Thursday, November 23, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving.

(from the future)

By the time you read this, it will be Friday where I am. Thanksgiving will have come and gone, and Mary and I will be on our way to the Bay of Islands for a weekend trip.

So I am post-scripting this to yesterday (Thursday), when Mary and I slaved away over a hot stove to make a Thanksgiving feast for the New Zealand record books.

Now, since they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in New Zealand (duh for all of you who asked...), we had a bit of a tough time finding the ingredients we needed.

That, my friends, is why it is handy that we have become queens of improvisation. Sometimes, as you'll learn here, you've just gotta make due...

1. First of all, no yams. Mary bought Kumera (a local white sweet potato, though while delicious, isn't tradition on Thanksgiving) instead. I said, 'no yams, no thanks,' and made mashed potatoes instead.

2. We luckily found American-style cranberry sauce. (Labeled: Made in Australia). We added oranges and it tasted almost as good as Marvel's dish. Almost.

3. Evidently, there are very few to no turkey farms in New Zealand, and only during this time (probably for the dumb foreigners) have we finally seen a frozen one at the market. But they're up to $45 for a small/medium-sized one.
Not that Mary nor I know how to cook a turkey if we did buy one. So, instead, we had (stifle your laughter, please) deli turkey sandwiches. Which wasn't actually too much less expensive. Just heaps easier. And no one seemed to mind.

4. No canned pumpkin sauce here ('Why would you want a canned pumpkin?' they say). Instead, Mary bought a REAL pumpkin and cooked and pureed it for the pie (very Betty Crocker, huh?). Then, I added the spices, eggs, and milk, and mixed it all up. So the pie was fresh as fresh. In fact, it was truly, downright incredible, and the highlight of the meal. As good as Jean's (luckily for us).

Also on our menu: homemade applesauce (again, Mary, who will make someone a lucky husband someday), peas, boughten rolls, gravy (from a jar, as no turkey juice = no gravy), and stuffing.

We invited my flat mates and my new Iowan friend, and we had a nicer than nice time drinking wine and explaining the story of Thanksgiving. It was a real treat for them to be treated and a real treat for us to share our traditions.

But, although the meal was fabulously prepared and shared with great friends old and new, Mary and I both understand that the meal isn't about what you're eating.

Having said that... I am incredibly grateful to be having the opportunity to create new lifelong memories with new lifelong friends. I am seeing and doing amazing things, and I have so much to look forward to. I am in a very good place surrounded by very good people (well, mostly, as Julia wasn't actually invited to the feast...).

That, though, doesn't make it any easier to be away from home for the holidays.

So this Thanksgiving Day, please take a minute to be incredibly thankful for all that you have and all that you hold near and dear. Be thankful for your experiences, your friends, your family, and your health. Look forward to new life, and be grateful for old loves.

Please take every opportunity to be thankful for where you are and who you are with.

Then, enjoy the parade. Enjoy the football. Enjoy the company of those you love. Enjoy the carrot and mayonnaise salad (any chance of getting some of that sent here, Jean?).

And hug someone extra today.

From halfway across the world, have a happy, happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cats and dogs (and snails, oh my!)

They're everywhere. Everywhere. Here a stray, there a stray, everywhere a stray, stray. There are so many cats in this city that I am now convinced that stray cats reproduce like rabbits. Only the difference being that rabbits don't need to be fed or loved or cared for by humans. So we don't mind the rabbits, do we? But the cats? It's too much.

Now, people don't actually own as many cats as there are cats to own. Instead they just feed the strays. Technically, you might think that this makes each cat a belonging of somebody, but no. The cats just go everywhere.

Unfortunately, The Price Is Right is not shown here, and as a consequence, no one is reminded to spay or neuter their cats. But I guess, since no one actually owns the cats, there is nobody to pay for that. If anyone actually speaks to Bob Barker, give him the message that there is dire need for him here when he retires.

Who knows, though? There are probably as many cats here as there are in the States, with the difference being that there isn't very much room for them to spread out like there would be at home with all that land. It's a small island and all. And I don't think cats can swim.

Having been deathly afraid of dogs since I was bitten by one at the age of 13, I am pleased at the nature of canines here. To describe the Kiwi culture as 'laid-back' would be an understatement, and dogs follow the lead of their owners. I have yet to see a single dog on a leash, a dog that misbehaves, or a dog that barks at strangers. They just sniff other dogs' bottoms and follow their owners around like lost puppies (no pun intended). I walk by them and pet them and we're friends. Just like that.

I have often wondered if cats actually like eating snails? And maybe having cats around keeps the snail population down? All I do know about snails is actually quite a lot.

1. Snails come out at night.
2. Snails move V...E...R...Y slowly.
3. When you lift up the rubbish lid at night, there could be as
many as 15 or 20 snails on the inside.
4. The next morning, they're all gone.
5. When you step on a snail, it sounds like glass breaking.

Now, the last fact brings me to my saddest story. It never fails that I don't remember that there are snails all over the ground until after I have stepped on one. I have done it twice now. It gives me the goosebumps and makes me feel horrible, but I can't have expected the snail to move fast enough to get out of my way. Or to hear me coming. But when I do step on them, I instantly stop once I hear the crunch, and then I check to see if it is ok, and then I wonder if the actual slug comes out to find a new shell. And where the heck do the snails get the shells in the first place?

Maybe I don't know as much about snails as I thought.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Holidays with a friend (part deux)

In an effort to see as much of this part of the world as we can, Mary and I have booked our first big trip.


We've booked a three-week holiday at the end of January. We'll be going to Sydney, Melbourne, and then on a travel tour of the upper East Coast including Brisbane, Cairnes, The Great Barrier Reef, and the Whitsunday Islands. You can see an itinerary of the travel tour if you go to:

But, that's not the best part.

We've got tickets to....


We'll be flying into Melbourne to stay for three days and to see one of the world's greatest tennis events.

I am VERY excited.

(Secretly probably more excited for that part than the rest of it. Thanks, Grandpa, for that first tennis racket at age 9 that started my lifelong love of the game...)


But until then, we have three other smaller trips planned. This weekend we're heading to Mt. Maunganui (thermal beaches) and Rotarua (thermal mud spas), with a small stop in Matamata (where Lord of the Rings was filmed). I'll be taking the LOTR tour of Hobbiton by myself, thank you very much. Mary and Mary aren't interested, but I can't pass it up.

Next weekend, over the Thanksgiving holiday, Mary and I have taken time off to head up to the Bay of Islands. This is at the very tip top of New Zealand, where it gets thin and the country becomes a bay of islands (catchy, huh?). Evidently, at the very tippiest-top of the island there is a place where the two opposing seas on each side of New Zealand come together to crash into each other (very Moses-esque) and then fall away. That'll be worth the price of admission right there...

Lastly, during the first weekend of December we're heading to the Coromandel, which is one of the most beautiful spots in the North Island. I have not heard much about this place, or what's there, but hey, who cares!

After that, we're in Auckland for a month to save up more and more moo-lah for our Aussie trip. I'm planning on sparing no expense.


Side note:
I have always tried to be a hard worker and have always enjoyed working two or three jobs at a time. Often, though, I never felt like I had much to show for it, as I don't do a lot of expensive shopping. I always lived on a small weekly budget, and pinched pennies whenever possible. Instead of spending my income, I was, and am still more of a pack-rat with it, saving it all up for when I really need it.

These thrifty ways came in handy as I was paying for this Australian trip... I was able to shell out BIG bucks for the whole thing without batting an eye.

It was a nice realization for me that became very evident for the first time.

And I felt good walking away knowing that all of my hard work does pay off.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It's a small, small world

(This was the second-most exciting thing that happened to me this week):

Yesterday I was at my local Grey Lynn Foodtown grocery store with Ian and Sheena. We were buying ice cream (we LOVES ice cream) to eat after we had just had a feast of shrimps on the barbie.

On my way to the check out line I saw a girl who had a familiar shirt on.

It said Grinnell Softball.

My first thought: There are probably a million towns in the world called Grinnell.

My second thought: They don't play softball in New Zealand, she must be American.

So I walked up to her and said in one quick breath, 'Excuse me, Grinnell where?'

And she said, 'Iowa'.

Sheen and Ian and I all dropped jaws.

I said (excitedly, all in one breath), 'Me too! I'm an Iowan too!'

We chatted for a minute while queued up in line. She's been here a week (a newbie, I called her), she's here on a working holiday (just like me), and she lives right up the street (just like me).

Just think, a new friend from home. Someone who knows who the Nadas are and likes them as much as me.

Finally, someone who speaks my language.

It's like being in Heaven.

Only replace Heaven with Iowa.

We're having coffee later next week, and I can't wait for gossip from the good ol' Hawkeye State...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

From the mouths of babes

On Friday I had the opportunity to teach in a Year 5 (we'd call that 4th grade) classroom.

When I got the call that morning I politely explained to the man on the phone that I was GLAD to teach in this classroom, but that I was not equipped with lessons for students of that age. To prepare, I took stock of my books and quickly thought about what lessons could be adapted for older kids. I chucked a few ideas in my giant bag and headed off.

Although I do not keep lessons for students this age, I did have one advantage. The older kiddos get, the more they notice differences in people. This is adventagous to me because once kiddos here reach 8 or so, they can conceptually understand that I am from very far away in the world. They hugely notice my accent and want to know all about me, which makes for a nice, long learning lesson. And it kills lots of time.

For this particular class, I made them wait until the end of the day to ask the questions. What was even better, though, was that in a last minute brain-surge, I realized that instead of just letting them raise their hands and ask, they could write me a short letter. In this letter I asked them to include three things they knew about America plus two questions they had for me. When they finished, I read the letters out loud, dispelled myths, laughed at what they wrote (with them, not at them), and answered the questions.

I thought I would share some of these responses with you for a good laugh. I was a little disappointed at the grammatical and conventional errors of students this age, but I am hoping it was because their teacher wasn't there to ask for the best work. They seemed very bright otherwise...

I assure you these are WORD FOR WORD (with only spelling and grammar having been corrected).

Facts about America:
*There are 80,000 McDonalds.
*They have snow at Christmastime.
*There are lots of people and a lot of famous actors.
*I think that in some parts of American there are a few bombs that have been let off.
*They spell their words different.
*It is full of different countries.
*I know that if you have been to jail you are not allowed in America.
*George Bush lives there.
*They have Waffle Houses.
*It has 52 continents.
*There are heaps of gangs.
*You used to live there.
*Wal Mart is a grocery/shopping center.
*I think that in NY most people go around on roller skates.
*The twin tower was one of the most tragic events in USA.
*America has lots of candy.
*I know that South Park was banned in America because it was too rude.
*There is a huge street called Tornado Alley.
*America owns an island called Hawaii.
*I know that America has one of the best accents.
*George Bush is the Prime Minister.
*There is a natural world wonder called The Grand Canyon.
*My Uncle Tom lives there.
*The flying time to America from Auck[land] is about 12 hours.

Questions about America:
*Have you been to Disneyworld (was on almost everyone's sheet)?
*Aren't you at war with Pakistan?
*Have you been to a gridiron [American football] game?
*Have you met any famous stars?
*Have you ever seen the White House?
*How many suburbs are there?
*Are labradoodles a popular dog?
*Is America noisier than Auckland or is Auckland noisier than America?
*Who do you vote for? George Bush?
*Have you seen a gang?
*How old are you if you are willing to tell me?
(and lastly)
*Where abouts in London do you live?

It was incredibly interesting and semi-insightful.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Going to HELL...

HELL pizza, that is.

It's my favorite, favorite, favorite-ist pizza in the whole wide world.

Catchy name, huh??

One of the best parts is that it's really fun to speak with your mates and say things like this:
"Wanna go to HELL?"
"You're going to HELL? Yeah, I'll pitch in on that one."

Plus, the ingredients are super great. They mix very interesting stuff together to make it taste really good.

The names of the pizzas are very demonic. Some of them include Gluttony, Wrath, Underworld, Damned, and Morbid. It's really fun to order ('Yes, I'll have a Damned pizza with extra tomatoes, please.').

Now, I bet you can imagine that this pizza company is very popular, right? And I bet you can imagine that they are a little on the edge, and not afraid of crossing the line, right? And I even bet that you know there's a really good story coming about it, right?

(It's a REALLY good story. It goes like this:)

One day, Mary and I were walking home to my house for some relaxing after a day out seeing some sights. Like usual, I grabbed the mail from the letterbox. At the bottom of the letterbox was a small, perfectly square package with HELL advertising on it. It was a bit thick, having something inside of it. It was laying with the back side up, and we could see instantly that it was HELL's advert for their new pizza named Lust.

Mary said, "Look, matches!'

As soon as I picked up the package, we realized instantly that it wasn't matches.

Instead, wrapped perfectly in a little black advertising sleeve, was a condom, which included explicit instructions on use.

(Now don't fool yourself. I mean, who doesn't associate condoms and pizza together, being the same shape and all...)

And honestly, with a name like Lust, Mary and I decided that the condom was a very clever promotional idea.

But not everyone agreed.

You see, HELL pizza made the mistake of handing out the condoms to people's mailboxes on 30 October. The day before Halloween. Which wouldn't have really seemed TOO big a deal, except that many kids who went out to get the mail that day might have noticed the small, shiny package that looked like it could have contained a lolly (but upon opening it found that it wasn't).

Moms and dads were real mad. It was on the news and everything.

I still think it was pretty clever.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My night at work


I have been in the hospitality business since I was
15. My mom said 'You should really learn to be a
waitress, because you can take that skill anywhere.'
Many years later, she was so right (thanks, Mom!).

I have worked in some great places. When I started at
Garden Cafe, it was a cool, cool cafe in the mall,
always busy, with really good food. Spaghetti Works
was a very cool place in Des Moines, very casual
dining with a fun atmosphere, and very popular for
locals and passers through alike. Mondo's was fine
dining, and at it's peak, was one of the finest
restaurants in Des Moines. The service was very
prime, and excellence was required.

In the last month I have decided that SPQR is one of
the coolest places in Auckland, and that I did well
waiting for them to call instead of settling
elsewhere. It is ALWAYS full, is ALWAYS being
recommended, and is ALWAYS host to Auckland's finest.
I work with the most interesting, eccentric, and nice
people, and am able to give casual service. There
aren't many rules, and the time goes fast. The dining
and service is excellent, and the reviews show that
SPQR has been an Auckland favorite for more then 9
years. While other restaurants come and go, SPQR
stays tried and true.

Last night was like any other.

At first.

During a busy time in the night (8:00-ish), I noticed
a guy standing near the wall in the room off of the
main dining area. Since SPQR is again, casual, people
often stand anywhere waiting for a seat, and the wait
is ALWAYS long, long, long on a Saturday night.

So, I asked him if I could help.

He replied, 'I'm the male dancer for the table in

(Uh... what?)

Thinking he was pulling my leg (in hindsight, I should
have known better), I just said in a very sarcastic
voice 'Ok, go on and dance then.'

I then proceeded to go up to Wendy, the cashier, and
let her know that this gentleman just told me that he
was the male dancer, and, wasn't that weird?

She said, 'Oh, good!'

I said, 'What do you mean, oh good?'

She said, 'You must not have been here three days ago
when the drag queens were here?'

I said, 'Umm, no?'

And then I said, 'You mean to tell me there really IS
a stripper here tonight?'

(Wendy nods)

"For that table?'

(nods again)

'While people are eating?'

And my (gay) manager Andy walks up and says 'There's a
stripper? A male stripper? I don't have a stripper
on the books tonight. But goodie anyway!!'

So, Andy walks over to the stripper and retrieves a
CD, which is PROMPTLY handed to (our utterly fabulous
and totally friendly transvestite bar maid) Betty to
be put in the CD player. Immediately, Michael
Jackson's 'Bad' blares. Andy yells, 'Betty, turn it
up!' It cranks.

Then the stripping began. In the middle of the
restaurant. While people were eating. And it was
perfectly acceptable. In fact, 95% of the patrons got
up and crowded around, cheering and clapping, taking
pictures. And Andy stood between the stripper and the
lone 10-year old boy in the back of the restaurant.

The stripper was a 'police officer', so handcuffs and
a baton were included.

It lasted about 10 minutes. It was actually fabulous,
because the atmosphere in the restaurant was electric.
My face was beat red the entire time, but to everyone
else, this was truly and perfectly acceptable.

Oh, and did I mention that the male stripper had been
hired for another male?

And just when I thought I'd seen it all.

(Guess I should've known better than to think I'd seen
it all...)