Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sound Trouncing

Yesterday's netball game was the Ngaio Sapphires' second victory in a row. They played well again, with lots of good coordinated passing and good careful shooting. They switched up positions (again) and our Zoe wound up as GK (Goal Keeper) this time. Ngaio played SO well, that the ball was almost never at our end of the court and our poor Goal Keeper and the opposing team's Goal Shoot stood there side by side inside the semi-circular goal line and froze in the frigid winter wind. Make no mistake, it's wet and cold here. We got a bit of a break in the drizzle for the game, but it sprinkled on the courts throughout.

I believe the score ended up being six-to-one, Ngaio, which was a nice solid victory, but I'll have to admit that towards the end of the game I was rooting a bit for the other team to get some goals, retain possession of the ball, or in general just have a little more fun. Partially, I think, it was so that the ball would make its way towards Zoe so she'd have a chance to get involved and maybe warm up a little, but it was also just sympathy. I think the average height of the Ngaio players was probably a good head higher than the average height of their opponents, and when the little girls with their short arms were able to pass the ball around the large stilty Ngaio girls with their long wing spans, I couldn't help but feel a little impressed and sympathetic.

They were both Year 5 teams, so presumably the match-up was all on the up and up, but I still felt a poignant little pang when I was told that the other team hadn't yet won a game this season.

Zoe even told me she felt like she needed to not try as hard because, "you know, they were kind of short, dad." Maybe she doesn't have the killer instinct necessary for professional sports. I tried to explain the fine line between fair but aggressive good-sportsmanship and vicious and bloodthirsty sports sadism, but having no real bearings in sports and the sporting world to draw on, soon got lost in the uncertainties and just agreed that it seemed hard to want to beat another team that was working at a disadvantage. After all, I was the dad who started rooting for the other team a little.

I think Zoe and I both felt essentially the same thing.

In the end, it was fun. I enjoy Netball more than any of the other extra-curricular sports Zoe has gone out for. Maybe it's because it doesn't feel like a "real" sport to me---it's just some fun-looking made-up team-based activity and doesn't seem to come with Sporty-Super-Dads projecting their own failed sporting careers on their children from the sidelines.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Winter Wonderland School Disco

"The Snowman and the Blizzard"

How Zoe felt about the disco (above).
How Haley felt about the disco (below).

The girls had a really good time. Haley spent a bit of allowance money on a flashing light necklace and a juice box. Little material girl that she is, that was the peak of the evening as far as she was concerned and she was ready to go. Between the lateness of the hour (it started at her usual bedtime) and the sensory overload, she lasted about 45 minutes. Luckily Steve got there right about then and took her home to bed.

Zoe, on the other hand, shook her little booty and danced the night away. She didn't sit out a single song, including doing her best fist-in-the-air jumping up and down during Foo Fighters' "The Pretender" (yes, those of you who know me, I DID ask the dj to play that "for my kids", and not just because I wanted to hear it played really, really, loudly, I swear) and straight on until the last song of the evening, a 2 minute 47 second long knees-up-as-high-as-you-can-get-'em, cancan. How long can you cancan?? Whew!

The room was crowded, it was hot, it was humid and the music was blaring. Everyone danced, even the boys. The dj hauled out all the old favorites, including the Macarena, the Chicken Dance, and a couple other Kiwi traditions. Everyone knew all the moves and all the words. I saw some genuine break dancing by some very talented young girls. The winter costumes were fabulous. A good time was had by all.

This last picture of Zoe I snapped on our way out, as I aimed the camera at her and asked, "Hey Zoe, how was your first disco in New Zealand?" Her look says it all...

Here's the rest of the album for a look inside the disco.

Happy My-Birthday To YOU

We have an interesting ritual here at work. When it's your birthday, you buy a bunch of candy (lollies), cookies (biscuits) and other snacks and you put them on a table in the common area of the office. After that, you send an "It's My Birthday, Snacks At The Regular Place" email to the whole company who then stampedes over and loots the table of goodies. If they pass by you, they'll wish you Happy Birthday. Maybe they'll send you a "thanks" email too.

My first impression was that this seemed incredibly backwards and very odd.

Then it was explained to me like this: "If everyone bought someone candy on their birthday, they'd have too much candy and it'd be too big of an expense for everyone to constantly be buying candy for everyone all year long. Plus most people wouldn't remember your birthday, anyways. If you buy it for everyone on your own birthday, then over the course of a year it all evens out."

It kind of makes sense!

I'm wondering if this provides a keen insight into the Kiwi mentality, or if it's just one policy at one company and reflects the utilitarian philosophy of a specific group of people.

I like the policy, though. It downplays the individual in favor of the group while still offering recognition and celebration of a happy event (survival of life's dangers and miseries for yet another year.)

It's the notion "what goes around comes around" in a very real and tangible form.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Tuesday night was a special treat for the girls. We took them to see the movie Speed Racer (yeah, yeah...) which is due to open here in New Zealand tomorrow (Friday the 27th.) My company had a private screening (and nearly filled the auditorium) a few days early since we developed the Speed Racer videogame for Warner Brothers.

So it was a highly exclusive affair filled with my coworkers and their friends and partners (the general term used here for wives/girlfriends/mistresses/gimp-slaves/whatever) where we got to "break the street date" and have a little weeknight fun. Families were in attendance, and Zoe and Haley got to see some of the girls they hadn't seen since our second day in the country.

If you remember, Brett and his family invited us to a big family barbeque in Petone where we met his brother and sister-in-law and friends and their families. We sat on the back deck and watched the sun go down and drank wine and ate sausages and talked about how we'd only been in New Zealand for a couple days. Once we'd all eaten, Mike (Brett's brother) stood up and gave a long blessing in Maori followed by an english translation and ending with "Kia ora!" Our girls were playing with their girls and running this way and that, climbing trees, and playing the sorts of games kids play in the waning days of summer.

Tuesday this week, they saw some of those kids for the first time since that day. Haley immediately went over there and started talking to Brett's daughter and his brother's daughter to say hello and how-you-do. When she came back over, she stunned both Joanne and me by telling us, "Deonte said that I'm losing my American accent."


If that's true, it's happening without any of us noticing and right under our noses. We've noticed a few new affectations that the girls have adopted. Mainly a little end-of-sentence lilt where the tone of voice rises sharply, falls sharply, and then rises just a bit at the end of the word. It's usually most obvious when they're being emphatic with the last word of a sentence. We've also noticed a few turns of phrase such as "but dad, it's meant to be for kids" instead of "supposed to be."

What's even more interesting than Haley losing the old accent or aquiring the new accent is that Joanne and I aren't really noticing it happening.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

School Disco

Friday night the girls have their first school "disco." Haley immediately began practicing her finger-in-the-air John Travolta-esque moves. I assured her that the term "disco" just means dance, in this case, and there would be no mirrored globes hanging from the ceiling or platform shoes. In fact, it is a winter-themed dance with a prize for best winter costume.

(Those of you back in the states will undoubtedly enjoy letting us know that it was 92 degrees there yesterday and that you had a lovely soak in the pool at my house that is sitting there empty, just dying for a barbecue pool party. Save it. Enduring winter number two with no break for spring, much less summer, has me seasonally-affected and thus, not in the mood. Enjoy the pool. I hope you get a horrible sunburn that peels for days.)

Back to the winter-themed dance. I need to come up with two simple, but clever outfits for the girls to wear, so I thought I would turn to you, our readers, for help. The costumes must be comfortable, original, easy to construct, and above all, CHEAP. I can't wait to see what you come up with! Thanks for your help! And no peeing in my pool!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Glow Worm Encounters

Friday night the girls and I headed into the city for an outing with the Kiwi Conservation Club, a nature club for kids sponsored by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. We got our Friday night fish 'n chips from our favorite takeaways place in the city, and met the group at the band shell of the Botanic Gardens for a nighttime picnic and hike in the dark.

After we ate, the kids ran around the big lawn with their glow-in-the-dark face paint and torches (flashlights, for those of you back home. See? I'm assimiliating!). Then we were treated to a very informative talk by Dr. George Gibbs, author and professor of entomology at Victoria University. Turns out that the Wellington Botanic Gardens are where glow worms were originally studied and eventually classified as Arachnocampa luminosa or "glowing spider-bug," in the late 1880's. This particular variety is found only in Australia and New Zealand.

After the talk, we went for a walk in the gardens. As we got deeper into the trail, where the trees came together over the path and we could have been in some remote bush rather than smack dab in the heart of the capital city, we turned off our torches. Slowly, out of the dark, tiny little points of yellow-green light started to develop along the banks over-hanging the path on one side, and along the ravine where a creek ran through on the other. It looked like someone had sprinkled the woods with pixie dust!

It was a truly magical sight. I tried to convince the girls that they were the glowing lights from tiny fairy houses, but, alas, they are too old to believe in fairies (insert sound of Tinkerbell hitting the floor). It brought to my mind the fireflies of summer and my childhood in Northern Wisconsin, and I remarked to myself on how vastly different my own childhood was from that of my children's. I never would have guessed that I would be sharing the wonder of bioluminescence with my children in some far off country at the bottom of the world.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Zoe Got Linked From Make!

UPDATE! See below.


To perpetuate the endless recursion that is the Internets, here's a link to a link back to here.

Zoe's first Make link! I couldn't be any more proud.


We've also been linked by Wired magazine blog "GeekDad". Good on ya, GeekDad!

And more interest in the Flying Night Stand over here at Shakadoo:

Here at 4kiwiwannabes we're addressing the world's bunk bed night stand needs, one bunk bed night stand at a time.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Odell Reserve

Odell Reserve is the crest of "our hill" here.

I spun around on my heel snapping pictures in all directions when we reached the top and used the software that came with my camera ("PhotoStitch") to stitch it all together into a panorama. It's more impressive when it's not broken up into chunks, but it was too wide of an image to upload as a big strip.

We had a great hike out there, there's a narrow winding path set into the hill running down to Old Porirua Road.

There's a water reservoir at the hilltop and right next to it, with sheer drops in all directions is... ...a mountain bike ramp?

The City of Wellington even endorses the idea.

Why waste a great hilltop with dangerous looming drops in all directions by NOT setting up a mountain bike ramp near the edge? That's my thinking.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Behold the "Flying Night Stand"

The Proud Inventor with the Flying Night Stand

Zoe named this the "Flying Night Stand." At bedtime one night she said that she wished she had a place to put her water glass and book like she used to when she had a night stand. She suggested that we could build a special shelf for the purpose and she could use that. I loved this idea, and so we brainstormed a bit before I kissed her good night and she turned off the light.

I alluded to it a while back when we were in the midst of gathering the first of the materials. It's taken about three weeks of weekends to put it all together from parts purchased, found, and modified to end up with the very satisfying (if not necessarily aesthetically flawless) final result.

Here's another view:

I asked her if she wanted to sand it down and paint it and she does, but she wants to use it first so we'll save that part for another weekend project.

The Materials

Below you can see the materials that went into construction. Some of it was purchased, some of it was reused scraps and odds and ends.

1 piece of shelf wood 400mm by 240mm
1 long piece of wood for the edging (440mm x 80mm x 20mm)
2 short pieces of wood for the edging (220mm x 80mm x 20mm)
2 steel angle brackets
2 screw-in storage hooks
2 same-sized pieces of re-used scrap wood blocks
A bunch of wood screws from the junk box

The long and short pieces of edging wood were glued and screwed to the outside of the shelf with wood screws. We drilled pilot holes to prevent cracking while screwing things together. The wood blocks were attached to the top of the shelf with the angle brackets so that we could screw the storage hooks into the tops of the blocks at the appropriate angle.

This allowed us to make small adjustments to the angle of the storage hooks so that they held the shelf flat and level against the side of the bunk bed railing.

Here's some detail on how the angle brackets were attached on the bottom. These were screwed all the way through the shelf into the wood block to provide extra stability

To attach it to the bed, just hang it on the railing of the upper bunk (in these beds there's no LOWER bunk, just a desk and some open space down there.)

This was a really fun project to do together.

Zoe got to see that not only is it fun to dream up something but you can actually go and MAKE that thing yourself using tools and materials that are handy and with a minimum of fuss and trouble if you just think carefully about it and stay on it until it's done.

And now she gets to use it at bedtime every night to keep her glass of water nearby (no more stumbling down the ladder in the dark if she's thirsty) and hold her books so they're handy when she gets all tucked in for the night's reading.

And she can feel good that it's totally hers, from conception to creation to utilization.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hizz Ormine?

For the last few days I've been speaking normally when speaking to people.

For the first few months I've been using what I believe to be a subset dialect of Kiwi and American English and speaking clearly and deliberately to enhance communication. I've recently stopped doing that just for fun. I've returned to speaking normally as if I'd speak to my North American friends.

I was picking up my prescription at the chemist across the street from work and told the girl "Hi, I'm here to pick up my prescription that was called in."

"Do you mean faxed in?" she asked me, kind of pedantically I thought. I took the question to mean that they don't allow calling-in of prescriptions here.

"Oh, yeah, faxed in from my doctor this morning."

"What name?" she asked.

I paused for a beat wondering if she meant his name---the doctor who faxed it---or my name, the guy who was picking it up. "His or mine?"

Now she paused a second. "Hizz Ormine?" she repeated unsteadily and then turned to go look it up, presumably under "O."

"No, no, I mean, I'm asking: do you need his name or my name?" I was feeling a little foolish at this point, thinking that I should have assumed she was asking for MY name. The question "What name?" kind of threw me off though.

It was a little awkward, but kind of funny. And it wouldn't have happened if I'd been more deliberate in speaking with only the subset of Kiwi and American English, but I've stopped doing that now... at least for a while.

And it IS kind of fun.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Simple Life

Life here is harder than in the states.

I don't mean "hard" in the sense of "difficult" so much as "hard" as in Mohr's Scale of mineral hardness. With mineral hardness, the "hardness" is defined as the resistance to being scratched by a harder material and the ability to scratch a softer material.

In that way, life here is harder than in the states.

Culture Shock

There are several well-designated stages of cultural assimilation that most people go through. They call it "culture shock" akin to the way World War I vets suffered from "shell shock" but through political correctness and the gentrification of language is now referred to as "Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder."

As a recent immigrant to New Zealand, let's say I'm going through "Post-Acculturation Disorientation Syndrome."

As a teenager I was convinced that I was different than everyone else and that none of the things that "normal" people go through would necessarily happen to me since I was, after all, Steve. I had the now-bewilderingly deep-seated belief that when I gave something a try, I wouldn't have to contend with the same laws of convention or even physics that those who came before me had so well documented and described. I'd say the lion's share of emotional growth that happens between the bulletproof teen years and doughy middle age is evinced by the gradual dawning of the notion that you're just a schmuck like everyone else.

A schmuck that's just as susceptible to Culture Shock as anyone else.

The stages of Culture Shock (or "Pre-Assimilatory Discombobulation Symptomology" if you like) are:

  1. Honeymoon/Tourist Phase
  2. Irritation and Hostility Phase
  3. Adjustment Phase
  4. Bi-Culturalism
Honeymoon Phase

This ought to be pretty self explanatory. When moving to an entirely new country, I imagine the Honeymoon Phase starts well before you've left your country of origin or you wouldn't have left in the first place. There's a certain blank stupidity required to uproot yourself from a completely comfortable and happy situation and seek out something completely unknown and possibly dangerous on the other side of the world. There's no better analogy for this than falling in love and what being in love eventually begets: a honeymoon.

They also call this the "tourist" phase where even tragedies of the human condition take on the rosy-hued tint of "local color." "Look, Bob, at the cute little potbellied malnourished local tribal boy, isn't he darling? He's trying to sell me some rocks to buy shoes, bless his heart."

I definitely drifted around for the first half dozen weeks in a honeymoon haze when we first got here, no question. It's unfortunate that you're in this state upon arrival since you need to make some pretty clear-headed long-term decisions for yourself or your family like getting phone service, internet service, finding a place to live and so on. But then, being head over heels in-love is a terrible time to make a decision on who your life partner should be too if you think about it.

Irritation and Hostility Phase

This is a very-real phase of adjustment that you slip into slowly. I've actually been bobbing in and out of this one for a while. This is the hard just-make-it-through phase. This phase is marked by:

From this page and this page:
  • Homesickness
  • Boredom
  • Withdrawal (i.e. spending excessive amounts of time reading, only seeing other Americans, avoiding contact with local people)
  • Need for excessive amounts of sleep
  • Compulsive eating or drinking
  • Irritability
  • Exaggerated cleanliness
  • Stereotyping of or hostility toward local people
  • Loss of ability to work effectively
  • Unexplainable fits of weeping
  • physical ailments (psychosomatic illness)
  • Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
  • Preoccupation with health
  • Aches, pains, and allergies
  • Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little
  • Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless
  • Anger, irritability, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others
  • Identifying with the old culture or idealizing the old country
  • Loss of identity
  • Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country
  • Unable to solve simple problems
  • Lack of confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity
  • Developing stereotypes about the new culture
  • Developing obsessions such as over-cleanliness
  • Longing for family
  • Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused
Doesn't sound like a sunlit stroll through the petunias, does it? It's not so great. I've felt all of these at one time or another, and sometimes in concert together.

Adjustment Phase

I'm bobbing in and out of this one too. Rather than these being distinct phases that occur in discrete intervals as if you'd move from one to the next at, say, Thursday at 7:31pm, there's a sort of muddled continuum of observations, thoughts and feelings running from Honeymoon to Adjustment.

When I make a joke that only Kiwis would get, I feel adjusted---if only for a little while. When I know how and where to buy a bus pass and catch a bus or which shop to go to for such-and-such specific specialty item, I feel adjusted.

It's coming slowly---fraught with setbacks and sidetracks---but it's coming.


This is the final phase of the so-called "Culture Shock" process and is really the endpoint or the phase that continues into perpetuity. It's being able to navigate local and birth cultures with equal aplomb and a state that I sorely anticipate. I can't see reaching this sort of cultural equilibrium any time real soon now, but I can definitely see it crowning over the horizon.
Hard Like a Diamond

So back to life being hard.

When I got here, I was soft. Now, after months of living in Wellington I can say I'm not as soft as I was when I was fresh-off-the-boat. There are hard walls that confine our behavior and define our finanicial degrees of freedom. To be surrounded by hardness requires some hardness.

We live more economically here---out of necessity---in both the financial and non-financial senses of the word. Economy and living sparingly have replaced convenience and expense. Everything costs more here, but if you need less of it then it's a zero sum. Effort and cleverness have become a sort of secondary currency. And we feel improved for it---ruddy-cheeked from the involuntary moral exercise of deprivation.

But then we were ready to live more sparingly and without a lot of unnecessary material trappings and without leaving a huge swath of half-consumed half-discarded garbage in our wake. It's why we came here in the first place.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sensing Societal Assimilations

I was trying for alliteration in that title, can anyone suggest how I could pack more sibilance in that?

At the Storylines Family Day they had some big padded bed-like areas for kids to flop down and watch Kiwi Moon on the big-screen TV. Since Haley can smell TV screens the way that wolves can smell fear, she took off ahead of us as we were leaving the main hall of the venue and entered a side room where a storyteller was plying the crowd on one end and a Capital E production of Kiwi Moon was playing at low volume on the other.

We rounded the corner into the room and I was craning my head and looking around a little when Joanne nudged me and pointed at Haley who had, without any prompting or even an example to follow from other kids, removed her shoes and left them neatly by the side of the big padded bed-like couch and flopped down on her belly with her sock-feet dangling comfortably in the air.

Leaving your shoes behind and moving about in a relaxed and informal manner is clearly a hallmark of not just Kiwi schoolkids but of the people as a whole. I continue to be amazed at the shoelessness at work, especially in what would normally be considered semi-formal work situations. At the gym, half the people leave their rather expensive leather shoes under the changing room bench rather than in the lockers themselves where they'd be safe from burgling under the lock-and-key that the gym staff give you as you check in at the front desk. It's as if to say, "Yeah, but no one would take your SHOES."

Discovering Haley so voluntarily and comfortably relaxing into this shoe protocol was truly touching and a feeling I'll never forget.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wood Pigeon Sighting

We were in Ngaio Gorge, hiking in Trelissick Park and we were coming down a hill and ran smack-dab into this:

Wood Pigeon, standing improbably on a thin branch.

It's a Kererū, an indigenous wood pigeon and a big, big boy. You'll notice what looks like an ordinary city pigeon head attached to an enormous body. That's what it looks like. In the above picture he looks a bit like a pigeon body-builder in a white tank top.

We took another handful of pictures and this one turned out to be a nice side view where you can see a little of the coloration. We were in shadow in late afternoon and the colors are a bit washed out.

It's hard to get a sense of scale, but it's big. Like a small turkey in a tree. We were standing there agog while people passed us on the track: first a woman with a brown dog who paused when she saw us gathered in a little arc looking silently and reverently up at it who affirmed Joanne's question of "Is it a wood pigeon?" with just a nodding "kereru..." and then marched on past it without another look. Right about then two others came tramping up the hill from the other direction and just sort of trudged on past without even stopping.

I guess it'd be kind of like coming up on a group in Muir Woods watching a squirrel in amazement and reassuring them that yes, indeed that's a squirrel. How very nice for you all, now please stand aside so I can continue my walk here on planet earth.

But that's fine. We were impressed and delighted by our first up-close encounter with this other-worldly body-builder pigeon in its natural environs on our hike through Ngaio Gorge and it was extremely satisfying.

Other Fun Sunday Festivities

And finally, a slideshow of our Sunday activities in and around Wellington. These involved checking out the Storylines Family Day, a "sausage sizzle" as Haley referred to it in our backyard with home-made lemonade with lemons from our tree and the hike along Kaiwharawhara stream.

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Boss Was Really Chuffed

At work, we do "sprints" to get from milestone to milestone. There's a software methodology that's been making the rounds in the last decade or two that companies adopt or adapt depending on how it fits their way of thinking. A sprint is really just the time between milestones or fixed dates where certain parts of the program are completed.

After our third sprint, when the whole team (now grown to a dozen people) were all gathered around, my boss told us that he was "really chuffed about how the sprint turned out."

He then went on to talk about something else, but I stopped him and asked him to back up a little bit. Chuffed? Chuffed doesn't sound good. With the word "huff" in there and some resemblance to "chufe" or "choof" (collegiate terminology for losing control of the last several hours worth of beer in a violent, spectacular and messy display of no doubt deeply seated personal problems as yet untended) the word "chuffed" sounds decidedly double-plus-un-good.

"Um, pumped. Pleased. Excited." was the definition I got back from a room full of Kiwis amused by my poor grasp of distinctly local colloquialisms. Every time I stumble on nomenclature or idiomatic expressions ("he was definitely taking the Mickey out of him") that I'm not familiar with, the people around me are amused but also seem to take a certain pride in the terminologies that are so distinctly un-American.

I also had a problem with "knackered" which is pronounced something close to "naked" which made for an interesting lunch time conversation about a co-worker's impending trip to London, New York and then Vancouver.

"You'll be pretty naked when you get back, I'll bet."


Thursday, June 5, 2008

World Environment Day

Happy World Environment Day! Not sure how it is different than Earth Day, but you can go ahead and click on those links and let me know. Wellington, NZ is the host city this year and the school and community are abuzz with activities to commemorate the day.

As part of Zoe's homework this week, she was to visit There the children can make pledges to reduce their carbon footprint to fight climate change. The pledges are things like "I will check my car tyres are the right pressure," and "I will recycle all my paper for 30 days," or "I will use reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones for 30 days." Excellent ideas, all! There are some less practical and perhaps somewhat questionable ones, as well, such as, "We will unplug the computer for [x-amount] of days" (impractical), "I will not open the fridge for [x-amount] of days" (huh?) and "I will use reusable nappies for [x-amount] of days," for which I could find no takers at our house, seeing as we've all chosen to be toilet-users for quite some time now.

While going over the list, Zoe encountered a problem she has had many times before with this sort of thing. (warning: here comes the part where I smugly pat myself on the back) Our family is already very green. We walk to school, we own a very infrequently used, small, petrol-efficient, car, we compost, we recycle, we hang the wash on the line to dry (washed in an energy-efficient front-loader in cold water, I may add), we use both sides of our paper (they call this GOOSe paper at Zoe's school, for "good on one side"), Steve takes the bus to work, we drink tap water, I use reusable grocery bags, we use reusable containers for the girls lunches, I buy locally grown produce and buy meat from the local butcher, we buy our power from the most green of the power companies, and on and on. Short of wearing recycled hemp clothing and washing it in baking powder (is that done?) there are very few changes we can easily make as a family.

That said, we have all made pledges to further reduce our carbon footprints. Steve has agreed to cut his shower time, I have agreed to not buy takeaway coffee in paper cups, and the girls are going to put 5 cm less water in their baths. I tried to convince the girls to pledge to "go to bed an hour earlier than normal for [x-amount] of days," but they weren't buying it.

I love that my almost 10-year-old has so wholeheartedly gotten into the spirit of environmentalism. I love that she goes around turning off all the switches on the outlets (for those of you back in the U.S., the outlets here all look like this and have switches on them). I love it even when I discover I have no internet access because the router has been shut-off from it's power source, or when my laptop shuts down because it was disconnected while the battery was charging. I remind myself to laugh when I come into the house, arms full of groceries, to discover she has turned out the stairway light on me. These little inconveniences are reminders to me of how earnestly she has received and interpreted the messages of conservation. I'm very proud of my little Earth girl.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Happy Birthday, um, Queen?

Today was The Queen's Birthday, a public holiday in New Zealand and not actually the birthday of the Queen of the Commonwealth at all. Queen Elizabeth II was actually born on April 21st---more than a month ago---and the public holiday honoring her (or him, in the case that there's a king at the top of the monarchy at the time) is celebrated on various days in various countries. The Queen of the Commonweath is also Queen of Antigua and Barbuda, Queen of Australia, Queen of the Bahamas, Queen of Barbados, Queen of Belize, Queen of Canada, Queen of Grenada, Queen of Jamaica, Queen of New Zealand, Queen of Papua New Guinea, Queen of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Queen of Saint Lucia, Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Queen of the Solomon Islands, Queen of Tuvalu, and, of course the Queen of the United Kingdom. But no longer Queen of Hong Kong.

What the Queen's Birthday (or, officially, "The Queen's Official Birthday" which you may recall is not actually her REAL birthday) seems to be from the perspective of the uninitiated man-on-the-street a public holiday (no work or school.) We noticed TV spots for Queen's Birthday sales at retail outlets. We also seemed to see people here or there on the move with a bouquet of cut flowers. No idea. Apparently a list of honors is published in which various New Zealanders, living and dead, are honored for their accomplishments and achievements and given titles like Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and medals like The New Zealand Antarctic Medal which I assume is given to anyone who goes to Antarctica and returns alive.

It's also the first official day of ski season.

Te Papa!

We went to Te Papa. I ate a fish pie which later reasserted itself in various uncomfortable ways throughout the day.

We walked in on the New Zealand Army in the midst of an ostentatious display of Kiwi military might---the Army band was set up in a public area of the museum playing a Doobie Brothers song with a full brass ensemble. They looked snappy in their red band uniforms and did a pretty decent rendition of "Listen to the Music" before handing the microphone to a prim and reserved young woman with her hair pulled neatly into a tight bun on the back of her head whose stiff interpretation of Eva Cassidy's sultry song "Fever" was performed without any eye contact with the audience.

Black Smoker Chimney

A black smoker chimney is an extremely rare (in captivity) chunk of crusty buildup surrounding an undersea geothermal vent. Zoe has a classmate whose father is a specialist minerals geologist who was given "one of the biggest and best preserved ever recovered" after a remotely controlled submersible vehicle named ALVIN accidentally knocked one over at a depth of 2.6km (over 8530 feet below.) That's pretty deep. The water pressure down there is like 3800 pounds per square inch. That's skull-crushingly deep.

ALVIN was working off the coast of Chile at the behest of US Navy, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute based out of Massachusetts.

The chimney was halved with a diamond saw and half was donated to the National Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa---which is Maori for "Our Place") and the other half was retained for research.

This particular chimney is named after Zoe's classmate, and Zoe's whole class attended a special unveiling ceremony at Te Papa last week where the display was unveiled. The pedestal on which it sits is covered with fun facts about hydrothermal vents and the creatures that live in the 350 to 400 degree Celsius (!!) water that comes gushing out of them. This mineral-rich water that's superheated below the earth's crust precipitates as soon as it hits the colder ocean water causing the clouds of black "smoke" you see in pictures.

Scientists are fascinated with these for a number of biological and geologic reasons, not the least of which is the ability of organisms and bacteria to live in possibly the least hospitable conditions on the planet. Conditions like these were thought to exist ages and ages ago when life rose Frankenstein-like from the ooze.

Pied Piper of Ducks

We had a light snack at the cafeteria (Fish Pie For the Win!) and walked around in the courtyard outside the seating area. Haley demonstrated her ability to silently charm a flock of ducks into following her around.

We've noticed that Haley has an uncanny ability to somehow get animals to come to her. Joanne has it too. I call it "the Kavorka... the lure of the animal" as a tribute to a Seinfeld episode. We've noticed at zoo's---petting and proper---that the animals usually come check Haley out. Even skittish animals and cranky birds seem lulled by her presence. I offer some photographic proof of this in action.

She seems clearly pleased with it.

Rainbow Dragon

Shortly after this, we followed a rainbow-colored dragon that appeared in the crowd which led us all around the museum (at a fairly blistering pace I might add) and stopped in a story area near the cafe where a sort of art celebration and ceremony was taking place.

They packed four or five dozen out of breath people into a tiny well-lit and overly warm area to speak, sing, tell stories and suck all of the oxygen out of the air. We finally sought life-bringing oxygen out of doors after about thirty minutes of it. Be careful which dragons you follow and when, that's all I'm saying.

That was Monday. We still have yet to write about Saturday and Sunday. Sunday we met the Stephens family for brunch and a little beach time. Visits with them are nutritive on some not entirely obvious level and afterwards we always feel slightly better adjusted... like an off-level picture above the fireplace that you right and inwardly cluck your tongue and think "ah, that's much better."