Celebrating a Birthday Overseas

Celebrating a Birthday Overseas

Gabriela’s 6th Birthday!!

This would be the first time that we had ever celebrated something without our family and friends. We usually spend Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Birthdays, and more together with my parents, siblings, nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts, grandparents, friends, and so on. I come from a BIG Mexican family and that is just how we do things. So the thought of celebrating Gabriela’s birthday overseas was something that really stressed me out. What would this year be like without all of our family and friends around to celebrate with us?

I have always been kind of over the top when it comes to my kids birthdays (as you can see in the above images of her 2nd & 3rd birthdays parties). I really enjoy making personalized things for my kids & husband on their special day from take-away treat bags and decorations to homemade cakes. It’s the one day of the year I can go all out just for them and I truly enjoy making and designing things so this is the perfect day to use my skills to create something magical for them. I am an architectural designer so design and creating are something I do daily for work but this is the one time of the year I can use my design skills just for them. So how would this year be different?

I knew there would not be a big party with all my family and friends and I also knew I would probably not be making anything from scratch. Not even the cake! The Airbnb we were staying at did not have an oven nor did it have any kind of baking supplies. I know it seems silly but I was really worked up about this. Was it because the crafting monster inside of me needed to be feed with glitter and glue or was it the fact that this was the first time we would be celebrating something without our families and friends nearby? I think its probably the second but I’m sure a little bit of the first as well. Would my daughter still have a great birthday? Would she be sad because her friends and family (or any other children for that matter) would not be present for her special day? All of these thoughts crossed my mind but I pushed them away and moved forward. 

First things first I needed to find a cake. We went to our local grocery stores but they did not seem to make cakes to order they did have a few you could buy off the shelf but going from a homemade from scratch birthday cake to one you get off the shelf did not sit right with me so we kept looking. If I wasn’t going to be able to bake her a cake I wanted to find someone who could. We went to several bakeries around town only to find donuts and pastries but no cakes. I finally found a lady (by looking up cakes in Auckland hag-tags on social media) who made cakes out of her home that looked amazing and according to her clients also tasted great. So I sent her a message and she gave me a good price for a homemade cake so I placed the order and gave myself a pat on the back. She showed up at our Airbnb the night before Gabriela’s birthday to hand deliver the cake. We also managed to snag some balloons, a birthday banner, and a gift at The Warehouse. 

She woke up surprised to find the small kitchen at our Airbnb decorated for her special day and we let her decide what she wanted to do for the entire day. She was so excited!!! We started the day off by eating cake for breakfast, followed by lunch and playtime at McDonald’s, a movie at our local mall (We watched Smallfoot and it was amazing if you haven’t seen it you should), and ended the day with Pizza at a local pizza shop. We also got to facetime with all our family and friends who sang her happy birthday and even though it wasn’t the same as having them near it was something and in that way they were a part of her birthday overseas as well.

So if you are celebrating something while traveling try not to stress out too much. We have since this day celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years overseas here in New Zealand and they were different in a lot of ways compared to how they where when we were in Oklahoma but in lots of ways they were the same. I am excited to share all of those stories with you all so stay posted and find out about those celebrations soon. May all your celebrations no matter where you are or what you are celebrating be just as great as our little girls 6th birthday in New Zealand. 

New Zealand-Maungawhau/Mt. Eden

New Zealand-Maungawhau/Mt. Eden

Maungawhau / Mt. Eden

DSC00734-smallYES!!!! This is what I’m talking about Auckland! This was the first time we had explored Auckland and truly felt that we were in another country. We stopped at what would become one of our favorite coffee shops (Goodness Gracious Cafe) on our way to the top of the mountain and grabbed some much needed caffeine and snacks to give us superpowers to walk up the mountain. We did the fairly easy walk/hike or better yet tramp (this is what they call walks/hikes in New Zealand) up to the top and we were not disappointed.

At 643 feet tall, Maungawhau or Mount Eden is the highest volcano in Auckland and just one of the 48 volcanic cones. Once you reach the top you can enjoy panoramic views of the city as well as see the large 160 foot deep stunning bowl-like crater. The Ngati Whatua tribe is the guardian of the mountain and you can join a guided walk – Tāmaki Hikoi – of the mountain and its surrounds, led by a tribe member.  You can visit the Auckland Council website here for more information.

We unfortunately did not get to do this because I actually didn’t know anything about it until we had already went. Lots of times we kind of decide to do things spur of the moment so we don’t get a lot of pre-planning done beforehand. One of the main reasons for this is because it has rained (a lot) here in Auckland so if it stops raining we are out! Where we go no one really knows till we just kind of show up. However learn from my mistakes and do the guided tour. It sounds AWESOME! I was already blown away just reading about the place but to actually get a guided tour from someone who knows the history would have been pretty amazing.

It took us about an 1 hr to do the 1.6 k walk to the top from the coffee shop and if we had been better prepared we could have easily spent a day there. Its just one of those places that you just want to hang out at. It was a bit eerie yet it is also beautiful and relaxing. To think that this was once an active volcano and is now covered in this insanely majestic green flowing grass is a strange feeling. Also the size really makes you feel quite small. I think this is good, it is good for us to know how small we really are. It shows us that we aren’t the center of this universe and earth is a big beautiful place. So lets get out there and explore the hell out of it. In a good way. Look, learn, and respect.

This is what we always strive to do on all of our adventures. To learn new things about this world and ourselves, to see and experience places and cultures with open hearts and minds, and to above all respect the places and people that we are so lucky to visit and meet along our journey. We also want to inspire others to get out there, explore, and have fun! You don’t have to take a trip to the other side of the world, beautiful things can be found in your backyard. Go somewhere in your hometown that you have never been. I bet you will be surprised by what you find.



Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

Our First Month Living in New Zealand


Our First month living in New Zealand was spent in Auckland exploring the city and surrounding areas. We loved the city life and think this was the best place to spend our first month living abroad. We were really quite surprised by how developed the city was. I guess in some ways we all kind of expected to get off the plane and see the rolling hills and mountains of New Zealand but instead we were greeted by a hip city life. Full of tall buildings, billboards, shopping, streets, and businesses. Okay, I have to be completely honest here. At first we were a little disappointed I mean seriously…where are the hobbits!? We came here with hopes of seeing and experiencing something totally different. However, now that we have been here for a while and thought about all the things we have done in the past month I really do think Auckland was a great first stop for our family on this journey.

The main reason for is because it made the adjustment easier in that it was so similar to the cities in the United States and what my family was used to. We didn’t just go from living in a city to living in the bush. It really gave us a chance to adjust to living in a different country, being so far away from our family and friends, and time to just figure out this new life of ours. We utilized public transportation and walked a lot during our time in Auckland. I swear I lost at least 5 lbs in our time there just from walking because you better believe I was eating all the foods! Check out our top picks for places to eat here.

The public transportation is really great and if we had planned to just stay or live in Auckland I think that is probably the best way to get around the city. Not only do you get exercise by walking places you also get to truly experience the place you are in and discover things you probably wouldn’t have if you were driving. We were so impressed with the public transportation in Auckland that we wrote a separate blog post all about the transportation options here.

Here are a few of the most exciting things we did while in Auckland;

We are in the process of writing about all the adventures above and hope to those completed for you all soon so you can read in depth details about all the above adventures. We also made a top 20 list of things to do in Auckland here.

Living here is definitely different then living in Norman, Oklahoma but it is also the same in a lot of ways. We are still a normal family and we still do normal everyday things like go grocery shopping, get haircuts, cook meals at home to save money, go to the movies, do laundry, and play board games. We are seeing new things everyday and learning about the world and ourselves in the process. Over the next 8 months we will continue to explore the island of New Zealand. Traveling from one place to another one month at at time in order to truly experience the area. How will it change our family? What will we learn about traveling, our locations, and ourselves? Stay tuned to find out.





Toi o Tāmaki – NZ’s most extensive collection of national and international art.


The Auckland Art Galley was a fantastic time for me and my family while visiting Auckland. We are all art lovers so when our daughter (Mireya) said she wanted to go to the art gallery we were thrilled! The prices were reasonable, and the experience was well worth the price they charged us. All New Zealand residents are free of charge which is so great for the local people of New Zealand. If you are a resident and have not been stop reading this and GO! Then let us know how our experience compared to yours. Children under 14 are free of charge so we did not have to pay for Gabriela and Mireya was also free because of her work visa (which we brought along just in case-they did ask to see it). Sean and I paid $20NZD each to get it. So, for less than $27 USD the four of us enjoyed a full day at the museum. There is plenty to see and you can easily spend an entire day there. They have a café and outdoor seating if you get hungry and need a break.


It was founded in 1888, it remains New Zealand’s largest visual arts experience. It really does have something for everyone. Sculptures, paintings, historical pieces and local art, were just some of the things you can expect to find on your visit to the gallery. Our five-year-old daughter Gabriela loved the Māori Portraits and enjoyed reading all about the history of the people. She also got to see her first Pablo Picasso piece in real life which was a great treat as we had been studying his art in our school lessons. Our older daughters Mireya loved the classical paintings from around the world. Sean really enjoyed the Gordon Walters exhibit and it was interesting to read about Gordon and find out that he is one New Zealand’s most influential modern artists. I enjoyed the Collective Women exhibit and loved sharing this experience with our daughters.

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Let’s take look at the architecture.

The renovation of the building in 2011 resulted in an award for the building as World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival (2013). FJMT (Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp), Archimedia, and Auckland City Council worked together on the design for the new art gallery. This project is one of the largest projects of its kind in New Zealand and has won multiple awards for the design as well as been featured in several articles and magazines.


First impressions always leave a mark and this building did a great job of doing that. We were warmly greeted by a series of large kauri wood columns and taken under the almost tree like roof structure into the museum. The warmth of the material choices was continued inside and drew the visitor into the entry and front gallery space. The tree like roof which also extends inside the space is a great connection to the nearby Albert Park and made the space feel open, light, and airy. Upon entry the material choices and detail became cleaner and allowing the art inside the building to remain the main focus. The curtain wall design around the building allows natural light to enter the space in a beautiful way and also helps establish the connection from the surrounding area into the gallery. This simple yet elegant design was continued in the glass railings on the staircases.

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Sean and I are well educated in architecture and have worked and studied it for over the past 13years so we can be pretty picky and critical when it comes to design, but this art gallery was truly one of the best we have seen in the world. Around every corner there was a different exhibit and an interesting yet subtle architectural detail that would catch our eyes. We could be seen photographing door details, archways, and stairs which to most people might seem strange (as we did get some weird looks) but this building was truly a work of art in itself. We have visited several art museums in our time and have been to some where the architect seems to have lost sight of what the building was meant for (displaying art) and focused on solely making the building the piece of art. This is were we believe many architectural projects fail. They forget the purpose of the building and focus to much on creating their own masterpieces. If you fail, your user your design fails, it really is that simple.

This building does not do that in fact it does the opposite. It highlights all the art on display and does not take away from the fact that this is the purpose of the building. It also does a splendid job of not only connecting itself to the surrounding area, it is connected to the history of the area. This can be seen throughout the museum in several different places. The use of the local kauri wood is one great example of this. They even had pieces of the original building on display as part of the exhibit and it was beautiful.

They also commissioned three Māori artists to create artworks for permanent display in the gallery. The first piece is the one which can be seen upon entering the gallery and really did catch our eye. It is a piece by local artist Arnold Manaaki Wilson & Anthony Wilson. It is the carvings/design located on the top of each of the three columns on the forecourt. The other two pieces can be found throughout the gallery and they all connect the gallery to the history of its location and its people.


If in Auckland, do not miss the opportunity to see this great art gallery.