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DONATE HERE: If you wish to send support for God's Work in Uganda, please click here! Every donation is deeply appreciated.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Foggy Days

Driving home last night, through patches of fog and over occasional icy spots, my mind was whirling with all the events happening in my life right now. While my eyes were checking all the dark places on the side of the rural roads - for deer, cats, snowmobiles, or anything that might even bring entertainment to my three hour drive, my thoughts were jumping from Christmas, to writing research papers, to shifts at work, but mostly of my dear Aunt Roely.

My precious Aunt was called home to be with Jesus on Christmas Day and it was a shock to us all. I would consider her my twin sister, just a generation apart. She was an amazing woman and one that was an incredible model of a Kingdom Servant. For the past few days, while spending time with the extended family in Huron County, I have cried, laughed, encouraged, and been encouraged. I was so glad when one of my cousins called and asked if I would help prepare a meal for the immediate family during the two visitations scheduled on Tuesday. Absolutely!

As soon as I could leave a night shift on Tuesday morning I headed for Lake Huron and caught up with a few of my cousins to prepare huge batches of lasagne. We kept thinking that Aunt Roely would have been one of the key people in making sure our physical needs were met. It was an honour to cook, cut up veggies, set tables, and do dishes for a crowd of 50 people... all close family.

Yesterday morning, after waking up to the joyful sounds of triplets who just turned one, I ate breakfast with a few cousins and then wrote a paper. Since I am going out on the mission field long term I have a lot more pre-field training and requirements. The paper I plugged away on was about assessing my spiritual gifts. Encouraging, teaching, giving, compassion, serving... all are a part of who I am, and as I was pondering about who I am, I was also able to ponder about how to use my gifts this week to minister to those around me.

Yesterday afternoon was the funeral. The church was packed! People sat in the basement and watched the service on a tv screen. Tears flowed down my face as Aunt Roely’s life was remembered. I had the privilege of reading a very missional passage during some very touching songs. James 1:19-27 is a solid piece to chew on. I was glad that I could speak clearly and share God’s Word with those attending.

Foggy patches have covered my life over the past few days, but thankfully I have the peace of knowing God is in control; I am surrounded by friends and family who care, and I have other tasks to keep my mind focused on. Today I will be researching another paper on Team Dynamics. I will be heading back to the normalcy of work at the group home. And through all of this I am clearly seeing that God is calling me back to Uganda.

I am excited to teach the children, encourage the former child soldiers, share with those in need, love the hurting, and participate in a variety of ministries with an amazing team. I am hoping to go back by April, and that will only happen if I have all of my funds raised or pledge. I am grateful for the financial gifts and the uplifting prayers that have been given already, but there is still a long way to go.

If you are able to help sponsor me financially, I would truly appreciate it. To my knowledge, I have about 9% of the one-time donations raised. I need to raise $39,471. And I have about 2% of the monthly support needed, which is $3100. If you would like a Canadian or American tax receipt for 2010, please send your support before the end of December 31.

Canadians can donate here.
Americans can donate here. Please put "Karen Lubbers - Uganda" as the designate.

Thank you!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Random Highlights

Searching through boxes of photographs, I was trying to find one of a fishing trip with my Aunt Roely... of course, I couldn't find that one (in hard copy) but I did find a few other treasures.
 Traveling back to Christmas 1998... I had gone to a College Christmas banquet.  I went with a few of my buds - Kevin and Josh.  We were sitting with staff and faculty at a corner table, and it was one of those rare times when I was facing the corner.  Usually I love facing the crowd.  Well, half way though the meal Josh said, "I need to use the washroom."  He was only gone twenty seconds when Kevin said he had to go too.  Hmm, strange that men would say that... usually it's the women who visit in the powder room.  I soon went back to eating and talking though.
Minutes later, out of the corner of my right eye, I saw a line-up of men walking towards my table.  I started to blush... you see... these were my buds.  I normally played basketball with them, or went out for pizza and drinks at a place called Fred's Pizza, but on this Friday night, my FRIENDS decided to treat me like a lady.  A dozen guys surround my table, in front of 150 people, each holding a long stem rose.  O my goodness... for me?!!  Slowly each one comes over, gives me a hug and places the rose on my plate... I have never felt more adored than that night!
 This was from the Philippines, summer 2003 when I led a team of 12 young people on Summer Missions Project.  We focused on basketball ministries and HIV/Aids trainings.
 Here I am enjoying a fresh coconut, plucked moments before from a tall palm tree.
One special day, when I was tutoring in the Philippines, I was invited out to the farm of an acquaintance - a man who baked fresh bread for a few of us missionaries.  This man asked us to come out to his home one morning, because a new tourist attraction was being celebrated just outside of Cagayan de Oro City, in Mindanao.  White-water Rafting was being promoted and the President of the country was coming to promote the grand opening.  Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was coming!!
Two of my students, their mother, and I race down a mountain road to catch the festivities... we parked up top not knowing if our vehicle could handle the rough roads.  Hearing choppers in the distance we raced even faster and got there just in time to be covered in sweat when the rotating blades kicked up freshly grated dirt.  We looked like Filipinos and felt awful... and to top it off, there was no president.  A second helicopter landed - no president.
A small crowd had gathered along the shore... washing our faces in the river, we noticed a few rafts coming down the river.  Gloria was in one of the rafts!!  She stepped out of her boat just 10 feet from me.  Wow!  A short lady, 4'11" if I'm not mistaken... and full of smiles.  She shook hands with a few of us, made a media announcement, signed some papers and then boarded one of the choppers and disappeared. 
The four of us made our way over to our friends house then to have some coconut water and fellowship.  Maybe twenty minutes after the choppers left soldiers started appearing... from up the river, out of the woods.  I had no idea we were surrounded - just to protect the president.  They all gathered on our friend's property and waited for the military truck to pick them up.  I was able to take a few snaps with these handsome soldiers before they invited the four of us to ride up the mountain on their truck.  We all sat in the back.  Four of us with big smiles on our faces, and the men relaxing in their camo gear, holding machine guns and talking quietly.  By mid afternoon, our adventure was over... but the memories will last forever.

Christmas Pleasures

Driving to my brother's house on Sunday morning, I caught a glimpse of the Mennonites gathering at their church for a Christmas service.  Simplicity.
 Hanging out with my parents, siblings and their kids, we had a good afternoon sharing a meal and playing!  Santa brought his regular brown paper candy bags with an orange inside for each of us.  Wii was entertaining for all of us, as we have competitive spirits - bowling, baseball skills, or Family Feud... we were laughing, encouraging, (and teasing) one another.  It was good to have some joy in the middle of a storm.

A Saint has Left Us

Aunt Roely Verburg
Christmas night, I was just finishing a scrumptious dinner roast with my parents, brother Rick, and my Grandpa Lubbers when the phone rang.  At 7:02 pm I answered the phone and took the shocking news that my precious Aunt Roely had gone home to be with Jesus.  A serious heart attack ended her life on earth and rocked our family.  Death is never easy, but for me, Christmas has changed it's meaning.  I am so glad that we decided not to exchange gifts this year... it would have seemed tacky.  I just rejoice in the fact that Aunt Roely loved JESUS!!  He is the reason for the Christmas Season. 

Aunt Roely was an amazing woman - a faithful wife, a wonderful mother of 5, a loving grandmother of 15, and a friend to many.  Roely was a caring social worker and an active church member.  Those were her roles, but her personality was so much more.  Aunt Roely laughed easily and loved to tour God's creation.  Her home was often opened for family gatherings and she was a woman of prayer.  Two years ago my Uncle Henry passed away, and during that time, Aunt Roely said... "just so you all know, when I die, I am going to Heaven!!"  We all are grateful for her close walk with the Lord.

The next few days and weeks to come will not be easy as a family.  Visitations and a funeral will take up a lot of our emotions.  I truly feel for my cousins and older relatives.  I am thankful that God is our Rock and source of peace!  I request prayers for my dear Dad as he now only has one sibling left.  Dad has often remarked that I remind him of Aunt Roely a lot - with my mannerisms, allergies, and "evil looks" that I give when I am frustrated, mischievous, or bossy.  :)  I hope that those looks will not be bad memories for him, but a time to cherish his much-loved sister.

To read today's memorial in the London Free Press, click here

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Italian Christmas

Last night I had a wonderful evening with my extended family.  Many of the Benjamins family clan gathered together to laugh, talk, taalkk, taaalllllllkkk, TALK, play, eat, and more.  This year we met at Brantford Christian School so that the younger generations could run around the gym or go sledding outside.  Earlier this year, I counted the clan with one of my cousins - we are now up to 71 energetic, intelligent, good looking people.  :)  So it was a huge crowd to feed last evening, even though only about 45 people were present.  We decided to do something easy this year and order Double Double Pizza or Al Dente's Italian Food.  Yum Yum.

Around 8:30 at night we circled the chairs and had a time of singing Christmas carols.  We even sung the traditional Dutch song of "Ere Zij God".  As I sat there, watching the family try to out do eachother with melodies,  I was filled with appreciation.  How amazing that we can all sing together, listen to God's Word and pray!  I am going to miss family Christmas' for the next two years, since I plan on being in Uganda... so this was a great send off Christmas party.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Tis the Season

Tucking in to bed at 2:15 am I knew I had to set the alarm to get all of the day's activities completed.  I just came home from a Christmas/birthday party at a friend's house and was having a hard time falling asleep.  When the alarm chimed at 9am I felt refreshed enough to approach the day. 
Jumping out of bed, I open my bedroom door to see gifts and food baskets spread throughout the recreation room.  I had the privilege of sorting out all the items that my Thursday morning Bible study group collected.  Through NeighbourLink we found out that three needy families really needed help for Christmas.  The ladies had a blast buying presents for 8 children and food for the three single moms to feed these young ones.
As soon as my packages were complete I headed out the door and dropped off the Christmas parcels.  It was very humbling to knock on their doors and shower them with gifts from Christian women who care.

I must admit though, that I was a little bit embarrased when I accidentally dropped off one family's presents to the wrong home, and didn't figure that out til I was 15 minutes away.  I had to go back and exchange the gifts.  Thankfully the mother was very understanding.

From there I went to a dear friend's house to enjoy a delicious, yet filling, brunch with her precious family.  I went to plan a "Coffee That Counts" Coffee House that is being planned for January 7th.  Holly and I are both heading out on the mission field in the next couple of months so we are hosting a fun fundraiser.  Stay tuned for details.

Continuing on my way, the day filled with lots of activities - picking up homework books that finally arrived at Chapters, and stopping by a local real estate business to obtain a support cheque that they blessed me with.  I bought a few Dutch treats for friends for Christmas and then went home to begin yet another paper.

Coming in the door, my brother yells down the stairs, "Hello Miss Inspiration!"
"What?" I ponder.  He goes on to say that my Happy Unwedding friends called to say that my chicken was in the crockpot and they were inviting me over for dinner.  :)  How fun!  So at 5 pm I head out the door again to enjoy the evening with friends and their extended family.

A perfect day, but now I'm ready to crash... to be refreshed for going to God's House in the morning.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Bear Den

Coming home from work on Saturday night, I had the strangest feeling come over me.  I felt like I was the only Bear returning to the den, to find that Godilocks had been to the house.  You see, my bedroom opens in to the family rec room in the basement, and so it's in the heart of the action.  Three things caught my eye:
  1. My bedroom door was off  its hinges and the small writers desk was pulled away from the wall.  An organizers rack with 50 pockets, which normally hangs on the door was lying on my bed, threatening to spill necklaces, nail cutters, hairclips and more.  The room smelled like paint and I soon noticed that the trim and the door had a fresh coat of paint on it.  Culprit: PapaBear
  2. Laundry was folded and placed in three different piles on top of my bed.  A pile from each color load into which the clothes were seperated.  Culprit: MamaBear
  3. The Christmas tree was up and decorations were spread around the basement den.  The lights sparkled in front of the newly hung blinds.  The sound system was playing Christmas music and my computer was scrolling scenes of memories gone past.  The seasons festivities have begun.  Culprit: BabyBear
I realize it was not a stranger in our house, but I must admit, my first thought was: I've been invaded.  Then I rejoiced that my family cares so much to make a difference... they love me, help me out, and bring joy to my days, whether I am home or not.  Thank God for my family!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Home Work

Dear friends, I often desire to post fun blogs, but not every day is an adventure.  We all have days when life is just hard work!  So let me share with you what I've been working on lately. 
1. I continue being a support worker, between 30-40 hours per week.
2. I wrote my support letter after receiving my budget for returning long term to Uganda.
3. I just put close to 250 snail mail letters in the mail, with my support letters inside and stuffed church mailboxes
4. I have 10 homework assignments, due by January 18th - some involve reading books and other involve interviewing immigrants.  I completed one paper already - a Country Assignment.  Here I some interesting facts that I learned:

Karen’s Ugandan Overview Assignment

This was an insightful assignment, as I have gained a deeper appreciation for where I will be heading. Uganda is a poor country, with 35% living below the poverty line. It’s next door neighbour, Rwanda, is even poorer, with 60% below the poverty line. These two were the poorest of all the countries I studied, with Uganda’s GDP being $312.04 and Rwanda’s being $269.74. I also looked at Cameroon, which is on the same continent. The population is half way between Rwanda and Uganda, but it has a much higher GDP, at $1098.31. Religions were mainly Catholic and Protestant in Rwanda and Uganda, but in Cameroon, the Indigenous beliefs topped the charts.

The African countries had the worst transportation statistics, with 2-4 vehicles per 100 people, where as it goes up from there around the world. India has 12/100, Ecuador has 44/100, Ukraine has 98/100, Canada (which I studied because that is where I am from) has 563/100 and USA shockingly has 765/100.

All of the countries have a debt, but I found it surprising that Ecuador had such a high national income, at 13+ billion dollars. Age Distributions primarily show a pyramid pattern, but the Ukraine, USA, and Canada show a more box-like looking pattern, with the ages starting to even out or even decrease. I also noticed that Ukraine has more women than men, and in India the life expectancy is a lot higher.

I was surprised to see how much agriculture each country produces. There is a lot of diversity between crops. I was shocked to see that the US is the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide, but I guess that shouldn’t be surprising when one notices the number of vehicles. Both Canada and the US are very high producers in acid rain and air pollution.

I found it sad that deforestation, soil erosion, desertification and overgrazing were seen in all of the countries except for in North America. Small populations in large areas verses large populations in small areas and illegal exporting might explain some of these insights. I also found it sad that Yemen, at 15.1%, and Rwanda, at 35.7%, have people living for under $1/day.

I have gained a greater understanding of how hard Ugandan’s and Rwandans struggle to survive or even do their work. I will pray that Christianity will become the major religion in Uganda (and all the countries!) and that those of us who are called to serve will be strong and courageous in our faith.

I will also pray for the many babies who are born that will not make it past the first couple of years of their lives, due to sickness, disease, and war. I will pray for peace to reign, for governments to be honest and civil. I will give thanks for serving in a more democratic country, and I will pray for those who are serving in Yemen under Turkish Islamic law.

I am glad that God calls us each to different countries and I see the need to pray for the whole world because problems abound everywhere. Border disputes, missiles, religious conflicts, and more fill people’s time, but I long for the day when we will all be worshipping the King of kings!

... well, that's enough of a break for me... I must get back to work!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Writer's Nest

Please click here to read a post by my friend Belinda.  We were both at a Writer's Club Christmas party together.  A wonderful evening out!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happiness in Hamilton

It's never very long before I need to hang out with friends and / or explore new places.  Yesterday was another perfect example and I was looking forward to it all week.  I met a friend at 10 am and she hopped in my warm car as I was familiar with the Hamilton area.  No traffic brought us all the way to the Hamilton airport in an hour and a half. 
This time I did not have a ticket to anywhere except the Warplane Heritage Museum.
For the first twenty minutes, I read lots of history about planes and G-force suits and war barracks, and then I pushed open the doors to a hanger full of aircrafts.  Awesome!
A few of the planes we were able to climb up in, and receive explanations from volunteer veterans.  This one was my favourite - the Avro.
An hour and a half later we made our way out of the museum, filled with new knowledge and wonder for planes, air force life, and flying dynamics.  Lunch was the perfect activity to do next.  I sort of knew my way around Hamilton without a map, so we drove through Mount Hope, over the LINC, down the mountain escarpment, until we found a restaurant we had never eaten at before.  Both of us wanted to be adventurous and we just happened to pick a Dim Sum authentic Chinese Restaurant.
By pointing to pictures and checking off on a list, we ordered our delicious meal at the Crystal Dynasty.
With full bellies, we drove just a few moments up the road to Dundurn Castle.  Dundurn is the fantastic home of Sir Allen Napier McNab.  Joining a guided tour group, we explored three levels of modern castle, all dressed in Christmas decor.  With fun games placed throughout the castle.
Game #1 - a tray with raisins is placed in the centre of the table.  Some brandy is poured over the raisins and then lit on fire with the candles.  Then the race begins.  Everyone participating is supposed to grab as many raisins, one by one, as they can before the flames die down.  A game of courage!  AKA Snap-dragon.
Game #2 - I would call Bobbing for Buttons Jenga Style.  This is the description: Pack flour into a bowl and place a plate on top of the bowl.  Carefully tip the bowl over and take the bowl off. You should have a perfect nice round flour hill. Put the penny or button on top. Take turns cutting a chunk of the flour off with the knife. Try to keep the penny or button on the top of the flour. Eventually the price will fall. The persons who made it fall has to pick the penny or button up with their teeth (no hands allowed).
To finish off the tour, we bundled up and marched over to the Military Museum.  There was some discussion around this poster.  Do you think that the mother who gave up her son to war looks somewhat like how Mother Mary would have cradled Jesus?  Just curious.
To complete our day away, we went to an artisans festival at the Freeway Cafe.  All the vendors were raising money to support missions in Uganda.  I was able to hang out with my team-mates from last year... Sarah and Josiah Bokma.  Sarah is the very talented artist of the above two paintings. 
On the way home, I was chatting up a storm so much that I missed the 427 exit and ended up driving along the waterfront in downtown Toronto, catching a glimpse of the CN Tower lit up like a candycane, and come up the East side of Newmarket on the 404.  Only to be stopped by a ride program at the end of the freeway.  But no worries Mr. Police Officer... I haven't been drinking.  I dropped my friend off at 10:50pm and headed for home.  A great day away!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Uganda Again

I am absolutely delighted that I am heading back to the foreign mission field.  I am planning to go back to Uganda for at least another two years.  I hope to train church leaders in children's programs and disciple young people.  I plan on spending more time with former child soldiers, doing Freedom Camps, so that they can find Spiritual Freedom from their oppressive and troublesome pasts.  Everything is falling back in to place, but here is what I need to do before I can consider leaving Canada:
1. Attend the International Teams 5 week training in Elgin, Illinois.
2. Take an on-line course put on by Freedom in Christ ministries.
3. Organize my belongings.
4. Spend time with family and continue working at the group home.
5. And raise full support.  This is where you come in... I need people to support me financially and with prayers and encouragement before and as I go out. 
If you would like to partner with me in this amazing opportunity, please pray about how much support you are willing to help out with.  One time donations, monthly, quarterly, etc... all gifts are greatly appreciated and are tax deductable.  Please place my name: Karen Lubbers in the Designation section.
For Canadians to give, please click here.
For Americans to give, please click here.

I will definitely keep you updated as to what my future looks like!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Unwedding Day

Last night, a dear friend of mine came over to chat and hang out.  It was supposed to be the night before her wedding, but due to some difficult circumstances, the wedding had to be postponed.  I was going to be (and still hope to be) her bridesmaid.  Mom and Dad were going to a fundraising gala, so I decided to put on my dress and celebrate for just a few moments with them.... I also wanted to show the bride my dress.
 This morning I woke up to the sound of the phone ringing.  The bride wanted me to come hang out for the day with her and her fiance and family.  I headed over to her fiance's house and soon learned that he was a pig farmer, who also raised 18 chickens and roosters.  He came in the house moments after my arrival, saying that he thought one of the hens was going to die.  I offered two suggestions - to wrap the wound, since the bird looked injured, or to end the birds life.  Option B was chosen after we took a closer look.
 Moments later, the chicken was taken out of its misery, and I hung out in the livingroom.  :)  This cool chair made me feel like royalty.  For a couple of hours, while the chicken was hanging in the shed, we went to a huge market.  We had a great time walking around, checking out all the wares and fashions.  Then back to the house to prepare the bird for the freezer.  It was a year ago since I had been a part of turkey's preparation for Thanksgiving.  I set a big pot of water on to boil and soon we were de-feathering and I was butchering.  It felt great to be helpful!  While the bride-to-be was on the phone, she said, "O ya, Karen is here, and she is from Africa!"  I had to chuckle.  The groom was impressed with my Fear Factor bravery and thanked the bride for having such a fun friend. 

For a few hours I disappeared so that I could go to a birthday party for a sweet four year old girl.  When the celebration was over, there was a lot of leftover birthday cake.  With a little creativity, I brought it back to the bride and groom-to-be's house, so we could top off our day with a piece of Happy Unwedding cake.  Loads of laughter and hugs were shared and together we knew we had pulled off an adventurous day.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hippos for Christmas

This video was created last year when I came home from Uganda.  I saw a lot of hippos while on a safari on the Nile River.  The song playing in the background of this video is for my nephew Jacob (since it is his new favourite song), but originally the video was created for two precious girls - Abby and Emma.

I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Thanksgiving

Four years of college in Grand Rapids, MI
6 Thanksgiving feasts with the awesome Manning family in St. Louis, MO
Loads of friends across the country
A love for holidays....
All make me want to wish a few friends a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I pray you will have a fun time feasting and fellowshipping, but also remembering to give thanks to the Creator of all life.

It never hurts to be grateful :) so here is my list for today:
  • a loving and supportive family
  • friends who care
  • a church that prays
  • the ability to travel and explore God's world
  • work
  • the changing seasons and fireplaces
  • hot showers
  • diversity in food
  • freedom and independence
  • God's Word
  • BUT most of all - FOR GOD - who continues to guide, direct, hold, comfort, and grant peace, patience, understanding, love, forgiveness, joy, and so much more.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Citizen with Boundaries

The strangest feeling has come over me the past few days.  I feel trapped without a passport.  I never knew that I depended on those papers so much.  For example, it is American Thanksgiving this week... and I would love to jet over to St. Louis and participate in a fantastic Thanksgiving tradition there... or go to Grand Rapids and visit friends and family there... or go to Africa, etc... instead I am stuck here in Canada.  I shouldn't say stuck there... I had no plans to go anywhere... and a new passport is already in the works.

I lost my passport (it must have been stolen or pick-pocketed) coming home to Toronto the other night.  Within 12 hours Passport Canada was notified and a police report was written up.  There is nothing more that I can do.  (Although I am praying that someone out there returns it to me, because all the stamps in the passport tell a part of my life's story!!)

Thinking about how blessed I am to be a citizen of Canada - where I have a wonderful family, great freedom, opportunities to work and learn, incredible creation, and so much more... lead me to thinking about also being a citizen of heaven.  Thankfully there are no passports needed to get in to heaven.  You can't lose your paperwork.  Just invite the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart and there is a place in heaven for you!

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." Eph 2:19-20.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Serving Again

Serving God in Soroti rarely escapes my mind.  Plans are back in the works for me to go back to Uganda very soon.  Here is a quick glimpse of my year in 2009.
I hope you will all join me in the mission of doing the Lord's work once again on the foreign mission field.

"More Karebear"

I really miss New Zealand and I think parts of New Zealand miss me. 
Or at least Sophia does.  :)
Here she is saying: "More Karebear"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Flying Home

November 17th - the longest day of my life.
 Board a plane in Auckland, New Zealand at 7:00 am.
 Land in Brisbane, Australia at 7:10 am... and eat a bag of kangaroo jerky while waiting for my next big flight.
 13 hours over the ocean... only to land in LA... and once again it is 6:55 am on the 17th.  :)
 At 3 pm I boarded a plane for the final stretch home to Canada... and we flew into the darkness.  We landed around 10:45 pm.  I love the night view of Toronto suburbs.
Somehow I lost my passport between LAX and Toronto.  I had it boarding the plane in LA and didn't have it by the time I got to customs in Toronto.  So strange.  I wasn't sure they would even let me in the country - but since I am Canadian, I got in with just my drivers license.  I really hope I find my passport, since I seem to use it an awful lot... and I need it again in January.  Who knows, maybe it fell out while I was taking pictures from seat 15A.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Finishing Touches in NZ

I thought I would send a fun photo gallery of my last two days in New Zealand.  I spent those days with the Scott family, enjoying some more local Auckland sights and sounds.
 Brooke and I went with the girls to One Tree Hill... a gorgeous park area surrounds the old volcano.
 Baby Zoe is fast asleep as we strolled the gardens.
 Sophia loves to play at the park.  (And the parks here are amazing. If I ever have kids, I hope they can play in parks as creative, safe, super fun as the ones here!!)
 Brooke and Sophia - tree truck treasures!
 I'm a fan of the trees too.
 The sheep were in the park too... we hung out with them in green pastures.  Cornwall Park surrounds the base of One Tree Hill.  A perfect family getaway.
 Departing Auckland after breakfast, Travis, Sophia and I drove 1.5 hours south of Auckland to Paeroa.  We stopped for snack at the Talisman Cafe before setting out for an hour long tramp.
 Karangahake Gorge was the day's destination
 Heading in to a 1070 m long train tunnel... I'm excited to see what's on the other side.
 No tracks in the old tunnel... just a few puddles and lots of courage.
 Travis, Sophia, and I loved our trek... the first nicely hot day I've had in NZ.
 Poser Perfection :)
 The famous L&P soda in Paeroa... world famous.
Back in Auckland, I decided to walk up to Western Park and view the architectural remains that are buried in the grass there.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Craving for Caving

 "Mom?! Dad?!... I love you... "  I pretended to call home before checking in for a spectacular underground adventure.  My new friend Catherine and I drove to Waitomo on Saturday morning to go caving in a way I've never caved before.
Signing up for the 1:30 pm Black Labyrinth tour with the Black Water Rafting Co, we made our way to the outfitting area where we were eyed for size and given wet suit socks, overalls, jackets, rubber boots and a helmet.  All of the equipment was wet and cold and chore to put on.
11 of us were heading out for a SWEET tour... with outfits that were extremely tight.  I felt like a moon walker as I hopped on to the tour bus to ride 10 minutes over to Ruakuri cave.  Finding a rubber tube that fit each of our bodies, we took them to the rivers edge for a little education on backward jumping over waterfalls and collecting as a group.
Having no fear of the cold water I volunteered to jump first from the pier into the water.  After we were all done our practise round, we reloaded the bus and drove another five minutes and then walked to the edge of the cave.  It was seriously a hole in the ground, covered with greenery.  Originally found because of two wild dogs hiding there.  We took our tubes in to the deep hole, turned on our headlamps and got accustomed to the darkness.
Here we are gathered as a group, getting ready to tube through the cave.  I followed one of our guides to the waters edge where a 1.5 foot long eel was awaiting.  The guide greeted him, slightly pushed it away so that I could step in to the shallow waters and plop in to my tube.  Not the easiest thought... to tube in freezing cold waters, knowing that eels are gliding below my butt.
For an hour we either tubed or slowly walked through shallow rocky waters.  We learned to trust each other and appreciate nature.  But the coolest part were the GLOWWORMS that hung from the ceiling like stars on a cloudless sky.  With out lamps turned off we slowly felt our way through narrow passages, following the light of the glowworms alone.
Glowworms are Arachnocampa Luminosa.  In other words: (the words of our tour guide)... they are cannibalistic shagging mucous maggots that glow in the dark by their own will.  :)
This adventure caving was superbly phenomenal in my opinion!!  Arriving back at the outfitters lodge, we unstripped ourselves of our caving gear, showered in our bathing togs, dried off, redressed, and headed inside for a warm cup of soup and toasted bagel.
O ya, while I was sipping my soup there was a voice behind me, asking "So, did you have a good time in the Labyrinth."  I recognized that voice as my friend Roman from the Rangitoto volcano hike.  What do you know... we caught up again, and hung out a little bit more in the evening!  It's a small world out here.
Catherine and I weren't done with our journey through creation though.  We decided to hike a trail during the day that went through a few minor tunnels, crossed bridges over major caves, and admired the trees.

              This is my new pal Catherine!
The mossy look makes me smile with delight every time.
Since I was a small girl... going on family vacations, I have loved spelunking!
The famous New Zealand Koru
Don't worry Dad, I'm only having 5 minutes of fun.
After hiking we went through another fun drive around the surrounding countryside.  In the distance you will see our hotel for the evening.  It is a very colonial building, with old rooms and victorian carpeting.
Catherine and I spent the night at the Waitomo Caves Hotel.
I felt like a hobbit when I found the doorknob to our room to be at eye level.
After munching down on our free continental breakfast, we drove a few minutes up the road to the Waitomo Caves for a completely different experience.  Huge caverns to walk through, with a different and more descript picture of the famous glowworms.  This cave tour was completely with a ten minute boat ride done in complete darkness and silence.  Our boat guide pulled on ropes to lead us through massive caverns of glowing maggots.
Still not feeling like our journey with the caves was done, Aranui Caves was also on our list of to do's.  I don't normally skip church on Sunday mornings, but spending time with God in His Creation was fulfilling for me.  His glory was proclaimed in every corner.
Stalactites and Stalagmites are a very patient form of growth.  The last cave that we went through was awesome for a completely different reason.  The patterns and stories in the stones were a lot more intricate than the massive caverns that held the glowworms.
We left Waitomo around noon... made a quick rest stop by the famous Kiwi House and headed back to Auckland for a 2 pm rest.
Sunday evening was my last opportunity to attend house church.  It was a true blessing to fellowship with God's people.  We shared a potluck meal and finished with discussing the Sermon on the Mount.  I love being with God's people, no matter where in the world I am.