes in the night crying.  He doesn’t speak any english at all, really, and he chatters away in runyankole — I so, so, so wish I could understand him, and communicate more with him about what he is feeling.  He was taught a few english phrases at the orphanage — namely, “how are you?” and “I am fine.” along with “thank you very much” and counting to ten — though he prefers to count in runyankole.  He knows most of the letters (maybe all of them?) in runyankole, and points them out on the computer keyboard.   I feel kind of rude correcting him in english all the time, so we’re letting most things roll in runyankole — one thing I can’t wait to see go is “Impa Impa!!!” which means “give me that!!!”  — that one we’re switching to “please mama?”   He is a very independent kid, and tries to do most everything himself, often to my total frustration.   A few things he has decided he really needs mama to do (but can do perfectly well on his own, but he has never had a mama to do these things for him, so I go along with it) are put on his clothes and shoes, help him up onto chairs and the toilet, and he loves to be carried and held a lot, which is usually really nice.  Other things he wants to do on his own are, cook dinner, program the ipod, do the laundry, and adjust the temperature in the shower.   These are the things I would like him to get help with, and we’re working on “help me please mama?”  He’s doing really well for only having been with us for 3 weeks, and I have faith that in another 3 weeks things will be easier, and in 6 months he’ll be far more relaxed and himself. 

Then there’s Rosie.  She is so aptly named, I can’t quite get it into my head to start calling her anything else, but if we’re adding a name for Marvin, we’re adding a name for Rose, so for now, we’re trying to remember to call her Naomi Rose, but she is more commonly called baby rose.  She was born to be the baby of the family, and manages to be crazy loveable even when she is spitting at you if you’re bugging her or doing something she doesn’t like, or trying to bite you if you’re doing something she REALLY doesn’t like.  But in a really cute way… She has quite the little temper, all the better for letting everyone know what she needs, but she is quick to settle down, even if she doesn’t get her way. She doesn’t hold a grudge, and is crazy smiley most of the time.  Her main interest at this point is bananas.  We make sure to cover her eyes if we drive or walk by bananas that we aren’t planning to purchase and eat right then, because she will freak out if she sees a banana and can’t have it.  Today at 9:30 am I bought a GIANT bunch of bananas (probably around 15 bananas?) and with only a little help from me and kawoya our driver (we each had one) she and Marvin polished off the entire bunch before 5 pm.   They really get each other hyped up about food, whining and crying if food is being prepared and they think the other one might get some and they might get none.  The first few days they were with us, they showed no signs of food insecurity (aside from sort of grabbing at food you offered them) but it’s definitely there, and it can get pretty loud at times.  Zachary Marvin understands “go sit at the table and mama will bring you your food” but he doesn’t always trust that I really will, and so I often find myself making food with little people pulling on me, crying, trying to push each other away from me, and trying to out yell each other.  I probably don’t need to offer up the information that this can be a little difficult at times.   I can’t wait to get home where there are chairs you can strap your children into, so I can give them some fruit or veggie to snack on while I get the other food ready.  Luckily when food time is over, I can wipe them up (to a lot of crying, because rosie hates it when food time is over) and move on to something else, and then we’re good.  

Both kids are really good natured, easy going, and generally awesome kids.   They are still little, and we still have a lot of settling in to do, but we pretty much hit the jackpot with these two.  Can’t wait for you to meet them!!

Lucy and Dexter are doing amazingly well here, and are adjusting to being older siblings really well.  Zachary Marvin is a handful, and while L and D take the kids out to play here at the apartment playground, he really doesn’t listen to them at all, I don’t think.   Naomi Rose gets more attention than she would like at times, and we’re all learning how to co-exist happily.  L, D and I are all so happy to be going home, and while it will be a bit shocking to poor Zachary Marvin and Naomi Rose, I think having the rest of us more relaxed will do wonders for them as well.


Grandpa Verne and Grandma Claudia came and we drove them all the way out to Cape Palliser, because we love it, and that’s what we do.

Tapeka Bay, waaaaaaaaaaaay up in the Bay of Islands.

Lucy took this while playing the brilliant photography scavenger hunt we came up with to keep the kids occupied.  They had to go around and take photos of everything on the list we made, including such items as a white car, a mermaid, dad’s underwear that blew off the porch (and please retrieve those as well), and apparently, a sunset…

After 3 days of relative luxury, we moved our way down to the Sugar Shack at Pakiri Bay.  As you can see, it was awesome.

kiwi bridge to the long, hot, dusty trail to the beach…

ah, sweet relief.

sugar shack, up close and personal…

the two single cabins, kitchen cabin and bathroom cabin next to the sugar shack.

Grandma and Lucy brave the bridge with Pancha

horseback riding on the beach and me without my camera…

view from the kitchen window of the sugar shack.

Borrowed dogs are the best kind of dogs…

Scott and Nadine under the pink Opotiki skies…

East Cape…

East Cape horses…

swimmin’ hole!  smart kids wait to see if the adults get eaten before getting in…

A very kiwi New Years eve at Tokomaru Bay.  despite being awoken in the middle of the night by drunken horse-drivers who were waaaaaaaay too close to our tent for my liking, it was paradise!

Good morning 2010!

Lucy woke up with me to watch the first sunrise of 2010 and my 35th birthday!  It would be more accurate to say she got up with me, as none of us were sleeping as a result of having decided to camp in the very spot where the locals welcome the first sunrise of the year with really loud music!

Surfing in Gisborne…

belated birthdays!

here you go Kea, sorry it took so long…

for Dexter’s birthday (waaaaay back in august), we had a ‘star wars’ themed party, complete with yoda soda, tattoweenies, jawa juice and jabbamole, among other cute foods I can’t recall… we had friends over, we battered the death star pinata mark and I made, and had general good times.   unfortunately most of our photos were accidentally deleted, but here are a few of the highlights of his special day…

gift opening…

cake, of course… yes, that’s obi wan kenobe watching over a luke skywalker/darth vader battle.  Dex was a little mad that I wrote ‘use the force dexter’ because that’s not anywhere in the movie, obviously.

…and that’s about all we have from that day.  oops.   erased were the photos of the total excitement in opening his lego star wars guys, the death star pinata battle, and lots of other great photos of our friends who came to celebrate.  oh well, waddya gonna do.

We do have all of our photos from Lucy’s party, and here are a few highlights…

we took our neighborhood friends, some homeschool friends, and lucy’s theatre class to a movie theatre, which supplied snacks, drinks and lollies…

we supplied the cakes… the theme of this year’s cakes were  homemade party = storebought cake, movie theatre party = homemade cakes.  go figure…

and once they were all full of sugar, we sat them in a theatre for an hour and a half and suffered through ‘aliens in the attic’.  they loved it, of course.

two very fun parties, two very fun kids, who have somehow grown to the ripe old ages of 8 and 10.  amazing!

But first… for our regularly scheduled “Check Out This Crazy Insect” segment, we found this tiny guy with a giant fluffy tail in our bathroom….


you can tell how tiny he is in this photo by comparing him to the size of the dust particles on the inch-wide ledge we found him on…


While we’re in the bathroom, I might as well also show you how Mark has converted it into a recording studio…


ok then, on to the main event!

A few weeks ago we decided it was time for another road trip, and set off for the Coromandel Peninsula.   The original plan was to camp, but wouldn’t you know it, the only part of New Zealand that got rain that weekend was the Coromandel Peninsula!   We decided to book a room at Hahei Holiday Beach Resort, to stay dry and have warm showers to come home to, as we were determined to play in the ocean one last time before summer came to an end!

We left town on a Friday after work and drove to Lake Taupo, where we enjoyed a hotel room with it’s own natural mineral pool in a small, private courtyard right outside the bedroom door.  Unfortunately, the pool was empty when we arrived, and it took about an hour to get it 1/2 filled with warmish water (the hot water came out in a very slow trickle) so while we did enjoy having it there, it ended up being a quick lukewarm dip before bed.

Saturday morning we set off for Hahei Beach (which we neglected to take a photo of, but you can see several by clicking here), and were pleased to arrive (in the rain and quite happy we had booked a room!) at a gorgeous beach perfect for the R&R we had planned.

The main attractions were a hike to Cathedral Cove…










burning our butts at Hot Water Beach, where you dig a pit and wallow in the hotspring water that gurgles up from the sand…


or jump into pits that people have abandoned… but watch out for the hot spots, mark ended up with a red patch on his leg from getting too close to a ‘vent’


or you can actually give up digging your own pit and take over one that a nice family vacates shortly after you arrive…



But I think the highlight was a gorgeous day in the sunshine at Stingray Beach.  We had hoped to snorkel at Gemstone Bay (and rented all the gear for it) but with all the runoff from the recent rain we heard that the visibility wouldn’t be great, and when we arrived there the weather was a little too chilly to make jumping into the large waves pounding the big rocks all that appealing, so we continued on our hike to Stingray Bay, which was gorgeous, and in true New Zealand weather fashion, the sun came out and we all had a wonderful time in the waves…









see how much fun it was?



Definitely an area we’d like to visit again!!  Anyone want to join us?

until next time,

the pullyblanks

After the golden sandy beaches of Marahau and the Abel Tasman Park, our next stop would be Golden Bay.   We didn’t have any kind of reservation lined up for a campsite or lodging, and we were there during the busiest camping season of the year, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.   To make matters less fun, my recurring stiff/painful neck issue reared it’s ugly head when we were packing up our campsite at Marahau, so over the course of the long, twisty drive to Golden Bay, it grew worse and worse.  We had hoped to go horseback riding in the Golden Bay area, but somehow I didn’t think riding a horse would be good for my cranky neck.  Not to mention the fact that we had nowhere to sleep that night, and life was a little stressful when we pulled into Takaka.   Takaka, being a very laid-back hippie artist town, solved that problem fairly quickly, though — it’s hard to be stressed out in Takaka.

We inquired at the DOC site about possible camping sites, and were told that everything was full, there was nowhere to camp, other than a makeshift overflow area near the river/highway junction.  As there was a music festival nearby, we assumed that would be full of yahoos (nothing against yahoos, we just weren’t in the mood) so we went to the i-site, where there was a huge line-up of people seeking accomodation.  Miraculously, the woman who helped us “suddenly remembered” a little guesthouse up the road, with a swimming pool, horses, and really friendly owners, and luckily, they had room for us for two nights.  We arrived at Larry and Jennie’s house, and they welcomed us warmly, their son Tomai quickly ushered our kids into the house to play LEGO, and not too long after, everyone was in the pool… actually, Dexter said it was too cold (the blubberless among us have a hard time with very cold water) and I opted for a refreshing and cleansing shower, but Lucy and Mark and Tomai the resident child and his two friends all enjoyed themselves in the pool.

We all enjoyed our cottage,


the gardens,



the whari (the home that Larry’s great-great grandfather built in 1857 as a new immigrant from Sweden for himself and the wife and two boys that followed),


the inside of the whari…


and the view from our bedroom windows.



We did not enjoy the omnipresent sandflies that were chewing away at our ankles and feet, but we did our best to ignore them.  I’m still carrying their trademarks…

As luck would have it, Larry and Jennie were having a big bonfire that night, so Mark took the kids up the road to that while I stayed back and rested my weary neck and read a book.  The bonfire turned out to be ENORMOUS, and lots of fun for all.



The next day was somewhat gray and dreary and misty and spitty, so we went for a drive to the opposite end of the Abel Tasman Park than we had seen before, to the massive but remote campsite at Totaranui.  I had called months before about camping here, but it is so popular they open up for bookings in July, and you just hope you can get through to make a reservation.   We could see why, even on a dreary day, it was a great place to spend the last day of the year!



That night was New Year’s Eve, and we celebrated in grand style, doing a puzzle of New Zealand, the kids cracked open the ‘Times Tables’ CD and workbook they got for Christmas (when you homeschool you can get away with these kinds of Christmas gifts — they had a grand old time singing and learning all about multiplication, and I had a little joy in my heart seeing that this crazy scheme seems to be working after all…), and Lucy and I finished off the night reading (different) books about Mary, Queen of Scots, coincidentally.  I think we might have stayed awake until all of 10 pm, and drifted off to sleep content with how 2008 had wrapped up.  It didn’t turn out anything like what I had envisioned at the beginning, but it was good for all of us nonetheless.

The next morning, after Larry and Jennie gave me a lovely birthday gift of chocolate covered almonds, we set off for Nelson.  Since it was my birthday, we treated ourselves to pints and hot fudge sundaes at a Mac’s Brewery, and went to see Madagascar 2, since High School Musical 3 wasn’t playing…no, I’m not kidding, I can’t get enough of that Troy Bolton!  ok, I’m kinda kidding now…



We were lucky enough to catch a ‘Flight of the Concords’ marathon to fall asleep to in our cozy hotel room.   We were all over these guys back in Canada, but here in New Zealand I think you have to wait a while for new episodes to appear, even online.  Blah.   On a somewhat more amusing note, when I hear certain people speaking kiwi for a length of time, it sometimes reminds me of Murray, and I giggle a little, which is fun for me, but probably not for the person I’m talking to.  anyway…

When we woke up, it was time to go see my old friend Jennie Rees from my Chico Sports Club days, who is now Mrs. Ricciardi, the performing arts teacher, wife to Andrew, mom to Ella and Maya, and just as much fun as ever.




We hiked up to the ‘Center of New Zealand’ monument,



saw a tui bird (usually you hear tui birds, but this one was even visible enough to photograph!),



found a lovely bug,


and capped it off with lunch at a beachside cafe.  Nelson is a beautiful town, and I can see why Jennie and Andrew have given up their North American luxuries (like decent peanut butter, sorry kiwis) to stay there!

We had hoped to make it further south, to Queenstown and Lake Wanaka region, to see the Fox Glacier, Milford Sound… I could go on and on about what we haven’t seen yet… but did I mention how twisty every single road here is?  I would be curious to know what the longest stretch of straight road in New Zealand is… not far, I’m guessing, and I bet there is only one of them.  We opted for seeing less of the country and being in each place longer, and that pace was perfect for us.  I would love to head back to the Abel Tasman park and “tramp” in and stay in the huts they have along the trail, but we shall see how this New Zealand adventure plays out.  When we came home our trampoline, drums, guitar and piano arrived (thanks BC educational allotment!), so I’m not sure Mark and the kids will ever want to leave the house again…

All in all, it was a fabulous trip, and once we recover, we’ll start planning a journey on the North Island!

Happy New Year from the AmeriCanaKiwi Pullyblanks!


Greymouth was uneventful for us, as we essentially stayed long enough to eat, sleep, wake, eat, fill up with petrol (kiwi word of the day), and head north.  It was a gorgeous, hot day, and the scenery, once again, did not disappoint.


One of the main differences between New Zealand and the rest of the world is that New Zealand has no indigenous land mammals other than the seal, so birds sort of took the place of small mammals in the ecosystem.  There are a lot of flightless (or relatively flightless) birds here, that forage on the ground, and seem more like giant rodents than birds.  We encountered our first roadside Weka, though, in truth, I think this was taken the night before, on the road from Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth, but I didn’t want to leave the little guy out, so here he is…


One of our stops along the way was to see the famed “Pancake Rocks” at Punakaiki, and while we didn’t see them in their full, high-tide glory, we are a family who appreciates a good geological display, and were so glad we stopped…








After getting our fill of crazy rocks and Dr. Seuss trees, we hit the road and didn’t stop (ok, we stopped once for ice cream) until we got to Marahau, and pitched our tent at ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’



We were right next to a small river, and more importantly, right next to Abel Tasman National Park, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth, without a doubt.   We found a few different ways to pass our time there…



The highlight of our time there, though, was awesome burgers at the Fat Tui.

No, actually, that was pretty good, but much to our surprise, the Powers That Be wouldn’t let us rent kayaks for a day, because our kids were under 14.  14!!!  We’ve kayaked several times with our kids, and the water here seemed calmer than a few of our outings off the coast of BC (remember THAT uncles?!?!?), and seeing as how the kiwis are usually pretty lax about safety issues, we were more than a little surprised and disappointed, and not at all beligerent with the kayak rental staff in our frustration.  Not. At. All.   We chalked it up to the fact that the conditions change so rapidly, thereby making it unsafe for kids to go out of the protected bay they offered us for an hour’s kayak amid swimmers and not much else.  nah.

So, we moved on to plan B, which was taking a water taxi into Abel Tasman park, which was a lot less effort anyway, right?   Along the way we enjoyed (or endured, depending on whether you were a pullyblank with control issues or not) another boat ride, and saw Split Apple Rock.



Then they dropped us off with our swim gear and food and beverages on the beach at Te Pukatea Bay, where we lounged, ate and drank, swam and sandcastled…





…until it was time to set off on our 30 minute “tramp” across the Pitt head Peninsula from Te Pukatea Beach to Anchorage Beach…


…where we met up with a Kereru, or New Zealand pigeon…


…and landed on Anchorage Bay for more fun in the sun while we waited for our water taxi to take us back to camp.


We all swam and lounged, dexter busied himself building a sandcastle city…


…and then toyed with the idea of total destruction of his newly created empire.  He leapt around amidst the villagers for about 10 minutes without once damaging any of the lodgings.  (Seriously?  you don’t want to smash even a few of them?  You’re a better monarch than I, my friend)…


…and just generally enjoyed this little slice of heaven.  We all felt really lucky to be here that day.

that’s it for tonight, I’m extending this to a 4 part post, and wishing for more time in the day!!

With new teddies in hand, we set off from Christchurch (where we saw only the outskirts and only spent one night in a holiday park/campsite right in town) to the Banks Peninsula, where we would be camping for 3 days over Christmas.


We didn’t really know anything about the area, so imagine our delight when it turned out to look like this:


These two photos are of Akaroa Bay.   In the next one, you can see the mouth of the bay, where it opens up to the Pacific Ocean.


This was one of those drives where you have to stop every few minutes to take a photo, because it is just so breathtakingly gorgeous!


To get to our campsite, we had to drive “over the hill” away from the Bay, on the twistiest, lovliest road, with crazy switchbacks and no shoulder or guard rails at all, and a few friendly locals…


We arrived at Okains Bay to find a really windy ocean front campsite, with pine trees and a great adventure playground for the kids, a dirt bike track that made us wish we had brought the bikes after all, but no clear indication of actual “sites” like we have in california and canada.  you just sort of throw your tent up wherever you like, so we drove around the campsite looking for our perfect spot to spend Christmas.  We ended up with a beautiful spot right on a river/estuary that led to the ocean just a quick walk up the beach.  This is the view from our site:


It was “beachfront”, but protected from the wind.  It had a great estuary to explore, a cool cave to look at, and best of all, entertaining sheep watching.  In short, we couldn’t have been happier with where we landed.


The kids loved the flying fox…


the beach was beautiful!



and the sand was perfect for drawing “google monsters”, who have two mouths, because they can be happy and sad at the same time, by the way…



On Christmas Eve, we went on a dolphin finding boat (too cold for the dolphin swim for us) and saw the world’s smallest dolphins, the Hector’s Dolphin.


there were a bunch of them, swimming all around the boat, but very hard to photograph!



In addition to dolphins, we saw “cathedral cave” and the stunning scenery of Akaroa bay.






The boat then took us just outside the bay, to look for penguins (which did not cooperate) and more seals.    The baby seals were very entertaining to watch, but hard to photograph (for my camera anyway) from a moving boat.  They spent a lot of time scrambling up and falling down the steep rocks…


The boat ride itself was lots of fun, but our two kids had slightly different reactions…



After our boat trip, we made our way back over the twisty road, stopping again for more photos, of course…


…and worried that the rain in Akaroa would be much worse back at our campsite, but we were really lucky with the weather our whole trip, and it was lovely back at camp.  We went to bed and waited for Santa to come in the night.  We did hear something rustling around in our garbage, but we’re pretty sure it was a possum, though maybe Santa was looking for the “meat pie and beer” that kiwis leave out in lieu of cookies and milk, according to our kiwi christmas books…


oh, and here is the uniquely kiwi christmas wrapping paper I used…


… anyway, christmas morning in the tent…


We spent the day playing “Monopoly: World Edition”, doing laundry, making new friends, and just enjoying this kiwi camping christmas.  We really missed our family and friends, but we also enjoyed this very special, once in a lifetime holiday season.

We left Okains Bay feeling pretty ready to go home, actually.  Little did we know how much fun we’d have over the next week.   We got a late start heading out from Okains Bay, after packing everything up and tracking down a family we had made friends with to say goodbye, it was about noon by the time we left our campsite.  Our plan was to head over to Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island, via Arthur’s Pass.   We didn’t know anything about them beforehand, but were compelled to stop and have a quick look at the Castle Hill Rock Formations:







The rest of the drive was beautiful forest, but it was rainy and gray, and we took no photos.  When we got to the village of Arthur’s Pass, it was about 5 pm and raining buckets, so we really wanted to grab a hotel room and stay, especially since Arthur’s Pass is a good place to see Kea birds and hear Kiwi birds at night.  Being Boxing Day, the entire village was booked up, so we stopped long enough to get a hot chocolate, see (and later regret that we hadn’t taken a picture of — sorry Kea!) the liquor store called “the wobbly Kea” and move along to a little hotel in Greymouth.   It was nice to sit in a hot tub, take a nice long shower, and watch a movie.  ah, roughing it!

I’ll save the rest for next time, as there seem to be small people here wanting lunch!