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!


steve_butler said...

Hi Family
As a Kiwi I like to drop by your blog and see how your trials and tribulations are going.
I see by your postings that after your original burst of posts your numbers have slowly dropped away - and boy I can undestand that as I live in Auckland and even ourselves up here have had a bad year with the weather - frankly it has been lousy - and then I look at Wellington's weather and I congratulate myself on being born in the North!
My wife and I went to Wellington a few weeks back for a Wedding and took the opportunity to stay a few nights in different towns while driving down the Island. We stayed nights in New Plymouth, Levin and finally in Masterton.
I mention this as the visits to those towns were great little episodes of Spring adventures of clement sunny Spring days - and then we climbed over the Rimatakas range and dropped into Wellington. - What a disaster - from Spring to Winter in 50 kilometres - it rained and blew and was miserable. How anybody lives there, I really don't know - it requires a certain type of "Clonialist" to venture there - you have my admiration.
I must tell you that we have been involved with "Student Exchange" hosting programmes for many years and in that time we have had many students from the USA stayinfg a school year with us. The most "in to it" student we ever had stay was a girl from Kenai in Alaska. She was capable of handling anything - rain or shine - with or without friends. Karen became a special friend of our daughters after she returned from a year away, and over time, Karen returned home to the US, finished her education, and started on her working career.
Karen invited us to her wedding, which we attended , and this now relates to your story, we could see why Alaskans were so much more capable of handling most problems in general breezy no nonsense manner - life is certainly a little tougher there - but the people have a combined resiliance to chip-in and get on with life - they are very much like a number of people I know in Wellington and I suspect the two peoples and sub-cultures are one.

I wanted to mention this as at this time (eight to ten months) things get very tough for families - homesickness is quite a problem, and to lose heart now is so easy to pull down your dreams - I see you miss home and family traditions are cement that holds our lives together. I had thought the weather change to Summer would have pulled back the curtain for you to be able to power-on, but weather has been strange in the southern hemisphere so far this year and especially for people in the south.
I would like to know how your family feels they are going this far in? Because it appears that children can make the leap with relative ease - but for working adults there is so many more "mountains to climb"

Dr. Cathy Ezrailson said...

I am sorry for this Hallowless-Halloween. We now live in the country and, even though we carved a little pumpkin -- from our garden -- putting light sticks inside instead of candles and put a nice bowl of lollipops and balloons on the milk can that stands on our front porch, we had NO trick-or-treaters.... So, we have been a little sad not to be able to share this holiday with kids in costumes. I did give "lightstick" bracelets to my students as they left my class, yesterday. But, it wasn't yet Halloween. Glad you had some nice family time, reading books, though.

Patois said...

We were just wondering what to do with all the candy. Perhaps it's time for yet another care packge to you guys. We'll pay a fortune in postage because it ways a ton. Perhaps you can non-celebrate Thankgsiving with a bunch of Halloween candy.

SF.Shen said...

Dear Mr. Butler,
Thank you for the beautiful post to my sister and her family. Your words expressed a very special insight into their experience and I am sure help them embrace the ambivalence that they feel about moving so far from friends, family and all things comfortable.

I too am going to encourage them to take a trip out of the cold zone they are in. Having traveled in NZ only briefly a few years back, I remember all too well the micro-climates of both islands.

I am so pleased and grateful that they have found people like you to help ease the transition and make this experience the joy and adventure that it is.

My very best to you and your family,

Aunt Sharon

Steve said...

Steve Butler, I wish you were my dad.

Thank you very much for the thoughtful and kind words of encouragement. Since I read your comment, I've been re-evaluating a lot of what's been on my mind in light of the bigger picture of things that you've painted here.

The kids are faring far better than my wife and I. I believe they both genuinely like their school and have made friends and acquaintances that they really enjoy. They've adapted well to the way of life and have taken to living more deliberately and frugally with relative ease.

One thing we can all agree about is the weather, and it sucks. It sucks for every reason I can think to list here and some I haven't discovered yet. All the talk of "Windy Welly" doesn't even start to scratch the surface of what we've experienced. After our seven or so months living here through Winter, and what I only reluctantly agree to call "Spring" I've had it. Most days are miserable, cold, and windy. I shuffle to and from the bus to work and bundle up in a freezing cold bed in this drafty cracker box of a house and try to remember the old comforts of home. I feel like a frontiersman---though living in the trappings of a modern industrialized suburbia.

And let's not mince words, we're poor. Poorer than we've been since we got married. I don't think we were prepared for the double-whammy of me taking a job that pays half my previous salary AND the nearly doubled cost of goods for everything from staples to entertainment. We've done a remarkable job (if I do say so myself) of adjusting to this, however. We're still adjusting in small ways too, and store brand canned peaches are just fine.

The low point for me, however, has got to be the trampoline. We scrimped and saved and pulled through some tough months to put the money together to get a cheap Chinese-manufacture steel-and-spring trampoline (with safety net!) for our back yard so that on sunny days the girls could go outside and get some exercise and have some fun. We picked it up on TradeMe for a reasonable price and were very excited to have something athletic for the girls (and us!) to do in this extremely hilly neighborhood full of dangerously curvy roads and precipitous falls.

Two weeks after we had it all set up and were starting to get used to owning it, a particularly windy day (gale force winds reported) picked it up and pasted it into the hillside, bending steel bars, tearing metal welds apart and reducing our trampoline into a pile of junk. The wind picked up what was probably about 300 pounds and tossed it around like a toy. There were tears of sadness and rage and we dismantled the whole twisted mess, which was completely beyond salvaging.

So yeah, it's hard, and at 8 months we're coming into that period of wondering why we ever wanted to come here in the first place and feeling terribly home sick for the people and way of life that we left behind.

Your words of encouragement and support could not have come at a better time.

Anonymous said...

Hello Steve,

If you don't know about it already, the Wellington Santa Parade on Sunday (November) 16th is well worth seeing, and some Xmas spirit may help to cheer you up.
Your description of halloween captures in a nutshell its 'celebration' in is a comparatively new thing here, so most people don't quite know what to do, and many simply don't care for it. For adults though it seems to be becoming something of a costume /dress up party.

MLW said...

Hi there guys.
I'm sorry about the trampoline. I didn't know that happened. That stinks.
We have made the same transition as you, to about half of our salary, in a smaller place. We're still in the US, but I have been though the homesickness when I was living in France.
I so get it.
We're working on scrimping and saving to be able to weather this economy, and I hope you know we're in it with you.
By the way, we did carve a pumpkin, and it was in the shape of the cheat from homestar runner- I'll be sure to send you a picture.
Just know we missed you this Halloween, as last year, we were choosing our pumpkins with you and the girls in a beautiful California field.
You can bet I'll be wishing I was with you this year when you are in your swimsuits and we are up to our asses in snow.
We love you more than chocolate.
M, D, and H.C.W.

steve_butler said...

Hi Steve
Your response to my post has been well thought out - it tells me that you are aware of what is going on about you, and that is a great sign.
My own father said he was a "Realist" as oppossed to either a "Optomist" who thought the glass of wine was half full, and the "Pessimist" who swears the glass is half empty - My father insisted that the wine was just in the "Wrong sized glass"
I liked that! - and when times seem a little tough look about you - your own family is the key.
You say you are poor, I don't think so, it takes a certain type of gumption to launch out into the unknown like our forefathers did a hundred years or more ago.
There are riches there in the future, you just can't see them yet.

On another note I see you are involved with the gaming/computer industry.
I have been a cameraman and film titler from years back and with my son began a annimation studio - (3DS Max, Lightwave etc) time has passed and my hearing has finally deterioated to the state of being useless for film work, (Thanks to the NZ Army blowing them apart in the sixties) but my youngest daughter who has returned from working in Israel and England, where she has been working in the recording industry, has joined him. Between them they have carried on and are doing ok - (go to:
My son Karl has made a few arcade on-line games for advertisers as well as animations for a number of Television programmes.
Perhaps there is something in common - feel free to telephone me if you wish.

One Fine Weasel said...

Hi All

I found your blog when I updated my profile from UK to Wellington and browsed through my fellow Wellingtonians.

I've just got back from my native Britain, where I spent 18 months catching up with friends & family, returning to Welly where I lived for 3 years prior to that.

I was only going to paste in a link to my own Halloween post as I really felt your homesickness pangs and wanted to cheer you up in my own small way with pictures of pumpkin carvings! (I was in the UK at the time)

But reading the other comments has made me want to say Hi properly and to assure you that it does take a LONG time to learn to love Wellington (I moved here from balmy Auckland in 2004) but, once you get your head around the weather, and the fact it's difficult to escape - isolated by its geography, a particularly tricky thing for this wandering Sagittarian to deal with - it is a beautiful place to live.

You can't beat Wellington on a good day, I promise. Living here is an act of faith sometimes! But the good weather days - and you get them even in the depths of winter - are like finding a diamond in a pile of sh*t.

I don't know where you live but make sure you get down to the south coast on a good day - do the drive around the shoreline from Oriental right round through Seatoun to Owhiro Bay, it's gorgeous. Seeing the snowy Kaikoura Ranges across the water always lifts my spirits, no matter how homesick I'm feeling.

The trampoline thing sucks, I feel your pain. Have you tried looking on gumtree for a replacement?

Anyway best wishes and stuff, your blog is great, keep writing.

Hugs from The Weasel xxx