Friday, December 24, 2010

Best Birthday Ever

Well, while Ewan's birthday party was a bit unsettling, mine was awesome.  Since Adrian had a week off of work and the boys were off from school for summer break, we decided to head to the South Island and spend my birthday there.  We did ZERO planning aside from booking tickets on the ferry.  With our diplomatic status, we were entitled to half price ferry tickets (usually $800 for 4 people and a car) until the 15th of December. So, we kinda had to plan that, the rest of the trip we were gonna "wing it".  We had a general idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see but no set plans or hotel rooms.
The ferry ride over was very nice though both boys got a tiny bit seasick. Adrian was in heaven. I think he took a thousand photos.
We spent our first day and night in Nelson and found a very clean and comfy hotel right near the beach. I have to say, this was one of the best beaches so far that I've seen in NZ. It reminded me of Fla. The sand was light and clean, the water was lovely and there was room to run around, or fly a kite!

We moved on closer to one of our chosen destinations: Abel Tasman Park. It is reputed to be gorgeous and did not disappoint.  Adrian wanted to go Kayaking with the boys and since I had no intention of going out for a 4 hour kayak, I volunteered to pack up the hotel and hang at the beach we had found the day before.  While Adrian was hunting for our 2nd hotel of the journey, the boys and I found this sweet little lagoon right off the beach at Abel Tasman.
No sharks :) 
The restaurant selection here was a bit dismal but we had places to go and things to see in Kaikoura so we headed east to our next destination.
Kaikoura is a really fun place to spend your birthday. I have to admit, I was spoiled. Kaikoura is home of the Crayfish, or as we call it, LOBSTER. They aren't cheap ( @ $80 each) but they are good.  You can stop at a little trailer on the side of the road and have a lobster right there, freshly plucked from the ocean.

With some time to kill before upgrading to our next hotel (our first one had no Internet "gasp") we headed to the seal hang out to check out the seals. The lady at the Lobster Shack told us about a short hike into the forest where you can see baby seals hanging out in a stream. They apparently swim up there to hang out while their moms hunt. I had read about this place earlier and was dying to go though our odds of seeing the seals were slim since they mainly go in the winter.  Our chances were also diminished by some jerks who recently had gone up there and slaughtered @ 30 of the pups. The seals will probably never come back now ruining a great local opportunity and tourist attraction. The waterfall was beautiful though and we enjoyed the hike.

Our new Hotel (Waves) was amazing. It was actually made up of independently owned apartments that the owners rent out nightly.  It was expensive and worth every penny.  It was a full 2 bedroom apartment with everything, super clean and very modern.  Right next door was the best restaurant in town where we ate this:

Early the next morning Adrian went whale watching. The boys and I had had enough sea sickness and knew we were getting back on the ferry later that day so we decided to hang out in Kaikoura while daddy went out on the boat. As a nod to Ewan, our resident vegetarian, we went to an animal farm to make up for his lost whale watching trip. It was a bit lack luster but the animals were cute and we were allowed to feed them. I was even able to get over my fear of chickens when a overly friendly chicken sided up to me and begged for food.

I loved it. My birthday was perfect and I got to celebrate it again when we got home.  As a special gift, a pod of dolphin followed our ferry out of the harbor. Thanks boys.

Christmas Lunch with the DCM

We have a very nice DCM here in Wellington and a very good CLO which makes for fun parties.  Our DCM invited the entire Embassy over to his house recently for a Christmas lunch (pot luck). We didn't get the sunshine we were hoping for which called for a bit of reshuffling with the kids' activities but "partly sunny" was good enough.  Everyone brought a dish so we got to enjoy some good home cook food!
I never know what to wear to these things so I wore a dress even though it was considered a picnic. Better to be over dressed in my book. I let the boys get away with polos and shorts.
This may have been one of the most relaxing events yet.  Most of the parties at the Marine House are laid back and casual but for some reason, this one was my favorite, perhaps because it was Christmas.  Erin (our CLO) even arranged for Santa to stop by and hand out candy to the children.
It wasn't the swingin' booze fest Iwas used to from our Newspaper days but a nice change of pace and no hangover.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not the Best Birthday Ever

Wow, I am ashamed that I haven't written a blog post in over 3 weeks. To say that I've been busy would be an understatement. Let's see, after Thanksgiving we finally had a birthday party for Ewan who actually turned 11 three months ago. Better late than never I suppose. I have no idea why I agreed to having 8 extra little boys sleep over. It started out ok but then the inevitable happened....someone got hurt. How guilty can one mother feel? Pretty guilty. Poor Thomas, Ewan's closest friend and one of the nicest boys I've ever met, actually offered to help during dinner. He was going to fill up the fancy glass water bottles. Did I mention that we have hard tile floors? Everything that falls on them breaks, including Ipods and glass water bottles. Thomas tried to catch his as it fell and ended up in the emergency room for his troubles. I was so horrified, still am.  While I am sure Thomas' parents were not too happy about the situation, they did bring him back the next morning to finish off the party. Perhaps I should offer to reimburse them for the tennis lessons they just paid for but won't be able to use?
Here is the happy bunch before the accident.
Ewan is second from the right and Thomas is second from the left with the banana on his shirt.

Since half of Ewan's friends are vegetarians, we decided to make veggie burgers for dinner but this kid really like his veggies. Not only is he eating a veggie burger and sweet potato fries, he added broccoli to his! This is a new one.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pilgrims and the Mongrel Mob

So today I had the privilege of serving an American Thanksgiving dinner to the less fortunate residents of Wellington. I wasn't sure what to expect since I had never done this sort of thing before. I'd done my share of volunteering over the years, but I have always resisted helping in homeless shelters, though I would drop off food and sundry items every year. This year I would have to step up since the US Embassy in NZ had organized the event at the downtown mission.

We were all assigned a few tables to look after. We were to serve them as if it were a restaurant. They ordered soft drinks and coffee and we would then take them a plate. As people shuffled in I saw children, moms and dads, distinguished-looking older people, and a few young adults mixed in. What I didn't expect were the few gang members that waltzed in, all tattooed and scary looking. Of course, they sat in my section.

OK, deep breaths. As I approached my table I asked if I could bring them anything. Most ordered juice or Coca-Cola, but the apparent leader of this small group asked if I could get him a 20 year old. "Sorry", I said, "we're fresh out". I tried not to make eye contact. Now he wanted to make small talk. "So, where are you from in America?" he asked.

This is a tough question. I've moved a lot in my life, this one to NZ being my 31st. I began scanning my brain to come up with the coolest place I have lived to "bond" with my new friend. Florida did not seem gangsta enough. Philadelphia? No. Georgia? Definitely not. North Carolina ? Too white bread. South Carolina? Too wheat bread.

I know, "South Dakota" I said.  He looked at me puzzled. "Where the F is that?" he asked. "Well, have you ever heard of Sturgis?" 

"Is that the big Harley festival?" he asked. Well, I wasn't going to correct him. "Sure is". I said.  "Cool."

I had made a friend.

The rest of the lunch was uneventful until my table got a bit rowdy during the Ambassador's speech, with one drunkard asking for a Tui (a New Zealand beer) and another guy passing out.

Everyone was really polite and well mannered (except the drunk guy). I was astonished to notice that even the downtrodden and mob members of New Zealand have impeccable table manners. I even received a friendly kiss from one appreciative fellow. Everything was eaten and everyone was thankful. All in all it was a good day.

I came home very thankful for my life. Tonight I will soak my very tired feet and be happy that I have a home to live in, food to eat, and friends and family who love me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The cost of living

Ok, so Mom does read my blog. Yay.
Just got back from the "New World" grocery store where I shelled out $200.00 for literally 4 bags of groceries. C'mon Wellington! Here are a few things I bought:
5 Bagels $4.69
Small gingerbread house kit $10.29
Strawberry Jelly $4.00 (very small jar)
6 eggs $2.29
Small bottle of Heinz Ketchup $4.61
Palmolive Shampoo $6.14
Tortilla wraps (6) 6.62
Small soy milk $3.53
half a cabbage $2.25
can of corn $2.19

etc. etc.

Don't even get me started on the price of chicken. Those cute little rotisserie chickens that you buy everywhere for $6.00 are half the size here and $10.50. 
Yes, it it gorgeous and safe here but eating is a luxury apparently.
We don't go out to eat anymore......period.

Did I mention that gas here is $6.77 a gallon ?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Who is reading

Ok, I pay extra to have Vonage so my family and friends can call me in NZ for free. So far I've received 5 calls from my grandmother and as many from my Dad's third wife (she's cool) and my mother in law. Anyway, what is up with my mom, brother, friends and sister in law? Just a quick post to see if they even read my blog. Losers.

One Big Family

I have only been here for 3 months or so but already the embassy folks seem like one big family. Everyone seems to look out for everyone. We seem to bypass the usual pleasantries that most newcomers go through because, quite frankly, we just don't have the time. We are only here, or anywhere for that matter, for 2 or so years so...hello, nice to meet you, come to dinner, tea, walks, whatever. You're one of the group. Get busy.
Already, I am having to say goodbye to a great friend. Cecelia has to be one of the friendliest people I've ever met. We've been to her house twice already and I know of others who have been there dozens of times. She loves mothering and wants everyone to feel at home and to be well fed! Sadly, she is leaving to head to Poland. I'm sure they will love here there too.
I am already dreading Gina's departure. She isn't leaving until July but when she goes, it will be hard on a lot of people. Gina is our "gets things done" gal. If something needs doing, she will more often than not, volunteer to do it and do it well. It allows some of us (ahem) to be slackers. I suppose I will have to brush up on my organization skills. It's just too easy to call Gina to see what's happening.
The upside is that we get someone new for every departure. I have never known so many people that I have liked so much right out of the gate (all but 2- you know who you are). I think I'm going to like this State Department gig.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lovin NZ

The Pratt family had one of those magical holiday weekends. Early Saturday morning we set out for a long weekend to one of Adrian's "picks of the week." He settled on a beautiful lake about 5 hours north of us. My mommy brain started calculating right away. Five hours means 2 pit stops, 3 bags of chips, 4 candy bars, 5 "are we there yets" and at least 2 " I wish we didn't have to comes" from the kids.

OK, maybe that's a bit harsh. Morgan is always up for a good adventure, but Ewan is forever whining whenever we stray more than 5 miles from home. Unless, of course, it involves his friends or soccer. Funny how he has already forgotten the time we drove 3 hours and stayed overnight in a campground with his soccer team to watch him in a tournament. Morgan even gave up his birthday to come with us- not that he had a choice.

So, off we headed to our stopping off point in Napier. I chose Napier because it had a nice beach that we could visit before heading on to the lake to hike for hours. Well, one look and we were hooked. We loved Napier. Our first stop was actually in Cape Kidnappers to hike the legendary Ta Mata Peak. It was brutal.

We all felt very superior in our fitness level when we made it to the top!  After the hike we headed to Napier and decided that we had enough of hiking and this looked like a nice place to spend the night. The stars seemed to be aligned for us. We stopped at the first hotel that we thought looked nice and Adrian booked it without consulting me while I sat in the car awaiting a full report. Does he know me? It was fabulous.  It was right across the street from the beach, a playground, mini golf course, and Marineland. Bliss.

We didn't want to waste any time resting, so we immediately set out to go kayaking. I have been wanting to kayak forever but never had the opportunity. We had so much fun. Morgan and I shared a 2-seater and Adrian and Ewan shared another. We spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour paddling around the inlet. Later that night we found a spectacular Texas style restaurant. While expensive (they all are in NZ) the food was excellent. The night was unfortunately cut short since Adrian had accidentally left Morgan's shorts drying on a hot radiator and we feared we'd burn the hotel down. So the boys jogged back to the hotel to turn off the radiator and I was able to have a few blissful moments alone to enjoy a well deserved glass of wine.

After a very competitive round of mini golf the next day, we headed home. Suddenly my pink house seemed charming and my fashionably challenged curtains were "quirky" instead of hideous. I have thoroughly enjoyed my new home this week and I hope my new optimism can be sustained as new challenges present themselves, like the fact that our vacuum caught fire today or that Morgan broke my favorite vase.

 Somehow, it's just not important.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Secretary of State Visit

We were all excited to meet our Secretary of State in Wellington yesterday. I was worried about getting a parking space downtown so we left ridiculously early. We arrived while the secret service were still setting up the room. 
We were all set to be told to bugger off and wait downstairs but I guess our embassy badges and security check was enough to let us wait in the reception room. Yay. I was wearing heels and didn't want to navigate the stairs again having already lost a heel on the way up. Yes, it was a bit embarrassing when a secret service agent came after me with the broken part of my shoe and said "uh, ma'am, is this part of your shoe?" Dang it. Luckily, we were able to put it back on so I wouldn't have to hobble around on one shoe. That would have been very awkward. I'm sure I made a great impression on the SS. Neurotic, ridiculously early, and can't walk in heels. I was allowed to shake Mrs. Clinton's hand nonetheless.
The event went incredibly smoothly and after some nice speeches, she came down from the podium and shook every hand. She had brief chats with a few of the children and then was whisked away to her next event.  We had fun.
On a personal note, I thought she looked beautiful and presented herself amazingly well.  Thanks to our Ambasador for making this happen for us and thanks too to Dr. McWaine for taking this video for me.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween at the Marine House

Give it up for the Marines again. We attended our first Halloween party in NZ at the US Marine house. Granted, most of it was organized by our resident cruise director Gina Wyatt, but they supplied the house, music and drinks. We had a blast. I was worried that the kids would be robbed of one of our favorite US traditions but the Embassy Crowd pulled through with flying colors. Even our Ambassador and Spouse showed up to party and they don't have kids! Everyone seemed to have really, really good time. At least I did. Ewan begged for a Dark Knight costume which I started 24 hours ago and Mo was content with being Bob Marley.  Whew, I don't think I had two "from scratch" costumes in me. They looked great, had fun and are out trolling the neighborhood for free candy.
Halloween is new for NZ and I didn't think the boys would have much fun but as I write this, they are out in the neighborhood with some Kiwi friends trick or treating. Though the doorbell only rings every 5 minutes or so, I've had a steady stream of kids. Thank you for NZ for allowing my American kids to hold on to one of their favorite US traditions a bit longer.

Redemption through children

A couple of weeks ago I went on a hike with the embassy crowd to see Glow Worms and was aghast by a fellow American (read blog entry below). I met him again this weekend and then again today at an embassy Halloween party (gate crashing again). I also had the privilege of meeting his lovely children. To say that his 17 year old daughter was delightful would be an understatement. She arrived with a local friend (sans parents) and immediately began helping with the younger kids. She was friendly, articulate and helpful. I liked her. Ok, so perhaps I was a bit harsh on her dad. As it turned out, when he and his French wife arrived later, he too was nice and revealed a wicked sense of humor.  So, though it's tough to recover from a first impression, he had the road to redemption paved by a cute brunette who couldn't be nicer. Viva la France or whatever they say over there-hey, I'm only working on Spanish right now.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Call in the Marines

You can count on the US Marines for just about anything here in NZ. I have them on my emergency contact list at the boys' school and have their phone number in my speed dial. They host parties at their house and organize an elaborate ball once a year for embassy staff and interested locals. However, I really think they went above and beyond when they hosted a haunted Halloween Walk for the embassy children.
Our "cruise director", Gina Wyatt (otherwise known in our circles as the ultimate den mother) organized a Glow Worm/ Halloween Walk for the kids and asked the Marines to join in to scare the kids. It was wonderful. We started out at 9:30 pm and headed into the woods, down dark passageways and creepy bridges. And, when we least expected it, out would jump a goblin with a severed head or a grotesque spider (or maybe it was a bat, I was too scared to look).
I brought along some local boys, my son being ever so social....he was having two classmates sleep over and they are very intrigued about the US Marines. This gave them a good opportunity to see them up close. "Will they have guns?", "Will they accidentally shoot us?" were some of the questions from the back seat of the car on the way there. It is eye opening to hear what these children from the other side of the world think of America. Most of the information they get is spot on but have to wonder where they come up with some stuff. Morgan was asked once if you could buy guns at convenience shops in the US. And, the predominant myth that ALL Americans are rich.
I was also amazed to hear the boys discussing politics on the drive to the hike. Keep in mind that these are 11 year old kids. They discussed George Bush and Hillary Clinton (no mention of Bill) and their hope yet disappointment for Obama. When the conversation drifted to travel they realized that they all have another strong connection.....all are British citizens and have valid British passports. I was amazed. Ewan gets his British citizenship through his father who was born in Glasgow. He can keep his dual citizenship indefinitely. Manrajh, Ewan's British born Indian friend gets his by birth and Tomas Stewart (another very Scottish name) immigrated to London years ago only to return to NZ but kept the citizenship and the passport. It truly is a small world and though the British Empire is not as large as it once was, the sun still never sets on it's citizens.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Magical Glow Worms

I had a Glow Worm toy when I was a kid. It kept me company at night. It lit up and everything. I had no idea these things were real!
They Embassy organized a private tour for us through the wilds of New Zealand to see these mythical creatures. There were about 20 of us with a few scattered children thrown in for good measure. I brought an extra child with me since Ewan was having his first Kiwi friend sleep over. I was looking forward to some adult conversation but instead I spent most of the hike trying to keep the kids from falling over the edge of the trail and into the Abyss. There was a 15 foot drop to a raging stream below the trail. One false step and you'd be a gonner. Since we were travelling at night, I was over protective.
Anyway, we started cheerfully walking down the very steep trail. The whole time I was thinking "I'm going to have to get back up this thing". The boys were so excited. I had my two and another teenager and another 11 year old. Truth be told, we were having a really good time. We told stories, joked and giggled along the way. It was quite a long walk to the Glow Worms so we had to amuse ourselves somehow. We couldn't see anything because it was so dark. Just then someone yelled at us for making too much noise. He said this was a once in a lifetime experience-implying that we should shut up and pay attention. Duh, we can't see anything and we aren't anywhere near the worms and these are CHILDREN ...... And, did he seriously just yell at me? Just then one of the boys said "well, we're coming back again tomorrow". That was funny.
When we finally arrived at where the Glow Worms lived, we were awe struck. The Glow worms are not actually worms at all but insect larvae that cling together in little strands. The glow is actually bioluminescence which is a very scientific way in which the chemicals in their tiny bodies interacting with oxygen.  There are dozens of tour companies that will take you on a "Glow Worm Tour", usually through dark caves but this one was free and kid friendly. They are most prevalent in dark, moist areas where insects breed such as creek beds and dense, damp foliage. These little creatures were amazing. Crabby Guy kept telling us to turn our flash lights off or they wouldn't glow for us (did he see the 15 foot drop inches away from my kid's feet?) when our Kiwi friend (11 year old Thomas) corrected him and told us that Glow Worms did not have the capability to turn themselves on and off and are actually attracted to sound so if you make noise, they glow brighter because they are expelling more oxygen or something. Hey, he may be 11 but he's all we had for information. He did win the Scots College Science award 3 years in a row so I was ok with giving him the benefit of the doubt. Take that smarty pants. He wasn't our tour guide and didn't know squat about glow worms.
I'm not a total ignoramous. I realize that even though I am not a diplomat and not on any official diplomatic mission, it is still my responsibility to show the rest of the world that Americans, as well as their children, are courteous, well mannered and charming. Plus, the Ambassador's spouse was with us and I didn't want to be put on the "naughty" list and left out of state dinners and stuff. So, I swallowed by instinct to act all smug and apologized to the French guy for the children's over excitement and hoped that it didn't spoil the experience for him. As it turns out, he wans't even French. His spouse is French and works in the French Embassy. He is American!!
Then we had the long slog back up the hill. We walked down for @ 45 minutes so I was dreading how long it would take us to get back up. The kids left me in the dust. It was so dark and everyone went past me as I was trying to get Ewan and Thomas to a wider path. I could hear them but I couldn't see them. I shimmied past a few people on a bridge and started hauling butt up the path to catch the boys. I was convinced that they were going to lose me and I would be stuck in the Glow Worm forest forever. I was really trying very hard to go as fast as I could but I'm not exactly in shape anymore. My running days are long behind me. I was alone for most of the journey upwards, the only sound I heard now was my heart trying to come out of my chest. When I finally made it to the parking lot, Morgan and Josh were sitting on a park bench playing a game and I didn't see anybody else there. Oh well, they left me, I thought. I asked Morgan where everyone was and he said that they were still on the trail, I was the first one up. What? I guess I'm not as unfit as I thought.
So if you'd like to see Glow Worms and don't want to be in a boat or spend humdreds of dollars for a family of four, take a walk along the creek in Wilton Bush (public nature area & trails near Wellington) or a similar nature area and do it with friends-for free. There is also a shorter less difficult trail to the Glow Worms that you can take at teh bottom of the park which we discover months later.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Our stuff has arrived

It's almost like Christmas. I haven't seen my belongings in over a year. Our stuff arrived in Wellington this week and I couldn't be happier. Adrian being out of town didn't even upset me. This way I could do it at my pace, rearranging and displaying things as I like them without being rushed.
I have to say that the movers did a pretty good job. The major hiccup was the broken big screen Plasma TV. Bummer. Luckily we bought private insurance so we should be able to have it replaced. I've never had an insurance claim for a move before so we will have to see how it is handled.
NZ bio security didn't like the ornaments I brought in from our days of living in South Dakota so all of my Pheasant Feathered Christmas balls were confiscated as well as some tokens from Costa Rica that may harbor unwanted insects and an artificial tree with real bark. Unfortunately, the tree wasn't even supposed to come. I had requested the kid's growth tree (fake) and instead the shippers packed an ornamental tree. Some boxes were mislabeled so we got some stuff we didn't want out of storage like the 1000 framed photos of various races and activities that we've participated in over the years. We knew that we wouldn't be allowed to fill our walls here with holes so we wanted to leave them behind. However, the packers labeled these enormously heavy boxes as "camping equipment" which we did want. Just another example of how you really need to watch those packers! Unfortunately the thousands of dollars of beautiful fabric that I was waiting for did not come. Even though it was filled with fabric and clearly labeled as such, it was listed on our inventory sheet as "books" and was not sent. GRRRRR.
I didn't get my linens- no sheets, blankets, dish towels, pot holders, napkins, etc. I guess they were labeled as books too because I said ship everything but the books and couches. Darn it. Now I have to buy new ones and they aren't cheap or of high quality here. 
All in all, the move went smoothly. There's not much I can't live without though I am really bummed about the fabric and blankets. The folks in Haegerstown did an excellent job. They sent everything we asked for without one mistake. The mistakes were on the packers side of things when they came into the house like locusts and seemed offended whenever I asked to checks their notes to make sure I knew what was where. all of you getting ready to pack out, organize some friends to come over and watch over every single packer and label the boxes yourself. I had one box clearly marked as kitchenware and they put it into the inventory list as "Christmas Ornaments" so I couldn't open it until the bio hazard team checked it out to make sure I didn't have any pine cones in it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I am an addict. There, I've said it.

I realized I had a problem when I was casually dropping it into conversation, asking without asking if anyone actually had any. Once in a while someone would slip me a small sealed packet with a whisper,"it's all I've got. Sorry". I would think about that small packet in my pocket all night until I could get home and open it, pour it into a pitcher, mix it up and drink it. I think my eyes would actually roll back into my head when I had my first sip.
I don't know exactly when I became addicted to Raspberry Chrystal Light (that's light, not meth). I think it was in South Dakota when I was training for a half marathon and was tired of having water in my water bottle and didn't want the calories of Gatorade. CL only has 5 calories a glass! I love it. It is my FAVORITE thing to drink in the universe. I'm not a soda drinker and I don't like Kool Aid, Gatorade, Powerade or any other high sugar drink so when I arrived in NZ and realized that they did not have Raspberry CL, I started to panic. I sent out pleas to everyone I knew to please send Crystal Light. My first package arrived 6 weeks later from my sweet grandmother in Florida. They only lasted a week ( I drink 2 quarts a day of this stuff).
Then, I hit the mother load. I had two care packages arrive simultaneously. One was from my mother and grandmother (yes, I still have both grandmas, it's super cool) and the other was from my step mother, Diane. Both contained Crystal Light in large quantities. I was so happy. I actually opened every container and counted out how much "supply" I had. If I didn't offer any to anyone else, I could make it last 3 months.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kid friendly Shushi

What do you bring to a dinner party full of children? Candy Sushi of course. Morgan, Ewan and I had a great time making this fun candy sushi but for some reason the marshmallows here have a strawberry flavor. Next time I send off to Net Grocer for supplies some Jet Puffed are going on the list.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Not so diplomatic soccer camp

I finally found a soccer camp for the boys to participate in during their 2 week school holiday.  I think I was more excited than them. I LOVE watching my kids play soccer. Morgan can kick the ball from one end of the field to the other with little effort and Ewan moves like a mini Ronaldo, swerving and dribbling around the competition. It is just one of those things that makes them really happy and me insanely happy. When we arrived here it was the middle of winter so we missed soccer altogether so when the opportunity presented itself for even just a week of soccer, we pounced. The $160.00 fee was a bit steep but they supposedly had a Brazilian coach lined up so it was well worth it.
Lets just say that the boys got a bit more than they bargained for. I got a call from Morgan (14) during the lunch break just 2 hours into the training asking to be picked up. I could hear Ewan in the background saying "me too". What? I've seen Ewan play soccer in the rain, snow, lightening, while bleeding, and while repeatedly being pummeled by a bigger team and he NEVER quits. Ever. I had to know what horrible situation could persuade them to throw in the towel. "Mom, the kids are being very  inappropriate and the coach barely speaks English so he has no idea what they are saying". Ok, Morgan is a teenager, he hears questionable language every day at school, and these kids made even him blush. Plus, he is very tall for his age, hovering just shy of 6 feet tall and for some reason, the smaller kids thought they had to prove something to each other by attempting to punch him in the face. Of course they didn't succeed and Morgan would never retaliate when smaller kids (smaller but not younger) are involved but it was really annoying. I don't know if it was because he was American or just larger or perhaps both but whatever the reason doesn't matter, it spoiled the experience.
As we were leaving the soccer field I could hear the cursing in kiwi accents and when the coach turned his back to pick up the 100th ball to be "accidentally" kicked into the woods, I saw  a boy who couldn't have been older than 11 pick up a big orange cone, hold it up to his groin, and........well, you can imagine the rest.
Bummer, I was really looking forward to watching some soccer.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Bright Side

I've spent a lot of time complaining about what I am missing by not living in the States as well as bitching about my furniture, curtains, etc. But occasionally I do see the benefits. I suppose I am a little out of my comfort zone since I really have no control over much here and I miss my furniture, friends and watching my boys play soccer. I was initially irritated that the pizza here just didn't taste right so I decided to try to make it myself-from scratch. I've never made dough or pasta sauce ever before but figured it couldn't be that hard. Well, it was time consuming and a bit labor intensive but I was rewarded with the best tasting pizza I've ever had. Then, I tried making my own was awesome. I am putting a pasta maker on my birthday list though since kneading pasta dough is really hard. And for an added bonus, I've lost a few pounds-something I'd been trying to do for months.

So, there is a silver lining but I still miss my stuff and soccer.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Men are from Mars...

What Adrian sees

What I see

We've had our share of bad weather and natural disasters lately. The earthquake in Christchurch devastated the town and left many people homeless. The town will be rebuilding for a very long time. The aftershocks were a slap in the face for those who made it through unscathed. We felt them here in Wellington. So, when the news report came on Thursday that a massive storm the size of Australia was going to hit us over the weekend, I panicked a bit. A previous s"regular" storm had devastated the western coast and we saw cars blow over on the motorway and 4 meter waves coming off the ocean onto the coastal road. I figured, lets be safe and keep the boys home from school on Friday. The winds were expected to be 130km per hour, the waves huge and hail, rain, lightening, etc. were all going to hit. I'm a bit of a worrier when it comes to my children. That was my response. Luckily, the storm didn't do much damage in Wellington, though there were traffic accidents and power lines down with one house catching fire after being hit by lightening.
My husband's response was somewhat different. He and my older son, Morgan, decided it would be a great idea to go north (where the storm was going) and climb an active volcano 8000 feet high. Say what? I thought they would regret their decision but they were determined so I packed them a bag full of snacks, a few bottles of water, pocket knives, band aids, cell phone charger for the car, etc. Everyone in our family jokes that I am MacGuyver and always prepared for anything....I am. I am proud of that nickname and also proud that my nephews call me uncle Amy but that's not the point. I don't want to be unprepared, ever.
You can guess where this is going. Adrian and Morgan spent 8 hours without their gear ( they had left it in their hotel room when they went to climb the volcano) in the car waiting to be rescued when a tree wrapped in live power lines fell into the road in front of them. I was here watching undisturbed chick flicks and Ewan was at a sleepover.
For the full report go to .
I may be a worrier but you can bet I'd never sit starving and dehydrated in a car for 8 hours.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


If you ever want to know what really goes on in a school, volunteer at the snack shop. In New Zealand, they refer to the snack shop as the "Tuck Shop". It is a separate building outside that serves up Kiwi fast food. You can have a spaghetti wing - a piece of french bread slathered with Spaghettio's and topped with pizza cheese ( I think it was actually cheddar) and baked. Then we have meat pies, garlic bread, sushi (yes, sushi is big here), chicken wraps and all sorts of candy.
The lady in charge, Claire, knows all of the kids and knows all of the gossip. You see, there is no cafeteria in NZ schools. Kids just open their lunch boxes and sit wherever they can and eat. They have a little over an hour to eat or play or just hang with their buddies. No lunch line, no lunch lady and nobody telling them to shush. It's kind of cool. In the center of this is the Tuck Shop. We opened for breakfast for 15 minutes to serve hot chocolate and muffins then reopened for morning tea @ 10:30 then again at noon for lunch. So, the kids will never actually have the chance to be hungry if they have cash or a debit card.
I must admit, it was a lot of fun. The children are very courteous and Claire is very efficient. It kind of reminded me of the Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi. The boys lined up, had their money in hand and asked nicely for their food saying please and thank you. They didn't dawdle. That is until my child came up with a fist full of cash and half a dozen orders which is strictly prohibited. You're not supposed to take orders for your friends. Looks like they were breaking in the new guy. Oh well, nobody seemed too concerned. I suspect that the kids of the Moms who volunteer get special treatment.
The Tuck Shop also has a few vegetarian dishes which is awesome since my 10 year old has recently decided he is vegetarian. Looks like I am too.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Day in the Life of an unemployed EFM

I would really like to work while here, but it doesn't seem likely as we are only here for 2 years. I'm not looking to start a new short -term career. I was hoping to pick up my nursing cover business, but since I have no idea when my sea shipment will get here, that's on hold too. So, I have been filling my days with "girlie" adventures. Those who know me know that I'm not a particularly girlie female but I have my moments. I normally do not like shopping but when you have nothing else to do, and nobody to do it with, it is a good excuse to leave the house. So far I've bought a fireplace, barstools, chairs and new curtains. Apparently our house just got new curtains from the embassy but they weren't exactly to my taste so.... I have no idea what I am going to do with all this new stuff when it is time to leave. I hope we have enough weight allowance left to take it with us.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Those Brits sure can party

I am now an official member of the International Spouses group so I get invited to all of the gatherings and excursions. This week we had another "tea" with a British lady who is not affiliated with the British High Commission. She lives in Wellington by choice with her physician husband. Sadly, they are leaving to retire back in the UK. We used that as a great excuse to drink champagne in the middle of the day. I turned my nose up at the bottle when I noticed that it was strawberry flavored champagne but dang! That stuff was good. Just to be sure, I had a second glass. My friend Charanjil doesn't drink so I had hers.

In this photo: Gina (USA) and Mary (UK)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

1980's Revival

I really like New Zealand, but it is seriously stuck in the 1980s. The teenagers are sporting punk haircuts, super tight skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors. 1980's pop music plays constantly on the radio stations and leggings are really popular. Sadly, the decor of my goverment-issued house is 1980s as well.

I could overlook the southwestern style mauve, sage and blue couches that perfectly complement the vomit of colors in the curtains, the 25-year-old formica-ish, blondish with a rose tint dining ensemble, and the cutsie, sage with natural wood tones cabinetry in the kitchen, but pink walls? Really? Why anyone would paint the entire interior of a house pink on purpose is beyond me.

So, to deal with my frustration I bought a fireplace mantle. No, we don't actually have a fireplace but if I'm going to have pink furniture and walls, darn it, I'm going to sit by a cozy fake fireplace to contemplate them. It makes perfect sense to me.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Morgan's Rockin Birthday Cake

My assistant chef and I wanted to make Morgan an awesome cake for his birthday tomorrow. We decided to make a Guitar Cake. For those who know me, this would seem an impossible task. I don't bake. Period. However, I am an ace when it comes to science projects so we thought of it that way. Ewan loves to play with clay...perfect. We found some fantastic icing that you roll out an mold like clay. I think we did an aweome job.

A seal of a day

We had really good intentions of travelling three hours to another bay to see fur seals in the wild. Then we ran out of gas. No worries, we turned around and headed back to Wellington. I had read about a docile male seal community there, just a short bumpy drive to a local bay. When they say you need a 4x4, they aren't kidding. I am an adventurous sort, and having grown up riding motorcycles and dune buggies I figured, how bad could it be? It was pretty bad. I was also seriously underdressed for the windy rain that came out of nowhere. So, after braving the road as far as I could manage, I asked Adrian to park so we could finish the trek on foot. Well, Ewan and I lasted @ 20 yards before we headed back to the car and Adrian and Morgan continued to the mythical bay within Red Rock Park.

They were not dissappointed. They came back cold and soaked but had fantastic pictures. Ewan and I really didn't think that there would be any seals, but there were hundreds and we missed out because we were whimps. We are already planning to return when it is sunny.
visit my husband blog for more photos:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Getting Settled

I must say that I am very grateful to have an English speaking country for my first post. This has made life easier for me and the boys. I had forgotten how many details must be attended to when you move and when you move to another country, double those details.
For those of you who have not yet made it to your first post, get to know all of the rules and regulations. It can be a bit frustrating to learn a new rule the hard way. First lesson...expect the unexpected. We thought we would be moving directly into our new home upon arrival but alas, plans had been changed. Someone graciously decided that our house needed a quick make over before we could move in so we were put into a lovely hotel for a week. Great, I thought! This will give us time to explore the downtown, get acclimated, and avoid cooking for another week. I had read that when you are temporarily housed in your new post you are allowed a per diem for food and laundry, etc. So off we went to our favorite cafe every morning to treat ourselves to breakfast and then lunch. For dinner, we upscaled a bit to a local pub. We were trying to be frugal but not stingy. New Zealand is not cheap. With the exchange rate, you can very easily spend $70 on breakfast at a sit down restaurant ( $50 US). They don't give free refills on coffee here which is really disappointing since I drink @ 3 cups in the morning and at $3.50 a cup, get the picture. Anyway, I learned after our stay that per diem is not given to you if you stay in a hotel with kitchen facilities and we had a small fridge and a tiny stove. Oops. Who knew? Well, now I do. Luckily, it all worked itself out. But, ask about everything.
Enrolling in school is straightforward. It is very expensive for uniforms and school supplies, which the government does not pay for but the education should soften the sting for us. Getting the children to school was an exercise in strategic planning but we managed to work it out. Ewan rides a chartered bus to and from school while Morgan has to rely on public transportation. The school does not have a regular school bus. I have no idea how much Ewan's bus will cost until they bill us at the end of the month but Morgan pays $10.40 per day. Yikes. Luckily, the Embassy will pay for this.
Setting up an internet connection was a bit frustrating. My only advice is to call ahead. It took me almost 2 weeks to get my internet hooked up.
Our cars were amazingly easy to buy and insure. I got myself a cute little minivan that seats 7 so that when we have visitors, we can all ride together. Adrian got himself a Ford Escape. We bought both of them from Max Motors in Lower Hutt. What a great group of people. I have never had a car buying experience like it and I've owned at least a dozen cars over the years. I highly recommend them.
We have been here almost 3 weeks and I just received my UAB this morning and I am waiting for the ministry of Agriculture to come to inspect some of it. The Kiwis are very particular about what organic stuff you bring in. I don't blame them after seeing what Kudzu has done to the South. It will be nice to have something from home in the house.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Buying A Car

Buying a car in New Zealand turned out to be easier than I thought. We were told to go to Max Motors in Lower Hutt for our search. I had heard of them before in my research before getting here and they seem fairly priced. The car lot is tiny and only holds @ 40 used cars but almost everyone from the Embassy buys from them, so we figured they had to be good.
We needed a good, reliable cheap-ish car to get us started until we were comfortable driving on the left side. And it also had to be big enough to accommodate Morgan's extra long legs. We settled on an adorable Honda Minivan (sorry, Adrian but it's functinal) with 7 seats and all wheel drive. Perfect. And it was cheap enough to buy with our credit card, since we didn't have enough Kiwi money yet to buy it. It takes a few days to get money transferred to our new account and we didn't want to wait. Plus we get the airline miles. The whole process was incredibly easy and we were even able to get an insurance policy set up on the spot until we could get our own permanent one. Max Motors is awesome. They even filled up the tank for free before we left.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Food in Wellington

We are still onour hotel which limits the meals I can actually cook (I'm totally heartbroken) but, since we are in the middle of a big city, the options are limitless. We were given the impression that the food here was bland and tasteless but I've found that to be totally false. The food here is fantastic.
They have these little cafes all over the city that serve take out sandwiches and gourmet pastas and cakes. Yummy. I've pretty much been going there every day. I have yet to go to an actual restaurant here since we all fall asleep @ 7pm Kiwi time. Maybe tonight we will stay awake long enough to venture out of the hotel for a nice sit down dinner.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

G'Day Wellington

We finally arrived in Wellington after a straight 24 hours of travelling. We thought it would be better to travel straight through and avoid dragging our 8 bags around LA. The flights were smooth and I have to say that Air New Zealand has some of the cleanest aircraft I've ever seen. they were friendly and professional and served you real food at no extra cost and at dinner time, they walked up and down the aisles with bottles of wine-also free. Lovely. Unfortunately I was unable to sleep a wink on any of the flights (3). One poor toddler was not having a good time and screamed the entire 12 hours. I am not exaggerating. He screamed, passed out for 1/2 hour, woke up and screamed some more. Poor baby. I felt so bad for the Mom who did everything in her power to calm him.

Anyway, New Zealand is beautiful. Wellington, in particular, is very pretty with great architecture, culture and the feel of a modern city without all of the garbage that usaully accompanies larger cities.

We have great sponsors here ( folks frm the Embassy who make us feel welcome and help us transition) who picked us up, shleped all of our luggage and stocked our hotel fridge with homemade goodies. What a lifesaver. I think we hit the jackpot with them.

We've been in a hotel since arriving since our house is unexpectedly undergoing some improvements and though my two boys are about to kill each other, it is nice to have a lull before all the hard work begins. Adrian has had to jump right into his new position. We arrived at 9am and he was at the embassy by 1pm and back to work bright and early the next day. Luckily he got a bit of sleep on the plane.

We have been tryong our best to adjust to the 16 hour time difference, staying up until almost 8pm and waking @ 3 or 4. Every day we shave off another hour which is about average. The boys will start school next week. Morgan will take public transportation and Ewan gets to ride a school bus.

The cost of groceries is shocking to say the least. As govt employees, we are allowed a small cost of living adjustment to offset some of the price differences. How that works is, whatever you receive after taxes and deductions on your pay check, the govt will give us an additional percentage of "discretionary" income to buy food, etc. I think they need to revisit the COLA. It is currently at 35%. Well, I just got cell phone servie and am paying 89 cents per minute for all calls (that was the cheapest I could find-no texting, no internet, just good old fashioned phone calls). A medium sized tube of Colgate was $6.97 NZ ( $5.11 US). 4 AA Lithium Energizer batteries were $25.99 Kiwi ( $19.05 US). I was at the local grocery store, not a 7 Eleven where everything is marked up. So, we will have to shop smarter.

On the upside, there is very little crime, the people are incredibly nice and very fit and the weather, while dismal at the moment, (it's winter here) isn't as bad as in South Dakota which still ranks # 1 in quality of life for me.

More to come as I explore this wonderful country and I promise to post more photos shortly.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Last Day, what am I forgetting?

With a little more than 24 hours to go I am beginning to wonder if I have forgotten anything.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Not so young anymore

It's not that I think I'm old, I'm only 41 but I am realizing that I am not young anymore. Lately I've been relying on my 13 year old son to do all of my heavy lifting and I've sent my 10 year old to the convenience store a mere 100 feet away more times than I can count. But the number one reason I've noticed I'm not young anymore is going away parties. We've attended a lot of them recently as members of the 152nd make their way to their posts. Remember when we wouldn't even get ready to go out until 11 ? Now I'm home way before then. And, if it's not at happy hour (early) I'm not going. Anyway, I was speaking to one of the youngins at our party and for some reason we were talking about my high school prom. I mentioned that my high school prom was 25 years ago and he said "really ? I was born 25 years ago". Ouch.

3 Days and counting

We are getting down to the wire now. Our UAB and additional HHE have been packed and shipped. Drove to Roanoke to meet in laws halfway for one final goodbye. Sold the beloved Audi to a family friend and Mom is coming tomorrow for her farewells. I've copied every report card and award that the boys have received since kindergarten for their new school and updated the immunizatiojn records.
What did I forget ? Snacks for plane, one last load of laundry, ride to airport, passport, cash. I can't shake the nagging feeling that I am forgetting something.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Viewing Storage In Hagerstown

While I tried to be diligent about watching the packers like a hawk, things happened and a few things got by me and loaded without my inspection. I'm usually a micro manager so this was a bit upsetting for me. Having moved 30 times already, I know that things can and usually do get lost, misplaced, mislabeled, broken, etc. So, when I received my inventory list from the movers and they labeled all 25 of my paintings and wall decor as "mirrors" I was nervous. I wanted my favorite water colors but could do without the 7 "ducks Unlimited" prints my husband had hanging in his "man room" while in New Zealand.
I am also a great admirer of small antique tables you can put knick knacks on. I LOVE small wooden tables and have about 7 of them. I also have a HUGE wooden farmhouse table that weighs @ 500 lbs and a dining table that weighs @ 800 lbs so I was a bit shocked when the mover labeled them ALL as "wooden table". So, which one do I mark as Export ? I also know that my guitar crazy son has a 12 string classical somewhere in storage but it is not listed anywhere on my inventory list. But, panic really set in when Craig called from the Hagerstown storage facility to tell me that a few unmarked boxes mysteriously appeared from the movers after the original shipment. I have no idea what's in them. I can only assume that they are the things that the movers packed up and loaded while I was picking kids up from school and left them packers unsupervised. Darn it.
So, I gassed up the little Audi and drove the 1.5 hours to Hagerstown at 6:30am. You have to be there before 10am to get in to see your stuff. I arrived at 8. Sheepishly, I announced myself and my reasons for being there.
I cannot compliment the workers there enough. The went out of their way to help me decipher the movers' notes on my inventory list. I was able to open a few crates to look at the questionable items and sneaked peeks at other things at the same time. While I wasn't able to open boxes, I was able to differentiate between the wooden tables, paintings and unmarked items. In just over an hour, I found my son's guitar and was able to stop shipment of my farmhouse table and duck posters to NZ. They had his guitar labeled as "pillows" and my farmhouse table as a coffee table. Yikes.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Advantages to living at Oakwood

After living in my own homes for the last 15 years, I thought I would hate apartment living in DC while awaiting our departure. It is actually incredibly convenient. Granted, I will only be here for a total of 7 weeks by the time we go but still. We are only a few blocks from the metro, there is a huge pool and hot tub on site and someone comes and changes the sheets once a week just like a hotel.
Having the boys share a room hasn't been bad. There are moments of hostility but for the most part, they are getting along. There is a row of bar b que grills on the patio - very convenient, and a convenience store- even more convenient. The activities center organizes events for kids and there is always someone outside to play with the boys. We have a dry cleaner on site that offers very fair rates, an outside hose for washing your car and the best part-you don't have to calculate your per diem or turn in receipts, they do it all for you directly with the USG. That's one less thing I have to worry about. Perhaps if we were going to be in DC for say 10 months of language training, I may feel differently. The kitchen is small and there isn't anywhere you can go to be alone in the apartment. I like the comraderie that I feel here with the other residents. It has helped my oldest son (13) converse with other kids his age and feel a bit more comfortable about the lifestyle.
There is a grocery store within a couple of miles (Shoppers) and every other shop you could think of. Ther is a great Chinese Restaurant a few blocks away that delivers for a reasonable price.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Trying a new game

I've been working on being more diplomatic. Not that I need to, I'm a pretty easygoing person and I have a knack for understanding crazy points of view but I do get annoyed with bad behavior. So, I've developed this mental game where I substitute what people should have done/said with what actually was done/said. I'm doing this partly because I have been overusing my favorite word "jackass" lately when annoyed and partly because it is a great opportunity to teach manners to my children.
The most popular opportunity to choose a good behavior over bad is in traffic. It takes about one second to let someone onto the highway. Is it really, really going to kill you to lose one second out of your day?
Another good example was this weekend when we took our kids to a restaurant (ok, it was a bar that also served food) to watch the world cup final and someone pulled their chair right in front of my less than 5 foot tall child and blocked his view. I was annoyed but before I could say anything my friend ripped the guy a new one. While she got what she wanted, she made everyone a little uncomfortable with her confrontation. A better option would have been to politely speak to the guy and say something like " You probably didn't realize there was a little guy behind you when you moved your chair, would you mind terribly just shifting to the left a bit so he can see? Thanks." Why is everyone so angry all the time?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dang Overachievers

I'm not usually an envious person but lately I've been feeling a bit lacking. When Adrian and I frst started out on this adventure I was amazed and awed by the people. They were all so intelligent and motivated. Some spoke several languages while others ran companies, graduated from Harvard, served in the military, you get the picture. For the first time ever I thought that perhaps there was someone smarter than my husband :)
Now that we've been in it for a a bit, I have gotten to know some of the spouses as well. I can usually slide right into a community, make awesome friends and contribute to meaningful conversations. Now I find myself doing more listening. Yes, I am scared. I'm afraid that if I open my mouth they will know that I only have a Bachelor's degree in (gasp) communications. So, I sit quietly and listen to the stories of these insanely young spouses who have been doctors, lawyers, opera singers and, oh yeah, speak several languages.
They don't seem particularly impressed by my 10 year old's soccer career or the fact that my 13 year old got straight A's AGAIN! Yawn....their kids have been doing that their entire lives. So, I am going to step up my game and whip us all into State Department worthy shape.
Time to brush off the Rosetta Stone, I'm learning Spanish but perhaps I should perfect English first.

A Career in the Theater

By Ann LaPorta

As for a career in the theater our shining example would be Joy Zinoman.  While
a trailing spouse in Malaysia in the '70s and raising 2 young children she
became involved in directing at the university and brought the Malay theater
into the 20th Century.  She came home to complete a combined undergrad and
graduate degree in theater and to found the Studio Theater, one of Washington's
best.  Joy retires this year and will be honored by DACOR with a dinner this
On a less professional level my husband and I have either founded or been active
in little theater groups in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Ankara, Medan, Ulanbaatar and
Naples, Italy.  We found it a fun and enjoyable way to bring the English
speaking community together.
Ann La Porta, whose husband acted for Joy in Kuala Lumpur.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Yoon buys a guitar

After consulting with Morgan about which guitar to buy, Yoon chose a very stylish "chick magnet" acoustic from the Guitar Shop in Falls Church.

We move out when?

Ok, so I knew we would have to repack before heading out to New Zealand but I really thought it would be easy. I mean, they have people for this right? Some guys come, pack up your stuff, put it on a ship and send it to our new house. That apparently is the easy part. Getting someone in the transportation department to answer the phone is another story. I started on Tuesday. It is now Friday afternoon. Uh, I have 3 weeks to get my stuff organized, moved, sorted and shipped but first I need an appointment. I guess my advice is to all new comers; make your appointment for your pack out as soon as you arrive J. And, don't forget to give your temporary living manager a 30 day notice when you move out otherwise you could get kicked out early or have to pay for your additional days.

Dining Out in Falls Church

If you want to go to dinner at a good restaurant in Falls Church on a Thursday night you have to make servations. We did not make reservations so tried the Thai Restaurant near the Restaurant we wanted to eat at.

The inside was not spectacular but the service was great and the food was very good. After waiting longer than he should have for his dinner (we were all served 20 minutes before him for some reason) Adrian's dinner was worth the wait.