Last week Cece’s mom Graciela, sister Dana, and brother-in-law Steve flew in from Tennessee to jaunt around the antipodes for a couple of weeks.  On Friday Cece and I drove up to Auckland to see them.

Cece's excited! Or maybe just showing off her awesome elbows

This was also the day we were hoping to find out if Cece had made the cut in vet school, so it was nice to have something to do rather than sit at home and stew in our own nervous juices.

About a third of the way into the 7-hour drive from Palmerston North to Auckland, we passed the New Zealand army.

This is New Zealand's tank. They're very proud of it.

But we didn’t spend much time admiring the extent of their military might, because just around the corner from their tank is a couple of their huge-ass active volcanoes.

This is Mount Ngauruhoe, who was the stunt double for Mount Doom in LoTR. Mount Doom likes to say he does all his own stunts, but he's a lying sack. Ngauruhoe is the real deal.

Around 11am, Cece sent a text to a friend who works at the vet school to see if any news was available yet. As we drove north through the beautiful country and time passed, I could see her drawing into herself, repeatedly checking her phone to make sure it was on, not paying as much attention to the scenery as she normally would, torn between daring to hope and preparing for disappointment.

Cece isn’t a slacker by nature – she always works hard to accomplish whatever she sets out to do. But in the 16 years I’ve known her, I’ve never seen her work as hard as she did over the last semester. When she wasn’t in class, she was in labs. When she wasn’t in labs, she was at the library. When she wasn’t at the library, she was sequestered in her office, memorizing all of her textbooks.

As 11:00 turned to noon and then to 1:00, I started trying to think of ways to take the sting off of learning she didn’t make it. I was trying to figure out how to turn our upcoming trip into a welcome respite from the stress she’d been under for 6 months, but I was afraid that not being chosen after working her heart out would crush her.

We stopped for lunch on the shore of Lake Taupo. She checked her phone again … and learned that she had mistyped one of the numbers! Her friend had never gotten her previous text.  She sent it again, and we finished our lunch and hit the road.

As we moved into hillier country, she got a text from her friend: “Are you sitting down?”

She quickly wrote back, asking if it was bad news … and we went into hill country. Cece lost all the bars on her cell phone, just as she knew her friend was trying to send her the news. She turned to me with fire in her eyes, held up her phone, and said “Find me some bars!” I drove like the wind.

Finally we entered a town that must have had a cell tower nearby. Her friend’s text finally made it through … and it was a congratulations.  Cece had beat out thousands of applicants to get invited to the competition semester, and then beat 40 cream-of-the-crop students to be one of 17 students accepted into the full programme.

I had to pull over so I could hug her until her ribs creaked.

Then back on the road – we still had lots of driving to do!

Several hours later we got to Auckland and checked into our little hostel, then went to find the Tennesseans (Tennessites?). They were staying near Auckland’s famous Sky Tower, so we wandered down the street to check it out.

The cool thing about the Sky Tower is that it's like a huge thumbtack in the middle of the map of the city. You can't get lost.

The bottom level of the Sky Tower is a casino (because gambling is as legal as whores and lawyers here). We took our obligatory touristy pic inside a big-ass Pacific Islander canoe…

When I think "canoe" I think of enough room for 4 drunk dudes to paddle down a river. When the Maori think "canoe" they think bigger.

… then went to get a drink.

I call this composition "Mother and Daughter. And Beer."

Dana got a chick drink. It's okay; she's a chick.

After checking out the casino, we wandered down the street and found a cool little lounge for some late-night dessert.

What a fine looking bunch of inebriates.

Mmmm... fancy desserts...

We would soon learn that this level of deliciousness-consumption would be the norm for the rest of our trip.  Dana and Steve are foodies, as well as being quite knowledgeable about wine and beer. Over the next week I would gain 5 pounds. And love every moment of it.