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