Friday, December 26, 2008

Staglander 2: The Chickening

From Staglands

Yesterday we visited the Staglands Wildlife Reserve   

And it was extremely extremely cool.  As cool as holding a chicken up to your face.  Actually, cooler than that.

Basically Staglands is the biggest most beautiful and lush and well-kept and healthy-looking petting zoo you've ever seen.  It's about an hour north of Wellington proper out in the Akatarawa Valley (pronounced Akaratawa Valley) nestled in a dense and green valley amongst steeply sloping hills.  To get there required turning off of the main highway in Upper Hutt and following an extremely winding one lane road around many completely blind turns best negotiated witha kind of furtive terror.  There were two single-lane bridges over a stream and a riverbed, two blueberry farms (one of which doubled as a emu farm,) and a handful of art galleries and/or sculpture gardens.

On the way out there we found a place called "Efil Doog" which advertised 11 acres of gardens, sculptures, galleries and riperian beauty and which we took to be some British-Isles-sounding Gaelic or Welsh phrase meaning "art gardens" until Zoe pointed out that it's just "Good Life" spelled backwards.

Staglands itself charges admission.  It cost us $40 for a family admission to the Reserve, which seems pretty steep for a nature reserve and set my teeth on a skeptical edge until later when a few very tame Kea (native alpine parrots) completely won me over and I warmed up entirely to the whole experience.  By the end, the admission price hardly seemed like enough for the sort of experience we had and I really can't recommend it enough as a day-long family outing.

The whole idea is that the park arranges animals so that people can get right up to them and interact.  The creator/owner/maintainer asserts that intimate and personal interactions with animals can be life changing.  From the web page:

Aims of the Reserve

"It is my belief that an enormously rewarding and lifelong appreciation of wildlife can be kindled by a brief, intense encounter with an animal or a bird.  Ideally this will be in the wilds of our beautiful bush, maybe on a farm or even at home with grandma's budgie. Few children or adults have such an opportunity nowadays.

Staglands is my attempt to provide that encounter in an environment that is as good as I can possibly make it.

Native animals, birds and plants need our help. Many are unlikely to survive without our willingness to provide huge ongoing funding in the form of donations, taxes and physical effort. That willingness to provide help, I believe, is more likely if an interest has been kindled by an enjoyable, first hand experience, as can be obtained at Staglands."

John Simister.

And I'd have to say he achieves his goals in spades.

Here's a slideshow of us interacting with well-hand-tamed and lovingly-reared animals of all varieties (many "wild" animals raised in captivity.)  There are a lot of conservation efforts underway at Staglands as well.  It's not JUST the Coolest Petting Zoo Ever Conceived.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Goodbye, Zaida

Our family is sad tonight. Goodbye, Ed. Goodbye, Zaida. We love you.

Ha-Makom y'nachem et'khem b'tokh sh'ar avelei Tziyon viyrushalayim

Sunday, December 14, 2008

For Zaida...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to Speak New Zillund

After almost 10 months I feel secure in saying the Kiwis and I finally understand each other.  I no longer get the glassy-eyed stares and a long pause after I finish my sentences, during which the Kiwi I'm speaking to replays what I have just said in their head, so that they can decipher and make sense of my heavy, staccato-ed,  American-accented words.  I understand, and am comfortable using, the local slang, so that I'm not having to break the flow of a lively conversation with sidebar explanations of the meanings and etymologies of every other word or expression.

Working with children all day, it has been necessary to amend my words to be understood.  It became a matter of needing to speak "correctly" to them.  Considering that for half my day I am teaching very young students which letters make what sounds, and how to sound out words with them, it would do no good to teach them using my American English pronunciations.

Lately Steve has been very amused with me when he catches me using the Kiwi pronunciations at home.  In all honesty, it's just pure laziness on my part.  Take the word "chance" for example.  Or take the word, "example" even.  Take any word with the "a like apple" sound, and replace it with the "o like octopus" sound.  Now try to say it.  See?  It's just lazier  easier to say.  

And for a short lesson in the real Kiwi pronunciations, I give you the following.  Unfortunately, this was one of those viral email things so I don't know where this first appeared or who to give credit for it.  My friend Brandie was the first to bring it to my attention.  Thanks, Brandie!  Click on the image to enlarge it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Many Faces of Haley

I was surprised that several of you expressed concern for our Haley after viewing the family elf dance a couple posts ago. The truth is, we have a bit of ham on our hands, and it verges on impossible to get a nice, Christmas-card-photo-esque picture of her these days. She's constantly pulling faces, or laughing with her mouth wide open or otherwise being an utter goofball. I've tried explaining to her that some day when she's older she might wish she had smiled pretty for the camera, but folks, she's just not that girl and we wouldn't have her any other way.

So, to put your minds at ease, (I'm talking to you, The Grandmas) I present to you "The Many Faces of Haley" including the original photo that she chose to use for her elf. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Magical Elves!

The best part of celebrating the holidays while living in a foreign land is being able to partake of the local customs and traditions...oh, who am I kidding? It's all about the chocolate, folks.

As I may have mentioned in previous posts, Cadbury is huge here. There is a big ol' factory in Dunedin with a tourist attraction called "Cadbury World". I'm conjuring up images of Willy Wonka, but I think in actuality it is just a factory tour. Cadbury may have originally been a Brit company, but to Kiwis it is their own. Soon after we got here I read a statistic about how much chocolate the average Kiwi eats in a year, and it's a lot. I'm too lazy to dig up that factoid but it's a good one.

Recently the stores have become jam-packed with huge displays of Christmas assortments of Cadbury chocolates. On our weekend on the South Island, which I will try to post about soon, our family consumed more of this stuff than I am comfortable admitting.

By far the very most awesomest discovery of the many Christmas-themed candies we sampled were the Magical Elves. What chocolate-making genius thought of these and why don't we have them in the States?! They're little elf-shaped chocolates, each named for a gem, and given a puckish description. The one I ate this morning read, "Aquamarine is a talented musician who plays to inspire the elves to enjoy themselves and work harder, but is a bit of a farty pants."  

But the best part, the magic part, is that they're not just plain old delicious Cadbury Dairy Milk. They have pop rocks in them!  Don't tell them, but I'm sending some of these home to my niece and nephew who I just know will get a huge kick out of them.  Below is the official "Story of the Magical Elves" from the Cadbury NZ website.

The Story of the Magical Elves®

Many, many moons ago, Santa heard about some magical elves from the South Pole who were mischievous, but oh so very clever. These crafty creatures had magic dust that made amazing cogs in one zap! But how could Santa get them to come and work for him? …A-HA!! Santa had an idea. Elves adore chocolate. So, in return for making toys, Santa would treat them to a delicious year’s supply! The elves jumped for joy! Each Christmas since then, Santa chooses eight hopeful elves who are sucked through a secret tunnel up the Earth’s centre to his workshop where they merrily make toys for all the world’s girls and boys. But, there was just one small problem. The elves kept sneaking off to eat chocolate before they’d finished their work! Thankfully, Santa had a little plan…he put magical popping dust in the chocolate so a naughty elf could be heard and promptly popped back to work! Now all the presents are finished on time. So next time you’re nibbling a Cadbury magical elf, remember those rascally elves are too! Can you hear them? They can hear you!

ed note:  Did anyone notice that this is the second, actually third, post about elves on this blog? I'm thinking of switching us over to an all-elf format, what do you think? 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

New Zealand Birds

From Paintings

Something very unique to our adopted country is its fauna. Or lack thereof. There are no native land mammals in this green and soggy land, which made for some avian anomalies as other species rushed to fill the niches that little critters would normally occupy.

That gives you birds like the Kiwi or the (now extinct) Moa and a whole bunch of really interesting and unique (and quite common) birds like the Kereru, Tui, and Pukeko.

Our family periodically paints together on little 5 inch by 5 inch canvases by picking a theme and doing our own individual interpretations.  The first time we did this was back in the States when we did variations on a picture of a coffee mug that Joanne picked out.  Just yesterday we did a "birds of New Zealand" session and came up with the pictures you see above.

The artists are (from left to right) Joanne, Haley, Steve, Zoe.

The top row are (from left to right) Morepork, Kiwi, Pukeko, Tui.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wellington Santa Parade

Today we took the train into town for the Wellington Santa Parade. Tranz Metro was offering free fares for children coming into town for the parade-a nice surprise. We walked from the station the few blocks to the start of the parade route and found our spots with a few moments to spare. Nothing like enjoying a beautiful train ride instead of driving around hunting for parking.

After the parade we had a coffee and a cookie and lazed around Midland Park on Lambton Quay where the City Council has their Christmas tree on display. The girls chased the pigeons and I snapped some pictures of the girls, in their new Christmas sun dresses, with the tree for a potential Christmas card photo. We walked over to the library to pick up some books, and then strolled down to Cuba Mall to eat "meal" at our favorite noodle house (we frequently have a late lunch/early dinner on Sundays and just call it "meal". Perhaps "linner" is preferable? How about "dunch"?)

We popped into a couple more shoe stores (third weekend in a row)hoping to find Merrell shoes or another dual purpose trainer/hiker for the kids. No luck still and we've tried pretty much every shoe/athletic/outdoor apparel store in the area. We're having really weird luck trying to find quality children's shoes here. On the couple of occasions that we have found a workable shoe, they are out of stock of the girls' sizes. I guess I'll have to order those from home. Grrr..

The sun was out, the breeze was enjoyable for a change, and we meandered back to the train station, looking in store windows and enjoying the empty streets that just hours before were packed with people. I love that feeling of walking in a deserted city late on a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Wellington had some crazy hail yesterday!  I was standing in the window in a spot of afternoon sunlight one moment, and scraping ice off the windshield so that I could go pick up the girls from school the next.  Crazy!  The DomPost wrote about it here

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can! (and we did!)

Well??? Can you believe it? History just happened! Thoughts??

It's Finally Here!

Election Day! This is excruciating! How am I supposed to concentrate today? The anticipation is killing me! Let's hope this will all be over soon, and not a big dragged out mess.

How was your election day? Did you go to the polls or vote early? Was there tension in the air? Were people distracted and glued to CNN? I wanna know!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Birthday Party Sleepover

I've put captions on the pictures to explain what you're looking at. I chose to do that in lieu of a post, but I thought I should explain to folks who don't know that you can control the slideshow if you need more time to read the captions. Hover your mouse over the slideshow and a menu pops up so you can go back, forward, etc. I think if you click on it you may even have the option of enlarging it. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Yesterday was Halloween for us here in the Southern Hemisphere. It was the first year that Zoe made her costume 100% by herself. She went as Artemis, the Greek goddess of the Hunt. Haley, after many deliberations and changes of mind, finally decided on a classic black cat with face-paint whiskers, ears and a tail. We did our best to celebrate it, but in the end we couldn't help but feel a little let-down.

When talking to Kiwis about Halloween, I was surprised to hear them describe it as an American holiday. I'd always been taught of it's Irish and Scottish origins and there are many immigrants from both countries in NZ. (Although I'm sure it was the Americans who commercialized it to it's current level) Whatever, it is a very recent phenomenon and I can't help but feel that there is a question on how exactly to go about it. We felt this keenly as we attempted to take the girls out trick or treating. I'd asked around and been told of one particular street where the residents really get into it. But when we arrived, we saw a few small groups of kids, some in costume, some not, tentatively standing around in front of houses, wondering whether or not to knock, and goading eachother into being the one to do it. There was no way of knowing which houses would participate and which would not as there were no decorations, and certainly no jack-o-lanterns. It is not only the wrong season for them, but the pumpkins here are small, incredibly heavy, blue squashes that you either have to open with an axe, or cook for a bit first before you can slice them. You absolutely cannot carve a face into them if you tried! And as the sun doesn't go down until 8pm, the usual leaving the porch light on wasn't a possible clue either. Despite the challenges presented to us, we did manage to hit three houses, and the girls received some nice unwrapped caramels at one, and some nice unwrapped licorice at another. (Note to Kiwis: in the US, parents look through children's candy at the end of the evening and take out the suspicious looking bits including anything not in a wrapper as we fear people may be poisoning our children. Lovely holiday, isn't it?)

Though the trick or treating was a bit of a bust, we did enjoy the 'Twisted Circus'-themed carnival put on at Capital E! on the Civic Square. While it didn't really have that Halloween "flavor" for us, we did enjoy ourselves and appreciated the effort put out to entertain kids and families.

I will admit to getting teary and feeling profoundly homesick when I realized I was not going to get anywhere near my Halloween "fix" this year. In a last ditch effort to make up for it, we went home and gorged ourselves on Butterfingers, Reese's peanut butter cups and Almond Joys sent to us by Aunt Sharon (thanks, Aunt Sharon!) The best part of the night, for me, anyway, was snuggling up before bed and reading our favorite Halloween books-The Littlest Pumpkin, Rattlebone Rock, Grimericks, and Possum's Harvest Moon to name a few. More than anything, they gave me that Halloween-ness I'd been craving, and felt as much a part of our traditions as any of the rest.

So Happy Halloween to all those back home who are looking forward to a spooky evening of tricks and treats tonight! Be safe and have fun! Happy Haunting!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weta Cave

Jake works at Weta, the visual effects outfit founded by Peter Jackson years ago which created pretty much every ring of chainmail, every sword, every prop---digital or physical---for the Lord of the Rings movies. They have two major branches: Weta Workshop which handles sculptures, costumes, masks, animatronics, puppets, etc. and Weta Digital which handles the all-CG equivalents for fully computer generated characters (such as Gollum:)

From Weta Cave

The Weta Cave is a combination gift shop and gallery inside which Weta showcases its past work on movies. I took a ton of pictures for our LotR loving family members back home. The miniatures sold there are the miniatures made by the Weta artists who worked on the films.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Today was the last day of school holidays. Tomorrow it's back to the grindstone for the girls and I for one last term before the end of the school year. Wellington took pity on us and gave us four whole days of (mostly) sunshine in a row! We enjoyed getting out and about and letting the sun shine on our faces.

Steve took the day off on Friday and we did a 4 mile round-trip hike out to Sinclair Head starting at the Taputeranga Marine Reserve at Owhiro Bay. The rock formations along the coast there are stunning reds, blues, and purples and play host to New Zealand fur seals and little blue penguins at certain times of the year. Unfortunately, there were none to be seen this day, but the schlep was definitely worth it. We were treated to awe-inspiring views of the snow-capped mountains of the South Island, tide pools full of life, and blue-green ocean as far as the eye could see. Steve and I marveled at how well our girls could amuse themselves with some sticks, some long strands of seaweed and a bunch of rocks. Our family is all about perfecting the art of doing nothing.

Yesterday we took the girls to Te Papa in the morning then walked around Wellington ending up at Frank Kitts park along the waterfront. The girls did some jumping on the Big Air Bungy jumping attraction (what would you call it exactly? It's not a ride per se..).

In this album you'll also see a couple pictures of Etta the Weta who has been living in our mailbox of late. We've been leaving the door open thinking she may be stuck in there, but it seems she comes and goes just fine so we're happy to share.

At the end of the pictures you'll see today's outing. We visited Kaitoke Regional Park along the Hutt and Pakuratahi Rivers north of us. It's a lovely recreation area of hiking trails with lots of bridges to cross the lazy rivers below. The girls were even brave enough to go for a dip despite the chilly water. Goofballs. We did the Pakuratahi River Walk trail through podocarp-broadleaf forest and let Haley go nuts taking picture after picture of the ferns.

Oh, and just for my nephew 'Xandre, we made sure to take the girls' picture in front of the sign for Rivendell, where they used the river gorge as the backdrop for the Elven village in the first 'Lord of the Rings' movie.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm Tired

Wanna know why? The wind. Which, in the same way that rain is not a big enough word to describe the way it rains here, wind is so inadequate and paints so vague a picture as to be utterly useless to describe what we've got going on here. Perhaps gale would be more descriptive? What about hurricane? The forecast is warning of severe gales up to 150kmh-that's 93mph (!) for you metric-impaired Yanks. At what point do we stop messing around and call this what it feels like?

By the way, as I sat here typing that Steve walked in and said to me, "it's raining up right now, I just wanted to mention that."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Togs or Undies?

My friend Lisa, an ex-pat herself hailing from Chicago, posted this hilarious video on her blog a couple weeks ago. It's a summertime commercial for an ice cream treat called Trumpets, a Kiwi version of what we would call a "drumstick" at home. I ripped her off asked her permission to copy her so that I could share it with you good folks who read 4kiwiwannabes. Thanks Lisa! Enjoy the clip!

Thursday, October 2, 2008


We just did. Will you?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Funny As

The guys at work find this video absolutely hilarious. I have to admit that I've lived here long enough to find it pretty damn funny as well.

It might be hard to understand back home. It might seem weird or even nonsense to someone who hasn't spent some real time here in NZ.

I thought I'd put it up on the blog to offer possible insights into either the Kiwi sense of humor, an example of how far I've integrated into Kiwi culture or both. The origins of the "as" expression is "sweet as" as far as I know. I believe this is from "that's sweet as anything" but shortened to simply "sweet as." I've heard "cool as" as well. It may be from blue collar British slang too, as I heard a tradesman fixing a door on the show "Peep Show" using "sweet as."

WARNING: Contains light profanity. It's the "S" word which is just at the edge between casual slang and profanity here. At school, the teachers might use words like "damn" and "hell" and even "crap" in front of the kids, but probably not the S-word. If one of them dropped something on their foot and said the S-word in front of their class it wouldn't be a big deal past a little tittering, I suspect.

Given a few more years the S-word will probably leap across the gap between casual slang and profanity and join "damn," "hell" and "crap" in the ranks of expletives that are discouraged but not necessarily unacceptable in public schools.

Joanne doesn't and wouldn't speak this way at school though. Our American sensibilities prevent us from being comfortable relaxing our language this way in public.

School Holidays!

Term 3 just ended at school and the girls and I are off for the next two weeks. Nice! Although we have no real plans I'm looking forward to some down time and (crossing fingers, touching wood) some better weather for exploring the out-of-doors. The girls have both been sick with the dreaded lurgy this past week and I'm hoping they'll perk up over the weekend so we can have some fun.

I'm also looking forward to some time to sit on my butt and read a book or two. At the moment I'm 1/3 of the way through 'Absalom, Absalom!' (this is probably my 10th attempt at this book and this is the furthest I've gotten, alas) but I need a second, fluffier book to make me laugh and that when I lose my spot doesn't require me to start two pages back at the beginning of the sentence. Anyone have any suggestions? And if you're about to suggest some great book that Oprah just recommended about a woman overcoming adversity, save it. I'm not a fan of the Oprah picks. I need a good laugh, people!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Spring Forward

FYI, Daylight Savings time starts here at 2am, Sunday 28, September. For my friends and family on the West Coast of the U.S. that means we'll only be 4 hours behind you. Well, to be accurate, it's 20 hours ahead. And, come 2, November when you end your Daylight Savings Time, there will only be 3 hours difference, or more accurately we'll be 21 hours ahead. That makes sense, right? Hopefully the time changes should make finding mutually agreeable times to Skype much easier.

p.s. To my friends and family in the Central Standard Time Zone, we'll only be 5 hours difference. Mom, what about you guys in the wacky Mountain Time Zone? You guys don't budge, right?

Friday, September 19, 2008

How to Make Friends

This video was made by Haley as part of a school-wide project. Each child chose a piece of their writing to read and record on their ibooks, then send to their parents via email. I've been watching the children at school practice these over the last couple weeks anticipating what Zoe and Haley would send home. Well done, Haley!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Plantar fasciitis

Last week we had our introduction to the Kiwi health care system. Haley had conjunctivitis and needed some eye drops and Zoe needed to be seen for a pain in her foot that she had been experiencing off and on. Getting appointments was easy and speedy and I really liked our Scot doctor who made a point of talking to each of the girls about their issues and not just talking to me about them, in front of the girls. It was $30NZD per appointment for each girl, and $10 for Haley's eye drops. Nice!

As for Zoe, turns out she has a case of plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the fibrous tissue running along the sole of the foot, which has been causing her pain in the heel and top of her foot. Like to venture a guess as to what caused it? Remember awhile ago how we told you about the Kiwis and their inclination towards barefooted-ness? Turns out our little Zoe's soft American feet weren't up to the rigorous demands put upon them by this Kiwi kid habit. So, for now, much to her chagrin, it's ibuprofen and no more going barefoot at school.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Flowers for Dad

My Dad is in the hospital at the moment. This is the second family member to have an emergent health episode in the sixth months since we've been here. I don't need to describe what that's like, I'm sure your imaginations can fill in the blanks.

My Dad loves to take pictures of nature. We used to tease him that our family photos were more of the pretty flowers than the pretty daughters. Since I can't be there, I took these pics of the flowers in our garden just for him. Love you, Dad. Get well soon.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More Teef!

I couldn't decide which one of these pics of Haley's new, holier smile was the cutest so enjoy four.

Monday, September 1, 2008


I'm going to look past the fact that the weather completely sucks and has for the last four months and that everything is twice as expensive to buy and the pay is half as much as we're used to and get straight to kebabs.

Kebabs are not the shish-kebabs, the "kebab" is something completely unto itself. And it's pronounced "keh-BAB" which rhymes with "slab" or "stab." To pronounce it correctly, speak like you're from New Jersey and a little annoyed.

It's a little bit gyro, a little bit burrito, made right in front of you and squeezed full of up to six sauces of your choosing. There's a big rotating column of meat (lamb or chicken) and a specially designed meat shaving device that looks like big industrial hair clipper with the head on backwards that they use to shave it.

Strips of meat are put on a pita-like rounds that are thinner than pita bread and burrito-tortilla in size. Then, according to your tastes, one of six squeeze bottles is mobilized and a swirl of sauce the consistency of ketchup is squirted onto the meat. The sauces are most commonly: yogurt, watery hummus, tomato, mild chilli (note spelling of "chili",) hot chilli, and barbeque. Some places offer yogurt or garlic-yogurt. Some don't offer barbeque (which is somewhere between K.C. Masterpiece and hand lotion.)

Then, atop your heavily-sauced meats go shredded lettuce, sliced onions, sliced tomatoes, parsley, shredded carrots, or shredded cheese.

The whole thing gets rolled up burrito-style inside aluminium foil (note spelling of "aluminum") and slipped into a paper sleeve. Some of them stick the rolled burrito---paper, foil and all---into a panini grill and give it a little toasting, but many don't.

This is a "kebab" and you can't swing a dead stoat in Wellington CBD without hitting one or two of these shops. I go to Kebab Queen which is down the road and under the bank building at the underground food court. Also down there is a place called Jimbom which also offers kebabs. Up the street is "Abrakebabra" (seriously) which has (in my humble opinion) the best kebabs in the area. Down the cross street is "Cuba Kebab" which offers the only beef meat pole in the area. There's another kebab place the other direction from Abrakebabra that's down Courtenay Place. And another farther up Cuba street called King Kebab.

And it's pretty much the same formula:

  1. Meat pole with meat of your choice.
  2. Meat shaved into strips and put on big round rollable bread.
  3. Up to six bottles of sauce squirted onto meat.
  4. Lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, parsley, cheese.
  5. Rolled up for your pleasure.
This is a "kebab." And DAMN they're tasty.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Kiwis by Haley

These are my kiwis. One of them I got from a store. The other my Dad gave to me. Kiwis are important because they're the country bird of New Zealand. There aren't very many of them alive in the wild. They eat grubs and bugs. They are flightless birds. Kiwis only live in New Zealand.

My kiwi keychain's name is Rua. Rua means "two" in Maori. I named it Rua because it is the second kiwi that I've got. The other Kiwi's name is Fuzz. Both of the stuffed kiwis squeak.

There's also a kind of fruit called the kiwi fruit. The people in New Zealand call everybody kiwis. I like it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A change of tune!!!

I joined the school choir this term. Luckily, I don't have to memorize the lyrics. ( They play them on an over-head projector!!!) Any way, there's only one way to stop from sticking out from the rest of the Kiwis, and that's to speak their language. (The accent!) So, every Friday, after lunch I go and sing in a non-American way. When we get to the word "S-T-A-R" I sing " staaa". For "air" I sing "a-ya"for "danger" "dan-ja" and on and on.I'm getting used to it, but yet I still find it tricky, especially numbers. Well, I'll pick it up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Earthquake Shmearthquake

A 5.9 earthquake struck Hawke's Bay last night. (Don't worry, that's about 300km's from us.) 5.9!! That's like, huge! So what do you think ensued? Panic? Mayhem? Death and destruction? Nope. Not here. In fact, not a single emergency call was made despite power outages in some areas . GNS Science duty seismologist Warwick Smith commented to the NZ Herald that, "New Zealand generally got a quake measuring about 6.0 once a year and Hawke's Bay residents would be as hardened as anyone to quakes, being on the country's main earthquake belt."

And, ladies and gentlemen, that pretty much sums up the Kiwi attitude toward hardship. Harden the *&$%# up! There's a comedy sketch show from Australia that does a bit about this and it applies equally, perhaps more so, to Kiwis. Enjoy, but know this is not for the easily offended or perhaps the workplace due to language.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Winter in Wellington

Said Haley the other day as we walked to school, "Mom, this rain is really weird. It's just coming straight down not sideways."

update: more rain/storms forecasted for this weekend. Today's forecast, however, reads, "Fine. Northerlies freshening in the afternoon." I get the "fine" part. That means clear and sunny here. But what the *&#@ is "freshening"??

Monday, August 18, 2008


In case you were wondering, the Tooth Fairy does make visits to the Southern Hemisphere. The neighbor girl told me so. Haley lost her third tooth just now, her first in NZ. On our walk home from school-it was still intact at this point, hanging by a gooey pink thread- she told me she was going to lose it and we wondered out loud if they have the Tooth Fairy in New Zealand. I made sure to ask it loudly enough for the neighbor girl to hear as she was walking several paces ahead of us. I'd been watching this girl's two front teeth slowly grow in over the past couple months, and thought she was a likely expert. She took the cue and quickly turned around, smiling with her too-big-for-her-smile white teeth and said to Haley, "Don't worry, the Tooth Fairy comes to New Zealand." And just for the record, upon further probing she informed me that she usually leaves a $2 coin.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

American Pie

I partook in a very interesting conversation in the staff room during morning tea yesterday. One of the classrooms is doing a tour of foods around the world and the teacher was consulting with another on what would be typical American fare. I walked in on them as they were trying out their worst American accents and they both blushed deeply, as I could hear in their voices how unmelodious our accent must be to the Kiwi ear. Busted!

As I've noted before, the flip side of living in another culture is that you end up with a better definition of your own, so I was curious to hear what they thought of as American. Burgers and fries were unanimously considered quintessential American, as were pancakes and maple syrup, popcorn, hot dogs, and roast turkey. I groaned in horror when they all enthusiastically sited McDonald's as being uber-American. Oddly enough, it took me a beat or two to think of anything (not true, I immediately thought of Mexican food but quickly realized how stupid that would sound), but I put forth apple pie and pumpkin pie. I think in the end it was decided pancakes and maple syrup would be the easiest for the class to cook together, even if the maple syrup would be Canadian, which I guess is what they can get here.

I continued the conversation with one of the relievers (substitute teacher) who had once driven across the states in a Mustang convertible (which she only realized had no heat when she reached the Canadian border, but I digress.) She said she thought of barbecued spare ribs, and said she ate them every time she had the chance during that trip. I thought barbecue was an excellent suggestion of a true American food, and since our conversation I've been making a mental list of what could be considered uniquely American foods, not an easy list to make when you think of how many cultures we've absorbed and integrated in our short history. What do you think of? I'd be curious to know from both Kiwis, U.S. dwellers and anyone else, what, to you, is true Americana cuisine?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I like my morning ride.

Presented for your inspection: two months of fully-punched bus tickets representing probably about two and a half months of riding buses due to the occasional cash fare. I switched to the plastic-credit-card method where you buy a month's worth of fare for $95 and just flash the card when you get on. It's got the month written on it in big easy-for-bus-drivers-to-read letters and I just have to show the right month name and I'm in. I can ride as much as I want now, which is as little as I have to.

Actually it just amounts to my daily commute. My entire commute expenses are $95 NZD a month. That's pretty good, I think. No wear and tear on a car, no gas, no carbon molecules drifting about in the troposphere making hippies choke on their muesli, and no messy paper tickets to clutter up my wallet towards an eventual George Costanza Fat Wallet.

Things are still the same on the morning bus, more or less. Ozzy and Ozzy Mom still ride almost every day, though The Vicar isn't seen as frequently on the 8:25. He might be catching the bus earlier or later, though I still see him from time to time. The hypoxia twins (the two College girls who talk a blue streak in a back bench) have been discussing prom, prom dresses, hotels, who's going to drink when and where and how much and the general sort of cute teenage prom-related madness that is probably singular in the whole secondary school experience for the intensity with which you magnify its importance beforehand and the puzzlement with which you discard its importance afterwards.

A few other characters have emerged as interesting regulars. There's a mid-height slightly porcine man with small-framed but thick-lensed glasses who sits near the front. He's always in a sportscoat and looking very neat and clean. I call him "The Engineer."

Then there's Good Scarlett. She's in her late teens, I'm guessing, looking a bit like Scarlett Johansson but a little more cherubic and not as pouty. I figure Scarlett Johansson is the "bad" Scarlett to her "good" Scarlett. She recently dyed her hair red, which makes her sort of pale cherubic qualities more pronounced but doesn't really suit her, I think. The nickname's also a play on Good Charlotte, which is a tedious American "screamo"/emo post-goth musical irritant. It seemed to fit, I dunno.

There's a woman who's probably in her mid 50's who dresses to the nines and carries herself like someone who grew up with privilege. She stands out because she's beautiful in a "I'm not trying to look 19 my whole life" sort of way. In fact, her clothes are pretty down-scale. She just wears it all with a sort of dignified composure that up-scales everything for her. Her purses are vinyl, shoes are worn, jewelry is scuffed and sunglasses are knock-offs. I don't have a name for her yet, but she's on the bus almost every morning---I'll think of something.

And finally there's a couple that rides together almost every morning. They're polite but not friendly as I see them waiting at my stop when I get out there. I give them the quickly raised and lowered eyebrows of "hello there, I see you there, and since we're going to be standing near each other I'll pass along an indication that I've noticed you and that I'm here and that I make eye contact and won't be likely to stab you and take your stuff" and get a half-smile or a nod. They're an interesting couple in that she looks a bit like a barn owl and he's way out of her league.

I still like my morning ride. I play video games on my Nintendo DS, use my Playstation Portable to either play video pinball or read programming textbook PDF files, or just look out the window or watch the curious New Zealand people.

Now, if it's not raining---which it usually isn't these days (not raining, I mean)---I get off a few stops early and walk through the city to work. I like getting the legs moving and the blood pumping before I sit down at my desk for the next nine hours. If it's a sunny morning, I sometimes get off at the train station and walk the rest of the way in.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fire bad? Fire good!

I built a fire tonight.

It doesn't sound like much, but as I sit here writing this and the fire is roaring in the woodburner I can't help but feel a huge sense of pride and not a little amount of relief. I'm a suburban kid, mostly. Starting a fire wasn't something that was done often---at least not intentionally.

We're finding that having a fire burning in the woodburner downstairs does a pretty good job at heating the entire living room and our bedroom to a nice toasty "I can feel my legs!" temperature that's preferable to the feet-in-ice-blocks sort of temperature that things seem to settle into naturally. As a consequence, we're going through a lot of wood. So far it's been the occasional bag of logs from Warehouse when they have them but more often than not it's been bags of pine blocks picked up at any one of a half dozen places that sell them. Woolworth's, Countdown, Warehouse, New World, several nearby dairies---it's all the same. A big bag of pine blocks that look like ends and scraps from construction jobs where odd bits of rough wood from building house frames were swept into a heap and scooped into bags.

Joanne just put in our first order for a wood delivery from a local woodery. I'm not sure that's a real word. A bunch of companies will deliver wood in various forms and types and combinations to suit your wood needs. Our order is going to be pine and gum. Pine being the fast-burning easy-to-light stuff and gum (eucalyptus, for those in the States) being the slow-burning hard-to-light variety that keeps the fire burning longer. Presumably this wood will be more of the rustic split-logs type and not urban-sprawl-scraps.

Joanne builds the fires. She puts some newspaper and kindling in, lights it and POOF! There's a fire. Periodically she has to open the glass door of the woodburner and blow gently at it to coax it to burn hotter and it usually responds with a FOOM! and a beautiful blaze emerges from the wood like it really wanted to get out all along and she was just clearing the way. She's done this a bit before, and she knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Joanne is out tonight with some girl friends, and I'm here with the sleeping kids "holding down the fort." I like the phrase because it implies that I'm doing some kind of crucial and official sentry duty that requires a grown man to sit on a couch in his underwear with a computer on his lap.

So knowing how much she likes the fires and knowing how much she hates the feet-in-ice-blocks feeling, I thought it might be nice to whip up a fire and let it blaze away while I settle into a good fort down-holding scenario in slippers and with or without pants. I spent a good hour plying the pine blocks with every fire-building trick I had---rearranging them, tucking newspaper under them, around them, on top of them. I built teepees of kindling, card-houses of two-by-four chunks. I shoveled ashes, I cleared airflow pathways. I went through probably a Sunday edition of the newspaper. In the end, I'm pretty sure it was the swearing at the charred pile of blocks that eventually turned the tide of battle and got a self-sustaining fire going.

When the fire finally caught, it was thanks to a teepee of kindling under which I'd in turn sacrificed three separate wadded up newspaper pages, letting each one have ample time to burn down. This tepee sat in a mire of half-burned newspaper ash, clumps of charcoal from failed kindling attempts and tightly-wadded and only partially singed sausages of newspaper from a doomed strategy that was discarded pretty early on in the process.

As of right this minute, it appears that the sausages eventually went up, as did the sort of tossed salad of weekend news magazine pages that burned slowly but colorfully before unwadding themselves somehow and going out cold against the floor of the fire tiles.

It was about the time that I'd given up on the magazine pages that I think my dad would have slammed the woodburner shut in a cloud of profanity. He'd have then emerged from the garage a minute later wild-eyed and with gas can in hand commending himself for his ingenuity in a tone loud enough for everyone to hear and in a way that preempted any skeptical comments from the onlookers. I was determined to see my smoldering pile of carbon past this point and not give in to chemistry so easily as the previous generation of mostly-suburban fire-building wannabes.

And it was worth it. I'm very proud of my fire, and I'm feeding it, tending it and cooing over it like I would a cranky infant placed under my care. At times it fixes my gaze and I stare dreamily into it. And I'm just starting to feel my legs again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rain, rain and more rain. Oy.

I know you summer sunbathers back home will find it very hard to believe, but it's winter down here. And if any of you remember that crazy New Years' storm from a couple of years ago, you may have at least a small idea of what we're dealing with here.

It is winter in Wellington. And that means rain. Lots and lots of it. Big huge deluges with some hail and high winds thrown in just for fun. The ground is completely saturated. Heading out to the backyard to clip some rosemary for the evening meal yesterday, my feet squooshed and splashed with every step across the lawn and I felt like I was walking on a very wet sponge.

Just to recall, this is our second winter in a row. When we left in March, the last of the Northern California winter rains had just ceased, and things were slowly starting to wake up. And then when we arrived here, we had a few days of Indian summer (I know they have a name for that here, hmmm) before winter hit us and settled in for a stay.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm definitely feeling seasonally-affected. When the sun finally shone for a few hours today, it was all I could do not to stretch out on a rock and sun myself like a lizard. But now the sun has gone, and, alas, the wind is blowing in another storm. I've put my wool sweater back on and I've got my hot cup of tea next to me. Time to close the drapes, light a fire in the woodburner and settle in for some more winter.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Big 4-0

Happy Birthday, Steve!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008