Thirteen years ago on this day I was preparing or maybe even flying back from one of the most incredible adventures of my life.
Almost two weeks before, I had said "good bye" Willie and Bill at the Ramada Inn where I would stay overnight before taking off on a solo trip to the Land Down Under----in this case New Zealand.
I felt good about leaving Bill and Willie (who was living with us at the time while working as a reporter at the Gem State Miner newspaper). In the days before the trip, I had prepared them a large pan of homemade lasagna, figuring that it could feed them for at least a few days. At the time, Debbie was still in Boise, finishing up her degree at BSU.
My long journey of about 23 hours of flying and layover time would take me to Los Angeles and then on to Auckland, NZ where I would meet Annie, who was attending Waiketo University on six-month study abroad through Boise State University.
I'll never forget walking from the airport to her rental car late into the night, looking toward the sky and observing a star pattern I'd never seen before. That was my first tangible evidence that I was, indeed, a long way from home.
Annie and I stayed in Auckland that first night and then set off on a road trip around the North Isle of New Zealand.
Two stops, among the many beautiful places we visited, would highlight the adventure into an enchanting, esthetic, nostalgic land.
I had already arranged for an overnight farmstay with Rae and Peter Mulch who owned Appaloosa horses related to my dad's Toby I stallion. Rae and Peter had been the subject of a story I'd written for the Appaloosa Journal.
We would also spend two days of visiting in Taupo, a town reminding me of Sandpoint and the very the reason we were both there in the first place: my penpal of 20 years, Robyn Jolly and her lovely family.
Robyn's sister Sally had attended Sandpoint High School as an exchange student and had lined me up with her sister back in the days when correspondence was strictly by pen and stationery and plenty of postage.
Annie had already made a pilgrimage from Hamilton to Lake Taupo to meet Robyn. It was then that I began receiving a gentle urging to come to New Zealand.
It didn't take much.
So, I went, knowing it would be almost two weeks without much contact from home except for a couple of conversations with Mother and Bill, thanks to an International phone card I'd purchased before leaving home.
I had also taken with me copies of the latest Sandpoint Magazine (hot off the presses with some of my classmates on the cover photo) and The River Journal newspaper. That was the year I'd written the 40-year story of Schweitzer Mountain Resort. In addition, I wrote a regular column called "Love Notes" for Trish Gannon's newspaper.
Besides giving away copies of the publications, we were sure to have our photos taken reading them at memorable stops along the way, which included scenes from "The Lord of the Rings." In one case, we took New Zealand's "Most Beautiful Day Hike," the Tongariro Passage.
I'm sure the 12-mile challenging trek through all kinds of topography and overlooking striking bodies of water would be beautiful when it's not raining, snowing, blowing and even sanding (that's sand blowing at 40 mph into your eyes when you're completely spent actually and literally crawling to make it over the passage.
That's where I suggested to Annie that we call the helicopter to take us off this mountain.
"You can do it, Mom," she repeated. "You can do it." Well, I did, actually hating almost every step to the end of the trail but later thrilled for a lifetime that I finished one of the most rigorous challenges of my life.
The trip to New Zealand had satisfied my independent nature and had allowed me to enter a realm reminding me of journey into yesteryear where rural life seemed so simple and so charming----lush green fields of horses and Ayrshire and Holstein milking cows and horse racing tracks in most communities and a county fair in Hamilton, teeming with quaint and nostalgic images.
I met my penpal for the first time. We had a lamb roast in her beautiful home. After dinner, she pulled out a stack of photos I'd sent her over the past 30 years. In my home, thousands of miles away, I had a similar stack tucked away from each Christmas box sent by Robyn from Taupo.
Sadly, Robyn is not with us anymore, but those memories of her and her family will stay with me for the rest of my life. I'm thrilled to have both of her daughters as Facebook friends. Ironically, her daughter Sarah is visiting in the Los Angeles area this week.
At Peter and Rae Mutch's farmstay (a common housing feature in New Zealand), we not only enjoyed after-dinner accordian concerts with Peter but awakened one morning to an exciting happening.
One of their mares had foaled. We stood and watched as Rae introduced the brand-new baby to its equine dinner plate.
In Taupo, I met another email penpal Ray Toms, who was heavily involved in the local Rotary scene and in cycling. Ray and I still keep in touch.
Every November, my mind goes back to New Zealand, a wonderful land where Annie went on to explore the South Island after I left. She also saw actor Viggo Mortensen (who has a strong Sandpoint connection) in Wellington for the World Premier of Lord of the Rings trilogy "Return of the King."
Viggo blew her a kiss. And, with that kiss, I eventually got to do another Sandpoint Magazine story---an interview with Viggo.
I'd love to go back to New Zealand some day. Don't know if it will ever happen, but I do know that I packed oodles of fond memories into that trip, which always make me a bit wistful and appreciative.
One other photo appears this morning. It's at the bottom, and it reflects all the work Bill has been doing with spare moments over the past several weeks.
We will have a new baby of our own----an Appaloosa-Arabian from our Lily and a handsome stud name Ferrari. Thanks to Bill, Mom Lily and her foal, due in April, will have a beautiful, safe and spacious stall to inhabit.
Thanks, Bill. Much appreciated. Happy Thursday to all.